HL Deb 19 April 1977 vol 382 cc36-84

Debate on Amendment No. 16 continued.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, I hesitate before asking the leave of the House to speak a second time. I am not sure whether anyone else wishes to address the House on the Amendment that we were discussing before we heard from my noble friend on the Rhodesian Statement.


My Lords, I should like, briefly, to support the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for two reasons. First, because of the length of time during which we have discussed the Bill, we gather that there are two main reasons for it. The first is to reduce the prison population and the second is to reduce the number of cases going to the Crown Courts. From my experience on the magistrates' bench, if this Amendment is agreed by the Government—and I fully support it—it would make a great deal of difference to the number of cases sent to the Crown Courts under Clause 1. Under Clause 1, unless the defendant is defended in the magistrates' court—and he or she is not always defended—the defendant has no means of knowing what evidence the prosecution intend to call in the Crown Court. It is never given in open court. It is given in open court on Clause 2 committals, but not on Clause 1. On Clause 2 committals the defendant would always know what the prosecution evidence is but not on Clause 1 cornmittals. If this Amendment is accepted, there would be fewer Clause 1 committals going to Crown Courts. For this reason, perhaps among others, I support this Amendment.

4.1 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will reconsider this matter. We are being asked to give an opportunity for action to be taken at a later stage when there has been ample opportunity of fully considering the position in all its circumstances. Almost inevitably in our legal procedure we are accustomed to having absolutely fair treatment from the prosecution in so far as the defence is concerned. I am sure that my noble friend realises that in most cases if the defence wants to know what the prosecution has in mind it has very little difficulty—he will probably think that I am arguing against myself, but I will explain to him that I am not—in getting the prosecution to say what its case really is.

Anyone who has experience of procedure in the courts, particularly on the solicitors' side, will know that that is the case. Prosecuting counsel, or solicitor, or the police, or whoever is prosecuting, will almost invariably tell you what the case is in order to give you an opportunity of knowing where you stand. However, there are a few instances in which that does not occur, and if an Amendment of this kind were to be accepted, an instruction might even be given. I do not know whether I am correct in saying that it is possible for the Home Office to give an instruction, but in order to avoid the possibility of incurring any expense later on, an instruction or some kind of an intimation might be given by the Home Office itself that if the defence wants to know what the prosecution's case is, it is advisable to let them know.

There is no law against it. On the contrary, it is consistent with our system of justice and the administration of justice. I think the question of expense has been highly exaggerated. The noble Lord, Lord Paget, has given an intimation of how the expense could be reduced to a very small amount. The important thing is that there need be no expense, and this may not need to be put into operation at all if the people who prosecute are told that it is advisable to let the defence know beforehand. It is terribly important for the reason which has already been stated, but I do not think we should hesitate in emphasising the point that the time of courts could be saved, and honour saved. At the present time, in consequence of what I was saying a moment or two ago, counsel or solicitor having heard what the prosecution is going to put forward and what evidence they have, the courts and the country are saved a tremendous amount of expense, because counsel and solicitors are reluctant to defend a case if they feel that the evidence available is strong enough to make it practically certain that their client, in spite of whatever eloquent pleas they may put forward, will almost certainly be convicted.

One then advises the client that it is better for him to plead guilty for many reasons. One reason is that a court takes into consideration the fact that if a person pleads guilty, that to some extent mitigates the offence in so far as the sentence is concerned, because a person will not have committed perjury in addition to having committed the offence. Consequently, it is important for those who are defending to decide if there is a strong case against a defendant and that it is almost inevitable that it will succeed, so that they will be able to advise the client to put in a plea of guilty and to offer such mitigating circumstances as they possibly can.

I do not think that following such a course would do the slightest harm. On the contrary, my noble friend might achieve the object of saving expense in respect of the actual giving of the information if he were to adopt the suggestion. I say to him with great respect that if he would accept that suggestion the problem would be solved, and if there was a possibility of considering that type of procedure, it would give them an opportunity of avoiding any expense whatsoever.


My Lords, I listened carefully to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and I am bound to say that I am left in considerable doubt as to what is his objection to this Amendment. As I understand it, the point is merely this: power is given by Clause 38 to make certain regulations. Is it desirable to leave that power a restricted power, or is there any objection to making the power a wider one? There is no obligation imposed. If this Amendment were carried, it merely means that the powers in the Act, if it becomes an Act, are there to be exercised at such time as it is possible and thought desirable to exercise them.

I think that the debate in your Lordships' House has acknowledged that it will be desirable to give as much information to the defence as possible. The only objection to making provision has been that great expense is involved. If there conies a time when that difficulty can be overcome, is there any reason why the power should not exist in the Rule Committee to make the rule? What is the difficulty, what is the objection to having the power? Nothing is imposed upon the Government or the Rule Committee if this Amendment is accepted. I should have hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, could have explained to us the objection to this Amendment, and what is the difficulty if the power being there in a limited way now is, as a power, considerably more wide if and when it is possible and thought desirable to exercise it.


My Lords, I will, with the leave of the House, speak again on this matter. Inevitably this afternoon we have gone over some of the ground which was touched on in earlier discussions of this matter. Nevertheless, it is right that we should have had a quite protracted debate today on the subject, given the fact that this is one of those occasions when a major series of Amendments is being made to the criminal law and to our procedures. It is therefore right that Parliament should examine proposals of this kind to see whether it is appropriate to change the law in the way the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has suggested.

I will deal briefly with some of the points that have been made and then at the end come to the point of substance. As I understood it, the argument of my noble friend Lord Paget rested on the argument that it would in his view be a fairly inexpensive matter because the police or prosecuting authorities would simply make available the copies of statements made by witnesses to the defendant, who would then have the copy and there would be nothing more to it other than supplying an additional copy. That unfortunately is not the position. The James Committee indi- cated—this was also touched on in our last debate and the debate which preceded that—that in many cases there would have to be an editing process, and that is what would cost the money. There would have to be a consideration as to whether the statements which were made by a prosecution witness or potential prosecution witness and which were irrelevant should be struck out. For reasons of this kind, we do not at the moment have a workable scheme even for the limited area of cases dealt with in the Bill as drafted.

There is an additional problem so far as summary cases are concerned. Some of the evidence which is put before a magistrates' court—I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree with me on this in view of her long service on the Bench—is never reduced to writing at any time. A man may be arrested one evening, he may appear in court at 10 o'clock the next morning and there may he no statement in writing to give to anybody. This kind of aspect is not a matter of absolutely no importance. When we are discussing a proposition as important as this, it is right that some of the difficulties should he recognised and, with great respect to some of the arguments that have been put forward, there is nothing to he said for pretending that real difficulties do not exist.

That brings me to some of the public expenditure implications; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, dealt with this. It is right, as Lord Morris said, that there is no immediate cost implication of this Amendment because it could be introduced only if the Government of the day thought it right and proper so to do. That is absolutely right, but we are all grown-up people in this House and we must recognise that once something is on the Statute Book, substantial armies form up behind propositions of this kind to press on the Government of the day the urgent need for their speedy implementation. With respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Ward of North Tyneside, whose speech I enjoyed as much as I am sure everybody else did, I fear it does not answer some of the serious public expenditure questions which we have discussed simply to say that we must give it priority. The question is: priority over what; priority over Health Service improvements, over housing, over education? With respect, that is not an answer to the real difficulties of making room for wholly admirable ideas from the point of view of public expenditure.

However, I recognise that there are no immediate cost implications and, although I have indicated some of our anxieties as far as this Amendment is concerned, I accept that the opinion of the House is overwhelmingly in the opposite direction. I therefore undertake that we shall in another place introduce Amendments which will give rise to this, but I would wish to reserve my position on the precise language of the Amendments.


My Lords, the Government have been gracious in acceding to the pressure throughout the various stages of the Bill in taking us as far as they have with the existing Clause 38. They have again been gracious and shown themselves sensitive to the observations which have been made in all parts of your Lordships' House by agreeing that Amendments to the effect of that now proposed will be introduced in another place.


My Lords, perhaps I might make it absolutely clear that I am dealing with the summary offences Amendment. That is the one to which I am addressing my mind and which we have been discussing.


I appreciate that, my Lords. It would obviously not be appropriate in those circumstances to pursue this Amendment any further at this stage. However, I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I add in the course of this discussion—this may save my having to move Amendment No. 17—that it may be that the argument about expenses has been unwittingly rather exaggerated. I have received a detailed communication from the prosecuting solicitor of a large and pleasantly litigious county who has analysed the figures involved and has come to the conclusion that to provide the information required by this provision would cost rather less than one-tenth the estimates which the Government have so far reached. I suspect that this is one of those situations where those prosecuting authorities who wish to provide this information will find that it can be done at a very reasonable expense, while those who do not wish to do so will find that it will be inordinately costly. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his indication that Amendments will be moved in another place and in those circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.18 p.m.

Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH moved Amendment No. 19:

After Clause 39, insert the following new clause:

Inciting girl under sixteen to have incestuous sexual intercourse

.—(1) It is an offence for a man to incite to have sexual intercourse with him a girl under the age of sixteen whom he knows to be his grand-daughter, daughter or sister.

(2) In the preceding subsection "man" includes boy, "sister" includes half-sister, and for the purposes of that subsection any expression importing a relationship between two people shall be taken to apply notwithstanding that the relationship is not traced through lawful wedlock.

(3) The following provisions of section 1 of the Indecency with Children Act 1960, namely— subsection (2) (competence of spouse of accused to give evidence); subsection (3) (references in Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to the offences mentioned in Schedule 1 to that Act to include offences under that section); subsection (4) (offences under that section to be deemed offences against the person for the purpose of section 3 of the Visiting Forces Act 1952),

shall apply in relation to offences under this section.

(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

  1. (a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding £1,000, or both;
  2. (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this matter was discussed on Report when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, introduced a new clause designed to fill a gap in the law of incest revealed by the Court of Appeal judgment in Regina v Whitehouse. At that time I indicated that it was undoubtedly an important matter but that the Government did not consider that the drafting of the proposed clause would be wholly appropriate, and I undertook that if it were withdrawn we would at a later stage introduce Amendments to deal with the point in question.

The effect of the Amendment I am moving is to create a new criminal offence to deal with this lacuna in the law. It would be committed where a man incites a girl under 16 to have incestuous sexual intercourse with him. A man convicted of such an offence, which will be triable either way, will be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for up to six months or a fine of not more than £1,000 or both, or, if convicted on indictment, to imprisonment for up to two years. The mode of trial and penalties proposed are the same as those which another provision in the Bill provides for the offence of inciting a girl under 14 to commit an act of gross indecency.

This is a departure from what Lord Hailsham proposed in his original Amendment, which provided for the new offence to be treated like an offence of incest by a woman; that would have produced a maximum term of imprisonment of seven years, which the Government think would be too high for the new offence, which is concerned with incitement and which falls short of attempted intercourse. I hope Lord Hailsham will agree that the kind of conduct we are prohibiting here is more analogous to an offence under the 1960 Act than it is to the offence of incest. It is fair to say that there is widespread agreement on the desirability of a provision of this kind to protect girls between the age of 14 (at which time they cease to enjoy the general protection conferred by the Indecency with Children Act 1960) and the age of 16 from incestuous approaches, and I hope the House will agree to the Amendment.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for once again taking notice of a suggestion that I was bold enough to make at Report stage in response to a very broad hint from the Court of Appeal Criminal Division as reported in The Times. I feel that the penalties proposed are a little light and I only hope that the crime will not, as a result of my initiative, come to be known as "the abominable crime of Hoggery"!

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 47 [Provisions applying to Scotland]:

4.21 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge) moved Amendment No. 21: Page 36, line 38, at end insert ("Prison Act 1952 (in its application to persons for the time being in Scotland)")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to say a word about Amendments Nos. 21 to 26. These Amendments all relate to Clause 47, which is the Scottish application clause, and are all consequential on Amendments made to Schedules 9 or 10 to the Bill at earlier stages. Subsection (2) of Clause 47 lists provisions of the Bill which are applied to Scotland. These are provisions which directly amend in Schedule 9 or repeal in Schedule 10 parts of Acts which at present apply to Scotland. A number of Amendments made earlier to Schedules 9 and 10 are to apply to Scotland and therefore need to be mentioned in Clause 47. In one other case—Amendment No. 22—the problem is the reverse; namely, that although the Amendments already in the Bill to Sections 26, 28, 29 and 39(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 apply to Scotland, the Amendment made to Section 12(1)—return to borstal institutions on reconviction—does not. It is therefore necessary to insert rather more detail than before into Clause 47.

Amendment No. 21 is consequential on the Amendment to the Prison Act 1952 which was introduced into Schedule 9 at Report stage. It provides, for the avoidance of doubt, that any persons released from borstal training in England and Wales who subsequently make their way to Scotland will be subject to exactly the same conditions as if they had been in England or Wales. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendment No. 22: Page 36, line 39, at beginning insert ("sections 26, 28, 29 and 39(1) of the").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment disapplies for Scotland the amendment of Section 12(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1961. It is consequential on the introduction of an Amendment to that section of the 1961 Act for England and Wales at Committee stage. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendment No. 23: Page 36, line 39, at end insert ("Housing (Scotland) Act 1966,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a drafting Amendment which provides that a consequential Amendment to a Scottish Act which was introduced at Report stage into Schedule 9 shall be applied to Scotland. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendment No. 24: Page 36, leave out line 41 and insert ("sections 3 and 60 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 and (in its application to persons for the time being in Scotland) section 63 of that Act,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is purely consequential. Clause 47 already applies the amendment of Section 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 contained in Schedule 9 to Scotland. Amendments introduced at Report Stage to Section 60 of the 1967 Act also require to be applied to Scotland. The Amendments to Section 60 (which deals with the release on licence of a person serving a determinate sentence) are so worded as to preserve the status quo in so far as Section 60 operates in Scotland, but, because of the way in which they are drafted, they require to be specifically applied to Scotland. The extension of the Amendment to section 63 of the Act is included for the avoidance of doubt. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendment No. 25: Page 37, line 9, at beginning insert ("sections 26 and 28 of the").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a minor drafting Amendment which limits the repeal of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 in Schedule 10 so far as Scotland is concerned to those sections of the Act mentioned in the Schedule which have force in Scotland. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendment No. 26: Page 37, line 12, leave out ("section") and insert ("sections 60 and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment extends to Scotland the repeal of parts of Section 60 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961. It is consequential on an Amendment made for England and Wales at Report stage. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 49 [Citation, etc.]:

4.27 p.m.

Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 38, line 41, leave out ("the Criminal Justice Act 1961,") and insert— ("(i) section 45 of the Prison Act 1952 (in its application to persons for the time being in Northern Ireland or in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man); (ii) Part III and section 39(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1961; and (iii) sections 60 and 63 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 (in their application to persons for the time being in Northern Ireland or in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man),").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is consequential upon the Amendments in Schedule 9 to the Prison Act 1952 and the Criminal Justice Acts 1961 and 1967. The Amendment will ensure that offenders who are released in the United Kingdom subject to supervision and recall will continue to be subject to those conditions when they are in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man or Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Offences made triable only summarily, and related amendments]:

Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH moved Amendment No. 28: Page 44, line 10, column 4, leave out ("was") and insert ("is").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a minor drafting Amendment to correct an error in the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Offences triable either way instead of only on indictment]:

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendment No. 29:

Page 46, leave out from beginning of line 27 to ("concealing") in line 29 and insert ("under the Criminal Law Act 1967

  1. (a) offences under section 4(1) (assisting offenders); and
  2. (b) offences under section 5(1)")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the present Amendment and Amendment No. 30 are minor drafting Amendments involving no change of substance. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendment No. 30: Page 46, line 38, leave out ("or") and insert ("except").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Offences made triable either way by virtue of section 16(1) or (2)]:

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendment No. 31: >Page 49, line 26, leave out paragraph 25.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment and Amendment No. 33 are designed to meet the main point made at Report stage by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, which my noble friend Lord McCluskey promised on behalf of the Government to consider without commitment. The effect is stated in the Amendment to Schedule 3, which provides in paragraph 30 that all indictable offences under the Theft Act 1968 are to be triable either way except those listed, and adds to that list burglary in a dwelling if any person in the dwelling was subjected to violence or the threat of violence. The Amendment to Schedule 2 is the mirror image of that to Schedule 3 because it states that a form of burglary which was formerly triable only on indictment is now to become triable either way; namely, burglary in a dwelling involving forcible entry but not involving violence or threat of violence to the person. The wording of paragraph 21 of Schedule 2 is necessarily more complicated to follow than that of the corresponding provision of Schedule 3, but its effect is the same.

The James Committee recommendation did not distinguish burglary in a dwelling which was accompanied by violence or threat of violence from other types of burglary. Consequently, the Bill, as introduced, also did not do so. On reconsideration, however, the Government agree with the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, that there should be such a distinction, and this is what the Government Amendments provide. I beg to move.


My Lords, I should like to express gratitude to the noble Lord and to the Government for this Amendment, which I am sure meets a point that was very much in the minds of many people. There was great alarm at the thought of burglary where there is violence to the person in a dwellinghouse. I, in company with so many of your Lordships, heard the debate on Report stage when my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne raised this point, as I thought so persuasively, and many of us shared his view. On his behalf, as well as on behalf of many others, I wish again to thank the Government for meeting this point so splendidly.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 49, leave out from beginning of line 35 to ("concealing") in line 37 and insert ("under the Criminal Law Act 1967

  1. (a) offences under section 4(1) (assisting offenders); and
  2. (b) offences under section 5(1)").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendment No. 33:

Page 49, line 46, at end insert— ("(c) burglary in a dwelling if any person in the dwelling was subjected to violence or the threat of violence.").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Alteration of penalties on summary conviction of certain offences triable either way]:

4.32 p.m.

Lord AVEBURY moved Amendment No. 34: Page 52, line 33, leave out ("3 months or £500, or both") and insert ("in the case of offences relating to cannabis or cannabis resin, £500 or, for an offence committed after more than one previous conviction, 3 months or £500, or both; in the case of offences relating to other Class B drugs, 3 months or £500, or both.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, at both the Committee stage and the Report stage we had fairly lengthy discussions on the question of whether or not penalties of imprisonment should be imposed for cases of simple possession of cannabis, and the arguments were so thoroughly rehearsed on those occasions that it is not necessary for me to recapitulate them here, but merely to refer very briefly to some of the things said by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, on the last occasion, on 24th March, when the matter was raised at the Report stage.

I have resigned myself temporarily to the fact that we are not going to remove imprisonment altogether in these cases, and the Amendment that I am proposing at this stage simply takes it out of—


My Lords, I apologise for intervening, but I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would agree to take this Amendment and the next one together. They deal with different points, but the two matters are so closely interrelated that it might be for the convenience of the House if we were to take them at the same time, if that is convenient to the noble Lord.


Certainly I should be happy to do that if that is what the Minister wishes, and I will develop the argument on those lines.

I was about to say that I have resigned myself to the fact that we could not persuade the Government at this stage totally to remove imprisonment, and I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, had given half an invitation to put down an Amendment that did not go quite so far when he said that he certainly did not believe in imprisonment for the first offence of possession, and he quoted with approval the statistics of what had happened in the magistrates' courts in 1974 and 1975. Speaking from memory, I think that in those years in one case and three cases respectively the magistrates had sent an offender to prison on the first occasion.

Then we ask, is it appropriate to send these people to prison for the second offence? The noble Lord did not commit himself on that, but he has the opportunity to do so this afternoon. But since we last discussed the matter there has been one development which I think is well worth mentioning, and perhaps the noble Lord can tell us a little more than I know about it. He said that the cannabis Working Group of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was in the process of reviewing the situation in the light of the debate that we had at the Committee stage, but at that time, on 24th March, there had not yet been an opportunity for the Working Group to report to the full Advisory Council. Therefore on that occasion the noble Lord was not able to tell your Lordships any more about the proceedings. I am given to understand that the advice given ultimately was that cannabis should be reclassified into Class C, which would not take it out of the imprisonment category altogether but would reduce penalties. I understand that as an alternative the Committee advised that the Amendment which was proposed at the Committee stage by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, should be supported. But it is too late for that now, unless the Minister is prepared to say that with the benefit of the advice he has now received he will be willing to include such an Amendment or to recommend to his colleagues that such an Amendment should be inserted when the Bill goes to the other place.

I rely on indirect information for my knowledge of what took place in the meeting of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which I am informed was held on 6th April, and it would be most helpful if the noble Lord could say a little more about this. One of the main reasons that he gave for not wishing to proceed any further than the changes that were already incorporated in the Bill, which reduced the penalties somewhat, was that the review was still taking place.

The second argument which the noble Lord advanced, with great emphasis, was that if the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, had been accepted it would have had what he called quite a remarkable effect; that was, that the possession of a Class B drug, cannabis, would not be an imprisonable offence in any circumstances whatsoever, whereas the possession of a Class C drug, which by definition is a less serious offence, would still subject the defendant to the possibility of imprisonment. The noble Lord said that he was surprised that those who joined with the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, had not considered this matter and taken steps to reduce the penalties for Class C drugs accordingly. So, as your Lordships will notice, I have taken the Minister up on this point. That was why I so readily agreed that we should discuss the two Amendments together, because Amendment No. 35 proposes reducing the penalties for possession of Class C drugs and takes that offence out of imprisonment altogether.

I should like to say a few more words on this matter. I am most grateful to the Minister, who agreed to have made a special computer run so as to ascertain the extent of convictions for possession of Class C drugs in the years 1973, 1974 and 1975. This information was not readily available in any published form, but I think that the noble Lord will agree, having looked at these figures, that it was well worth ascertaining this information. The figures have shown some ups and flats which were certainly not known to me, and so far as I am aware no one else had even the slightest idea of the trends which are here revealed.

The first important point to observe is that of all the Class C drugs that were originally mentioned in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the only one that has been made the subject of prosecution in the years 1974 and 1975 is methaqualone, which is more usually known by its trade name of Mandrax and is prescribed as a sleeping pill. If we look at the total number of people found guilty and sentenced in the lower courts in the years 1973, 1974 and 1975, we see, according to the table that has been so kindly supplied by the Minister's office from the computer print out, that the figure declined from 375 in 1973 to 210 in 1974, and to 96 in 1975.

I made some inquiries as to why there should have been this very welcome and significant decline, and I have been told that general practitioners are not prescribing Mandrax as frequently as they used to do, and therefore presumably it is more difficult for people to obtain the drug methaqualone and use it illicitly. If we were to do away altogether with imprisonment for the possession of Class C drugs it certainly would not make very much difference on the basis of the figures which have been supplied. By the way, it would have been interesting to have heard whether this reduction had continued in 1976, but I dare say that the figures are not yet available, or would not readily be available from the computer. But if one extrapolates the trend that has been revealed, then quite shortly there would he no prosecutions or convictions at all for possession of Class C drugs. That removes one of the main arguments that the noble Lord presented to the House for not accepting any watering down of the penalties concerning a Class B drug.

Then, finally, he said that we had this curious anomaly created by the Goodchild case; and he summarised that, if I may say so, very lucidly. He said that Goodchild was not guilty of possession of a Class B drug because that refers to the flowering and fruiting tops of the cannabis plant, that Mr. Kevin Goodchild was in possession only of the leaves and that he therefore had to be charged with the more serious offence of possession of a Class A drug; that is, cannabinol, which is in fact contained in the leaf. If I may say so with great respect to the Minister, I think this is a red herring, because if he wants to put the Goodchild case right then a separate amendment of the Misuse of Drugs Act to include leaves with the flowering and fruiting tops would very simply accomplish what is necessary, and no one in their right mind wants prosecutions for the possession of leaves to be taking place under the more serious part of the Act, which is the possession of a Class A drug. That would be quite ludicrous, bearing in mind that the leaves contain less of the active ingredient than the flowering and fruiting tops. So I do not think that to remedy the anomaly which has been revealed by the Goodchild case is a very complex matter, and I do not think it need interfere with the decision which we make this afternoon.

I therefore hope very much that, while the Minister was not prepared to go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, wanted and as most of us would have welcomed, and bearing in mind that it was a very narrow decision that your Lordships made on that occasion not to take the offence of possession out of imprisonment altogether, it would be possible for us now to agree that for first and second offences of possession only a fine should be imposed. My Lords, I beg to move.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I hesitated before rising because I do not want to address the House on two occasions on every Amendment, but as this is one of the more controversial we are discussing to day it is right that I should, perhaps, subsequently ask the leave of the House to speak again if any other points are raised following my speech. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has said, we have in fact discussed this matter on a number of occasions, both on the Committee stage and on Report stage, when various Amendments were tabled by the noble Lord himself, by my noble friend Lord Gifford, by my noble friend Lady Wootton and by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, all of which were designed to remove the possibility of imprisonment being imposed by a court of summary jurisdiction, either entirely or on conviction of a first or second offence of unlawful possession of cannabis or cannabis resin. On the first occasion, my noble friend Lord Gifford agreed to withdraw his Amendment on the undertaking that we would consider the points which had been deployed during the debate; and on the second occasion the majority of your Lordships supported the Government in resisting the Amendments then before the House after I had indicated that the Government would seriously look into the possibility of meeting their objectives as far as first offenders were concerned.

My Lords, I appreciate that the noble Lords and the noble Baroness whose names appear on the present Amendments do not wish to see the matter go by default; and, as the noble Lord has pointed out, the vote on the last occasion was a fairly narrow one. I also appreciate, particularly in relation to the second of the two Amendments to which the noble Lord has just spoken, that the noble Lords and the noble Baroness who have put their names down to them have gone a long way to meet some of the difficulties which I outlined during the speech I made on the last occasion on which we considered this matter. However, I am bound to tell the noble Lord that the Government cannot accept the Amendments as satisfactory for the purposes for which they are designed, for reasons which I will now put before the House.

I will begin, if I may, by dealing with the second Amendment first. This relates, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has pointed out, to Class C drugs, and would have the effect of removing entirely the penalty of imprisonment on summary conviction of unlawful possession of any one of the six drugs which are at present in this category. This Amendment would of course remove the objection to which I drew attention previously; namely, that the treatment proposed in respect of cannabis— which, as the noble Lord has rightly said, is a Class B drug—would leave the penalties for cannabis possession offences milder in some respects than those applicable in the less serious Class C drug cases. Before discussing the merits of that proposal, I should like to recapitulate briefly (because I think it is right to do this) the policy which lies behind the scale of penalties in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and the changes which are being made by the Bill.

The scale in the 1971 Act is designed to achieve two purposes: first, to distinguish between the more serious trafficking offences and the less serious possession ones; and, second, to distinguish very broadly between the relative seriousness of offences, whether trafficking or possession, involving different drugs. As regards the classification of drugs, it necessarily involves a broad-brush approach. The effects of drugs are infinitely various. The effect of a drug will vary with the individual and with what it is being taken in combination with, in some circumstances; and there may well be other factors, too. The classification is also intended to have some regard to the extent of the social mischief that a particular drug may currently represent. This is one reason for the power to move a drug from one category to the other. There is, of course, a limit to the precision with which a statutory scale of penalties can ever affect the kind of gradations of seriousness involved. The judgment in the individual case must be left to the courts.

The purpose of the scale in the 1971 Act, however, is to give the court and, indeed, the enforcement authorities as well, a broad guide to the appropriate scale of seriousness so far as Parliament is concerned. This guide must of course also be read in the light of other, more general provisions concerning first offenders, suspended sentences of imprisonment, rehabilitation of offenders and the power to commit for trial or sentence.

In operating on these scales in the 1971 Act the Government did not seek (with one exception, which is relevant to the Amendment which we now have before us) to make any change of policy by the provisions in the Bill. Those provisions are designed to maintain the various gradations in the tariff of penalties in the 1971 Act while at the same time adjusting them to the new and the more rationalised code of powers proposed for magistrates' courts under the Bill. The 1971 Act powers were exceptional—and I think I should underline this—in giving magistrates powers to impose maximum sentences of 12 months' imprisonment for trafficking offences involving drugs in Class A and Class B and possession offences involving Class A drugs. In the Government's view, the reduction of these maxima and the corresponding reductions in the other maximum penalties of imprisonment available effected in the Bill do not represent any change in the seriousness with which these offences should be regarded having regard to the substantial increases and the maximum fines available which are being made at the same time. The emphasis is simply being shifted, within the broad discretion which is of course available to the courts, from the custodial to the financial penalty, and I think many of us welcome that.

The one exception to this principle is in relation to Class C drugs, where no increase has been made in the maximum fine for possession offences despite the reduction in the maximum sentence of imprisonment available from six months to three. The reason for this is that in the Government's view the tariff originally fixed in the 1971 Act did not go quite far enough in differentiating possession offences in relation to Class C drugs. Accordingly, we took the opportunity of the much wider scale of fines which will be available to magistrates in future to effect a real relaxation in the maximum penalties available for this offence.

My Lords, I hope that what I have said already indicates that this Amendment raises a number of general policy issues. The first is the general penal policy. Under the Bill we are creating a new category of offences triable either way, of which possession of Class C drugs is one, to deal with which the magistrates will have wide powers available for any except really serious offences. For special reasons which I have sought to make clear, the magistrates' sentencing powers are specially tailored for offences triable either way under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, but the general principle is observed that the magistrates' powers are wide enough to deal with any cases except those serious enough to warrant committal for trial on indictment. This Amendment would create an offence triable either way in which the Crown Court would have power to impose up to two years' imprisonment or an unlimited fine, or both, while the magistrates' court would have the power only to impose a fine of £200.

It would, it seems to me, be fairly remarkable, particularly in the light of the rationalisation otherwise being effected in the Bill, to introduce such a major discrepancy between the powers available to the higher and lower courts in a field such as this one. It would be difficult to calculate what the effect would be on our courts and it is not a matter which we think should simply be left for the courts to worry their way through. It is a matter on which we think it right for Parliament to give some guidance.

Our general attitude to this question is that this is a matter, with the cannabis issue, where we think it would not be right for us to reach a decision without first obtaining the views of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Certain groups of that Council have had the opportunity of considering various versions of these Amendments because, as the House will be aware, we asked the Advisory Council to consider all these questions as a result of the discussions in this House on the Committee stage.

The full Council has met only this morning to consider this whole issue for the first time. I understand that at that meeting the Council discussed a proposition to the effect that imprisonment should no longer be available in relation to a person convicted by the magistrates of a first offence of possession of cannabis or cannabis resin who had not previously been convicted of any other drugs offence. The Council were divided on this issue but a clear preponderance was in favour of changing the law on these lines. The Council did not address itself to the related issue of whether consequential changes might be needed in relation to the penalties available for offences of possession of other Class B drugs and of Class C drugs, the classification of cannabis and the penalties appropriate to Class C drugs generally. The Council felt that these issues required more detailed examination together with the difficult and fundamental issues thrown up by the case of Goodchild which we discussed in the House on the last occasion.

Accordingly, while the Council's response to the proposals made in this House has taken us some way forward, there remain a number of important issues unresolved on which decisions are essential before the character of any Amendments to the Bill can be properly considered. The Government have not set their mind against some amendments of the penalties provided in the Bill in relation to Class C drugs, but we think that much further thought needs to be given to the implications; that an opportunity to consider the views of the Advisory Council is needed; and that this proposal should be considered in relation to whatever is decided about cannabis. We will certainly consider the possibility of an appropriate Amendment when the Bill is considered in another place. But I must ask the House not to take the step proposed in this particular Amendment today. We must look at the total series of interrelated problems which are here involved. We have an Advisory Council which has been considering this matter and studying it with some care only today, and we think it would be quite wrong to make either of these decisions today on the basis of incomplete evidence. So much for the moment about the Advisory Council, and I shall be returning to that in a moment.

Having said that about the second of the noble Lord's Amendments, that relating to Class C drugs, I come to the first Amendment.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves Class C drugs, can he confirm the striking reduction in prosecutions and convictions for possession of Class C drugs and also the fact that these prosecutions and convictions for the last two years have related entirely to methaqualone and not to any of the other five drugs in this Class C?


My Lords, it is an interesting matter, and that is another reason why it seems to me that this particular issue should be considered by the Advisory Council. That is what we are proposing should happen.

I will now return to the first Amendment which would have the effect of singling out cannabis and cannabis resin in the list of Class B drugs and applying to them, but not to the other drugs in the list, the changes in the penalties available on summary conviction of unlawful possession which are proposed in the Amendment. These changes amount to removing the possibility of a sentence of imprisonment in relation to first and to second offenders. As your Lordships will recognise, this Amendment does not overcome the objection, to which I have previously referred, of introducing into the scheme of the Act the anomalous concept of having different penalties applying to different drugs within the same class. This is not just a question of tidiness; it is a matter of understanding (for the reasons I have already indicated) the reasons which led Parliament in 1971 to frame the Act in the way it did and how it was intended to work.

I am afraid that the Amendment is also defective in that it does not deal with the very important matter of defining what is meant by "previous conviction" for the purpose of this provision. The question is: a previous conviction for what? Is this intended to mean a previous conviction of an offence relating to cannabis or cannabis resin or any offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act or under previous drugs legislation; or a previous conviction of any offence at all, not necessarily related to drugs? The Amendment will not do as it stands.

As I have said previously, the Government will look seriously—and I repeat this—at the possibility of meeting the object of this Amendment so far as first offenders are concerned, and I can assure your Lordships that we are now actively engaged in doing this. As I have already indicated, the meeting this morning of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was deliberately arranged to consider the matters raised in our earlier discussions and the position with regard to cannabis in general. The views of the Council will be very carefully studied as soon as they are available.

I should however say this. Of course, it will be for the Government to make their decision on the report of the Advisory Council—for the Council is advisory—but, nevertheless, it is the view of my right honourable friend that we must have its carefully considered views before reaching a decision on either of the two matters dealt with in the noble Lord's Amendment. The working groups of the Advisory Council will be meeting again very soon and the Council itself intends to meet before the Committee stage in another place is over so that it can examine the situation at that time and make recommendations to the Government, and through the Government, to Parliament. It seems to me that it would be wrong for us today to write either of these Amendments into the Bill. The Advisory Council is looking at this; it has done so today; and it will be pushing on with its work in this respect before the Bill's passage through Parliament is finalised. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will not persist with either of these Amendments.

5 p.m.


My Lords, I am perfectly sure that the House will be grateful to the Minister for his very careful reply, and I equally feel that he was right to intervene at this stage because, speaking for myself, I would have found it impossible to make any useful contribution to the discussion until I knew at what conclusion the Government had arrived. The more I think of the series of debates that we have had about this matter, the more certain I feel that whatever may be the truth about cannabis or drugs generally, it is a mistake to try to use this Bill as the vehicle for tinkering with the Misuse of Drugs Act. The questions of drugs have to be seen in relation to one another, and this Bill, which is an attempt to simplify the relationship between trial on indictment and summary trials, and to harmonise penalties as between different categories of offence, is not the appropriate instrument to do this. I have felt this the longer these discussions have gone on, and quite independently of the merits of the various cases which have been put, and I have never concealed the fact that my own approach is somewhat different from and inconsistent with that of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

There are various reasons why I do not think that this new attempt by the noble Lord is an improvement on his previous ones. If I do not repeat all the reasons given by the Minister, it is because I agree with them rather than because I do not think that they are important. There is a technical reason which arises partly out of one of the reasons given by the Minister which I should like to stress because it is a reason connected with penal policy generally. I do not want it to be thought that I think that imprisonment, except for very serious offences—which we are not discussing in relation to this Amendment—ought to be a penalty which is ever in the ordinary course applicable to what I may call first offenders, without prejudice to what "first offenders" may mean. I am coming to that in a moment. I would apply that not only to drugs but to the whole range of offences which come before the magistrates. Imprisonment ought to be a last resort not only for juveniles, where the law is fairly explicit on that matter, but also for adults, where the law is not so explicit but where I hope sentencing policy would be as explicit as possible.

However, I have always thought that it was a retrograde step to specify so much for the first offence and so much for the second. I can illustrate the kind of muddle one gets into if one tries it by an experience of mine in a previous Conservative Government. At that time Mr. Marples (as he then was) was trying to alter the penalties for road traffic offences and, being assisted only by the Ministry of Transport (as it then was) without the expertise of the Home Office, he found the Statute Book was littered with perhaps 50 or 60—not much less—different offences, each one of which said so much for the first offence, so much for the second offence and, sometimes, so much for the third or subsequent offences.

The result was this. Supposing a man was convicted on one occasion of dangerous driving, on another of careless driving, and the third time of motor manslaughter, the previous offences of the other types of offence could not be taken into consideration. Each was treated as a first offence. This is a ludicrous situation. I mention it not because I am trying to impute the ludicrous view which it implies either to Mr. Marples, who was a valued colleague of mine, or to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, but to indicate that if one wants to introduce a rational and simple penal code—and that is what I should ultimately like to do, although I do not hope ever to live to see it done—one must avoid trying to be too specific about little bits and pieces such as what is a first offence, and a first offence of what? An appropriate maximum penalty should be provided for what is done. Then a coherent sentencing policy in relation to that should be sought. The attempt to spell out what shall be done for a first offence or, in this case, a second offence or third offence, is not the way forward. Therefore I do not regard the new thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, as an improvement on his old ones.

However, I have—and I do not want to conceal it—a much more difficult difference with the noble Lord, and that is about cannabis as a whole. I have read Lady Wootton's Report and I am fairly conversant with the literature on the subject. I realise that this is a controversial subject and we have to face one or two rather simple issues about it. It may be that we or our successors at some time will come to the conclusion that cannabis, like alcohol and tobacco, whatever one may think about them—and people take different views about them—are so far ineradicable that they cannot be penalised at all either for possession or trafficking, except by the fiscal system. One recognises that, thanks to indoctrination from America or elsewhere cannabis has got a certain way towards that. But to think that one can suddenly go soft on it in order to gratify the increased use of it is to go about it entirely in the wrong way.

Let us realise this about cannabis. We are under an obligation to make it a crime at the moment. That is an international obligation by international agreement, and that has so far not been re- cognised. It has certainly not been re-cognised that it is ineradicable in the sense that alcohol or tobacco are in this country. Therefore we have set ourselves to the task of repressing its use, repressing its possession and repressing its traffic. Every step we make towards the acceptance of this drug is a oneway street; we can never go back along it. We can never retrace our steps if we make an error, and therefore we must be slow to go soft on it. Indeed, so long as our policy is one of repression, we must see that the penalties, if at all, err on the side of severity rather than leniency. So long as we pursue this policy it is disastrous to those who may be tempted to use the drug not to realise that it is something which the law takes extremely seriously.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble and learned Lord? If this is how he feels, why did he not put down an Amendment to this Bill to retain the penalties in the Misuse of Drugs Act which are now being reduced?


My Lords, I thought I made it clear that I did not regard this Bill as a suitable vehicle for this subject; and I thought I said that at the beginning of my speech. This is a Bill which deals only tangentially and not substantively with drugs. If I thought it desirable to deal substantively with drugs at this stage, I would have recommended an amending Bill to the Misuse of Drugs Act and not to try to use this Bill as a vehicle for it. I had hoped to make that clear at the outset of my speech.

What I was going to say when the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, quite properly sought my answer to that question, was this. Quite apart from the fact that this is a one-way street down which, if we wish to travel, we must travel deliberately, one has not yet faced the argument which is widely believed and which I certainly believe, both from what I have read and from experience, that the long-term effects of cannabis are not yet evaluated and may be extremely serious, and also that cannabis is an initiation drug which has led many a young person down the street which leads to the use of more serious drugs, such as LSD and heroin. If that be true, and I happen to believe that it is— and whether I am right or wrong, I am not the only person to believe it—the idea that you are going to get a little popularity or a little wisdom out of going "soft" on cannabis is a very serious delusion indeed.

It may be, as I say, that I should turn out to be wrong about that last attitude. If so, let the Government, after taking advice which is being sought on this, introduce, not into this Bill but into the Misuse of Drugs Bill, a reasoned series of Amendments in which a new general policy is given regarding the penalties attaching to the use and possession of, and trafficking in, different drugs. I personally would probably oppose such a Bill. I do not think that every five or six years you can continue to tinker with laws about the misuse of drugs. I think they ought to be given a certain period in which experience of the new régime is obtained; but that is another matter. That is the way to do it if we wish to do that. But do not let us think that we can go "soft" on cannabis entirely by itself without very serious consequent implications for policy; and I beg of your Lordships not to think that it can more properly or usefully be done in a little law reform Bill like this, which has already reached a degree of complication which T can only deplore.


My Lords, can my noble friend tell me whether I am right in thinking that the classification of drugs as between A, B and C does not require fresh legislation but can be done by Statutory Instrument? Would my noble friend confirm that?


My Lords, I should like very briefly to clarify a point. I added my name to these Amendments, at least, to No. 34, at previous stages. I did not take my name off the list of supporters, but I did not think I could possibly be here today. However, I have been able to re-arrange a very important engagement. That is the only reason why my name is not set down today as supporting Amendment No. 34. I should like once again to say very strongly that I never would condone the taking of any drugs, but in my view—and I am only one of many in your Lordships' House—to send somebody to prison for a first offence in connection with a minute amount of cannabis—not trafficking, not possessing but of smoking a small amount of cannabis—is not right. A fine of £500 is a very substantial amount to anybody and the possibility of a magistrates' court being able to fine somebody £500 on a first offence would be a sufficient penalty, in my view. Magistrates can always, as has been mentioned, send somebody to the Crown Court if they feel a prison sentence is warranted. I would support Amendment No. 34, as I have done in the past, for those reasons.


My Lords, if I may just deal with the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, it is a very common belief that the use of cannabis leads on to hard drugs such as heroin and LSD; but if the noble and learned Lord would care to look at the literature, there is no proof whatever that this happens. I am referring, for example, to page 10 of Drugs, Society and the Law, where there is a detailed examination of the allegation that the use of cannabis leads on to the use of heroin or any other drug. The most one can possibly say about this allegation is that it is not proven. If the noble and learned Lord wishes to believe it, then it is a purely emotional and not a logical belief, and it is totally unsupported by any scientific reasoning.

The noble and learned Lord also said that if you reduce the penalties at all in connection with the possession of cannabis —and I would ask your Lordships to remember that we are not talking about any other offence in relation to this drug except possession—you are going along a one-way street. But he weaved and ducked when I asked him why he had not opposed the reduction of the penalties already provided for under this Bill, as compared with the Misuse of Drugs Act. No one in your Lordships' House has objected to the fairly substantial reduction in penalties provided for under this Bill. One would have thought that if they felt so strongly that we were going along a one-way street they could have put down an Amendment to restore the penalties originally provided for in the Misuse of Drugs Act. The fact that no one has bothered to come forward with an Amendment restoring those penalties indicates that they do not feel that strongly about the one-way street argument.

Nor is it correct to say that we are suddenly going "soft" if we remove imprisonment for the first and second offences in connection with possession; and even if we went back to the original Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, we should not be going "soft" because we are retaining some fairly substantial fines for this offence. So I do not think that those arguments ought to be allowed to stand without some refutation.

With regard to the speech of the Minister, I was very encouraged to hear what he had to say about the proceedings of the Advisory Council, although hoped, and indeed was under the impression, that they had gone somewhat further than he told the House. As he spoke, I was wondering whether it would not be more convenient, from the point of view of the discussions which are bound to take place on this matter in another place, for the noble Lord to make arrangements for the relevant advice to be published. I do not know what the position has been in the past regarding advice given by various groups to the Advisory Council or as regards advice given by the Advisory Council itself. Obviously I am not asking the Minister to give me an answer at this stage. I am simply making the point that I have no doubt the Council and its various Working Parties have given the matter very thorough consideration. Whatever they have to say to the Minister would be equally valuable to Members of another place when they come to consider the matter. I very much hope it will be possible at least to remove imprisonment for the first offence, and that the advice which the Advisory Council have given can be taken in another place. I feel, in the circumstances and because of the fact that the Advisory Council have reported only this morning, it would be inappropriate for me to take the feeling of the House at this stage. So with—


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down—because I think I have exhausted any right I might have had to "speak without speaking" by leaving it until the noble Lord replies to his own Amendment—would he press the noble Lord on the Front Bench to answer the question which was put by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, which is an extremely important one in this connection?


My Lords, if I may say so, it was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. He confirmed that the noble Baroness was right, and in fact he had already said so earlier in the debate.


My Lords, perhaps the Minister would stand up and say that. I think he only nodded his head.


My Lords, I am always delighted on any—

Several noble Lords: Order!


My Lords, I also wanted to know whether the noble Lord would check on some information which apparently was given in another place and was published in The Times only yesterday morning. It came to my notice during the day, and was to the effect that up to 1975 about 700 people were being sent to prison without the option of a fine—the figures were given for three years—for cannabis offences. Admittedly, they include very grave ones, although one does not know how many. But, certainly, these figures seem to give a disparity of information to what we have had at previous hearings.


My Lords, in another place Mr. Speaker has always deplored interventions on interventions, but I do not think I have ever seen four interventions, one on top of another. It is a unique experience. But in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hale, I can give him only the figures of convictions for simple possession in the year 1975, which were quoted on a previous occasion. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, will correct me if I am wrong, but I think there were 517 cases of persons who were given sentences of imprisonment for simple possession.


My Lords, that includes Crown Court convictions.


My Lords, I believe that it included Crown Court convictions. But I cannot tell the noble Lord the total of imprisonments in relation to offences involving the use of, or trafficking in, cannabis and it was obviously higher than that. But I think the noble Lord will agree that the figure of 517 is a fairly substantial one, and unless we can make a start with reducing the prison population by removing from the penal system minor offences such as the possession of cannabis, which are no longer seen by very many people in this country—indeed, I would almost go so far as to say most people in this country—as being of a criminal nature, we shall start to build up a more serious situation in our prisons. I am sorry that we have not been able to take the opportunity, while

Page 54, line 27, at end insert—

Offences under section 1(1) (prohibition of certain public contests, performances and exhibitions with horses or bulls). Section 2. £100. £500.")

Page 55, line 19, at end insert—

Offences under section 1(1) (prohibition of films in production of which suffering has been caused to animals). Section 1(3). £100. £200.")

Page 57, line 13, at end insert—

Offences under section 1(1) (prohibition of docking or nicking horses). Section 1(3). £25. £200.
Offences under section 2(3) (offences in connection with importation of docked horses). Section 2(3). £25. £200.
Offences under section 2(4) (making a false statement). Section 2(4). £25. £200.")

Page 58, line 9, at end insert—

("COCKFIGHTING ACT 1952 (c. 59)
Offences under section 1(1) (possession of appliances for use in fighting of domestic fowl). Section 1(1). £25. £200.
Offences under section 1(1) (owning or keeping a dog which worries livestock). Section 1(6) (as amended by Schedule 3 to the Criminal Justice Act 1967). £20 for a first offence and £50 for a second or subsequent offence in respect of the same dog. £200.")

Page 58, line 16, at end insert—

("PESTS ACT 1954 (c. 68)
Offences under section 8(1) (restrictions on unlawful spring traps). Section 8(2). £20 for a first offence and £50 for a second or subsequent offence. £200.
Offences under section 9(1) (open trapping of hares and rabbits). Section 9(2). £20, or, if the offender has been previously convicted as mentioned in section 9(2), £50. £200.
Offences under section 12 (spreading of myxomatosis). Section 12. £20 for a first offence and £50 for a second or subsequent offence. £200.")

Page 58,line 32, at end insert—

Offences under section 1 (offences in connection with use of prohibited poison for destroying animal). Section 1. £50. £200.")

this Bill has been passing through this House, to make a start in relation to the possession of cannabis. But I am hoping that, with the benefit of the Advisory Council's Report to the Minister, another place may complete the job. Therefore, my Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 6 [Increase of fines for certain summary offences]:

5.22 p.m.

Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH moved Amendments Nos. 36 to 44:

Page 60, line 27, at end insert—

Offences under section 1(1) (prevention of unnecessary pain and distress to livestock). Section 7. £100 for a first offence and £200 for a second or subsequent offence. £500.")

Page 61, line 24, at end insert—

Any offence under the Act, except an offence under section 11(7). Section 5(2). £50 for a first offence and £100 for a second or subsequent offence. £500.")

Page 62, line 26, at end insert—

Any offence under the Act. Section 11(1). £100. £200.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I will with permission move Amendments Nos. 36 to 44, and ask for them to be treated en bloc. These Amendments fulfil the undertaking which I gave during the Report stage to the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, that I would look at the drafting and penalty levels in various pieces of legislation concerned with, cruelty to animals. As I explained then I felt that some of the increases which he proposed were disproportionately high and these we have adjusted. I have also taken the opportunity, encouraged by the enthusiasm of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, to remove where appropriate higher penalties on second or subsequent conviction. I hope that the House, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, will find these proposals accept able. I should mention that there is an extra offence included in the list of Amendments. We are increasing to £500 the maximum fine for an offence of causing pain or distress to livestock under the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968. Although this was not one of the noble Lord's candidates for an increase, the offences are so closely linked that it is sensible to keep the penalties in line with one another and to provide an adequate maximum fine. My Lords, I beg to move.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord most sincerely for moving these Amendments. I think that they are a vast improvement on my own. But what I did was well worth doing, in order to get the Government to do something.


My Lords, I should also like to express my appreciation to the Government and to use this opportunity—I am cheating here—in order to ask them to consider a little more carefully, and a little more happily, if I reintroduce a Bill dealing with animals in another connection. Since they have been magnanimous on this occasion, I hope that they will think again about some other little animals which are not named in this series of Amendments.


My Lords, I should like to add my word of thanks to the Government for removing all this nonsense about second and subsequent offences We must try to simplify the law and get out of these old-fashioned practices, which only complicate it.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

5.25 p.m.

Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH moved Amendments Nos. 45 to 52:

Page 62, line 28, column 2, leave out ("Schedule 4.") and insert ("Paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 4.")

Pafe 62,line 30, column 2, leave out ("Schedule 4.") and insert ("The Table in Part 1 of Schedule 4.")

Page 62,line 34, column 2, leave out ("Schedule 4.") and insert ("The said Table.")

Page 63, line 5, column 2, leave out ("Schedule 4.") and insert ("The said Table.")

Page 63, line 8, column 2, leave out ("Schedule 4") and insert ("The said Table.")

Page 63, line 12, column 2, leave out ("Schedule 4.") and insert ("The said Table.")

Page 63, line 16, column 2, leave out ("Schedule 4.") and insert ("The said Table.")

Page 63, line 18, column 2, leave out ("Schedule 4.") and insert ("The said Table.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may be to the convenience of the House if I move Amendments Nos. 45 to 52 en bloc. At Report stage, the Government accepted an Amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, to increase penalties for summary offences under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975. The purpose of this further Amendment is merely to improve the way in which the penalty revision is expressed. I have corresponded with the noble Earl on this matter and I am glad to report that he has welcomed these further Amendments. My Lords, I beg to move.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend I should like to thank the noble Lord for the trouble which he has taken to meet our wishes in this matter.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Schedule 8 [Amendments of Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975]:

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendment No. 53: Page 72, line 11, at end insert ("Metropolitan Police Act 1839").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is put down to ensure that the fine, which is increased in Schedule 6 to the Bill, for offences under this Act, which applies only to England, shall not extend to Scotland. My Lords, I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendment No. 54: Page 72, line 20, at end insert ("sections 8 and 9 of the Pests Act 1954").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a similar Amendment, because the Pests Act 1954 does not apply to Scotland. It is therefore necessary to make sure that the Amendments to this Bill do not apply either. My Lords, I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH moved Amendments Nos. 55 and 56:

Page 90, line 47, column 3, after ("to") insert ("section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839,").

Page 90, line 55, after ("1951,") insert ("the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these Amendments are necessary consequentials to the increased fines for offences under these Acts, provided for in Schedule 6.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

In the Title:

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendments Nos. 57 to 60:

Line 7, leave out from ("circumstances;") to ("to") in line 11 and insert ("otherwise to amend the criminal law, including the law with respect to the administration of criminal justice;")

Line 12, leave out from ("limits;") to ("to") in line 16.

Line 19, leave out ("road traffic,")

Line 20, leave out ("to abolish certain offences;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, by leave of the House may I move Amendments Nos. 57 to 60 en bloc. These Amendments have the laudable objective of shortening the Title of the Bill, and think will meet with no objection. My Lords, I beg to move.


My Lords, can I obtain confirmation from the Government that the new Title is sufficient to cover their own Amendment No. 19, as I was advised by the Table at an earlier stage, when I proposed what has become the new Amendment No. 19, that a change in the Title was required and it certainly was not this particular change.


My Lords, I am advised, Yes but I will confirm.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

An Amendment (privilege) made.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. This is the eleventh day on which the House has considered this Bill. I think that it has, in many respects, improved the Bill to a significant degree. The Government have moved some 190 Amendments to the Bill since we began our work upon it. About 75 of these Amendments were on points of substance, while 33 of them were in relation to points which had been raised by noble Lords sitting in various parts of the House. By the end of our deliberations today the Government will have accepted some 15 Amendments which were put down by noble Lords, not counting the two which were carried against the Government.

So much for the statistics of our work. I do not think that it would be right or, indeed, gracious of me not to end by thanking very much all those who have participated in our discussions. This is an important Bill, and I think that in many respects we have improved it quite significantly. I thank in particular the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and, indeed, many others who have devoted so much time and attention to the Bill and who have at all times been reasonable in their approach to it.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge the last words of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and not to reciprocate them. This has been an extremely pleasant, if arduous, set of discussions and I hope that we have sent the Bill down to another place in a form in which it will ultimately reach the Statute Book. Having had experience of both Houses, I do not think that it is going to be an easy Bill to discuss in another place. A former Lord Chancellor, Lord Campbell, who was a Lord Chancellor in the last century and a considerable law reformer in his own right, once said what I believe to be true: that law reform is either by consent or not at all. By this he did not mean that contentious changes were not desirable but that if you introduced a law reform Bill—and this is a law reform Bill—you ultimately generated so much discussion among so many sources and so many kinds of people that the passage of legislation became almost impossible. I hope that this Bill will not meet with that kind of fate. The demise of the late lamented devolution Bill may make it easier for another place to digest this particular piece of legislation. I hope that it will not founder by the wayside.

I want to say just two things which have been on my mind for some time. We began this Bill in an atmosphere of almost excited controversy. It is difficult to remember that now. However, I can remember the speeches, particularly from the Back-Benches behind the Government, of those who thought that the rule of Magna Charta and trial by jury was being brought to an end—I am thinking in particular of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington—because of the Government's then intention to implement the James Committee on the subject of small thefts. I admit, and I admit without regret and hesitation now, that I was among those who advised the Government to give in on that point. I think I was right to do so; all the heat has been removed from the Bill by that very wise concession, because public opinion is not ready for that kind of amendment. However, I now want to say, in the cool of the evening, that I think that the James Committee and the Government's original intentions were perfectly right. We shall come to them in the end, particularly when the Amendments which we have been discussing this afternoon, to improve procedure before the magistrates, have been brought about.

I believe that we make a great deal too much of petty thefts. I do not think that they are so serious as people pretend. I know that the noble and learned Lord on the Cross-Benches, my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, made a great speech about the Ten Commandments. When I tried to discuss the matter in my Party Committee at the other end of the corridor they spoke about it having only recently been a felony and once punishable by death. The sooner we get out of that frame of mind the better. Adultery is against the Ten Commandments, but nobody suggests any more that it should be tried by jury. Indeed, it is not an offence any more. As for covetousness, which is also against the Ten Commandments, it is part of the religion of Socialism! Therefore I think that we must forget about the Ten Commandments in connection with the modern penal code, although I am the last to reject them as a basis for moral life or, indeed, as a basis for jurisprudence in general.

There is something else which I want to say to the Government. The more I reflect upon our criminal law and procedure the more I become convinced that something much more general and deep probing will ultimately have to be done about it. We heard of the rough ride that Lord Edmund-Davies's Criminal Law Reform Committee proposals on the right of silence took; it has become totally unlegislatable. But have we not a number of sacred cows and ought not some of them to be slaughtered? I am thinking in particular of those elaborate trials for City and commercial frauds.

First we set up a distinguished body of inspectors, consisting of a chartered accountant and usually a silk. It takes them 18 months to report and they report that certain offences have been committed. Then the police have to get into their 18th century wagonette, with their blunt pencils, and fit this modern report into the straight waistcoat of our 18th century rules of evidence. Finally, seven or eight years after the alleged offences were committed, oral witnesses have to be called before a jury in order to ascertain that the case is proved. People know that their memories have gone by that time. In the Rolls Razor case it was 13 years after the alleged incident—this was partly due to the fact that he had absconded—before the man was arraigned. Then people complained of a plea bargain. Virtually the case was untriable.

If you have three or four defendants in the box and each one of them exercises his right of peremptory challenge, you can pack your jury with people who do not understand what the case is about. I remember that some years ago before I was Lord Chancellor it was my painful duty to prosecute a man for one of these offences. It was a simple case which took only a fortnight; it was a company fraud. Mr. Hooson was defending and the jury were unaccountably out for about five hours. I did not know why, except that I must have presented the case very badly. However, I found out afterwards that they convicted—it was an absolutely open and shut case—only because there was a chartered accountant on the jury and he had talked the others round to understanding it.

I wonder whether this is the right way to run a railway company, or any kind of rational case? I know that there are members of the judiciary, although they are probably not free to admit it, who think that we might experiment with alternative methods of trial on indictment, particularly in these complicated fraud cases. It is not sense, in our present system, to allow seven years to elapse between the incident and the arraignment. It is not fair to expect 12 people to devote anything up to six and sometimes, in exceptional cases, nine months of their lives to sitting de die in diem in the Old Bailey for nothing more than a little compensation in order to try them. When there are several defendants it is not sense to allow counsel for the defence to pack the jury with illiterates in order that nobody shall understand what the case is about.

Is it not possible for the wit of man to think of a more rational way of conducting criminal trials for that kind of case on indictment? I should have thought that the answer was, Yes. I am passionately convinced—and I am not the only member of the profession so to be convinced—that a tribunal, consisting of a High Court judge and two or three laymen with some experience of commercial matters, with an unlimited right of appeal, to the extent that appeal is unlimited in civil cases, and with an obligation to give a reasoned judgment and not a plain verdict, would give the defence a better chance ultimately of escaping and the prosecution a better chance of getting a convicton in reasonable cases.

I want to say a word or two, if I may, about the controversy which has taken place in various circles connected with the criminal law in which Sir Robert Mark, a man I greatly admire, played a prominent part, and members of the Bar Council also entered the lists with great vigour. This matter is so often discussed from the point of view of whether you want to get more convictions or more acquittals. The truth is that you may want to get more of each; that is not an incompatible attitude to adopt. You want innocent people, or rather people not proved guilty, to be acquitted; but you want people who have been proved guilty to be convicted. It may be that we are letting off a number of people who are guilty and ought to be convicted on the evidence, yet convicting a certain number of innocent people—I hope very few—who ought to be acquitted. They are not inconsistent propositions.

This leads me to the last remark I want to make. I do so in the presence of the Lord Chancellor, although of course I do not expect him to comment because I have given him no notice of it. I have become a little concerned about the actual number of cases in which people have been convicted and their appeals have been dismissed—and, I may add, on the rules of the game as they exist at the moment, perfectly properly—but who, at some later stage in their careers, have proved their innocence. If there are some people who prove their innocence at a later stage, sometimes years after the original conviction, there must be other people who are in fact not guilty, or who ought to have been found not guilty, who have not been able to prove their innocence. These cases are listed and they can sometimes be categorised. The cases which came up for discussion a little earlier in the life of this Parliament were related to mistaken identity. One was very widely publicised in the public Press this weekend and related to confessions. I believe Sir Harry Fisher is advising the Government about it at the moment.

When these things come to light they are usually discussed by the enthusiasts for civil rights through demands for greater safeguards for the innocent. That is perfectly intelligible, and within certain limited parameters perfectly right. My belief is that if you look only at the safeguards of the innocent you will ultimately make the present methods of trial wholly impossible from the point of view of convicting the guilty. That must be true of confessions, and I suspect it is true of identification. I am suggesting that the viewpoint from which this ought to be looked at is whether our present system of evidence and our present system of trial is really rational in some respects, and, if it could be made more rational, whether it would not be possible to avoid a certain number of perverse acquittals and at the same time, and not inconsistently, avoid a number of false convictions.

I do not believe we have heard the last of this matter. I think that wise heads in the Government—and in spite of their politics some of them have relatively wise heads—ought now to be considering with the Judiciary and the profession whether our present methods of criminal evidence, criminal procedure and trial on indictment, and not only trial before magistrates, really match up to the needs of the twentieth century. Having said that I should like to repeat my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for the extremely courteous and reasonable way in which he has dealt with the Opposition during the course of the Bill. I wish the Bill a pleasant journey through the other place.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to follow the more theological observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, but I should like to express my own gratitude both to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and their respective Departments for the extreme care and patience and courtesy which they have shown at all times in the course of dealing with a large number of written communications, apart from a number of interventions and observations made in the course of the debates. Invariably their replies have been persuasive and at times compelling.

As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has indicated, we leave this Bill considerably improved. That is not to say that there may not be some scope for further improvement when the Bill goes to the other place. For example, we have failed to solve the problem of how to eliminate the wholly unnecessary commitals for trial where there is no case disclosed on the evidence. We have discussed it at length but failed to come to any real solution. We have not dealt in any way conclusively with the problem of whether assaults on the police are a species of offence which ought to be triable either way. That would require a very careful analysis of waiting times at Crown Courts and at magistrates' courts, information on which is not so far available. However I believe we have improved this Bill. I think in many respects we have made the criminal law simpler. I hope we have made it more effective and at the same time I hope we have managed to preserve the essential rights of the individual who may find himself standing trial.

I do not want to follow in detail the other observations made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. I would respectfully agree with him that many of our procedures are unnecessarily complicated and unnecessarily time-consuming and that those procedures might properly be looked at. Indeed, I think many of them would not require legislation in order to be resolved. When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, talks about the long and complicated City fraud that occupies so much time at the Old Bailey (as indeed it does), very often as I listen to it I wonder not whether it is desirable that the method of trial on indictment should be changed but whether it would not be relatively simple to make the apparently long and complicated fraud very much easier to comprehend and very much shorter if only those who were taking part in it felt that it was practicable to deal with it in that way. Over the last few years there has grown up a tendency for cases to become quite unnecessarily long and complex and to get away from the main point at issue. I hope that we might deal with that problem in a practical way and not by trying to devise wholly new modes of trial or trying to eliminate the system of jury trial which, on the whole, has served us so well in the past.

The only other matter I wish to mention is that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, has referred to a series of miscarriages of justice. Indeed there have been some, particularly in cases involving identification, and as your Lordships know there have been proposals to deal with that matter in the future. But I hope your Lordships will not always believe everything that is written, particularly in the Sunday newspapers, that alleges a miscarriage of justice. There is nothing easier for a so-called investigative journalist to do than to sit down after a trial in which there has been a conviction and to point out that the conviction only depends on the word of two police officers and there was only the defendant's written statement of guilt, there was not other supporting evidence and the defendant's mother is firmly of the view that the defendant is innocent, and that therefore yet again there has been a miscarriage of justice.


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord. I wholly agree with what he is saying, but in the particular case to which I was referring the conviction has in fact been reversed.


My Lords, I was not going to suggest for one moment that a miscarriage of justice is not possible. I hope we can recognise that, under our system, miscarriages of justice take place with remarkable rarity and that our system as a whole is one of which we ought to be proud, and we should be very slow and very reluctant to tamper with it.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, may I be allowed on my own behalf, and I think on behalf of some others from these Benches, to add my word of appreciation and admiration of the way in which all our suggestions and Amendments during the passage of this Bill have been considered. I think some of us who have had some little contact with the law have felt that in considering the various matters that have been before your Lordships' House one has had to be very alert, to have in mind the relevant Statutes, provisions and principles. I, for one, have been full of amazement and wonder at the way in which those in charge of this Bill have at all times been able to deal with very difficult matters.

As regards the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, he, of course, is well familiar with all these things, but as regards the noble Lords on the Front Bench who have borne the heat and brunt of' the day. in particular the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, I have been full of admiration for the way in which he has, over many days, over many Amendments, been able to help us and to deal with the points. My Lords, I wonder what would have happened if the noble Lord had decided to become a barrister. I cannot help thinking that other barristers would have found that they had a very formidable competitor indeed, and perhaps what the Bar has lost your Lordships' House has gained. We do thank him for the way in which he has dealt with all matters.

This is an important Bill, and I hope it will be thought by all those in charge of the Bill that all our suggestions and all our Amendments have been made with a desire to help. There have been certain questions of principle. I think one of the questions of principle related to the suggestion that in cases of theft there should be no right to trial by jury, though generally there would be, where the amount was only small. I think there was a point of principle there, and many of us were very grateful to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack for the gracious way in which he heard the arguments and then came to a conclusion. I am sure there was great feeling, not only in the legal profession but throughout the country, that it was not, on the whole, the best decision to make a change and withdraw those particular cases from a jury.

This afternoon the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, to whose speeches I always listen with infinite joy and profit, ranged over a very wide field, and there were many matters that could profitably, as I think, be the subject of separate debates. I am bound to say that I think there are many who have an enthusiasm for and belief in the jury system, not only those experienced in the law hut members of the public, Which was not very specially marked in the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham.

This Bill was brought in mainly to deal with two very painstaking reports, the report of the Committee under Lord Justice James and the report of the Law Commission. I think your Lordships can feel that in the main the chief recommendations of those two committees have been implemented. As regards the James Committee, it was appointed to consider the distribution of business between the Crown Courts and magistrates' courts. The great majority of the recommendations have, I think, been implemented, and it will result in great advantage in that there will be a saving of time in the Crown Courts. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor at a very early stage gave us figures indicating that it would be in the public interest if the weight and volume of work in the Crown Courts could somehow he reduced. I think it will be as a result of the passing of this Bill, if it is passed in its present form or nearly in its present form. We show our confidence in the magistrates by this Bill, because we are asking them to assume a greater volume of work than that which up to now they have had to accept.

Many of us who have taken part in these debates have wished to stress our faith in the magistrates' system and in the work done by magistrates. They will have more work to do. It is bound to result from that, if they have more work to do, that there are likely to be a few more appeals, and that in turn will involve some work for the Crown Courts. But in the main there will be relief, and that was the main recommendation of the James Committee, and that in substance is now within this Bill.

One of the main recommendations of the Law Commission in regard to conspiracy was that, for the future, conspiracy should only be an offence if there was an agreement to do something that itself was an offence. There had to be one or two exceptions. There had to be the exception of conspiracy to defraud. There are other offences which have generally been regarded as common law offences, but very often it has been found that they were common law conspiracies because the substantive conduct was itself an offence. In the main, without, I think, losing too much, the chief recommendation of the Law Commission has been accepted.

My Lords, the debates have shown that it will be a very long-term policy to reduce the whole of our criminal law to statutory form. The debates have also shown that we should approach with some circumspection any policy which is designed to sweep away all common law offences, for the common law with all its flexibility has been developed over the centuries and on the whole has served the country well. Resisting the temptation to say a little more about some of the topics advanced in such a very interesting way by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, may I in conclusion say that I think this Bill is achieving a useful purpose. It is in the main implementing those two reports. I hope that all of us who have taken any part in the debates have been thought to be helpful and constructive, and again I express my admiration and thanks to all the noble Lords in charge of this Bill for the way in which they have dealt with all our points.

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, it is rather like breaking up for the summer term, except that we have just returned from the Easter Recess. Nevertheless, in the happy mood in which the House now finds itself, let me conclude by once again thanking all those who have participated in our debates and the three noble Lords who have just addressed us. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, has rightly said that we owe a great deal of gratitude to the work of the late Lord Justice James and his Committee, and it is only right that we should bear him in mind particularly. Of course, I know how highly he was regarded by his judicial colleagues.

This Bill will ensure that the distribution of criminal business will henceforth be far more rational than has been the situation up to the moment, and it will have the additional advantage of relieving the Crown Courts of what in London and the South-East, but also in other areas of the country, has become an almost intolerable burden of work. We must also thank the Law Commission for its work, which now forms a major part of the Bill. I doubt whether any measure coming from the Law Commission has been scrutinised quite as carefully and as rigorously as the recommendations which form part of the Bill. That is right; it is good for the Law Commission and for Parliament.

With perhaps one or two minor exceptions, the Bill emerges in an altogether more attractive form than when it first appeared. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, for his personal remarks which I deeply appreciate, and also the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for their remarks. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, made an exceptionally interesting speech, if he will forgive me for saying so. I shall certainly ensure that his words are studied by my right honourable friend and his colleagues, who are responsible for dealing with these matters. I am quite sure that this will repay very careful analysis. I think that my colleagues will look at it with even greater pleasure, given the fact that the noble and learned Lord, rather uncharacteristically, if I may say so, was kind enough—I shall not say to make some flattering observations about the quality of the members of the administration—to indicate that on some occasions they were rather more rational than perhaps on others. Nevertheless, coming from the noble and learned Lord they were gracious words, and I am sure will be appreciated by all those who were intended to be at the receiving end. Once again, I thank all concerned. The Bill is a great deal better than when it first started life.

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

Back to