HL Deb 11 November 1976 vol 377 cc759-62

8.26 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Willis, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Strabolgi.)

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich) moved Amendment No. 1:

Leave out Clause 2 and insert the following new clause:

Restrictions on evidence at trials for rape etc.

.—(l) If at a trial any person is for the time being charged with a rape offence to which he pleads not guilty, then, except with the leave of the judge, no evidence and no question in cross-examination shall be adduced or asked at the trial, by or on behalf of any defendant at the trial, about any sexual experience of a complainant with a person other than that defendant.

(2) The judge shall not give leave in pursuance of the preceding subsection for any evidence or question except on an application made to him in the absence of the jury by or on behalf of a defendant; and on such an application the judge shall give leave if and only if he is satisfied that it would be unfair to that defendant to refuse to allow the evidence to be adduced or the question to be asked.

(3) In subsection (1) of this section "complainant" means a woman upon whom, in a charge for a rape offence to which the trial in question relates, it is alleged that rape was committed, attempted or proposed.

(4) Nothing in this section authorises evidence to be adduced or a question to be asked which cannot be adduced or asked apart from this section.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 1 and, if I may, I will speak to the other Amendments standing in my name and which are consequential. The purpose of these Amendments, which arose out of an undertaking given in Committee to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, to reconsider Clause 2 is to replace that clause by a simpler version. The remainder of these Amendments are consequential upon that.

The new clause omits some of the less important detail in the present Clause 2, while achieving substantially the main purpose of the Heilbron recommendations which is, of course, to prevent character assassination. We had a long discussion on this matter of Clause 2. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, and also the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, spoke to it. We had another look at the phraseology of the clause and we tabled this Amendment. I undertook to discuss this matter with the Promoters of the Bill and they have pronounced themselves as content. I beg to move.


My Lords, my noble and learned friend from the Cross-Benches, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, has asked me to say that he is extremely sorry not to be present on this occasion, and although he does not know what I am about to say he has also agreed with me that the right course to adopt is the one which I am about to recommend to the House; namely, that this Amendment should be agreed to.

I think this is an example of the way in which the two Houses ought to be able to work together. My relations with the Home Office, though not always friendly, are, I hope, always rational and usually civilised, and what has happened, as on the Bail Bill when we had rather a similar situation, is that after discussion in your Lordships' House in which the disadvantages in this case of the inordinate wordiness of Clause 2 as it stands were gone into and the possible practical disadvantages to which this verbiage would almost certainly give rise were explained, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, promised to take these thoughts away and try to devise something simpler. He has done so. Whether what he has devised is perfect or not, I know not, but the perfect is often the enemy of the good, and I can unhesitatingly recommend to the House that this Amendment should be accepted. I also thank him for the trouble he has taken and I thank his colleagues in the Commons, who presumably have endorsed what the Government are about to do. I think it greatly improves the Bill and indeed many of the difficulties and objections which some of us felt to be in the old Clause 2 are removed by this new and more compendious form of words, and I thank the noble Lord very much.


My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, for his acceptance of this Amendment which I think goes a great deal of the way towards meeting the objections that were made at Second Reading. I also join with him in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for what he has done in respect of this Amendment.

Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH moved Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 en bloc:

Page 4, line 11, leave out ("such a trial as is") and insert ("a trial at which a person is charged as").

Page 4, line 22, leave out subsection (3).

Page 4, line 34, leave out paragraph (a) and insert— ("(a) the words "in the absence of the jury" in subsection (2) were omitted; and").

Page 4, line 38, leave out ("other").

On Question, Whether the Bill do now pass?


My Lords, I think it is customary on these occasions to congratulate the sponsor of a Private Member's Bill on having undertaken the public duty, not always an easy one, of passing a Public General Act of Parliament. The thanks of the House are due to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for what he has done.


My Lords, I should like to join the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, in what he has just said. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Willis for having sponsored this Bill in your Lordships' House. I think the Bill has been improved as a result of the discussions we have had here. I am grateful for the accommodating attitude my noble friend adopted, and for that of the Promoters of the Bill in another place, which enabled us to achieve this very happy result.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.