HC Deb 13 July 1977 vol 935 cc717-9
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)

I beg to move Amendment No. 84, in page 12, line 22, leave out '(4) Subsection (1) above is' and insert: (3A) The following offences under the Night Poaching Act 1828 shall be triable only summarily (instead of only on indictment), namely—

  1. (a) offences under section 2 of that Act (assaults by persons committing offences under the Act);
  2. (b) offences under section 9 of that Act (entering land, with others, armed and for the purpose of taking or destroying game or rabbits).
(4) Subsections (1) and (3A) above are'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it may be convenient to discuss Government Amendments Nos. 86, 101, 106, 109, 110, 129, 132, 133, 153, 165, 166, 179 and 191.

Dr. Summerskill

This group of 14 amendments makes certain changes in the mode of trial of offences under the Night Poaching Act 1828 and the Truck Act 1831. At the same time they seek to update and rationalise the penalties for the offences.

The first change is made in consequence of the new mode of trial procedures in Part III of the Bill. Section 1 of the Night Poaching Act creates a conditionally indictable offence—namely, an offence that is basically triable in a magistrates' court. If, however, it is committed by a person who has been convicted on two previous occasions, the offence is treated as a misdemeanour and is accordingly triable only on indictment, thereby inevitably disclosing to the jury that the offender has previous convictions. For this reason it would be anomalous to allow this procedure to survive in its present form. We have concluded that the right course is to make the offence triable only in the magistrates' court irrespective of the number at previous convictions.

We have also taken the opportunity to make the penalties more consistent with the new scale proposed in the Bill and with the existing day poaching penalties. Therefore, in place of the complex series of existing penalties, which involve not only fines and imprisonment but some outmoded provisions relating to the finding of sureties, we propose a maximum penalty of a £200 fine without the availability of imprisonment.

The only other conditionally indictable offence that we have discovered is contained in Section 9 of the Truck Act 1831 and consists of entering into illegal contracts or making illegal payments. The offence is at present triable summarily on the first two occasions, the maximum fines being respectively£10 and£20, but on the third occasion the offence is triable only on indictment, with a maximum penalty of a£100 fine. Paragraph 2 of the amendment to Schedule 1 makes the offence triable only in a magistrates' court, and the existing penalties are replaced by a maximum fine of£200.

The need to amend the offences under Section 1 of the Night Poaching Act focused attention on other offences under the Act—namely under Sections 2 and 9. Both these offences are at present triable only on indictment and 14 years' imprisonment respectively. These are undoubtedly heavy penalties by present-day standards. Perhaps this is best explained by recalling that the Act was passed by the unreformed Parliament in 1828, when poaching was considered to be a particularly serious offence.

6.45 a.m.

Consideration of these penalties gives rise to the question of whether proceedings on indictment should be available for these offences at all. We concluded that the right step was to transfer these offences to the purely summary category with reduced maximum penalties of up to six months' imprisonment or a fine not exceeding£500, or both. Poaching offences and the game laws as a whole are outmoded and call for fundamental revision. There are a great many anomalies. The amendments to the 1828 Act are, we believe, the minimum necessary within the Bill.

Sir M. Havers

Faced with a battery of Home Office Ministers, I hope that I shall not be guilty of sex discrimination when extending my congratulations to the Under-Secretary on the clear way in which she introduced the amendments and described their effects. However, I think that it is a little ungentlemanly on the part of the hon. Lady's colleagues to make her come here at all today. We have been here all the time and she has had to be brought here. I congratulate her and welcome the amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

HIGHWAYS ACT 1959 (c. 25)

Offences under section 119(3) (failure to make good the surface of a public path after ploughing). Section 119(4)(b). £50 £200'.

Mr. John

First, I think that I should indicate to the right hon and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) that his Amendment No. 137 is accepted. That fulfils an undertaking I gave in Committee.

These amendment; are concerned with penalty clauses. The only ones to which I need refer are Amendments No. 88 and 143. They give effect to an undertaking that I gave about the Medicines Act 1968 and the Poisons Act 1972. I think that the

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