HC Deb 15 June 1972 vol 838 cc1877-923


In section 75 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 (Circumstances in which legal aid may be given) there shall at the end of subsection (5) be added four new subsections as follows:—

  1. '(6) In the circumstances described in the next following subsections it shall be the duty of a court having power to make a legal aid order to ascertain, in the case of any person brought before it who is not represented by counselor a solicitor, whether such person desires to be so represented and, if such person states that he so desires, to consider whether legal aid ought to be granted to him, and if such court decides not to make a legal aid order in his favour, to state its reasons for such decision.
  2. (7) In the Crown Court the circumstances referred to in subsection (6) above are:
    1. (a) all committals, whether for trial or for sentence;
    2. (b) appeals from a magistrate's court in the cases referred to in subsection (8)(b) below.
  3. (8) In a magistrates' court the circumstances referred to in subsection (6) above are:
    1. (a) all preliminary hearings in respect of offences triable only on indictment;
    2. (b) all other cases where it appears to the court—
      1. (i) that the nature of the offence alleged is such that the accused person may be in danger of losing his liberty or that his livelihood may be imperilled or that his reputation may be seriously damaged; or
      2. (ii) that the matter alleged against the accused person or likely to be raised in his defence or in the defence of any other person which may affect his defence are likely to raise a substantial question of law; or
      3. (iii) that the accused person is unlikely to be able to understand the proceedings or adequately to state his case owing to circumstances affecting the accused person including an inadequate knowledge of or ability to express himself in the English language or mental illness or other mental or physical disability; or
      4. 1878
      5. (iv) that the matters likely to be raised in the accused person's defence or by way of mitigation of sentence are likely to involve such work in or about the tracing or interviewing of witnesses or other preparation for the trial or to require such skilled advocacy as would normally involve the services of counsel or a solicitor; or
      6. (v) that without prejudice to the interests of the accused person it is likely to be in the interest of some other person or in the public interest that the accused person should be represented.
  4. (9) Where a court revokes a legal aid order it shall do so only after having taken into account the matters contained in subsections (6) (7) and (8) above, so far as applicable to the circumstances of the case, and it shall state the reasons for such revocation'.—[Sir Elwyn Jones.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

10.14 p.m.

Sir Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

New Clause 7 relates to the duty of the court in respect of the grant of legal aid. It is now generally agreed that legal aid in all serious criminal cases is a necessary social service which should be available for our fellow citizens who, without it, would be at a serious disadvantage at their trials. The country has indeed moved a long way since the days before the Prisoners' Counsel Act, 1836, when a person charged with felony was not entitled to be legally represented, let alone to receive financial help towards his defence, and could not even give evidence on his own behalf. There followed the custom of the dock brief and I have no doubt that the more senior members of the Bar who may be present may have had their first experience of advocacy thanks to the introduction of the dock brief system.

The statutory provision for legal aid was first made by the Poor Prisoners' Defence Act, 1903. Ever since there have been progressive advances towards making proper and adequate provision of legal aid available wherever it is needed. The achievement of that has not yet been accomplished and the purpose of this Clause is to move us more closely towards that end. Hon and right hon. Members may have been struck in reading the report of the Widgery Committee on Legal Aid in Criminal Proceedings, which is the foundation of new Clause 7, to see that in paragraph 150 the Committee stressed the view that it was strongly inclined to propose that, subject to means, all prisoners committed for trial or sentence should be statuitorily entitled to the grant of a defence certificate.

The Committee did not go so far as that in its recommendations and it fell short of recommending that legal aid should be a statutory right for two reasons. The first reason was that in exceptional cases legal aid would not be necessary and, secondly, that a refusal to grant legal aid might give a right of appeal against conviction or sentence. We on this side do not accept the second reason as necessarily conclusive for refraining from giving a statutory right to legal aid. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), who has been responsible for the drafting of this Clause, and to whom I am indebted, as I am sure is the House, for the drafting not only of this Clause but of the earlier Amendments which the House and the Committee has had to consider, has taken account of paragraph 150 in drafting subsection (6), which it is proposed to add to Section 75 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1967.

The House will see that the proposed Clause and the proposed subsection impose on the court a statutory duty in the cases within the Widgery criteria simply to ascertain whether the defendant wishes to be represented and if so, to require the court to consider the granting of legal aid and, if the court refuses to grant legal aid, to require the court to state its reasons for that refusal. This seems to get round the objections and difficulties that the Committee found in an all-out statutory right to the grant of a defence certificate. In the application of the language of the Clause there will be no appeal against conviction or sentence on the grounds of the refusal of legal aid, although if legal aid were refused in a case which justified it, the Court of Appeal would no doubt give due weight to that factor on appeal. The new Clause is a practicable and moderate Clause and accordingly I hope that when the Minister replies he will accept it.

The new Clause imposes certain obligations on a court having to decide whether legal aid will be appropriate. The first requirement placed upon the court is that it should ascertain whether a defendant desires to be represented. We had a considerable discussion on this in Committee, when we were indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) for a most learned and valuable speech on this subject. It became clear from the facts which emerged in Committee that even now most defendants in magistrates' courts do not apply for legal aid, even though a majority of them may be in serious trouble.

As my right hon. Friend pointed out, in 1970 there were 226,746 indictable cases tried summarily of persons of 17 years or over. That is the most serious category of cases tried by magistrates' courts. In that quarter of a million indictable cases, only 75,669 were the subject of a grant of legal aid. In 8,645 cases legal aid was refused. It would, therefore, seem that in the most serious cases tried in that year by the magistrates, over 70 per cent, of defendants who were gravely imperilled did not even apply for legal aid.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman says "gravely imperilled". Would he like to give an assessment of how many of those people were gravely imperilled?

Sir Elwyn Jones

They were all subject to charges on indictable offences. To distinguish between the degree of peril in one indictable case and another is not an easy matter. They were all in danger of losing their liberty, their reputation and their jobs. I am surprised that the Minister should make that point. It is a discouraging start to our discussion.

Sir Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)

I am surprised that the shadow Minister should make that sort of point.

Sir Elwyn Jones

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to me. The indictable cases that come before the magistrates' courts involve the risk not only of loss of liberty but of loss of reputation.

From the figures, it seems that a large proportion of those who appear in magistrates' courts in serious cases do not even apply for legal aid. If the statistics which the hon. and learned Gentleman can produce question that, he has the information of the Home Office behind him and I shall naturally be willing to stand corrected.

What is disappointing and disturbing about the present state of affairs in the magistrates' courts is the extraordinary discrepancy between one court and another. The rates of refusal of applications for legal aid have ranged from as little as 10 per cent. to as much as 90 per cent. in comparable courts. Although in some cases the types of case being tried in different courts may explain the discrepancies, it is hard to see how they explain the extraordinary differences between refusal rates in a court in Woolwich as opposed to a court in Hampstead. It is hard to appreciate why there is a higher degree of refusal in Birmingham, Liverpool and Bootle than in Manchester.

I thought there was some force in the view of the Law Society that the evidence showed that the refusal of legal aid was too consistent and repetitive to avoid the conclusion that there was a policy tending to fetter a discretion vested in the magistrates. Perhaps the Minister may be able to throw some light on that situation.

In our view, the position should improve if as a result of embodying subsection (6) in the Bill magistrates were required, first, to find out whether an unrepresented defendant in a case coming within the Widgery criteria desires to be legally represented; secondly, if so, to consider whether legal aid should be granted to him; and thirdly, if the court decides not to make a legal aid order in his favour, to state its reasons.

On the first requirement, although the Widgery Committee recommended that all defendants in the High Court should be asked whether they wanted legal aid, the Widgery Committee did not make a recommendation in regard to magistrates' courts. We feel that it should be a requirement. We feel that if magistrates had to give reasons for refusing legal aid—and a defendant is entitled to know the reasons, especially if he has no right of appeal—a requirement to give reasons for refusal would help to diminish the discrepancies since there would be an explanation. Far more important, such a requirement would direct and concentrate the minds of the magistrates' courts on why they should refuse legal aid. We think it much more likely that if the requirement to give reasons were made a statutory duty, this would mean that the criteria recommended by the Widgery Committee as the test on the basis of which legal aid should be granted would be complied with.

The proposed new subsection (7) seeks to ensure that the steps required to be taken under subsection 6 should be followed in Crown Courts. Lest my tone should be taken to be one of unqualified criticism, I must acknowledge that great progress has been made in extending legal aid in the higher courts. The position is now so satisfactory there that it has become almost automatic to seek legal aid—and, what is more important, it is generally granted. Indeed, it is rare in the higher courts for a defendant in these days to be unrepresented. A real measure of progress has been made there which we on this side of the House gladly acknowledge.

10.30 p.m.

The proposals in the new subsection (7) embody the recommendations which are to be found in paragraphs 143 and 147 of the Widgery Committee's Report. They clearly and unequivocally support that which we set out in the new subsection. Paragraph 143 says: In our view, trials on indictment clearly fall into the category of cases where we would expect an accused person whose means are insufficient to pay for his own defence to be granted legal aid as a matter of course. These cases satisfy the criteria discussed in paragraphs 168–180 below, which in our opinion should govern the grant of legal aid. They are mostly trials for serious crime, the prosecution is invariably legally represented, and the consequences for the accused can be grave. On committals for sentence, paragraph 147 says: We do not think that a valid distinction can be made between persons committed for trial and persons committed for sentence under sections 28 and 29 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952. Even where the committing magistrates have made a recommendation for Borstal training it is the duty of the higher court to consider the case de novo and it is desirable that anything which can be said on the prisoner's behalf should be said effectively. There is that clear foundation for what is proposed in the new subsection (7).

In the new subsection (8) we propose that the procedures to be carried out as a statutory duly by the court in accordance with what is set out in subsection (6) should apply to all preliminary hearings with regard to offences triable only on indictment, and that is covered in subsection (8)(a). As to the remaining proposals in the new subsection (8)(b), examination of the relevant paragraphs in the Widgery Report will show that our proposals correspond with the object and the substance of the Widgery recommendations, with only very slight amplification.

If the House examines paragraph 180 of the Widgery Report, it will be seen that the proposed new subsection (8)(b)(i) corresponds with the first of the tests of eligibility for legal aid in magistrates courts, namely, That the charge is a grave one in the sense that the accused is in real jeopardy of losing his liberty or livelihood or suffering serious damage to his reputation. Sub-paragraph (ii) corresponds in substance with the second of the Widgery criteria, that the charge raises a substantial question of law, save that our draft amplifies that proposal to include analogous cases.

Then the third of the criteria, that the accused is unable to follow the proceedings and to state his own case because of his inadequate knowledge of English, mental illness or other mental or physical disability, is the substance of the new sub-paragraph (iii), made somewhat more general, but adhering to the purposes and proposals of the Widgery Committee.

Then we move to sub-paragraph (iv). That produces the substance and includes analogous cases of the fourth recommendation, that the nature of the defence involves the tracing and interviewing of witnesses or expert cross-examination of a witness for the prosecution. It is extended in a way in the draft which, I submit, is practicable and reasonable and deals with situations which frequently arise.

As to the last of the criteria recommended by the Widgery Committee, that legal representation is desirable in the interests of someone other than the accused, as, for example, in the case of sexual offences against young children when it is undesirable that the accused should cross-examine the witness in person, that again is substantially reproduced in sub-paragraph (v), with the addition of the words which we think are necessary without prejudice to the interests of the accused person because clearly the interests of the accused person must be overriding.

Then there has been added a new subsection (9) in regard to a possible revocation of a legal aid order, because it is our view that the same principles should apply to the revocation of the grant of legal aid as to the original granting of it.

I am afraid that this has been a somewhat technical, though I cannot claim invigorating, review of the scope of the new Clause, but we attach great importance to it. There is a feeling that, certainly in many cases in magistrates' courts, accused persons are suffering considerable disadvantage through the lack of legal aid facilities for them. The purpose of the Clause is to make what may well be a final step forward in covering the scope of matters which are appropriate for legal aid.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Is it not the case that at present courts are able to take all those matters into the scope of their consideration whether to grant legal aid? What will be the effect of the new Clause? Will it merely draw the attention of the court to what Parliament considers to be the desirability of making sure that the defendant knows of his rights under legal aid?

Sir Elwyn Jones

Of course courts can take all these matters into account, and many do—the fact that some do no doubt accounts for the low percentage of refusals in applications for legal aid—but it is equally clear that a considerable number of courts do not. The whole purpose of the Clause is to make it a statutory duty on the court to apply, and concentrate its mind on, the existence of the Widgery criteria and to make it, within the limits that we point out in subsection (6), apply those criteria and to grant legal aid in these cases.

Unfortunately, up and down the country this just is not being done. I regret to say that I do not appear as frequently in magistrates' courts now as I used to do, and it may well be that some of the members of both branches of the profession who are present in the Chamber will confirm what I have said—that there is a notorious failure in some areas and in some courts to apply the Widgery criteria. This is Parliament's chance to tell the courts what their duty is and what the procedure ought to be.

Mr. Ernie Money (Ipswich)

Would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it goes a little further than that in that the ordinary defendant is very often not told of the reason why he is either granted or refused legal aid?

Sir Elwyn Jones

I entirely agree. The appalling phenomenon is that many who come before the courts have not the faintest idea that they have the right even to apply for legal aid. That is why we have made the requirement upon the court that the court should go through the three stages. There is nothing particularly revolutionary in asking a defendant, "Do you want legal aid?" At least that gives him the opportunity of knowing that he has the right.

At present there are attempts in the prisons, by prison notices and so on, to draw attention to the right. Unfortunately, it is very much unfamiliar ground, certainly for first offenders, and it is they who ought to be most assisted.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

Would my right hon. and learned Friend also agree that the advantage of the proposed provision in substituting a mandatory requirement for a permissive situation, as exists at present, would be to enable a person who had been denied the rights envisaged under the Clause to seek a remedy in the Divisional Court?

Sir Elwyn Jones

I am not sure how far our proposal would go on that road, because we have drawn the line at an absolute right to legal aid as a statutory privilege. But I suppose that in a given case on appeal, in a clear case in which legal aid had been refused, that would be a circumstance; but it would have to be combined with others which would lead the Court of Appeal to take a more sympathetic view of a complainant's case. I should rather like to have notice of my hon. Friend's question whether what the Clause proposes would give any particular right of complaint in the Divisional Court for the mere failure to grant legal aid in the magistrates' court. Perhaps my hon. Friend was not pushing me as far as that.

Mr. Clinton Davis

I was not pushing my right hon. and learned Friend as far as that. I was merely saying that if the court failed to apply the provisions of subsection (6), there being a duty imposed upon the court to ascertain in certain circumstances, would there not be a remedy available to a person who had been refused the benefit of them?

Sir Elwyn Jones

If what is proposed in the Clause became the law and there was a failure to ask a defendant whether he wanted legal aid, I think that that might be so. I was not following my hon. Friend's argument as limiting itself to that particular point. But if that became the law, it would become a statutory duty on the magistrates' court, clearly, to ascertain whether a defendant wanted legal aid. I suppose that if that procedure were not followed in a given case it could be a ground for stating a case. I do not want to be pushed into any final view on that matter. But at the very least, it would impose a clear duty, and that might be the consequence of it. I ought not to try to run away from the fact that that might be the result, and I do not suppose that it would be a bad thing. It would impose the duty to ask the question which at present is not a duty.

10.45 p.m.

Therefore, we on this side believe that this is a matter which is urgently needed, and it has been commended by a number of distinguished bodies which have investigated the position. There has been a Justice Committee report recommending matters on these lines. There has been a good deal of learning.

In Committee the Minister of State was inclined to say, "We will issue another Home Office circular on the matter". We do not think that that is enough. We believe that in a considerable number of cases, in a considerable number of magistrates' courts, there is non-compliance with the Widgery criteria and that the failure to comply is resulting in a serious denial of justice to our fellow citizens, many of whom are appearing before the court for the first time.

Accordingly, I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to tell the House, either that the Government accept the Clause or that they have some practical proposals to ensure that what we have in mind is brought about by some method, administrative or otherwise. We do not see that anything less than a clear message from Parliament embodied in a Statute imposing statutory duties will do to remedy the last serious omission in the admirable structure of legal aid.

Mr. Clinton Davis

I welcome the fact that, as I think, and as I think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) eventually accepted, a duty would be imposed on the courts, if the Clause were to be accepted, to carry out a certain procedure in ascertaining whether a person was entitled to apply for legal aid and that, if the court did not follow that procedure, a remedy would lie in the Divisional Court. That can only be an advantage.

The criteria laid down by the 1967 Act were too vague. The whole experience since the operation of that Act indicates that that conclusion is correct. It is provided that if an applicant's means appear to be such that he requires assistance in meeting the costs of his defence a legal aid order shall be made where he is committed for trial on a charge of murder or there is an appeal by the prosecution from the Court of Appeal to the House of Lords.

In all other cases the situation is purely permissive; that is, the court may make an order where it appears to the court that it is desirable so to do in the interests of justice and subject to the same proviso as to means.

It is abundantly plain that, because the criteria set out in the 1967 Act are too vague, there is a need for the position to be explicitly stated in the law as set out in the Widgery proposals. This is not simply a criticism which I or my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South make; it is a criticism which is made by Master Graham Green in "Criminal Costs and Legal Aid" second edition, at page 48, where he wrote: The discretion given by the 1967 Act, unlike that relating to the award of costs, is not completely unfettered with no presumption one way or the other. The effect of Section 75, when the two conditions of 'desirability and the interests of justice' or 'need for assistance in meeting the costs of proceedings' have been fulfilled, is that the section of the Act conferring the power should be regarded as mandatory and not merely permissive. It is no answer for a court to say that the prisoner has not asked for legal aid, since it is the duty of the court to make sure that the prisoner has every assistance. The position is that legal aid is still a privilege to be granted in the discretion of the court. There is no right to legal aid. This has to be viewed also that in the light of the Act, there is no right of appeal against the refusal of legal aid.

Therefore, if we get, as often happens—I speak here as a practising advocate who has seen this—an inarticulate, confused and perhaps slow-witted accused person who does not comprehend the proceedings or know what is going on, there is no obligation on the part of the court to offer legal aid. That is quite wrong.

In previous debates the Minister of State has said complacently that there is no real need to worry because the courts understand, recognise and apply the Widgery criteria. The Minister of State speaks in general terms about that. However, the statistics which are available do not seem to suggest that he is correct in that assertion, as I will seek to demonstrate in a moment. What the Minister of State has shown, and he is perfectly entitled to do so, is that the volume of legal aid which has been granted has grown over the years. That is a perfectly justified conclusion. It is also perfectly true that legal aid for trials in crown courts is almost invariably granted. Nevertheless, he seems to skate over the anomalies which have arisen and to which my right hon. and learned Friend has drawn attention.

This is a matter which we have debated on a number of occasions. Some courts understand, recognise and apply the Widgery criteria, but there are many which do not do so. Some courts make policy decisions about legal aid, for example that legal aid should not be granted in certain drugs or shoplifting cases. One has only to appear at Great Marlborough Street to see that the vast majority of people who appear there on shoplifting charges are not represented. The court never thinks of saying to these people, many of them who are foreigners needing the assistance of an interpreter, "Do you require legal aid? Do you wish to be granted legal aid?" That is a suggestion which I have never heard made by any of the magistrates sitting at Marl-borough Street when I have appeared there.

It is true that most of these people do not receive custodial treatment, but they are substantially fined. A conviction can be of the gravest moment to these people. It is not simply a question of whether somebody will receive custodial treatment. A conviction may be a sufficient reason for causing a person to be fearful of the later consequences regarding job opportunities, travelling abroad and perhaps living abroad.

There are too many courts which refuse legal aid in cases involving the Public Order Act, demonstrations or matters of that kind simply because there is sometimes expressed something of a political motive which the courts do not happen to like.

That there is a policy decision at Marl-borough Street is beyond any shadow of a doubt. I have already referred to the shoplifting case, and I referred in a debate on 4th December, 1970, to a letter which a client of mine received relating to a case concerning the theft of Giro cheques. It was a serious charge. The letter, which I had my client's permission at the time to quote, says that the magistrate had directed the clerk of the court to say that on the charges at present before the court he is not disposed to grant legal aid. If other charges are added and your client consents to summary trial and pleads not guilty, it is possible that he will reconsider the application. I said at the time that in my view that was a wrongful exercise of the discretion because it was a serious charge which certainly merited legal aid. Fortunately for that accused person the police did not offer any evidence against him. I suppose, in retrospect, one could say that the magistrate might be justified on that ground. However, he was not to know that. The fact remains that this was a serious charge of theft, and that refusal indicates why the situation at Marlborough Street has been appalling for so long.

Some courts act simply on whim—the dislike by a magistrate of a particular defendant who happens to be appearing before him. I have first-hand experience of this happening at Old Street. I referred to Old Street in the debate last week. I have also seen it happen in other courts. Some magistrates detest the whole concept of legal aid and are over-zealous about the protection, they say, of public funds. They have a great degree of responsibility apparently for the public purse, but sometimes very little for ensuring that justice is done.

Mr. Carlisle

Nonsense. I have sat and listened to the hon. Gentleman attacking various stipendiary magistrates either by name or the courts in which they sit. Is he seriously repeating that magistrates who sit in London are not concerned with the justice of the cases before them? On reflection, as a solicitor, the hon. Gentleman may think that that is a wholly unfair slur on those before whom he appears.

Mr. Davis

I assert categorically that in one case, to which I referred last week, the expression of view by a particular magistrate, that he was there to protect the public purse, seemed to me to override the necessity for ensuring that justice was done.

Mr. Carlisle

That is not what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Davis

Indeed it is. I have no reason to retract that expression of opinion. This is not the view of the majority of magistrates. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is seeking to assert that all stipendiary magistrates carry out their duties admirably without any reservation at all, he is burying his head in the sand. There are good and bad magistrates and stipendiary magistrates. It is folly and totally idle to pretend that that is not the situation. I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman is anxious to protect all magistrates and stipendiary magistrates, but this is not our duty. It is true that I appear before many of these courts as an advocate, and I have to be careful about what I say. Nevertheless, the mere fact I do this is no reason for seeking to hide what I believe to be the truth.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

Has not the hon. Gentleman to watch it a bit? Of course he is right that there are good and less good stipendiary magistrates. However, is it not a little unfair, as it appears to me, to single out one in a definable way? We would all accept the hon. Gentleman's general proposition, but it is a little unfortunate. Does he agree that he is trying to single out individual judges under the guise of parliamentary privilege? Is it not a pity to do that?

Mr. Davis

I would not have done it had I not thought that I was justified. It must be remembered that magistrates operate under the guise of absolute privilege and that they have that protection, too. When appearing before one stipendiary magistrate, I have heard observations made under the cloak of absolute privilege which I have not thought to be justified.

Other magistrates apply too narrow criteria. There may be abuse of legal aid because some people may get it who do not deserve it. But if there is any doubt, the benefit of the doubt should be resolved in favour of the accused in this respect, as on the question of conviction.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Money

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a particular problem is the minor defendant who may or may not be well known to a court who tends, simply because he has been a persistent offender, to be committed to a crown court under the Section 29 procedure? He ends up without legal aid and probably without having had his rights explained to him, and he is given counsel at the last moment at the crown court, with the result that his case is not properly presented there.

Mr. Davis

That is a genuine risk. The dock brief system is not very good. It does not do justice to the accused, as most members of the Bar who have had experience of it would agree. The hon. Gentleman seems to be sceptical about that, but the accused unfortunately is the guinea pig. It is not a very sensible system.

Legal aid should be granted on pleas of guilty in serious cases. That is not only my view but the view of the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker, who said about cases at what are now called crown courts that even in guilty pleas it was rare that it was not in the interests of justice for legal aid to be granted. If that is true in crown court cases, is it not equally true in cases at magistrates courts?

Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

Surely the contrary would be unarguable. It is not merely a matter of ensuring that adequate mitigation is made. Often the accused does not know whether to plead guilty unless he has adequate legal aid.

Mr. Davis

I entirely agree. I invariably agree with my hon. and learned Friend and I see no reason for not following my normal practice on this occasion.

The available data, which admittedly are unsatisfactory largely because inadequate research has been done by the Home Office, shows that there is no basis for complacency about legal aid. Mr. Michael Zander undertook some research recently which indicated that a high proportion of those who were given suspended sentences in magistrates courts were unrepresented. The figures are interesting. Of those who had sentences of over three but under six months, 74 per cent, were unrepresented; of those who received sentences of over six but under 12 months 73 per cent, were unrepresented; and of those who had sentences of over 12 months 66 per cent, were unrepresented. I would refer to those who were given actual terms of imprisonment; of those who were given sentences of three but under six months 80 per cent, were unrepresented and of those who were given sentences of over six months but under 12 months 53 per cent, were unrepresented.

Mr. Zander drew the conclusion that, according to the latest criminal statistics, magistrates in 1968 sentenced 16,558 people to terms of imprisonment, without the option to pay a fine. They sent 6,556 people to detention centres, and they gave 26,205 people suspended sentences. He said that the study was not set up in a way that made it possible to claim that its results were representative of the position in the whole country, but if the results are approximately valid for the country as a whole they mean that more than 5,000 unrepresented defendants a year are being sent to detention centres, more than 15,000 are being given suspended sentences and more than 8,000 are being sent to prison. In addition there are tens of thousands who are being fined more than £50, and thousands who are being disqualified from driving and fined without the benefit of legal representation. Perhaps the Minister of State will say that the survey carried out by Mr. Zander and his staff was inadequate and did not cover a sufficiency of courts. But there is a burden on the hon. and learned Gentleman to show that the conclusions of the survey are wrong.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South was right to draw attention to the alarming disparities that exist in the way in which courts administer legal aid in cases dealt with summarily. This was revealed in our previous debates on the subject. He referred to the situation at Bootle, where in 1969–70 there were 65 applications for legal aid and 61 were refused. There were appalling statistics in Birkenhead where 44 percent. of applications were refused, Torbay 33 per cent., Blackburn 45 per cent., Blackpool 70 per cent., and over 50 per cent, in Liverpool. In Manchester the figure was quite different. There were 2,419 applications for legal aid and only 140 were refused. In Newcastle-upon-Tyne over 50 per cent. were refused. Oxford, Birmingham, and Swansea refused similar percentages. At Marlborough Street over 68 per cent. were refused.

This all shows that legal aid is something of a lottery. Yet we have been told by the Minister of State that on the whole it is working well but that if it was working well—which is denied—then other things must be causing the trouble. That is rather like the defendant's classic plea in a civil case. First he did not do it, but if he did it, then it was justified, and if it were not justified, then no harm was done.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Chief Magistrate in London had convened a meeting and that this had indicated that the situation would be improved. We were told about the inquiry now going on into the magistrates' courts. He said that different cases were dealt with by different courts in different ways. But the statement does not stand up because Marlborough Street and Bow Street deal with very similar cases and Marlborough Street has a bad record and Bow Street has a very good one. A long period has passed since we debated these statistics. What is the up-to-date situation? Has there been any improvement? Has there been a sudden change at Marlborough Street or Willesden? Has there been a change of policy and a change of heart at these courts?

The new Clause has decided advantages. It imposes upon the court a duty to ask the accused whether he wants to be represented in certain circumstances which are specified. This is most important and the statistics show why. If legal aid were refused or revoked, the court would be required to give the grounds. We should then know why and be able to build up a useful store of knowledge about the ways in which the courts operate legal aid. It would encourage greater uniformity, erase many of the disparities which occur and, above all, it would put specific criteria into the law which for a long time I have thought to be essential.

Mr. F. P. Crowder (Ruislip-Northwood)

I find myself in principle in complete agreement with the remarks of hon. Members opposite. One of the real problems of legal aid is that it is something of a lottery, as has been said. We are reaching a situation in which legal aid should be treated almost on the same basis as the Health Service. It is an unattractive situation for a person involved in an accident who ends up in hospital, and it is an equally unattractive situation for a person who, perhaps through no fault of his own, suddenly finds himself in a criminal court, which is completely new to him. In those circumstances, he is entitled to assistance.

What has struck me about legal aid in recent years is the utter unfairness of it. I even go so far as to say—it might be thought that I was speaking for the Opposition benches—that it is unfair that a man with savings, who has worked hard all his life, should have to pay a large contribution from his savings towards his defence if he is accused of a criminal offence.

I am in a legally-aided case now at the Central Criminal Court, and it is in its 44th day. My client has been in custody for rather a long time, and is not in a position to make a contribution. I should think that costs will be fairly high. If he had big savings, he would be required to contribute from them towards the costs of a 44-day case.

If we are to get the system on to a sensible basis, everybody should be entitled as of right, from the very outset, to legal aid. I do not like to see people having to make a contribution. I know that what I have said will not be popular on either side, but I say it for the following reason. We are very proud of our system of justice. I think the whole coun- try is rightly proud of it, as we are proud of our education arrangements. In those circumstances, I do not see why the country should not contribute towards it. The amount of money spent on our system of justice, of which we are so justly proud, is infinitesimal compared with what is spent on other social services.

To put it bluntly, if the country is proud of that system of justice, it must pay for it. It does not cost the public a great deal of money. It will be said that the money will be going into the pockets of the solicitors, such as the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis), and may even on odd occasions get as far as the Bar, but that does not always happen. Never mind. If it does a great deal of it of necessity must go back to the Revenue and back into the public purse. Therefore, the cost is not quite as great as is generally thought.

Mr. Peter Archer

Is it not about time that someone said in the House that the mere fact that a proposal benefits the lawyers is not necessarily a conclusive argument against it

Mr. Crowder

I accept that. I think there is a tremendous feeling of unfairness when one person is granted legal aid and another is not. It is rather unhappy that the situation should be different in one magistrates' court from another. Several courts have been mentioned, and I hope the point will be taken in them.

Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)

I am not sure whether my hon. and learned Friend was suggesting that the applicant should make no contribution, whatever his means. If he was, I could not find myself in agreement.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Crowder

I think I do suggest it, for the reason that I do not see why, when a man has worked hard all his life but, possibly in a case of mistaken identity or something of that sort, finds himself before a court, he should have to draw on his savings which he has acquired through hard work, while another man with no means or savings gets his defence for nothing.

Let us look at it from the judicial point of view, of what was the quarter sessions and is now the crown court. When the quarter sessions existed not long ago—and I speak from personal experience—countless cases came to the quarter sessions on appeal where the appellant concerned had not had legal aid at the magistrates' court. The result was that his case had never been properly gone into and properly represented and time and again, when I was chairman of Quarter Sessions, we found ourselves allowing appeals for that reason. Not until the cases had come to sessions and legal aid had been granted had the whole thing been sorted out and were we able to realise the true extent of the case. A great deal of public money was wasted because legal aid was not granted in the first instance.

Everyone who has the responsibility, as some of us in the House do, of sitting at these various courts as temporary circuit judges or temporary recorders knows that it is of the greatest assistance if solicitors and counsel have been able to go into the matter and there is a plea of guilty with mitigating or extenuating circumstances which would not otherwise have been brought to court. We should not be tight-fisted about this.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

May I first make as strong a protest as I can against the arrangement of Government business in such a way that vital matters on this Bill are not given proper time. I was present last week and again today and I hoped to make a small contribution but was prevented from doing so by the disgraceful way Government business is organised.

Having got that off my chest, and I hope it will be appreciated by the Minister, I want to add a few words in support of the new Clause.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) referred to the days of the dock briefs and I cast my mind back 20 years to when I was leading in a murder case when legal aid did not exist. We had five days in the Central Criminal Court; a second trial when the jury disagreed after five days; three days in the Court of Criminal Appeal, as it then was; and five days in the House of Lords, and the layman may notice that for all that work, proceeding in the House of Lords in forma pauperis. the sum paid was under 100 guineas for the whole period.

In those days it was an honour to take an important case like a murder case, but one could not get counsel for many other important cases because it could not be done on the amount of money which was paid—one or two guineas. We have moved a long way since then but obviously legal aid is today of tremendous assistance to defendants. There is no doubt about that.

The Minister may say, "Here are statistics which show that legal aid is granted in many cases. Here are many magistrates where courts are willing to give legal aid." But the fact remains that there are many cases where different standards are adopted. Very often, legal aid is granted in a simple case, and easily, without the defendant requesting it; in other cases, there is the greatest difficulty, when the magistrates will not respond in the way they should.

New Clause 7 is extremely important because it sets out succinctly the ground upon which legal aid should be granted in certain cases. It is not as if it says that legal aid ought always to be granted. No-one has suggested that. It does not say that legal aid should be granted in those circumstances where the person is represented by counsel or a solicitor, because in proposed subsection (6) are the clear words: …in the case of any person brought before it who is not represented by counsel or a solicitor…". We are dealing merely with cases in which the defendant is unrepresented in the courts.

On Second Reading, I suggested that we should follow the procedure in the Scottish courts in that there should be a duty solicitor to advise defendants. Surely in a case where the defendant is not represented by counsel or a solicitor, and where any of the conditions arise that are set out in new Clause 7(7) and (8), it should be the duty not to grant legal aid but to communicate to the person the fact that he can get it, and if he so desires it the magistrate can, …consider whether legal aid ought to be granted to him… What possible objection can there be to that? Is the objection going to be that we cannot afford the money? That would be absurd.

The other objection which has been posed is contained in the question "What does new Clause 7 add to the existing procedure?" First, it adds the fact that an obligation would be put upon the magistrate where the person was not represented to make clear to him that he had the right to apply for legal aid. That in itself might be sufficient reason for the new Clause. But apart from that it sets out clearly certain circumstances in which that should be done. I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to look at all the points set out in the proposed subsection (8) (a) (b) and (c). Subsection 8 (a) says: all preliminary hearings in respect of offences triable only on indictment; Why should not a magistrate in such case say to the defendant, "Do you want legal aid?" And why should the magistrate not consider whether it is a proper case for legal aid? Subsection (8) (b)(i) refers to where it appears that the nature of the offence alleged is such that the accused person may be in danger of losing his liberty or that his livelihood may me imperilled or that his reputation may be seriously damaged; Is it suggested that that is not a proper case in which legal aid should be considered and the fact communicated to the defendant?

Mr. Carlisle indicated dissent.

Mr. Weitzman

The hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head. I cannot understand his logic. If he means by shaking his head that he is not in agreement, I cannot understand him.

Subsection (8) (b)(ii) says: that the matter alleged against the accused person or likely to be raised in his defence or in the defence of any other person which may affect his defence are likely to raise a substantial question of law; Surely in such a case the proper course is for the magistrate to say to the defendant, "Do you want legal aid?" and then consider whether it should be granted.

I do not want to weary the House with statistics. The hour is late, and the Government make it impossible for us to discuss these matters in the detail in which they should be considered. This is a Clause which should be adopted willingly by the Minister, and I hope the Minister will give it the approval it should have.

Mr. Carlisle

I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) made those comments about the discussion on this issue. As will be borne out by those hon. Members on both sides of the House who were on the Committee, we had a very full and frank discussion of the whole issue of legal aid during the passage of the Bill and within the last two years I have had to reply to various debates on this issue. It is not right, therefore, to suggest that this issue has not been adequately debated.

Mr. Weitzman

It is one thing to have a discussion in Committee where a limited number of hon. Members is present and another thing to have a discussion in the House where hon. Members who are not on the Committee can take part.

Mr. Carlisle

I commend the hon. and learned Gentleman to talk to his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) who has succeeded in raising it in the House on various occasions during the last two years. While I concede that this is an important issue, one cannot seriously say that there have not been many discussions of it in the last two years.

I will turn to the merits of the new Clause. The House should be quite clear what the new Clause proposes. Basically, what is suggested is that in all cases where a person is not represented by counsel or solicitor the court should consider whether legal aid ought to be granted, and if it decides not to make that order to state its reasons. It requires specifically the Crown court in criminal cases to consider the need for legal aid. It refers specifically to committal proceedings and then in general to summary proceedings in magistrates' courts. I do not disagree with the intention behind the new Clause, but I suggest that it is unnecessary and superfluous to put a provision of this kind in statutory form.

Subsection (7) provides that legal aid should be offered in all cases before the Crown courts. I do not dispute for one moment the desirability of representation of the individual defendant before the Crown court, but one must ask whether it is necessary to provide for this within the Statute. I point out to the House that in 1970 out of the 44,000 people who were tried on indictment before the Crown courts only 607 were unrepresented. Out of that total, of 44,000, only 59 applications for legal aid were refused by the court.

In face of those figures, I do not see how it can be seriously suggested that there is a lacuna which needs to be closed by a legislative provision of this kind. Well over 98 per cent. of those who appeared before the Crown courts were represented. As I have said before, I can readily believe that if one were able to assess the individual cases in the 59 instances out of the 44,000 in which legal aid was refused, one would find that there were good grounds and the court was satisfied, having regard to the way in which it proposed to deal with them, that the granting of legal aid could not possibly assist the carrying out of justice.

11.30 p.m.

On the first part of the proposal, therefore, since 98.6 per cent. out of the 44,000 are already represented, there is not an argument for amending the statute.

Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

The whole purpose of the new Clause is to set up the Widgery criteria in to to in legislative form. If one is doing that, it would be nonsense to omit reference to the Crown courts.

Mr. Carlisle

Yes, and I am coming to the other parts of the scheme. The Clause deals with the Crown courts, then with committals, and then with the magistrates' courts. I was simply pointing out, in view of some of the comments that had been made, how high is the proportion already represented in the Crown courts. I cannot believe that anyone would seriously suggest that the present arrangements for legal aid in the Crown courts are not working satisfactorily.

I come next in the excellent drafting—the work of the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), I suspect, though the Clause was moved by the right hon. and learned Gentleman—to proposals dealing with preliminary hearings in respect of offences triable only on indictment. I can give figures not for indictable offences but for committals as a whole. In 1970, out of 36,225 applications for legal aid on committals, 35,087, or 96.9 per cent., were granted by the court. Again I cannot believe that there is any need shown or anything in the working of the system in this sector which could possibly be said to require at this moment a statutory provision of the kind proposed.

I come now to what I accept is the major point, the provision of legal aid in the magistrates' courts on summary trial.

I am not in a position at the moment to give the hon. Member for Hackney, Central any more up-to-date figures than I have given in the past. However, over recent years the figures for both the applications for and the grant of legal aid in magistrates courts in summary trials have been rising substantially. Out of 83,800 applications for legal aid in summary proceedings in 1970, 69,000 or 82.3 per cent. were granted. That compares with a granting rate of some 72 per cent. four years previously in 1966. Comparing the 1966 and the 1970 figures, the take-up of legal aid has increased fourfold and the expenditure on legal aid in magistrates courts has increase tenfold. Therefore I repeat what I have said in the House and in Committee that, on the whole, the legal aid provisions are working well and are known and administered by the courts.

Mr. Clinton Davis

But the hon. and learned Gentleman has not begun to deal with the disparities. Will he compare Marlborough Street with Bow Street, for example? This is not a situation which has emerged suddenly. It has existed for a number of years.

Mr. Carlisle

I had not begun to deal with the argument about disparities because, unitil now, I had not had a chance to do so.

I do not intend to go into detail on the disparities between courts. The hon. Gentleman and I have argued it on many occasions. I concede that there are disparities in the degree of granting of different courts in different parts of the country. The hon. Gentleman will give me credit for being consistent in saying that I have always accepted that, and I have suggested that there are various reasons why it is so. Equally, I point out that there are disparities within individual courts from year to year. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that only 6.2 per cent, of applications were granted at Bootle in 1969. It so happens that in 1970 the figure granted was 46.2 per cent. That confirms that even within the same court the percentage granted varies from year to year.

None of us disputes the criteria on which legal aid should be granted. If there is any agreement, it concerns my oft-stated comment that the figures of increased take-up are evidence that the courts appreciate the criteria on which they should be acting. But there is no difference about the criteria.

The criteria were laid down in 1966 by the Widgery Committee. The Departmental Committee on Legal Aid in Criminal Proceedings, chaired by the present Lord Chief Justice, then the honourable Mr. Justice Widgery, recommended in para 180 of its report the criteria on which legal aid should be granted. I wholly accept those criteria.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked why I interrupted him at an earlier stage. The criterion in the new Clause goes considerably wider than that proposed by the Widgery Committee. The main criterion laid down by the Widgery Committee was that legal aid should be granted where the charge was a grave one in the sense that the accused was in real jeopardy of losing his liberty. The point of the new Clause is that the person may be in danger of losing his liberty.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about the cases in which someone was in grave jeopardy. He knows as well as I do that the offences for which imprisonment is a potential penalty vary enormously in degree. The criterion laid down by the Widgery Committee that someone should be in real jeopardy is the right one, and it is that about which courts should be asked to satisfy themselves.

Sir Elwyn Jones

The criterion in question is not confined to loss of liberty. It is "in jeopardy of losing his liberty or livelihood or suffering serious damage to his reputation". I was a little dismayed at the beginning of the debate at what appeared to be the hon. and learned Gentleman's reaction when I was endeavouring to point out that about two-thirds of those tried in magistrates' courts on indictable offences are not legally aided and do not even apply for legal aid. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to be taking the view that the absence of an application for legal aid was the result of a considered judgment on the part of those concerned, whereas we think that it is on the basis of a pure lack of knowledge of the rights available to the person concerned.

Mr. Carlisle

I still do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's comment is correct. As I understood it, he gave the full figures of those tried summarily on indictable offences and said that therefore they were in great jeopardy. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is a far more experienced and able lawyer than I am. He knows that every form of theft, however minor, ranks as an indictable offence. I was saying that one must look at the Widgery criterion for the granting of legal aid, namely, whether there is real jeopardy, rather than take the much wider criterion which the right hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to be taking, which was to say that because there were 22,000 cases of indictable offences triable summarily, therefore legal aid should have been granted in all those cases.

Mr. Money

There is one category of person for whom legal aid is not available in any circumstances—I have raised this matter with my hon. and learned Friend before—and that is the person appearing before a disciplinary committee of visiting magistrates. Such an event can result in a substantial loss of liberty in the form of a substantial loss of remission.

Mr. Carlisle

If I were to answer that I think that I should, quite rightly, be ruled out of order, because I do not think that appearance before a disciplinary committee in prison is covered by the Clause. It deals only with the granting of legal aid in magistrates' and Crown Courts.

I cannot go all the way with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) in his view that everyone, irrespective of means or anything else, should automatically be entitled to legal aid. The provisions for granting legal aid and the contribution scheme brought in by the previous Government were right. We are talking only about the discretion in the granting of legal aid in the summary trial of cases in magistrates' courts. As I have said, those principles on which a court ought to act are well known to the courts and are being acted on.

11.45 p.m.

But, having said that, let me make it clear that the present Government accept entirely the Widgery criteria and believe that those are the appropriate criteria that should be implemented. In view of the various comments that have been made and, if I may say so without being accused of being provocative at this hour, despite the fact that the Widgery criteria and the Widgery Report were introduced as long ago as 1966 and the then Government did nothing about them until 1970, as the present Government believe that the Widgery criteria are right, a Home Office circular recommending, among other things, observance of those criteria by the courts is in preparation. Subject to the necessary discussion and consultation with other Departments and with bodies such as the Magistrates Association and the Justices' Clerks Society, we are perfectly willing to circulate it to the courts recommending what we believe to be the right criteria on the basis of which legal aid should be granted.

This matter does not need the sledgehammer—if that is the word—of being turned into statutory provision. I believe that the departmental committee recommendations on legal aid were right. The right way is that the Government should now do what their predecessors failed to do, which is to recommend them by circular to the courts.

Mr. Clinton Davis

What a waste of time.

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman says, "What a waste of time", but his party did precious little about recommending those criteria to the courts.

Mr. Davis

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carlisle

No. The hon. Gentleman has urged upon me time and again that the appropriate thing to do would be to recommend those criteria to the courts. I have heard it from the hon. Gentleman's lips and from the Opposition benches on many occasions. I see no necessity to implement this in statutory form. Indeed, if I had to go into the details, I believe that subparagraph (b)(i) goes far wider in principle than anyone realistically would wish it to do.

The right thing is to ensure that the criteria, which we all believe are the appropriate criteria, should be carried out by the courts. In a matter which is within the judicial discretion of the courts, the task of the Home Office is to recommend by circular those matters which it believes to be the wishes of Parliament as to the guidelines on which a court should act. That is the right way to proceed, rather than to carry out a statutory provision of this kind.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

I hope that I have caught the Minister before he sits down. Would he explain this matter? I am not putting this question in any critical spirit but because the House would wish to know the answer. The Government have decided to give statutory effect—by way of an Amendment to which we shall come later—to the O'Keefe principle, which was laid down by a court of law. What is the distinction between what is a departmental report, and the advisability of putting that into statutory form, and that which is a principle enunciated by a court and the advisability of putting that into statutory form?

Mr. Carlisle

I feel rather like the man who is asked, "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" I have, under great pressure, agreed to consider whether it would be appropriate to put into statutory form the principles of the judgement of the Court of Appeal in O'Keefe as to the circumstances in which suspended sentences should be passed. I pointed out in Committee that, although I was by no means certain that it was appropriate to put judgments of the Court of Appeal into statutory form, I was prepared to consider doing so. Having considered it, I have agreed—I hope with grace—to do so, and I am now doing it.

I having done that, the hon. and learned Gentleman asks—why do we not implement every departmental recommendation One must draw the line somewhere. I was satisfied by the argument adduced in Committee that it was right to amend Clause 10 so as to put into statutory form the provisions of O'Keefe. I do not think that it follows from that that we should be asked to put into statutory form the provisions of every departmental working party or the recommendations it makes. The normal procedure with regard to reports of departmental working parties is that, if the Government of the day support them, they are recommended to interested parties as guidelines for implementation. I believe that on reflection the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that that is the right way to proceed.

Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)

Despite what the Minister of State has said, many of us still have misgivings about the great disparity in the way legal aid is granted as between one court and another. It is not necessary to bandy about statistics, because anybody who has practised in magistrates' courts cannot fail to be impressed by the way in which some stipendiaries lean over backwards in their endeavours to grant legal aid on every occasion, while other magistrates seem totally indifferent.

One reason I am attracted to the Clause is that it would alert magistrates to their duty to inform accused that they have a right to legal aid. Many accused have no idea what legal aid means. They think that it means merely having somebody to represent them and their having to pay for it. Only last week I saw a defendant brought up in court. The magistrate, who goes out of his way to grant legal aid, asked the man if he wanted legal aid. The defendant replied, "No, because I cannot afford to pay for it". The man thought that he would have to pay a large sum of money to engage somebody to represent him.

I believe that magistrates have a duty, not only to ask every defendant who is not represented whether he wishes to be represented, but also to explain to him exactly what legal aid means. Some magistrates give the impression that certain cases are not of themselves deserving of legal aid. This is certainly true in the case of shoplifting. I will not refer to any particular court—I might have to appear there. A high proportion of those charged with shoplifting are foreign and of good character, but it is not explained to them that they are entitled to legal aid.

It may well be that in shoplifting cases a high proportion of accused persons are subsequently convicted and a high proportion of them have little defence. However, because they are the sort of people who generally are of good character, who have committed no previous offences, the mere fact of having a conviction against them is something that will haunt them and be held against them for the rest of their lives.

There should be a duty upon magistrates, when persons appear before them who are inarticulate, who cannot speak the language properly, to explain to them their rights and exactly what legal aid means.

I have little complaint about the practice in the crown courts. Most people agree that in the higher courts legal aid is invariably granted to anybody who has a reasonable right to it. However, there is a difference in the magistrates courts.

While this Clause deals with a narrow point, the mere fact of having it in a Statute that there is a duty upon the magistrates to explain to the accused what is his basic right will make the magistrate do so. Therefore, I hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman would accept it.

Mr. Money rose

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

It is a lawyer's debate.

Mr. Money

No doubt my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to speak later.

Dame Irene Ward

It is about time.

Mr. Money

I apologise to my hon. Friend for not being able to deal with her intervention in the way she would wish.

I echo what has been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder), that we are rightly proud of our legal aid system. However, we should remember at all times that it is a discretionary system.

There are three matters that we need to bear in mind. First, that the prosecution, particularly in magistrates courts, are almost invariably represented. Therefore, from the pure but old legal principle of justice being seen to be done as well as being done, it is only fair to say that often the prosecution act to the benefit of defendants as well as against them. It is important in such a situation that a defendant should be seen to be given the same sort of right as the Crown or a private prosecutor is claiming.

Secondly, it is desperately important that we should bear in mind that sending people to prison is an expensive fine on the State. Before we make a decision which will cost even now approximately £25 a week purely for the custodial side of it, without the incurrence of the extra amounts paid out in supplementary benefits or loss of revenue which this involves, we should be in a position where a court dealing with a matter in possibly a short time should have every assistance to make up its mind whether it is necessary to send somebody to prison.

Thirdly, we are proud of the speed with which our courts act. It has been a criterion which has been put constantly before the courts, that it is a matter of the utmost importance that cases should be brought quickly to a decision. That is different from the situation which applies in many forms of continental jurisdiction, where a good deal of time and care is spent in going into the antecedents of an individual defendant. Nonetheless one thing we could ensure in those circumstances is a thorough investigation of the case by a legal adviser so that all those matters that should be brought before a court are brought before a court.

On the continent, particularly in Germany, a case may well take 12 months to bring to trial because of the preliminary investigations. Far too often matters which could be brought before a court quickly and clearly if a defendant were adequately represented, particularly in a court of summary jurisdiction, are not so dealt with, and what happens is that either he or she has to be remanded—often in custody—for further inquiries, or the burden is placed on the already overworked and underpaid probation service to make inquiries which could be made under legal aid in whatever type of case is involved.

12 midnight.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth feels that this is a lawyers' debate, but this is a matter with which many of us in the legal profession have to live every day. For that reason, I wholeheartedly welcome that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State intends to recommend to the courts, in the form of a Government circular, that the Widgery criteria should be accepted. This is something for which many of us have pressed in the House. It would therefore be less than generous if we did not say how pleased we are.

Taking the matter a step further, I hope that when the circular goes out—I am sure that coming from my hon. and learned Friend's Department it will bear the greatest possible weight with the courts—it will be implemented by them. This is the nub of the matter. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that it is not necessary to apply statutory force when the matter can be effected through a circular of the kind which he has mentioned. However, I hope it will be made plain that not only the Government but the public will expect this recommendation to be enforced by the courts and not allowed to wither among so many other circulars and recommendations which come from less persuasive bodies on to the files of justices' clerks.

Mr. Edmund Dell (Birkenhead)

I shall speak briefly and purely in order to avoid writing another letter to the Minister of State. At the moment the hon. and learned Gentleman has so many letters from me he may prefer on this occasion to receive it across the Floor of the House.

I welcome that the hon. and learned Gentleman intends to commend the Widgery criteria to the courts. However, I should prefer the new Clause, because it is necessary to go wider.

The Minister will recall that "Justice", in its report The unrepresented defendant in magistrates' courts", indicated certain inadequacies in the Widgery criteria. Therefore, when drafting his circular perhaps he will bear in mind what "Justice" says. I wish to draw the Minister's attention particularly to one matter in this pamphlet which bears very much on the question of preparing the circular. The report, in paragraph 65, says: By far the most difficult problem to solve is how to recognise the case that merits legal aid at the very early stages when representation is so important. The question is how to recognise at the stage the court may have to recognise it if it is to grant legal aid, that the case it is considering falls within the Widgery criteria. I hope that when preparing the circular the hon. and learned Gentleman will not merely commend the criteria, but will assist the courts to get over the kind of difficulty which "Justice" pointed to in its report.

I now come to another point which follows what the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) said. Yesterday, as is my wont in preparation for the debate, I put two Questions down to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I wanted to know what he knew about the facts in two respects. First, I wanted to know what the hon. and learned Gentleman knew about the legal representation of people remanded in custody. I asked him, therefore, what recent study he had made, in reply to which he said that there had been no recent study.

Secondly, I asked what recent study he has made of the proportion and number of men and women sentenced to imprisonment by magistrates' courts and higher courts separately, who were legally represented; and with what result? He said that no recent study had been made because it was not thought appropriate to make a study of this question at a time when the grant of legal aid was increasing so rapidly. He went on to use this very curious sentence, about which I would have written to him: Since, however, over three times as many defendants are granted legal aid in magistrates' courts as are sentenced to immediate imprisonment and nearly all defendants appearing before the Crown Court are represented, the proportion of unrepresented defendants sentenced to imprisonment is now likely to be very small". The hon. and learned Gentleman may be right for all I know. What I do not know is how he can use that reasoning to justify it.

I received the reply rather late, no doubt due to administrative problems in the Home Office or Hansard, and therefore I have not been able to check the figures as thoroughly as I should like, but, as far as I can see, for some years the ratio of legal aid to persons sentenced to immediate imprisonment has been about three to one or more. One of those years was 1969, and yet we know from Mr. Zander's study that in that year quite a large proportion of people were sentenced to imprisonment without legal representation, despite the fact that the ratio upon which he relies existed.

That being so, there is quite inadequate reason for the hon. and learned Gentleman deciding that the time is not appropriate to make some inquiry so that he should have some facts on which to base further action. When we refer to old inquiries such as that made by Mr. Zander, we are told that they are old inquiries. When we ask for a new inquiry, we are told that a new inquiry is not necessary because the grant of legal aid is advancing so rapidly.

Despite all that the hon. and learned Gentleman says, there may be a good deal less reason for satisfaction in this case than he thinks. I remind him about what seems to me to be one of the most interesting sentences in the Widgery Report. It appears in paragraph 181 on page 49—and I leave out the irrelevant words: …we are not recommending any change in the existing general practice…". Yet the hon. and learned Gentleman has said that since the date of this Report the grant of legal aid has increased four times. Lord Widgery, when he prepared his report, thought that his criteria were the general practice of the courts. They were not. It may be that the hon. and learned Gentleman, if he made inquiry into this question, would find that many people were being sentenced to imprisonment without legal aid despite the curious reasoning which he employed in his answer.

Dame Irene Ward

I was delighted to see the right hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams), who I believe is not a lawyer, sitting on the Opposition Front Bench because for some time I thought that I was the only lay individual in the Chamber. Although I always enjoy listening to lawyers arguing, I began to wonder whether there was a female name for Daniel, because I felt like Daniel in the lions' den.

My experience over many years indicates that, in the main, magistrates' benches consist of very good men and women. Sometimes magistrates in the courts of summary jurisdiction are much more concerned with the human need to protect the offender and to get to the bottom of the case than those who have been brought in, as a result of legal aid, to represent the offender. Goodness and an interest in human beings is not the monopoly of one section of the community.

We have heard a one-sided argument from the lawyers about the need for legal aid. It is important in these matters to have good, sound human magistrates on the bench. Sometimes they must step in where lawyers fail to conduct their cases properly. I have sat on a magisterial bench for a long time and I have known occasions on which I could have made a better job of the defence than the lawyer.

We have first-class lawyers in this country of whom we are extremely proud and to whom we are indebted. But among lawyers, as among other sections of the community, including Parliament, there is good and bad. The balance of the debate tonight, particularly from the Labour benches, has been towards the denigration of magistrates and the praising of lawyers. I do not object to lawyers because I have had lawyers in my own family but I do not like a debate which puts only one half of the story.

Some of the speeches tonight have been ridiculous, and that applies particularly to the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis). He would do better to travel round the country and listen to some of the benches. He would see the care and the trouble they take and the human approach they adopt when offenders are brought before them. Our courts of summary jurisdiction as well as our Crown Courts have built up a wonderful reputation for our system of justice throughout the world.

I had not intended to take part in the debate until I heard how the Opposition have behaved, breaking the arrangement they made last week without warning. That was a deplorable thing to do.

Mr. Clinton Davis

What arrangement?

Dame Irene Ward

The arrangement made last week was that if we had a late debate tonight on a very full argument there would be no Divisions. The Opposition said they would be satisfied with the Clauses which were argued about last week. They broke their word.

I am grateful for the opportunity to pay my tribute to the magisterial benches after what was said by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central. He made a deplorable speech and it does not help the maintenance of good law if a lawyer who is anxious to get commissions make the kind of speech that he made.

We have good, bad and indifferent magistrates, just as we have good, bad and indifferent lawyers and Members of Parliament. I wanted to see that we had a proper balance in the debate, and that it was not only the legal people that took part.

The Bill is of great importance to the country as a whole. It is not just a Bill for lawyers and magistrates; its object is to maintain a good, just and honourable system of law. The people of the country want a much stronger Bill on criminal justice than they are having even under my Government.

I am delighted that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister has done what the lawyers seem to think is very good, and I wish him all luck. But I want to say something arising out of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money). Perhaps now my hon. and learned Friend will undertake that the probation service will no longer be treated as the Cinderella of social services. Quite recently the Committee on which I sit issued a report on the probation service. We did not feel that the Home Office was doing what it should to maintain, sustain and assist the service. It would be a good thing if my hon. and learned Friend would now say that he accepts in full the Committee's recommendations. It is time those in the probation services, which does so much to help the very people that all the lawyers are talking about, were properly paid and treated. I should be very glad if, as a result of my annoyance at hearing so much about the lawyers and so little about the other people in the country who help to maintain our system of justice, I learn that the probation service is to get its due.

With so many lawyers present, I am delighted to have had my say on this very important matter as a lay individual.

12.15 a.m.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

I am neither a lawyer nor a magistrate. I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) said, but I feel that if I tried to comment on her last remarks I should swiftly be ruled out of order.

I am not happy with the Minister's reply. The basic reason why I intervene is that I am very worried because more and more people are today pleading guilty to relatively minor offences, even though they are convinced they are not guilty, because of the cost of pleading not guilty. On another occasion I should like to raise once again the important issue of the allocation of costs on acquittal. The question of legal aid here is also very important.

We all know that there are, as the hon. Lady said, good lawyers and less good lawyers, good magistrates and less good magistrates. What has become obvious is that there is quite a considerable variation between one magistrates' court and another—this is by no means so much the case in Crown Courts—in the granting of legal aid where particular offences are alleged. We sometimes have the impression that some courts have prejudices against particular offences when it comes to granting legal aid. The Minister of State will remember that he appeared on the Frost programme a few months ago when this was brought out dramatically, by various members of the audience.

The Minister said he will issue a circular to magistrates' courts, setting out roughly the Widgery proposals. I am not certain of the effect of a Home Office circular on magistrates nor to what extent they are bound to accept it or are free not to do so. I imagine that in most cases they will agree to accept the terms but there may be one or two cases in which they will pay slightly less attention to the Minister's circular.

I cannot see the objection to having the Widgery proposals enshrined in Statute. The Minister did not convince me on the objections. Why send a circular rather than putting it in the Statute?

My more important point is that the circular and the Widgery proposals do not cover the first part of the new Clause, the subsection which recommends that magistrates, in most circumstances, are to inquire, where a defendant is not represented, why not It is important. Someone appears before a magisrates court and is not defended. The magistrate should then not only have a right, but in most cases a duty, to ask, before proceeding with the case, "Why are you not defended?" The defendant may then say, "I cannot afford to be defended". If he says he does not want to be defended and wants to defend himself, that is his own choice. However, if he does not understand what legal aid is about or did not think he was eligible for it, that is another matter. A number of people do not understand what legal aid is all about.

The cases where I find that courts are often reluctant to give legal aid are some motoring offences. I am not suggesting that all motoring offences should be legally aided. The type of case I have in mind in which it is often not granted is that of a chap who has committed three offences and under the totting up procedure may be disqualified from driving for a period. It may well be that there is a need in many such cases, particularly if a man earns his living by driving, for a plea of mitigation to be made.

I find it rare indeed in these cases in magistrates' courts for legal aid to be granted. Generally it is accepted that one does not give legal aid for lesser offences. The Minister of State will be aware of a case which has caused considerable concern in my area, about which I have written to him, in which a person was charged with possession of drugs and was refused legal aid.

I am told—and lawyers present will confirm or deny this—that many cases in respect of possession of drugs are detailed technical cases which need an experienced lawyer to defend them. In this case, there were two young lads. In the end one was represented because his father paid a considerable sum of money. But really his father could not afford it. The Minister of State said that it was not so serious after all because the lad was represented, but he was represented only because his father forked out a large sum of money. His father might have said that he would have nothing to do with it—there are such cases.

As it was, the other lad went through the magistrates' court procedure without legal aid but was granted it in the Crown Court. He was sent to Crown Court with a recommendation for borstal training, and I have not yet heard the final outcome. But this was a case in which it was obvious from the start that the boy stood to lose his liberty, and I cannot understand why he was not granted legal aid from the start.

I hope that the Home Office circular will have the necessary effect on magistrates but I cannot see the hon. and learned Gentleman's objection to writing it into the Bill. Is it because the magistrates or their clerks object to things being written into Statute form?

Dame Irene Ward


Mr. Mitchell

I am asking whether that is the case. Do they prefer to have it in circular form? I find it the Minister's refusal to accept new Clause 7 or at least its principle as quite inexplicable. I hope that even at this stage he will reconsider his decision.

Mr. Stanbrook

I rise to make what I hope is a helpful suggestion. The complaint that lies at the heart of new Clause 7 is that the average defendant is not sufficiently aware of his right to apply for legal aid. If that is the case, we can tackle the problem without going to the length of enacting in Statute form what the appropriate rights are.

At the moment every defendant, with one class excepted, is brought to court either on a summons or after a charge, he having been arrested, is reduced to written form. Would it not be possible for the written charge and for the summons to bear wording to the effect that "legal aid will be available in your case, so do not neglect to inquire when you arrive at court whether you are entitled to it"? When he addresses the magistrates on this point and acquaints them with the Widgery rules, my hon. and learned Friend might suggest that.

I referred to a class to which this does not apply—those arrested and kept in custody overnight and brought to court next morning. It could not apply to them and I appreciate that there is a large number of such cases—for example, shoplifting and cases of that kind. Perhaps this is the kind of case where a cautionary word by the magistrates might be justified in ensuring that the defendant knows his right to apply for legal aid.

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, East)

The ambit of new Clause 7 is narrow. Fundamentally, it says that in cases where the granting of legal aid is within the scope of the magistrates, they should tell the accused that he has the right to apply for it. But given the skill which Parliamentarians have, the debate has been kept going for a very long time and we have touched on the virtues and vices of lawyers and justices and the problems of probation. I do not propose to do any of that but to keep my remarks extremely brief, as always.

12.30 a.m.

The Widgery criteria are not wide enough because they do not take into account the problem imposed by distance. Holidaymakers plead guilty in the magistrates' courts far more often than any other class of person. A person from Bradford goes to Cornwall on holiday and is charged with a driving offence. When the case comes on he is back in Bradford in the middle of the working week and he has to go all the way to Cornwall with several witnesses. There are train fares to pay or petrol to buy and overnight hotel bills to pay. He does not know about legal aid. If he does, there is the unwillingness of the courts to grant it to him. The result is that, although he feels he is not guilty and has witnesses to say so, he writes to say that he will not contest the matter and is guilty.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Is not one of the difficulties here that even if he is acquitted his chance of getting costs is almost nil?

Mr. Lyons

That is perfectly true. The Widgery criteria should have taken into account the expense imposed by distance in relation to the possible penalty, so that it is not worth a man defending even though he is innocent.

Mr. Carlisle

Since the point has been made so many times, I put it to the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons), and ask him to confirm, that in driving cases a person can invariably be represented without any charge through his insurance company within the terms of his insurance agreement or, alternatively, if he is a member, by the AA or the RAC. Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that there is not ample provision for the representation of motorists?

Mr. Lyons

I am not sure that is right. I know of a person who had no representation and his problem was not only his own expenses but the expenses of taking three people.

Mr. Carlisle

That is another matter.

Mr. Lyons

But if a person has witnesses in widely scattered parts of England and Scotland who have to stay away from work and be taken to Cornwall, it is impossible for the ordinary working man to do that and, as a consequence, he is obliged to plead guilty.

Although the RAC, the AA or the insurance company may give some help, legal aid covers the expenses of defence witnesses, including travelling expenses, time off work, and so on. It is difficult to obtain legal aid in driving cases and often the accused man does not know of the existence of the legal aid provision.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Although it may be possible for the accused person to send a lawyer to represent him, that means that he cannot himself give evidence in denial of the charge. That point was not met by the Minister's intervention. Secondly, is not the accused person required to be in attendance in court where there is a charge as distinct from a summons?

Mr. Lyons

I am entirely in agreement with those observations. The Widgery criteria and no doubt the circular which is to be sent do not cover that point.

I apologise for not being able to participate in the rest of the debate, but I have to go to Bradford to hear the right hon. and noble Friend of the Minister open the new law courts, and therefore have to catch a sleeper. I am sure that in the Bradford law courts legal aid will always be granted in a proper case.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

We have now had four debates, three of which have together lasted over eight hours. The majority of that time has been after ten o'clock at night and a not insubstantial part of it after midnight. Hon. Members on both sides have contributed in equal numbers to the debates. No one could say that the matters which have been discussed have been trivial or unimportant.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have protested on this and previous occasions that matters of such importance should not be dealt with in this way. I hope that the Home Secretary, whom I am glad to see in his place, will convey to his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that matters of grave importance within his direct Departmental responsibility ought not to be discussed at this time of night. They are serious matters affecting a great many individuals, and they ought to be disussed in a fashion which gives opportunity to all hon. Members, whether lawyers, magistrates or neither, to take part.

The need to ensure that legal aid is freely available in criminal cases, in accordance with the Widgery criteria, is not doubted. No hon. Member has doubted that the present position, though certainly an improvement over what it was some years ago, is still unsatisfactory. It is conceded that there are wide disparities between one court and another, and especially between one magistrates' court and another, so much so that hon. Members on both sides have referred to legal aid as being a lottery. Perhaps that is too strong a term, but it is an indication of the view of those who are experienced in these matters.

Perhaps even more important than the disparities between courts in dealing with applications for legal aid is the fact, to which several hon. Members have referred, that many people who need legal aid are unaware of their right to apply for it. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) made a suggestion which might partially—only partially, as he admitted—deal with that difficulty. The hon. and learned Member for Ruislip—Northwood (Mr. Crowder), in a powerful speech on the subject, made the significant observation, speaking as one who has sat as chairman of quarter sessions—I confirm what he said from my own experience for many years as a recorder—that, very often, when an appeal goes to the higher court and the defendant is legally represented, facts are disclosed and knowledge is obtained by the court which lead it to take a view totally different from that taken in the court below.

I assure the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) that that is no criticism of the magistrates. The magistrates cannot do their job if they do not have all the equipment necessary for them to do it, and part of that equipment is that the defendant should be properly represented if he is not able to make his case himself so that all necessary matters are brought to the court's attention. They cannot make the right decision if they have not the material upon which to make it.

What do we suggest to cure these admitted ills? First, we suggest that those who satisfy the broad Widgery criteria and who are not represented when they reach court should be informed of their right to apply. The hon. Member for Orpington tried to produce the same result in a different way. But why should not the Statute make it obligatory upon the court to inform those people of their right to apply if they do not already know of that right?

The Minister of State tells us that a circular will be issued. Will it advise the courts that they should take this step, where the Widgery criteria are fulfilled, of informing defendants of their right to apply for legal aid, or will it merely remind them of what the Widgery criteria are? We did not have a word about that important matter in the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks.

I say it is important for this reason. I agree that the figures show that there has been a very considerable increase in the granting of legal aid since 1966 when the Widgery Report came out. The Minister of State was good enough to give me figures by letter. They show that in magistrates courts, including both indictable cases dealt with summarily and other cases, whereas in 1967 the number of grants of legal aid was nearly 31,000, in 1970 it had become 69,000. That is an admirable improvement. It is interesting and important to note the other figures that the hon. and learned Gentleman gave me. In the same period, those sentenced in those courts to immediate imprisonment went down from 25,500 to just over 19,000, a reduction of about a quarter in the prison population. It seems to me that those are the most significant figures that we have had in the debate.

While the figures of the grant of legal aid may have gone up, what the Minister of State did not tell us was how those figures compare with the number of people appearing before those courts who, on the Widgery criteria, would have been entitled to legal aid. We were not told how many people did not apply, whether because they did not know or for some other reason, for the legal aid which was their right on the Widgery criteria. That is the really important question. It is all very well for people who know to apply to be granted it. But it is that unknown number of people who do not apply because they do not know which we seek to cover in the new Clause. We have heard nothing about them in the hon. and learned Gentleman's reply.

However many circulars are issued, the disparities are bound to continue, unless there is some control by the courts themselves. The best form of control that the courts can maintain is when people are told the reasons why their applications for legal aid are refused. That enables one to see the standards of one court compared with that of another, and it enables the higher courts to keep control of the exercise of this discretion.

12.45 a.m.

The Minister of State's answer was wholly unsatisfactory and, indeed, negative. He did not tell us whether the circular which he suggested would be issued in due course would tell the courts that they ought to give reasons when they refuse to grant legal aid. Nor did the Minister tell us whether there was any power in the Home Office to require or invite courts to do so. I should like to know whether that will be in the circular, just as I should like to know whether the circular will tell courts that defendants should be informed of their rights. We have heard nothing at all about that.

The Clause would make it obligatory upon courts to give their reasons for refusing legal aid so that all may know and be able to see whether disparities which are believed to exist are genuine, or whether they arise simply through different circumstances affecting different courts. That is something that we cannot tell at present.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) made an extremely valid point when he drew attention to paragraph 181 of the Widgery Report and a similar passage in paragraph 186 which shows that the Widgery Committee thought that merely setting out on paper what the criteria should be in the form of a departmental committee's report would not make a great deal of difference. Yet here we have figures showing that since 1967 the granting of legal aid has more than doubled. Either there was a serious deficiency when Widgery made his report, which he did not appreciate was there, or other extraneous factors have been critical in producing these figures. Whichever it is, the giving of reasons for the refusal of legal aid would enable us to know about matters which we ought to know about.

The third main part of the Clause is the setting out in broad terms—with, as my right hon. Friend said, certain differences—the criteria themselves. The Minister of State has criticised them in certain respects. Others have said that since Widgery organisations such as Justice have suggested that these criteria could well be expanded. If the Minister of State had said that the Clause in its present form would not do and that a Clause in a better and more up-to-date form would be inserted at a later stage in another place, we should have been glad to hear that, and I should not have insisted on the wording of the Clause, for which I bear responsibility. But we heard nothing of the kind.

The Minister and the Home Office seem to be highly reluctant to put matters of this kind in statute. I can never understand why. After all, a statute is where people look in order to see what their duties are. The Criminal Justice Act, 1967, set up the system of criminal legal aid as it now exists, and we are suggesting that coupled with that and by way of amendment to that statute there should be inserted into the law the criteria upon which that legal aid should be granted. Why on earth not? What is the danger of doing that? What is the disrespect to the courts in doing that? Why should it be done by Home Office circular, which can at best be only advisory and, as I have endeavoured to show, in some respects at any rate is bound to be seriously defective?

We are not satisfied with the answer which the Minister of State has given. I wish that the hour were a more reasonable one so that we could show our dissatisfaction in a more concrete way. But we are not responsible for that. We have had to accept the time that has been given tous.

The Minister of State commented that this matter has been frequently raised since he has been at the Home Office, that is, over the last two years. I agree. It will be raised again and again in the future until we get a satisfactory answer.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The House proceeded to a Division but, no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Ayes, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared that the Noes had it.

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