HC Deb 26 October 1989 vol 158 cc1034-6
3. Mr. French

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to review the workings of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

Mr. John Patten

Criminal justice legislation is kept under constant review. The 1988 Act was a wide-ranging and substantial measure. As yet, it is naturally too early to judge the Act's effectiveness overall.

Mr. French

In reviewing the Act, will my hon. Friend consider extending the arrangement whereby children under 14 years of age can give evidence by closed circuit television from outside the courtroom? That arrangement is available in the higher courts but not yet available in the magistrates courts.

Mr. Patten

We are keeping this under review, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will look at it when he considers further the report on this and related issues just received from his honour Judge Pigot, the Common Serjeant in the City of London.

Mr. Flynn

Does the Minister realise that, despite the effects of the 1988 Act, crimes of violence against the police in Gwent are still at a record level, and the Gwent police remain the most bruised and battered in Britain? What does he intend to do to increase the Gwent police force to the proper level that the chief constable demands? Will he have some talks with the magistrates to ensure that anybody convicted of crimes of violence against the police can look forward with certainty to a period behind bars?

Mr. Patten

I am happy to meet anyone from Gwent who wishes to come to see me to talk about these issues. There is an adequate range of penalties for those who attack police.

Mr. Favell

My hon. Friend will have heard of the tragic events in Stockport last Thursday, when a temporary member of the Stockport shooting centre tried to leave with a pistol. He shot dead another member and then shot dead someone nearby. [Interruption.] It is not funny.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are making slow progress and this does not help.

Mr. Favell

I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will want to join me in expressing sympathy for the families of the two men who were shot dead, one of whom had acted extremely bravely. Will he consider ensuring that temporary members of shooting clubs are vetted by the police before they enter the premises to shoot? Secondly, will he ban the use of targets shaped like human beings, which I understand to be illegal in West Germany?

Mr. Patten

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I extend our deepest sympathies to the relatives of those who were killed. My right hon. Friend is looking closely at the serious issue of temporary membership of gun clubs. The International Shooting Union has, from 1 January this year, laid down standards for target shooting which involve circular black targets. These are the targets that should be used in gun clubs, rather than those purporting to represent human beings. I hope that we never see those again.

Mr. Hattersley

The Minister will know from the public reaction to the wrongful arrest and conviction of the men and women involved in the Woolwich and Guildford affair that there is a growing national demand for a change in the law to prevent suspicion being converted into conviction of men and women who make confessions which are not substantiated by any other sort of evidence. Can we be told whether the Government intend to give the House an opportunity to come to a judgment on this matter next year?

Mr. Patten

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the public inquiry which has been set up. As soon as that inquiry has reported and its contents have been made known to the House, the House will doubtless wish to express its views.

Mr. Jessel

As we now have nine months' experience of the abolition of peremptory jury challenges, can my hon. Friend say how it has worked out?

Mr. Patten

It seems to be working exceptionally well, like the rest of the Act from which it stems.