§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Madam Speaker
I must inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
No one can be in any doubt that this Government are at the forefront in the fight against crime. Making this country a safer and more secure place to live is one of our top priorities, and has been since we came to power. But that task is not for Government alone. Our approach to crime prevention has always emphasised the role that all sections of society—individuals, community groups and businesses, as well as public agencies—can play in tackling crime.
Before proceeding to deal with the detail of the Bill, I must comment on the terms of the extraordinary amendment tabled by the Leader of the Opposition which you, Madam Speaker, have just intimated has been selected. Its terms are wrong, misconceived and inaccurate in almost every particular. The amendment shows a remarkably muddled approach to policy by the Opposition, in that they supported—in fact, passed with acclaim—this important measure when it recently came under careful scrutiny in another place, only to turn on it now with such unselective and ill-informed hostility.
In the other place, the official Opposition spokesman said:The Government can rest assured that from this side of the House everything will be done to expedite the passage of the Bill".— [Official Report, House of Lords, 29 November 1994; Vol. 559, c. 552.]Yet now, for what can only be partisan purposes, Labour seeks to frustrate a Bill that will do a power of good to the dispatch of criminal justice in Scotland.
The amendment suggests that the Billis not an acceptable or effective measure to tackle crime … in Scotland".It states that the fight against crime is under-resourced, and that we are making a major assault on the right to silence and moving towards an adversarial system. That is simply bunkum, and it reflects the apparent cynicism with which Labour approaches the issue.
How can Labour Members sit there and say that we are not tackling crime in Scotland? Of course, not many of them are sitting there. The number of recorded crimes in Scotland has fallen for three successive years—most recently by 8 per cent. in 1993, and by a further 3 per cent. in 1994. Coming as they do after a period when recorded crime was on an upward trend, the figures for recent years are encouraging and an indication of the success of our crime prevention and other policies aimed at tackling crime.
We have committed substantial resources to crime prevention. We have backed the police with substantial extra resources, new technology and almost 1,600 extra officers since 1979, to help in their fight against crime. Almost £5 million extra, after allowing for inflation, is 708 spent on the police force in Scotland each week than when Labour was in power. That is in stark contrast to the actions of Labour-controlled Strathclyde region, which we have had to cajole for years to bring its police force up to establishment standards.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Is the Secretary of State concerned also about the squandering of police time? Police witnesses still are kept hanging around sheriff courts such as Linlithgow. Is he aware also of the importance of the streamlining of courts? To take a Lothian example, it would be highly desirable to move the court structure from Linlithgow to Livingston, for reasons that the Minister of State—Lord Fraser of Carmyllie—knows well, because he received a delegation led by Mr. Jim Keegan, on behalf of solicitors, and myself.
§ Mr. Lang
The hon. Gentleman is right to put his finger on a central issue that concerns us and the various committees that we established to review criminal justice procedural systems. I will return to that theme at various points in my speech.
The fight against crime is not one that the criminal justice system alone can win. If we want to divert potential offenders before they begin offending, we must begin the process much earlier. That is why we are tackling crime prevention in schools through the national guidelines, emphasising social responsibility and respect for others. We are taking measures to combat truancy, indiscipline, bullying and vandalism. We believe that if these problems are tackled at an early stage there is a significant possibility that those children will not later turn to more serious offences and start to commit crime.
We are not content, however, to rest on initiatives in schools. We are also very much aware that the problem of offending by young people needs close attention. We are addressing this by new initiatives through the children's hearings and through new community-based development projects to address the problems caused by persistent young offenders.
We are also pursuing traditional crime prevention measures, and a more general national crime prevention publicity campaign to engage much more widespread public awareness of the part which individuals can play in the fight against crime. The multi-media campaign will be launched in spring 1995 and will focus on housebreaking.
I find it extraordinary that Opposition Members wish to oppose the Bill on the basis that the Scottish court system is under pressure from increasing work loads. One of the principal aims of the Bill is to relieve the pressure on the courts and prosecutors. We are making changes to the bail system, to late pleas, to pre-trial procedures, and improving procedures without unbalancing the scales of justice. If the Opposition have further suggestions to make, I hope that they will offer them to the House today.
If Opposition Members oppose the Bill, they oppose measures to improve the operation of bail; they oppose giving the courts powers to deprive criminals of the proceeds of their crimes; they oppose measures to assist the police in detecting crime through extending the use of DNA; and they oppose taking the opportunity to improve the operation of the criminal justice system in Scotland. And they oppose measures, of the kind referred to a moment ago by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), to reduce the waste of police time involved in waiting unnecessarily at court.
709 It does little credit to the Labour party and its pretence to care about these issues that it should so distort the facts and oppose a measure designed to reinforce the fight in which we should all be joining against crime in Scotland.
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
I know that the Secretary of State is under pressure on almost every front today, but that really is no excuse for his misrepresentation of our reasons for tabling a reasoned amendment in a Second Reading debate. He tries to imply that we oppose the Bill's Second Reading, but we do not. The amendment, in the tradition of reasoned amendments down the years, regrets certain aspects of the Bill, and states that the House should not give the Bill a Second Reading on certain specific grounds.
I intend to welcome certain aspects of the Bill, but its general failure to tackle the crisis of crime that so many people fear has led us to table a reasoned amendment, not to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Lang
The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity in his speech to tell us whether his party will vote against the Bill tonight. He will also be able to tell us which measures he will propose in Committee; and he will have a chance to respond to some of the points that I have just made in answer to the terms of his reasoned amendment.
The Bill contains provisions which will mark a watershed in the operation of the criminal justice system in Scotland, and will equip it to deal with the challenges that we will all face in combating crime as we move into the 21st century. It is a Scottish Bill tailored to Scottish needs and circumstances which builds on the best traditions of our distinctive legal system.
The measures in the Bill were drafted after a comprehensive and detailed review of the present system and a consultation process which took account of the views of all the major organisations associated with the criminal justice system in Scotland and of a great number of individuals with particular knowledge and expertise. We are grateful for the many thoughtful comments that we received, which have informed the development of our proposals.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
At least one Opposition Member—namely, me—would be more sympathetic to the Bill if it included some provisions to give power to licensing committees, along the lines suggested by Sheriff Gow, in relation to places such as Hangar 13 which run raves. I know that the right hon. Gentleman shares my concern about the increase in drugs crime. I have tabled a parliamentary question, which has not yet had a reply, asking him to give some consideration to legislation that would take account of the recommendations of Sheriff Neil Gow in the wake of a fatal accident inquiry.
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the possibility of including some such provision in the Bill?
§ Mr. Lang
The hon. Gentleman raises a topic that has the makings of an interesting debate in Committee. I have no doubt that he will look forward to participating in such a debate.
I am confident that we have struck the correct balance with the proposals in the Bill. We have been prepared to listen to the advice that we have been given and to come 710 to conclusions in the light of that advice. That view was endorsed by the support that the Bill received in another place.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
I understand the approach that the Secretary of State is adopting about the extent of the consultation that was carried through. Will he tell us why the Scottish Office rejected the approach that was exemplified in the early 1970s with the appointment of Lord Thomson to head a committee that was given the task of examining Scottish criminal law and procedure, which produced two extremely valuable reports? Why was the same approach not followed in this instance?
§ Mr. Lang
I shall have something to say about Lord Thomson's report or reports when I reach that stage in my comments on the contents of the Bill, if the hon. and learned Gentleman will bear with me until then.
The Bill seeks essentially to do two things: first, it contains provisions that will significantly enhance the powers of the criminal justice agencies in the fight against crime; secondly, and equally important, are provisions that are aimed at making the system work more effectively and efficiently.
I turn to the specific proposals in the Bill. Concern about the operation of bail, and especially offending while on bail, has featured in correspondence from hon. Members on both sides of the House in recent years. Breach of bail is a breach of the court's trust. We intend to tighten bail procedures by restricting the circumstances in which bail may be granted or reviewed, and by increasing the courts' powers to deal firmly with offending on bail. These proposals are contained in clauses 1 to 5.
In particular, the provisions on bail would enable a court to increase any sentence beyond what it would otherwise impose if a person has offended while on bail. Separately, we are extending to a limited, but desirable, degree the circumstances in which bail cannot be granted. Fewer than one in five of court cases is made the subject of a bail order, but there were an estimated 27,000 offences committed while on bail last year. Those offences were carried out by relatively few offenders. An extra six months, or 60 days in district courts, and/or a fine of £1,000 will, with the other provisions, send a clear message that release on bail is not a right to be abused. The provisions that are set out in the Bill will offer greater protection to the public from the menace of offending on bail.
Fundamental to our criminal justice system is the principle of trial by jury. The Bill contains a number of proposals to improve the selection of juries; to make there more representative and to reduce the inconvenience that is experienced by those who are called to court but not asked to serve. Those proposals are contained in clauses 6 to 8. They include the abolition of peremptory challenge, a procedure which the Government believe is widely abused and which serves no useful purpose that cannot be achieved by the other more rational means of exemption, namely, of cause shown to the court.
There are about 1,300 jury trials a year. Of the 100,000 people cited annually for jury service, only about 20,000 serve on a jury. That is one in five. Clearly there is a need for more effective ways of avoiding such a huge waste of time and waste of resources.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that under the present system of peremptory 711 challenge, people turn up wearing nice suits, shirts and ties and are challenged by defence lawyers because they look respectable? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a disgrace and that it is one of the reasons for voting for the Bill?
§ Mr. Lang
I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that he will find that the package of measures that bear on juries in clauses 6 to 8 meets the concern to which he has properly drawn attention.
The Bill contains two proposals flowing from a review of judicial examination and the right to silence. These have given rise to some controversy. That must be because they have been misunderstood. I look forward to hearing how Opposition Members justify their opposition. It may be helpful to the House if I try to make clear exactly what is involved.
The proposal in clause 10 to allow prosecutors to ask accused persons under examination whether they admit rather than deny certain facts is little more than a technical change. Judicial examination takes place at an early stage, usually just after the accused has been arrested and charged. It enables the accused in the presence of his solicitor, and under the protection of a sheriff, to answer the procurator fiscal's questions and, if he wishes, to state his own position at the earliest opportunity.
At present the procurator fiscal's questions must be framed in a convoluted form to avoid appearing to seek an admission, even though a failure to deny could be just as incriminating. The proceedings can be difficult for everyone, not least the accused, to understand. Clause 10 will enable a simpler and more intelligible form of questioning to be adopted, which will benefit all who participate in judicial examination and a subsequent trial, including the accused person.
The clause will not, contrary to what some have suggested, require the accused person to break his silence, or to incriminate himself. If the accused chooses not to answer questions, he could do so, as many accused persons do now. If he chooses to answer, his answers need not be any different from what they would be under the current law. After all, he can refuse to admit just as easily as he can deny.
Nor will clause 10 enable procurators fiscal to engage in cross-examination or to try to drag confessions out of the accused. The fiscal is prohibited from asking leading questions, or reiterating questions, or challenging the truth of anything that the accused has already said. The sheriff is under a duty to ensure that all questions are fairly put to and understood by the accused.
There appears to be some confusion among Opposition Members about adversarial and inquisitorial systems. Judicial examination, which is a quasi-inquisitorial procedure, has existed in one form or another for centuries, although it fell into disuse in the early part of this century. The procedure was revived in 1980 following the recommendation of the Thomson committee on criminal procedure, which recommended that the procurator fiscal should be able to ask questions designed to prevent the fabrication of a false line of defence at an early stage; and that the accused should have an early opportunity to state his or her case and perhaps clear himself or herself.
712 The committee also suggested the type of questions that should be permitted at judicial examination. I entirely agreed with the committee when it said:it is difficult to see how such questions could prejudice the position of an innocent accused and even more difficult to see why they should be regarded as unfair to a guilty accused".Clause 28 will allow the prosecutor to comment on an accused person's failure to give evidence at his trial. I believe that that is simply common sense. When an accused person has not given evidence, everyone in the courtroom is aware of that fact. The judge and the defence may, in appropriate circumstances, comment on it, but the prosecutor may not. Such prohibition is a wholly artificial constraint on the prosecutor's ability to put the full case before the court. In Scotland, juries have always been able to draw inferences from an accused person's silence and it defies common sense to suggest that they should not. We believe that it is far better that the prosecutor should be able to raise the issue directly and in open court, when it can be dealt with fairly under the direction of the judge.
There is no need to fear that the ability to comment will result in unfairness. Comments are likely to be made with restraint, lest they are challenged on appeal. The defence has the opportunity to respond to any comments made in its summing up, and the judge has a duty to ensure that comments made by both sides are fair and that the jury understands the law.
Both provisions were supported by a wide range of parties, including the Scottish judiciary, in consultation, and both received endorsement in another place from Lord McCluskey, a senior High Court judge. I think that we may therefore claim authoritative support for these modest but sensible reforms. I hope that Opposition Members will resist the temptation to indulge in knee-jerk reaction to the proposals for their own reasons.
The Bill contains important proposals, in clauses 13 and 14, for reducing needless attendance in court by victims and witnesses of crime. At present, no fewer than four out of every five of those called to court do not have to give evidence. About half of them are police officers, who could otherwise be out investigating and detecting crime; many others are victims, whose stress and trauma is increased by attendance in court; others are simply law-abiding citizens who have witnessed a crime and have come forward to assist the police and prosecution in upholding the law. It would very serious if such people became disenchanted by their experience and, therefore, less likely to come forward in future.
Our proposals for mandatory intermediate diets in summary cases, and the introduction of first diets in sheriff and jury cases, have the potential to cut by half the number of people who attend court unnecessarily. We know that because similar proposals have been tested in pilot schemes and because more and more courts are introducing those procedures voluntarily. For example, in Edinburgh sheriff court, 1,500 civilian and police witnesses are being relieved from court attendance each month. That is the equivalent of 18,000 in a year. In Dunfermline sheriff court, 340 witnesses are being excused each month and a similar number are being excused in Kirkcaldy sheriff court.
Taken together, the courts which have introduced intermediate diets are already releasing more than 1,000 police officers for operational duties each month. A 713 similar rate of success across the country would result in several tens of thousands of police officer days each year being freed for the fight against crime.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I welcome what the Secretary of State has just described. However, that cannot work in a sheriff court such as Ayr sheriff court, where there are not even enough witness rooms. That puts witnesses off. When witnesses for the prosecution are put in the same room as witnesses for the defence, they can be intimidated. That causes a great deal of concern.
I have been writing to the Secretary of State—the matter is being dealt with by the Minister—and to Strathclyde asking them to get together to sort out the accommodation problems in Ayr sheriff court. The problem has been going on for years. What is the Secretary of State going to do about that, because that point is even more important than the provisions in the Bill? I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to answer that question because he seems to be unable to answer questions. I know that he has a lot of problems on his mind at the moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) has been attacking him—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow the Secretary of State to respond.
§ Mr. Lang
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the extensive capital programme of upgrading sheriff courts on which the Government have embarked since coming to office in 1979 and having found a somewhat derelict case. With regard to the provisions in the Bill, I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that precisely the same consequence can be achieved in Ayr as has been achieved in Kirkcaldy, Dunfermline and Edinburgh.
The purpose of the provisions in the Bill is to provide a firmer and clearer statutory framework for the best practice that has been identified and to ensure that those benefits are brought to victims and witnesses all over Scotland. If the experience so far is repeated across Scotland, we can expect many thousands of victims and witnesses to be relieved of the burden of attending court unnecessarily. That would represent a dramatic improvement for the victims and witnesses of crime, on whose support our criminal justice system relies. It would also provide an enormous boost to the capacity of the police to fight crime.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is any action going to be taken against solicitors who allow their clients to plead guilty at the last moment when they must have known jolly well, for weeks if not for months, that they were going to do that? Is that not a deep abuse of professional conduct?
§ Mr. Lang
Again, the hon. Gentleman puts his finger on a very germane point which I will address, if he will permit me, when I reach that stage in my speech.
The burden which being called to give evidence can impose on witnesses is also being tackled in the Bill. Clauses 16 to 25 contain important measures for the agreement of routine evidence. That will reduce the extent to which witnesses, in particular police witnesses, have to attend court to give evidence which is uncontroversial and, in the event, not disputed.
714 The Bill contains two important provisions on sentencing. Clause 29 will make it clear that courts may take into account the fact that an accused person has pleaded guilty and the timing and circumstances in which the plea was made when deciding the appropriate sentence. Nearly 70 per cent.—this is the point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow—of accused persons plead guilty straight away while 90 per cent. do so eventually. Of those accused persons who at present plead not guilty up to the day of the trial, two out of three will plead guilty on the day of the trial. Clause 29 will clarify an area of law on which there has been some uncertainty in Scotland and may encourage those who will plead guilty anyway to do so at an earlier stage.
Clause 30 provides expressly for the Appeal Court to issue opinions on the appropriate sentence for cases similar to the particular case before it and requires the lower courts to have regard to those opinions. That should help to make available to the lower courts, on a systematic basis, the wisdom and experience of our most senior judges and so should help to increase consistency in sentencing without eroding judicial discretion.
The courts will continue to be able to take account of genuine variations in circumstances, which may not be apparent to the public in superficially similar cases. I believe that we should do all that we can to encourage consistency of sentencing in genuinely similar cases.
I want now to consider appeals. Further provisions aimed at reducing delay in the criminal justice system are contained in clause 37, which introduces a requirement for leave to appeal. The test which an application will have to pass in order for leave to appeal to be granted will be that it demonstrates arguable grounds of appeal. At present, many appeals are abandoned before they come to a hearing and the provision will allow frivolous and unmeritorious appeals to be sifted out at an early stage. There has been a threefold increase in the number of criminal appeals over the decade to 1992, but almost 40 per cent. are abandoned before the hearing and only about one in five is successful.
The new leave to appeal procedure, along with the proposals in clause 38 to reduce the number of High Court judges required to consider appeals against sentence only, should help the Appeal Court in dealing with the high number of appeals that have been lodged in recent years.
Clauses 41 to 49 contain proposals to change the way in which our criminal justice system deals with the small but vulnerable category of accused persons who are insane and therefore unfit to stand trial, and those who are tried but acquitted because they were insane at the time they committed the offence.
Our proposals will mean that, in future, when there can be no trial there will at least be an examination of the facts to establish that the accused did the act with which he is charged, before he is perhaps committed to hospital without limit of time. We also propose that the courts should have a wider range of disposal options in such cases, including a community-based "supervision and treatment order". However, let me stress that a court will still be able, on the same basis as now, to impose a hospital order with restrictions when it considers that necessary to protect the public from serious harm.
Clauses 54 and 55 provide for the extension of fiscal fines, a disposal unique to Scotland within the United Kingdom. The provisions will extend the scope of fiscal fines to a wider range of minor offences.
715 I should make it quite clear, since some commentators have misunderstood our intentions, that those proposals have nothing to do with decriminalisation; nor are they targeted on drugs offences. They provide an additional weapon in the procurator fiscal's armoury. The consequence will be an increase in the capacity of our prosecutors and our courts to deal with more serious crime. In deciding whether to offer a fine in a particular case, the fiscal will be operating under clear guidance from my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate.
The Government recognise the significant potential which criminal justice social work services have to reduce offending behaviour. Our intention continues to be to reduce, so far as is possible, the use of imprisonment by the courts in cases where a community-based disposal would be appropriate. That policy is particularly important for fine default and the proposals in the Bill will encourage the use of supervised attendance orders in place of custody or, for 16 and 17-year-olds, in place of the fine itself.
Part II contains comprehensive provisions to deprive offenders of the proceeds and the instruments of crime. These are simple objectives which will, I hope, draw support from both sides of the House. The provisions in part II are derived from the report on confiscation and forfeiture which was presented to Parliament last September by the Scottish Law Commission. That report recommended the extension of confiscation arrangements to general crime where the offences are prosecuted on indictment or the maximum sentence in summary proceedings exceeds the normal penalties. It also recommended the reform of forfeiture provisions to improve the effectiveness of court forfeiture of the instruments of crime and to clarify the rights of third parties.
The Government moved quickly to present those provisions to Parliament by including them in this Bill. While we accept the main recommendations, minor amendments to the Scottish Law Commission report have been necessary. Some further minor changes may be required.
We have also announced our intention to consolidate Scottish criminal procedure. It is now 20 years since the last major consolidation of criminal procedure legislation. A number of provisions to facilitate that exercise are included in the Bill and we will be bringing forward others. This modernisation and rationalisation of the legislation will, I am sure, be welcomed by all who use our criminal courts.
At the same time the Bill includes, at the suggestion of the Lord Justice-General, arrangements for a new rules council for criminal court proceedings. With similar functions to the existing rules councils for civil court proceedings and a broad-based membership, the new council will provide a structured consultative forum for considering and commenting on proposals for changes to the court rules.
I have outlined thus far the main provisions in the Bill. I should not conclude without referring to three issues on which there has been public debate recently, but which are not included in the Bill presented to the House.
The Bill does not contain any proposals to change the verdicts which may be returned in Scottish courts. We reviewed the three-verdict system very thoroughly. We set 716 out the arguments for and against three verdicts impartially, and consulted widely before reaching a decision. The responses to that consultation made it clear that the three-verdict system continues to be valued in Scotland and that, although there are strong views on both sides, there is considerably more support for the retention of the not proven verdict than for its abolition. After full consideration of all the arguments, we concluded that the not proven verdict should remain. The Government's position is therefore based on the clear outcome of consultation with the people of Scotland, and I am sure that the House will take careful note of that.
We also consulted on whether there should be changes to the criteria for the consideration of appeals by the Appeal Court and the way in which alleged miscarriages of justice are handled in Scotland. We had in view the report of the Royal Commission on criminal justice, which recommended changes for England and Wales.
The outcome of our consultation was inconclusive. Many of those who responded felt that the issues were too complex to comment on in detail. We received no evidence that there was any consensus on the way forward in Scotland in that sensitive and complex matter.
As a result, I decided to ask Sir Stewart Sutherland, the principal of Edinburgh university, to chair an independent committee to advise on whether any changes were needed to the current criteria for the consideration of appeals by the Appeal Court and to the machinery for handling alleged miscarriages of justice and, if so, what the nature of those changes might be.
The committee has started its task energetically and it has extended a general invitation to interested parties and to members of the public to submit comments. I have asked the committee to report by or before July 1996. If the committee is to give those difficult issues the consideration that they deserve, it will need time to do so. Those who call for an early report from the committee perhaps underestimate the task that it has been set.
I do not believe, therefore, that it would be right to include in the Bill provisions which purport to deal with miscarriages of justice. I intend to await the report of the Sutherland committee before deciding how to proceed.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
As the Secretary of State may be aware, there is some judicial controversy in Scotland as to whether existing provisions allow for the use at appeal of evidence which was not available at the time of the original trial. Indeed, it appears that the illustrious Lord Justice-General, Lord Hope, takes one view and that the equally illustrious Lord Justice Clerk takes another. As the Secretary of State is probably aware, it is proposed to convene a court of five judges to try to deal with the matter. May we take it that the Sutherland committee will take evidence from the two senior judges in Scotland?
§ Mr. Lang
The hon. and learned Gentleman will understand why the idea of my coming between the Lord Justice-General and Lord Justice Clerk would be to put myself between a rock and a hard place. I will allow the Sutherland committee to consider how best it should proceed in considering that matter, as I am sure that it will wish to do.
§ Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)
The Secretary of State is aware that the Home Secretary has published a miscarriages review authority Bill for England and Wales. It will mean a mismatch of remedies available to United 717 Kingdom citizens regarding miscarriages of justice—one rule for England and Wales and another for Scotland. In the event that the Sutherland committee recommends legislation, will the Government ensure that the matter is given sufficient time in the lifetime of this Parliament?
§ Mr. Lang
In our legal procedures, perhaps more than in any other matter, we in Scotland should decide upon what is right for Scotland and Scottish circumstances rather than be driven by what is decided upon south of the border. That has certainly always driven our approach in the past. However, I can certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall await with considerable interest the outcome of the Sutherland committee's report before we are able to consider how to react to it.
§ Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the committee's decision will not interfere with applications for the prerogative of mercy that are currently before him? Of course, the Secretary of State has used his discretion, for which we are very grateful, to look again at the Raymond Gilmour case. There is no need to wait for the committee's decision before that case is considered.
§ Mr. Lang
Of course, I cannot bind myself or my officials in the context of forthcoming cases, but, in respect of the cases that are before us, I see no reason why that should be the case. I am as keen as the hon. Gentleman to ensure that such cases are considered with all due haste but without prejudicing the interests of justice.
Certain amendments addressing various aspects of the interests of victims in the criminal justice process were tabled for consideration in another place. They generated widespread debate, which the Government welcomed.
Let there be no doubt about our commitment to improving the provision of support and information to victims. Our funding next year for the organisation Victim Support (Scotland) will rise by 11 per cent. to £975,000. Local court-based initiatives, such as that at Hamilton sheriff court, are looking at how best to improve victims' understanding of and experience at court. Also, research is under way into the delivery of support services to victims and into exactly what information victims at court need and want. Those projects will inform our decisions as to what further improvements can be made.
This Bill will also play an important part by reducing the demands made on victims by court procedures and improving the capacity of the police, the prosecution and the courts to deal quickly and efficiently with crime.
This is a substantial Bill, which aims to make significant improvements in the effectiveness and efficiency with which crime is tackled in Scotland. It builds on the best elements of our distinctive system of Scots law and takes account of the views of those who have participated in the comprehensive review that we have conducted in Scotland over the past two years.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Have the Government considered what some of us regard as the very unsatisfactory nature of fatal accident inquiries?
§ Mr. Lang
I do not think that anything in the Bill deals directly with fatal accident inquiries, but that issue could perfectly reasonably be raised in Committee.
718 We are fortunate in Scotland in enjoying a criminal justice system which commands widespread respect. Nevertheless, there can be no room for complacency, and none exists among Conservative Members. The public rightly expect justice to be delivered quickly, fairly and efficiently by our criminal justice system. I believe that the Bill, building on the strengths of our distinctive system of criminal justice, will, if enacted, mark a step change in the efficiency and effectiveness of our system. It will play an important part in reducing demands on victims by court procedures, and ensure that the system is more sensitive to their needs. It will help to clamp down on the unnecessary attendance of witnesses in courts, reduce the burden on the police and the public and, more important, allow thousands if not tens of thousands of police days to be spent back on the beat, not idled away in our courtrooms. It will bring in new provisions to tighten up bail procedures and help to tackle offending on bail, which the public rightly abhor.
In contrast, the frivolous and opportunistic approach of the Labour party is reflected in the preposterous amendment. The Bill is one more set of measures that have been developed with care, thoroughness and determination, based on the authoritative reports of four distinguished review bodies to help us to fight crime, deal with the criminal, assist the victim, and improve efficiency, for the benefit of police, witnesses and society generally.
In recent years, we have substantially strengthened the police, increased the funding of law and order maintenance, toughened sentences, and built up crime prevention measures. For three successive years, we have turned back the tide of crime. Now we must make sure that the criminal justice system plays its full part in continuing that battle and in preparing for the needs of the next century. The Bill enables it to do that, and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
I beg to move,That this House declines to give the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill [Lords] a Second Reading because it believes that the Bill is not an acceptable or effective measure to tackle crime because fails to address adequately levels of crime in Scotland, particularly the rising trends in violent crime, vandalism, robberies and drugs offences, does nothing to address the underlying causes of crime, represents a major assault on the presumption of innocence and the right to silence as well as a tacit shift away from Scotland's present adversarial system of justice to an inquisitorial system, and fails to relieve adequately the pressure on the Scottish court system created by increasing workloads and under-resourcing.It is staggering how sensitive the Secretary of State is to a reasonably expressed, reasoned amendment. The Secretary of State, perhaps rattled by criticism over the weekend, has decided that the procedure, which is well known in the House, is opposition to the Bill. Our reasoned amendment is as reasoned amendments always have been—a reason for the House of Commons to delay consideration of a Bill until issues identified in the amendment have been addressed and settled. Nothing in the amendment is controversial. Indeed, I am sure that, if they examine it, other Conservative Members—although precious few are present—will find that it has attractive aspects.
719 The Secretary of State, of course, may consider debates such as this as big a burden on the Conservative party as the whole Scottish contingent seems to be.
§ Mr. Stewart
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why 43 Scottish Labour Members of Parliament are not present?
§ Mr. Robertson
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that they are not all out on the Pollok estate. The Pollok estate is probably quite safe; they are all out undermining the Government's credibility—which is low enough already—without the aid of any artificial implement.
The House greatly regrets the absence of the late hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross—
§ Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) clearly cannot count. He suggested that only seven Labour Members of Parliament were present; at least 12 are here.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That is not a matter for the Chair. If the hon. Gentleman had been paying attention to his Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), he would probably not have chosen that moment to make a frivolous point of order.
§ Mr. Robertson
Let me repeat that we regret the absence of our late hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross. He would have brought his distinctive knowledge and experience of Scottish law to our debate, and I venture to suggest that he would have had a few acerbic comments to offer the Secretary of State about some of the Bill's provisions.
§ Mr. Robertson
I thank the Secretary of State, but I do not think that much of what follows will be greeted in the same way.
I welcome the fact that the Government have at last introduced a separate Bill to reform the criminal justice system in Scotland. It makes a pleasant change from Ministers' usual practice of tagging Scottish measures on to English Bills. Many of us remember with considerable dissatisfaction the disgraceful way in which the crime of aggravated trespass—an alien concept—was introduced into Scottish law: it was simply added at the end of the Criminal Justice Bill affecting England and Wales.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will forgive me for saying that my colleagues and I look forward to the day when matters such as this will be decided in a Scottish Parliament sitting in Edinburgh, and when Scotland's legal system will at last have its own legislature.
§ Mr. Robertson
I certainly hope to be. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will be elected to any Parliament at the next general election.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman a question that is not frivolous, but important and fundamental. If he plans to sit in a Scottish 720 Parliament in Edinburgh, will he tell us where he proposes to pay his tax and where it will be deducted for the purposes of that Parliament?
§ Mr. Robertson
I have said—I will say it no more—that I shall be proud to be a Member of a Scottish Parliament: the Scottish Parliament that we alone will provide for the Scottish people, in accordance with their views. Even given the breadth of the Bill's long title, the details of taxation relating to that Parliament are not relevant to today's debate, but there is a perfectly reasonable answer to be made.
Ministers have spoken at length, in the other place and outside Westminster, about the painstaking consultation that preceded the publication of the Bill. I hope, however, that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State will give an assurance that we shall have adequate time in Committee to debate all aspects of the Bill. It may well be some time before we have a chance to debate such matters again; I hope that we shall do so in a devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, but it is vital for us to get the balance right at this stage.
In the House of Lords, the Minister of State described the Bill asthe most substantial overhaul of the criminal justice system in Scotland in the last 15 years."—[Official Report, House of Lords; 29 November 1994; Vol. 559, c. 545.]Although the Bill contains some worthy reforms, it hardly amounts to a major assault on crime and its underlying causes. No one would recognise it from the Minister of State's description.
The White Paper "Firm and Fair", which preceded the Bill, said:This White Paper is a further step in our fight against crime…our highest priority is to protect the public from crime and criminals.Some people in Scotland, sickened and let down by the rise in crime and the consequent fear of crime, will gain some comfort from the Bill, thinking that it may contribute to allaying their distress. They will be deeply disappointed. There will be victims of crime, left scarred emotionally and physically long after a trial and even a sentence, who are looking for hope—people trapped in their houses after dark, afraid to walk the streets or leave their cars unattended in the streets of the Scotland of 1995. They, too, will look today for reassurance and peace of mind and they, too, will he disappointed.
Reform and reorganisation of the Scottish criminal justice system on a piecemeal basis, containing inexplicable, alien and party political attacks on certain basic Scottish characteristics of the system, are no contribution at all to tackling some of the most worrying and depressing features of the way in which crime and criminality affect people in Scotland today.
Of course I welcome the recent drops in recorded crime figures. It must be said, indeed, that it is in the big Labour regions in Scotland that the most progress has been made, and it is there that some projects have had their impact. But is it not strange that when the crime figures are good and progress has been made it is to the Government's credit, while when things go wrong or establishment levels cannot be attained it is all the fault of local authorities? Those of us who observed the success of Operation Blade—pioneered in Strathclyde by a chief constable under a Labour local authority—can have no doubt that a locally accountable police force in an area 721 that was responsive to its own people and their needs was able to make a dramatic impact on a form of crime that intimidated people. The Labour regions should be given some of the credit for the impact that has been made.
There is, however, no justification for complacency. The most recent figures must be set against the massive increases of previous years. Between 1981 and 1991, for example, the number of recorded offences in Scotland increased by 44 per cent. The fact remains that, although crime figures have dropped recently, they have increased substantially as a whole since the Conservative party came to power.
§ Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)
The number of violent crimes is increasing, but they are not always reported or recorded.
§ Mr. Robertson
As my hon. Friend says, we must also recognise that crime figures do not take into account the significant number of offences that are either not reported or not recorded. We are seeing only the tip of the iceberg. The Scottish crime survey, published in April last year, estimated that in 1992 just over 1 million crimes and offences were committed in Scotland. Of that number, only 39 per cent. ended up in police statistics on recorded crime. There is good reason to believe that the Government's figures do not tell the whole story.
Beyond that, there are some disturbing trends that are hidden within the overall figures: the rise in violent crime, the explosion in drug offences and the increase in vandalism, robberies and car thefts. Between 1989 and 1993, robberies in Scotland rose by 26 per cent. and car thefts by 47 per cent. Since the Conservative party came to power, drug offences have increased by 1,056 per cent. That is proof, if statistical proof were needed, that the Government are losing the battle against drugs. It is a battle with which we have as much sympathy and concern as anyone on the Government Benches. It is a bleak picture that we see before us.
There is precious little in the Bill to tackle the underlying causes of crime. I was interested to hear the Secretary of State for Social Security on television last week finally admit that there was a link between poverty and crime. There is a blinding flash of inspiration for that last, free market, neanderthal individual. Not only have Ministers now admitted that they bear a responsibility for tackling inequality but they have at long last conceded the link between poverty, deprivation and crime. Those two key concessions clearly show that Ministers are now being forced on to Labour's agenda and that Labour is winning the battle of ideas on how to tackle crime.
Of course poverty can never excuse crime, nor does it always lead to criminal behaviour; but it would be folly to ignore the clear links that exist between poverty and crime. They are there. They are manifest. They stare us in the face. For that reason, any strategy for tackling crime that fails to deal with its underlying social causes is bound to fail. A root-and-branch attack on crime and the causes of crime is needed. By any standards, the Bill cannot be said to meet that task.
Nevertheless, as I said before, several provisions in the Bill are commendable and will enjoy our support. I was interested to note that the Minister of State in the House of Lords was kind enough to concede that many of the Government's proposals were included in our party's consultative paper "Protection and Justice", which arose out of the working party chaired by my hon. Friend the 722 Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). We welcome, for example, the greater use of pre-trial hearings to prevent last-minute plea changes and to establish non-controversial evidence. That will greatly reduce the inconvenience and waste that are created throughout the system by the adjournment or cancellation of trials and spare many thousands of police and civilian witnesses unnecessary attendance at court.
Similarly, we support the greater use of fiscal tines. We note the contrast between the different approaches north and south of the border. Fiscal fines will provide much-needed relief to our overburdened court system and allow those who may have offended once or in minor ways to accept responsibility for their conduct without getting a criminal record. The use of fiscal fines has so far proved extremely effective in keeping a range of minor offences out of our courts. Therefore, we welcome the proposals in the Bill to extend the range of offences for which fiscal fines can be offered, provided that they are not applied inflexibly. With fiscal fines in mind, we also support, as my hon. and noble Friends said in the House of Lords, the use of a sliding scale for fiscal fines and of attendance orders as alternatives to imprisonment for 16 to 17-year-olds as a means of dealing with fine defaults.
We welcome the proposal to extend the powers of our courts to confiscate the proceeds of crimes such as pornography, fraud, extortion, insider dealing and corruption. The powers exist now in respect of drug dealing and it is right that they should be extended to other serious crimes.
We also welcome the new safeguards in the Bill for dealing with accused persons who are insane and therefore cannot stand trial, and persons acquitted on grounds of insanity. It is wrong that, at present, a man or a woman found unfit to stand trial may be detained in a mental hospital, possibly for the rest of his or her life, without our courts reaching any view of the innocence or guilt of the individual. Therefore, we support the requirements in the Bill for courts to undertake an examination of the facts to determine whether the accused person committed the offence for which he or she was charged.
Although the Bill contains many sound proposals, we have concerns on several matters which led us to table the reasoned amendment. First, although we support the Government's aim to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system, we believe that there must be a balance between streamlining the operation of the system and preserving the rights of the individual in criminal proceedings and the presumption of the defendant's innocence. The Secretary of State will be aware of the deep concern in Scotland that the Bill does not properly respect that balance.
It is all very well the Secretary of State coming to the Dispatch Box and pretending that everything in the reasoned amendment and everything that is likely to be said by the Opposition are purely partisan. He knows that bodies as conservative—I use that word with a small "c"; few organisations in Scotland would any longer be described as Conservative with a capital "C"—as the Law Society of Scotland and the Glasgow Bar Association have deep misgivings about the Bill.
§ Mr. Robertson
That is an accusation which I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman will substantiate later in 723 the debate. I wonder whether it would describe itself as liberal. Does anyone these days? That is the problem for the hon. and learned Gentleman.
It is right that, in the light of those misgivings, we should streamline procedures and eliminate waste, but we should not at the same time sacrifice the basic principles of our legal system for reasons of expediency and cost cutting.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the proposed changes in the Bill, designed as they are to tip the balance of justice away from the accused in favour of the prosecution, will do just that. The accused's right of silence will be curtailed. The defence's right of peremptory challenge of a juror will be abolished. The disclosure of the accused's criminal record to juries will be permitted and the judicial examinations will be allowed to elicit an admission of guilt from the accused before there has been sufficient time for the defence to advise his or her client.
Taken together, those measures amount to a fundamental shift in the balance of justice away from the defence and in favour of the prosecution. More than that, they potentially represent a change in the very nature of the criminal justice system. At present, we have in Scotland an adversarial system in which the burden of proof is placed on the Crown. If we are to move towards watering down that obligation significantly, we will have, by default and without any real debate on what is proposed, an inquisitorial system such as that which exists on the continent. If that is the Secretary of State's intention, he should say so and make proposals for consultation on that grave and important matter. He should not pretend that he can introduce those changes without fundamentally altering the nature of our legal system.
Apart from making those general criticisms of the Bill, we shall examine more closely in Committee a number of other issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton will deal with some of them in his reply. They include the abolition of the right of peremptory challenge of jurors, the requirement that the defence should know the occupation and address of prospective jurors, the proposal for more judicial investigations and the new restrictions on bail.
I should like to highlight a few of the key issues that worry Opposition Members and many more people in Scotland. Clause 28 of the Bill permits the prosecutor in a trial to comment on the failure of the accused to give evidence at his or her trial. No one should be in any doubt that that represents a major attack on one of the most fundamental rights of Scottish law. Our criminal justice system in Scotland is based on the principle that a person is innocent until proved guilty. The change proposed by Ministers will erode that principle and is, therefore, a fundamental attack on the nature of our criminal justice system.
§ Mr. Robertson
Predictably, the Secretary of State shakes his head and mutters under his breath that that is not true, but what about the words of Michael Clancy of the Law Society of Scotland? He is a distinguished representative with no partisan view. He is in hospital and I am sure that the whole House would want to send its 724 best wishes for a quick recovery. He is someone of real substance in Scotland—the deputy secretary of the Law Society—and he was quoted in The Herald last November as saying,This is not just tinkering. This is the abolition of the right to silence.Mr. Clancy said that it was not merely a modification or a qualification, but the abolition of the right to silence in Scotland.
The Scottish Council for Civil Liberties described the Government's proposals in this area as "ill-considered" and even the liberal, conservative or revolutionary—depending on how one thinks of it—Glasgow Bar Association warned that clause 28 might well conflict with articles of the European convention on human rights.
To make matters much worse, that major change has been tagged on to the Bill as a mere afterthought with only minimal consultation. Indeed, the proposal virtually or completely to abolish the right to silence in Scotland was introduced into draft statute two weeks and three days after the consultation period on the right to silence had been closed. In rushing ahead with such proposals, Ministers even ignored the advice of their own advisers, the Scottish Law Commission. To try to sneak in that change under the wire and to ignore the advice of their advisers displays a degree of contempt and arrogance that is breathtaking even by the Government's standards.
Will the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary of State explain why such a fundamental change was introduced at such a late date? What is the reason for the sudden decision by Ministers? The official justification offered by the Minister of State in the other place was that the prosecution should have the same right as judges to comment on an accused person's silence, but that is no justification at all. The fact that the right to silence has already been eroded is not a reason for, justification of or explanation why it should be eroded still further.
Moreover, the prosecutor is already able to point out that Crown evidence is uncontradicted. As the Law Society of Scotland has noted, allowing the prosecution to comment further will only discourage accused persons from refraining to give evidence and the right to silence will inevitably be undermined. I therefore urge the Government to think again on that matter and to listen to what will be reasoned debate in the Standing Committee.
I must discuss two major omissions from the Bill. We already tackled one in our interventions—the lack of provision for new machinery for considering alleged miscarriages of justice. Of course, I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement that he has established the Sutherland committee, which will report on that matter no later than the summer of 1996. Now that the committee has been set up, it is right that that complex subject should not be decided on precipitately, but why has it taken so long for the committee to be established?
The Royal Commission on criminal justice in England and Wales was appointed in spring 1991 to consider that matter, among others, in respect of England and Wales. It reported in June 1993 and the Government have acted on its recommendations by establishing the new criminal cases review commission only last week. Why then has it taken so long for a similar committee to be established in Scotland? Clearly, there have been more high-profile examples of miscarriages of justice south of the border— 725 that remains a fact—but is the Secretary of State seriously arguing that there is no concern about the matter in Scotland?
The second notable omission from the Bill concerns the question of the not proven verdict. I would be the first to concede that there are passionate advocates on both sides of that argument and, for that reason, the question should be decided in Parliament on a free vote. When the matter is raised on Report, there will be a free vote among my colleagues in the Opposition on whether to retain or abolish Scotland's third verdict in Scotland.
I have long campaigned for the abolition of the not proven verdict, which is a bad and unnecessary verdict. Indeed, Sir Walter Scott described it asthat bastard verdict, illogical, contrary to legal principle and wholly indefensible.Since then, many other people have come to that opinion. It neither clears nor convicts the accused and, as a consequence, it undermines the fundamental principle that a person is innocent until proved guilty.
As a verdict, it leaves the accused and the victim hanging in limbo and for the rest of us it leaves a permanent question mark. The accused person may well be acquitted but will still bear a stain on his or her character. The accused may never be tried again but may never be able to clear his or her name. It is as unjust to the accused as it is to the victim and the victim's family.
Obliging a jury to choose between a guilty or a not guilty verdict, as is the case in every other country, means that the accused and the victim at least know where they stand. More importantly, the presumption of innocence that is at the heart of our Scottish legal system demands that if the Crown cannot prove its case "beyond reasonable doubt", the accused should be completely cleared.
Not proven has some backers among the legal fraternity and among the criminal fraternity, because it increases the chance of acquittal in a difficult case. It is also popular among some juries because it enables them to avoid a difficult decision. Undoubtedly, it is an attractive proposition for defendants who view it as an alternative to conviction and gaol.
In the White Paper on which the Bill is based, the Government make it clear on page 49 thatAlthough the remit of the Royal Commission did not extend to Scotland, the Secretary of State undertook to consider the implications of the Commission's recommendations in the Scottish context".The Secretary of State has hardly dealt with some of the issues that fall into that category. For the record, I shall tell the House what the Royal Commission on criminal justice in England and Wales had to say about the not proven verdict, as it is germane to the debate. It states:During our deliberations we considered the case for introducing into England and Wales the Scottish verdict of 'not proven'. This is available in Scotland as an alternative to 'not guilty' although it still counts as an acquittal. Most of those who gave evidence to us did not favour such a verdict. We too regard it as an unsatisfactory option, particularly from the point of view of the defendant, who is left with a cloud hanging over his or her reputation. If the jury does not convict, it means that the prosecution have been unable to discharge the burden of proof and the defendant should in our view be entitled to a verdict of not guilty.In one short, concise and economic paragraph, the royal commission, which studied that matter in some depth, came to precisely the right conclusion. My opinion is that, 726 for the Scottish criminal justice system and the public, it is an anomaly and an anachronism and it should be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Finally, on the resource implications of the Bill, the explanatory and financial memorandum states that it is to be "cost neutral". Frankly, that claim stretches all credulity. Indeed, I remind the Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State of Lord McCluskey's description of that claim in the House of Lords as "cloud cuckoo land".
I appreciate that there are difficulties in producing detailed estimates of the additional expenditure required to implement the Bill's provisions, but I understand that the Government provided some estimates of the financial implications in the consultation paper.
Will the Secretary of State now act on the suggestion of the Law Society and assure us today that we can see the information on which that cost-neutral estimate was made? In that way, hon. Members may have a proper reasoned debate about the Bill's financial implications. It is vital that we have that debate, because it is widely recognised that the fiscal system in particular is overburdened and under-resourced. If the Bill is to he enacted on a cost-neutral basis, it will have serious implications for the way in which justice is delivered in Scotland.
Far from the House of Commons, and even further from Ministers' offices in St. Andrew's house, crime and its impact are the overriding concerns for millions of ordinary Scots, who are told that crime statistics are falling but see in their daily lives a totally different picture. They know what Ministers simply refuse to learn: that the roots of crime are deep in deprivation arid poverty, in gross inequalities and stark financial inequities that have grown during the Conservative party's period in office. Those causes are fed by the unemployment that is still so damagingly high in Scotland.
Crime and criminality hit us all, some much more than others, and cost everyone in society a vast amount in human and financial terms. That is why those tinkering knee-jerk measures go nowhere near far enough to tackle the crime crisis that affects Scotland today. That is why the Bill should be taken away and looked at again and that is why the House should vote for the reasoned amendment. Although we shall not vote against Second Reading, I commend the reasoned amendment for the attention and support of the entire House.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)
This is an important debate on an important Bill. It has already resulted in an important statement from the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson). In dealing with the procedures that he believes should in future apply to the Bill's measures, he said that not only should they be considered by a Scottish Parliament under a Labour Government, but that he would serve in that Parliament. Let us be clear, therefore, that he has told the people of Hamilton that there will be a by-election in the middle of the next Labour Parliament.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Will he or will he not serve in a Scottish Assembly if there is a Labour Government? I understood that he told 727 the House that measures should be considered by a Scottish Parliament in which he would serve, which means a by-election.
I strongly support the Bill. Furthermore, I shall even apply to the Committee of Selection to serve on the Standing Committee. The queue of Conservative Members may be so long that I shall be killed in the rush, but I should be delighted to be considered to serve on the Committee because I believe that the Bill is extremely important.
I have good and bad news for the hon. Member for Hamilton: the good news is that I welcome the fact that the Labour party has tabled a reasoned amendment and will not vote against Second Reading; the bad news is that I shall not vote for it.
I wish to discuss three major issues relating to the Bill. The first is the right to make a peremptory challenge. The Government's proposals are absolutely correct because hon. Members on both sides of the House know what happens with the right of peremptory challenge. It is easy to turn up for jury service in Scotland and ensure that one is challenged by the defence lawyer. One simply turns up looking like the hon. Member for Hamilton or his hon. Friends—respectable, wearing suits, nice shirts and ties. One is then challenged and can leave. Everyone knows that that is what happens, so I strongly support my right hon. Friend's proposal.
Secondly, I strongly support the proposals to deal with further offences committed while on bail. Nothing outrages ordinary citizens more than when someone on bail reoffends.
Thirdly, I strongly support the proposals, in clauses 13 and 14 in particular, on witnesses who are not called. The hon. Member for Hamilton made it clear to the House that the Labour party also supports those proposals. There is no doubt about what happens in Scottish courts. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), who has slipped out of the Chamber for a moment, made a valid point on that matter. Witnesses turn up at court and find that the case has been deferred or the plea changed. Prosecution and defence witnesses are in the same room and intimidation takes place. The result is not just inconvenience but that ordinary citizens vow that they will not go through that again. They decide that, the next time they see an offence being committed, they will walk on the other side of the street.
§ Mr. McMaster
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that another group of people who suffer inconvenience are the police? When I last asked for an estimate of the amount of police time wasted in courtrooms on cases that would not be heard on the specified date or at the specified time, I was told that up to a third of the police overtime budget can be wasted on time spent hanging around courts.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is a waste of police time and is extremely frustrating for the police, who simply want to get on with their job. They do not want to sit around waiting for trials that do not take place.
The Bill will spare thousands of victims and witnesses unnecessary attendance at court by reducing late cancellations and adjournments of trials. The figures are well known and accepted on both sides of the House. In 728 sheriff courts, more than 40 per cent. of trials are cancelled and 30 per cent. are adjourned, while only some 20 per cent. go ahead on the day specified. The Bill will help to deal with those problems and should be supported by the entire House.
§ Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)
The hon. Gentleman is correct, but that is not the only issue that concerns people who attend court as witnesses. They are also concerned about the provision for witnesses. In some courts in Scotland, witnesses are not separated, which leads to intimidation of witnesses by others present, such as friends who may be there to give evidence for the defence rather than the prosecution. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Hamilton) is right to ask for the financial cost of implementing the best parts of the Bill. That needs to be spelt out so that we can ensure that facilities for witnesses attending sheriff courts do not allow for the aggression that takes place in many courts.
§ Mr. Stewart
In principle, the hon. Gentleman is entirely right. As the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley has said, I have no doubt that intimidation takes place. My hon. Friend the Minister will be delighted to hear, however, that I am not advocating a general increase in public expenditure to deal with that—that would astonish the House—but the hon. Member makes a perfectly fair point. It is all very well for senior lawyers in Edinburgh to say that everything is all right but other hon. Members and I are well aware that intimidation occurs in such circumstances.
I strongly support the record of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister on law and order in Scotland. Expenditure is not, of course, a measure of effectiveness, but there is no doubt that spending on law and order in Scotland has increased by 55 per cent. in real terms since 1979. There are now 1,500 more police officers in Scotland than there were in 1979; police constables' salaries have increased greatly; and victim support groups now receive substantial funding. I therefore believe that the Government's record is outstanding. I also believe, however, that there is never any room for complacency.
I do not want to speak at length on the clear challenge to law and order that now exists in relation to the M77 extension. Opposition Members, notably the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson), perhaps the most right-wing member of the Scottish Labour party, will disagree with me about the principle of the road. That is their right, but there was a demonstration at the weekend—we all saw the pictures—which was illegal. It did not conform with the terms of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, which was passed by the House. As I recall, the provisions governing demonstrations were passed without a Division. That illegal demonstration was against the law of the land.
The Minister has worked enormously hard in his capacity as the Minister with responsibility for roads—no one could have worked harder for the extension. He must accept that that demonstration, which is a challenge to the House of Commons and to the law of the land, must be met. The issue is not about trees or roads, but whether people can act illegally against the law that the House has passed.
§ Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)
Since the hon. Gentleman has impugned my reputation by describing me 729 as the most right-wing member of the Labour party in Scotland, I am bound to respond. I do not condone the violence that has occurred at the site of the proposed M77 extension, but when the hon. Gentleman speaks about upholding the law, he must recognise that those hon. Members who do not support that extension are concerned about the legality of the decision. In fact, we have the backing of official Labour party policy, which is in favour of a moratorium on motorway building. We are comfortable about that decision.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is some doubt about whether the motorway extension is legal, as it has not yet been clarified whether an environmental protection order was established before permission to give the go-ahead was granted? Does he accept that there are different aspects to legality and that whether the extension is built remains to be put firmly in a sound legal context?
§ Mr. Stewart
I wholly support the hon. Gentleman's right to put his point of view democratically. No doubt those on the Opposition Front Bench will, at an appropriate juncture, make it clear whether they support Strathclyde regional council.
The Bill is about law and order, criminal justice and improving the legal system. A challenge has been launched against the law of Scotland, irrespective of our democratic views, by the Pollok free state and the illegal march. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate, he will make it unequivocally clear that the House passes legislation about the laws of the United Kingdom and that the Government, or any other Government, are thereby committed to implementing those laws on behalf of the citizens of our country.
§ Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Govan)
I would like to consider whether the measures in the Bill are likely to improve the real situation that faces people in the community. I want to look in particular at the provisions dealing with bail and to highlight a real difficulty faced by many of my constituents. It has been caused by groups of marauding young men and women, in gangs, who are terrorising decent people and committing serious assaults and robberies in small geographical areas.
A particular gang, which has been active in part of my area for a while, is not being dealt with adequately by the existing legal system. I do not believe that the Bill's provisions will overcome that difficulty. The gang, which is known as the "Crossey Posse"—the name comes from the Crossloan road and, presumably, the diet of westerns of those youngsters—has been causing havoc. The police have identified them and are now taking some action against them. Of the 18 members, they have accumulated between them 259 arrests for violence, dishonesty, breaches of the peace and carrying weapons. It is clear that detection has not acted as a deterrent to those youngsters. The legal system does not seem able to protect decent people from them. The delays in the system and the way in which it operates often mean that those people, once caught, are freed to commit a similar or different offence that same weekend. I do not believe that any provisions in the Bill would remedy that problem.
730 The police, having identified that gang, are taking steps, with my support, to target those individuals. They gave me their case notes on the individuals involved and it is interesting to note that they all have one thing in common. If I go through their ages and their descriptions, even the Minister will recognise it. They are described as follows: aged 17 and unemployed; aged 17 and unemployed; aged 18 and unemployed; aged 21 and unemployed; aged 18 and unemployed; aged 18 and unemployed; aged 17 and unemployed; the next is 15 and is still at school; another is aged 19 and is unemployed; the next is 19 and is unemployed; another is 15 and is described as unemployed. Perhaps that information about the latter youngster came from a highland policeman with the gift of second sight, because a youngster of 15 will not yet be unemployed. Given his background, however, he is likely to be so in due course. The other members of the gang are described as follows: aged 20 and unemployed; aged 17 and unemployed; aged 16 and unemployed; aged 19 and unemployed; aged 16 and unemployed; aged 19 and unemployed; aged 17 and unemployed and aged 16 and unemployed.
I believe that the fact that all those people are unemployed is more than a coincidence. The circumstances in which they grew up and developed do not excuse their behaviour, but the fact that they are unemployed, with, in the vast majority of cases, no prospect of gainful employment, affects the way in which they live their lives, alters their horizons, limits their choice and channels them into anti-social paths.
The system does not appear to be dealing adequately with those people, given the offences that they have committed. One of those youngsters, aged 17, and unemployed as I mentioned, committed 34 offences and has 28 cases pending. Obviously, the system is not operating quickly enough if it allows someone to build up a backlog of 28 cases pending, eight of which were offences under the Bail etc. (Scotland) Act 1980, whereby offences were committed while that person was on bail. Something is wrong with a system that allows that to occur.
Another member of the gang had 41 arrests for various offences, and 31 of those cases are still pending, including nine under the Bail etc. (Scotland) Act. If the system allows someone to accumulate that number of offences, the purpose of detection is partly lost. Detection should act as a deterrent. Those youngsters have been detected; they have been arrested; the papers are lying there, and nothing has happened.
Another member of the gang had arrests for 19 offences, 14 of which are still pending, two under the Bail etc. (Scotland) Act. Another member of the gang had arrests for 35 offences, 13 of which are still pending. Another had arrests for 42 offences, 18 of which are still pending, six under the Bail etc. (Scotland) Act. Another had arrests for 52 offences, 15 of which are still pending, eight under the Bail etc. (Scotland) Act. Another had arrests for 23 offences, 18 of which are still pending, four under the Bail etc. (Scotland) Act.
Can the Minister guarantee that the proposals in the Bill will ensure that offences do not accumulate to such an extent before a trial takes place? It causes great distress to many decent people in the community when they realise that youngsters committing crime are being caught but nothing is seen to happen. There is simply an accumulation of arrests and of pending cases, with no 731 penalties whatsoever. That discredits the system. I hope that the Minister will tell us clearly and unequivocally that action will be taken to ensure that that is not allowed to continue.
I also hope that the Minister will clarify whether there are any measures in the Bill, or in the Government's mind to introduce in future, that affect the way in which the system deals with those who are involved with gangs, such as the one that I have described, whose members are under 16.
One of the young people in the gang, aged 15, committed 36 offences and received eight supervision orders, 14 "no proceedings" decisions—largely, I am told by the police, on the basis that the enormously overworked procurator fiscal's department has better things to do with its time—referral discharges and 10 abandoned charges. Those were not light offences. They were crimes of dishonesty such as breaking into cars, shops and houses. There are several assaults and offences of dishonesty.
When the system abandons any pretence at punishment, it is no wonder that the system is seen to be failing the people whom it is meant to protect.
In my area, complaints from members of the public were so frequent that there was the threat of vigilante groups forming to deal with some of the gang members. The police, to be fair to them, acted after they were approached recently by a substantial delegation with petitions and they have drafted in extra personnel, but such support to the community is not sustainable in the longer term. The system must be adjusted so that decent people may be confident that wrongdoers will be punished.
An argument was made earlier about the scale of police overtime wasted in courts. Certainly the staff of Govan police station tell me that a third of their overtime is wasted by waiting in court. In my opinion, that underestimates the scale of the problem, because many officers have their leave days adjusted in order to keep them in the station during the days when they are scheduled for trials. That is an enormous loss—an opportunity cost, as it were—when those officers should be doing something else. The figure of onethird grossly understates the real scale of wasted resources.
The judicial system is seen to be failing decent people, and I do not think that the Government response is adequate to deal with the scale of unhappiness in the community about those matters.
I see no evidence that the Government are prepared to do something that will make the existing bail system operate more constructively. For example, I would welcome the possibility of bail being conditional on a curfew in some circumstances—on the individuals involved staying away from specific areas where they have committed a series of offences in the past. We need fresher thinking from the Government on some of those issues.
Several issues have not been adequately tackled by the Bill, and I hope that the Government will be minded to consider those under the Bill or elsewhere.
One of the major difficulties is the problem of taking action against those who use houses owned by public authorities—council houses or housing association 732 properties—for dealing in drugs. I believe strongly that those involved in dealing in drugs from such houses should be evicted from them, and I think that the Government have a responsibility to try to make eviction easier than it is at the moment, because it can be a long and convoluted process. As the Government have been prepared to consider forfeiture of the artefacts used in the commission of crimes, they should consider seriously making it easier for local authorities or housing associations to evict people who are involved in drug dealing from houses that are owned by associations or councils.
The Government should consider carefully the way in which they can introduce new legislation to help to curb anti-social behaviour by tenants in council or housing association property, especially when that involves excessive noise. That issue worries many people yet is not given the attention that it deserves, because few hon. Members live in property that is affected by noisy or anti-social neighbours. When one's next neighbour is two acres away, it is much easier to ignore the problems caused by noise than in circumstances where the neighbour lives next door and plays a stereo in the early hours of the morning.
Mention has been made of the circumstances in which the court system can allow the intimidation of witnesses. However, the intimidation of witnesses before cases come to court is prevalent in many areas, and I am aware of little evidence that the Government are prepared to treat the problem seriously. One of the means of tackling the problem is housing transfer, but it is difficult to envisage how housing transfer can accommodate the justified fears that witnesses have, in circumstances where public housing is being cut so drastically.
I am aware that, in my area, people living in public sector housing have appeared as witnesses for the prosecution. Their evidence has been vital to the prosecution cases yet, the case having finished, they are now being tormented by the friends of the guilty and the council cannot find adequate accommodation into which to transfer them. In those circumstances the Government have a responsibility to tackle that issue seriously. I recognise that there is no simple solution, but the problem must be recognised.
Finally, the Government must consider the fact that prevention is better than cure. I have already mentioned the fact that crime breeds in situations of unemployment and poverty, and it is a cause of regret to me that, having been a councillor in part of the area that I now represent as a Member of Parliament, I have known many youngsters growing up in that community who, bereft of hope and prospects, have now turned into criminals. In many cases it was the best and brightest, with little chance of an apprenticeship and little chance of employment, who perhaps were not bright enough to go on to higher or further education. In some cases they were bright enough, but did not believe that higher or further education would guarantee them a job, and they realised that the people in their communities who were making the most money the fastest were those involved in drug dealing. To my regret, many of them have become involved in such practices. The Government have a responsibility—which they are too willing to ignore—to tackle the problem seriously. Many of the youngsters drift into crime—petty crime initially and more serious crime subsequently—because there is little alternative.
733 For the youths in my area, where the opening hours of community centres are being restricted and youth clubs are being closed, there is little alternative to hanging around on street corners. In those circumstances, the prospect of breaking into a chemist, a shop or a house is often more attractive than doing nothing. We live in a consumer society and such youngsters have aspirations the same as everyone else. They want money in their pocket and can see no legitimate way to achieve that. Regrettably, many of them—those with a bit of entrepreneurial flair—turn to crime. The Government cannot and should not continue to bury their head in the sand.
Public spending will be necessary to try to combat crime. I have been struck by the way in which target hardening in my district has helped to protect houses, shops and business premises against break-ins. The concierge systems and closed circuit television cameras have combined to reduce drastically the prevalence of crime in specific areas, but such measures are not cheap and the Government must be willing to invest some money in trying to cut the cost of crime. Otherwise, the Bill will simply reorganise and improve some aspects of court procedure, but will not tackle the real burdens of crime carried by many citizens.
§ 6.1 pm
§ Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South)
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in the debate. I wish to associate myself with the comments of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) about Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. It seems strange to be debating the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill without Sir Nicholas behind me, egging me on and giving me the odd word of what he considered to be advice. I am sure that he is looking down on our proceedings today and shaking his head in disbelief that those of us who are left should have the temerity to tamper with his beloved Scottish legal system.
In placing before the House the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, the Government send two clear, distinct messages. First, the passing of a specifically Scottish legal Act re-emphasises the uniqueness of the Scottish legal system, which we, north of the border, have always regarded as superior to that in England. Scotland's constitutional future appears to be the subject for almost daily deliberation and speculation in the pages of the newspapers. The fact that Scotland's legal system remains so distinctive and unique after almost 300 years of union, reiterates clearly that, far from the Union anglicising Scotland, it has given Scotland the identity and confidence to preserve and build on all that is distinctively and uniquely Scottish.
The Scottish legal system joins our education system and our national Church in helping to form the basis on which our national identity is founded. We in the House would never seek to change that. Our passionate defence of the Union is grounded in the firm belief that, through union, Scotland's nationhood and institutions have flourished. That today's debate takes place in the House of Commons underlines the fact that the correct and proper place in which to debate Scottish affairs is here in the sovereign Parliament of Scotland.
The second message from today's debate is that the Government remain determined to fight crime in every way that they can and to focus on driving fear from our streets and communities. My right hon. and hon. Friends 734 will be interested, although not surprised, to learn that a recent survey carried out in areas of my constituency showed that people's fear of crime remains one of their key concerns.
People realise that much has been done to tackle crime. There are more policemen on the streets—as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, about 1,500 more than there were when the Conservative party came to power in 1979. Crime detection is at its highest level for five years. There are stiffer sentences for some offences and more powers for courts to deal with offenders. However, despite all those developments, many people still believe that the legal system often fails the very people whom it is designed to protect. It is self-defeating for the police to gather evidence and make arrests, if the court system does not deal with cases quickly and efficiently, and ensure that justice is seen to be done.
In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State reminded the House of the Bill's background—of the lengthy period of consultation that has involved the legal profession in Scotland, the police and, most importantly, the public, all uniting to create a coalition for change. In examining all aspects of the Scottish criminal justice system, from legal aid to juries, from sentencing to admissible evidence, my right hon. Friend and his colleagues have drawn up a Bill that is balanced and thorough and commands a good deal of public and professional support.
Through a detailed and systematic review of the criminal justice system, the Government have ensured that Scots will continue to have respect for the law and to have confidence in the system. Our legal system works well. Nevertheless, it makes good sense to carry out a regular and full audit, and to evaluate whether the system is working as smoothly and fairly as we would all want. Through what my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State has referred to in another place as an "overhaul", the Scottish criminal justice system is being prepared for the challenges of the new millennium. For those reasons, I warmly support the measures in the Bill, which will serve to reinforce public confidence in our justice system.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlined the Bill's major aspects and I have no intention of prevailing upon the patience of the House by merely repeating what he said. I shall, however, comment briefly on a few aspects of the Bill. The introduction of intermediate diets will be welcomed throughout Scotland. People will see cases coming to court much more quickly than at present. The Government have often emphasised the duty to highlight the needs of victims and witnesses, rather than just the criminal. Intermediate diets will provide an opportunity for both the defence and the prosecution to agree upon matters relating to a case that are not in dispute. Any such measure, which avoids the need for a witness or victim to undergo the trauma of testimony face to face with a defendant, must be viewed as a welcome development.
The clauses designed to amend the appeals procedure will also free court time. It is entirely unacceptable for the court system to be snarled up by an endless conveyor belt of appeals. Of course, the right of appeal must remain an inalienable right in a modern, enlightened democracy. No one in the House would want the right of appeal to be denied to anyone with a deserving case, but we must be practical. The number of appeals coming before Scottish courts has nearly trebled over the past 10 years. More and 735 more frequently, the court case and conviction, far from marking a conclusion to the legal process, merely mark the beginning of a fresh round of procedures, which are placing an intolerable strain on court time and the court system.
For many defendants, the decision to appeal is a knee-jerk reaction to conviction. Often, little or no consideration is given to the merits of an appeal. Too many appeals seem to be motivated by a triumph of hope over expectation—the clutching at straws over reality. I welcome the proposals to allow a judge to decide on the merits of an appeal before court time is wasted. Provided that safeguards remain to ensure that deserving cases are not dismissed prematurely, surely the proposals will meet with the support of hon. Members.
There are few aspects of our legal system that inflame public opinion more than that of the so-called bail bandit—the defendant out on bail who goes on to commit further offences. Recent research suggests that 12 per cent. of those out on bail commit further offences. That is entirely unacceptable; bail is a privilege, not a right. It should be an option only when it is believed that further offending is unlikely. A breach of that trust should carry a heavy penalty. The ability to add six months' imprisonment for bail offences, in addition to any sentence imposed, is most welcome.
The clauses extending the rights of Scottish courts to deprive offenders of the proceeds of their crimes follow the already strenuous efforts by the Government to ensure that law breaking is never rewarded. Both those measures send an unequivocal message to criminals that their behaviour will not be tolerated.
The recent introduction of fiscal fines to deal with minor drug offences has been widely welcomed as a constructive development to deal with the escalating drug problem. The Bill will extend the range of offences for which fiscal fines can be imposed. Some have misconstrued fiscal fines for minor drug-possession offences as turning a blind eye to wrongdoing—as almost tacitly condoning the practice. A few have even ventured the suggestion that it marks the effective legalisation of drugs. That is certainly not the case. In the same way, the offences for which fiscal fines will become available will not be regarded as lesser offences simply because the matter does not go to court.
Fiscal fines represent a reasoned and logical response to the clogged court system; they are not a green light for certain crimes and no one should consider them as such. If used sensibly, they will provide an effective tool for streamlining the court system and ensuring that a court spends its time deliberating serious and deserving cases rather than acting as a clearing house for petty offences.
However, we must never fall into the trap of the blanket use of fiscal fines. Each case must be viewed on its merits, as I believe that there will always be cases where the defendant should answer to a court. I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's assurance that the system will allow the prosecutor to elect for a trial rather than impose a fiscal fine if he deems it appropriate.
The public will warmly welcome the development of sentencing guidelines. I have no wish to highlight specific examples of when a sentence imposed by a sheriff or judge has caused anger and upset to those involved with a case, and a sense of general bewilderment, anger and 736 sometimes outrage in the wider community. However, we are all familiar with such cases from the newspapers and from our mail.
Understandably, the media tend to highlight isolated examples of when justice has not been seen to be done. But of course, in highlighting the bad, the media obscure the many thousands of cases each year where conviction is followed by an appropriate sentence. Yet it is the few sensational examples of, shall we say, eccentric sentencing that undermine confidence in the entire criminal justice system.
The introduction of sentencing guidelines will serve an extremely useful function in attempting to eliminate the isolated cases where the punishment has clearly not fitted the crime. Of course, we must be mindful of the fact that sentencing guidelines can act only as an aid to sentencing in Scottish courts. I believe that the House never would or should sanction the introduction of sentencing rules. The sheriff or judge must retain a degree of autonomy and some room for manoeuvre in deciding upon an appropriate sentence. Flexibility and discretion are surely one reason why the Scottish legal system is admired throughout the world. Nevertheless, guidelines will be welcomed by those who are responsible for handing down sentences and they will assist in providing uniformity in the nature of sentences between courts.
I wish to remark briefly on the proposal to allow the prosecution to comment upon a defendant's silence during a trial. As the hon. Member for Hamilton said, the right to silence has long been a source of controversy within legal circles. As the House is aware, sweeping changes to the right to silence were contained within the criminal justice Act relating to England and Wales. The fact that the proposals that are before the House today are radically different from those relating to England and Wales provides a further illustration of the distinctive nature of the criminal justice system in Scotland and the way in which the House deals with it.
I again pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and to the Scottish Office for carrying out such detailed consultation on options to amend or even to abolish the right to silence. The Conservative party defends stoutly the rights of the individual. We have always emphasised the need to protect and enhance individual freedoms and rights. For that reason, a decision to erode the rights of the individual in the eyes of the law would be taken only after a great deal of careful thought and consideration. I welcome the fact that the Bill proposes to retain the individual's right to silence, but allows the prosecutor, in turn, the right to highlight a defendant's silence. I believe that that strikes a balance between the rights of the individual and the desire to ensure that a correct verdict is reached in the court.
I am sure that the changes outlined in clause 28 will satisfy the majority of people in Scotland who feel that, if people have nothing to hide, they will lose nothing by responding to questions put to them in court. As jurors are currently able to consider the silence of a defendant in arriving at a verdict, the change merely clarifies the position and may help to persuade defendants to put their side of the story on record during a trial.
In conclusion, I would like to convey to the House the views of some of my constituents. Since my election to the House in 1992, I have been surprised by the number of letters that I have received from people who are the unfortunate victims of crime. In almost every case, the 737 person asks why the system always seems to be on the side of the criminal and why the victim is constantly neglected or subjected to further suffering, often through the need to testify in court.
There is no doubt that the Bill continues the process of redressing the balance away from the criminal and toward the victim. We welcome the fact that, through the Bill's provisions, many victims will be saved the ordeal of testifying. Similarly, victims will be reassured that the proceeds of crime are likely to be forfeited by the guilty party and that further crimes by an accused who is out on bail simply will not be tolerated.
In short, the Bill signals the Government's determination to continue to crack down on crime and on criminals. Crime affects every constituency in Scotland as well as those throughout the United Kingdom. A crime-free society is an unattainable ideal. However, by supporting the Bill, hon. Members can play a part in putting in place measures that will further strengthen the courts' ability to deal with crime and with criminals. The people of Scotland expect and they deserve nothing less.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) has left his place temporarily because I wish to tell him that, even though few hon. Members are present for the debate, I am sure that I am not the only one who was impressed by the somewhat Churchillian flourish with which he began his comments on the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. It leads one to believe that, on all those self-contained and self-disciplined occasions when the hon. Gentleman stood at the Dispatch Box, he had the capacity, even the desire, to engage in rhetorical flourish.
That reference to rhetorical flourish brings me inevitably to a subject about which comment has been made already in the debate—the absence of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn from our midst. According to the conventions of the House, I could not call him "my friend", but outside the House he was my friend for a very long time. Like many hon. Members, I mourn the fact that he is no longer with us to ensure, through his curious amalgamation of ridicule and intellectual rigour, that the attention of the House is focused upon the detail of a measure such as the Bill.
Those of us who sat through the debates on the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill in the summer of 1990 will remember that as probably Sir Nicholas's finest hour—to use a Churchillian phrase—as he subjected the Minister, and indeed the whole Committee, to a full-frontal intellectual assault and, on occasion, made the Government's proposals look threadbare and second rate. It is a great pity that he will not be able to do that again on this and on other occasions.
With Sir Nicholas's passing, I believe that I am the only remaining practising member of the Faculty of Advocates in the House. Therefore, I declare an interest in the debate as the matters with which we are concerned might, on occasion, form part of the consideration of someone who is practising in the Scottish criminal courts.
Any opportunity to discuss the criminal law of Scotland should be welcomed by hon. Members. I do not exempt members of my own party from what I am about to say: I think that the poverty of attendance in the Chamber is a sad reflection on the seriousness with which people regard an important issue of this kind.
738 The Secretary of State began his remarks by drawing the attention of the House to some statistical information which he thought reflected well upon the Government's policies. He would do well to bear in mind the repeated warnings of Dr. Ian Oliver, the chief constable of Grampian—who has a robust reputation in such matters—that crime figures are notoriously unreliable as indicators of the true level of crime in society. The House would also do well to recall that, according to the most recently issued figures, crime in the category which includes vandalism and fireraising has risen by 5 per cent. Crimes of violence have risen by 2 per cent. and crimes in the category which includes drug offences have risen by 7 per cent. I do not think that those figures, which reflect specific areas of criminal behaviour, entitle any of us to enjoy a sense of comfort or achievement.
The Secretary of State also referred to the Bill's history. It is true that there have been consultation papers. It is a matter of judgment, but I do not believe that there is any evidence to suggest that the Bill which is now before the House has sprung from a systematic overall review of the Scottish criminal system. I particularly regret the fact that, whereas in the early 1970s, we had the benefit of a committee, the distinguished chairman of which was the late Lord Thomson, and two helpful and far-reaching reports, on this occasion we had no such assistance.
As the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) said, the Bill is a clear example of legislative proposals that should be scrutinised in a domestic Parliament. When people seek to draw distinctions between Scotland and that which may be available to Northern Ireland, it is often left out of account that Scotland's domestic law system is the only one in western Europe that lacks its own legislature. This debate may emphasise that as much as anything that I can say, but it is a compelling argument for a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
These proceedings would also be better informed if we had taken evidence, as has been done with the Children (Scotland) Bill, from practitioners in Scotland, including the Faculty of Advocates; the Glasgow Bar Association, whose political complexion is neither here nor there; the Law Society of Scotland; the Scottish Council for Civil Liberties; the chief constables and the Police Federation. They are concerned daily with problems that we debate in abstract because, with few exceptions, we have no day-to-day experience of them—so our consideration of the Bill is necessarily flawed.
The explanatory and financial memorandum states that the Bill will be cost neutral, meaning that no additional resources will be made available. How many cases reported by the police to the procurator fiscal are marked "No pro"—that is, no proceedings—each year? Once proceedings have begun, and how many cases are dropped each year? Those statistics will give some indication of the extent to which anecdotal evidence that claims that the system is overburdened is justified.
Why are there temporary judges of the High Court of Justiciary? Why do more individuals hold commissions as temporary sheriffs than hold commissions as full-time sheriffs? The strength of the Scottish system is that it has been based on full-time, professional judges—unlike' England and Wales, which use lay magistrates to far greater extent. If the Government are so committed to maintaining the Scottish legal system, why is increasing reliance placed on temporary High Court judges or 739 temporary sheriffs? If commissions are justified, that can be only because work exists and judges are required to deal with it.
If we embark on a system in which intermediate diets play a fuller part and judicial examination may be extended in the way proposed, that will do nothing other than impact on judicial time. It seems self-evident that if the proposals are to work, additional resources will be required.
There was extended debate in the other place about victims. After 27 years of practising law in Scotland, I have reached the view that we have not in the past dealt properly with the victims of crime. I am wholly committed to the network of victim support agencies that has developed, not least in my constituency. Victim support is a separate and distinct function, and best done through the voluntary network now in place. Victims are assisted by clear information on the nature of procedures, scheduling of cases and their outcome. It is important to remember that all prosecutions in Scotland are brought in the public interest by the Lord Advocate, with the assistance of the procurator fiscal system. Private prosecution is extremely rare in Scotland. Our system does not have any principle of self-help or anything that might be thought to impinge on revenge. Other systems do.
I am worried that suggestions of consulting victims or even juries about penalties, which had some currency in the other place, move away from our legal system's objective and public interest nature. Sentencing must be the responsibility of judges. It must not be exercised in a vacuum. There must be proper training of judges on sentencing at all levels. They must not be bound by a tariff, as some suggest, but be aware of prevailing levels. The Bill's proposals in that respect are perfectly acceptable. Sentencing must be subject also to the supervision of the High Court—which, in the determination of appeals, may find itself able to give the guidance that is necessary for judges of inferior courts.
The essential feature is that every case must be determined on its merits. We must remember that reports of court proceedings that we receive from constituents, read in newspapers, see on television or hear on radio do not always reveal the whole circumstances of the case put before the court. Sentences must be judged objectively, not by the reactions of newspapers, Members of Parliament, victims or their families.
The Bill's complexity is almost overwhelming. Some hon. Members will be familiar with the principle, "Ignorantia iuris neminem excusat"—ignorance of the law excuses no man. If you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, think that that principle is important, I suggest that you read clause 37 and then ask yourself whether you are sufficiently seized of the Government's proposals to be certain that you understand the law in Scotland on the particular matters that clause concerns. The argument for simplification or codification is overwhelming. If we are to say to people that ignorance of the law is no defence, we have an overwhelming obligation to ensure that the law is readily understood, and not just by lawyers.
The Bill is welcome for attempting to create a more efficient system of justice. The provisions to obtain agreement on non-contentious evidence are entirely laudable, and the intermediate diet procedure seems a sensible extension of a principle that has been in operation in other parts of the system. The Bill seeks to amend bail 740 provisions, and that justifies further discussion in Committee. I may have views about certain details of those proposals. To the extent that the Bill implements proposals of the Scottish Law Commission on confiscation and forfeiture, that, too, is welcome.
The hon. Member for Hamilton prayed in aid two authorities to support his views on the not proven verdict. The first was Sir Walter Scott. Anyone who read reviews of the most recent biography of Sir Walter, some of which were to be found in the weekend newspapers, may take the view for the moment that Sir Walter is not an authority on which one could place much reliance. In any event, as so much of that which is written about Sir Walter is apocryphal, it is the opinion of many people that he was driven to write the Waverley novels because he could not earn a living at the Scottish Bar. If that be so, his somewhat dismissive reference to the not proven verdict may not help much.
The hon. Member for Hamilton also referred to the English royal commission, which rejected the verdict of not proven in what one might describe as dismissive terms. We should remember, however, that the English commission was dealing with a system that requires a verdict of 10 to two to convict. That is entirely different from the Scottish system. Any change to the three existing verdicts could not, I believe, be properly effected in isolation, because we should then have to consider whether a system in which a person could be found guilty by eight votes to seven on a jury of 15 provided sufficient protection in the absence of the not proven verdict.
I accept that, on these occasions, anecdote is much more likely to triumph than objectivity, but it is my personal view and experience that the not proven verdict is a necessary protection in a system in which a person may be convicted by the odd vote in 15. It is also a sophisticated verdict; the jury expresses itself unwilling to give a certificate of credibility to the accused.
A woman in my constituency made a complaint about a sexual offence. She went to court and was subjected to the kind of harrowing and—sometimes inevitably—unpleasant cross-examination which accompanies cases of this sort. In the end, the verdict was not proven. Afterwards she told me that that verdict had allowed her to leave the court with a certain sense of dignity. Had the verdict been not guilty, it would have meant that she had not been believed.
We can speculate about the reasons why people will or will not come forward, depending on what they think the outcome of a case may be, but when sexual offences are alleged I believe that the not proven verdict is often an extremely important part of the system. It should not be cast aside lightly.
We should not change these verdicts out of a sense of sympathy with the outrage that victims or their families may feel. One understands why people feel aggrieved by the result of criminal trials, but my judgment is that people who are offended by a verdict of not proven are hardly likely to be less offended if the verdict is one of not guilty.
§ Mr. George Robertson
This appears to be a rerun of debates that have taken place elsewhere, although I appreciate that some hon. Members may not have heard them before.
741 In my defence, I should point out that Lord Wheatley and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) are two contemporary figures whose views substantiate the point that I was making about not proven—if Sir Walter Scott is not to be taken as a contemporary source.
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman concede that the case that I outlined this afternoon was not based on any particular trial in which the family of a victim was left aggrieved—although such cases do exist? My point is that the not proven verdict is just as unfair to the accused, who leaves with a stain on his or her character, as it is to the aggrieved victims, who may feel that justice has not been done.
§ Mr. Campbell
I have represented a number of accused people who—because of or despite the defence that I have mounted on their behalf—have had their cases found not proven. Not one of them has ever complained to me about the nature of the verdict. The hon. Gentleman may attach importance to the question of stains on the characters of accused people, but those in receipt of such verdicts do not apparently attach quite so much importance to it. I was not trying to argue ad hominem, except to say that I think that issues of this kind cannot be considered in isolation or in the abstract. If this proposal is to be discussed in Committee, I suspect that the hon. Gentleman may have to come up with other amendments then, designed to put his proposals for the not proven verdict into the broader context which they undoubtedly deserve.
I have been puzzled by the claim that the abolition of the peremptory objection and the abolition of the need to state a juror's occupation on the jury list will enhance the administration of justice. In place of the peremptory objection, we are offered the institution of something that may be described as a joint application for excusal. That may embrace more problems than it seeks to solve. What if, for instance, there is an intransigent agent or advocate for the defence? What about an intransigent prosecutor? In the real world one hopes that neither will be intransigent, but the fact is that people may take a concluded professional view in respect of an excusal, based on an analysis of what seems to them best for the prosecution or for the defence. In such circumstances agreement will not be possible; nor, therefore, will a joint application for excusal be possible.
I am sorry to note that the hon. Member for Eastwood is no longer here, but I point out that the fact that a person may have a particular occupation may give rise to an apprehension—not necessarily in the minds of the professionals engaged in the defence—on the part of the accused person that the person with that occupation will not be entirely objective. Let us imagine a case in which it is alleged that someone has attacked a postman on his rounds. The accused, who is entitled, as we have often heard, to a presumption of innocence, is likely to think that having a postman on the jury will give rise to an apprehension that objectivity will be difficult to achieve.
Another illustration—I am afraid that this often happens now—concerns a doctor to whose local surgery a false call has been put through and who is then ambushed by someone lying in wait for him to steal his drugs. Here again there might be a reasonable apprehension on the part of the ambusher that objectivity would he difficult to achieve if a doctor served on the jury.
742 The retention of the peremptory objection is thus a legitimate power in the hands of the defence, and it does no damage to the administration of justice.
Much has been made of the position of the accused at judicial examination and at trial in circumstances when he or she gives no evidence. There has, I think, been an understandable but flawed tendency to run the two issues together. They are quite separate, and they raise separate considerations. If enacted as drafted, clause 10 will turn judicial examination into something that may not quite justify the conclusion that it is an inquisitorial hearing, but it will have rather more of that character than has perhaps been appreciated hitherto.
An accused person may well be vulnerable at the time, because judicial examination follows hard upon a person being taken into custody. The accused is vulnerable because he or she is confused, apprehensive, upset and even frightened: and because at this stage he or she may have no knowledge of the facts on which the prosecution intends to proceed. That absence of knowledge may be shared by the defence solicitor.
As matters stand, the solicitor who appears on behalf of an accused person at judicial examination has no right to object to any of the questions—so a protection available at trial will not be available at the time of the judicial examination. The position of a solicitor will be difficult, either because the accused may be forced to answer questions that might ultimately prejudice the defence, or because the accused, on the advice of the solicitor, will say nothing, and that failure to comment may be relied on at a later stage. For a solicitor brought in at short notice, with little knowledge at this stage of the nature of the prosecution's case, it will create an intolerable professional burden.
There is no need for those provisions. I have yet to be convinced that there is any utility attached to them.
Clause 28 raises a different issue. At the moment, at least, I am open minded about it. If a prosecutor is given the right to refer to the fact that the accused has not given evidence, the accused should have had by that stage the benefit of legal advice—tactical and sometimes strategic—on whether it would be right to give evidence. The facts will be known because the evidence will have been led. A conscious decision will have been made not to give evidence. At that stage, both in summary proceedings and solemn proceedings—that is to say, before a judge and jury—the defence will have had the opportunity to make a motion that there is no case to answer.
The provisions of clause 28 raise a different issue from those that are contained in clause 10. There is at least scope for putting the Government to the test of establishing that what they propose in clause 28 is justified. I can say as someone who has prosecuted, but not in recent time, that it was never difficult for the prosecutor to find a form of words that conveyed to the jury precisely the point with which the clause is designed to deal. For example, the prosecutor might say, "Ladies and gentlemen, you might have benefited if you had heard other explanations of what took place, but you have heard only the explanation of the victim." He might make the same comments and then say, "You have heard only from the two police officers who saw what was happening." Such comments are legitimate under the present system. On that footing it may be difficult to maintain as stoutly 743 as some have that what is proposed in clause 28 is damaging and dangerous. Clause 10 is of a different category.
References have been made to miscarriages of justice. Although he is not in his place, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster), who conducted a most responsible and informed campaign on behalf of one of his constituents, Mr. Raymond Gilmour. I had the benefit of reading all the public papers that are attached to that case. This is not an occasion for going into its merits, but it is worth reminding ourselves—even those of us who are so impressed by the quality of the Scottish legal system—that cases of that type do arise from time to time, which raises apprehension both inside and outside the legal profession as to whether a just verdict has been achieved.
As I have already said in an intervention, the Lord Justice-General and the Lord Justice Clerk in Scotland have taken different views about the existing statutory provisions that relate to the availability of evidence on appeal and which might have been thought to be available at the time of a trial such as that of Raymond Gilmour. I refer to the matter in passing because it shows that there is no such thing as judicial infallibility. It may even demonstrate in a quite compelling way that if the two senior judges in Scotland are at odds on such an issue, the need for early legislation relating to alleged miscarriages of justice and the availability of evidence is paramount.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) referred to some solicitors who, he said, persuaded clients to plead not guilty until the last moment. No doubt there are some—I would not suggest that there is none. It is often difficult, however, to persuade an accused person to plead guilty, even if the evidence is overwhelming. In some cases there are difficult questions of law that have to be the subject of careful consideration. In other cases difficult issues arise about the availability of witnesses and whether witnesses will stick with the version of events that they may have given either to the prosecution or to the defence. Late pleas of guilty, damaging though they are to the administration of justice and dissipating of funds and valuable court time, are not necessarily always to be explained by the notion of greedy lawyers seeking to protract proceedings to line their own pockets.
The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) referred to the powers of licensing boards. I declare an interest because I have a particular professional interest. There is scope for some amendment to the law that allows the boards the opportunity, when they decide to suspend a liquor licence, to act at least on an interim basis. Once an appeal has been marked against such a suspension, it should be possible for the board to go to the sheriff to argue that until the appeal is determined the licence should not be allowed to operate. At present, once an appeal is marked, all the previous proceedings are suspended and someone whose licence may have been suspended under section 31 of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 may continue gaily operating his licence until such time as the local sheriff has dealt with the appeal. That is a matter to which further consideration should be given. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley raised the matter because of recent events in Ayr.
744 There are some things about the Bill that are to be welcomed but there are others that are not entitled to the same reception. The weakness of the Bill is that there does not appear to be any discernible scheme behind it. It carries more than a hint of doing something or anything to meet a tide of public opinion that is increasingly anxious about the nature of criminal activity in Scotland. The Bill is undoubtedly capable of improvement in Committee. If it reaches that stage, I hope that it will receive such improvement.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I shall be brief because I know that others wish to speak. I listened with great care to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). His contributions to Bills of this sort are important and welcome. As has been said, I am sure that we all miss the wit and wisdom of my late Friend, Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. Both he and the hon. and learned Gentleman brought valuable hands-on experience to Scottish legal Bills. I do not have that experience but I welcome the Bill for two reasons.
First, I welcome the Bill because on the basis of public confidence there are areas of the law that must be considered fairly regularly so that we can keep pace with public concern. There will be opportunities during our consideration of the Bill—I hope to be able to make use of them—to table amendments on sentencing policy. I am a great believer in deterrent sentencing. That is not the only vehicle to be considered but it is an important one when it comes to recognising and meeting concerns.
It is important to recognise, as the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East has said, that the judiciary is not infallible. Mistakes will occur. We must expect that and so we must have a system that addresses it. We must recognise also that there can be technical malfunctions in the way in which a court is administered and run. I can think of a recent instance where a jury was confused. That confusion led to sentencing problems. That is another issue that may call for amendments.
Secondly, I welcome the Bill because it is designed to tighten bail provisions. There is great concern that those who are given bail offend again. I welcome the fact that we are retaining the not proven verdict. It is a valuable provision in Scotland. If a jury is not satisfied that a case has been proven beyond reasonable doubt but it is not satisfied that the accused is not guilty, the parties can leave court at least knowing that the case has not been proven one way or the other. That is important. I also welcome the fact that we shall consider in Committee the important question of how people can or cannot be drawn into answering questions.
As I said, my speech is very brief because I hope to use the opportunity in Committee—like most Scottish Conservative Members, I expect that I shall have no option but to be in Committee—to table and speak to amendments on important points in the Bill.
§ Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)
As an hon. Member who represents an inner-city constituency, I know only too well and come into regular contact with many of the activities to which hon. Members of all parties have referred, not least the tragic toll of deaths relating to drug taking. There were 95 such deaths in 1994 745 in the Strathclyde region, many, I am sorry to say. in my constituency. My constituency, like many other inner-city constituencies, also witnessed various other violent activities such as attacks on the person, often unprovoked and, apparently, for no reason. There is also a considerable amount of car crime, burglary, sexual attacks—sadly—and of course the increasingly visible effects of domestic violence, which is prevalent throughout society.
All those crimes in my constituency go hand in hand with many of the effects of an appalling standard of living, to which many of my constituents are condemned. In many cases that standard of living means that my constituents have to put up with appalling housing, which is very badly maintained, frequently damp and badly repaired. Of course increasing numbers of young people are unable even to obtain such housing. There is high unemployment and another sad death toll every winter of old-age pensioners who are unable adequately to heat their accommodation.
All that adds up to a picture of which no Government can be proud. It would be unfair to blame it entirely on the Government, although it would be equally fatuous to suggest that they had no part to play and that they were not, in some respect, responsible. I concede that many of the conditions will continue to exist under a Labour Government, but the question is: how will we respond? One of the ways in which to respond is to ensure that the police are adequately resourced.
An astonishing statistic was revealed in Strathclyde last month, when Leslie Sharp, the much respected chief constable, announced that the full complement of staff for his force had reached some 4,200. That was astonishing because that level was set in 1974, during the previous round of local government reorganisation, when Strathclyde region came into being. In the 20 or more years since the region was established, that level had never been met and there had never been a full complement of police officers, despite the fact that I and other hon. Members who represented the Strathclyde region were often lobbied by Leslie Sharp and his predecessor and, that we, in turn, lobbied Scottish Office Ministers for adequate resources to enable the police to do the job demanded of them. It was, however, a false dawn because this month, after that announcement, the figure has again fallen blow complement. Due to national wastage, retirement and non-filling of vacancies, Leslie Sharp's police force is again below its full complement and he does not have sufficient officers for the many difficult and trying jobs which face them.
It is not simply that Strathclyde regional council has been profligate with its resources. Goodness knows, it is short of resources in so many ways, as the Secretary of State knows well since he has heard myself, other colleagues and my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) specifically speak on local authority funding in recent weeks.
Nor is it sufficient for the Secretary of State to say that the local authority has the resources that it needs to carry out its functions and to give police adequate staff to carry out their job. Patently, they do not have sufficient resources. Of course I welcome and commend falling crime figures, which to a large extent result from increased police activity, but every time that I meet police officers—representing a city-centre constituency, I cover 746 a number of divisions in the city of Glasgow and meet regularly with the police—they consistently return to the question of resources.
One of the questions that we should be asking in this debate is: why does crime continue to flourish? I am aware of the figures which have been quoted, but, none the less, a considerable number of people do very well out of criminal activities, often at the hands of those people who can least afford it. Parents regularly come to my surgeries or write to me in despair asking what can be done; why cannot the police put a stop to crime and why are the local peddlers of drugs on the street corner well known to everyone in the community, yet—apparently—the police are unable to act and arrest them?
I know that the sellers on the street corner are not the major problem; they are the visible aspect only of the problem. None the less, it is difficult to explain to my constituents that the resources to deal with crime in the community are available when, in many cases, petty criminals are well known and appear to flourish and act impudently in their own area.
A major factor to consider in fighting crime is its root causes. I am aware that that argument does not carry much weight with Conservative Members, but the causes of crime are frequently economic or socio-economic. The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) highlighted the difficulty that he has encountered in his constituency, which is replicated in—I suspect—hundreds of constituencies, including those of Conservative Members. It is not simply enough to say that people get themselves into such difficulty. Not many trainee chartered accountants or law students or young self-employed people are involved in crime. Nor, indeed, are many apprentice bricklayers or hairdressers indulging in crime, drugs and such activities. Nor is it simply a working-class or middle-class phenomenon. By and large, people indulge in crime because they have little else to do. I am aware that that is a generalisation, but I am sure that hon. Members will agree.
Any democratic and caring society ought to be able to provide the chance to get a decent education, training which will lead to a job, a decent house and the ability to establish a permanent relationship and—one hopes—raise a family in the belief that our children will have a reasonable opportunity to build a life for themselves. Today's society is unable to provide those chances and those opportunities are plainly absent from the lives of too many young people. It is a mere pipe dream for them. As a result, many seek escape through the crime to which I have referred, especially—sadly—relating to drugs. The attendant crime necessary to finance such activity has all sorts of spin-off effects.
I am not offering that dearth of opportunity as an excuse for the lawlessness which is increasingly evident among young people; I am simply suggesting that it is part of the explanation and must be taken into account. We cannot tackle crime without tackling the causes of it. A strong and sustainable economy, which provides training, jobs and hope is much more likely to turn young people away from crime than any amount of police resources or any amount of community activities even though they have, of course, a part to play.
The Bill is about changing the law and not simply about dealing with crime and how to respond to it, important though that is. I hope that the Bill is also about improving the law; moving it forward and making it more relevant 747 to the 1990s and beyond the millennium. Like all hon. Members, I recognise the expertise and vast experience of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). He outlined a number of ways in which the Bill could have improved the law of Scotland, but has missed the opportunity to do so.
I shall highlight a specific area in which the law could be improved, which relates to a debate on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill a year and a week ago this evening.
The debate that stirred up the greatest amount of public interest in respect of that legislation concerned new clause 3 which dealt with the age of consent in relation to homosexual acts in private. That debate produced a change in the law. The age of consent was reduced from 21 to 18 although moves to reduce it to 16 were defeated by a majority of 27 votes. An overwhelming majority of 265 were in favour of decreasing the age to 18 and that is now the law.
The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill offers an opportunity to carry that law forward and, in a sense, to take the next step towards the logical conclusion of the progress in last year's debate. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would not allow me to rehearse the arguments for an equal age of consent for all, but I believe that it is totally illogical to have an age of consent of 16 for heterosexuals and 18 for male homosexuals.
I want to concentrate on the Scottish aspect of that debate because Scottish Members made their views very clear in the debate last year. Fifty-three of the 72 Scottish Members, the hon. Members who have a particular interest in the Bill that we are discussing today, voted in favour of the age of 16, and 17 voted against that age. There have been changes since last year's debate and new Members for constituencies elsewhere in the United Kingdom would affect attitudes towards an age of consent of 16 if the matter were voted upon again. I hope that this Bill will allow us an opportunity to do that.
In 1991, the Crown Office in Scotland instituted a review of the prosecution policy on consenting homosexual acts. At that time, the Crown Office issued a circular to procurators fiscal—circular No. 2025/1—instructing them that in a reported case of sex between menwhere both of the participants are over 16 but one or both are under 18 and the act appears to have been consensual and in privateprocurators fiscal should report the case to the Crown Office for consideration by Crown counsel. Only two cases have been reported in the four years since then. The instruction was reconfirmed in June 1994, but the Crown Office has stated that the review of policy is continuing.
After the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, Outright Scotland—the lesbian, gay and bisexual rights organisation—approached Lothian and Borders police specifically about their policy on pursuing private consenting sexual acts between men over 16. Lothian and Borders police have confirmed publicly thatsuch investigations appear nowhere on our list of priorities.However, they said that if a complaint were received from a member of the public, they would be bound to investigate.
Although the law is not being upheld actively by the police or the Crown Office, young gay men remain at risk of police investigation brought on by a complaint to the 748 police by anyone, be that a neighbour or an unfriendly acquaintance. The current law brands young gay men as second-class citizens from the age of 16 and it acts to discourage many young gay people from seeking the advice and help that they need from their parents, doctors, teachers or the police.
The question of whether there should be an equal age of consent is not simply a matter of equality: it is a matter of human rights and of civil rights. It is wrong, and ultimately unsustainable, that young gay men should be criminalised and stigmatised for doing what their heterosexual friends do perfectly legally—that is, making love with a partner of their choice.
Many of our European Union partners are considerably ahead of us in terms of legislation with regard to the age of consent. Many of us have a great deal of good will towards Ireland, but with the best will in the world we would not categorise Ireland as a liberal country. However, Ireland has an equal age of consent at 17 which is ahead of the United Kingdom.
It is somewhat ironic that the playwright Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years in Reading gaol almost exactly 100 years ago in May 1895, but discrimination against gay men is still effectively legalised. Stonewall carried out a survey of 2,000 lesbians, gay men and bisexuals which found that 8 per cent. had been sacked from their employment, 48 per cent. had been harassed and 68 per cent. were not fully confident enough to talk about their sexuality at work for fear of the consequences. It is appalling that, in 1995, people should be afraid to be open about their sexuality because they fear for their jobs.
As I have said, an age of consent of 18 still criminalises young men when the law claims that it is actually there to protect them. The stark fact is that the law as it stands does not act as a deterrent. As has been demonstrated, there exists among the police neither the will nor the ability to enforce that law effectively.
It should be self-evident that the criminal law should have no role in matters of private morality where consenting adults are concerned. Scots law has often been ahead of its English and Welsh counterparts, as other hon. Members have said. I suggest that it should take the lead again. When this Bill enters Committee, I hope that an amendment will be tabled which will allow the House to vote on the age of consent.
I do not see it as a matter of Scotland having a different age of consent from the rest of the United Kingdom. I see Scotland as simply moving one step ahead because it is clear, on the basis of the vote a year ago, that when the matter comes before the House as it affects England and Wales, as well as Scotland, the vote in favour of 16 will be carried. This Bill offers an opportunity for Scots law to move ahead and to give a lead. I very much hope that such a lead will be taken in Committee.
§ 7.5 pm
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)
I would like to give a last salute to Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. This debate would have been a perfect medium for his expertise, experience and wit which could skewer as well as edify at times. We are all the poorer for the loss of his very individual contributions to this particular subject and to other debates in the House.
749 The Bill is basically a general review of the mechanism through which crime is dealt at judicial level and measures for robbing criminals of the proceeds of their crimes. While I have specific reservations about the Bill, I welcome attempts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Scottish criminal justice system.
It is essential that justice is enhanced through the elimination of waste and inefficiency where that is practicable. Hence the aspects of non-contentious evidence and pre-trial procedure can be improvements, but they are predicated on adequate resources being available. As ever, with this Government, that would leave a question mark over the proposals.
With regard to resources, I noticed that the Law Society of Scotland points out thata quantitative estimate of the general resource implications of many of these proposals is to be found in Chapter 14 of the Consultation Paper 'The Review of Criminal Evidence and Criminal Procedure'".Will the Government make available the information on which that estimate is based? Without the requisite resources, the hopes of the reforms will not be delivered. Will the Minister make clear the financial calculations on which the proposals are predicated?
My reservations are based on my wish to ensure justice and to protect the rights of any accused person to a fair trial. I am concerned about clause 10 and I ask the Government to think again about it. It would allow the fiscal to question an accused at the examination before the sheriff in such a way as to extract a confession of guilt. That transforms the judicial examination into a form of investigative hearing more akin to an inquisitional procedure. That strikes at the very heart of the existing Scottish system and would swing the balance very much against the accused. That is a fundamental sea change in the approach of Scots law.
Admissions at judicial examination would give more power to the prosecution to try to achieve an early conviction. That is part of the cost-cutting exercise implicit in the Bill. The measure would put unjust and undue pressure on the accused at a time when that person has had little or no time to consult the defence agent. That challenges the Scottish legal position of emphasis on the need for the prosecution to prove its case as opposed to the accused having to establish his or her innocence.
Although the pre-trial right to silence is not challenged in the Bill as yet, clause 10 opens the door for future movement in that direction. I am concerned that although the need for comprehensive legislation to tackle the criminal justice system has long been recognised, we have been presented with a piecemeal Bill. The consultation period ended a fortnight before publication of the Bill, leaving little time for the consideration and incorporation of changes influenced by the consultation process—and it shows.
Although some proposals, particularly those put forward by the Scottish Law Commission, make good practical sense, other measures such as clause 10 appear to be a trade-off of civilised justice provisions for cheap political ends, with the danger that no practical benefits will accrue either to the Treasury or to the public.
The Government's proposals will create some practical problems for the system. The already enormous pressures on procurators fiscal can only be exacerbated by the introduction of compulsory intermediate diets in all summary cases and the reintroduction of the failed 750 expedient of first diet in all solemn cases in the sheriff court. When those are added to the other proposed duties, which will also affect the defence, it will be obvious that less and less time will be available for the preparation of cases, which will lead to greater inefficiency and to potential injustice. I should like to hear the Minister address those practical problems.
The Scottish National party certainly welcomes the tightening up of the law regarding the granting of bail in serious cases, but it fears that the bail provisions generally are merely examples of tinkering with the system. If the Government go ahead with clause 10, I shall seek Law Society of Scotland safeguards, for example on the line of questioning which allows the right of the defence solicitor to object and the opportunity for the judge to interrupt, and for further detailed disclosure of the statement of facts and the line of inquiry being used by the prosecution at the judicial examination. I hope to hear the Minister talk about what safeguards will be available to the accused in such cases.
The Government must address the serious problem of the lack of time available for the defence at the time of a judicial inquiry. That matter cannot be glossed over, because it is a practical matter and it is essential to protect the right of the accused.
Clause 28, which relates to the right to silence, is an attack on civil liberties and again challenges the accusatorial nature of the Scottish criminal justice system. Various arms of the legal profession have stated that there is no need to change the right to silence provision, but the Government have ignored them in order to comply with the English law and order agenda.
Sentence discounting is plain injustice. I should like to hear the Minister try to justify it. The sentence should reflect the nature of the crime and the situation of the criminal, and it should not be conditioned by the time that the plea is made. There is an obvious attempt to save money by encouraging early pleading, but it challenges and undermines the basis of sentencing procedure. Why should the admission of guilt entitle a criminal to a lesser sentence than that for someone who exercises the right to go to trial? That suggests the Government's willingness to apply softer sentences to save money with early pleading.
The Government state that the legislation will be costneutral, but I question that. If the provisions, particularly those in respect of intermediate diets, are to work, there will need to be measures to alleviate overworked and understaffed procurator fiscal offices. In addition, the legal aid fund will be required to meet the increase in defence expenses which will result. How does the Minister plan to bolster the procurator fiscal staff and the legal aid fund?
I am concerned also that there is no mention of the rights of victims, although the consultation papers specifically refer to the need to provide for victims' needs. I ask the Minister to address that problem urgently.
There is no provision to address miscarriages of justice, even though, again, the need to address the appeal system in Scotland has long been recognised.
There is merit in many of the proposals to speed up the criminal justice system and make it more efficient. I welcome the proposals to reduce needless attendance at court by police and other witnesses—a much needed reform. I also welcome the fact that criminals will be 751 deprived of the proceeds of their crimes. Nevertheless, I register my extreme concern about major specific provisions, and I hope that the Minister will address them.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
From the day in 1974 when Nicky Fairbairn arrived in the House as the new hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross, and he told us that he was here entirely as a matter of the personal vote that he had got—he scraped in by the thinnest of majorities—he was a friend of mine. We never had a cross word between us. It has stretched our imaginations that it was entirely a matter of the personal vote that had got him here. We thought that it was less than likely that, in their thousands, Conservatives of Perthshire would have preferred to vote for Nicholas Fairbairn than for Sir Alec Douglas-Home.
Be that as it may, even though our imaginations were stretched to capacity, Nicky Fairbairn did many of us great personal kindnesses. I prefer to remember him not for the funny, the bizarre or the outrageous that have been the subject of many obituaries, but for his willingness to give legal advice in difficult personal cases. Many of my colleagues and contemporaries had to go to him for legal advice. His legal advice was often very sound and with great insight. At least three of my West Lothian constituents have considerable cause to be grateful not to me as their Member of Parliament but to Nicholas Fairbairn for the unstinting, free legal advice that he gave people regardless of party. For that and many other reasons, he will be unforgettable.
I ask the Minister to address the question that was posed by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). Why, on this occasion, is it not thought right to have evidence from, say, the Law Society, the Police Federation, the Glasgow Bar Association and many other bodies? The hon. and learned Gentleman is now the only Scottish lawyer among us—that used not to be the case—and many of us need instruction in such matters. Why have the Minister and the Secretary of State not used the opportunity to put into operation the new procedure by which the Committee—this is not a highly partisan measure—can be better informed on obviously difficult issues? I, for one, if I am selected to sit on the Committee, have no intention of stringing out matters, but there is an argument for some serious questioning, particularly of the police and the Law Society. I ask for a reply.
I ask the House to forgive me for raising a matter which might be considered to be a bit local, but, in Linlithgow and in Ayr, it really is extremely unsatisfactory that defence and prosecution witnesses are mixed up together in unsatisfactory buildings. Incidentally, I say as a local that there may be fire risks in the Linlithgow building. I do not say that lightly, because that is the opinion of lawyers as well as myself. In that case—it can be generalised—I ask that new facilities be provided outside my constituency. Hon. Members normally ask that a certain facility should go to the area that they represent. On this occasion, I am absolutely in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) that it would be much more sensible to concentrate the whole court procedure, lock stock and barrel, near the police in Livingston.
752 I know that Ministers will immediately say, "You are asking for more money; where are the resources to come from? You know very well how difficult the whole public expenditure issue is." But they themselves know that I met Jim Keegan, who represents solicitors in the entire Livingston-West Lothian area. Mr. Keegan suggested—expressing, I gather, the unanimous view of the colleagues on whose behalf he spoke—that there was a case for a new court building in Livingston.
A proposition for the financing of such a building by developers has been advanced. I do not wish to detain the House by giving the details, but the proposition should at least be considered. I understand that it is neutral in public expenditure terms, and would not call on Government finances. In fact, it would save a great deal of money: the developers speak of a distinguished building which, heaven knows, the new town could do with, and which could lessen a problem that bothers everyone, as the debate has shown—the squandering of police time. That could represent a considerable saving. At present, policemen are having to travel from Livingston to Linlithgow—incidentally, 90 per cent. of the difficulties occur in the south of the area, not in Linlithgow—and all that travelling time upsets police schedules.
The Lothian and Borders police F division has a civilised habit of inviting local Members of Parliament to lunch each January to talk over problems. I have discussed with them, in detail, the difficulties of police schedules and time off, and how difficult it is to deal with the fact that policemen may suddenly find that—regardless of their rotas—they must attend court. Hon. Members may not consider such practical problems to be the most momentous issue in the world, but they are extremely costly in practice. If the Minister cannot respond in his winding-up speech, I ask the Government at least to write to me about the specific issue of Livingston, possibly in the general context of the Bill's implications.
The Scottish Trades Union Congress has expressed its views on clause 12. Although its suggested amendment will be raised in Committee, I think it important enough to warrant mention now, so I shall set down a marker. The STUC wishes to insert the following words in the clause:In all cases, it shall be the duty of the prosecutor to make available to the accused all material relating to the charge or charges against the accused in the possession of the prosecutor; and such material shall include all statements, reports and productions in the possession of the prosecutor whether he intends to found upon them in the prosecution of the accused or not.In Scotland, the Crown can conceal evidence that could help to clear an accused person. In a Scottish appeal case heard in May 1990, Lord Cowie said:there is no obligation on the Crown to disclose any information in their possession which would tend to exculpate the accused".The Lord Advocate subsequently confirmed that the Crown was under no legal obligation to disclose information to the defence. He stated, however, thatthe overriding principle is that the Crown must always act in the interests of justice…The overall aim should be to ensure that the true facts of any case are laid before a judge or jury".In such an important matter, it is essential for there to be clear and binding rules. We cannot depend on that principle.
I did not raise that issue just because the STUC has raised it; it is at the forefront of my mind. A question that I have tabled, which will receive a written answer on Monday 6 March—question 13N—asks the Secretary of State for Scotland 753what consideration the Crown Office has given to its duty in law to consider and investigate any evidence which tends to exculpate the two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie crime; and if the Crown Office is complying with this legal obligation.This is not the occasion on which to go into the details of Lockerbie, but I have tabled a number of questions about it.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock Port Glasogw)
I have listened to my hon. Friend's views on that issue for many months. I feel that, given that the Minister for Health is to appear before the Scottish Grand Committee in the near future, he should be followed by the Lord Advocate. That would enable my hon. Friend and, indeed, others to ask such questions of him.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It is extremely desirable for others to ask such questions. We are talking not of a trivial matter, but of the biggest crime against civilians anywhere in the western world since 1945. Its consequences rumble on, affecting major matters of foreign policy in relation to north Africa—let alone the strong views of relatives of the Lockerbie victims. I must tell the Government that those relatives simply will not go away.
When I intervened on the Secretary of State to raise the final issue that I wish to raise in my speech, he told me that if I wanted to ask about the fatal accident inquiry set-up I could do so in Committee. I ask the Government now, however, to consider how such inquiries are viewed by those involved. I think that I have been very naive about the matter for a long time: although there have been constituency complaints, I have always taken the view that the fatal accident inquiry was designed to try to establish the truth. It has come home to me in recent weeks, however, that—in relation to that biggest crime since 1945—whatever else the inquiry was designed to do, it was hardly designed to elicit the truth. In fact, the best that could be said of the lawyers is that they thought it was their job, by hook or by crook, to obtain as much as they could in damages for their clients.
The Government's answers to questions suggest that they think that the fatal accident inquiry was a substitute for the public inquiry promised by Cecil Parkinson, then Secretary of State for Transport, to the British Lockerbie victims—in good faith, in my opinion, but on condition that his colleagues agreed. As we now know, one colleague did not agree. On 15 December, I asked the Prime Minister a question. The whole House laughed when I received no answer; it was a pretty sour, wry laugh, not a ha-ha laugh. I asked, "Why did she do it? Why did Mrs. Thatcher veto her own Transport Secretary?" After all, only one member of that Government was going to tell Cecil Parkinson what to do in relation to his own portfolio.
A question arises in regard to fatal accident inquiries. When a Minister, and only a Minister—a Transport Secretary, or the Prime Minister—is in a position to give certain information, is it right for there to be Speaker's exemption certificates? Only recently has the House become aware of public interest immunity certificates. I asked my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who has vast experience in these matters, whether he had ever heard of a Speaker's exemption certificate. In this context, he had not. Nor had I.
It is a matter of considerable public importance to ask what information was given to the then Speaker, now Lord Weatherill, and to the then Clerk of the House of 754 Commons on which to basehhe decision whether to give a Speaker's exemption certificate. We are getting into very delicate water in relation to fatal accident inquiries.
The dramatically important fatal accident inquiry into Lockerbie raises the deepest questions of ethics on behalf of the counsel, who in this case were paid by the Government. I want to know why Brian Gill reached a stage at which he told Rev. John Mosey, the father of Helga Mosey who perished at Lockerbie, that he would no longer act for him if Mr. Mosey went on asking—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
Order. The actions of counsel in an inquiry of the nature to which the hon. Gentleman refers go a little beyond the scope of the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that and return to the Bill.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It is difficult to ask questions about the actions of counsel, but some of us are profoundly dissatisfied because the matter goes so far as a counsel threatening his client that he will sue him. Dr. Jim Swire is a medical doctor—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying from the Bill in discussing the actions of counsel. If his comments relate to the general principles of the Bill, the hon. Gentleman's comments are acceptable, but to go into the actions of counsel is straying from the Bill.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am always obedient to the Chair, but the matter raises deep questions of the ethics of fatal accident inquiries. I do not want to transgress and go out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I put it to you that the Secretary of State has invited me in the debate on the Bill to raise the issue of fatal accident inquiries. I do not know where else in Commons procedure one does it. The matter is certainly relevant to criminal justice. If people think that fatal accident inquiries are a fiasco geared simply to money rather than to the truth, our criminal justice set-up is in the deepest water.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I see that you are becoming just a little concerned that I am going too far. I give notice that if I am selected to serve on the Committee which considers the Bill, I will raise the whole question of fatal accident inquiries and what happened, as an example, at the major inquiry on Lockerbie. No fatal accident inquiry in Scottish law was more important than the Lockerbie inquiry. All aspects of it, including the extraordinary behaviour of counsel to clients, are a matter of legitimate parliamentary concern.
§ Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)
I, too, commence by making my own tribute to Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. As a new Member of Parliament, it was quite an experience for me to see Sir Nicholas in action in this Chamber and in Committees. One never knew precisely what he was about to say, but one always recognised that he had deep knowledge; that knowledge could have been put to so much better use for people over the years. I am particularly sad at what I consider to be his early demise. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) suggested, he was a kind individual in his own way. He was certainly kind to new Members. Perhaps I knew Sir Nicholas better in the past as someone within my party organisation who came to speak at constituency functions.
755 He was always a very popular speaker. His presentation of any case was tremendous; that was proved in the courts as well as in this place.
I apologise for missing the opening speeches in the debate. As the House may know, I am involved with the armed services parliamentary scheme. A project on that was scheduled for today. I regretted that I was not able to change the schedule when the Bill was placed on the Order Paper. I had not expected that debate on the Bill would come up so quickly, given that we are currently debating the Children (Scotland) Bill in Committee. Nevertheless, I welcome this Bill because it shows the Government's commitment to law and order issues and to doing something about a situation that has been unacceptable in recent times.
I ask the hon. Member for Linlithgow to clarify one point. He seemed to suggest that we should have an investigatory sitting at the beginning of the Committee stage similar to the exercise that we have undertaken on the Children (Scotland) Bill. I believe that that does not require a change in the rules. That facility has always existed. I would be surprised if now every new Scottish Bill had to go through that process. It seems to me that organisations such as the Law Society of Scotland will not be slow in coming forward to give advice to all Members of Parliament as we enter the Committee stage. I am sure that all Members of Parliament will welcome any input from it.
§ Dr. Godman
The hon. Gentleman will surely acknowledge that the Special Standing Committee which considered the Children (Scotland) Bill gained a great deal of useful information from those who gave oral evidence at its sittings in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The hon. Gentleman is right about Special Standing Committees. For example, that quinquennial legislative event, the Armed Forces Bill, by custom and practice is always considered by a Special Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Gallie
I thank the hon. Gentleman. He is much more experienced than me. I accept his statement that the establishment of a Special Standing Committee is not an unusual practice. I was suggesting that it should not be the practice for every Bill that comes before the House. I query the need for a Special Standing Committee on the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, but I leave that to others. I should have no objection if that line were ultimately adopted.
§ Mr. Dalyell
May I respond to the direct question which the hon. Gentleman put to me? I offer a carrot to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton). We were both members of the Committee that considered the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill—that absurd and ridiculous measure, which is becoming more ridiculous, expensive and absurd every day. Had evidence been taken from local government officials and other people, the Under-Secretary would have found that the long hours that others and I spent legitimately and properly reading out briefs from them—because we had to—could have been shortened. If the Government's objective is to spend fewer 756 rather than more hours in Committee, it might be wise to have the hearings at the beginning of the Committee stage. That is an attractive carrot, is it not?
§ Mr. Gallie
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that considerable intervention. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State needs any carrots when he deals with the Bill. I am sure that he will have plenty of information stacked up in his head and in the briefings that he has already brought together on the Bill.
I turn my attention to the position of the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). Recently, I have welcomed some of his hard words on law and order. It seemed to me that, at long last, someone in the Labour party was coming to terms with the requirement to put law and order at the top of the agenda and, on that basis, I compliment him.
Having said that, however, I am totally disappointed with the Opposition's reasoned amendment, which bears the name of the hon. Member for Dumbarton, among others. I should have thought that he would welcome the Bill with open arms. He might not agree with every item in it, but that is why we have Standing Committees. I am sure that he has always found that the Government have had a responsive ear when he and I have pressed them on certain issues. If the Bill is given a Second Reading and gets to Committee, we will have provided a great opportunity to help people in Scotland, but what have we got from the hon. Gentleman? A negative and inaccurate amendment.
The amendment is inaccurate because, as I understand it, there has been an improvement in the crime figures in Scotland during the past year or two. I welcome that improvement and I should have thought that the hon. Member for Dumbarton would do so, too. For example, during the past year recorded crime fell by 8 per cent.— a fall for the second year running—and the clear-up rate increased by 2 per cent. to 34 per cent. Those figures show that the amendment is inaccurate.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
From reading the newspapers at the weekend, I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a particular interest in drug-related crime. Perhaps he will comment on the fact that the figures for the category that includes such crimes went up by 7 per cent., the figures for the category that includes vandalism and fire raising were up by 5 per cent. and those for crimes of violence were up by 2 per cent. in the last year for which statistics are available.
§ Mr. Gallie
I acknowledge that drug-related offences have increased considerably, which I very much regret, but that problem is not unique to Scotland. It is a part of the scene world wide, it is spreading and we must deal with it urgently in the short term. That does not mean that there has not been an improvement in crime overall and in aspects of crime that concerned us greatly about three years ago, such as house breaking, and in serious violent crime. The Opposition amendment does us great discredit by not acknowledging those improvements. Once again, I must record my disappointment that the hon. Member for Dumbarton has not decided to put his money where his mouth has been by giving the Bill full backing on Second Reading, albeit while accepting that there might be much debate and argument thereafter.
Although there has been an improvement, I do not believe that all is right with the criminal justice system. I ask the hon. Member for Dumbarton to cast his mind back 757 to a conference that the Law Society of Scotland set up in Edinburgh just over a year ago. The conference seemed to be self-congratulatory. It included Government spokesmen as well as spokesmen from the bench—there were judges, lawyers, Queen's counsel and advocates, who seemed to believe that all was well with our criminal justice system in Scotland. When one speaks to people in the street, one realises that that is not the case, which brings me back to the reason why we must get the Bill into Committee and get the debate under way urgently.
I applaud a recent survey that suggests that people are more satisfied with solicitors. The other day, a straw poll suggested an 85 per cent. satisfaction level, which is a massive step forward. I congratulate solicitors on achieving such a performance, even though the manner in which the poll was presented and the accuracy of the data beg some scrutiny. The poll shows, however, that the Scottish legal service is getting to grips with some of the issues.
Some of the disillusionment might be due to the fact that people feel that the procurator service does not give full value for money. Perhaps that is an unfair judgment. I feel that the service should explain why certain cases are not taken forward. Having had discussions with the Lord Advocate and the legal fraternity, I recognise some of the reasons why the procurator cannot always explain the thinking behind the decision, but I recognise that when that decision has passed into the public domain it leaves questions that may never be answered in the public's mind and give rise to disquiet.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
My hon. Friend will be aware of the disquiet that always exists about prosecutions. In my constituency recently, there was a case in which burglars were caught red-handed in the act, but were not prosecuted. Naturally, that caused great concern, especially to the people who had apprehended the burglars, at some risk to themselves.
§ Mr. Gallie
Such a situation brings the law into disrepute. I am sure that my hon. Friend cannot justify to his constituents why that should have happened. He and I know that we cannot obtain that sort of information for our constituents, and I thank him for mentioning that case as it helps me to expand my argument. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will give that matter some thought, although I recognise all the difficulties.
Another difficulty is the perceived inconsistency in sentencing. Some clauses seem to deal with that problem. If we can provide some consistency, through guidance to judges and sheriffs, it will do much to improve the attitude of the public to the criminal law and the criminal justice system in Scotland. It is vital that we keep the public on side. Recently, there was a terrible case in Edinburgh when a man lost his life. It appears that it was taken by other residents in his block of flats. He was a child molester. There had been signs of discontent and it seems that the residents took the law into their own hands. That is what I read in the newspapers, in the Edinburgh Evening News, and that is my judgment from reading the newspaper articles. That is the sort of situation that we must guard against. People need to feel comfortable with the law and feel that it stands for justice. We must ensure that inconsistencies and illogicalities in sentencing do not occur.
758 I am especially pleased with the aspects of the Bill that deal with bail. At long last, it seems that the court system will display some sense as far as bail is concerned. I have described instances of people committing four or five offences and being given bail time and time again—in the case to which I refer, held only on remand after the fourth or fifth offence—which brings the law into disrepute and greatly concerns the people at large.
I must register some disquiet about the wording of clause 3, however, which suggests that bail should not be considered if someone has committed an offence while on bail. To commit an offence while on bail suggests that an individual has been proved guilty of that offence. It would be better to change the wording to suggest that, if an individual has been charged with a further offence, rather than has "committed" a further offence, for a second time, he has then offended against bail and, at that point, bail should no longer be allowed.
The Government have introduced many measures to improve matters. Strathclyde police's Operation Blade and the Government support for the Carrying of Knives etc. (Scotland) Act 1993 have helped in recent times. The Government took a great step forward in improving law and order—I take some pride in it—when they gave the prosecutor the right to appeal against perceived lenient sentences. The measure was first promised in our 1992 manifesto and it was commendable that the Government delivered it in 1993.
I am not sure, however, that I agree totally with the legislation on criminal procedure and punishment. I remind my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that we introduced a measure that allowed anyone sentenced to up to four years in prison to have his or her sentence automatically reduced by 50 per cent.; thus, a four-year sentence became a two-year sentence and a three-year sentence became an 18-month sentence. I do not think that the public signed on to that one. I recall mentioning that problem in Committee, but no one else on the Committee backed me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] It was a shame. I expected better from Opposition Members, but their support was not forthcoming. At that time, I suggested to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that I could have accepted the measure, had the remission been earned. If an individual in prison has behaved well, it may be right to release him or her half way through the sentence, but I did not like the automatic aspect. Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary bear that in mind for the future, even if the matter cannot be dealt with in the Bill'?
I am also concerned about juvenile crime, which is creating great havoc, particularly on housing estates where vandalism and under-age drinking are rife. Perhaps those matters could be dealt with in the Children (Scotland) Bill; they certainly do not seem to have been addressed in this Bill. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary may contradict me and say that there is scope to do so in clause 62; if so, I would welcome that.
Another serious omission from the Bill is a measure to combat child alcohol abuse. It is an offence for someone under the age of 18 to buy alcohol, but it is not an offence. for a child to obtain alcohol and to drink it at home or in the street. Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary discuss that matter with me later to see whether we can table an amendment to cover that problem? The issue is important to many of my constituents and, I am sure, those of my hon.
759 Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson). I am sure that the problem exists also in Dundee, Midlothian and Paisley.
§ Mr. McMaster
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the problem of young people drinking in public places. The problem goes back a long way. When I was a councillor, I encouraged an application for a byelaw against that, but each time I ask the Government whether they will do something about it, I am told that local authorities can apply to introduce byelaws. I would prefer the Government to take the action that the hon. Gentleman suggests.
§ Mr. Gallie
The hon. Gentleman's comments were fair and he gave an honest reading of the current position. The Government have looked to local authorities to use their powers, but many local authorities have failed to take the opportunity to demonstrate to the Government the need to take the matter further and amend the law. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is listening to me tonight and saying, "By jove, that is a jolly good idea. I shall have a word with my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr later and see what we can do about that."
§ Mr. Bill Walker
My hon. Friend may be aware that I took up that matter during the passage of an earlier Bill and the Government assured me that any efforts made, for instance, by Perth and Kinross or Angus district councils to introduce byelaws would be looked on favourably.
§ Mr. Gallie
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was not aware of any arrangements that he had made with the Government. Perhaps he and I can have a chat after the debate and see whether we can find a way to take that matter forward.
§ Mr. McFall
The hon. Gentleman makes a positive point about drinking and young people. He may be aware that, on Friday, I launched an under-age drinking scheme—the proof of age card scheme—in Dumbarton and, if the hon. Gentleman proposes an amendment on that matter, the Opposition would be delighted to support it. The fact that young people can buy alcohol in supermarkets is a problem, and respectable supermarkets sell drinks like TNT. Cannot we sit down in a positive and constructive way and table amendments to the Bill? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's influence with the Government could hear fruit in this case.
§ Mr. Gallie
I am not sure whether I have that much influence. None the less, I shall press my hon. Friends to introduce an identity card, which would solve the problem of under-age drinking as well as a range of other problems. Will the Opposition join me in putting pressure 760 on my hon. Friends to introduce a compulsory rather than voluntary identity card? If the hon. Gentleman would care to rise and back me on that, I would welcome it.
§ Mr. Gallie
I am very disappointed in the hon. Gentleman's response. This is an opportunity to achieve what the hon. Gentleman wants, but he stays in his seat and shakes his head. I am disappointed but not surprised.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) discussed the age of consent. I cannot understand how he concluded that there is an overall feeling in the House that we should again reduce the age of consent for consenting males. We voted on that issue not long ago and the motion was negatived. I should have thought that the matter was now over and done with and I do not see why the matter should be injected into the Bill. I acknowledge that it is almost impossible to enforce the law with regard to young boys who carry out such acts behind closed doors. At the same time, it is equally hard through recourse to the law to prevent girls of 14 or 15 from having intercourse. That law is, however, a deterrent and a standard. I do not want standards on the issue to be dropped any further. I should like to think that no one will waste the Committee's time by tabling such an amendment.
I understand that the Bill is also designed to introduce further changes to aggravated trespass. I would like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to clarify current Scottish law relating to that offence. When we passed the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, I understood that the clause relating to aggravated trespass would also affect Scottish law. I would be disappointed to hear that that was not the case. I am currently trying to persuade the chief constable of Strathclyde region to use that law to deal with events arising from the M77 extension. That legal route has been cleared by the Government and by Strathclyde regional council through democratic means. That work is now being held up and people are unable to do their daily jobs and are prevented from carrying out their honest efforts by others who have no right to occupy the site. The law of aggravated trespass could be used against those people. I had thought that it had already been incorporated into our law and I should like some reassurance on that from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.
I am sure that all hon. Members would like to welcome many of the provisions in the Bill, but I believe that the proposed changes to the intermediate diet procedure are the key ones. The amount of police time wasted in our courts is criminal. We are always shouting for more resources and more police on the streets. The extended use of the intermediate diet procedure will put policemen back on to the streets and it will save time. Those changes will benefit not only police officers but, more important, people with other jobs, who may otherwise be called to court on occasion up to four times, only to learn that the case has not been brought up. That delay means that those people have lost time at work, their employers have lost the use of their resources and everyone has been inconvenienced. That is not good enough. The extended use of the intermediate diet will certainly help to overcome that problem.
The list of welcome items in the Bill is endless. I notice that it is intended to give the courts the power to forfeit assets gained as a result of criminal activity. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) 761 spoke about the drug scene—I believe that forfeiture represents a major means of tackling it. The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs spent considerable time considering the use of that power, for example, in America and the benefits that resulted from it. We called for the legislation governing forfeiture to be strengthened. Our call appears to have been answered by the Bill and I compliment my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on that.
I should like to draw attention to a recent decision by the European Court of Justice challenging the existing legislation on forfeiture, which is applied in the English courts. I understand that the court made that challenge on a technicality, because the English court had acted retrospectively. I appreciate that the European Court of Justice may have acted logically in that case, but I should hate to think that, at some future date, it will have any right to step in and criticise provisions relating to the forfeiture of assets contained in the Bill, once enacted.
I spoke earlier about sentencing inconsistencies. I understand that provision will be made in the Bill to develop sentencing guidelines, which would be most welcome. Other welcome clauses are also designed to attempt, once again, to stem computer pornography. That would be popular with those in Scotland who are extremely concerned for young people. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will also consider legislating against those who make and sell obscene videos. That problem deserves proper scrutiny. Any steps that the Government took to tighten the law on obscenity would be warmly welcomed by the Scottish public.
I am greatly encouraged by the powers offered to the police to stop and search vehicles, which will help in the fight against terrorism. I hope that the need for that fight has diminished greatly, given recent developments in Northern Ireland, but one never knows what will happen. It is therefore worth while for those police powers to be included in the Bill.
The Opposition may cry out about law and order, but I have looked through the reports in Hansard and it is clear that every time there has been a proposal to increase the police's powers to stop and search, the Opposition have voted against it.
§ Mr. McMaster
The Opposition have always defended civil rights. The hon. Gentleman should recall that when he introduced the Carrying of Knives etc. (Scotland) Bill, we offered support to ensure that, without any loss of civil liberties by the majority, those carrying knives were arrested.
§ Mr. Gallie
I welcomed the support that the Opposition gave my Bill.
When we talk about civil liberties, we get down to the heart of criminal justice. My idea of civil liberties is that people should be able to live in their homes, free of concern and children should be able to go about the streets without their mothers panicking when they have been out of their sight for more than half an hour. Those are the kind of civil liberties that we must defend.
People should enjoy quality lives by being assured that those people who are prepared to break the law and create misery for others are properly dealt with. I believe that the Bill will certainly do that, which is why I commend it. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, once again, on introducing it so expeditiously.
§ 8.7 pm
§ Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian)
I should like to take this opportunity to add my comments to those of my colleagues about the late Nicky Fairbairn. This is the first opportunity that I have had in the House to say that I considered him a friend.
In the short time that I have been in the House, Nicky Fairbairn helped me and a constituent, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), with extremely useful legal advice. He went out of his way to help us and that is the side of him that I should like to remember. I should also like to remember the entertaining and witty exchanges that we had on some visits together.
I was complimented by Nicky Fairbairn on two occasions. First, he wrote to me and said that I had made a visit to Brussels "tolerable". I do not know what he meant by that. On another occasion, he told me that he was writing a book and that he had written a chapter all about me. I said that if he said anything nice, I would sue him. He appreciated that very much. I shall certainly miss him very dearly, and I am sure that I am voicing the opinion of many hon. Members here. He was a good, very interesting, intelligent and extremely witty person, and above all a very kind person.
I wish to give my, I hope, constructive support to the law and order measure before us. I say to the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), that Opposition Members have a responsibility to be constructive in the debate. I should like improvements to be made in the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman realises that we are not voting against the Bill; on the contrary, we are voting for our amendment.
I have with me, and shall quote from, the Scottish Trades Union Congress document that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow. I agree with what it says, and it is constructive, in my opinion:The contents of the Bill will not improve the delivery of justice in Scotland. Certain important matters have been ignored such as the underfunding of the Procurators Fiscal Service in Scotland, the need to balance the scales of justice so that the defence as well as the prosecution can properly prepare its case and that victims should have enforceable rights.Additionally, the cumulative effect of the Bill is '… expected lo be broadly cost neutral with the possibility of some overall net savings in the longer term.' The watchers of and the practitioners in the criminal justice system agree that more money is required to prosecute cases. Any reform which ignores this fundamental problem cannot be successful.Some clauses place an additional burden on the over-stretched Procurators Fiscal Service. Clause 10 which further limits the right to silence, imposes a duty on the prosecutor to investigate 'to such extent as is reasonably practicable, of any ostensible defence disclosed in the course of the examination'. On the surface this may seem to compensate for the attack on the right to silence but as the Procurators Fiscal Office is so over-stretched, any investigation of an 'ostensible defence' may be minimal.When we talk to our friends in the police force, we find that one of the most damning things about the behaviour of the procurator fiscal—I hope that the Minister is listening to me—is the dropping of cases. The police go to the lengths of devoting hours, days sometimes, even weeks, to sorting out a case, assembling the evidence and finding witnesses, and hand in the papers to the procurator fiscal's office, only to discover that the case has been dropped, with no reason given, logical or otherwise.
763 Sometimes there are many months of delay between the time when the papers are given to the procurator fiscal and the time when the case is dropped. Witnesses and even victims are sometimes not even informed that the case has been dropped. Justice is ignored in those circumstances. Police time is wasted, and the opinion of the police is obviously ignored, from senior level down to the constable or the person who made the arrest. That problem is part and parcel of the problem of the procurator fiscal service being overloaded and undermanned.
Justice falls victim to another practice—plea bargaining. Plea bargaining obviously means that the person concerned can pick and choose the charges that he agrees he has committed. That is done for the sake of an easy way out and for simplicity, to ensure some movement and to get rid of a problem in the procurator fiscal service, in the opinion of others. Is that justice? Is that the way to deal with it?
What is the result? Morale is low among the police and others involved. Witnesses are amazed. They cannot and do not know what has happened, and the result is cynicism. The question even occurs to them: why try? The reason for that problem boils down to undermanning and underfunding.
I cannot understand why, when decisions are taken in the Crown Office, it need explain to no one, not even to a Member of Parliament—and I have tried. I have written to ask why the Crown Office reached a certain conclusion and why it dropped a case or made a comment, and I have received no explanation. The Crown Office merely quotes the legislation, which provides that it does not need to reply.
I know that the referees in the Scottish Football Association have a great deal of explaining to do because, especially when my team is playing, I do not know what they are doing half the time, and I do not know that they know what they are doing half the time, but I know that they are certainly biased against me.
§ Mr. Clarke
Yes, every time. The referees are all oriented towards Glasgow teams. I know that. Everyone knows that in Scotland.
Seriously, I am talking about a different matter. I am talking about people making decisions or deciding not to follow through a case, and saying confidently, "We need explain to no one." I thought, innocently or ignorantly, in my official position as a Member of Parliament, that I could get answers to my questions from the Crown Office, but I asked to no avail.
§ Mr. McMaster
Does my hon. Friend believe that at least part of the reason for that might be that the Lord Advocate is a Member of the other place and the Solicitor-General is a Member of neither House? In the Scottish Grand Committee, we have been told that although we can question the Minister of State, we cannot question the Law Officers. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) points at 764 the Minister. There is a very important difference between a Minister and a Law Officer. That is why we should be able to question the Law Officers.
§ Mr. Clarke
If my hon. Friend does not mind, I shall let him in in a minute.
I agree broadly with my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster). I hope that the Minister, because I hope that he has faith in the Scottish Opposition's work, will try to negotiate innovations in the Grand Committee so that we may have the opportunity of bringing those officers before us, and in a friendly manner grill them in the usual way.
§ Mr. Graham
My hon. Friend should be aware that several Members of Parliament in Scotland have written to the Lord Advocate about serious matters that constituents have drawn to their attention, especially in relation to some cases that have gone ahead and others that have not gone ahead. The replies that we have received are so cryptic as to be meaningless. They are basically telling us, "Keep out of our business; that is the end of it; no more." I find it appalling that Members of Parliament do not receive a full explanation.
§ Mr. Clarke
I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that the Minister takes notice of that, because there is a genuine, sincere feeling among many people who are law officers that no reasonable or even logical explanation is given of why those cases are dropped.
§ Mr. Gallie
I think that the difficulty goes deeper than the argument that was made by the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster).
Every Member of the House can make representations to the Lord Advocate, and I would suggest that each Member who has those anxieties should do so and have a conversation with the Lord Advocate about the matter. If one were to release details of every case that was not brought to law, it would bring into question the actions of both the perhaps guilty and the not guilty—the innocent victims. It would set a precedent that could well rebound against many other people.
I have the same unease as the hon. Gentleman; I made those arguments in my speech, but there is a balance to be found somewhere and it is not as simple as the hon. Member for Paisley, South suggested.
§ Mr. Clarke
I accept that it is not a simple position. I have carried out the wishes of the hon. Gentleman and written to the highest officer in the courts in Scotland, but to no avail. I received an explanation, but it was not satisfactory. I am sure that I am voicing the opinion of the majority of hon. Members present. I am not saying that there should be open house and that, on each occasion, we should be told. But it is not right for Law Officers to say merely that it is the law, that is as far as they are prepared to go and they are not accountable to anyone. I do not know whether they are accountable to Ministers—I suppose that they are in a roundabout way, and give them a nod and a wink.
765 The hon. Member for Ayr mentioned juvenile crime. I am amazed that someone should come to the conclusion that unemployment and poverty equals crime. I have known that all my life. I think that, even without an inquiry, all Opposition Members know that such circumstances obviously bring an increase in crime. If those circumstances are combined with drug addiction—the hon. Gentleman is aware that we investigated that problem in Scotland through the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs—it creates a hopeless situation. In addition, there are the problems of homelessness, inadequate jobs and an inadequate future. In such circumstances, people drown their sorrows in drugs and drink.
Scotland is no different from anywhere else. I liked the comment of the hon. Member for Ayr that it was a worldwide affair. Of course, it is, but we are not in the United Nations, but in the United Kingdom Parliament at Westminster. We are looking after the interests of the people in Scotland and debating that subject. We cannot hide behind the crime statistics of other parts of the world. The problem is on our doorstep and we do not need to go to the United States, although it was useful to study the problems there and in Holland.
When we talk about crime and justice, we must also talk about the environment of those whom we represent, particularly in Scotland. Without adequate housing or jobs or an improved environment, we cannot expect anything other than an increase in crime.
I want a police force that is adequately manned, and given the right equipment and opportunities. But there is an alternative to gaol. There has been no mention of a halfway-house system and greater supervision of petty offenders. Many people who are in gaol should not be there and could be in a halfway house where they could be supervised. Many prisoners are mentally ill and should not be in gaol. The people who run such institutions tell us that. We have an inadequate social service in our communities.
§ Mr. Gallie
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the mentally ill. Is it not the case that the Bill contains a clause to address that issue? That is another reason why the hon. Gentleman should join us in the Lobby tonight and stand wholeheartedly behind the Bill.
§ Mr. Clarke
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, but I think that he misunderstands what I am saying. The Bill contains clauses about people who are declared criminally insane. I am talking about people who, due to inadequacies in the system, commit petty crimes and wander the streets, due to the so-called policy of bringing people into the community, without supervision and back-up. The hon. Gentleman should not shake his head—he should go to the prisons and ask how many prisoners are mentally ill. He will be told that, on average, up to one third of prisoners are mentally ill. I am talking not about those who are criminally violent. but about those who are utterly confused, and who should not be in such an institution, but in another one. We would help the authorities by looking after those people properly. That is just one aspect of our criminal justice system.
We cannot ignore the social consequences of our criminal justice system and say that we must have a good criminal justice Bill. I should like harder sentences for some offenders. We must analyse the background and the position. It is easy to judge people from afar. The worst 766 judges are those who are not even present in court, but who comment on specific items. A case may take three or four days, but a decision on whether a person is guilty or not guilty may take five minutes.
The Bill partly achieves what we want, but we also want amendments and improvements which, I hope, will be constructive. I hope that we can achieve something of which we can be proud. The Bill contains many anomalies, which have been stated not only by me, but by those involved in the justice system on a daily basis.
We cannot expect the procurator fiscal service to deal with people equally or fairly if it has inadequate funding and is inadequately manned. We only waste police time by presenting the procurator fiscal service with cases that it has to push to one side because it does not have the time to deal with them. The morale of the police, of others handling the cases and of those who are prepared to act as witnesses leaves much to be desired. I hope that, even if the Minister takes none of my other points on board, he will address that one.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I offer my apologies to right hon. and hon. Members for not being present earlier in the debate. My wife was taken ill, and she and I had to spend four hours at Bart's hospital this afternoon. I believe that the message was given to the Minister earlier and to my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench.
Although I paid tribute to Nicky Fairbairn in Friday's European debate, it would be remiss of me not to mention him in my first Scottish debate since his tragically early death. I echo the fine tributes paid to him and add that he always treated me in an extremely civilised and friendly way, even when diametrically opposing my views.
The aim of the legislation is to put more criminals behind bars. I have no objection to that objective provided that such people are convicted in fair and open court proceedings. I disagree with the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie)—the Bill should be consigned to a Special Standing Committee. Not all our Bills should go to such a Special Standing Committee, but it seems likely that, at most, only two members of the Standing Committee considering the Bill will be lawyers: the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), and the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). I shall not be on the Committee, but I think that those without legal training could benefit enormously from being able to cross-examine witnesses at the four sittings of a Special Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Gallie
I am thinking back on my limited time as a Member of Parliament and to my knowledge that the Committee considering the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill contained no accountants—
§ Mr. Gallie
There were neither bankrupts nor accountants nor insolvency practitioners, but we still managed to debate the Bill for many hours and to obtain advice from elsewhere. It was the same with criminal proceedings and punishment—although perhaps we could 767 have done with some help in that area. I do not think that we should open the floodgates and automatically consign every Bill to a Special Standing Committee.
§ Dr. Godman
Despite the brilliant intervention by the hon. Member for Ayr, I still disagree. We do not have a Scottish Law Officer—the last one was Mr. Peter Fraser from south Angus, who departed this place in 1987. That is to be regretted in the context of all kinds of legislation that must be scrutinised. I hope that the Minister will agree with my suggestion that the Scottish Grand Committee be given the opportunity to cross-examine the Lord Advocate on a wide range of measures relating to Scottish courts and our legal system. Lord Fraser is to appear before the Committee, so why should not the premier Law Officer from the other place do likewise?
Those who are convicted in the sheriff court or the High Court of violent crimes against the individual should receive condign punishment. I have said that often in this place and during the meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee. Many years ago I served as a military policeman and I saw at first hand the shocking injuries that were inflicted on defenceless women, youngsters and others innocently going about their business.
More recently, as a member of a local prison committee I often interviewed prisoners who were being assessed for release under licence and I felt that some of them had received light sentences in the sheriff court or the High Court. At Saughton in Edinburgh I was regarded by other committee members as something of a hard man because I frequently recommended that the people whom I interviewed should remain in prison for a considerably longer time.
I remember interviewing, over a period of three months, two men who were members of a much bigger gang which ran explosives to Northern Ireland for an extremist group. Thanks to very fine police work, they were caught but I believe that they did not receive sufficient punishment for the dreadful crimes that they were aiding and abetting by running explosives and weaponry to Northern Ireland.
I have no doubt that many of my constituents will welcome the Bill's measures because they are deeply concerned about the violent crimes that have been committed locally. I recently spoke with a fellow ex-shipwright who is now in his seventies. He was known locally as a hard man in his younger days, but he told me that he did not like to go out at night because of the violent characters who roamed around and with whom he could no longer contend. Many elderly people turn up early to my surgeries, which start at 4 pm on Friday, so that they can be safe and secure at home before dark. That is a disgraceful state of affairs.
I refer the Minister to a case which was reported last week in the Greenock Telegraph under the headline "Sex fiend sent to Carstairs". Last August a young man abducted two women in the car park of the Tesco supermarket in Greenock and forced them to drive him to a wooded area near Kilmacolm where he subjected them to an unspeakable ordeal. My young violent constituent was sent to Carstairs. Last Thursday, Lord Ross, the Lord Justice-General, said that he was satisfied thatgrounds had been made for a hospital order without time limit".768 In the context of the Bill and extant legislation, I ask the Minister: when such a person is consigned to Carstairs, can he be released within a relatively short time if the appropriate medical practitioners deem that he is sane enough to take his place in the community? What does the phrase "without time limit" mean? The act of violence that I have described frightened many of my female constituents of all ages. Is Lord Ross accurate when he says that the sentence is "without time limit" or, following detailed examinations of the young man in three or four years, could three consultant psychiatrists recommend to the Secretary of State that he be released? I believe that a person convicted of crimes of that nature must receive condign punishment. I sometimes despair of our sheriffs and judges who allow people off lightly and I wonder whether the legislation will tighten up the system.
I have not forgotten the case of the young marine in Arbroath who killed his wife and child—the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) will know the details of that case better than I do. Following a trial in the High Court, that young man was released and, when he tried to emigrate to Canada, the Canadian authorities, quite rightly, denied him entry.
Important measures must be taken to deal with bail, but I believe that clauses 1 to 5 should be scrutinised rigorously in Committee. Too many people commit further crimes while on bail and we must tighten up the provisions in that area. If I were a member of the Standing Committee examining the Bill—I hope to escape such service—I would look at that aspect very closely.
The Bill deals sensibly with juries, but I have some reservations—I must be careful about what I say as I recently escaped jury duty on the ground that I am a Member of Parliament. I believe that juries should comprise 15 good men and women.
Clause 15, which refers to the delay in trial proceedings, makes sense. I wonder whether there is a chance to extend that provision to the Republic of Ireland, although I suppose that that would require some international agreement. It constitutes a bolthole for some people and I imagine that it did not feature in the negotiations surrounding the framework document.
I thought initially that some radical measures would be introduced on the protection of complainers in rape cases. However, the legislation refers to "clandestine injuries". Clause 24 states:Clause 24 adds clandestine injury and offences under 2B, 2C and 7 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 1976 to the sexual offences which attract special restrictions on questioning as to the sexual history or character of a witness".That phrase is a little high flown—or, as I would say, a little fly blown. As the Minister knows, I have worked to improve the protection given to complainers in rape cases. There is still a good deal of trawling through a woman's sexual history, but perhaps the Minister will repudiate that statement when he speaks. I am deeply disappointed that the Government obdurately refuse to give complainers in rape cases more protection.
§ Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)
Does my hon. Friend agree that clause 28 is the most important part of the Bill? Whoever drafted the Bill cleverly sought two approaches, because clauses 10 and 28 go together. It is probably hoped that clause 10 will be accepted while clause 28 is rejected, but they are really the same. Lawyers are used because their clients feel themselves to 769 be inarticulate and would be better represented by a legal mind. That is one reason why both clauses 10 and 28 should remain.
§ Dr. Godman
If my hon. Friend is fortunate to serve as a member of the Committee, he may find it worth while to read the excellent speech of Lord McCluskey in the other place who made interesting observations about those clauses.
I have long argued that complainers in rape cases should he treated as vulnerable witnesses. I say that despite the publicity that attached to a rape case in England that ended last week. Women are subjected to offensive questioning in the witness box. The threat of criminal proceedings deters many women from making a complaint. We do not know how many rapes are committed each year in Scotland or elsewhere.
I readily concede that advances have been made by the courts and police. Strathclyde and other forces have family units, where rape victims are treated a damned sight more sympathetically than in the days when they were left in the clutches of some insensitive police surgeons. Nevertheless, much more could be done.
Some years ago, I tabled in Committee a new clause to a Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill. Had it been accepted, it would have put a stop to all trawling through a complainer's sexual history. A curious combination of Nicky Fairbairn and the then Solicitor-General, Mr. Peter Fraser, demolished my case, to the satisfaction of Conservative Members.
The concept of a vulnerable witness should extend further than children. I know that the Minister, who paid me a compliment not so long ago, played a part in the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993, which give enhanced protection to child witnesses in sexual and child abuse cases. Section 34 concerns the use of screens to conceal the witness—which, to be honest, is not very effective in most courts. Section 33(1) introduced a commissioner to take the evidence of the child. I offer my respects and compliments to the Minister for that radical measure.
I would like such protection to extend beyond youngsters caught up in terrible circumstances. Why do the Government continue to refuse similar protection to people with learning disabilities? I regularly visit a centre in my constituency, but some of the young fellows there cannot face meeting strangers and will hide when someone enters the room—especially if he has a deep voice like mine. Such cases are rare, but a witness with learning difficulties should be given the same protection as a youngster who has been sexually or physically abused or criminally neglected.
§ Mr. McFall
Under clause 10, an individual would have to undergo judicial examination 24 to 48 hours after an offence. He or she may ask a lawyer for advice, but the lawyer cannot make representations. Would not that mitigate against a fair trial for individuals with special needs?
§ Dr. Godman
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intelligent intervention. I sound like my hon. Friend—a deputy head teacher. Clause 10 should be amended in that respect. I would like a new clause, or clause 24 extended to broaden the concept of a vulnerable witness to women 770 complainers in rape cases and to men and women with learning disabilities. They too should be spared the ordeal of giving evidence in open court.
In the next hour or so, by a process of osmosis, the Minister will tell me that few such cases go to court. I do not care if the number is only two or three youngsters over three or four years—they should be protected.
I want the Minister to give an assurance that while this Government remain in office, which I pray will not be long, the status quo on the anonymity of the complainer and the identification of the accused will remain in rape and other sexual assault cases. I just paid the Minister a tribute—de mortuis nihil nisi bonum. I recall Nicky Fairbairn making outrageous statements on the question of anonymity.
The Bill concentrates—some say rightly and properly—on prosecuting criminals, but seems to ignore the interests and needs of victims and witnesses. I have a question for the Minister on clause 50. I apologise if the Secretary of State touched on this matter in my absence. From where are members of the rules council to be drawn? Are they all to be members of the legal establishment, or will there be lay persons on the council?
I have a final word to say about the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses. About 10 days ago the Minister announced, in a written answer, the installation of closed circuit television systems in a court in each of the sheriffdoms. Will he confirm that the CCTV being installed in the—recently renovated but still leaking—sheriff court in Greenock is a permanent fixture? Local opinion has it that it will be removed as soon as the Paisley sheriff court has been renovated. There may be some disagreement about this with my hon. Friends the Members for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) and for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster), but I am doing a bit of special plea bargaining with the Minister. My hon. Friends can always put in similar facilities at Paisley—
§ Dr. Godman
Yes, but I am looking for a deal with the Minister—with respect to my old and hon. Friend.
It would seem a shame to pull out this sort of facility once it has been installed. Even if CCTV were installed in a court in each sheriffdom, there would still be far fewer such systems in our courts than south of the border. I believe that nearly 60 English Crown courts now have such facilities: we have very few. There could easily be one in Greenock and one in Paisley—but I am just trying to stay friends with my two hon. Friends.
All these issues are close to my heart. I hope that my old and hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) is listening when I say that I do not anticipate serving on the Standing Committee. Still, I think that the Bill needs detailed, rigorous scrutiny. It certainly needs to be amended—for instance, along the lines I have suggested for the victims of crime.
I have looked at the television system in sheriff court No. 5 in Glasgow, and I think that it works exceedingly well for everyone in the room—although I hope never to be in the dock. It certainly works well for the jury, the sheriff and the judge. Certain witnesses, however, who have to relive the ordeal, say, of a vicious rape, such as my two constituents suffered last August on the Old Kilmacolm road, and who are denied such protection—all 771 except child witnesses—should be given anonymity and a great deal more protection. The Bill needs to be changed to reflect the interests of such people.
§ Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)
Like all who have spoken in the debate I want to put on record a tribute to the late Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, who was a person no one in the House could miss. All the obituaries that I have read refer to his great range of skills and talents. He was prominent in legal circles in Scotland before he came here. Once here, he was known for his political abilities, which were always seen at their best when he turned on his own side. He was also well known as an artist, and I know from conversations with him that he always described himself, too, as a landscape gardener. Before coming here I was a senior lecturer in horticulture, and I can vouch for the fact that Sir Nicholas was a knowledgeable gardener. This place will be less colourful without him.
I have waited with great enthusiasm to take part in this debate, and I must thank my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke), our Scottish Whip, for giving me so much encouragement to say a few words. I shall therefore say all that I need to say tonight, and leave service on the Committee to others who have not yet had a chance to speak. I apologise in advance for not being able to stay for the wind-ups, owing to other duties not too dissimilar from this one.
All hon. Members who have spoken so far have referred to plea bargaining and the need to organise it better. We all know that there will always be an element of plea bargaining in the courts. The problem at the moment is that all those participating in a case are told to turn up at 9.45 am, then to wait a few hours and go for lunch, and then they are told that the case will not be heard that day because of plea bargaining. Some of the witnesses may be police officers, and as the police tend not to take deployed officers away from their usual duties, police witnesses are often paid for court appearances out of overtime budgets. That means that money that could be spent on all sorts of valuable police work is lost because of time wasted in court.
In Paisley, Divisional Commander Michael Currie and the local procurator fiscal some time ago developed an informal system of informing the police as early as possible if it was likely that an officer would not be required. Of course, officers have to be on standby, but at least they can be doing other work. The latest estimates show that as much as a third of the police overtime budget is spent in this way. It is also a waste of time for witnesses who have taken time off from other duties to appear in court.
This is not a new interest on my part. As long ago as May 1992 I wrote to the Secretary of State about it—and to the Comptroller and Auditor General. As a matter of courtesy I sent a copy to the Scottish Office. I received a reply from Lord Fraser, dated 7 July 1992. In it, he told me that much of my analysis was "facile and unenlightening", and went on to give me all the reasons why legislation of the type that now appears in this Bill could not be put through the House of Commons. I am therefore glad to see that the noble Lord Fraser has since reconsidered—perhaps because the Comptroller and 772 Auditor General commented on the resources wasted in this way. I hope that some sensible arrangements can now be put in place.
The poor layout of courts and a lack of facilities can lead to witnesses on both sides of a case being in the same room at the same time. That can lead to intimidation. The problem is not confined to serious trials; there can be problems in what the courts would regard as routine trials. For example, anti-social behaviour involving neighbours may find itself in court. Those involved will leave the courtroom and then have to live close to one another. The problem will be exacerbated within the community for some time if there is any prospect of intimidation.
I hope that something can be done to ensure that more information and advice is given to victims, and especially the families of victims. A case in my constituency became prominent and many people will remember it well. A young man called Holmes was murdered outside a disco in Paisley. The culmination of events played a part in the introduction and enactment of legislation on knives.
The case went to court, where it was decided that the accused could not be found guilty of the charge. The Holmes family says that it has lost a son and that no one has been punished for the crime. I accept that the issue must be left to the courts. I would not wish to become involved in the detail of the case. The problems surrounding the case became exacerbated, however, because before, during and after the trial the family was provided with little information. When it was provided with information, including meetings with the procurator fiscal, it was inadequate. On one or two occasions, it was inaccurate. That causes great concern. I know that there is a group in Strathclyde that is involved with the families of murder victims and is pushing the case for more information.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) made some important points about miscarriages of justice. The Secretary of State referred to these miscarriages in his opening remarks. He told us that he has set up a committee, which has not yet reported. He explained that he wishes to wait for the committee's conclusions before he makes any legislative suggestions. We understand the reasons for that.
The Secretary of State has recognised that there are miscarriages of justice by accepting an application on behalf of one of my constituents, Raymond Gilmour, for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy. There is evidence in the case—arguably and technically it is not new evidence—that was not available to the defence when the trial took place. Accordingly, it was not led in court. I do not want to prejudge the Secretary of State's involvement in the matter. I merely say that my constituents are grateful that the application was accepted. Obviously the family is anxious that there should be a decision as quickly as possible, but not at the price of an investigation that is not thorough. We must stand back and leave the Secretary of State to exercise his judgment. He must decide how thoroughly the issues must be investigated before he can come to a conclusion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian talked about the offices of procurators fiscal. He made a strong case that these offices are sometimes overworked. I go along with that to some extent. We must be careful, however, to ensure that overwork is not used as an excuse for a macho approach or, in some instances, 773 incompetence. Those approaches can obviously be found in busy offices but they are to be found also in relatively quiet offices.
I took up the case of procurators fiscal offices in 1992. In a series of cases at Paisley, blunders resulted in alleged drug dealers walking out of court on technicalities. There were instances of writs being served too late or wrongly dated. On occasions they were wrongly dated to be served on a Saturday or Sunday, when the offices of the procurators fiscal were not open. Such errors do not engender great confidence. When they occur and accused persons walk out of court, there is resentment. Those who are dealt with more severely feel that they have been treated unfairly and differently from those whom they perceive to be guilty but who walk free. We are reminded of the hackneyed phrase that not only should justice be done, but be seen to be done. We should ensure that everybody in the courts is dealt with in the same fashion.
I have asked a series of questions on this issue—I asked some as recently as Friday—because I am concerned about when the procurator fiscal decides to refer a case to the Crown for decision. I asked in what circumstances such a referral would occur and, quite honestly, the answers that I have received so far have been unsatisfactory. We need more openness in the Crown office and the procurator fiscal service.
The Bill must be seen in the context of the causes of crime because crime is related to hopelessness. That is not to say that all crimes are related to hopelessness, but hopelessness certainly creates more chance of crime. Every unemployed person is not necessarily a criminal—of course that is not so—but there is a direct link between crime and people, especially young people, who feel that there is no hope for the future.
In that context, the Government are putting forward the Bill as a means of dealing with crime while, at the same time, they are implementing massive and savage cuts in Strathclyde regional council and elsewhere. Cuts in the community education budget and in all sorts of community facilities will inevitably lead to young people having nowhere to go and nothing to do, which is precisely what leads them into crime. I appeal to the Minister to see the matter in context.
§ Dr. Godman
With regard to the relationship between unemployment and crime, does my hon. Friend agree that many minor offences are committed by unemployed youngsters and that, if they were in work, with all the disciplines that work would impose, they would not commit such minor offences?
§ Mr. McMaster
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The general demise of the apprenticeship scheme, which put young people in a work situation and taught them discipline, is also disadvantageous.
§ Mr. Gallie
Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that many of the crimes to which he has referred, such as vandalism, house-breaking and other crimes are, in fact, committed by 14 and 15-year-olds and that those youngsters have an excellent education system to utilise? Why should they be of the same brand as that suggested by the hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. McMaster
Young people of 14 and 15 want to be educated for something. They see 17 and 18-year-olds coming out of education to poverty, hopelessness and 774 unemployment, and it does not motivate them. Young people should be given hope for the future. That would do a great deal of good.
We have heard a lot about various types of drugs. In my constituency, the drugs that concern me most are jellies: temazepam. They are meant to be prescribed, yet, not only are young people swallowing them, but they are heating them up and injecting them. Some have had their limbs amputated as a result. Action could be taken swiftly if the Government were to repeat what they did a couple of years ago, which certainly helped for a short time. The Secretary of State should give guidance to every health board and tell every general practitioner in Scotland that temazepam should not be prescribed when there is any other reasonable alternative.
§ 9.8 pm
§ Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)
We have had a worthwhile debate in which we have heard many good speeches from hon. Members of all parties. I shall begin by paying my tribute to the late Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. I took the post of shadow home affairs spokesperson without being a lawyer or having expertise, but from the first day Sir Nicholas Fairbairn was very kind and helpful in his remarks. Not once, in a professional way, did he try to take us down. That is clear from the record in Hansard. He did take people down on occasion and they felt the sharp edge of his tongue. However, when he realised that there were serious aspects and that people were trying to apply themselves and to learn, he was one of the most sensitive individuals in that regard—
§ Mr. McFall
I was about to say "bundle", which is quite appropriate.
The Bill is a bundle of procedural reforms. If it were not for the Law Commission's report being implemented, it would be very thin indeed. The Bill lacks a strategic overview and coherence. It emerges from five consultation papers which the Government entitled "Improving the Delivery of Justice in Scotland". The topics covered were evidence and procedure, criminal legal aid, juries and verdicts and sentencing and appeals. Those four topics were preceded by the White Paper, "Firm and Fair".
Do those topics add up to a Runciman commission, which was a critical analysis of the Royal Commission on justice in respect of England and Wales? I do not believe that they do. Scotland has been short-changed in that respect.
Since the Government came to power, there have been 14 Acts of Parliament for Scotland. They started with the Bail etc. (Scotland) Act 1980 and the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 and they carry through to this Bill. However, those Acts did not follow a logical and progressive path. As a result, they do not point the way forward in terms of an approach that is coherent, efficient and effective for the criminal justice system in Scotland.
For example, there is no presage of the criminal courts rules council in the Bill. That provision simply appeared on Report in the House of Lords. If that is such an important element, why was it not in the Bill from the beginning? It seems that the Government are still developing their ideas and that they do not have a coherent whole yet.
775 The Bill refers to many measures such as enhancing the intermediate trial diet. However, that is already operational. If my memory serves me correctly, it was recommended by the Lord Justice-General as long ago as 1982, but it was not working properly. I believe that about 12 courts are operating intermediate trial diets today. Will the Minister tell us precisely how many courts are operating that system and how effective they are? Have the Government undertaken a review of the effectiveness of the intermediate trial diet?
The Secretary of State said that a consolidation Act will follow the Bill. That is welcome, but it must be comprehensive. Will we find ourselves some way down the line with yet another criminal justice Bill, as a result of the piecemeal approach, and yet another consolidation Bill? I remember that the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 had to be revised. Some of the revision took place in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
Hon. Members have already referred to judicial examination, the diminishing of the right to silence and the prosecutor's right to comment. Clause 10 relates to judicial examination whereby an accused person is taken before the court at a very early stage in the proceedings, before he even knows the case against him. He will have a copy of the complaint, indictment or petition, but he is then in many ways forced to explain his case. Within 24 hours of being arrested, an individual may be brought before a sheriff to be questioned by a prosecutor. He has a right to consult a solicitor before answering detailed questions about where he was, what he did, and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) referred to individuals with special learning needs. Such individuals might find themselves being pressured by professional people. That further undermines the right to silence. The official Opposition will press the Government on that matter in Committee.
Under such judicial examination, there cannot be many people who are capable of rational thought 24 or 48 hours after a trauma. The general public will view clause 10 as an attempt to make the accused confess. I shall press the Minister on that matter in Committee.
I am concerned also about clause 28, which relates to a prosecutor's right to comment. How far will a prosecutor be allowed to go? What control will be exercised? A prosecutor's forensic abilities may be put into play, and without any restrictions or guidelines being set, he or she can not only intimidate a witness but, in the process, make sure that the prosecution case is won by default. It is a two-way process. I ask the Minister to consider it and to give us some written guidelines. If, in going over the top, he destroys the prosecution case, that is not good for justice, either.
Clause 29 is worth consideration in Committee. It has a certain plea-bargaining element to it, but perhaps it is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It states:In determining what sentence to pass on …an offender who has pled guilty to an offence, a court may take into account—(a) the stage in the proceedings …at which the offender indicated his intention to plead guilty".776 Is not there a chance that an offender will say, "If I plead guilty early, perhaps I will get away with it and get the problem settled very quickly"? There will turn out to be a plea-bargaining element. That matter is worth further consideration in Committee.
My right hon. and hon. Friends have mentioned miscarriages of justice. We welcome the establishment of the Sutherland committee, but we deplore the fact that it will not report until July 1996. We must compare that with the Runciman report in England and Wales. As I mentioned when I intervened on the Secretary of State, the Home Secretary has already announced a miscarriages review authority Bill. Citizens of Scotland will be subject to a different regime from that in England and Wales. Citizens of Scotland will have their right to silence diminished, as a result of the changes, when they appear at court and at judicial examination. Citizens of England and Wales will also have the right to silence removed, but they will have recourse to a miscarriage of justice review body, and Scotland will not. The mismatch of remedies available to citizens of the United Kingdom does nothing for the provision of justice in Scotland.
I ask the Minister to guarantee that, in the event of the Sutherland committee recommending legislation, the Government will give sufficient time to the matter in the lifetime of this Parliament. We need an unequivocal answer from the Minister. This matter is not just an aspect of the legal system. We are talking about a higher level; innocent people's lives are threatened. It is important to turn our attention to that matter.
One of the most ingenious comments in the Bill is that it will be financially neutral. It is hard to guess what the final financial element will be. Civil servants have already studied it. They have tabled plus and minus merits and demerits of aspects of the changes, so there must be a quantitative element. If the Government are not forthcoming with that information, we must ask whether they consider that change is worth while only if the cost is neutral. The calculations on which such expressions are based should be shown. Lord McCluskey in the other place referred to cloud cuckoo land. How can we introduce extra bail duties, which we are happy to endorse, for fiscals and advocate deputes? How can extra preparation be introduced for questioning at judicial examination? How can extra preparatory work for fiscals be introduced, and how can matters be dealt with in the earlier clauses of the Bill? How can extra work be introduced for hearings in relation to insanity cases, and extra responsibilities be conferred in relation to confiscation under part II? It just cannot be done without an increase in the resources available to the fiscal service.
There is a glaring lack of reference to the fiscal service. All practitioners in courts elsewhere say that the underfunding of the procurator fiscal system is the problem. Any defence lawyer who has a case wrapped up will say, in private, that the system is under such pressure that, to an extent, an advantage is given to the defence.
§ Mr. Stewart
I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Why are only four Scottish Labour Members sitting behind him?
§ Mr. McFall
There is a full turnout of Tory Members, but nevertheless only a handful are present. The hon. Gentleman was present at the beginning of the debate, but subsequently decided to leave; when he left, other hon.
777 Members came in. If he had stayed throughout the debate, he might have based his information on fact rather than fancy.
§ Mr. McFall
I think that the Eastwood bruiser is warming up to take over from Sir Nicholas.
The Bill is predicated on the White Paper entitled "Firm and Fair", in which the Secretary of State calls for "our fight against crime". The White Paper stated that the highest priority was to protect the public from crime and criminals. The question is, how efficient have the Government been in that regard since they took power? In 1979, 673,000 crimes and offences were committed; according to the latest estimate, the figure is now over 1 million. Even in the last year, when according to the Government the crime figures have fallen, the number of drug offences and violent crimes has increased. The fact is that the Government have little to present in terms of law and order. They have not been efficient in that regard, which is why Labour's slogan "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" has resonance up and down the land.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
The hon. Gentleman is bandying around some interesting slogans. Is he suggesting that Labour's proposals will increase the pay of a policeman over and above the real terms increase of 30 per cent. that has already been achieved by the Government? The number of policemen has also risen. How will the hon. Gentleman deal with that, and what will be the cost?
§ Mr. McFall
It is very simple. Nearly all local authorities in Scotland are Labour controlled and work with the communities and the police. It is the actions on the ground that count, as against the Government's lack of intention. Opposition Members are proud of the way in which good Labour local authorities work with communities and the police; it is a shame that Conservative Members are not.
Let us look at the Conservatives' record on law and order and the courts. The position of the courts has already been mentioned. According to the figures, it is estimated that 250,000 citations are served annually on a total uniformed police strength of 14,000. Each day, 700 police officers attend court to give evidence in criminal cases going to trial, but only one in five gives that evidence. Police evidence accounts for only 2 per cent. of police court duty. The rest is travel and waiting time. So I put it to the Government that if they want to do something about fighting crime and putting police on the streets, they should do something about the scandalous waste of police resources in courts. It has a severe impact on operational duties.
§ Mr. Gallie
Surely that is precisely what the Bill does. On that basis, why on earth has the hon. Gentleman tabled this stupid amendment?
§ Mr. McFall
The Bill does nothing of the sort. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we pressed Lord Fraser of Carmyllie to examine the wasting of police time in court. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) wrote to him. In his reply, the noble Lord said that he found much of my hon. Friend's analysis facile 778 and unenlightening. He said that he was surprised that my hon. Friend did not understand why police officers spent time waiting to give evidence. Let me remind the House that the Public Accounts Commission took the same view as my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South. It found that there was a scandalous waste of police time. It has asked the Government to do something about it. As yet, the waste still takes place in courts.
Only last year, the chief constable of Central region mentioned in his annual report that police in his area wasted 98 per cent. of the time that they spent at court. What do the Government intend to do about the problem? It has gone on for years and years. It requires the Opposition to cry day in and day out for the Government to do something. We congratulate ourselves on the fact that a measure is now in the Bill.
The social context in which the Bill has been introduced is a phenomenal increase in drug-related offences. Between 1989 and 1993 total recorded crime in Scotland rose by 10.1 per cent. Yet drug-related offences leapt by an incredible 1,000 per cent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) asked earlier, what is the Government's policy on drug enforcement? Drug abuse is one of the greatest social problems facing Scotland today. It is one of the principal causes of crime. The Opposition recognise that the problem of drugs must be tackled if any headway is to be made in the battle against crime, but the Government have stubbornly refused to do that, despite evidence from the Medical Research Council, the World Health Organisation and Greater Glasgow health board. A survey by the board showed that 80 per cent. of those surveyed engaged in crime to service their drugs habit.
The Government can no longer continue pretending that there is no link between drug abuse and deprivation. I should like to see in the Bill measures to assist drugs education so that we can change the agenda, control the supply of drugs and experiment with strategies at the social and community level with voluntary groups and the parents who are involved in the problem to help the people who are regular users not to get into trouble.
Crimes of violence are of particular concern to many people. The latest figures show that crimes of violence have increased. What have the Government done in the light of that? Last year they removed the entitlement to legal aid from a quarter of a million people. They then implemented sheriff court fees. That means that people who take action in sheriff courts are expected to meet the full cost of the sheriff's salary.
§ Mr. Gallie
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. We are debating the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, not civil law in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman is dealing with civil law matters.
§ Madam Speaker
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman who is replying to the debate will come back to the substance of the debate.
§ Mr. McFall
This is an integral part of the issue. The Law Society of Scotland has contacted us on the matter. The Government intend to introduce measures on criminal legal aid similar to those which they introduced on civil legal aid and on criminal injuries compensation.
We all sympathise with the case of Judy, but what have the Government done? They have dismantled the legislation that a Labour Government established in the 779 mid-1960s and, as a result, if a police officer aged 30 with two children is killed in the course of duty, his widow will receive £10,000 no matter how financially or psychologically difficult her position, whereas before it was £150,000.
In case the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) thinks that we are straying again, I wonder whether he would support us in the following case. If a police officer is killed, does he agree that his widow should not merely be given the pitiful sum of £10,000, as would be the case with the criminal injuries compensation scheme? If we table a positive amendment, we can ensure that the tariff scheme is kept for the less severe cases, but we could use the scheme that we had previously for the more severe cases and those that impinge on the families who are left behind. Police officers' widows would then get the sum of money that they rightfully deserve.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I want to understand what the hon. Gentleman is offering. Is he saying that he will table a detailed amendment so that the widow of a police constable killed on duty will receive substantial benefit? Will it be a narrow amendment, dealing purely with police constables?
§ Mr. McFall
Yes, and if we get Conservative support it will be fine. I am saying that the tariff scheme should be abolished at one end of the scale to give us some flexibility. Let us have a tariff scheme at the bottom, but not at the top. The hon. Gentleman has been helpful to his Front Bench as always and I will be delighted if we can follow that path.
The Secretary of State said that the Government were at the forefront on crime, but if they are, they must be standing there watching—they are certainly not doing anything about it, because it is increasing year on year. They talk about the success of crime prevention and say that they are backing the police. Let us ask the police what they think after the Sheehy inquiry. Ask the prison officers what they thought when the Government took away industrial dispute legislation.
Labour is looking for positive measures to encourage the community to work with the police in close co-operation and to support home security schemes, which result in safer neighbourhoods. We want measures to encourage local victim support projects, neighbourhood watch and other community projects. We want measures to implement social strategies and tackle some of the causes of crime, because there is undoubtedly a link between increasing crime and social deprivation. That is the distinguishing mark of the official Opposition compared with the Government on this issue.
We are telling the Government to tackle the causes of crime—poverty, poor housing, poor education, high levels of unemployment and drug abuse. Yes, deal firmly with the perpetrators, but target young offenders to prevent them from becoming hardened criminals and an obligation on the state, then we will have a positive framework on which to work so that the Bill gets its Second Reading.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)
Tonight, Members of Parliament from both sides of the House have 780 paid tribute to Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. They have mentioned his great personal kindnesses in offering legal advice, in particular. Many of us will miss him as a friend—not just the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who had been his junior counsel, as indeed have I. I believe that the late John Smith also served in that capacity. We will all miss his puckish sense of humour. Although he did not always agree with the Government, I am certain that he agreed with the bulk of the Bill, and we miss his presence tonight.
The Bill contains many reforms that are critical. I must start by telling the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) that one of the most significant reforms is the introduction of intermediate diets, and the pilot scheme has been remarkably successful. It was carried out in Airdrie and Dundee sheriff courts and the analysis showed that intermediate diets cut unnecessary court attendance in half. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right—the police presence in courts should be cut and the measure will help to do that.
Courts in Edinburgh, Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy and Dumbarton have introduced the diets, with similar results. The provisions in the Bill are needed to ensure that courts throughout the length and breadth of Scotland can also secure those benefits.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton also asked whether guidelines on prosecutors' comments on the accused's failure to give evidence would be issued. I confirm that the Lord Advocate gave an undertaking in the other House that he would issue guidelines to Crown counsel and procurators fiscal.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) raised the issue of closed circuit television. He is right to say that those television facilities will be extended to every sheriffdom in Scotland. The equipment currently in use in the sheriff court in his constituency will be reviewed and a final decision will be taken in the light of demand.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about those who are sent to Carstairs and how easy it is for someone imprisoned there without a time limit to get out. I would say that it is extremely hard. When I practised in the High Court, we often took the view that if someone was charged with murder and ended up in Carstairs, he was likely to be there much longer than if he went anywhere else. The two major issues are the individual's mental state, which is a matter of clinical judgment, and public safety, which is entirely the responsibility of the Secretary of State, who must be satisfied about that before deciding to release the prisoner. Any such committal is appealable to the sheriff court.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the criminal court rules council. I confirm that it will be drawn largely from professionals who use the court, but the legislation prescribes that one member should have an awareness of the interests of victims of crime and witnesses in criminal proceedings. That person, at least, need not be a legal professional.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
May I answer some other points first?
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East raised the issue of financial consequences of the Bill. We have every reason to be confident in our assessment that 781 the Bill will cover its cost at worst, because it is full of proposals that will relieve financial burdens on the police, prosecutors and courts. For example, the police will waste less time attending court needlessly and citing witnesses in person. Fiscal fines will be reduced and prosecutors in the courts will be relieved of some of the burdens that they now sustain. There will be savings in compensation paid to witnesses and jurors for attending court, and the cost of sending fine defaulters to prison will be reduced as supervised attendance orders will be used instead. Those and other proposals will probably more than offset the additional burdens but, of course, we shall closely monitor the position in the light of experience.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East asked about cases marked "No proceedings". Like him, I have prosecuted—I was an interim procurator fiscal. It would have been unthinkable for me to have marked any case "No proceedings" on the ground of work load pressure and I am glad to say that I never came across a fiscal who took that action. I can give the hon. and learned Gentleman some figures. The main categories in which no proceedings were taken were insufficient admissible evidence and triviality. In 1993–94, 23 per cent. of cases were marked "No proceedings" because of evidential difficulties, and 29 per cent. because the offence was viewed as trivial. In the period between October 1993 and September 1994, not a single case was marked "No proceedings" for the reason of staff shortage. But I shall make further inquiries into the point which the hon. and learned Gentleman raised.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked about facilities in Linlithgow. I am glad to confirm that those are currently being reviewed in the Linlithgow and Livingston areas. I shall be pleased to ask my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State to write to the hon. Gentleman to bring him up to date on progress. The hon. Gentleman also asked about fatal accident inquiries when those are held to establish when and where death occurred, the cause of death, any reasonable precautions whereby death might have been avoided, and any defect in any system that contributed to the death. We are conscious of the need to pay even greater attention to victims and the Bill contains a number of practical measures, for example, to decrease the number of times that witnesses may have to attend court, to reduce the number of occasions when a trial must be cancelled or adjourned without warning and to remove one restriction on the prosecution's freedom to lead evidence of the accused's previous misconduct in cases where the defence has attacked the victim's character. All those measures are evidence of the Government's commitment to treat victims with courtesy, dignity and compassion and to reduce the trauma of their necessary involvement in the criminal justice system.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In the Government's view, is it the purpose of a fatal accident inquiry to get the truth or is it designed, as in the case of Lockerbie, to get maximum damages for certain parties and evade the truth? Does the hon. Gentleman think that Ministers and the intelligence services should, where necessary, be called to fatal accident inquiries?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
The hon. Gentleman's questions go somewhat beyond the terms of the Bill, because fatal accident inquiries do not feature in it. Without question, the purpose of those inquiries is to 782 get at the truth, which is what happened at the FAIs at which I was present. No doubt the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity will be such that he will follow up his lines of inquiry elsewhere.
My hon. Friends the Members for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) and for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) and many other hon. Members wanted to know whether the provisions on bail go far enough. It is the purpose of the Bill to toughen the existing provisions, for example, by enabling the courts to impose double the current custodial penalty on those who offend on bail. Any attempt to reduce offending on bail also depends on minimising the time those awaiting trial spend on bail. The longer the delay in bringing offenders to justice, the greater the risk of their continuing to offend. The measures in the Bill will also therefore assist the courts in dealing with delays and backlogs in the hearing of cases. That will also make an important contribution.
There have been a number of cases of bail abuse and it is absolutely right that we should tighten the law in that connection. The proposal to restrict access to bail in clause 3 is not unique. Section 26 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975 states that bail cannot be granted for the crimes of murder or treason. Those restrictions have existed in statute since 1888. We are extending that restriction further, which we believe to be necessary.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) spoke about the "Crossey Posse". The problems posed by large numbers of pending cases can best be resolved by better use of courts' resources. Too much time is wasted with late pleas, non-appearance by accused persons and late adjournments. If we can reduce that waste of resources, the courts and the prosecutors will be able to process pending cases much more speedily.
The position of young offenders is uppermost in our mind. We have commissioned a major research study into the children's hearing system, which is being carried out by Stirling and Edinburgh universities. It will focus on decision making within the hearing system and the outcome for the young people who come before it. We have also announced a major development project, which is being undertaken by Barnado's and Central region, to address the problems caused by persistent young offenders, in which we are investing £1 million over five years. We are engaged in a number of other projects, because it is important to tackle the circumstances that give rise to crime.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr and the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) spoke about raves. The report by Sheriff Gow was also touched upon. The Scottish Drugs Forum has been commissioned to prepare guidance for local authorities and licensing boards to assist them in advising the organisers of raves on the practical measures they can take to minimise the health and welfare problems which sometimes arise at such events. In consultation with the local authorities and the police interest, consideration is being given to the practicalities of introducing model licensing conditions into licences for raves, possibly dealing with such aspects as stewarding, permitted numbers and searches.
§ Mr. Gallie
Does my hon. Friend agree that, with respect to Sheriff Gow's findings, the operators basically complied with the guidelines that he refers to already?
783 Does he agree that the real problem is that young people continue to take drugs such as Ecstasy, and that that is the issue that we must tackle?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I appreciate my hon. Friend's argument. Drug misuse is a serious problem in Scotland. We are spending no less than £40 million a year on the various agencies to combat it. We are determined to have a considerable drive, especially with regard to young people, aimed at its prevention, and the drugs task force will have a major part to play in that. There are now new schools drug prevention packages for under-10s and over-14s.
Substitute prescribing also has a role to play in tackling drug misuse. We shall work extremely hard at that subject for a comprehensive response.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) mentioned the homosexual age of consent. The House reduced it for homosexual acts from 21 to 18 and the House expressed a clear preference for a reduction to 18 rather than 16.
Since last November, when the law changed, instructions have been sent to procurators fiscal, saying that they should continue to report to the Crown Office, for consideration by Crown counsel, any case where both participants are over 16 and the act appears to have been consensual and in private but is an offence by reason of the fact that one or both are under 18. Since the issue of that instruction, no cases have been so reported for consideration by Crown counsel. Each case that is reported will be considered on its merits, and a decision will be made whether it is in the public interest that proceedings be taken.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I have nothing more to say about that. The hon. Gentleman is welcome to pursue the matter in Standing Committee, and I look forward to his volunteering for that role.
With regard to clause 8, the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East asked about a joint application to have a juror excused. In those circumstances, both parties will continue to have the right to seek a juror's excusal by showing cause to the court.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East, if I remember correctly, asked why we were not following a similar procedure to the Thomson committee. What was required, in our opinion, was a detailed examination of certain specific areas of concern. One solution that we propose is a continuation or development of Lord Thomson's recommendation—mandatory intermediate diets. Other proposals for a clause dealing with examinations of the facts are Thomson recommendations that were not implemented in 1980. The consultation that preceded the Bill was extremely comprehensive.
I come to the issue of intermediate diets, which I believe will help enormously to speed up the process of justice. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East asked about temporary sheriffs. There are about 120 temporary sheriffs, who are used to maintain the work of the sheriff courts. That helps when the sheriffs are on holiday or on sick leave or the resident sheriff is absent, for whatever reason.
784 The judicial strength of the supreme courts and the sheriff courts is kept under constant review, in consultation with the judicial heads of those courts. In recent years, as the work loads of those courts have increased, so have the numbers of judges and sheriffs, and temporary judges and temporary sheriffs make a useful contribution to dealing with the work loads of the courts and to reducing inconvenience to court users.
Scotland now has more judges and more sheriffs than at any previous time in its history.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
Can the Minister confirm that there are now more temporary sheriffs than there are those holding permanent commissions? If there is a need for more temporary sheriffs than permanent ones, is that not a clear sign that the work load is sufficient to justify more full-time sheriffs? The Scottish system is based on full-time professional judges. Why are the Government not implementing that?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
There are now more judges and more permanent sheriffs than ever before. Judicial strengths are kept under constant review. It is notable that, for many types of court business and in many courts, waiting periods are now at or below the target figures.
On the subject of additional evidence, the difference of view between the Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice Clerk has been mentioned, but that does not necessarily mean that the cases involved are at odds. All it means is that the subject will need to be considered by five judges. I should not say anything more as cases referred to the full Bench are sub judice.
It is remarkable that Labour Members have said that the right to silence is being threatened. Distinguished members of the Labour party or members who have been Labour Law Officers—
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I will. Lord McCluskey said of the right to silence:It is deeply patronising to say that that cannot be commented upon. If the judge can comment upon it, as he can—though he should do so with restraint; and those restraints are fairly well known—I do not see any reason in the world why the prosecutor should not say, 'Well, ladies and gentlemen, you have heard the evidence. His fingerprints were found all over the safe. His footprints were found on the carpet and his DNA sample matched that found on the broken window'".—[0fficial Report, House of Lords, 29 November 1994; Vol. 559, c. 569.]
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I think that the Minister is quoting from a Member of the upper House who is not a Minister. I think that he knows that he can quote from the upper House only from those who are Ministers.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I shall paraphrase what I was saying. It was considered not unreasonable to mention the facts of incriminating evidence and the fact that the accused who, in the circumstances, was the only person who might know exactly what had happened, refused to do so.
The clause does not remove the right to silence; it allows the prosecutor the right to comment on the fact that a person has sat tight in the witness box. When I was an advocate, if I saw an accused person in a serious criminal case of rape, 785 murder or assault to severe injury, sitting tight in the accused box, it was usually a sign that he or she was as guilty as sin.
§ Mr. McFall
I thought that we were talking about justice, until the Minister mentioned his own form of justice. Does he accept that some cases will involve over-zealous prosecutors, and such cases require more guidelines? Does he also accept that an over-zealous prosecutor can do as much harm to the prosecution case as to the accused? There is a vital need for guidelines—will they be forthcoming from the Minister?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I made clear earlier the circumstances in which the Lord Advocate would issue guidelines. It is absolutely clear that it is the prosecutor's job to put the facts before the courts, elicit the facts and leave it to the jury to make up its mind. If he has prepared his case thoroughly and there is a lot of evidence, that will weigh with the jury.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
No, I want to move to my next subject: confiscation and forfeiture.
The Government have been in the forefront in introducing measures to deprive offenders of the profits of crime and property used in crime. The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1987 introduced confiscation of the proceeds of drug trafficking in Scotland and has been extremely succesful. We believe that those new powers will make a huge difference in ensuring that ill-gotten profits from crime are taken away from those who would otherwise benefit from them. They will deprive criminals of assets where crimes such as serious fraud, theft and pornography have given rise to economic benefit. That is an important provision in the Bill.
I turn now to the subject of the not proven verdict. Much has been made of the fact that Sir Walter Scott expressed doubts about the not proven verdict. With the greatest respect to him, Sir Walter did not practise very much, for whatever reason. There is a great difference between the circumstances in Scotland and those in England. The royal commission's remit—to which the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) referred—was confined to England and Wales. It was considering whether not proven should be introduced in a system of juries of 12, with unanimous or 10 to two majority verdicts. The Government have consulted in Scotland on whether not proven should be retained in a system which has juries of 15 and simple majority verdicts and in which the not proven verdict has played its part for 250 years. The overwhelming response was that the not proven verdict should be retained and that is why the Government will not support its abolition. We have consulted about the issue and the overwhelming majority of people are in favour of its retention. Therefore, we will oppose any moves to abolish it.
§ Mr. George Robertson
I said in my speech that, in view of Scottish legal history, if there was to be any change in the Scottish legal system, it should be decided by a free vote. Will the Minister give a guarantee that Government Back Benchers will be free to vote according to their views and their consciences?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
There is no need for a free vote on that issue. The evidence is conclusive that it is in Scotland's interests to retain it.
786 With regard to the not proven verdict, hon. Members will recall the case of Madeleine Smith who asked her boyfriend to return her love letters and, when he refused to deliver them, she gave him a drink laced with arsenic. The jury could not bear the thought of sentencing that young girl to he hanged so it brought in a verdict of not proven. I suggest that having the option of that extra verdict is very much in Scotland's interests.
To continue the story, Madeleine Smith remarried some years later. However, she quarrelled with her husband, who thought that he saw a glint in her eye, so he took off. It would be much more humanitarian to have a not proven verdict in circumstances where a jury is not 100 per cent. certain—beyond reasonable doubt—of the person's guilt, but where the jury is reasonably certain that the person committed the crime. In 1993, 18 per cent. of those who were acquitted of crimes were found not proven on at least one charge. In the past five years, the not proven verdict has been used in between 18 per cent. and 23 per cent. of acquittal verdicts.
Reference was made to the Sutherland committee. We had to wait until the royal commission released its report and, thereafter, there was no undue delay. We issued a consultation paper in January 1994, the consultation period ended in mid-April and our White Paper appeared in June. Committee members were chosen over the summer and the membership was announced in November 1994. That represents a focused and energetic response to the royal commission's report. I believe that alleged miscarriages of justice will be treated very seriously and the Secretary of State already has substantial powers in that area. Since 1928, six out of the 14 individuals whose cases have been referred back to the Court of Appeal have had their convictions quashed.
§ Mr. Gallie
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Opposition Members will agree that he has made an excellent case for supporting the Bill. In the last three minutes of his speech, will he make an impassioned appeal to Opposition Members to withdraw their ridiculous and stupid amendment?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
Yes, I will. Apart from anything else, the amendment refers to rising crime and, as my hon Friend the Member for Ayr knows, crime in Scotland is decreasing in large measure because of the legislation that he introduced to control the carrying of knives. In 1992, there was a small reduction in crime, and there was an 8 per cent. reduction in 1993 and a further 3 per cent. reduction in 1994. There has been a substantial and continuing fall in crimes of dishonesty.
It is important to note that the number of crimes involving firearms have also decreased. The number of victims of homicide has decreased by 15 per cent. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr performed a great service for Scotland and the House by introducing the tough Carrying of Knives etc. (Scotland) Act 1993 which has helped to decrease the number of knife-related crimes in Strathclyde. Trends in recorded crime are affected by several factors, particularly the willingness of the public to report crimes. Far more are being reported than ever before. The war on crime must be fought relentlessly. The Bill greatly strengthens the system of justice, and will make Scotland a safer place in which to live.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 207, Noes 282.790
|Division No. 86]||[10.00 pm|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Flynn, Paul|
|Ainger, Nick||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Allen, Graham||Foulkes, George|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Fyfe, Maria|
|Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)||Galbraith, Sam|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Galloway, George|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||George, Bruce|
|Ashton, Joe||Gerrard, Neil|
|Austin-Walker, John||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Barron, Kevin||Godman, Dr Norman A|
|Battle, John||Godsiff, Roger|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Beggs, Roy||Gordon, Mildred|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Graham, Thomas|
|Betts, Clive||Grant Bernie (Tottenham)|
|Blunkett, David||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Boateng, Paul||Grocott, Bruce|
|Boyes, Roland||Hain, Peter|
|Bradley, Keith||Hall, Mike|
|Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Hanson, David|
|Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Hardy, Peter|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Heppell, John|
|Burden, Richard||Hill, Keith (Streatham)|
|Byers, Stephen||Hinchliffe, David|
|Caborn, Richard||Hoey, Kate|
|Callaghan, Jim||Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Home Robertson, John|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Hoon, Geoffrey|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Howarth, George (Knowsley North)|
|Campbell-Savours, D N||Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)|
|Cann, Jamie||Hoyle, Doug|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Chidgey, David||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Hughes, Roy (Newport E)|
|Church, Judith||Hutton, John|
|Clapham, Michael||Illsley, Eric|
|Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Ingram, Adam|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)|
|Clelland, David||Jamieson, David|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)|
|Cohen, Harry||Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)|
|Corbett, Robin||Jowell, Tessa|
|Corston, Jean||Keen, Alan|
|Cousins, Jim||Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)|
|Cox, Tom||Khabra, Piara S|
|Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Dafis, Cynog||Lestor, Joan (Eccles)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Liddell, Mrs Helen|
|Davidson, Ian||Litherland, Robert|
|Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)||Livingstone, Ken|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I)||McAllion, John|
|Dixon, Don||McCartney, Ian|
|Dobson, Frank||McFall, John|
|Donohoe, Brian H||McKelvey, William|
|Dowd, Jim||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Maclennan, Robert|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||McMaster, Gordon|
|Eagle, Ms Angela||McWilliam, John|
|Eastham, Ken||Mahon, Alice|
|Enright, Derek||Mandelson, Peter|
|Etherington, Bill||Marek, Dr John|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Fisher, Mark||Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)|
|Martin, Michael J (Springburn)||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Martlew, Eric||Rowlands, Ted|
|Maxton, John||Ruddock, Joan|
|Meale, Alan||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Michael, Alun||Short, Clare|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Milburn, Alan||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Miller, Andrew||Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)|
|Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Soley, Clive|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Spearing, Nigel|
|Morley, Elliot||Spellar, John|
|Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)||Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)|
|Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)||Stevenson, George|
|Mullin, Chris||Strang, Dr. Gavin|
|Murphy, Paul||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|O'Brien, William (Normanton)||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|O'Hara, Edward||Timms, Stephen|
|Olner, Bill||Touhig, Don|
|O'Neill, Martin||Turner, Dennis|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Tyler, Paul|
|Pearson, Ian||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Pickthall, Colin||Wareing, Robert N|
|Pike, Peter L||Watson, Mike|
|Pope, Greg||Welsh, Andrew|
|Powell, Ray (Ogmore)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)||Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)||Wilson, Brian|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Wise, Audrey|
|Purchase, Ken||Worthington, Tony|
|Raynsford, Nick||Wray, Jimmy|
|Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Mr. John Cummings and Mr. Joe Benton.|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Butcher, John|
|Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan||Butler, Peter|
|Alexander, Richard||Butterfill, John|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Carlisle, John (Luton North)|
|Amess, David||Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Carrington, Matthew|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Cash, William|
|Ashby, David||Chapman, Sydney|
|Atkins, Robert||Clappison, James|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)||Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey|
|Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V)||Coe, Sebastian|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Colvin, Michael|
|Baldry, Tony||Congdon, David|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||Conway, Derek|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Cope, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Bendall, Vivian||Cormack, Sir Patrick|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Couchman, James|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Cran, James|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)|
|Booth, Hartley||Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)|
|Boswell, Tim||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Day, Stephen|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Bowden, Sir Andrew||Devlin, Tim|
|Bowis, John||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes||Dover, Den|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Duncan, Alan|
|Brazier, Julian||Duncan-Smith, Iain|
|Bright, Sir Graham||Dunn, Bob|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Durant Sir Anthony|
|Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Eggar, Rt Hon Tim|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Elletson, Harold|
|Burns, Simon||Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Burt, Alistair||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Evans, Roger (Monmouth)||Lidington, David|
|Evennett David||Lightbown, David|
|Faber, David||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Fabricant, Michael||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Lord, Michael|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Luff, Peter|
|Fishburn, Dudley||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Forman, Nigel||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Forsyth, R1 Hon Michael (Stirling)||MacKay, Andrew|
|Forth, Eric||Maclean, David|
|Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)||McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick|
|Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)||Madel, Sir David|
|Freeman, Rt Hon Roger||Maitland, Lady Olga|
|French, Douglas||Major, Rt Hon John|
|Fry, Sir Peter||Malone, Gerald|
|Gale, Roger||Mans, Keith|
|Gallie, Phil||Marland, Paul|
|Gardiner, Sir George||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan||Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)|
|Garnier, Edward||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Gill, Christopher||Mates, Michael|
|Gillan, Cheryl||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||Merchant Piers|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)|
|Gorst, Sir John||Moate, Sir Roger|
|Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Moss, Malcolm|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)||Needham, Rt Hon Richard|
|Grylls, Sir Michael||Nelson, Anthony|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy||Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Hargreaves, Andrew||Norris, Steve|
|Harris, David||Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Hawkins, Nick||Ottaway, Richard|
|Hayes, Jerry||Page, Richard|
|Heald, Oliver||Paice, James|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Patnick, Sir Irvine|
|Hendry, Charles||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Pawsey, James|
|Hill, James (Southampton Test)||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)||Pickles, Eric|
|Horam, John||Porter, Barry (Wirral S)|
|Hordem, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)||Richards, Rod|
|Hunter, Andrew||Riddick, Graham|
|Jack, Michael||Robathan, Andrew|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)|
|Jessel, Toby||Robinson, Mark (Somerton)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)|
|Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)||Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela|
|Key, Robert||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Kilfedder, Sir James||Sackville, Tom|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy|
|Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)||Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Knox, Sir David||Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian|
|Kynoch, George (Kincardine)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Shersby, Michael|
|Lamont, Ftt Hon Norman||Sims, Roger|
|Lang, Rt Hon Ian||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Lawrence, Sir Ivan||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Leigh, Edward||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Soames, Nicholas||Trend, Michael|
|Speed, Sir Keith||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Spencer, Sir Derek||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)||Viggers, Peter|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Spink, Dr Robert||Walden, George|
|Spring, Richard||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|Sproat, Iain||Waller, Gary|
|Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)||Ward, John|
|Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John||Wardle, Charles (Bexfill)|
|Steen, Anthony||Waterson, Nigel|
|Stephen, Michael||Watts, John|
|Stem, Michael||Wells, Bowen|
|Stewart, Allan||Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Streeter, Gary||Whitney, Ray|
|Sumberg, David||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Sweeney, Walter||Wiggin, Sir Jerry|
|Sykes, John||Wilkinson, John|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter||Willetts, David|
|Taylor, Ian (Esher)||Wilshire, David|
|Taylor, John M (Solihull)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)|
|Thomason, Roy||Wolfson, Mark|
|Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)||Wood, Timothy|
|Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)||Yeo, Tim|
|Thornton, Sir Malcolm||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)||Mr. Timothy Kirkhope and Mr. Michael Bates.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 60 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading), and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).