HC Deb 14 May 1987 vol 116 cc433-7

Lords amendment: No. 36, in page 15, line 43, at end insert— (1A) In section 5(2) of the Criminal Law Act 1977, the words from 'and' to the end are hereby repealed.

Mr. Mellor

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords' amendments Nos. 37 to 198.

Mr. Mellor

These are technical amendments, the combined result of which is to reduce the Bill to only those provisions associated with the operation of clauses 1 to 12. The final amendment, which reduces the long title of the Bill, is perhaps the neatest illustration of the radical but precise surgery performed by these amendments.

Mr. Chris Smith

The Minister is kidding us when he says that these are technical amendments. They are drastically radical amendments because, of course, they excise from the Bill everything that does not relate to the establishment of the Serious Fraud Office. We welcome the departure of much that these amendments excise, and we attach great importance to the disappearance of the removal of the right of peremptory challenge.

It may he helpful to the House if I give a strong commitment that the Labour Government who come into office in four weeks' time will seek to legislate to ensure that a proper statutory scheme of compensation for the victims of crime is established on more generous terms than those proposed in the original Criminal Justice Bill. Our legislation will include the provision that the Government gracefully accepted in Committee for the compensation of train drivers who suffer shock after an accident involving a person. We shall also seek to legislate to ensure that children can give evidence by means of a video link rather than having to give evidence in court.

We attach great importance to those matters and we hope that we can build on the constructive work that we carried out in Committee on those two specific areas by bringing forward further measures. We shall do that when we form the new Government in four weeks' time.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

I have no doubt that the electors of Putney will recognise the superb service that they have had from their Member of Parliament in the last four years, and that in shortly over a month's time my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will return to the high office that he now holds. At that time he will be in a position to reintroduce these clauses. I have personal experience of my hon. and learned Friend's tremendous understanding and the courtesy that he showed during the passage of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Bill, and I know that on occasions he is willing to review situations.

When my hon. and learned Friend returns to this matter, will he consider again clause 29, which deals with the prosecution appeal against sentence? Will he reconsider the point made by many hon. Members in Committee, on the Floor of the House and in another place that if the prosecution is to have a right of appeal against sentence—and we believe that it should—it should also have the right, if necessary, to seek to have the sentence increased?

Hon. Members have already spoken about clause 89. It deals with the abolition of the right to peremptory challenge. In Committee and in the House we face assaults on this clause. The alliance spokesman, who, sadly, is not in the House, attacked this clause. In spite of their newfound allegiance to the cause of law and order which we believe was heavily leaked from the alliance parties' manifesto, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will give no ground whatever. I hope that when the Bill comes back to the House—once more under his pilotage—we shall have the proposal to abolish the right to peremptory challenge back in the Bill where it belongs.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

I wish to express my opposition to amendments Nos. 120 to 137 and amendment No. 180 which have the effect of deleting clauses 96 to 133 and schedule 9. I oppose the amendments because the clauses and the schedule cover amendments to the law of extradition that the Government were wise enough to propose in the original Bill. That was almost an heroic proposal on their part, because the extradition law in this country in the form in which we are debating it today derives from an 1870 Act. Therefore, it has taken a long time to bring forward amendments to bring the law up to date. Over the past 10 years Governments have promised reforms, but have never gone about it until, happily, this Government did. It is a great shame that the proposal before us is that we should abandon again this attempt at reforming the law of extradition to bring it up to date.

Broadly speaking, there are three sets of beneficial proposals in the clauses. There is a proposal for summary procedure in our extradition law, and that would have been very useful in cases where there was little opposition. There would have been conditions with regard to restrictions of extradition to Commonwealth states, which apply in the updated law—that is, the Fugitive Offenders Act 1967. The relevant clauses would have applied to the Extradition Act 1870, or the new extradition law proposed by the Bill. it is important to bring such matters up to date.

There would have been simplified rules of evidence. We all know how much difficulty the courts have run into because of the tortuous rules of evidence which apply to the original extradition law. Those clauses represent a very useful reform. In Committee, there was scarcely any opposition to them, so I am somewhat puzzled as to why the Government have chosen to agree with the Lords proposal that we should drop them. The matters were debated and I cannot recall any outright opposition or a single Division being called on any of part IX of the Bill.

I ask my hon. and learned Friend—I am glad that he is now officially a learned Friend—whether it was necessary, after all these years when we tried to bring extradition law up to date, to abandon the reforms attempted by the Government.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)

Having once had the honour to hold the office which my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State now holds, and having in that capacity taken a major Criminal Justice Bill through the House, in 1971, it is perhaps appropriate that my final words in the House should be to congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on the way he has carried out his duties in the Home Office and to say that I welcome the decision of the House of Lords to delete clause 29.

The House of Lords has twice removed what I believe to be an ill-thought-out and ill-considered proposal by the Government. My hon. and learned Friend may consider, when he comes back after the election in a Conservative Government with a substantial majority, that, as far as clause 29 is concerned, the best advice the third time may be not to try at all.

Mr. Bermingham

I echo and endorse what the right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) said in perhaps his last contribution. He will be sadly missed. He brings much wisdom and learning to these debates and we all learn much from listening to him.

I support, as I did in Committee, the view of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). The sooner we bring the extradition laws up to date, the better. We had an opportunity, on a matter which was not disputed in Committee, to rectify a series of glaring omissions from the extradition law. When crime becomes international, as it has, we must make it easier for people to be extradited to the country where the offence took place or to seek and obtain the extradition of people who have committed crimes in this country. The matter is not politically sensitive; it comes in the international context of the pursuit of crime, and our laws must be updated and modernised.

I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) for an undertaking that, in the event of our forming the Government after 12 June, the provisions will be brought back to the House at the earliest opportunity. I received such an assurance. I ask the Minister whether, in the event of his party forming the next Government, the same assurance can be given. It is of international importance that we pursue crime wherever it is committed and that our law should facilitate such pursuit.

4.45 pm
Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

I wish to speak briefly on clauses 29, 32 and 125. I am sorry that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) took the view he did. I am glad that clause 29 will come out, but for a slightly different reason.

The powers in clause 29 are quite inadequate. The ordinary person in the street does not understand why those provisions were so weak. Recently in my constituency a Mrs. Whitehouse, landlady of the Lamb inn in Stafford, was brutally beaten and the person who did it received only a nine months' suspended sentence. If the power had been adequate, the opportunity could have been taken to review the position. I hope that when we return to office shortly a similar but tougher provision will be included in the new Bill.

I am somewhat concerned at the removal of clause 32. I hope that that will come hack rapidly because there is no question but that penalties for crimes must be increased.

Clause 125 relates to anonymity in rape cases. That is a matter of considerable controversy. The ordinary man and woman in the street are deeply concerned about this issue and it must be dealt with.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on the way in which he has conducted himself in his office. Those of us who are observers of these things have noted, both on the "Today" programme and on many other occasions, the way in which he has done a great service to his office.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I must tread carefully on this matter, not being an expert in legal matters. but I have checked my facts with the Minister. First, I apologise to him on behalf of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) for his absence. I am attending on his behalf because he has asked me to do so.

I support what the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said about extradition. It incenses me and many of my constituents who lost much money in a Lloyd's fraud that a gentleman is sitting in America with vast sums of money and we are unable to bring him back for trial. I have asked questions of the Attorney-General, but so far nothing has happened. Our Belgian friends must also feel pretty sick after the recent Liverpool case.

I support what has been said by all hon. Members and hope that the new Bill will include those clauses and they will go through swiftly.

Mr. Mellor

I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) here because he chaired the Committee with considerable distinction, just as he chaired the 59 sittings of the Committee on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. That had got to the Lords amendment stage at the end of the last Parliament, but had to be reintroduced. Any illusion one may have had that the Bill had been well turned over and therefore would go through speedily was set to one side, as there were 59 sittings, which I believe to be a parliamentary record. It has been asserted by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that it was a parliamentary record and, of course, I believe implicitly every word he says.

When my hon. Friend was chairing the Committee, he told us that he suspected we would not have the last word on this Bill. I congratulate him on the ability of whatever gipsy he consults on Scarborough beach, because the prediction was right. I shall not mind in the least having another go at this measure. I am confident that the Government will reintroduce the Bill at an early stage, because it contains matters which are far too crucial to let drop.

I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said, supported by others, about the significance of the extradition proposals. The extradition arrangements must be modernised. We cannot go on appearing to be an inhospitable place from which other civilised countries try to get their criminals back. That merely invites a similar lack of co-operation towards our own efforts. There is a blot on our procedures because, for example, we have only one tenth of West Germany's extradition traffic, so unappealing are our arrangements for our friends and associates within the European Community and elsewhere.

I cannot criticise the other place for deciding that it could not send these matters back to us without full consideration because this was to have been the first substantive change in extradition arrangements for 117 years. We cannot begrudge our revising Chamber the right to examine such matters.

Other parts of the Bill could have been salvaged if other parties had so wished. In particular, I regret that the child video evidence provisions were not saved. I also regret that the increased penalties for insider dealings are not attached to the Bill. This is not a time for partisan points. At least the serious fraud provisions can pass into law. We intend to pursue the other matters at the earliest opportunity.

I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle). My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North asked whether we would think again about clause 29. My candid answer is that we will have to think about it again in the light of what has happened. Precisely what form those other thoughts will take is not a matter for the present. I am clear—I say this with some pain because of the respect that I have for my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South—in believing that the option of doing nothing is not open, but we shall think carefully about it.

Our commitment to the abolition of peremptory challenge is as strong as ever. That will unite all my hon. Friends in the Chamber.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North for what he said about my personal contribution. He has been with me on a number of committees which have led to significant changes in the law, particularly to changes in the law on animal experimentation which have taken that issue out of its former context.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford for what he said.

No one has been more consistently kind and helpful to me than my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South during my eight years in the House. I have great respect for him for what he did in government and for what he has done since for home affairs and as chairman of our Back-Bench home affairs committee. He will be much missed by all his friends here and elsewhere.

The achievement by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) is formidable. Most of us are elected to the House on the back of a successful ongoing tide. He won his seat in spectacular fashion and held on to it. He has suffered some ill health in recent years, and I regret that that has caused him to announce his retirement. I wish him well. He has many friends in this place.

I regret that this radical surgery on the Bill is necessary. It is unfinished business and we shall not be long delayed in coming back to it.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 37 to 198 agreed to.