HC Deb 24 November 1994 vol 250 cc718-9
10. Mr. David Shaw

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what view he has formed of the right to silence; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Howard

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 will enable inferences to be drawn by a court or jury if a suspect fails in the specified circumstances to answer questions put to him by the police or does not give evidence at his trial. These provisions, while not requiring anyone to forgo his right of silence, will ensure that silence will no longer be hidden from magistrates or the jury.

Mr. Shaw

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply, but in some ways have we gone far enough? Are not there serious crimes, such as terrorism and drug dealing, where suspects should be required to make a statement about what they were doing at the time of the crime.

Mr. Howard

The measures in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 represent a substantial step forward. They are closely based on provisions which have worked effectively in practice in Northern Ireland for some time, and they represent about the right balance.

Mr. Skinner

Are the Government not operating double standards in relation to the right to silence? Why do they not call on the last Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, to give evidence at the Pergau dam inquiry?

Mr. Howard

I am delighted to welcome the hon. Gentleman as a late convert to our right-to-silence proposals. Will he now give them the support that seems to lie behind his question?

Mr. Deva

What views has my right hon. and learned Friend formed about the effectiveness of current laws against racially motivated attacks?

Mr. Howard

I refer my hon. Friend to the wise words of the Lord Chief Justice recently when giving judgment in a case in which it was made clear that the courts now have powers to pass appropriate sentences in cases of racially motivated crime without the need for a separate offence—which would be counter-productive, lead to unnecessarily prolonged trials and do little to deal with the mischief that many people, from the best of intentions, desire to remedy through the creation of a new offence.

Madam Speaker

The Home Secretary might also have referred the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) to question No. 27 on the Order Paper, as the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question was totally out of order.

Mr. David Shaw

But it was clever.

Madam Speaker

Order. It was not at all clever.