HC Deb 04 December 2002 vol 395 cc993-1016

Question again proposed, That the Bill be read a Second time.

9.00 pm
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

I speak as a minority participant in tonight's debate, in that I am a non-lawyer. Following the speech of the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), I must tell him that I agreed with about 85 per cent. of what he said, and with every word that he said during his first three minutes. That will therefore cut down the length of my contribution, which should assist my colleagues.

The Home Secretary said that the Bill formed part of an end-to-end reform of the criminal justice system. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have had the good grace to mention projects such as sure start. Important projects such as that and the Children's Fund are all critical to this end-to-end reform. I am sure that I am not the only one who gets letters week after week from constituents facing antisocial behaviour in their communities. Tonight I want to talk specifically from the point of view of the victims. That is the right end of the telescope through which to look, in the context not only of the Bill but of the whole of the Government's programme.

Yobbish behaviour is undertaken by a very small group of people; it is not the norm. Most young people do a tremendous amount of good in our communities, but that small group must be dealt with more severely within the framework of the criminal justice system. The hon. Members for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) and for South-West Bedfordshire both talked about the role of parents, and in that respect I agree with them. From the small beginnings of antisocial behaviour, all the way through to major criminality, we need to consider the point of view of the victims first. That means that we need to give the police the powers to deal with issues at the investigative stage, and the courts the powers to play their part.

I mentioned a particular case in an earlier intervention. An 83-year-old lady in my constituency, who is registered disabled, has over the past couple of years had her house and outbuildings pelted with air gun pellets, had windows broken and so on. When she bravely confronted the perpetrators, all that she received was verbal abuse. She now lives in fear in her property and, despite having lived there for 25 years, is now considering moving home. The police have been called on a number of occasions, but under current legislation they seem powerless to put an end to the activities of those young terrorists—because that is what they are—who are making her life a misery. We need a framework of law to address such cases. The new sentencing policy will, to use its catchphrase, put "sense into the sentencing". Ensuring that the punishment fits the crime and the criminal is important at this stage, in relation to the kind of behaviour that we all see in our constituencies. New provisions affecting juveniles in this Bill and others are equally important.

Another case involves a local man who was the victim of a violent assault. This case particularly illustrates the need for an end-to-end revision of the system. The sole witness to the crime was terrorised into withdrawing his statement, and as a result there has been no prosecution. My constituent, who has suffered not only physical hurt but real trauma, has now had salt rubbed into his wounds by the attitude of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, which treats him as nothing but a nuisance. Its attitude is simply, "You cannot be traumatised unless you have had time off work." This man is a professional who has stuck at his work—he is a schoolteacher. He has gone through a great deal of personal distress, but he is being told that he cannot be compensated for his trauma because he did not take time off. Is that the message that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wants to send out? I am sure that it is not. We need end-to-end reform.

The Government must take a tougher line on criminality, and the Bill will help to achieve that. Referring back to that particular case, knowledge of previous convictions will convince people and perhaps make it easier for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to satisfy the court of the validity of the evidence that they can bring before it. If it would not jeopardise any future prosecution, I would name the perpetrators of that crime. We all live in relatively small communities, and because of anecdotal evidence built up from casework, we often know who the perpetrators are. We need a measure to help the process.

I particularly welcome the Bill's proposals on reforming the double jeopardy law. As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, apparently, once a person has been tried and acquitted of a serious offence, there can be no retrial unless compelling new evidence comes to light. That is wrong, for reasons that have been clearly enunciated tonight. The consideration of the matter by some of our Oscar-winning colleagues in the legal profession is entirely false, and we must consider it from the victims' point of view.

I admired the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), who referred to DNA and other evidence and hit the nail on the head. As time goes on, we shall see developments not just in DNA technology, but across the panoply of the forensic armoury, and we cannot predict where those will end. We must create a framework within which scientific advances enable us to adduce evidence from things that would previously have been discarded, and we must be able to retrieve those things and put them back in use if they might fundamentally alter the outcome of any logical analysis of the evidence that has been gathered.

That will be difficult to achieve. One could argue on the one hand that the system ought to be based only on information gathered at the time or, on the other, that the great problem is deducing what evidence will be of use in the future, when different analytical techniques begin to emerge. We need a framework that enables us to move forward as the science develops.

In my capacity as patron of the charity RoadPeace, and chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on justice for road traffic victims, I am delighted to see steady progress being made in relation to crimes on the road—in particular, in relation to focusing on the victims' point of view. Time and again in cases that I have dealt with in that capacity, we discover that issues of intent—for instance, in the case of a drunk who did not intend to go out and kill—result in rather bizarre sentences. In a range of areas, logic would produce a solution different from that offered by our current system.

My plea to the House, and to my hon. Friend the Minister, is that we should review our criminal justice system root and branch and ensure that it is a victims' justice system. The reform is long overdue; the system is much in need of change to ensure that it has the public's confidence and provides the justice that victims deserve. The reforms proposed today will create a justice system that supports and informs victims, respects and protects witnesses and delivers justice on behalf of victims, defendants and the community. That is what the House should be achieving.

9.09 pm
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby)

Like many who have spoken today, I have no legal qualifications. I speak as chair of the all-party group for abuse investigations, which has been examining procedures employed by the police and other parts of the criminal justice system when investigating historic complex sexual abuse cases. The Home Affairs Select Committee recently—this year—inquired into the conduct of such investigations, and produced its report a few weeks ago. Its recommendations support the concerns of the all-party group, and I hope that the Bill will be developed to enable it to respond positively to those 23 recommendations.

My comments will be made in the context of my knowledge of the way in which sexual abuse inquiries are conducted in the United Kingdom. I am deeply concerned about the fact that the current criminal justice process has led to the conviction of innocent men, many of whom will die in jail. Thousands of men have been identified as sex offenders in the UK in the last four years. Many are arrested and many are charged. Many cases are dropped. A few men are acquitted, and many are convicted.

The evidence advanced in such cases consists of the verbal recollection by an individual of events that may have taken place up to 50 years earlier. The accusers are normally convicted criminals who are in prison, on remand or on parole. Witnesses who may be prisoners are interviewed, in prison or at home, many times while the police try to obtain a statement that will pass muster as far as the CPS is concerned. I have evidence of men being interviewed 13 times in 10 different prisons.

Witnesses in such cases may be "worked" by the police for up to five years. Meanwhile, the accused is damned to a never-ending torture, waiting to be called to court—or, in some cases, the investigation is dropped the day before the case is due to go to court. Many witnesses subsequently claim huge amounts in compensation, typically £40,000, and there is a consensus that the availability for compensation corrupts the integrity of the process and the police inquiries.

While I welcome the changes in the regulations relating to the management of suspects, I am deeply concerned about the absence of a comparable system for the management of witnesses, particularly vulnerable witnesses such as prisoners who have a unique relationship with the police. They may well comply with the desires of the police, but to gain personal advantage rather than to ensure a just outcome. The case of the Birmingham six led to the establishment of protocols for the management of physical evidence. I want comparable arrangements for oral evidence, when merely the recollections of individuals can cause men with unblemished characters to be sent to jail for up to 18 years.

I am acutely aware that the definition of disclosure varies from judge to judge. Any attempt to reduce that variation would be welcomed by all prosecuting and defence solicitors involved in such cases. Many solicitors believe that innocent men have frequently been found guilty because evidence has not been made available to them as it is in other cases.

As for indictment without a jury, some legal teams representing men who say they are innocent of sexual abuse crimes want such cases, which are very emotive, to be heard by a judge and panel. I understand why that is desirable. All of us who have seen press reports produced before such cases go to court can well imagine the impact that has. However, I think that addressing the inadequacies of police procedures, and also reviewing the discretion of the press, would obviate the need for trial by judge.

I cannot agree with the proposal concerning double jeopardy. My experience of such cases suggests that although some men are acquitted, the police have formed a view of them. I believe that they will continue to trawl for further witnesses until they get their man. I suppose I could accept double jeopardy in some circumstances, but my confidence in the police has been badly eroded.

As for evidence of bad character, a witness's bad character is a positive benefit, as the prosecution normally asserts that the witness has a bad character because of the abuse that he or she has suffered. I cannot comment on the validity of such statements, but I believe there is a strong argument for allowing the defence to determine the validity of witnesses, many of whom have serious mental health problems or convictions for perjury. Indeed, this proposal has been considered by the Attorney-General following the collapse of the Damilola case. I hope that it can be considered again during this Bill's passage. Bringing into court a victim who is not fit to give evidence is an abuse of the victim.

I want three further matters to be considered in the Bill. I want full declaration of intent with regard to the claiming of compensation, and a complete ban on payments to witnesses. Compensation in any payment form invariably corrupts the outcome of a case. I want anonymity for people who are accused of sex abuse crimes. Hundreds of lives have been ruined, and even where suspects are found innocent, they never recover from the damage caused by these accusations, and their families and children continue to suffer. Lifting anonymity following a conviction would still allow the victims to advance complaints.

Most importantly, I want the terms of reference of the Criminal Cases Review Commission to be changed, so that it is able to consider cases that it currently cannot. At the moment, the CCRC's terms of reference allow it to refer cases back to the Court of Appeal only if a technical error has been committed during the conduct of a case, or if new evidence has been advanced. However, there is never new evidence in such cases, and technical failure is very difficult to establish. The CCRC's terms of reference should therefore be extended to enable cases to be referred on the basis that there has been a miscarriage of justice. Unless this change is introduced, many men currently in prison who are believed to be innocent will die there.

9.16 pm
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

I begin by placing on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy), and to his opposite number, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), whose astute management of business allowed every Member who wanted to speak to get in. That success is a tribute to their skills. I also hope that the Procedure Committee will revisit the question of putting the list of speakers on the back of the Speaker's Chair, so that colleagues do not have to endure the agony of not knowing whether they are going to be able to speak. However, that issue is for another day.

At times, today's debate reminded me of going to a soccer match, reading the report the next day and wondering whether one actually attended the match. I thought that I was here to discuss the Criminal Justice Bill, but I discovered that it had already been commandeered by some of the usual suspects, the rounding up of whom we have talked about in another context. Perhaps they could be described as the civil liberties lobby. Some of them are born again Conservative civil libertarians, which is wonderful to see. The lawyerly representatives of producer interests were out in force, along with those who are rightly preoccupied with some of the vital, if esoteric, issues of high legality: double jeopardy, hearsay, previous convictions, and so on.

I want to try to retrieve this Bill, and to return it to some of its original purposes and perspectives. For the great majority of my constituents, such high drama is meaningless. Instead, they have to cope with the daily dramas caused by lesser offences and antisocial behaviour—activities that rarely, if ever, go before a jury, and which still less elicit stirring defences of ancient liberties. Nevertheless, such activities degrade and impoverish the ordinary life of the community. The civic liberty of those ordinary people has long been lost, but their condition goes unremarked by a legal elite that has robbed them of their law, just as certainly as—I am afraid—we have occasionally distanced them from our representative democracy. They will judge this Bill by its determination and ability to reduce vandalism, graffiti, shoplifting and domestic theft, the stealing and abandoning of cars, and street brawls. They want this Bill to reduce the ugly, un-neighbourly behaviour that they see and hear around them: litter, noise, foul language, and alcohol and other drug excesses. They want this Bill to provide faster and more efficient justice. They want to be assured that the same small core of repeat offenders will not be left endlessly at large in the community, unpunished and unreformed. They want the Bill to ensure that witnesses are not intimidated and that trials are not delayed by bureaucracy and procedural trickery sometimes masquerading as civil liberty. They want the Bill to provide clear and consistent sentencing, not because they are vindictive but simply because they want to have the confidence that the criminal justice system is working for them.

The law—our law—must be repatriated to those people. It must address the reality of their lives. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should make no apology for that. We all know him to be an honourable and affable man, but he should not back down easily on some of the proposals in the Bill. We do not want a repeat of what happened with the mode of trial proposals, with people able to pick and choose their preferred type of trial. That does not go down well on some of the estates in Nottingham, North. Neither do we want the Home Secretary to back down in the way that happened when chief constables were able to decide which Government policies they would like to implement and which they preferred to put on one side.

I am afraid that that pick-and-mix legality has no place in tackling some serious problems that do not involve esoteric, philosophical musings about civil liberties. The problems about which I am concerned are to do with the liberties of my constituents on my estates. Their concerns need to be addressed, and the House should not follow its tendency to go in for lawyerly debate and discussion. That leaves most people cold, and deeply dissatisfied with a criminal justice system that does not deliver for them.

Not only must justice be seen to be done, it must be understood to be done. Those are the tests of the Bill proposed by constituents in my relatively tough area of Nottingham, North. I hope that they will get new hope from the Bill. They will welcome the promise, in the forthcoming courts Bill, of better support and protection for victims and witnesses. They will welcome the commitment in this Bill to greater clarity and certainty in sentencing. The Government cannot do too much to make sentencers explain exactly what a sentence means and to correct the widespread perception that a prisoner released to serve the second half of a sentence in the community is, in effect, getting out early.

When we reach the portion of the Bill devoted to sentencing, I hope that the Government will make sentencers distinguish clearly between a sentence's different purposes, and ascribe an element of a sentence to each purpose. For instance, they would have to say that so much of a sentence was for punishment, so much for deterrence, and so much for restitution or rehabilitation. With long sentences, I hope that the Government will consider allowing sentencers to set educational targets as part of the rehabilitation element.

Although it is welcome, in isolation the Bill cannot solve the problem of offending behaviour, in my constituency or anywhere else. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary recognises that, and is carrying through the approach set out in the White Paper, which dwelt on the importance of the multiagency and interdepartmental approach. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has decided not only to look at the criminal justice system in its entirety, but to strengthen its relationship with other agencies that aim to reduce offending in the community.

That can be seen most obviously in the proposals for drug-related offending and for the supervision of dangerous offenders in the community. However, as has been noted by hon. Members of all parties, just as important are the sure start schemes that work with children under five years of age, and the vigilance of health workers, health visitors and primary school teachers, who must institute early remedial action.

It is a tragic waste that agencies and professional experts so often come together only after someone has offended. Society must be prepared to intervene earlier. Again, that will cause some screams from civil libertarians, but we must look at the possibility of intervening earlier, with the fullest possible professional assessment and support, before a crime or tragedy happens. The cost of delay—to the individual involved, the child, the growing human being and, above all, the wider society—is incalculable.

My right hon. Friend will know how much the success of the Bill depends on issues that are outside it. The impact of Government economic success, not least in creating jobs for young people, has been one of our foremost crime prevention measures. The need to be clear about the role of the police and the deployment of record numbers of officers is irrelevant if they are not on our streets and seen to be doing their job. The Home Secretary needs to reconsider how we get chief constables to operate under their operational responsibilities in a way that reflects the collective desire of the House to see community policing work.

I am delighted to see in his place my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who has responsibility for drugs. Another part of a co-ordinated approach has to be a national education policy for drugs education. It cannot be left to chance or to isolated and sporadic if well meaning efforts, but must be co-ordinated nationally. We will stand condemned if, by the end of our second term in office, we do not have a national roll-out of a drugs education policy. I look forward to my hon. Friend's statement later this week.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will know from his experience in education that a major element in preventing offending is to engage local communities in education—not only children but people of every age. It does not simply mean cracking down on truanting, although that it important, but giving the whole community the belief that education is the pathway to ambition and personal prosperity. Unfortunately, for reasons that no one has analysed, young people in my constituency do not have that belief. My constituency sends fewer youngsters to university than any other in the UK. We are looking at that, and I ask my right hon. Friend to keep that interest in education because of its connection with reducing offending.

This is a long and ambitious Bill. Certain parts of it are destined to be failures; indeed, we have had failures in all previous efforts made to reform the criminal justice system. It follows a series of Bills that have attempted to address these problems. Once again, a failing of our institution in tackling crime is to ignore the front-line professionals and the public who could help us with some of the answers. That is why I am sorry that the Government did not submit the Bill to pre-legislative scrutiny. None the less, I pay tribute to the brief and brave effort of the Home Affairs Committee to give us some background on the Bill. However, I am afraid that that is not as adequate as having proper online scrutiny which would have produced a better Bill.

The Government and the House would have been enriched by ideas and comments from the front line—people in neighbourhood watches, front-line staff in the police, probation and court services, victims and witnesses. We could have put right straight away areas of practice that will need further legislation, rather than struggling in Committee in our ritualised way.

We have denied the public the understanding and ownership of these much needed measures. Instead of being the culmination of a national debate, these necessary and welcome measures feel hasty and imposed and will need to be revisited. I hope very much that the Government will learn this lesson and that any future Bills of this nature that are amenable to genuine public consultation will be consulted on early, so that when we come to our formal processes, we will make better law. I commend the Bill and hope that it finds safe passage through the House.

9.29 pm
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

First, I have to declare an interest as a barrister. However, speaking for myself, this has been the most interesting Second Reading debate that I have ever attended in the Chamber because of the sheer diversity of views. I am sure that one of the reasons for that was the way in which the Home Secretary set the tone for the debate in presenting the Bill. The contributions that I heard were all illuminating and suggest that a great deal will be able to be done in Committee, a point that I will return to later.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) set a tone that was slightly different from that of other contributors, as he admitted himself. His speech provides a good starting point. He said, rightly, that he hoped for great things from the Bill but accepted that many connected provisions, which would ensure its success, had not been included.

The hon. Gentleman is right. We are legislating on only one aspect of the criminal justice system. Many of the concerns that he raised, which I have no difficulty in sharing—especially as regards the anxieties of his constituents—cannot be solved by the Bill because it relates only to that percentage of those who commit offences who are arrested and brought before the courts. The vast majority are not.

A point that the hon. Gentleman may want to bear in mind is that as all human systems are fallible, we have to accept that, however well-intentioned we are, many of the sentences or ideas that we come up with often do not work. Only a few days ago, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), in answer to a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), explained how drug treatment and testing orders were working.

We discover that between October 2000 and 30 September 2002, 9,042 orders were made, but it is accepted that in just one six-month period during that time, 2,175 breach proceedings were instigated, and that only 902 cases resulted in termination of the order for failure to comply. If that is extrapolated over the two- year period, it suggests that those extremely well-intentioned provisions are not working. We need to bear that in mind when considering how to reassure the public.

I hope that I shall be able to do justice to some of the many contributions to the debate.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that his assessment of the nature of addiction and of how it can be dealt with under DTTOs needs a little more analysis?

Mr. Grieve

I did not cite those figures as a criticism; I know that the Government were well intentioned when they introduced the orders. However, the letter gives cause for concern as to whether the system, which was designed to ensure that offenders were kept off drugs by regular treatment and testing, is working. It rather suggests—[Interruption.] I do not want to get into a dispute with the Minister. We cannot get away from the fact that the figures suggest the contrary—that a good idea has not worked.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) expressed serious concerns, especially on previous convictions. I hope that the Government will bear those points in mind. I shall try to return to them later.

The hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) made an interesting speech, one of the few that was broadly supportive of the entirety of the Government's position. Two points arose from what he said in what was a civil lawyer's speech. What shone through it was the belief that criminal cases can be solved on the balance of probabilities by throwing everything into the pot and expecting that elusive commodity called the truth to emerge. A similar belief underpinned comments made to me by Lord Falconer. However, I do not think that the court system can ever be like that.

On the contrary, we all seek the truth. Doubtless we shall find it on the great day of judgment, but until then we should be very wary of running around in search of the truth and, in the process, blinding ourselves to the fact that it may be more sensible not to do that but to ensure—as our criminal justice system does—that in any given case we are sure of a person's guilt before we convict him. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) made that point with great force.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) made a most powerful speech. I hope that her comments, taken with those of my hon. Friends the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) and for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), will highlight the fact that it is possible to believe that one should be tough on crime while not wishing to see injustice perpetrated in trying to arrive at that position. That underpins our philosophy. I dare say that it underpins the philosophy of many hon. Members who have contributed this evening, but we cannot get away from that point because a totalitarian system will never deliver justice. It may fill the prisons, but there will be many innocent people in them.

That point was also well made by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore). I was interested in his comments about prejudicial hearsay—a very complicated issue on which the Bill will require extremely close scrutiny, although I accept that there may be circumstances in which it is proper to relax the current rules on hearsay.

I wish to refer to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley). I very much enjoyed his defence of the jury system, not just because it delivers proper results—it produces as good an assessment of guilt or innocence as we can get—but because it involves the participation of the community in the criminal justice system and underpins our liberties in doing so. It ensures that our system of justice does not pitch the state against the person, but in fact involves a condemnation that comes from those in the community who have heard and assessed the evidence.

The jury system is an immense advantage in our system of justice, but the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North seemed to like the French inquisitorial system. Well, I am half French; I know France well. The French newspapers cannot be opened without reading about one scandal after another involving miscarriages of justice brought about by the over-zealousness of inquisitorial magistrates, backed by their extensive powers and, in fact, by the lack of an adequate jury system to safeguard defendants. I would not wish this country to follow that example.

The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) made some very important comments on restorative justice. Of course much of that is outside the scope of the Bill, which highlights our great need to address the issues that go to the root of crime, rather than simply being obsessed with procedure or easy fixes.

I was also pleased with the comments on jury trial made by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), but I was not persuaded by his views on jury tampering. Where are the cases? Where is the evidence of the cases that relate to jury tampering? I have not yet come across them to determine the extent of the problem.

The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) made a speech calling for caution, which I welcome in relation to the Government's proposals. I was interested in the robust speech made by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), and I fully accept that crime has become a major problem for our constituents irrespective of whether they live in middle-class areas or inner cities. I assure him that when I open a speech on crime to my constituents or any new audience, I simply highlight the fact that the view that crime has risen exponentially and is a real problem is not some derangement. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary has just arrived back in the Chamber, so perhaps he will finish hearing what I have to say.

In the 1940s, there were 600 robberies per annum; there are now 95,000. There were 55,000 burglaries per annum; there are now more than 800,000. At one stage, the figure peaked at 1.3 million. That is an exponential rise, especially as the population of this country has risen only by about 14 million in that period. Those comments have as much relevance and application to Conservative Governments as to Labour Governments, but they should remind us to be very wary of quick fixes.

I should mention my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who called for local justice. I did not have a chance to intervene in the speech made by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), but he will find that I will have a chance to deal with at least one point that he made in the remarks that follow.

Let me turn to the main issues in the Bill. First, there are some good things. I am delighted with part 6 and the speeding up of procedure. I agree that there are vested interests that stand in the way of that, and I have no truck with them whatever. At least one of those vested interests, however, in my experience as a barrister, is the judiciary. We cannot avoid the fact that some of the delays in the criminal justice system are due to professional judges. I have had direct experience of that, and we must tackle that as well as the activities of lawyers.

I am also pleased about the sentencing provisions, although I would hope for some reassurance from the Minister. Sentencing plus and sentencing minus are key reforms. I had always understood that they would accompany the raising of the magistrates' sentencing powers. If it is suggested that magistrates' sentencing powers are to be raised without sentencing plus and sentencing minus being introduced at the same time, however, I fear that we will see a massive increase in the prison population, and that the system will not be in place to deal with it in the manner that was envisaged in the Halliday report.

Simon Hughes

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, linked to those two things, which I agree must go together, must be the resources—almost as soon as the Bill becomes law—so that custody plus and custody minus can be implemented? A resource implementation of five or 10 years hence is clearly ludicrous if magistrates courts are to have real alternatives to custody.

Mr. Grieve

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right. I cannot see how this centrepiece of the Bill, which is in many ways its key part, will work if there is a dysfunctional system in which the parts have not been brought together.

Much has been said about jury trial, but I want to make one or two further remarks. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) in an intervention seemed to be right. I do not understand the criticism of jury trial and the reason why we are to get rid of it, as it seems that the Government have answered their own question in the Bill. It sets out to suggest that people may opt for trial by judge alone as an alternative that the state sees as identical in quality to jury trial, yet it puts in caveats to deny it to certain categories of individual to provide public reassurance. If the Minister thinks carefully about that issue, he should incline to the view that the jury trial proposals should be dropped.

Similarly, it was suggested that long trials would be a problem for jurors. It was also suggested, which surprised me, that we should be concerned if trials were broken up. My experience as a barrister is that the best service that judges ever do in trials is to order the severance of indictments. Far from leading to bad justice, that means that issues are discussed much faster, and if, at the end of the first trial, someone is found not guilty, the prosecution tends to think long and hard before proceeding with the second, and if it does not succeed on the second, it thinks long and hard before proceeding with the third. That is a great cost saving, and if the defendant is convicted on the first, he is sometimes willing to plead guilty to the indictments on the second. I therefore do not accept that argument.

Mr. Allen

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that some of the esoteric legal games about which he is talking are the very things that drive witnesses away from participating in the process? The longer the delays, and the more options that are available, the easier it is for defendants to get at witnesses. That is not only prevalent in gangland cases but in the case of abandoned cars, antisocial behaviour—indeed, right across the board.

Mr. Grieve

I appreciate the strength of the hon. Gentleman's feelings, and we can certainly look at the matter carefully in Committee, but he has not understood my point. I disagree with him entirely that severance of indictments by judges to have short trials on discrete issues leads to any of the mischief with which he is concerned.

Further detail and careful consideration are needed on the rules on hearsay. In relation to double jeopardy, we have centred on scientific evidence and the question of DNA. A meeting that I had with DNA experts only yesterday, however, suggests that it may be of much less use than we think, because the conditions in which scientific samples were collected in the 1960s and 1970s properly raise issues of contamination that may make subsequent DNA analysis worthless. We should be wary of getting carried away with the idea that there is a quick fix. However, I accept that double jeopardy should be examined carefully.

I shall wind up my remarks to give the Minister a chance to reply, but I make a final point. We have had a good debate. If the Home Secretary's words are true, I am confident that, in Committee and subsequent stages, the Bill can be improved and turned into a worthwhile monument of the House's endeavour. However, I make a simple plea. It is all too easy to trivialise the issues and to play to the gallery. The Prime Minister's remarks at Question Time today did not encourage me in the view that the measured approach that we have adopted today will survive if there is genuine debate when matters are raised that are contrary to what the Government are trying to achieve. There are good things in the Bill, and we can make a positive impact. However, if we get carried away with rhetoric, we will fail the country and the criminal justice system.

9.45 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Hilary Benn)

I begin by declaring an interest: I am not a lawyer. However, I agree entirely with a lawyer, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), when he described this as an excellent and considered debate. I will do my best in the time available to respond to as many points as possible. Where that is not possible, I shall write to hon. Members.

Although this a complex and lengthy Bill that will keep us occupied for many happy and occasionally disputatious hours in Committee, it is important to keep in sight the purpose of these green pages. The purpose was set out clearly by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in his measured opening speech, and by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) when he said at column 289 on 17 July 2002, "The system needs reform." I agree. That is what the Bill seeks to do. It seeks reform to make the criminal justice system work more effectively in the search for truth.

Dr. Desmond Turner

There is one problem that the Bill does not currently address. More than 200 children under two are either killed or seriously injured every year in their homes, and only about a quarter of those cases result in prosecution of any kind. Can my hon. Friend assure me that that point will at least be considered in Committee?

Hilary Benn

I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that we will consider that point although, currently, it is not directly covered by the Bill.

The reform is about trying to increase confidence in the system and about developing and making available a range of sentences, including effective community penalties. It seeks to do all this in a way that upholds the fundamental principles of presumption of innocence and the prosecution having to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset conjured up a vision of the queue before the custody sergeant. It is an issue with which we should be concerned but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) pointed out, clause 3 on street bail will, I hope, shorten that queue. The proposal has been widely welcomed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, referred to amendments to the PACE code. We are happy to consider the arrangements for parliamentary approval and guidance for time limits on custodial bail.

I say to the hon. Members for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) and to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) that I welcome very much their welcome for the new sentencing structure—custody minus and custody plus. We have to ensure that it is properly resourced. I also welcome the theme that has run through a number of speeches on the importance of rehabilitation.

The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) asked about Northern Ireland, and whether some of the provisions will be extended there For example, those on disclosure, double jeopardy and prosecution appeals will be extended there and others could be so extended if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wishes. A review of sentencing is currently going on in Northern Ireland, and I agree very much with the points the hon. Lady made about the importance of restorative justice.

The Bill will in part help to tackle the issues addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). His eloquent words expressed the anger, fear, bewilderment and even sometimes the tears of my constituents who stand before me not understanding what is happening. They cannot cope and cannot understand why they have to live their lives in the way that they do.

Three main issues occupied hon. Members. The first was trial by jury. We propose to amend the principle of trial by jury in a very limited number of cases. One or two hon. Members used the phrase "a slippery slope". I think it is more a friction incline. We have changed our mind on mode of trial, a fact acknowledged most eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney). The mode of trial proposals, which we are not proceeding with because we have listened to the arguments, would have removed jury trial from about 20,000 defendants a year. The proposals in this Bill will affect perhaps fewer than a hundred cases a year. The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) asked, quite reasonably, about the extended sentencing power for magistrates, and mentioned 6,000 fewer jury trials. Notwithstanding that change, defendants will retain the right, if they wish, to opt for jury trial in either-way cases.

There are only two motivations for the proposed change: one is to protect jury members from the burden of long complex trials, a point acknowledged by the Select Committee in its report today and the second is to protect the integrity of our legal process from those who attempt to subvert it. In the light of some speeches, in particular by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden, I simply ask the House to consider whether our proposal is a fundamental assault on the principle of jury trial, or are there, as the Select Committee reasonably said in its report, "cogent reasons" and "cogent arguments" for change in two specific sets of circumstances?

Simon Hughes

Does the Minister accept that there are reasonable arguments, although he might not yet have been persuaded by them, for finding ways in which we enable people to cope with complex fraud cases more easily? Juries could be found and we would not have to cause inconvenience to people who would find a long trial difficult. There are alternative ways to deal with the problem, which do not involve removing jury trial. Will the Government reconsider that?

Hilary Benn

I am much persuaded by the comments and experiences of judges who have tried to use the system in some of the longest running fraud trials. The Maxwell case has been mentioned. Blue Arrow is another example. Those judges have expressed great frustration about the difficulties of trying to accommodate the wish to include all the evidence and the pressure to separate bits of it so that juries can cope. The Government's fundamental concern relates to the burden on individual jury members and the damage that that does to the principle of representative juries.

The second issue relates to double jeopardy. The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) asked who came up with the idea of making changes to double jeopardy. The change was recommended by the Law Commission, Lord Justice Auld, the Home Affairs Committee and, dare I say it, the 2001 Conservative party manifesto, not a source of advice that I would usually pray in aid as a guide to policy, but I am happy to make an exception in this case.

We are worried about miscarriages of justice. That is why the safeguards are in the Bill. However, it is because we are concerned about miscarriages of justice that we want to change the law on double jeopardy. If the purpose of justice is to acquit the innocent and bring the guilty to account—and it is—then why not put compelling new evidence before a jury for the reasons set out passionately by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West? Of course the ultimate safeguard—the real answer to the question of whether such a trial can be fair—is the jury: we must trust the jury.

Thirdly, I turn to previous convictions and bad conduct. I recognise the fears and genuine concerns expressed about the impact of the proposal. However, anybody who reads what Sir Robin Auld had to say about the issue, particularly about his own reluctance in this matter, which he acknowledged in his report, will see that the current system is not clear and does not make sense. The Law Commission said: The present law suffers from a number of defects … they constitute a haphazard mixture of statute and common law rules which produce inconsistent and unpredictable results, in crucial respects distort the trial process, make tactical considerations paramount and inhibit the defence in presenting its true case to the fact-finders". In his opening remarks, the right hon. Member for West Dorset expressed surprise that we are proposing to allow the admittance not only of previous convictions but of previous acquittals, and I simply point out that that is already the case. Paragraph 287 of the explanatory memorandum, which refers to the case of Z, says that the House of Lords held that there was no special rule that 'required the exclusion of evidence that a person had been involved in earlier offences, even if they had been acquitted of those crimes, provided that that evidence was otherwise admissible. On previous convictions and previous conduct—I think that this is the answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe)—the key safeguard is that on application by the defendant under clause 84(3) the judge will have to be satisfied that the probative value of that evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect. In other words, the judge must ask whether admitting the evidence would adversely affect the fairness of the proceedings. If so, it would not be admitted. Again, the ultimate safeguard remains—the jury. We should trust the jury to weigh the evidence in those cases.

Mr. Grieve

I am mindful of the comments made by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) who said that he did not think that the rules would change very much. Yet the way in which the Government have gone on about them, particularly to the media, suggests that they make a fundamental change in procedure by allowing juries to know about previous convictions. It has to be one or the other. I think that the Bill will allow serious changes to take place unless, of course, judges, in their discretion, simply make sure that those changes are mitigated, and that is not what I understood the Minister to be trying to achieve.

Hilary Benn

The Bill aims to achieve much greater clarity and consistency in the way in which that evidence is admitted, but that process is subject to what must, in light of the concerns that have been expressed, be the ultimate safeguard—the judge making a judgment.

Another reason why the debate has been so good is that we have clarified the fundamental arguments and I look forward to those being taken forward in Committee. However, I hope that the House will recognise that this is not an argument with the legal profession; it is not about undermining fundamental principles and it is not about tilting the scales of justice against the accused. I do not believe that treating victims better means treating defendants any less fairly.

This is about the 30,000 trials a year that never take place because witnesses are intimidated or are too frightened to turn up. It is about processes leading to better-prepared cases and swifter hearings. It is about putting relevant evidence before the court so that it can judge the facts and discover the truth. It is about better protection for our constituents from dangerous offenders. It is about new community sentences that will help to rehabilitate. It is about looking, for the first time, at the effectiveness of sentences in preventing reoffending. It is ultimately about trying to rebuild confidence in the criminal justice system. Those sound to me like pretty good principles. In the end, this is about changes that I hope will make a difference to the lives of the people that we represent because we are seeking to reform the system, and for that reason I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 303, Noes 67.

Division No. 19] [9:59 pm
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Allen, Graham Caplin, Ivor
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E) Caton, Martin
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen) Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Challen, Cohn
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Atherton, Ms Candy Chaytor, David
Atkins, Charlotte Clapham, Michael
Bailey, Adrian Clark, hon. Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Baird, Vera
Barron, rh Kevin Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Battle, John Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)
Bayley, Hugh Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, rh Margaret Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Begg, Miss Anne Clelland, David
Benn, Hilary Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Bennett, Andrew Coaker, Vernon
Benton, Joe (Bootle) Coffey, Ms Ann
Berry, Roger Cohen, Harry
Betts, Clive Coleman, Iain
Blackman, Liz Colman, Tony
Blears, Ms Hazel Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Blizzard, Bob Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Blunkett, rh David Cousins, Jim
Boateng, rh Paul Cranston, hon. Ross
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington) Crausby, David
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Cruddas, Jon
Bradshaw, Ben Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend) Cummings, John
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Bryant, Chris Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Buck, Ms Karen Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Burden, Richard Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Burgon, Cohn Darling, rh Alistair
Byers, rh Stephen Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Davidson, Ian
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Dawson, Hilton Jowell, rh Tessa
Dean, Mrs Janet Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Denham, rh John Kaufman, rh Gerald
Dhanda, Parmjit Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Dobson, rh Frank Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Donohoe, Brian H. Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Doran, Frank Kemp, Fraser
Drew, David (Stroud) Khabra, Piara S.
Drown, Ms Julia Kidney, David
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Kilfoyle, Peter
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) King, Andy (Rugby)
Edwards, Huw Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Efford, Clive Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ellman, Mrs Louise Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E) Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Fitzpatrick, Jim Lazarowicz, Mark
Flint, Caroline Lepper, David
Flynn, Paul (Newport W) Leslie, Christopher
Follett, Barbara Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Foster, rh Derek Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Foster, Michael (Worcester) Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye) Liddell, rh Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Francis, Dr. Hywel Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Galloway, George Love, Andrew
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S) Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Gerrard, Neil Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
Gibson, Dr. Ian McAvoy, Thomas
Gilroy, Linda McCabe, Stephen
Godsiff, Roger McCartney, rh Ian
Goggins, Paul McDonagh, Siobhain
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) MacDonald, Calum
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) MacDougall, John
Grogan, John McFall, John
Hain, rh Peter McGuire, Mrs Anne
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McIsaac, Shona
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McKechin, Ann
Hamilton, David (Midlothian) McKenna, Rosemary
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Mackinlay, Andrew
Hanson, David McNulty, Tony
Harman, rh Ms Harriet MacShane, Denis
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart) Mactaggart, Fiona
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Healey, John Mallaber, Judy
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Hepburn, Stephen Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Heppell, John Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David Martlew, Eric
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Meacher, rh Michael
Hodge, Margaret Meale, Alan (Mansfield)
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) Merron, Gillian
Hoon, rh Geoffrey Michael, rh Alun
Hope, Phil (Corby) Miller, Andrew
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E) Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E) Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Hoyle, Lindsay Moonie, Dr. Lewis
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Morgan, Julie
Humble, Mrs Joan Morley, Elliot
Hutton, rh John Mountford, Kali
Iddon, Dr. Brian Mudie, George
Illsley, Eric Mullin, Chris
Ingram, rh Adam Munn, Ms Meg
Irranca-Davies, Huw Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jamieson, David O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jenkins, Brian Olner, Bill
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Palmer, Dr. Nick
Perham, Linda Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Picking, Anne Steinberg, Gerry
Pickthall, Colin Stevenson, George
Pike, Peter (Burnley) Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Pond, Chris (Gravesham) Stinchcombe, Paul
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn) Stoate, Dr. Howard
Pound, Stephen Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Stringer, Graham
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Prescott, rh John Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Primarolo, rh Dawn Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Prosser, Gwyn Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Purchase, Ken Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Quin, rh Joyce Tipping, Paddy
Quinn, Lawrie Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Rammell, Bill Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N) Trickett, Jon
Raynsford, rh Nick Truswell, Paul
Reed, Andy (Loughborough) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland) Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Rooney, Terry Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Walley, Ms Joan
Ward Claire
Roy, Frank (Motherwell) Watson Tom (W Bromwich E)
Ruane, Chris Watts, David
Ruddock, Joan White, Brian
Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester) Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Salter, Martin Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Savidge, Malcolm Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Sawford, Phil Wilson, Brian
Sheerman, Barry Winnick, David
Sheridan, Jim Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)
Singh, Marsha Worthington, Tony
Skinner, Dennis Wray, James (Glasgow Baillieston)
Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury) Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Tellers for the Ayes:
Spellar, rh John Joan Ryan and
Squire, Rachel Mr. Phil Woolas
Allan, Richard Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Baker, Norman Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Baldry, Tony Hancock, Mike
Barrett, John Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Beith, rh A. J. Heath, David
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Hermon, Lady
Brake, Tom (Carshalton) Hogg, rh Douglas
Breed, Colin Holmes, Paul
Brooke, Mrs Annette L. Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Bruce, Malcolm
Burnett, John Keetch, Paul
Burnside, David Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
Burstow, Paul
Cable, Dr. Vincent Kirkwood, Archy
Carmichael, Alistair Lamb, Norman
Cotter, Brian Laws, David (Yeovil)
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Lilley, rh Peter
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli) Llwyd, Elfyn
Dodds, Nigel Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Doughty, Sue
Ewing, Annabelle Moore, Michael
Foster, Don (Bath) Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
George, Andrew (St. Ives) Öpik, Lembit
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr) Thurso, John
Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Pugh, Dr. John Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute) Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Rendel, David Weir, Michael
Robertson, Angus (Moray) Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford) Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Willis, Phil
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Wishart, Pete
Sanders, Adrian Younger-Ross, Richard
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Spink, Bob (Castle Point) Tellers for the Noes:
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Mr. Andrew Stunell and
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion) Sir Robert Smith

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

    1. c1008
    2. Committal 10 words
    3. c1008
    4. Proceedings in Standing Committee. 40 words
    5. c1008
    6. Consideration and Third Reading 88 words
    7. c1008
    8. Other proceedings 1,733 words, 1 division
  3. c1015
  4. ESTIMATES, 2001–02 43 words
    1. c1015
    1. c1015
    2. NORTHERN IRELAND 40 words
    3. c1015
    4. POLICE 57 words
    5. c1016
    7. c1016