HC Deb 16 October 1990 vol 177 cc1059-61

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed. That the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill [Lords], as amended, be considered in the following order, namely, new Clauses relating to Part I, Amendments to Part I, new Schedules relating to Part I, new Clauses relating to Part II, Amendments to Part II, new Schedules relating to Part II, new Clauses relating to Part III, Amendments to Part III, new Schedules relating to Part III, other new Clauses, other Amendments, other new Schedules.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]

3.48 pm
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

Before we get down to a detailed consideration of the Bill as it now stands, I am bound to express on behalf of my colleagues and some of those on the other side of the House extreme concern about the way in which, even at this late stage, the Bill has been handled by the Government. From start to finish, it has been a shambles.

After the long summer recess, we thought that we were coming back to deal in a reasonably civilised way with what was left of the Bill—a much improved Bill after the changes and the arrangements made in Committee between the Opposition and the Government to remove certain clauses. We thought that we were coming back to consider about 30 new clauses and 150 amendments. I freely accept and welcome the fact that many of the new clauses and amendments were the result of concessions made by the Government to Members on both sides of the Committee. So far, so good.

There was also some new business that the Government wished to introduce, which again was perfectly acceptable to us. However, as recently as Saturday morning, through the medium of the radio, we learned that the Government had decided to introduce into the Bill at this late stage two major and extremely contentious clauses. They are not contentious in the sense that we wish to oppose the spirit that lies behind them, but the new clauses merit a great deal of debate and they would have been debated had they been introduced in Committee. But they were not; and now, literally days before the Bill returned to the House, we were given notice that the Government intended to introduce two new clauses.

I refer in particular to the clauses on children's evidence, live television links and supervised attendance orders. We will not oppose those clauses, but at every stage of the progress of the Bill, the legal process in Scotland has been treated with contempt. If the Government accepted that the clauses could not be dealt with fully in Committee—heaven knows, there were enough hours in Committee to debate many matters—how on earth can they logically justify moving them at this stage and saying, "You will now have to consider these matters with 30 new clauses and 150 amendments"? As the Minister well knows, we have at most a day and a half in which to dispense with that business.

Labour Members will do their best to improve what will go on to the statute book. These are matters of concern, importance and complexity, so it is beyond reason to suppose that we shall deal with the major issue of television evidence from children or the extraordinarily major reform in Scottish criminal proceedings of supervised attendance orders being available for fine defaulters in anything like the detail or seriousness that the subjects demand.

It is right that we register our protest at this stage and advise the people of Scotland that, once again, important legal reform is being dealt with by the Government in this cavalier manner. They are interested not in passing what is right but in getting the legislation on the statute book in any shape or form. We will do our best tonight, but once again the behaviour of the Government is a disgrace.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

I can reply quite briefly to the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) and will do so in the same spirit as he approached the subject.

We have a substantial task ahead of us, but I am sure that the House will recognise that the bulk of the amendments were tabled as a result of concessions and commitments given to Back Benchers in Committee. We would be failing in our duty if we did not honour those commitments.

Much of parts I and II of the Bill are complex matters of law, so it is important to take the opportunity on Report to make the drafting as clear and straightforward as possible. We have had to consider carefully the drafting of part II in the light of changes made in Committee. We dropped several clauses in parts III and IV in accordance with the understanding that they would not be reintroduced. Where we have brought forward new issues, the reason has generally been that an issue was raised but not debated in Committee, which was certainly the case in relation to child evidence. The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) was right to raise that matter in Committee, and he made it clear that he would seek to return to it on Report.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)


Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I hope to reply positively to the hon. Gentleman later, when we debate child evidence.

Dr. Godman

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is the Minister speaking on a point of order?

Mr. Speaker

It is not a point of order. This is the consideration motion, which is debateable.

Dr. Godman

I seek an assurance from the Minister in order to save time. Will he confirm that the Government will accept all my new clauses on children giving evidence in criminal proceedings?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I intend to accept the central point on video evidence. That does not include every aspect of new clause 1, but we shall go into the details later. I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman reintroduced the new clause.

The dropping of certain provisions on fines had unforeseen effects which made necessary the introduction of the provision on supervised attendance orders. I should be grateful if Opposition Members could exercise a willing suspension of disbelief until we reach new clause 20. For our part, we are ready to debate any of the points that Opposition Members may consider raise large issues and to explain why we regard the provisions as necessary and desirable in the interests of the Scottish people.

Question put and agreed to.

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