HL Deb 14 November 1991 vol 532 cc677-8

4.51 p.m.

Viscount Astor rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th July be approved [26th Report from the Joint Committee Session 1990–91].

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this order gives effect in all petty sessions areas in England and Wales to Section 128a of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 which enables magistrates' courts to remand defendants in custody for up to 28 days. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th July be approved [26th Report from the Joint Committee Session 1990–91].—(Viscount Astor.)

Lord Richard

My Lords, I knew that the noble Viscount was going to be brief but that was almost invisible. I have only two points to make regarding the order, which we do not oppose from this side of the House. The Minister will know that anxiety has been expressed that as a result of the order prisoners will spend longer periods of time in custody. The order extends to the whole of the United Kingdom the provision which has been applicable in four experimental areas that magistrates' courts should be able to remand prisoners for up to 28 days. In particular, I understand that the Prison Reform Trust has expressed its anxieties to the Government quite forcefully.

Will the Government give an undertaking to monitor the impact of the order on the number of prisoners being remanded in custody and also the length of time for which prisoners remain on remand prior to being brought to trial? As I said, anxiety is being expressed by reputable organisations. I hope that the Government will at least give the undertaking I have requested.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is right to say that anxieties have been raised about people spending longer on remand. The main fears were that defendants would spend longer in prison and that opportunities for bail would decrease.

It was made clear to Parliament that the Government would not extend the arrangements nationwide if the experiment showed the fears to be justified. However, the results of the evaluation of the trials published earlier this year in Home Office Research and Planning Unit Paper 62 showed that the anxieties expressed in the debate on the 1988 Act have not been realised. There was on average no increase in the length of time spent in custody nor in the proportion of cases in which bail was refused after an initial remand in custody.

On Question, Motion agreed to.