HC Deb 31 March 1981 vol 2 cc249-50

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

10.31 pm
Mr. Mayhew

This is a substantial Bill. It has brought about a codification and a clarification of the law of attempt. It has repealed the law of "sus". The Government are entitled to considerable credit for repealing the law, which has met with considerable criticism for a long time. We have filled a gap in an important respect with the new offence of motor interference. I believe that the public will be better protected than hitherto. This has been a useful operation.

The Bill was considered in Committee in a useful way. I am grateful to my hon. Friends and to Labour Members for the way in which they dealt with the Bill. The Bill has been dealt with in quite a short time and I believe that it will be a useful addition to the statute book. I commend it to the House.

10.32 pm
Mr. George Cunningham

Much could be said about the Bill on Third Reading, but we shall say less than we should because we are impingeing on time for other business.

Some things need to be said. The first is that the proceedings on the Bill are a vindication of the procedural reforms that have been introduced by the House in the last two years. The proposal to repeal "sus" has been successful because it was recommended almost unanimously by one of our new Select Committees. It was work that the old-style Select Committee could not have done under the rules of the House.

Secondly, the complete reversal of the policy embraced in part 1 of the Bill also resulted from the new procedure of Special Standing Committees, which on this Bill was so successful and worked so well that it was not really necessary for either the Minister or the Opposition to say anything after the consideration of the business in Special Standing Committee. The taking of the evidence was proof in itself of the necessity to reverse the policy that the Home Office had previously adopted.

The Home Office, if I could just have the attention of the Minister of State for a moment, should take on board the fact that after the time of the production of the Law Commission report there was not that degree of consultation between the Home Office and the Law Commission about the Home Office's desired changes to the Law Commission draft that ought to have taken place. I feel confident that the Minister recognises that that was the case and that he will take steps to ensure that in future, when the Home Office wants—not to put too fine a point on it—to muck about with the careful draft of the Law Commission on a matter like this, it will at least have consultations with the Law Commission in advance. It is noticeable that when Sir Henry Skinner gave evidence to us upstairs he was emphatic that even if one agreed with the policy that the Home Office was trying to pursue the language that it had stumbled upon was language that did not achieve that objective. The substantial changes in the law of attempt as compared with the Home Office's first draft, and as compared with the law of attempt as it stands at the moment, are extremely important. Disputes continue about the law of attempt, whether or not on the words more than a merely preparatory act", along with those on the issue of impossibility.

By adopting the words more than a merely preparatory act we are finding a clean keel on which new barnacles can attach, rather than clearing away any possibility of barnacles attaching in the light of courts' decisions. All the old issues of stabbing dead corpses, and the like, might raise their heads again, despite the tidy formulae in the Bill.

What was wrong with the offence of "sus" was that it permitted a person to be found guilty on the basis of acts that were too equivocal, that were susceptible to the interpretation of being innocent, and that subjected a person to trial not with the option of jury trial but before stipendiaries, as in London. If the law of "sus" had been properly tried always, it would not have been so bad as it turned out to be. The courts, as much as the law, let us down.

There is no need for the new offence, about which we have spoken adequately. We hope that the House of Lords will have another look at it in Committee. However, let no one imagine that the new law of interference with a motor vehicle detracts from the enormous improvement of getting rid of "sus". The new offence is not the same as "sus". It has some of the disadvantages on a narrow front, but it has been greatly approved in Committee, not least as a result of the new procedure. We can congratulate ourselves on those changes that have been made. On that basis, and with those qualifications, we shall not oppose the Third Reading of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third Time and passed.

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