HC Deb 05 June 1980 vol 985 cc1763-821 7.24 pm
Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

I beg to move, That this House notes with approval the Second Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 1979–80 (HC 559). I shall put my arguments briefly, as befits a debate of less than three hours' duration.

Last year the new system of Select Committees was set up to cover individual Departments. It was hailed by the Leader of the House as revolutionary. That was a description upon which I cast doubts at the time, on the ground that at the end of the day it is for the Government to govern. Nevertheless, the report in general and the work of the Select Committee are important in relation to the procedures of the House.

What is of fuller significance is that the report reflected almost unanimously the views of hon. Members from both sides of the House. No Select Committee report should be ignored, but one as powerfully supported as this one may be given more weight than usual.

Parliamentary time is, of course, precious and in our view no time can be found in this Session. As a former Home Secretary, I am aware that the Government will need to consult. The Law Commission report is also awaited and, therefore, our motion really asks for approval in the next Session, which will start in November. Our motion can have no other meaning, given the procedures of the House.

On the matter of " sus " and race relations, I wish to make clear, as did the Committee, that we are not arguing that the law should be tailored to meet the needs of one section of the population, as suggested by the Police Federation. The Select Committee report has examined " sus " in its broadest context. That is as it should be. In this respect, and In another context, I say to the Home Secretary that I ended detention in Northern Ireland not because I was in favour of terrorism but because I believed that there were better ways, through the law, of bringing people to justice.

In Northern Ireland I ended political status because I regarded politically motivated crime as being no different from any other crime. Among the many things that attracted me to the report was its objectivity. It said about " sus ": The direct effects of its repeal may come as a disappointment to those concerned with the race relations aspect.

The report went on: The repeal of ' sus ' may therefore do no more than create a marginally more favourable climate for improvements in the relationship between the police and the black community. I have moved that the House notes the report with approval. My position is clear, but I may well be asked whether that position has changed in the last year. For some time I have had in my possession a note made on 28 March 1979 by my private office. The note refers to the departmental working party report and says: The working party, therefore, recommends abolishing the relevant part of section 4 of the 1824 Act and replacing it with a new offence with the same essential features. The note goes on to detail Government acceptance of this and the need to await the Law Commission report on the law of " attempt." The final words of the note in relation to the then Government were: The Government also wishes to consider any views which may be expressed on the way in which the present offence is used—and on the need for a new offence. I was not convinced of the need for a new offence but, of course, the Law Commission report had to be taken into account.

The Select Committee report convinced me that whatever other changes are recommended, " sus " should go. I wish to discuss two matters only in the report. It states: The most powerful argument against ' sus ' is that it is a fundamentally unsatisfactory offence in principle. It is not generally acceptable in English law to exact penalties for forming a criminal intention. The intending criminal has usually to carry out some act as an attempt to implement his intention. The report goes on to discuss conspiracy. A leader in The Times stated: It offends against the important principles of justice in two ways. It makes mere intent criminal and subject to imprisonment. It allows proof of previous convictions to be introduced at the trial as evidence of that intent. That is the legal side. It is difficult for non-lawyers.

How will the police operate if and when the "sus" law goes? It will not present a problem in all parts of the country, because the " sus " law is not used in all parts. It is apparently not used in Scotland. Any argument that the law is indispensable cannot apply to the country as a whole. There are general powers under the 1967 Criminal Law Act under which police officers can act if they have reasonable grounds for suspicion that an offence is being actively contemplated. Section 2 of that Act applies. I do not call in aid local legislation, because it is too important a matter to be left to local legislation.

I agree with the report that the gap left when " sus " is ended will be insignificant. The Times leader is relevant. It states: The law of attempted theft could be used more often than it is. ' Sus ' is charged rather than attempt because it is easier to obtain a conviction. ' Sus ' is used largely against suspected car thieves and pickpockets. It is not designed to stop muggers. Mugging is not a legal concept but we all know what it means. The leader continues: The problem of street crime is a real one. On that, I agree with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, for whom I have particular respect, but I do not agree with his conclusions in this respect. I think that there are other ways of dealing with the problem, including using the laws on theft and robbery. We must also consider the possibility of having more police on the streets.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Since the right hon. Gentleman was in Government he has changed his mind as a result of reading the report. Sir David McNee has said that in many cases the "suspected person" offence is the only one that allows intervention by the police. What does the right hon. Gentleman say to that?

Mr. Rees

I thought that I had indicated that what the hon. Gentleman says is not right. To use this type of law, which is contrary to the spirit of English law, is the wrong way to tackle the problem. It is a most important point. As I said of Northern Ireland, one wins a battle not by expediency but by using the normal procedures of English law.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Criminal intent is at the heart of the matter, and it is enormously important that a former Home Secretary's views should be understood clearly. The right hon. Member says that he dislikes—as the Committee dislikes—anybody being punished for an intention rather than an action. If there is evidence only of criminal intent to blow people up, to take hostages, or to assassinate, what is the right hon. Gentleman's view? He made a general statement. Will he modify his statement with that in mind?

Mr. Rees

The "sus" laws have not been used for any of the circumstances mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. There are other ways by which they can be dealt with through the law.

I hope that the Government will accept our motion. It was not our intention that on the criminal law, which is so important, we should divide in this way. It is better that we should not. There is no need to vote on the timing. I state categorically that we are not asking for this to be put right in weeks or months. We are talking about the next Session of Parliament, by which time there will have been consultations, and the Law Commission report will be available.

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)

In view of the last intervention, will my right hon. Friend make it plain that "sus " is not used in relation to violence? Will he make it clear that it is used in relation to alleged street offences involving property and that it has nothing to do with the examples given by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths)?

Mr. Rees

If I had thought that even in the short term we were making terrorism more possible, I would have weighed my words heavily. We are not doing that. We concede the timing question. However, we do not depart from the conclusion that the House should approve the report so that the Government can put proposals to the House after they have considered it.

7.36 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from "That to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House welcomes the important contribution made by the Report of the Home Affairs Committee relating to section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824, accepts the need for a change in the law, and looks forward to the imminent publication of the Law Commission's Report on Attempt and to the public response to these reports, as providing the basis for an early decision as to the best way of reforming the law while ensuring adequate protection for the public. The amendment accepts the need for a change in the law, but points to factors other than those in the report that the Government will need to take into account in deciding the best way forward.

I have no desire to vote on the matter. However, I cannot regard it as a matter of semantics to say that I cannot approve the report, because approving the report would, however, one looks at it, mean immediate legislation without taking the other factors into account. I could not conceivably do that. When I have been through my argument I think that the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) will see that much the best way is for him and his right hon. and hon. Friends to accept the amendment, which goes a long way to meet the points that he made.

I join the right hon. Gentleman in welcoming the publication of the report of the Select Committee on race relations and the " sus " law. This debate follows quickly on the publication of the Select Committee's report and so provides an early opportunity for the views of the House as a whole to find expression. The Committee has performed a valuable service to the House in undertaking its examination of the suspected person offence and producing a report which deals so clearly with a complex and difficult issue.

The Government are grateful for the analysis made by the Committee of the principles underlying the offence and of the arguments which were advanced in evidence for and against its retention. It is helpful to point out, as the Committee did, that the offence is one for which, over the country as a whole, comparatively few prosecutions are brought. It is true that, as the Committee acknowledges, abolition of the offence could be only one factor in the efforts to develop trust between the police and the black community. Yet I fully recognise and will take into account the strong feeling among ethnic minority group leaders that positive action on the " sus " law would be of considerable help.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Does the Home Secretary agree that not only is the incidence of prosecutions important, but that in places such as Merseyside the police use the law to justify stopping and searching black youths, who consider such action to be harassment? Is he aware that it might not result in a prosecution? If a breakdown in law and order is to occur, it is likely to be on Merseyside. The conflict that exists between the police and young coloured people as a result of the law being on the statute book contributes to the possibility of a breakdown in law and order.

Mr. Whitelaw

I note the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I hope that he will accept that it is right for me to stick to a brief and, I hope, clear exposition of my position, because so many hon. Members wish to speak. If I become involved in extra arguments in answer to interventions I shall prevent many of those who wish to speak from doing so. I hope that the House will respect my position.

I wish to repeat one sentence that I stated earlier, because it is important. I fully recognise, and will take into account, the strong feeling among ethnic minority group leaders that positive action on the " sus " law would be of considerable help. At the same time, I welcome—as I know the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis does—the Committee's confirmation that there has been no deliberate racial bias on the part of the Metropolitan Police in the use of the offence. By stating these things in the way that it has in the report, the Committee has made it that much easier to focus on the real issues and to consider the way ahead.

In the opening paragraph of its report the Committee notes that the evidence that it received was overwhelmingly in favour of the repeal of this provision. The Committee, after reviewing all the evidence, concluded that it also supported repeal of the offence. Such a recommendation must carry weight. The Committee's general line of argument deserves most serious consideration. I wish to repeat that, in the light of the report, the Government accept in principle the need for some change in the law. None the less, the issue is not altogether straightforward.

I appreciate the force of the argument that the existence of " sus " inhibits, to some extent, the improvement of relations between the police and ethnic minorities.

Mr. Marlow rose——

Mr. Whitelaw

If I continue to give way I shall prevent others from having a chance to speak. If my hon. Friend will not consider me discourteous—and he knows that I usually give way—on this occasion I wish to make my speech without giving way. I think that that will be fair to everyone.

As the Committee points out in paragraph 29 of its report—and as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South recognised—that is not, in itself, a conclusive argument for repeal. The Committee attaches great weight to considerations of principle, but gives less weight than many of us might do to cases that should surely continue to lie within the scope of the criminal law, but would no longer do so if the Committee's report were implemented as it stands. As Home Secretary, I must consider all these aspects of the question, and I cannot shirk my responsibility for ensuring that the public is protected.

Accordingly, I have to say that I cannot advise the House to accept the recommendation which the Select Committee has made for the immediate and total repeal of the " sus " law without provision to fill any of the gaps in the criminal law which would be left as a result. What kind of gap would simple repeal open up? How, for example, should the police deal with a case when they see somebody try car door handles, or when they find somebody attempting to steal from someone else's handbag, which turns out to have been empty?

That raises the question of the extent of the law of attempt, which, as the Select Committee mentions in paragraph 37 of its report, the Law Commission has been studying. Hon. Members will wish to know that the Law Commission's report on that subject was submitted to my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor some weeks ago and has also been made available to me. In the ordinary course of events I would have hoped that it could have been published before the date of this debate but there has been little time since notice of the debate was given, and with the difficulties that are affecting Government printing generally at the moment, and of which the House will be aware, that has not been possible.

In these unusual circumstances, I think that it would be proper for me, and fair to the House, to refer to some of the Law Commission's proposals so far as they bear on the subject matter of our debate today. As the Select Committee recognises, the Law Commission's study is relevant in that there is a defect in the existing law of attempt which, in practice, is partly remedied by the use of " sus ". I refer here to the kind of case described in paragraph 37(b) of the Select Committee's report, in which an attempt is made to steal from a bag or pocket which is in fact empty. As the law stands, a charge of attempted theft in these circumstances may not succeed. Hon. Members may like to know that, if the Law Commission's proposals for changing the present law were adopted, such conduct would clearly constitute attempted theft.

The Select Committee says that that is merely a technical difficulty. So in one sense it is, in that it is indeed a complex area of the law, and I have no doubt that the Law Commission's proposals on this and other aspects of the law of attempt will give rise to a good deal of discussion and comment in legal journals. But to the citizen who needs the protection of the police and the law it is, and will always be, much more than an academic question. There is a real loophole in our law of attempted theft that cannot be dismissed as irrelevant in the present context.

Although I have the advantage of knowing what the Law Commission proposes, I have not yet had time to give proper consideration to its proposals. Nor, until the report has been published, will there be an opportunity for hon. Members, the legal profession or the press and public generally, to form any judgment upon the changes in the law that it recommends. I do not see how any responsible Government could proceed to legislate on " sus ", or advise the House to accept any private Member's proposals for legislation on the subject, until there has been time to consider the Select Committee's recommendation in the wider context of the criminal law as a whole, both as it now stands and as it would be altered if the Law Commission's proposals were implemented.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

Does it not boil down to the fact that the only gap in the law which the Home Secretary contemplates is an attempted theft from a handbag or a pocket which happens to be empty?

Mr. Whitelaw

That is not the case. I shall come to further matters that are relevant to that point. What I said about the Law Commission is valid.

While we are looking at loopholes that might be left by the repeal of " sus ", we must look also at the kind of case described by the Select Committee in paragraph 37(a) of its report—where someone is found attempting to enter a locked car, but his precise intentions are uncertain. Would it be satisfactory to leave such conduct entirely unrestricted by the criminal law? I have to tell the House that the Law Commission's proposals are unlikely to make much difference in a case of this kind. Again, to people whose property is interfered with in this way, the uncertainty of the law is much more than a technical problem. It may be that in these and possible other instances, if " sus " were repealed, the ambit of the criminal law would in other respects need to be enlarged.

It would not meet the widespread criticism of " sus " if it were repealed, and then in substance re-enacted under a new name. But, on reflection, there might well be general acceptance that the repeal of " sus " would need to be accompanied by other changes to the existing law in order to ensure proper protection to the public.

Those are questions that we shall need to consider carefully, taking account of the views of all those concerned—including, of course, those of the police, on whom ultimately falls the burden of enforcing the laws that we choose to enact, and on whom the blame falls if the streets of our cities become unsafe for ordinary law-abiding people.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden) rose——

Mr. Whitelaw

I have tried very hard to continue with my speech. I shall give way once more only.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Taking account of the points made by the Home Secretary, does he not think that it would be desirable, in the interim between further legislation, for him to give advice to chief constables throughout the country not to use the " sus " law for an experimental period? We could then see whether there was any justification for the alarm that has been expressed. We could see also whether the crime figures increased as has been suggested.

Mr. Whitelaw

As Home Secretary, I could not contemplate advising chief constables not to enforce the law as laid down by the House. That would put us all in a very difficult position.

The Committee stressed the importance, as a crime prevention measure, of the presence of uniformed policemen on the streets, to which the right hon. Gentleman also referred. I would not dissent from that. On the contrary, we have made significant progress in increasing the strength of the police service. But at the same time we must ensure that these officers have adequate powers.

To sum up, I welcome the Select Committee's report as an important contribution to the material on which the Government and Parliament will have to take a decision about the future of the suspected person offence. I await with interest the contributions that will be made by hon. Members taking part in this debate. I hope that in two or three weeks we shall see the publication of the Law Commission's report, and I look forward to the views that will be expressed, both in and outside Parliament, particularly on the aspects of the Law Commission's proposals that are relevant to the subject that we are discussing today.

Meanwhile, the Home Office will be interested to receive any views both on the Select Committee's report and on the question of what other changes in the criminal law ought to be made if its recommendations were accepted—in particular, from magistrates, from the police, from bodies concerned with race relations, including the Commission for Racial Equality, and from the legal profession.

In what I have said today I have tried to show that the problem is intricate—perhaps more so at points than the Select Committee indicated—and as Home Secretary I must, as so often, balance conflicting considerations. But on one point we are quite clear. The law is not satisfactory as it is and must be changed. Therefore, the Government intend to reach an early decision on how that should be done.

On that basis, I hope that the House will appreciate that the best way forward is to support the amendment in the names of my right hon. Friends and myself.

7.53 pm
Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)

It is rare that any law should be so disliked by so many people who come into contact with it. The " sus " law is disliked not only by those who are charged under it but by the Bar, by solicitors, and by large sections of magistrates who have to administer it. The reason why it is held in such disrepute is that many people rightly regard it as unfair and unjust.

The person who is charged under the " sus " law provisions is charged not with committing or attempting to commit an offence but with the suspicion of possibly forming an intention to commit an offence. Incidentally, he may subsequently drop that intention or form an even firmer intention not to commit the offence. Yet he is arrested, charged and frequently convicted on suspicion—and suspicion alone—and on the evidence not of independent witnesses but of two police officers.

Since the vast majority of those who are charged with the offence are young people—frequently young black people, whose first contact it is with the law—it is not surprising, though it may be regrettable, that they should hold the law in such disrepute, and feel that it is unfair and that the police and the courts are not operating in an impartial manner. They are convicted not because someone has said " I saw you attempt to put your hand in somebody's pocket " or " I saw you put your hand in somebody's pocket and take something out "—the case is not proved in that clear and impartial way—but because police officers have seen them hanging around or acting in a way that has given them some cause for suspicion.

I do not suggest that some of those who are charged with suspicion—the " sus " offence—might not at some stage have subsequently formed the intention to commit the offence—it would be naive and foolish to put forward that argument—but what I think impressed the Select Committee was that a large number of those who have been arested, charged and convicted of the offence might never have committed the offence at all. None the less, they have been convicted of a criminal offence and have had a conviction recorded against their names for the rest of their lives.

Mr. Delwyn Williams (Montgomery)

Has the hon. and learned Gentleman any details of how many police officers have been charged with giving false evidence in these cases? I should have thought that the courts would be full of police officers arrested and charged with giving perjured evidence if what he said were right.

Mr. Davidson

Many people are acquitted of all kinds of criminal offences. They are acquitted presumably because the jury are not satisfied, amongst other things, with the evidence put forward by the police. In the " sus " case there is no jury. There is no right of trial by jury, because it is not an indictable offence. But merely because someone is acquitted does not mean that the police will be charged with putting forward wrongful evidence. With respect, that was not a pertinent intervention. It in no way weakens the case against getting rid of this objectionable law. This law is objectionable to large sections of the community and it should not remain on the statute book for one day longer than is necessary.

7.58 pm
Sir Graham Page (Crosby)

The House must be grateful to the Opposition for choosing to debate the report of one of the 12 Select Committees set up to act as parliamentary watchdogs on behalf of the House over the working of Government Departments. Of course, I am particularly happy that they have chosen the report from the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I think this dispels some of the fears that we had that the Select Committees might be toiling away in vain because time would not be found to debate their reports in the House. Therefore, I repeat, I am particularly glad that this report is being debated today.

I could have hoped that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary might have used that generous broad brush that he is so magnificently capable of using on occasions and said that he approved the report and explained his ifs and buts in his speech rather than putting them on the Order Paper and embarrassing some of us who put our names to the report.

I should say at the outset that I am not inclined to support what I think is a departmental dilution, even to the extent of dissolution, of the recommendations in the report. My right hon. Friend's speech was far stronger in support of the report than the amendment that he has put on the Order Paper. I appreciate that he has been advised to be cautious about the word " immediate ". There are certain things to be done before the " sus " law should be abolished. I assure my right hon. Friend on behalf of the Committee that he can take that word " immediate " as literally as we take your word, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when you ask the Whip " What day? " and he says " Tomorrow, Sir ". Of course, when we say " immediate " there is much to be done. I refer to paragraph 28 of the report where, in the heavy print of a recommendation, it is stated that, " fortified by " the recommendations, we recommend the early repeal of ' sus '. Need we be so pedantic about the use of the word " immediate " or " early "? Of course we must have time to consider the form of the repeal and the parliamentary programme for it. We must also have time to consider the Law Commission's report. The Select Committee's report refers to that fact. We thought then that, whatever the Law Commision brought forward, it would be on technical points of law and that it would not affect the general principle that the " sus " law should be abolished. That provision could be brought in at the same time. Like the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), I too would call the autumn " immediate " with regard to the proceedings of the House.

The report originated in and the evidence was taken by the Race Relations and Immigration Sub-Committee of the Select Committee, which was chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Padding-ton (Mr. Wheeler). That explains why the investigation started its life entitled " Race Relations and the Sus Law ".

Paragraph 2 of the report makes clear that when the investigation had been embarked upon it was not simply a matter of race relations, but a much wider issue, and the report deals with it in that way. It is only comparatively recently that the " sus " law has become associated with the coloured community. " Sus " has been suspect—I did not mean to make a pun—and it has been a matter of concern and anxiety for many decades. About four or five years ago it became associated with race relations. The expression of anxiety has not simply been caused by campaigns such as " Scrap Sus ". Anxiety is being and has been expressed by those people who see the results of " sus " arrests—those people who have to conduct " sus " cases in the magistrates' court, or the magistrates themselves. We must remember that such cases are heard only in the magistrates' courts, except when there is an appeal. Anxiety is also expressed by those who see the results of " sus " convictions. Those people are expressing anxiety to an increasing degree. It might be said that that is the blunt end of the problem. What about the sharp end of the problem? What about the police and potential victims? Would it not take away the power of the police in the prevention of crime if we abolished the " sus " law?

Some astonishing evidence was revealed to the Select Committee. The Metropolitan Police gave evidence to the Committee, saying that it wanted to retain " sus ". In the metropolis, one police division differs from another in the extreme in its use of " sus ", and in the rest of the country only Merseyside and Greater Manchester use " sus " to any extent. It is used differently in different police divisions, and in different police forces. In some cases, plain clothes police make " sus " arrests, and in other cases uniformed officers make the arrests. If it is such an important weapon in the eyes of the police for the prevention of crime, one would have expected that it would be used extensively over the whole country, and in a uniform way, but that is far from the case.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir G. Page

I would rather not give way, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. There are many hon. Members who wish to speak, and I shall be as brief as I can.

The use of plain clothes officers was dealt with by the Select Committee, and it is of great importance. If uniformed police only were used, I do not believe that a potential bag snatcher would reason out in his mind " They are using only uniformed police. I cannot see a uniform anywhere. Therefore, I can snatch that bag and get away with it." I do not believe that we need fear that. I am sure that if a uniformed policeman replaced the plain clothes man in these duties, his presence would be a real deterrent to street crime—far more than the fear of " sus " arrest from a disguised policeman.

This so-called weapon in the hands of the police for the prevention of crime is a boomerang. The resentment which its use generates causes it to cut down the co-operation and the good will of the public—I mean the public, not the criminal—on whom the police must rely in carrying out their duties.

I wish that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had noted with approval the report of the Select Committee. I do not object to the words at the end of the amendment: the basis for an early decision as to the best way of reforming the law while ensuring adequate protection for the public provided that that means only the form and trimmings of the repeal. My right hon. Friend asks a lot of me, as the Chairman who is presenting the Committee's report to the House, when he asks me to do nothing more than look on this as a contribution relating to " sus ". He is asking a lot when he asks me to accept it as nothing more than showing a need for a change in the law without a commitment to what that change may be, and when he asks me to pledge myself to do no more than look forward to the Law Commission report, and to public response. How does one ascertain public response, except at a general election? I hope he does not mean that we will have to wait that long to accept the recommendations of the report. I hope that the House will approve the report today.

8.9 pm

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Crosby (Sir G. Page) on his enlightened speech, and I also congratulate his Committee.

I begin my contribution with the final words of the second report of the Home Affairs Committee, which state: the repeal of ' sus ' signifies the removal of a piece of law which is contrary to the freedom and liberty of the individual. That sums up many of the arguments involved in this legislation.

This is not the first time that Parliament has discussed the " sus " laws. On 14 December 1978, when the previous Labour Government were in power, my noble Friend Lord Avebury introduced a Bill to abolish the criminal offence of being a suspected person. He then cited the organisations that had condemned " sus "—the National Association of Probation Officers, the Church of England, and the Catholic Commission for Racial Justice. He then listed the reasons why " sus " should be scrapped. He said that the Act was archaic in its language. For instance section 4 reads: Every suspected person or reputed thief frequenting or loitering in any river, canal or negotiable stream, dock or basin or any quay, wharf or warehouse near or adjoining thereto, or any street, highway, or avenue leading thereto, or any place of public resort, or any avenue leading thereto, or any street, or any highway, or any place adjacent to a street or highway, with intent to commit an arrestable offence. I do not apologise for reading that, because it is right to remind hon. Members that this 150-year-old gobbledegook brings the law into disrepute.

Secondly, there is no proof whatsoever that the Act is a deterrent to street crime. The Reverend Jack Pawsey, of Camber-well, said: It is the reverse of a deterrent. Faced with a charge and conviction for something he never did, the accused joins the growing band of young people for whom it is irrelevant whether something is lawful or not. This builds up villains. In other words, many young people feel that if they are going to be arrested anyway it does not make much difference whether they are arrested on suspicion or whether they actually commit the crime. The Reverend Jack Pawsey also indicated that " sus " did nothing to improve relations between ethnic monorities and the police. Therefore, Lord Avebury, on 14 December 1978, argued that " sus " schould be scrapped and the charge of attempted theft be used instead.

I remind the House that this debate was initiated in another place under a Labour Government, and yet the Bill was defeated, in spite of strong speeches in its support by a former Lord Chancellor. The Minister opposed the Bill, and the Labour Party was noticeable for its absence in the Lobby. So there are some grounds for cynicism concerning this debate. I have often noticed that the Labour Party says very different things in opposition from what it does in government.

Nothing has changed now from what happened then. [Interruption.] The report of the Select Committee is, of course, welcome, but it adds little to the conclusions of the Runnymede Trust and other independent bodies. All that has been achieved by doing nothing for 18 months is further tension between the police and ethnic groups. It is for that reason that again I echo the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Member for Crosby in hoping that this debate will not delay or halt the speedy implementation of the recommendations of this Committee.

Mr. David Mellor (Putney)

I do not think that on this topic the hon. Gentleman has the expertise that he claims. He is certainly not advancing the case that most of us accept as a reason why the " sus " laws should go. Particularly, he is not advancing the case in the report that he has so commended, because that said that it would make only the most marginal difference on racial grounds. Of course, the real objections to the " sus " laws, as one would have hoped the hon. Gentleman would know before he intervened in the debate, are the jurisprudential objections to which other speakers have alluded.

Mr. Alton

We obviously represent two very different sorts of constituency. In the city that I represent this law causes major problems. The right hon. Member for Crosby said that although the Act is not used elsewhere there are major problems caused by its use in Greater Manchester, in Merseyside and in London.

I was coming to the main thrust of my argument, which concerns the way in which this law affects good race relations. In his intervention, the hon. Gentleman tried to pretend that this had no effect, because relatively, it was so little used. That is not true. I have carefully looked at the statistics today. If the hon. Gentleman refers to them, he will see the number of arrests over the last four years under the " sus " laws.

Nearly half of the people arrested in the Metropolitan area of London in each of the last four years were people from the ethnic minority groups. For instance, up to the third quarter of 1979, 817 white-skinned Europeans were arrested, as compared with a full total of 1,482, leaving 665 from ethnic minority groups. The same pattern existed in the previous years.

Mr. Marlow

I think that the crux of the racial point that people try to make is whether the relationship between the police and racial minorities, particularly coloured youths, is worse in those areas of the country where the " sus " laws are used, as opposed to other areas where there are large racial minorities, including young people, where the " sus " laws are not used. The case is not proven in that direction.

Mr. Alton

I assure the hon. Gentleman that even if it is only in the minds of those concerned, it is like a running sore in the minds of the black community. Worse than that, I think that there is sufficient evidence available, from the figures that I have quoted, which are available in the Official Report—I can give the hon. Member the details later—conclusively to show that the black minority groups are far more seriously disadvantaged by these laws than are white groups.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

On a point of clarification, do the figures that the hon. Member has given relate only to arrests, or to those who have been charged? There may be a number of young people who are taken to police stations following arrest, but because the senior police officer present does not want to prefer a charge, they are not charged.

Mr. Alton

The figures relate to arrests. One might well make the point that whether or not persons are charged, one could still claim that it is harassment. Certainly, many people in the black community would say that the laws are being used to their disadvantage.

Of course, the police must have power to deal with street offences. We on the Liberal Bench recognise that the law on attempted theft has got into an unholy mess. Therefore, the Government should introduce statutory reform of attempted theft, so that offenders can be dealt with under an Act which is comprehensible and which also guarantees them the right of jury trial. No one should suggest that the abolition of " sus " will change the relationships between the police and the black community overnight. But it will be a valuable declaration of intent.

Allegations that the police are racist help no one, although it would be naive to pretend that our police officers do not reflect current prejudices. It is to be hoped that the attraction of better police pay will expand the social and intellectual spectrum of police recruitment. People who take such pleasure in sniping at the police from the sidelines should instead join the special constabulary and set a good example in community relations. We want to blur the lines between the police and the community, and not sharpen them.

I should also like to see more moves towards the sort of community policing experiment pioneered by John Alderson, in Devon and Cornwall. Surely it is self-evident that it is better to prevent crime by having uniformed officers on the beat rather than relying over-heavily on plain-clothes men watching and waiting to catch people, not always being successful, certainly not deterring, and leading offenders on to the escalator of rising crime.

Finally, I must commend the motion. However late, it is vital that "sus" be repealed. I am also delighted by the sympathetic noises from the Government Benches. However, we have heard honeyed words from Governments before. The previous Labour Government waited for Law Commission reports. Previously it was the final report of the working party considering the law on vagrancy. Now the Government amendment talks once again of the Law Commission's report. Then they will say that they do not have time under the pressure of other legislation that inevitably bogs down Governments.

Labour and Tory Governments promise the earth and in fact do nothing. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] The Government should have given time for a simple Private Member's Bill to abolish " sus " and tidy up attempted theft during this Session, before any more damage could be done.

8.18 pm
Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)

I commence my short contribution by paying a tribute to the police. I think that every citizen of this country is conscious of the difficult job that they carry out and the abuse that is often undeservedly hurled upon them. Nevertheless, I must say straight away that the sooner this law is repealed, the better I shall be pleased. I can see no justification whatever for any indefinite delay. If the Act is deemed to be unfair and unjust now, it has been so since 1824, far too long for injustice to be perpetuated and I regret that I cannot support further procrastination.

Even the Police Federation, in its letter dated 21 May to Members of Parliament, makes the point, among others, that: Abolition of the " Sus " law will not affect the right and duty of the police to stop and question people in the street when they have reasonable grounds for doing so. Most of the publicity surrounding the " sus " law has concerned its effects on relations between the police and members of the black community. I share that concern, but it is important to remember that for many years a number of magistrates and members of the legal profession have considered this offence objectionable on grounds that are unconnected with racial considerations. It punishes behaviour that falls short of any substantive or attempted crime.

In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee both the chairman of the Bar and the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association proposed that the offence should be abolished, and that where circumstances justified charges of attempted theft should be brought instead. As a former magistrate, I find myself in strong agreement with the views expressed by three members of the inner London bench, who gave oral evidence to the Committee. Mrs. Leah Harvey, chairman of the south central division of inner London, pointed out that the offence gives rise to great anxiety and apprehension among many magistrates. She said that the offence does not cover an attempted crime, but a " pre-attempt." The " sus " law is like no other offence with which magistrates have to deal. In general, the only evidence consists of observations by plain clothes police officers of actions that are open to misinterpretation.

Mrs. Harvey stressed that she was concerned about the offence in general, not solely racial, terms. I strongly support her views and those of her colleagues who appeared before the Committee. They all proposed the abolition of " sus ". Having stressed that I regard the offence as unsatisfactory, for reasons that are unconnected with race, I should point out that the law has an adverse effect on racial harmony, and that that is a further powerful argument for its repeal.

In the Metropolitan Police district, where most " sus " charges are brought, those charges involve a disproportionate number of coloured people, both in relation to their number in the population of London, and in relation to the number arrested for other offences of dishonesty. Of those arrested in the Metropolitan Police district for " sus " in 1979, 40 per cent. were black. The corresponding figure in both 1977 and 1978 was 44 per cent.

The Home Office is well aware that feelings among the black community about the use of " sus " run very high. In its evidence to the Select Committee it referred to the representations that it had received as follows: In the areas where the offence is mainly used, police practice has led to widespread feelings of apprehension and resentment on the part of the coloured community. They believe that teenagers are being harassed by the police and that black youngsters using the streets, particularly after dark, are likely to be picked up, however innocent their activities. These feelings extend to parents, church leaders and other leaders of the coloured community. However ill or well founded this apprehension may be, there is no doubt of its existence. I find it particularly distressing that those apprehensions have led to the breaking down of an attitude among the older generation of West Indians, who supported the police and demonstrated great faith in the British legal and judicial system.

In short, I consider the case for the abolition of the " sus " offence to be very powerful. It is particularly disturbing that 356 of those who were convicted of " sus " in 1978 received immediate custodial sentences. That is a disturbing and wholly unnecessary addition to the population of our desperately overcrowded prisons. It is a disgraceful situation. I hope that the offence will be abolished, as the Select Committee recommends.

8.24 pm
Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)

The trouble with " sus " is that people are not convicted for what they have done, or for what they have attempted to do, but for what the court finds they had intended to do. A man of unblemished characted can be sent to prison for three months, without the right of trial by jury, despite the fact that he has not committed or attempted to commit any criminal offence. He is sent to prison merely as a result of evidence to the effect that he intended to do something. In practice, that means that if two police officers saw him do two suspicious things, the burden of proof would fall on the man to establish his innocence. That is why the offence is evil.

The National Association of Probation Officers says that the offence is unsound in principle, open to abuse in practice and contrary to natural justice. Even the Home Office working party recognises that the offence is open to abuse and that it lays the police open to allegations of abuse. The offence was not created to reduce violence, nor is it used as such. The law is used in relation to property. It has nothing to do with potential muggers.

The burden of proof lies the wrong way. There is no right of trial by jury. Mere intention is criminal. In addition, proof of a previous conviction is regarded as assisting in the proof of intent. One therefore realises why some police forces prefer to use this charge when other charges are available. The proceedings are more rapid in a magistrates' court. It is easier to get a conviction in a magistrates' court. Evidence is tested to a lesser extent in a magistrates' court, and it is easier to satisfy the requirements of the burden of proof in such a court.

Reference has been made to the variations in the incidence of use. Millions of people live in West Yorkshire. In that area about 80 charges are made each year on the grounds of " sus ". That figure has remained about the same for many years. West Yorkshire is little different from Greater Manchester, but the number of charges there has totalled about 240 a year for many years. The Manchester police force uses the " sus " law more often than does the Yorkshire police force. However, their areas are not particularly different. We are dealing with a tradition of use.

The number of " sus " offences has not gone above 3,761 in any year, and 60 per cent. of the charges are made in London. As 40 per cent. of the charges in London are against blacks, that means that one-quarter of all charges nationally are against blacks.

That is a high proportion, and the trouble is that even when a black person is guilty, the black community does not believe that he is guilty. That has some nasty effects, and it is one of the reasons why the offence should be abolished. Be-case of the attitude of the black community to the police, police forces sometimes cannot find enough black people to help them in identification parades.

In addition, if the defence in a criminal case knows that there are to be allegations against the police, it will scarcely ever challenge black people on a jury, because of the damage that " sus " has done in undermining the confidence of the black community in the fairness of the police. The black community may be wrong to take that view, but there is a danger that guilty people may be acquitted by black jurors. That is part of the damage that " sus " has done. If we can remove the offence, we shall prevent a further deterioration in that attitude.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

Will my hon. and learned Friend answer the Home Secretary's comment about the inadequacies in the law that would exist if we abolished " sus "? If we need " sus " to deal with picking an empty pocket or trying a car door, why is it that in Yorkshire, which my hon. and learned Friend knows well, the offences take place, but no " sus " charge is made? There seems to be no differential in the other charges—attempted theft and so on. Why can that happen in West Yorkshire, but not in central London?

Mr. Edward Lyons

When a thief tries a car door, there is nearly always something inside the car, and if he tries to steal something from a handbag, there is usually something in the handbag. In those circumstances, he can be charged with attempted theft. If he has an implement in his pocket he can be charged with carrying housebreaking implements or carrying an offensive weapon. A whole range of charges can be brought against a person in that situation.

Mr. Anderson

Is it not a fact that when a man tries a car door the prosecution is uncertain whether he is attempting to take a conveyance without authority or to steal from the car? There is not an offence sufficiently proximate to either of those offences.

Mr. Lyons

I hear what my hon. Friend says, but I do not want to detain the House, because other hon. Members wish to speak.

We all sympathise with the problems of the police and we all want to restrict crime to a minimum. The problem with " sus " is that large parts of the country manage to do without it. For example, there are courts in West Yorkshire that do not see a " sus " charge for a year on end, yet we do better in the fight against crime than some other areas. When one sees " sus " charges being preferred continually in other areas, one concludes that the police prefer to use an easy way, rather than the more difficult way, to get convictions.

The law on attempted theft is defective in cases when the car or handbag involved is empty, but we can change that law following the new report that we understand is to be published. However, that does not mean that the existing law should remain.

It would assist the police—many of whom give great help to the black community—in their relations with that community, and would uphold the rule of law and proper jurisprudential principles if the offence were abolished.

8.33 pm
Mr. John Wheeler (Paddington)

I welcome the opportunity to debate section 4 of the Vagrancy Act and I particularly welcome the speech of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). I was also grateful for the response of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, particularly his encouraging statement that an early decision is to be made on the reform of the law.

I am in some difficulty, because at this stage of the debate most of the best parts of the Home Affairs Committee report have been quoted. It is not my intention to go over the report again except to say that it must be clear that, after all these years and after all the controversy that has surrounded the 1824 Act and particularly section 4, the time has come for the charge to be removed from the criminal law. It is as simple and straightforward as that.

I recognise the hesitancy that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary feels about the problem associated with the attempt to steal. That must be investigated and put right. However, that should not preclude the repeal of this charge. The House has already heard from the Bennett committee that up and down the country the police force is able to deal with crime on the streets without using section 4 of the 1824 Act. I remind the House again of the principal reason why the committee concluded that this law should be repealed—that in principle it is fundamentally unsatisfactory to have the offence. It must be wrong in English law to exact a penalty from an individual for forming a criminal intention. The intending criminal has usually to carry out some act as an attempt towards implementing his intention. For that reason this law has been wrong for a very long time.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

It is not just wrong that the penalty only requires a person to have formed a criminal intent. He may not have formed a criminal intent. The position is made worse because it has only to be the opinion of two police officers that he has formed a criminal intent. A man may be tried and possibly convicted on the subjective evidence of two police officers.

Mr. Wheeler

That is correct. The question boils down to interpretation by witnesses, who are inevitably police officers.

I have sat as an inner London magistrate. I have tried such cases and acquitted. I fully understand the difficulty that magistrates have in deciding guilt or innocence.

With regard to the number of persons sent to prison after conviction, the House should bear in mind that they are sent to prison, not merely because of conviction under section 4 but because of their previous convictions. The other side of the coin is that of 1,800 charges in a 12-month period within the Metropolitan Police district 340 people were conditionally discharged. That perhaps means that the court found those persons before it for the first time and was loth to exact a serious penalty. I speak with experience, as a member of the bench. It also means that the court is hesitant to exact a real penalty, because it is not satisfied that it should do so. The court mistrusts the character of the charge.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, however imperfect this law—and few would defend it—the burden of proof is the same as for other offences, in the sense that the court has to be satisfied that the charge has been made out?

Mr. Wheeler

I disagree. In giving evidence to the Select Committee the Bar Council said that the table was turned in this charge. The defendant is in the position of having to prove his innocence. That is profoundly wrong, and a further reason why the charge should be repealed.

I, too, pay tribute to the police in London. They do an extraordinarily difficult job in a large community. Their record of success in recent times in detecting robberies is second to none. However, of the 567,387 indictable offences in the Metropolitan Police area this charge represents less than 2 per cent. of the charges preferred. The plain truth is that the world will not come to an end if section 4 is repealed. The constabulary will still be able to prevent crimes on the street. A number of witnesses said when giving evidence to the Select Committee that the way to prevent crimes and offences is to have uniformed police officers on duty in the streets. That is why the Metropolitan Police force was established in 1829, some five years after the Act had been passed by the House.

There is a gain to be derived from improving police and black relationships. There is no doubt that the black community, especially in the urban areas, believes that this charge is unfairly and unjustly used. If a law is to be on the statute book and if we are to preserve the traditions of law enforcement, it must be acceptable to the broad mass of the community.

I shall not detain the House further. I merely say that the Select Committee inquired faithfully and honestly into this subject. It drew evidence from many sources, and overwhelmingly the evidence was in favour of the repeal of section 4 of the 1824 Act. That day must not be too far off.

8.42 pm
Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)

I congratulate the Select Committee on its report, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) on being more forthcoming on this issue than many of us felt that he would be, bearing in mind what he said when in government, and I congratulate the Secretary of State for the Home Department on what he said. However, I share the concern of those who have said that delay in implementing the recommendations contained in the report gives rise to a great deal of concern.

There is a growing alienation between young people generally and the police force. That applies not only to the black community but to young people of all social classes. Anyone who looks back over the years and talks to young people now will learn that a growing alienation and hostility has developed between young people and the police. We could discuss at great length whether that is justified, and I think that we should do so. Nevertheless, alienation and hostility exist, and any law that contributes to that should be carefully examined.

Mr. Delwyn Williams

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Lestor

No. The hon. Lady will not give way for the moment. I have only just started.

If such a law exists, it should be carefully examined. If it can be abolished, it should be abolished. I view with great concern the attitudes among young people and the police and what young people believe to be the attitude of the police towards them.

Mr. Williams

Does the hon. Lady realise the naivety of her argument? If she honestly believes that race relations will be improved by the abolition of the " sus " law, does she realise that the police already have many powers to harass young persons? It is something that will continue. Surely we should be considering changing those who administer the law and not changing the law itself.

Miss Lestor

I may be many things, but I am not naive. I have not yet mentioned race relations. I have merely referred to the hostility and alienation between young people and the police. If the hon. Member for Montgomery (Mr. Williams) waits, I shall discuss race relations. To satisfy him I make it clear immediately that I do not believe that the abolition of this law will of itself improve race relations.

Whatever those at the top in the police force may say about their commitment to good race relations—most of them express such a commitment—I happen to believe and, indeed, to know that that attitude does not necessarily exist as one goes down the scale in the force. A great deal more education in and understanding of race relations is needed within the police force.

I am not suggesting that the abolition of the " sus " law means that good race relations will be achieved and that the attitude of young people will change overnight. I am not naive enough to suggest that. I am sorry that I had to digress, because I did not intend to make those remarks.

There is alienation between young people and the police. The Home Secretary said that while he agrees that the law should be changed, as he feels it is wrong, if it is changed it will leave gaps, and that it is the gaps that cause him concern.

I hope that the Minister of State will explain why this law is not used in many parts of the country although the same types of offence as are alleged to require the " sus " provision are committed People in one part of the country do not behave differently from those in another part, and I fail to understand how most communities—[Interruption.] I wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) would not try to help me. I was saying that I do not understand why many parts of the country have managed perfectly well without the " sus " law and do not have a higher rate of crime than that in areas where the " sus " law is used. That is what needs explaining to those of us who do not entirely understand when the Home Secretary says that he is apprehensive about the gaps that would be left in the law.

It is true that the numbers arrested, charged and ultimately convicted are relatively small, but the fact that people are arrested, whether or not they are charged and whether or not they are convicted, adds to the belief that there is harassment by the police among people in the black community and to their conviction that the police are not on their side.

Therefore, whatever may be the numbers arrested and not ultimately charged or convicted, that does not alter the argument that the atmosphere created is not conducive to good relations between young people in general and the police and between black people in particular and the police.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths rose——

Miss Lestor

I shall be grateful if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. I do not want to make a long speech, and I know that others wish to contribute to the debate. I have already given way once.

It was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Sir G. Page) that for years before the question of race relations arose people were advocating the abolition of this law. I believe that it goes as far back as 60 years. Certainly, the National Council for Civil Liberties—[Interruption.]—about 40 years ago was arguing for abolition——

Mr. Marlow

A subversive organisation.

Miss Lestor

I ask for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I cannot understand why hon. Members on the Government Benches, most of whom so far have supported the abolition of " sus ", now seem to want to make trite remarks. This will only lead me to stay on my feet a great deal longer, because I intend to make my speech in my own way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

The hon. Lady has my protection, but I think that she is really able to look after herself.

Miss Lestor

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am inclined to hope that you will let me look after myself if hon. Members carry on in that way.

More than 40 years ago, the National Council for Civil Liberties argued for the abolition of this law, mainly on the ground that it was contrary to what we would call natural justice and was the least defensible of any of the laws on our statute book. More recently, the Law Society has condemned it. So has the National Association of Probation Officers, which has condemned it as unsound in practice and, again, contrary to natural justice. In my view, it is not compatible with what we accept as the general rule of law in this country.

Our criminal law should provide that those who commit offences are punished and that those who do not commit offences go free. That is what I have always understood to be our law. Yet here is a law, the only one that I know of, under which a person of hitherto clean character can be given a sentence, without trial by jury, when he has committed no offence whatever and cannot even be said to have been attempting to commit an offence. Merely because there is subjective judgment by two policemen that he intended to commit a crime, that can be the consequence.

It is an exceedingly subjective judgment, yet that is how the " sus " law operates. Two policemen may say that a person was intending to commit a crime, in their view, because of the way in which he was behaving. A person does not have to touch a car door. He does not have to put his hand into anyone's handbag. He may loiter, may hang around in a particular manner, and two policemen may judge that he—I say " he " but it could equally be " she "—intends to commit a crime. That is how the " sus " law operates, and the person then has to prove that he did not have any intention to commit a crime. The scales are weighted against him. There is no victim in this charge. Nor does there need to be any other witness to the charge. The only victim is the person who has been charged.

All the race relations bodies are concerned about this law because of the feeling among ethnic minorities that it is weighted against them. This has led to the alienation of young people, particularly black people. The situation causes great distress to parents. Parents of both black and white children inform me that they instruct their children not to go out of doors at night because of the " sus " laws. Whether they are right or wrong in the assumptions that prompt that decision, it shows that there is something wrong with our society and something wrong with the attitudes that are growing up.

Hon. Members who are unaware of the dangers to society when confidence in institutions that are supposed to protect the individual break down should examine the issue carefully. I do not believe that society will collapse if the " sus " law is abolished. I do not believe that gaps will be left that cannot be filled. For over 60 years, the inherent unfairness and unjust nature of this law has been well known. The issue has surfaced recently because of the lobby opposed to the law and because many people have been vocal in expressing their doubts about its application. The House should take every opportunity to abolish it.

8.51 pm
Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

Those hon. Members, on both sides of the House, who have been arguing that the " sus " laws, as they are called, should be repealed are pushing at an open door. Most people who have had any experience of the nature and the working of these laws will have no difficulty in appreciating the need for the repeal of section 4.

One matter that gives me cause for concern is the use of the word " immediate " in the first paragraph of the report. It recommends immediate repeal of the " sus " laws, without taking into account the need to replace the law with another law that will be more satisfactory and equally effective in dealing with the offence of street crimes that the police now have to face, especially in cities like London.

I fully understand, and am wholly in sympathy with, the argument that unevenness exists in the application of this law. I feel strongly, however—and I hope that I am right in my conviction—that the police need every opportunity that the law can provide to prevent crime from taking place.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I support my hon. and learned Friend's views. I am sure that he has not forgotten that the Criminal Law Act empowers a police constable to arrest any person whom he has reasonable cause to believe is about to commit an arrestable offence.

Mr. Gardner

That may be so, but it does not allow a person to be taken to court and charged with an offence. It is a sanction that will discourage people if they know that they may ultimately finish up in court, for example, for an attempt.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

If the gap that will exist following a total repeal of " sus " will prove to be a serious matter in areas where it is used at present, why is the gap that exists in Birmingham, West Yorkshire and the Midlands not causing difficulties for the police? It cannot be said that people do not put their hands in pockets or try car doors in those areas, yet the police manage to deal with the situation without using " sus ".

Mr. Gardner

It is idle for the House and the hon. Gentleman to pretend that there are no thieves, no petty criminals, no pickpockets or purse snatchers in our large cities. It is an arrogant assumption——

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

I do not say that.

Mr. Gardner

No, but it is an arrogant assumption to say that the police, who argue that it is essential in the public interest that they should have the first opportunity to prevent crime, should be threatened, as they believe they are, with having this law removed.

In the main, the police can be trusted. There are those who, like the members of all other professions and callings, disgrace the name of their profession or calling. However, in the main they are trustworthy, and they are the experts. It is clear that, in their expert opinion, they need a law that will enable them to prevent crime. Their expert opinion is that if the " sus " law is removed and not replaced by a comparable and more satisfactory law their ability to deal with incipient crime will be weakened.

Mr. Mellor

Does not that beg the question that one of the reasons why " sus " is so unsatisfactory is that one has to contend, on principle, that many actions that are offences under " sus " should not be offences in the first place? It is therefore a chimera to try to say that one is looking for a new offence to replace " sus ". The object of the exercise is to say that it should not be an offence to begin with.

Mr. Gardner

We have discussed this evening the lacuna in the offences with which the police could charge someone in the absence of a " sus " law or if the offence of " attempt " were left in its present vague state of definition so that the police did not feel—and I think they would be right in this—any confidence in using it as a replacement.

I do not think that by repealing " sus " we are likely greatly to benefit race relations. The effect will be marginal, and the real argument against the " sus " law is that it is likely to lead, and in some cases undoubtedly has led, to injustice. That is a matter of importance, not just to one part of the population, but to the whole population.

That is the true argument for the repeal of the " sus " law, but I beg the House to have regard for the views of the police who have a duty to see, for example, that tourists and others can walk down streets, such as Oxford Street, without becoming prey to pickpockets and other such villains. It is wrong that the House should tonight or at any time contemplate the immediate repeal of the " sus " law without first contemplating another law to replace it.

9 pm

Mr. John Tilley (Lambeth, Central)

I shall be brief and try to keep to the race relations aspect of the issue. My first point is that in many senses this is a historic occasion. I believe that this is the first debate in the House purely as a result of pressure by black British organisations.

Of course, there has been great concern about this law for many years but it is only as a result of the pressure exerted by the " Scrap Sus " campaign over the last two years that the issue has reached the Floor of the House. The Black People's Organisation Campaign Against Sus, to give it its full title, was not asking for special treatment for its members. It was asking for equality before the law. It has addressed its call to Parliament and I am glad that that call has been answered in the report of the Select Committee.

It will be no surprise to the House to learn that the issue of " sus " was first brought before the House by two hon. Members who represent parts of Brixton. I was the first, when I tabled an early-day motion in November 1978 calling for the repeal of " sus ". If I remember correctly the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) was the only Conservative Member who supported me. The second, and more important hon. Member was my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) who introduced a Private Member's Bill to repeal the law. The Opposition would have been glad if the Government had simply announced that they would give time for that Bill to become law in this Session.

I agree that, if " sus " is scrapped, it will be of great symbolic importance but repeal in itself will not solve the continuing problem of the bad relationship in many of our cities between black people and the police. I quote some statistical evidence of how wide the gulf is in my own constituency. I refer to the poll published in The Times on 10 April.

The article said that 70 per cent. of those interviewed in Brixton said that people in the area had little or no confidence in the police. More than half of the interviewees said that immigrants were discriminated against and that young people were treated less favourably than other groups. Two-thirds of those interviewed thought that it was likely that the violence in Bristol would be repeated. The sense of grievance that many black people feel about " sus " showed in the poll. Thirty eight per cent. of those questioned in Brixton felt that the police were too harsh on suspicious behaviour.

That shows the width of the gulf that exists. I believe that this House should be concerned about that and that the Government should take positive measures to narrow the gap. " Sus " is merely the focal point for the anger and frustration felt by many black groups and individuals. That was made clear at the first meeting of the campaign in February 1978 when Paul Boateng, a solicitor from the Paddington law centre, said: It is right that this campaign should be concerned about repealing the Vagrancy Act, but we must not forget that even if the Act is gone, the problem of the police is still there. So the repeal of this Act would be a negative action and in many ways it would only reflect a change in the policing practice that is already beginning to emerge.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths rose——

Mr. Tilley

I am not going to allow an intervention. The hon. Member, among others, wishes to speak in the debate. The figures from Lambeth in 1978–79 quoted in the report show a 34 per cent. drop in the use of " sus " by the police in that district. I believe that the police in Lambeth—and this may be reassuring to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths)—and elsewhere should be given every support in their use of effective measures against street crime.

However, I believe that the police are becoming aware that " sus " is not an effective measure because many youngsters honestly believe that they will be picked up if they do not intend to commit crime and for that reason they tend to believe that they have nothing to lose by turning to crime. Black parents who have complained to me about " sus " do not condone or encourage street crime. Many of them have been the victims of such crime. They are concerned that their children will be pulled into crime because of their resentment against a "sus" conviction that ensures that they will never get a decent job.

This report—and the Government action that I should like to see—should be just the beginning of a programme of positive improvement in relations between black people and the police. Action on the report could be an important symbol of the Government's will. With many other hon. Members I stress that much more positive features would be needed in such a programme. There should be an extention of experiments in community policing and an extension in the length and diversity of police recruit training so that they understand more about the communities in the inner cities where they have to work. There should be more policemen in uniform on the beat and more should live in the areas in which they work. That is desperately needed in inner London.

The complaints procedure should be made quicker and more flexible. There must be greater liaison between community leaders, elected representatives and the police. However, that liaison must not be a one-way street. The police must be more open. They must be more willing to discuss their operational methods and to accept criticism. That is crucial to the success of the proposals in the report.

If the police decide that the report and debate indicate that they have lost the confidence of Parliament, both the report and the debate will be counter-productive. I am sorry that the Government have not given the lead for which I hoped. If the Government tabled the amendment as a means of replacing " sus " with something else—or of replacing the blunderbuss of "sus" with an Armalite rifle the nature of which we cannot see—it is a wrecking amendment.

Some Conservative Members committed themselves in their election manifestos to voting for the repeal of " sus ". I do not see how they can vote for the Government amendment. The Government have missed a chance to indicate to the black and white communities that, when tackling law and order in the inner cities they are prepared to be more open-minded and even-handed. They should make clear that the duty of a law-abiding community is to assist the police, but that there is a need to recognise that the police are part of the community and that they owe their first duty to all the members of that community—young and old, black and white.

9.6 pm

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I shall first respond to the sincere speech by the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley). I am sure that the Committee did not make its recommendations in response to the first historic pressure by the new generation of black British. It would be wrong if the House at any time responded to one section of our society, whatever its colour or background. The law is general. With respect to the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central, he did no credit to the Committee when he suggested that that was its motive.

The House knows of my affiliation with the Police Federation. If there is any group whose views should be heard on this subject it is the police. They are virtually unanimous. The Police Federation has made its opinions clear in a memorandum sent to all hon. Members. I hope that they have studied it. I shall not weary the House by reading it, but I hope that hon. Members will be in no doubt that the opinions of the police should weigh heavily with the House before it reaches a conclusion.

We are in the presence of a rapidly rising tide of crime. Yet we are about to take away one of the powers of the police to prevent crime. In Scotland we are adding to the police armoury new powers to stop, search and detain. At the same time, in London in particular, we are taking away some of the powers.

The police are not clinging to " sus " because they like it. They are not hanging on to it to make their job easier. It does not. The federation is saying to the House that we should think long and hard before making a decision which could impair police efficiency and expose vulnerable people living in inner city areas to the risk of more crime, whilst failing to achieve the objective of better relations. Those are considered words. I hope that the House will weigh them.

I wish to make three specific points. As it happens, I agree with the Committee that "sus" is objectionable in principle. I have also been long enough in the House to know that we are today seeing the beginning of the end of " sus". I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said on the matter and the way in which he presented his remarks.

I disagree with the Committee when it suggests that there need not be any legislative alternative. In paragraph 35 of the report the Committee talks of a " word of warning " that could be given by the police to those who may be about to commit a crime. The police are doing that all the time, but it does not always work. In paragraph 45 the Committee speaks of that new remedy for everything—more police on the beat. We are getting more police on the beat. I welcome that. But however many police there are on the beat, they will not stop some street crime from taking place.

The Committee should have paid a great deal more attention to the reform of attempted theft. I was pleased and relieved that my right hon. Friend took the initiative in indicating to the House something of the Law Commission's thinking on this matter. I have taken the trouble to interrogate a number of constables and sergeants about attempted theft, and the practical point that they make is that it will not achieve what we require.

Let us consider two specific examples. First, there is the young man who is a " dip ". He is seen putting his hand into someone's pocket in an underground train or on a bus. The Metropolitan Police have a directive——

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon rose——

Mr. Griffiths

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would be good enough to listen to my point. A directive has been issued by the Metropolitan Police which makes it plain that a case must not be brought, and a charge must not be laid, where a crime is impossible. That is a matter of record. The police are under the difficulty that their own directive states that where the crime is impossible because there is no money in the pocket, no goods to be stolen from the car, or no valuables in the handbag, they must not bring the charge of attempted theft—and they do not. That is the practical point.

Mr. Anderson rose——

Mr. Griffiths

I have said that I shall not give way. I shall make my speech and sit down as rapidly as I can. It is because the Metropolitan Police, rightly or wrongly, operate under the directive arising from impossible crime that they frequently rely on " sus " instead of attempted theft. I had hoped that the Committee would pay more attention to that problem. If it had taken more evidence from practical working police officers, it would have recognised the real difficulties to which my right hon. Friend referred.

" Sus " will have to go. It is plainly the will both of the House and of the Government that it should go. But it is vital that the recommendations of the Law Commission on reform of attempted theft should also be considered carefully, so that we do the two together.

In the debate this afternoon we have rightly been concerned about race relations. It is worth putting on record that the Committee did not find that the police were guilty, in any respect, of racial discrimination. I regret that the Committee, in some paragraphs of its report, spoke about " black and white arrests ". There are no black or white arrests; there are only arrests of citizens. I hope that the House will maintain a colour-blind attitude to the commission of crime, as the police do. This is not a racial matter; it is an objective matter concerned with the commission of crime. I conclude with words used by the Police Federation and urge them particularly on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The Police Federation states: An example of how ' sus ' becomes confused with the normal process of stopping and questioning occurred in the aftermath of the Bristol riot, where it was alleged that ' sus ' was frequently used against the young black community. In fact, this offence is very rarely charged in the Avon and Somerset Constabulary and clearly ' sus ' was being used in this case as a blanket term for criticising police actions. That frequently happens. " Sus " is the catch-all phrase. Abolition of the ' sus ' law will not affect the right and duty of the police to stop and caution people in the street when they have reasonable grounds for doing so, and the Police Federation has asked the Royal Commission to propose clarification of this power for all police officers as there is considerable confusion about it up and down the country. If ' sus ' is to be abolished, the immediate reaction of many people when stopped by the police will be to suspect that they are making use of a power which no longer exists. —that is the rub. If " sus " is removed, it will be assumed at once that the police cannot stop and cannot act on suspicion. I am afraid that there will be this danger unless quickly—in my view, simultaneously—we replace " sus " with a reform of attempted theft to deal with the problem of street crime.

9.17 pm
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

If " sus " were to be replaced with another charge, the danger is that that charge would be subject to the same objections of principle as those to which " sus " is now subject.

I agree with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) that the days of " sus " are numbered. I also agree that the fact that it harms race relations is not a sufficient reason for changing the law. But the hon. Gentleman's advice relating to this police directive is out of date. The law on conditional appropriation, which was unclear following the cases of Easom and Husseyn, has been clarified in recent case law—the case of Walkington and the Attorney-General's References (Nos. 1 and 2 of 1979)—and has been applied specifically on conditional appropriation in respect of " sus " in the case of Miles v. Clovis. Therefore, the directive, which relates to the Metropolitan Police force, is out of date and should be amended in the light of current case law on conditional appropriation.

I make only three points, in view of the time. First, we must recognise that one of the great attractions of " sus " to prosecuting authorities is that it is a summary offence. They know that if such cases were to go before juries, many prosecutions would not succeed. Therefore, it is perhaps too convenient for prosecuting authorities to rely on " sus ". Indeed, it undermines the rule of law in that respect.

The fundamental objection has already been put forward by other hon. Members—namely, that people are convicted on evidence of intention, not of an unlawful act. That objection in principle is coupled with the fact that there is considerable opportunity for abuse.

There is evidence that the use of this law varies from police division to police division. It suggests that there is too large a discretion available to a prosecuting authority whether to bring a charge of " sus ". Therefore, there is a danger of the charge being used oppressively. That in itself must reduce respect for the law.

There is a real danger that a police officer on the beat will reach the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that a young man is up to no good—or that young men are up to no good—and make a " sus " charge. I have a personal friend who is a retired police officer. In his early days he was in plain clothes and was picked up by two young police officers when he was hanging about. He did not let on, and he was taken back to the police station. The two young police officers were rather embarrassed when they found out who they had picked up on what they thought was a " sus " offence.

Because of this selective enforcement and because of the dangers of oppressive use of the powers, in addition to the objections of principle that have been raised by other hon. Members, I believe that " sus " must go. We can have our differences about the word " immediate ", but I have lingering doubts about the question whether " sus " should be replaced in areas where many people think that there may be a lacuna in the law—the proximate test in attempted thefts which does not now go far enough, the " dipping " in Underground stations, the trying of car doors, and so on. My conclusion is that whatever attempt is made to replace " sus " will give rise to the same objections of principle that now damn it.

9.22 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I have an advantage, in that I have both prosecuted and represented defendants charged under this Act. Further, I have served as a special constable in a force where this Act is used. These experiences have fortified me in my conclusion that section 4 of the Vagrancy Act should be repealed—for one overwhelming reason. It is certain that this offence gives rise to more unsatisfactory convictions than any other that I have encountered.

There are two reasons for that. The first is the nature of the evidence required. It is not necessary to prove a substantive criminal offence, it is simply necessary to prove a suspicious act, which gives rise to the conclusion that a person is acting suspiciously, and that he harbours a criminal intent. Thus, acts that are capable of at least two interpretations are frequently relied upon as constituting an essential element in criminal offence, for example, loitering in a doorway, following a girl with an open handbag or fingering car doors. They are all acts that are capable of an innocent explanation or a guilty explanation.

One of the real problems is that in the first instance the discretion and the interpretation is given to two police officers or one police officer on the beat. I am prepared to accept that in the majority of cases that discretion is exercised with considerable justice and good sense, but in a small number of cases we have to face the fact that the police are motivated by a degree of prejudice and hostility towards the person concerned. I say that with all the experience of 12 years at the common law Bar behind me, and I am certain that that is true.

This is the sort of offence where an admission is of particular importance. If one finds a burglar sitting in front of a safe with a blow-torch it does not really matter what he says, because he has no excuse, but if a man has committed a number of actions that are not unequivocal, and one is trying to establish a guilty intent, what he says is of particular importance. This Act exposes the police to temptation. I am certain that in a small number of cases they " verbal " the defendant in order to secure a conviction. By that I mean to say that they misrepresent what he says or misinterpret what he says, and sometimes attribute to him things that he has not said at all. These things do not happen very often, but they happen. They happen sufficiently often to cause great concern to the House.

I am not in favour of immediate repeal, for the simple reason that I take the Home Secretary's point that this matter must be considered in the context of the Law Commission's Report on Attempt.

Mr. Barry Porter (Bebington and Ellesmere Port)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hogg

No, I will not.

However, this is a matter of which the House must be aware. We need reform, and we need repeal.

9.25 pm
Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Although this has been a short debate, there have been a large number of contributions. It is of very great significance that in all those contributions from the Government Benches, there have been only two speakers, apart from the Secretary of State, who have supported the Government's position. One of those spoke in his capacity as a representative of the Police Federation. We all knew, before the debate started, what the position of the Police Federation was.

When the House created the new system of Select Committees last year, the view was expressed on all sides that it would be a waste of time unless the Committee reports were brought to the House fairly speedily after production for the House to express a view upon them. The Opposition have been content, therefore, to use some time today to give the House an opportunity of expressing a view on this very important report from the Home Affairs Committee on the offence of loitering with intent. I congratulate the Committee, and especially the chairman of the Committee and the chairman of the Sub-Committee which actually conducted the investigation, on the calm detachment and bi-partisan approach which they adopted in their investigation, an approach which has been reflected for the most part in our debate today.

The report was almost unanimous. There was only one member of the Committee who dissented from any part of the report. That means that the House must give great weight to the opinion that has been expressed in it. If we do not do so, these Committees might as well not exist and we might as well return to the old system.

The House must decide tonight what view it wants to express. We have had all the reports that we need. We have not just had the Select Committee report; we have had the Home Office working party report. We have had other investigations over the years. There comes a time when a decision is needed. But we are not tonight engaged in actually changing the law. That will come later. We perfectly understand that if the decision is taken in favour of the motion which we have tabled tonight, there still rests with the Government the matter of timing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) made clear at the beginning of the debate, and I make clear now, that we read the motion as indicating that there should be repeal of the provision in the course of the coming Session, that is, the Session after this one. That is what me mean by our motion.

It would be impossible—I see the Home Secretary assenting—for us to pick and choose between hundreds of sentences in a report with regard to timing. What we have to do is to give the House an opportunity of saying " We agree with the recommendation. Now let the Government fit this into their parliamentary programme in the near future."

The offence of loitering with intent has been controversial from its inception and long before it took on any aspect of racial discrimination. It has been called the most unconstitutional Act in the book. The Lord Chief Justice of England in 1924 attacked the very idea of using this offence in substitution for attempted theft because the evidence was not sufficient to justify such a charge. Lord Justice Scott, in the Ledworth and Roberts case in 1937, said that the whole series of Vagrancy Acts had been born out of circumstances which no longer existed, and he concluded: To retain such laws seems to me inconsistent with our national sense of personal liberty or our respect for the rule of law. The Select Committee was right to address itself to the fundamental faults of the Vagrancy Act offence and not only to its effect on race relations. The existence of " sus " does adversely affect police relations with ethnic minorities, but that problem goes much wider than " sus " and will still be with us when " sus " is repealed. That is the case against those who, like the Police Federation, say that we are having this debate only because the case has been mounted by those who are primarily or exclusively interested in race relations. Our statute book is cluttered with archaic provisions. If we do not use our common sense and individual judgment and if we do not do some weeding out when a case is so overwhelming, every bad idea that is conceived will stay on the statute book for ever.

What is so offensive about the Vagrancy Act offence? The best way to answer that question is to imagine that that law did not exist and that an hon. Member had proposed for the first time that it should be put on the statute book. Imagine the case that an hon. Member would have to make. He would have to say that he wanted to make it an offence to intend to commit a serious offence and that certain practical things would indicate that a person had had that intent. If an hon. Member put his case in such a way, he would be laughed out of court

The hon. Member might suggest that the law would apply if a person was loitering. However, by loitering I do not mean that the person would have to be walking slowly. He could be running, walking fast or standing still. He could be doing any physical act, because that is what is meant by loitering. The hon. Member might say that the provisions would apply only in the case of a suspected person. He might say that he would allow a man's previous convictions to be invoked—contrary to the general principle—in order to prove that he was a suspected person. The hon. Member might say that that should be allowed even if the policeman who had made the arrest had not known that the man had previous convictions. In addition, it might be suggested that anyone—not only a policeman—could make the arrest.

All hon. Members know that if the offence had not existed and if an hon. Member had made that case, he would have been regarded as something of a loony. The provision would not have got on to the statute book. However, those are the characteristics of the Vagrancy Act offence. I submit that it is a good principle that if no one would have been prepared to advance such a proposition if we had not had it, the fact that it was put on the statute book 160 years ago cannot mean that it is a good thing to leave it there.

In practice, the faults of " sus " go wider. Technically, as the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) said, the onus of proof in a case of " sus " rests with the prosecution, as it does for other offences. It is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt. However, the definition of " sus " is such that the onus is shifted to some extent on to the defendant. Courts decide " sus " cases on the balance of probability, not on the criterion of beyond reasonable doubt. Although some of the magistrates who spoke to the Select Committee agreed with the proposition, most would strenuously deny it. However, I believe that in practice that is what happens.

I cannot forget the case of one of my constituents. He appeared before a stipendiary magistrate and was convicted on a " sus " charge. The magistrate told him after he had been convicted that he could not believe my constituent's explanation of his actions on that day. The appeal was later allowed by the Crown court, when the man came before a proper judge. The case was then properly examined. However, it is clear from the remarks of the stipendiary that the case had been decided on the balance of probability and that the onus was on the defendant, contrary to the principles of English law.

The definition is such that there is too great a chance that innocent people may be convicted. Nothing can harm the relations of the police with all sections of the community—both black and white—more than the conviction of innocent people. The magistrates who appeared before the Select Committee confirmed that they believed that the balance of proof in a case of " sus " shifted on to the defendant.

The question arises whether the police need this or any equivalent power. It is argued that they do. Certainly the police need every power that we can properly give them to pursue and to catch criminals. But we must not offend the proper principles of the law in doing so. There has been no satisfactory answer to the question " If this offence is so important, how comes it that it is used hardly at all in some parts of the country, including some of the big cities outside London which have conditions similar to those in inner London?"

Does anyone argue that pickpocketing or interfering with cars is less common in Glasgow than in London? " Sus " exists in Scotland. We wished it upon them in 1870—they were free of it in 1824—but it is not used.

It was interesting to see the reasons given by Home Office officials why " sus " was used in Cardiff. The explanation was that London policemen used to be lent to Cardiff to help deal with the pickpockets who went from London to Cardiff for the races and the London policemen took with them the habit of using " sus ". The only explanation why " sus " is used in some parts of the country and not in others is that it is a matter of habit. The police in some parts of the country manage to do without the power.

The police have other powers. In London they have the stop-and-search powers of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, and there are similar provisions in other parts of the country. There is also the provision under the Criminal Law Act 1967 by which a policeman may arrest on suspicion and without a warrant a person whom he reasonably suspects is about to commit an arrestable offence. Those provisions differ from " sus " in that the arrested person does not afterwards face criminal prosecution for an offence. He is arrested and interfered with in what he may have been attempting to do, but he does not face conviction.

Let me illustrate to the House the dangers of the " sus " arrangement, compared with the others. I had a constituent who was picked up on suspicion that he had been attempting to steal from handbags. He was holding a grip. It was searched, but nothing incriminating was found. In Birmingham, the police would have used their stop-and-search powers and, when they did not find anything incriminating, that would have been the end of the matter. In this case, the man was charged with " sus " and convicted, though his appeal was allowed in the Crown court. We give the police a temptation when we allow them to proceed to a prosecution and not only to stop and search for incriminating evidence.

The chairman of the Criminal Bar Association told the Select Committee that it was his view and, he believed, the view of his colleagues that the offence was unsatisfactory and archaic and that no loss would be sustained by its abolition. The Society of Labour Lawyers called for repeal, the Society of Conservative Lawyers said that it was open to abuse in its present form and the magistrates called for repeal.

The Home Office working party of 1976 called for a rewording of the offence, but that working party consisted entirely of Whitehall officials and serving police officers. They admitted to the Select Committee that their remit in studying the matter at that stage had been much narrower than the remit adopted by the Select Committee. In any case, the working party said clearly in its report that it was a matter ultimately for the judgment of Parliament.

Whenever a reform in our law is proposed, the defence goes up " Let's wait for such and such a committee to report ". Those of us who were trying about three years ago to create the right for an arrested person to tell someone that he had been arrested were greeted with predictions of doom about what would happen if such a proposal were passed and we were advised to wait for the Royal Commission on criminal procedure to report.

The House exercised its judgment that night and the provision was passed on to the statute book. Since then, no more has been heard from the police or anyone else about those predictions of doom. The Police Federation says that we should wait for the Royal Commission on criminal procedure, but the federation is mistaken in believing that the content of the criminal law, as against pre-prosecution procedure, is properly a matter for the Royal Commission.

The Commission has had evidence put to it on the subject, but it is not a matter on which it can properly report. The Government more relevantly suggest that we await the publication of the Law Commission's report on " attempt ".

I took the precaution a month or so ago of asking the secretary of the Law Commission whether its review of " attempt" was touching on the matter of " sus ". The reply that I received stated: The Law Commission is not dealing with the question of the need for or the reform of the suspected person offence … In our forthcoming report on attempts … we shall make it clear that our conclusions in regard to the law of attempt have been reached independently of considerations affecting the section 4 offence and do not of course preclude further examination of that offence. There needs to be change in the law on " attempt ", but that does not bear upon the need for us to express a general opinion today on the need to repeal the " sus " provision.

We are asking the House to say tonight that it agrees with the recommendation of a Committee of Conservative and Labour Members who have conducted the most thorough examination of this question that it has been given. The Committee says that repeal should take place now, but we all know that in parliamentary reality that cannot be next week or even this Session. There is no one who would not settle for next Session. That is what we intend by our motion, and that is the significance that we shall attach to it if it is passed.

The Government, by contrast, are asking the House to say to the Committee " Thank you for your useful document. We shall do something about it at some time. We shall not say what we shall do and we shall not exactly say when we shall do it, but we shall do something some time." That is not a proper response to the situation and to the report before us. I beg Conservative Members to do what is necessary to make the House of Commons work—exercise their judgment in the light of the overwhelming view expressed in the debate and the reports and support our motion.

9.42 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Leon Brittan)

There has been a wide measure of agreement on both sides of the House about the criticisms that can properly be levelled against the " sus " law. I therefore regret that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has been less than fair to the Government in his assessment of the implications and reasons for our amendment. The hon. Gentleman is experienced enough in the ways of this House to know that a Government who were seeking delay and an excuse for inaction would not include in their amendment reference to an early decision or refer to a report of the Law Commission that is already in the hands of the Lord Chancellor and has been seen by my right hon. Friend and myself. Precisely because there is—and it was apparent that there would be—a wide degree of consensus about the faults of the " sus " law, it was considered right by my right hon. Friends to table an amendment that stated the Government's position with greater precision than would have been possible by not tabling an amendment in that form.

It is all very well for the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury to say that their motion asks for action next Session and not immediately, but that is not what it says, or what the Select Committee report said.

On a more substantial point, we suggest that matters other than those dealt with by the Select Committee should be looked at, not because we wish to be carping in our reference to what the Select Committee said but because we believe that those other matters, and in particular what the Law Commission had to say on the law of " attempt ", are relevant to the consideration of the way in which we should deal with the " sus " law.

The criticisms that have been made of the " sus " law from both sides of the House have been legion. In that sense I adopt the words of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), who said that those who are criticising the law are pushing at an open door. It is significant, therefore, rather than to rehearse the criticisms that have been made in any detail to consider the nature of the criticisms and the gravamen of the general objections to the offence in its present form.

The criticisms start with the objection that in this offence far more than in most, but not exclusively, heavy reliance is placed on proving criminal intention rather than specific acts. There is criticism that in this instance it is possible to rely on previous convictions in making good the offence. The criticisms draw attention to the antiquity and the antique language of the Act. It is said that in this offence, which involves an accusation substantially of dishonesty, the accused person does not have the right to trial by jury.

In the rehearsal of those criticisms, two matters become apparent. First, it is apparent that they are substantial and real criticisms. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that the Government consider that the present law is not a proper vehicle for the administration of justice in today's circumstances. Secondly, it is important to observe that, vital as these various matters are, and important and crucial as they are when considering whether the offence provides the defendant with adequate rights when he is charged, they are all objections of an essentially procedural nature. They are objections directed to the way in which the offence is brought, the way in which the prosecution is brought, and what has to be proved.

I now come to an issue on which there may be a difference between those of my right lion, and hon. Friends who support the amendment and Labour Members who do not. I contend that the criticisms fall short in advancing with any degree of conviction the argument that the acts in respect of which the offence is brought are acts which, if properly proved with the full protection of the law, should not be criminal. We are not able to say that all that we have to do is to repeal the law without covering any of the ground that at present is covered by it. That is because we believe that there is a serious case for taking the view that a gap would emerge in the ambit of the criminal law that would allow persons to engage with impunity in acts that should properly be within its ambit.

Two specific situations have been mentioned, and both relate to actions of dishonesty. There is the handbag or the pocket in which there proves to be nothing. In that case the act would not be capable of prosecution as a criminal attempt, because it would be an attempt to commit an impossible act. In spite of what the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said about recent decisions of the Court of Appeal, the fact remains that the leading case on impossibility is that of Haughton v. Smith, which still establishes that a person cannot be convicted of an attempt if what he is attempting to do is impossible.

As my right hon. Friend said in deploying the Government's case at the outset, the Law Commision makes recommendations on that specific practical point. In the face of that situation and the problem seen in its proper light, it cannot be right to pray in aid the report of the Law Commission—which has already been printed, if not finally published—and say that there is prevarication, since any responsible Government, faced with a gap in the law of the kind that I have explained, are entitled to say to their supporters and to the House that it would be only rational to await publication of the report and consider whether it was necessary to make a change in the law of " attempt " to deal with the matter.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said that in his communications with the Law Commission he was told that the consideration of the law of " attempt " was independent of the consideration of the law of " sus ". Of course, that is right. But, from the point of view of this House, representing as it does, or ought to do. the interests of the community as a whole, it is entirely reasonable for us, in looking at the gap that would open in the law if " sus " were repealed without any kind of replacement, to ask whether there is something in the law of " attempt " which, if changed in the way that the Law Commission is recommending, could enable a real mischief to be dealt with by the criminal law without the unfairnesses, antiquity and procedural objections of the present law. That is what we are saying.

Mr. George Cunningham rose——

Mr. Brittan

I shall not give way, because time is short.

I do not pretend that it is only the question of an attempt to commit the impossible that would be in the gap if the law of " sus " were repealed without any kind of replacement. There is also, for example, the question of dishonest tampering with car door handles. In that situation, even if the Law Commission's report were implemented, it would not lead to criminal prosecutions being possible in the absence of the " sus " law, because, as the hon. Member for Swansea, East made clear in an intervention, the act of handling a door handle does not clearly show an intention to commit theft. It is equally compatible or consistent with an intention to take and drive away.

Mr. Cunningham rose——

Mr. Brittan

May I finish the point? I did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that he wishes me to have the same chance to put my case as he rightly grabbed with both hands to put his own.

In that latter circumstance, if one thought that an act of that kind was something that one ought not simply to allow to take place without any intervention of the criminal law, some other type of legislative intervention would be necessary to cover it.

All of that does not mean—I am anxious to stress this beyond any doubt whatever—that in suggesting that it may be necessary to make changes in the law one is wishing simply to rewrite " sus " in modern form or dress it up in a different way. That is not what I am arguing for in any way. I accept that much of the ground that " sus " covers can be left uncovered, but I urge the House also to acknowledge that there is some ground which " sus " covers which ought to be covered by the criminal law in a form which is more modern and does not have the objectionable features that the present " sus " law has.

Mr. Cunningham

How does the Minister get round Birmingham?

Mr. Brittan

The Birmingham point, if I may so call it—perhaps I may say this for the assistance of those hon. Members who have not had the opportunity to hear the whole debate—is the suggestion that there can be no gap in the law which needs filling when one takes into account the variations in the use of the " suspected person " offence in different parts of the country. Those who made that point failed to point out that the figures provided by the Home Office to the Select Committee showed that all forces in the country made at least some use of the power in the years 1976 to 1978. The fact that there are variations in the extent of the use of the power is a very different matter. It cannot be said that there are parts of the country in which the " sus " offence has not been used at all.

An important point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) illustrates the thinking of the Select Committee. The Committee, to do it credit, as all would wish, did not pretend, and did not state, that there would be no gaps in the law if the " sus " offence were abolished. It suggested that there were alternatives that could be used and that alternative provisions of the law were available and appropriate to cover some of the area at present used by " sus ".

One of the suggestions in that line of argument is that some of the local Acts should be used. Section 66 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 was prayed in aid. But that is not really appropriate. It applies only where a person is reasonably suspected of having or conveying, in any manner, anything stolen or unlawfully obtained. That does not apply.

The more important example raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham was the provision of section 2(5) of the Criminal Law Act, which says A constable may arrest without warrant any person who is, or whom he, with reasonable cause, suspects to be, about to commit an arrestable offence.

The Select Committee, in its report, envisaged that some of the ground at present covered by " sus " would be covered in that way. I concede absolutely that in the vast majority of cases at present covered by " sus " it would be possible to use that provision. I maintain, however, that it would be worse to use that provision than to retain " sus ". I shall explain why. A power that allows a constable to arrest somebody and not to charge him increases the chances of harassment far more than an offence where the person who is arrested is at least brought before a court.

Many hon. Members have criticised the fact that two policemen can say what they like about an accused person, but it is for the court to decide whether it chooses to believe what those policemen say or accepts the inferences from the conduct that those policemen describe. If one says that instead of people being arrested and brought before a court they should simply be arrested as a means of dealing with the immediate problem and then released, one is surely giving an open invitation to precisely the kind of harassment that a rational reform of the law would seek to avoid.

Even when the view taken of this antique offence is uniquely and universally hostile, one has still to accept the fact that some alternative, over some of the ground, is necessary. It is because the Opposition motion does not give sufficient, or any, credence to that undoubted fact emerging from a fair analysis of the position as a whole that I commend to the House the amendment that stands in the name of my right hon. Friend.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 228, Noes 283.

Division No. 341] AYES [10 pm
Abse, Leo Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood
Adams, Allen Ashton, Joe Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)
Allaun Frank Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Bidwell, Sydney
Alton, David Bagler, Gordon A. T. Booth, Rt Hon Albert
Anderson, Donald Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Boothroyd, Miss Betty
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)
Armstrong, Rt. Hon Ernest Beith, A. J. Bradley, Tom
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Palmer, Arthur
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Haynes, Frank Park, George
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith) Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire) Parker, John
Buchan, Norman Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall) Parry, Robert
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Home Robertson, John Penhaligon, David
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Homewood, William Prescott, John
Campbell, Ian Hooley, Frank Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Horam, John Race, Reg
Canavan, Dennis Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)
Cant, R. B. Huckfield, Les Richardson, Jo
Carmichael, Neil Hudson Davies, Gwilym Ednyfed Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hughes, Mark (Durham) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Robertson, George
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Robinson, Geoffery (Coventry NW)
Conlan, Bernard Janner, Hon Greville Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Cook, Robin F. Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Rooker, J. W.
Cowans, Harry Johnson, James (Hull West) Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Crowther, J. S. Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda) Rowlands, Ted
Cryer, Bob Jones, Barry (East Flint) Ryman, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Sandelson, Neville
Cunningham, George (Islington S) Kerr, Russell Sever, John
Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Sheerman, Barry
Dalyell, Tarn Kinnock, Neil Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Davidson, Arthur Lamborn, Harry Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hllls)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Lamond, James Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Leadbitter, Ted Short, Mrs Renée
Deakins Eric Leighton, Ronald Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Silverman, Julius
Dempsey, James Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Skinner, Dennis
Dewar, Donald Litherland, Robert Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
Dixon, Donald Lofthouse, Geoffrey Snape, Peter
Dobson, Frank Lyon, Alexander (York) Soley, Clive
Dormand, Jack Lyons, Edward (Bradford West) Spearing, Nigel
Douglas, Dick Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Spriggs, Leslie
Douglas-Mann, Bruce McCartney, Hugh Stallard, A. W.
Dubs, Alfred McDonald, Dr Oonagh Stoddart, David
Dunnett, Jack McElhone, Frank Strang, Gavin
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McKay, Allen (Penistone) Straw, Jack
Eadie, Alex McKelvey, William Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Eastham, Ken MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire) Maclennan, Robert Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
English, Michael McNally, Thomas Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Ennals, Rt Hon David McNamara, Kevin Tilley, John
Evans, loan (Aberdare) McWilliam, John Tinn, James
Evans, John (Newton) Magee, Bryan Torney, Tom
Ewing, Harry Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Faulds, Andrew Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Field, Frank Marshall, Jim (Leicester South) Waldegrave, Hon William
Fitch, Alan Maxton, John Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Flannery, Martin Maynard, Miss Joan Watkins, David
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Meacher, Michael Weetch, Ken
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Welsh, Michael
Ford, Ben Mikardo, Ian Wheeler, John
Forrester, John Millan, Rt Hon Bruce White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Foster, Derek Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Mitchell. R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Whitehead, Phillip
Freud, Clement Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe) Whitlock, William
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
George, Bruce Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Newens, Stanley Winnick, David
Gourlay, Harry Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Woodall, Alec
Graham, Ted Ogden, Eric Woolmer, Kenneth
Grant, George (Morpeth) O'Halloran, Michael Wrigglesworth, Ian
Grant, John (Islington C) O'Neill, Martin
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Mr. Donald Coleman and
Harrison, Rt Hon Waller Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham Mr. George Morton.
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Adley, Robert Bell, Sir Ronald Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)
Aitken, Jonathan Bendall, Vivian Bowden, Andrew
Alexander, Richard Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Boyson, Dr Rhodes
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Braine, Sir Bernard
Ancram, Michael Best, Keith Bright, Graham
Arnold, Tom Bevan, David Gilroy Brinton, Tim
Aspinwall, Jack Biffen, Rt Hon John Brittan, Leon
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Biggs-Davison, John Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Blackburn, John Brooke, Hon Peter
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Blaker, Peter Brotherton, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Boscawen, Hon Robert Browne, John (Winchester)
Bruce-Gardyne, John Hicks, Robert Pink, R. Bonner
Bryan, Sir Paul Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Pollock, Alexander
Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick Hill, James Porter, George
Buck, Antony Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)
Budgen, Nick Holland, Philip (Carlton) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Bulmer, Esmond Hooson, Tom Price, David (Eastleigh)
Burden, F. A. Hordern, Peter Prior, Rt Hon James
Butcher, John Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Proctor, K. Harvey
Butler, Hon Adam Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford) Raison, Timothy
Cadbury, Jocelyn Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Rathbone, Tim
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Hurd, Hon Douglas Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rees-Davies, W. R.
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn) Kaberry, Sir Donald Benton, Tim
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Rhodes James, Robert
Channon, Paul Kitson, Sir Timothy Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Chapman, Sydney Knox, David Rifkind, Malcolm
Churchill, W. S. Lament, Norman Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South) Lang, Ian Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Langford-Holt, Sir John Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Cockeram, Eric Latham, Michael Rost, Peter
Colvin, Michae Lawrence, Ivan Royle, Sir Anthony
Cope, John Lawson, Nigel Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Cormack, Patrick Lee, John St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Corrie, John Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Scott, Nicholas
Costain, A. P. Lester, Jim (Beeston) Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Cranborne, Viscount Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Crouch, David Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Silvester, Fred
Dickens, Geoffrey Loveridge, John Sims, Roger
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Luce, Richard Skeet, T. H. H.
Dover, Denshore Lyell, Nicholas Speed, Keith
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Macfarlane, Nell Speller, Tony
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) MacGregor, John Spence, John
Durant, Tony MacKay, John (Argyll) Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Dykes, Hugh Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Sproat, lain
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Stanbrook, lvor
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) NcNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Stanley, John
Eggar, Timothy McQuarrie, Albert Steen, Anthony
Elliott, Sir William Madel, David Stevens, Martin
Eyre, Reginald Major, John Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Fairbairn, Nicholas Marland, Paul Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Fairgrleve, Russell Marlow, Tony Stokes, John
Faith, Mrs Sheila Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stradling Thomas, J.
Farr, John Marten, Neil (Banbury) Tapsell, Peter
Fell, Anthony Mates, Michael Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Mather, Carol Taylor, Teddy (Southend East)
Finsberg, Geoffrey Maude, Rt Hon Angus Temple-Morris, Peter
Fisher, Sir Nigel Mawby, Ray Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N) Mawhinney, Dr Brian Thompson, Donald
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thorne, Neil (llford South)
Forman, Nigel Mayhew, Patrick Thornton, Malcolm
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Meyer, Sir Anthony Townend, John (Bridlington)
Fox, Marcus Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Mills, lain (Mariden) Trippier, David
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Mills, Peter (West Devon) Trotter, Neville
Fry, Peter Miscampbell, Norman van Straubenzee, W. R.
Gardner, Edward (South Fylde) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Garel-Jones, Tristan Moate, Roger Viggers, Peter
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Molyneaux, James Waddington, David
Glyn, Dr Alan Monro, Hector Wakeham, John
Goodhart, Philip Moore, John Walker, Rt Hon Peter (Worcester)
Goodhew, Victor Morgan, Geraint Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Goodlad, Alastair Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth) Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Gorst, John Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes) Waller, Gary
Gower, Sir Raymond Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Walters, Dennis
Gray, Hamish Mudd, David Ward, John
Greenway, Harry Murphy, Christopher Warren, Kenneth
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds) Myles, David Watson, John
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Needham, Richard Wells, John (Maidstone)
Grist, Ian Nelson, Anthony Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Gryils, Michael Neubert, Michael Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Gummer, John Selwyn Newton, Tony Whitney, Raymond
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll) Normanton, Tom Wickenden, Keith
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Nott, Rt Hon John Wiggin, Jerry
Hannam, John Oppenhelm, Rt Hon Mrs Sally Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Haselhurst, Alan Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire) Winterton, Nicholas
Hastings, Stephen Paisley, Rev Ian Wolfson, Mark
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Parkinson, Cecil Young, David (Bolton East)
Hawksley, Warren Parris, Matthew Younger, Rt Hon George
Hayhoe, Barney Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Patten, John (Oxford) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Heddle, John Pattie, Geoffrey Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Henderson, Barry Pawsey, James Mr. Anthony Merry.
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Percival, Sir Ian

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 32 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.

Mr. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to, pursuant to Standing Order No. 18 (Business of Supply).

Resolved, That this House welcomes the important contribution made by the Report of the Home Affairs Committee relating to section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824, accepts the need for a change in the law, and looks forward to the imminent publication of the Law Commission's Report on Attempt and to the public response to these reports, as providing the basis for an early decision as to the best way of reforming the law while ensuring adequate protection for the public.