HL Deb 21 July 1981 vol 423 cc136-8

2.47 p.m.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they propose to implement all or any of the proposals contained in the Report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure published in January, and if so when.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, we have been carefully studying the Royal Commission's report and the initial reactions to it. We see a need to invite more specific comment on some of the issues raised by the report, and my right honourable friend is today announcing his intention of sending a consultative memorandum shortly to a wide range of interested bodies. Copies of this memorandum will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses, and will be available from the Home Office on request.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord the Minister for his reply and for the valuable information that he has given? Does he not agree that, in the present state of public order in this country and the crisis of confidence in the police in some parts of the inner urban areas, urgent attention should be given to implementing Part II of the Royal Commission's report to introduce a quite separate prosecuting solicitor's department for each police area, and that in Part I the coercive powers of the police, and the treatment of suspects in custody, should as a matter of urgency be placed on a statutory footing?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the likely effect of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on relations between the police and the communities whom the police serve will be an important factor in our consideration of the Royal Commission's report. The noble Lord mentioned urgency in his supplementary question. Perhaps it would be helpful if I made it clear that I think I am right in saying that my right honourable friend's Written Answer to a Question today will make it clear that we would be hoping for replies, in the light of the memorandum, by the beginning of October. If my right honourable friend's Written Answer does not make that clear, I am saying it now.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, as one who has had a No Day Named Motion down on the Order Paper for many a long month about this report, may I ask whether it is the Government's intention to initiate a debate on the very wide-ranging recommendations in the report at an earlier, rather than at a later, stage?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the Government would welcome a debate, if time could be found for it through the usual channels.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, in view of the considerable evidence in recent weeks of the breakdown in relationships between the police and the local populations in some areas being caused by the use which the police make of their existing powers to stop and search people in the street, will the Government reconsider the recommendations which the Royal Commission makes about this sphere of police powers in the light of anything which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, has to say resulting from his current investigations?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, anything which emerges from the inquiry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, and which has a bearing on the matters covered in the report, including the matters which the noble Lord mentioned, will of course be given close attention.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, have the Government thought of even a rough timetable for dealing with this matter? Many of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, like the beginning of the introduction of the tape recording of interviews with suspected persons, can be dealt with by administrative means. Indeed, some of the most important recommendations can be dealt with administratively without awaiting the necessity of legislation. Accordingly, can the Minister at least say that before the end of the year some practical steps should be taken in a situation of urgency, as noble Lords have already indicated?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I did make the point to the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, that the Government would be hoping for responses to the memorandum by the beginning of October. The memorandum will not be just a general document. Its intention is to try to focus the attention of different interested groups who have already expressed their interest in different parts of the Royal Commission's report on what my right honourable friend considers are some of the particularly important and difficult parts of the report. Therefore we are following a timetable. Having said that, the noble and learned Lord mentioned in particular tape-recording. There would be difficulties about considering tape-recording separately from other parts of the report. The implications for the dispatch of court business, for resources generally and for the safeguards afforded to suspects will, however, be factors influencing the Government's consideration of this and of the other proposals contained in the report.

Lord Elystan-Morgan

My Lords, on the wider question of criminal procedure generally, would the noble Lord the Minister give us an undertaking on behalf of the Government that no consideration of short-term expediency, or suchlike, would make the Government erode in any way the right for serious offences on the part of a defendant to trial by jury, it being a principle which is so utterly central to the concept of human liberty?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, ahead of final decisions which have been taken, the noble Lord will not expect me to be specific. But the report is called The Balance of Criminal Justice. Certainly I shall give to the noble Lord an undertaking that the Government are well aware, as were the Royal Commission, of the need to give especially close attenton to the balance between the powers of the police and safeguards for the citizen.