HL Deb 11 February 1992 vol 535 cc690-714

9.45 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD SKELMERSDALE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [New offence of aggravated vehicle-taking]:

Lord Airedale moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 8, after ("a") insert ("motor").

The noble Lord said: It has been suggested that this amendment and Amendments Nos. 9 and 15 should be taken together. However, I do not find that there is a great deal in common between the three except that they are all in my name. I think that we shall get on faster if we take them one at a time. I therefore propose to move Amendment No. 1.

The Bill operates by reference to Section 12 of the Theft Act 1968 which states in the side note: Taking motor vehicle or other conveyance without authority".

I suppose "other conveyance" means chiefly push bikes but, as we fully realise, this Bill is concerned only with motor vehicles. I believe therefore that the first opportunity should be taken, in conformity with the Long Title, to make clear that in the Bill we are discussing motor vehicles.

The first opportunity occurs in the second line of the new Section 12A, but it is not taken. The wording refers not to the taking of a motor vehicle but the taking of a vehicle. Admittedly, paragraph (a) clarifies the matter with the words "mechanically propelled vehicle." However, I suggest that no harm would be done and it would be clearer and better in line 8 to refer to "a motor vehicle." I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, is always a purist in these matters and I see what he means by inserting the word "motor" before "vehicle". However, if he were to read through the proposed section, as he did, he would realise that it says that, a person is guilty of aggravated taking of a vehicle if he commits an offence under section 12(1) … in relation to a mechanically propelled vehicle". He cannot commit an offence unless the offence is against a mechanically propelled vehicle. That expression has an established legal meaning which goes wider than motor vehicles and covers, for example, tractors and plant machinery. That category may not be classed as motor vehicles through not being, in the words of the Road Traffic Act 1988, intended or adapted for use on roads". I understand the anxiety of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. However I think he will realise that it is covered by the words that are included in new Section 12A(1) (a). I therefore suggest that the word "motor" merely has the effect of elongating the Bill without adding anything to it.

Lord Airedale

I am always grateful to the noble Earl for taking a great deal of trouble over these matters. I do not think I would be thanked if I pursued this drafting argument at this time of night. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 22, at end insert ("by the accused or by another person incited by the accused").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 2, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 4, 6 and 7. Although on the suggested groupings list Amendment No. 10 is included in that group, the Minister is at the moment reading our suggestion that we wish to consider Amendment No. 10 separately if there is no objection to doing so.

Amendments Nos. 2, 4, 6 and 7 explore the legal position as the Bill now stands, of what one might think of as the passive passenger. That may be a person who has perhaps been casually picked up after the basic offence has been committed. He is aware the car does not belong to the person who is driving it but thereafter the passenger does nothing to aggravate the situation. He may actively persuade the offender or offenders to desist from the offence. The amendments all have the same purpose, which is to tighten up the Bill so that degrees of liability can be measured and fairly punished. There is no intention to let anyone off the hook. The amendments seek to distinguish between degrees of culpability.

By inserting the words, by the accused or by another person incited by the accused

a defendant who was merely sitting in the car without inciting the accused to drive dangerously would have an adequate defence. As the Bill stands at present, passengers are liable to increased maximum penalties of up to two or five years' imprisonment because of aggravating behaviour by another person who was driving the vehicle.

It has been suggested to me that to give someone an aggravated sentence for another person's actions offends against all the normal canons of criminal responsibility, and that public support for this measure is much more likely to be gained if the penalties to which any individual is liable correspond much more closely to that individual's degree of personal responsibility for the harm done.

We are not entirely happy with Clause 1 as it stands because the criminal law in this area surely deals with personal liability. The present wording seems to us far too wide. As Clause 1 now stands, damage could be caused by any other person—such a person may be wholly unconnected with the accused or with the event —or by any other thing, such as a tree falling on the car, even when the taking away has been completed.

An example has been suggested which I do not think is particularly far-fetched. X commits the basic offence and then returns the vehicle intact and undamaged. He parks it properly in an appropriate area and secures it properly. He may use a phone box nearby to confess his sin to the owner of the vehicle and beg forgiveness.

While he is doing that Y, who happens to be blind drunk at the time, drives into the back of X's stolen car causing damage to the amount of £2,000 plus VAT. In those circumstances, X is guilty. He may plead subsections (3) (a) and (3) (b) in his defence, but they are no defence. It seems unusual to us to attribute criminal liability for events which can neither be foreseen nor controlled by the accused. I suggest these simple drafting amendments would put things to rights. I beg to move.

Lord Airedale

I should like to support the amendment. An illustration which appeals to me is the case of several youths who decide to commit what is called the basic offence of taking a vehicle merely to drive to a football match or to the seaside. Initially there is no question of driving dangerously, but along comes another hooligan driving another car and the two drivers decide to have a road race just for the hell of it. They drive dangerously. The passengers in the back are horrified. That is not what they had in mind. They are terrified. They think that they will probably be killed. It is wrong to suggest that those passengers are guilty of an offence. The word "incitement" should be inserted into the Bill to make quite sure that passengers placed in that position are not guilty of an offence unless they can be shown to have incited the offence.

I hope that that illustration, added to the illustration that the noble Lord put forward, will convince the noble Earl that the word "incitement", or words to that effect, is necessary to improve the Bill.

Earl Ferrers

As I heard the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, add his weight to the amendment I practically fell off the edge of the Bench. What are we talking about? We are talking about people who have stolen someone's car and who have driven that car. The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, suggested that there were two people who unfortunately found themselves in the back of that stolen car and had nothing to do with the offence, and when the car started going too fast they said, "Help! We don't want anything to do with it".

The Bill is designed to deal with people who individually or collectively steal people's cars, drive them, and as a result of having driven them end up committing an aggravated offence. The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, then says that the poor chaps in the back were so frightened that they said, "For goodness sake stop". I ask the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, what on earth they were doing there in the first place. They should not have been there.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, said that his amendment was a simple drafting amendment. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, he knows perfectly well that it is not a simple drafting amendment, it wrecks the whole Bill. It destroys the new offence of aggravated vehicle-taking. The amendment would emasculate the Bill, leaving the law in practice unchanged.

If the amendments were accepted, it would never be enough for the prosecution to show that danger, damage or death had been caused. Under the amendments, the prosecution would have to prove first that the existing basic offence of taking a vehicle had occurred and then exactly who caused what damage, what injury, or did what driving and why. If four people had taken a car and it had burnt out, the prosecution would have to go to the same lengths to prove the offence of aggravated vehicle-taking as for criminal damage. The penalty for criminal damage is a maximum of 10 years; for the offence of aggravated vehicle-taking the maximum is two years.

If the amendments were accepted, the Bill would offer no improvement over the existing law. It would offer even less than the existing offences because the maximum penalties which could be imposed on the basis of the same evidence would he less in some cases under the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Morris. The message would then go out to those deadly hooligans who travel around on wheels, "Don't worry, the law cannot keep up with you. Carry on joy-riding". That is not the purpose of the Bill. The purpose is to ensure that people who take cars should be collectively responsible for having taken them and for the damage which results irrespective of which person was involved in the deed at the time. If three, four or more people gather together to offend by taking a vehicle, driving it and possibly changing drivers and an accident takes place, any damage that occurs is the corporate responsibility of those people.

It is for those reasons that I suggest to your Lordships that it would be completely inappropriate to accept these amendments.

10 p.m.

Lord Airedale

I nearly fell off the Bench, too. I thought I had made it clear to the noble Earl that passengers in the vehicle are parties to what is called the basic offence. All they want to do is get to a football match or the seaside. The spontaneous road race that develops between the drivers of two vehicles has nothing to do with the passengers in the back. It is wrong to make them responsible or liable to be convicted of the aggravated offence when they are utterly against it and are terrified of what is going on. It is not good enough to say that those passengers are liable to be convicted without the word "incitement" or words to that effect applying to them.

Earl Ferrers

Having heard that speech, the noble Lord makes me fall even further off the Bench than did in the first place. What the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, is saying is, "These poor chaps who just wanted to go to a football match went along to some person's garage and stole his car. That is all right. But when the person who happened to be driving it drove it at 70 miles an hour they were terrified and said, "Look, Joe, ease off". Joe did not ease off and they had a smash. The noble Lord says that they are not responsible for what happened. Of course they are responsible; they stole the car in the first place. What happens to the car afterwards is the collective responsibility on the part of those people who stole the car. The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, wags his head like a metronome. All I can tell him is that if people collectively steal a vehicle they are collectively responsible for having stolen it and for what happens thereafter.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

I have managed to remain remarkably well tethered to my Bench. I have greatly enjoyed the heat and passion which seems to have been engendered across the Committee by what I thought was a comparatively harmless amendment. I have carefully avoided using emotive words like "stealing". I understood we were talking about taking and driving away, which I imagined was something quite different from stealing. The matter seems to be so basic to the Bill that it appears to some of us that, provided a person can be convicted of the basic offence, there is no end to what can be pinned on him and his uncles and aunts or anyone else who happened to be in the vicinity when he committed the basic offence.

It is far too late and there are too few of us to seek the opinion of the Committee, but I have noted carefully what has been said and the passion with which it has been uttered. While reserving the right to come back to the point if necessary at a later stage, I beg leave, in the interests of peace and harmony, to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 23, after first ("the") insert ("dangerous").

The noble Lord said: With your Lordships' permission, I shall deal with Amendment No. 3 and speak also to Amendment No. 5. These amendments have the purpose of harmonising the circumstances in which an offence can be deemed to have been committed. As the Bill stands at present the accused can be convicted of an offence either under Clause 1 (2) (b) if owing to the driving of a vehicle an accident occurs by which injury is caused to any person, or under Clause 1 (2) (c) if an accident occurs by which damage is caused to any property other than the vehicle. Our amendments ensure that the aggravated offence would apply only where the damage was linked in each case to the dangerous driving of those in the vehicle. We suggest that the higher penalties ought not to apply where the driving was careless or indeed possibly blameless, or where damage was inflicted on the vehicle without reference to the driving.

Possible cases have been cited by many people on many occasions. For example, a dog—or it might even be a child—runs out in front of a car which has been taken and driven away. The driver swerves to avoid striking the child or animal and damage ensues. It seems a trifle unjust that that should result in an aggravated offence automatically involving all those in the car at the time.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 5 have the additional small virtue of tidiness in that the word "dangerous" can now appear in all three places and "dangerous" and "dangerously" would be words as defined in subsection (7) (a) and (b). I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

We are discussing a point similar to that which arose in the previous amendment. The noble Lord says that the word "dangerous" ought to be added in front of "driving" so that only the person who has driven the vehicle dangerously would be subjected to those additional provisions. A scenario which the noble Lord might have painted would be that of a person who steals someone else's car, drives it away and everything is fine until somebody else's dog runs out in front of it and the car crashes.

The noble Lord says that it was not the fault of the poor fellow driving the car; the fault was that of somebody else's dog. But what was that person doing with the car in the first place? He had stolen the car. If he has stolen the car and driven it, it does not matter whether he drove it into a lamp post or whether someone else's dog ran into the path of the car which ends up being driven into the lamp post. That person is responsible. I do not believe that the noble Lord can say that the poor fellow who stole the car did not mean to run into any trouble; that he just wanted to use the car perhaps to go, as the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, said, to a football match. He did not mean to run into the lamp post. It was unfortunate that somebody else's dog ran into the road. I do not believe that that argument holds water at all. I hope that the noble Lord will concede that if a person steals a car what happens to that car after he has stolen it is that person's responsibility.

Lord Airedale

The noble Earl goes on talking about stealing. We are not talking about stealing cars. We are talking about taking cars, not stealing cars. If you take a car and abandon it by the roadside and it gets back to the owner, you have not stolen it. You never intended to steal it. So let us talk about what the Bill is about.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, is always a man for punctilious purity. If someone takes my car without my consent and drives it around London, so far as I am concerned he has stolen it. It may not be stealing under law but it is stealing as regards the fact. The noble Lord cannot use that argument.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

So far as the law is concerned, he would nevertheless be charged with taking and driving away, though in certain cases that circumstance might be aggravated by something else that happened. I am disappointed that the noble Earl feels unable to receive these two amendments in any happy way. The unexpected support that I received from the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, would no doubt be echoed by many other noble Lords had they been in the Chamber at this time.

There are many people with views quite contrary to those expressed by the noble Earl as regards the blanket culpability of absolutely everybody concerned with an aggravated offence. However, once again I should like to return to this matter after I have read even more carefully tomorrow morning what the noble Earl said. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 4 to 7 not moved.

Baroness Mallalieu moved Amendment No. 8: Page 2, line 2, leave out ("he proves that").

The noble Baroness said: I start from the premise that the traditional principle of the English criminal law is that the burden of proof rests on the prosecution to prove each ingredient of the offence. The defendant need prove nothing.

As presently drafted, the Bill diverges from that rule. As it stands at present the Bill provides that the prosecution need only prove, first, that the basic offence has occurred and, secondly, that one of the aggravating features set out in Clause 1(2) (a), (b), (c) and (d) has taken place. Thereafter the burden shifts to the accused to prove that he was not responsible for those aggravating circumstances, either because they happened before the vehicle was taken or because he was not on the scene when the driving, accident or damage occurred.

There is no special justification in this legislation for removing from the prosecution the burden of proving the link between the accused and the damage or the injury for the aggravated offence. I submit that before that basic principle of English criminal law is departed from, the Crown must have exceptional reasons for altering the law in that way as, for example, was necessary in relation to offensive weapons. There is no such reason here. I ask the noble Earl to consider that none could be justified.

The potential for a miscarriage of justice is always increased when the burden is on the defendant to prove his innocence rather than on the prosecution to prove guilt. That is particularly so when those likely to be prosecuted under this Bill will in most cases be youngsters. They will usually have been committing the offence with others. Defence witnesses who could speak to those matters which at present the defence must prove are likely to be other youngsters from the same area, with friendships and loyalties and fears about telling tales on others. Also, they may well be accomplices and they are likely to prevent the defendant, who should in justice be acquitted of the aggravated charge, from being able to discharge the burden of proof placed upon him. In other words, how will he show that the aggravating features occurred before he came on the scene or after he had left it, when he is likely to have witnesses of that kind available to him, if he has any witnesses at all?

Further, any law which makes a defendant guilty of the aggravated offence, even though he does no more than commit the basic offence and the events which make the crime aggravated are outside his control, offends against justice and common sense. This clause as presently drafted is causing anxiety not only to the legal profession but also to organisations such as Justice which are fearful of its consequences.

When the noble Earl dealt with this question of the burden of proof on Second Reading, he said that it did not reverse that burden. I hope that he has now had time to study carefully Clause 1(3) which states: A person is not guilty of an offence under this section if he proves that … ".

Those words make it absolutely clear that the defendant is required in terms to establish his innocence. If the noble Earl has had an opportunity to look at those words since he made his remarks on Second Reading, perhaps he will feel able to accept the amendment.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Ackner

I should like to intervene on one very short point. I heard the noble Baroness make her submissions during the course of Second Reading and of course, as is so often the case, she is absolutely right. The burden is on the defendant. However, we should not become too horrified about that situation. It is constantly referred to as being a breach of the fundamental provisions of the English law but many statutes make specific provision for it.

Because we are somewhat busy at the moment, I asked an industrious pupil in my son-in-law's chambers to be kind enough to give me a few examples. Like most pupils at the Bar, certainly in their pupillage stage, he was immensely industrious. He produced a ring binder the contents of which referred to 14 Acts. The first dates back more than 100 years; it is the Explosive Substances 1883 dealing with the possession of explosives and the onus of proving that they were not in the person's possession for any nefarious purpose. Other Acts were the Prevention of Corruption Act 1916; the Criminal Justice Act 1925, dealing with the coercion of married women by husbands; the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, dealing with offensive weapons to which reference has already been made; the Sexual Offences Act 1956, relating to living on immoral earnings; the Homicide Act 1957, dealing with the defence of diminished responsibility; the Theft Act 1968, relating to going equipped for stealing; and so on and so forth.

The normal justification is where it is immensely difficult for the prosecution to establish the ingredient, where it is particularly within the knowledge of the accused as to whether the particular defence exists. I should have thought that this is just that class of litigation because it will be immensely difficult to establish exactly who among a number of young men was doing what and why. I thought that Members of the Committee would permit my intervention because a fundamental point of criminal law is raised.

Lord Airedale

I venture to give an illustration in support of the amendment most ably moved by the noble Baroness. Let us suppose that one dark night a hooligan commits the aggravated offence and in the course of it he knocks down and injures a person. In the dark the person cannot recognise the features of the hooligan. However, he can see the number plate of the vehicle and he manages to note the registration number.

The hooligan decides to make it a hit and run job. He drives on a safe distance and then abandons the vehicle, runs away from it and is never apprehended. The vehicle remains there for some time.

Then along comes Mr. Smith who is a basic offender. I urge the noble Earl to accept that it is possible to be a basic offender. Mr. Smith has missed his last bus home and all that he wants to do is to get home. He discovers the vehicle standing by the roadside. He gets into it and drives carefully towards his home. In the meantime, the police have discovered that the vehicle with that registration number is very much sought after. They spot Mr. Smith driving the vehicle towards his home. They stop it and take Mr. Smith's particulars.

Under the Bill, the burden is upon Mr. Smith to show that he was not the driver of the vehicle which knocked down and injured the pedestrian a short time previously. There is no evidence that anyone else except Mr. Smith was driving the car at that time. The burden of proof is upon Mr. Smith. It is well known that to prove a negative—to prove that one has not done something—is very difficult indeed.

In the history of the English criminal law the time since 1935 is not long. It was in 1935 that Lord Chancellor Sankey pronounced those well-known words that throughout the web of the English criminal law one golden thread is ever to be seen: that the burden of proof is upon the prosecution to prove the guilt of the offender. If it can be said that in the intervening years we have become so clever that we have managed to avoid miscarriages of justice, there may be a case for saying that in cases such as this it is sometimes safe to place the burden of proof upon the accused. But we cannot say that. We have recently seen appalling miscarriages of justice. The whole basis of criminal justice in this country is coming under scrutiny. How can it be said that in the illustration I ventured to give, it is right that the burden of proof should be upon the defendant to show his innocence?

Earl Ferrers

The morals of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, never cease to make my eyes open wider. He says that a person wanders along in the middle of the night and wants to go home—Mr. Smith—and he finds a car sitting there. He therefore drives the car and takes it home. Along comes Mr. Plod and says, "That car has just run over an old lady and it is your responsibility".

The noble Lord is quite right. The Bill will catch that person because it will catch any person who has taken the car from the original owner. The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, says that that is unfair. There is plenty of provision in the Bill to allow the person to show that he was not the driver at the time the car ran over the old lady. For the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, to attempt to use as a defence that a poor old fellow walking along in the middle of the night finds a car sitting in a side road and it is all right for him to pick it up and drive it away, leaves me astounded.

When I saw that the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, had attached her name to the amendment, I thought that we would have a little trouble with the law. When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, stood up and said, "The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, is quite right", my heart sank even further. Fortunately, like all lawyers do, they managed to end up supporting the side one does not necessarily expect them to support. For that I am deeply grateful to the noble and learned Lord.

The Bill creates an aggravated form of the existing offence of unlawful vehicle taking, which is taking without consent. The aggravating factor is not the conduct of a specific defendant. That is the whole purpose of the Bill. The actual consequences of the vehicle-taking episode as a whole must be judged entirely as a matter of fact with all those involved in the vehicle equally liable for the consequences of that event, whether they can be proved on an individual basis to have intended or caused those consequences.

In other words, if a vehicle is taken and damage occurs, all those people involved in the taking of the vehicle, or indeed in the passing on of the vehicle to another group of people, are responsible for the damage. To guard against the possibility of an injustice we have provided defences for those who can show either that the aggravating event occurred before they committed the basic offence or at a time when they were not in or in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle concerned. That should satisfy the noble lord, Lord Airedale.

The burden of proof is distributed in this way. The prosecution must prove that the individual defendant committed the basic taking without consent offence and also that an aggravating event occurred. The prosecution must prove both of these elements beyond reasonable doubt in the usual way. Even where those have been proved the defendant will escape liability where he can establish, on the balance of probabilities only, either of the defences which are covered in subsection (3). That does not place an unreasonable burden on the defendant. The matters included in the defence seem to lie peculiarly within his knowledge. I do not believe that it is an injustice for him that these matters shall be for him to establish if he wishes to rely on them.

We should not forget that the defendant was not a passing member of the public who was dragged into court and pressed to prove his innocence; of course he was not. He was someone who had committed the basic Theft Act offence. He can only be convicted of the aggravated form of the offence if he is guilty, and can be proved guilty, of the original criminal undertaking. As I said at Second Reading, if people wish to be sure that they will not be convicted of aggravated vehicle taking then they should make sure that they do not commit the basic offence. The practical effect of the amendment which the noble Baroness has moved would be that people who have been proved guilty of criminal taking would then be acquitted of the aggravated offence even though the aggravating circumstances had also been proved. I believe that that would undermine the whole purpose of the Bill.

Baroness Mallalieu

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, for his support. With some temerity I suggest that the arguments which have been advanced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, do not apply to the circumstances of this Bill. Essentially, the pieces of legislation which he listed are ones in which the circumstances effectively call for some explanation from the defendant. Perhaps I may take just two of his examples: as regards the offensive weapons legislation, where someone is found in possession of a weapon, it is for the defendant in seeking to avoid conviction to show that he falls within one or other of the exceptions. As concerns the immoral earnings legislation, someone living with a prostitute and having money then has the burden put on him to show that he came by it legitimately. But that is a wholly different type of situation to the one with which this Bill seeks to deal.

Here, what is suggested is that, in a case where it is not known who is responsible and the offence cannot be proved against any one of a number of possible suspects, they are all guilty unless they can prove otherwise. The noble Earl said that these are not innocent people but people who have taken a car in the first place. He is right to this extent: they have taken a car and they will be convicted in relation to the offence that they have actually committed, which is the basic offence. But it cannot be right then to go on to say that we can extend guilt to all those with them, whether or not we can prove it, simply because of their presence at the time. In that way we may end up catching the guilty, but we shall also end up catching the innocent as well.

I appreciate that the noble Earl has given no encouragement that he intends to give any further thought to this matter. Perhaps I may ask him to re-read the subsection before the next stage. At this stage I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Airedale: moved Amendment No. 9: Page 2, line 8, leave out ("in the immediate vicinity of") and insert ("very near").

The noble Lord said: I regard words like, in the immediate vicinity of", as the language of the estate agent. For example, "This desirable property lies in the immediate vicinity of the Lake of Geneva". I feel sure that the late Lord Gardiner, who strove very hard to get the statutes into simple, straightforward English, would have opted for the expression "very near" in preference to, in the immediate vicinity of". If the noble Earl can find a difference between these two expressions I may be tempted to withdraw the amendment, but as it is, I suggest that two words would be better than five. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

As usual, the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, are superficially very attractive. The noble Lord's amendment has the great advantage of brevity. If brevity were the only matter which concerned us I might go along with him, but I do not believe that that is the main issue. It seems to me that "very near" is a fairly vague and somewhat comparative expression. One could say that the Kent coast is very near to France. But one would not say that we were in its immediate vicinity. We can perhaps take an even closer example. For instance, today a bomb was placed in Whitehall. When the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, writes his memoirs he may say, "I was in the House of Lords, and I was very near to the bomb". But I do not think that he could say that he was in the vicinity of the bomb. Therefore, the words in the Bill are a good deal clearer and more succinct, even though the terminology may be two words longer than the words proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale.

Lord Airedale

I do not think that the late Lord Gardiner would have agreed with the noble Earl. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

[Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.]

Baroness Mallalieu moved Amendment No. 10: Page 2, line 10, at end insert: ("(c) he was not driving the vehicle and he had taken reasonable steps to make sure that driving, accident or damage would not occur.").

The noble Baroness said: In speaking to this amendment I take on board what the noble Earl has been saying in answer to virtually all the amendments that have been put before the Committee so far.

As I understand the noble Earl, the intention of the Bill is to make offenders liable for the consequences of their acts. But I am sure that it is not the intention of the noble Earl that those who are not responsible should also be held responsible in law. The purpose of this amendment is simply to provide a further defence to those who are not responsible for the aggravating features and who are at the moment caught by the proposed legislation.

The Bill is surely intended to make those who take cars responsible for the consequences of their actions but not, surely, responsible for the actions of others. It does not require any great imagination to envisage a situation where an accused person, for example, takes and drives a car away, then takes it back-as often happens-parks it, gets out and then it is run into by another vehicle. He is caught under the Bill as it is at present drafted. So is the passenger who has persuaded the driver to return the car and on the return journey a crash occurs through the fault of another vehicle. As the Bill stands the passenger would also be liable, even though all he has done is to urge the driver to take the car back to where it came from. So also is the passive passenger liable. That may be thought to be a special danger with an offence which is likely in the main to involve defendants who are members of groups of young people.

Further, as the Bill is presently drafted, there is no incentive whatever to a passenger to try to persuade the driver either to return the car, or to drive it with care. This amendment is intended to ensure that only those who are at fault will bear responsibility. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

Again, this is what one might describe as "variations on a theme by Haydn". The noble Baroness seeks to show by these amendments that the person driving the vehicle is the person who is concerned and that those who are passengers, and who may have tried to prevent the driver from driving quickly, ought not to be guilty.

The whole ethos underlying the Bill is that, if a vehicle is taken, whether by one person or by a group of people, the whole group is responsible for what happens to that vehicle. When the owner regains the vehicle-if he or she does regain it-and it is in a damaged condition, those who have participated in the illegal taking are also responsible for the damage which has been done. With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, I do not think that it is enough to hear that the people in the back said, "For goodness sake, slow down!" My answer to the noble Baroness is, what were they doing in the back in the first place? If in the first place they had been party to removing that vehicle, then they are party to the offence which that vehicle creates as a result of its illegal taking.

I cannot advise the Committee to accept an amendment which waters down the whole provision so that the prosecution would have to show that person A was the person driving and persons B, C and D who were also in the car could not be convicted because they were not behind the wheel at the time. The whole philosophy of the Bill, which has been introduced because of the devastating effects of "joy-riding", is that those who individually or collectively remove vehicles should be both individually and collectively responsible for what happens to them.

Lord Harvington

What would happen if, having taken the car and driven away in it, the hooligan saw a group of people on the road thumbing a lift and, out of the kindness of his heart, stopped and gave those people a lift but subsequently got into trouble with the car? Would those people in the car be included in the group to whom the noble Earl referred? That seems rather unfair.

Earl Ferrers

First, the group would be very lucky if it managed to get a lift from the car because such cars are normally being driven at 70 m.p.h. Secondly, the group would be unfortunate if it got a lift in the car because the car would continue at 70 m.p.h. Thirdly, if the group did get a lift, it would be convicted because it would be in a car which was the subject of a taking without consent offence. It would be up to the members of the group to say, in the circumstances which my noble friend expostulates, "As a matter of fact, we were not there at the beginning. We were collected some way down the road and we were not there when the original basic offence took place."

Baroness Mallalieu

I wonder whether the noble Earl will consider again the answer he has just given. My understanding is that, unless the passengers who were picked up were parties to the basic offence, they could not be convicted under the Bill.

Earl Ferrers

That is what I tried to explain. They would have the opportunity of saying that they were not party to the basic offence but were picked up later.

Baroness Mallalieu

It would go further than that. It would be up to the prosecution to prove who committed the basic offence—that is the first step in the Bill—and presumably therefore the prosecution would not be able to get off the ground in relation to those people.

I am profoundly depressed by the noble Earl's exposition of the philosophy behind the Bill. It seems to be a completely blunt instrument. As I understand him, the intention of the Bill is to make people responsible not simply for the consequences of their acts, which they must readily have appreciated, but for unintended consequences and also for consequences which occur that were not their fault. I am somewhat discouraged by the noble Earl's response to the earlier amendments and it may be necessary to return to this matter. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Obligatory disqualification]:

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 11: Page 4, line 21, leave out first ("obligatory") and insert: ("(a) obligatory where the vehicle was driven or the damage was caused by the offender or by another person incited by the offender; (b) discretionary in any other case.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment perhaps I may speak also to Amendments Nos. 12 and 14 as all the amendments relate to obligatory disqualification.

The amendments seek to make this harsh Bill a little less draconian. They seek to link the punishment with the crime. As the Bill presently stands, any passenger who cannot prove that he did not incite the accused will receive a mandatory disqualification of at least 12 months. The same disqualification applies to all those convicted of the offence even where the consequences which aggravated the offence were neither intended nor foreseen by the accused personally.

It has been forcefully argued by many that the magistrates' courts and other courts are much better able to make the relevant decision since circumstances will vary infinitely in offences of this kind. The magistrates' courts particularly should have the discretion to decide whether a ban should be enforced. In many cases disqualification will be the right and proper course of action. Magistrates have never been known to flinch from such action. But the courts should have the ability to exercise that discretion. We ask no more than that.

The second point I wish to make is that mandatory disqualification will, as things stand, damage the work of motor projects which, it has been proved, are almost miraculous in deterring young offenders from re-offending. Project workers all over the country say that one of the most powerful incentives that they can offer young people is the prospect that they will eventually be able to drive legally and safely. As the Bill stands, that incentive could be eliminated in many cases because of disqualification.

David Walton, of the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, is quoted this very day in a press release as saying: We need to work on those who break into cars, steal cars and recklessly hazard lives and limbs, not least their own. The growing numbers of probation-linked motor projects across the country do just this. Evidence from a survey of 25 projects carried out in 1988 suggested that, of 4,500 young people who had participated, only 100 had committed car-related offences during their period of attendance".

Such projects are extremely important and valuable and, as David Walton said, they can, divert young people from motor crime. They challenge the offending behaviour, educate young people about safe and legal motoring, and absorb their energies"ߞ that, I believe, is most important— by providing supervised experience of driving and working on vehicles". David Walton also said: We need closer evaluation of these projects and of what works best. But there is enough information around us for us to know that car-related work with young people diverts their enthusiasm into constructive channels and reduces car crime. A one per cent reduction in the number of car offences represents 10,000 fewer cases for the authorities and 10,000 fewer costs in money, property, pain, and shame".

I believe that the amendments proposed would go a little way towards encouraging those who are concerned with the spread of motor projects throughout the country. I believe we all agree that the law should be clear, coherent and efficient to enforce. These amendments, like all the others that we have tabled, have that sole aim and object. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

I always long to be able to go along with the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, in his views; indeed, I struggle like mad to do so. However, it is sometimes quite difficult. The Bill before the Committee was brought in for one specific purpose; namely, to deal with the effects of people who take, as opposed to steal, cars—I use the word "take" in deference to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale —and then drive them thus causing mayhem, damage, death, destruction and injury. That is the philosophy behind the Bill.

The proposed amendments would simply water the whole thing down. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, says that we should accept an amendment the aim of which is to provide for greater flexibility in the range of sentences. There is nothing new about mandatory disqualification. We already have it for offences such as dangerous driving and causing death by dangerous driving in the Road Traffic Act 1991. We believe that we should also have it for this new offence. The penalties in respect of imprisonment, fines, endorsement and penalty points for the aggravated offence are in line with those in the Road Traffic Act 1991 for dangerous driving and causing death by dangerous driving. I do not see why they should differ in respect of disqualification. The aggravated offence is considerably more serious than the basic offence of taking a vehicle without consent. That already carries discretionary disqualification.

The Government's view is that it is right that every offender who is guilty of the more serious offence should not be deemed to be fit to get behind the wheel of a vehicle for at least 12 months. Passengers and drivers will be equally liable as they are for the basic Section 12(1) offence. As the Committee is aware, the Bill is not concerned with who was responsible, directly and personally, for any particular aggravating event, but rather with punishing all those who become involved with the illegal taking of a vehicle when that event has serious consequences.

For those reasons it makes no sense to differentiate between offenders for the purpose of disqualification. The offence is a serious offence, and all those involved in it should be equally liable for the penalties incurred by their criminal behaviour. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, will understand the reasoning behind the provision and will be able to agree with it.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

To ask me to agree with the reasoning is perhaps to go a little far, but I am grateful to the Minister for struggling with himself. I fully accept that he has done his best to accommodate us although, I regret, without success. We were merely asking for discretion for the courts. We should like more trust to be placed in the courts in their administration of a Bill such as this.

I believe that we have all heard that many magistrates dislike mandatory disqualification. In many cases they have no option but to impose that sentence, even though they may be of the opinion that, in the light of the circumstances before them, they could do better than that. They are not given the choice. We hope that the Minister will reconsider this matter between now and the next stage. We may yet assist him at a later stage in his most commendable struggle. In the meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Skelmersdale)

I have to advise the Committee that the Marshalled List has been mismarshalled and therefore I have to call Amendment No. 14 before Amendment No. 13.

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

Lord Ackner moved Amendment No. 13: Page 4, line 34, at end insert: ("( ) In section 22 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, which requires a court to notify the Secretary of State for Transport that an accused may be suffering from a disability, there shall be added the following subsection— (3) where a person is convicted of an offence under section 12A (aggravated vehicle-taking) of the Theft Act 1968 a relevant or prospective disability (within the meaning of section 92 of the Road Traffic Act 1988) shall be deemed to include a propensity to misuse or abuse alcohol or controlled drugs.".")

The noble and learned Lord said: Having so recently, to the surprise of the Minister, established my total objectivity, I hope that he will return the compliment to me. Although I accept that there are fields in which they can be criticised, I have sought in the amendment not to criticise what the Government have done because I know that they are anxious to give the greatest possible protection to the public against these dangerous offences. I have therefore put forward a point which the Government have not considered before because they wrongly construed the legislation and overlooked the existence of a decision of the Divisional Court.

I claim no proud parentage of the point. As I disclosed on Second Reading, it is His Honour Frank Blennerhassett, a retired circuit judge, who has been for many years a chairman of a Home Office committee on drink driving and who is particularly experienced in this matter, who drew my attention to it. As I pointed out, the matter arises simply in this way: in in this type of offence, which is committed mainly by juveniles (those between 13 and 16), drink and drugs play a major part. I do not mean by that that the youngsters are alcoholics or drug addicts. They misuse, or abuse—the word so constantly used —alcohol or drugs.

On occasions they go out on what used to be known as—I am not sure what the "with it" word is—a blind. They drink too much and in that state they drive recklessly and dangerously and end up doing damage, either personal injury or damage to property or both. Their licences are taken away from them or they are disqualified in futuro.

As the noble Earl appreciates, because I discussed this with him in some detail when he was kind enough to see me before the Second Reading, I seek to suggest that we add a further safeguard to the public. These young men should not get their licences back immediately the period of disqualification runs out. They should be subject to a medical inquiry to see whether they are fit to go back to driving. That cannot be done at the moment for the simple reason, as I pointed out, that the court can only refer to the Ministry of Transport persons with a disability as defined in the appropriate legislation. That is Section 92 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which is headed "Physical Fitness" and the side note reads: Requirements as to physical fitness of drivers".

Subsection (2) states: 'Disability' includes disease, 'relevant disability' … means (a) any prescribed disability", that is prescribed by regulations and made by the Minister, (b) any other disability likely to cause the driving of a vehicle by him in pursuance of a licence to be a source of danger to the public".

For many years, despite Judge Blennerhassett's enthusiastic efforts to persuade the Home Secretary, the Minister of Transport, the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General, there has been a fallacious assumption that a disability consists of misusing alcohol or drugs. That is not a disability; that is an activity.

On Second Reading, I quoted from a letter dated 31st July 1991 from the Minister for Roads and Traffic which read: It remains the Department's view, and one which is supported by the Medical Advisory Panel on Driving Alcohol and Drugs, that alcohol misuse represents a relevant or prospective disability".

I pointed out on Second Reading that there was a case decided in the Divisional Court by Lord Justice Waller and Mr Justice Kilner Brown. It was called the R v. the Chichester Justices, ex parte Crouch, decided in February 1981. The very point was raised through an optimistic but rather unfortunate plea in mitigation made by a solicitor who told the Bench that his client, who had pleaded guilty to drink-driving offences, had a drink problem. As a result, his case was referred to the Ministry and I provided the noble Earl with a transcript of the judgment prior to the Second Reading. The Divisional Court said that it was not a disability.

The noble Earl told me that I could not seek by this Bill to amend Section 92 of the Road Traffic Act. I accept that. I suggested that the Gordian knot could be cut by the Minister exercising his powers of designation. That has, so far, not fallen on fertile ground. I have therefore tabled this limited amendment, which is directed solely and wholly to cases where an offence has occurred under this Bill when it becomes an Act. The amendment provides that: where a person is convicted of an offence under section 12A … of the Theft Act 1968 a relevant or prospective disability (within the meaning of section 92 of the Road Traffic Act 1988) shall be deemed to include a propensity to misuse or abuse alcohol or controlled drugs". As I said at the outset, this is not a criticism of the Bill. It does not seek to reduce in any way the strength of the Bill; in fact, it seeks to add a tooth to the Bill and to provide further protection for the public. I hope the noble Earl in his sense of objectivity will welcome the suggestion and accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Mallalieu

We on these Benches support this amendment. It is clear that the courts cannot at present use Section 22 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act to refer to the Secretary of State for Transport those suffering from, a propensity to misuse or abuse alcohol or controlled drugs". It is clearly desirable that such people should be referred to the medical advisers' branch of the department so it can be determined whether they are fit to hold a licence after the period of the disqualification. If Section 92 of the Road Traffic Act does not allow such people to fall within the definition of disability, ideally—as His Honour Judge Blennerhassett has tried to persuade the department to do—it ought to be amended. But, if the department will not amend it at this stage it would seem, at least as regards this Act, those who are convicted under it could be properly referred and a further safeguard might easily be incorporated for members of the public who are at risk from people who drive when drunk or under the influence of drugs. I hope the noble Earl will accept that in this instance at least there is no attempt to water down his legislation.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

It falls to me to try to answer the noble and learned Lord. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, has explained, this amendment concerns the driver licensing system under Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1988. In Sections 92 to 94 of that Act, the Secretary of State has various powers aimed at preventing driving by persons who are medically unfit to drive.

Briefly, licence applicants must state if they are suffering or have suffered from any from a list of prescribed disabilities, or from any other condition that could make their driving a source of danger to others. If it comes to the Secretary of State's notice that a licence holder is suffering from a disability, he may, after making the necessary inquiries, revoke the licence. I stress that this draconian action can only be taken on medical grounds after considering medical evidence.

One way in which a disability may come to the Secretary of State's notice is if a court refers the matter to him under Section 22 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act. This states, essentially, that if it appears to a court that an accused person may be suffering from a relevant or prospective disability, as defined in the Road Traffic Act 1988, the court must refer the matter to the Secretary of State. I must say that reading this section cold it appears to give us all we could wish for; but unfortunately the courts have not always taken this view, as the noble and learned Lord has so eloquently explained. The difficulty is partly due to the nature of alcohol misuse, and, I suppose, misuse of other drugs. What begins as a social problem—an activity, as the noble and learned Lord puts it—can well become a medical problem, that is a disability, often before the person is even aware of the fact.

Let me assure the Committee that the majority of medical experts in alcohol misuse have no hesitation in describing the condition as a disability, although it is very different in nature from certain other conditions that are more obviously disabling. In medical circles alcohol misuse implies the taking of alcohol to the extent that it causes harm to oneself or others, or is illegal.

Although alcohol or drug dependence have never been on the prescribed list of disabilities, it is worth reminding the Committee of the "High risk offenders" scheme, which is prescribed under the powers relating to disabilities. The scheme applies to those who have been disqualified by a court either for two drink-drive offences in a 10-year period or for a single offence where the alcohol level was at least two-and-a-half times the legal limit. For drivers in those categories, the Secretary of State has powers to require a medical examination and to refuse them a licence if they still have an alcohol problem.

If I understood the noble and learned Lord correctly, I think that he too recognises that alcohol dependency and possibly misuse falls within the Road Traffic Act definition of a "disability".

Lord Ackner

Perhaps I may intervene. I understand no such thing. I thought that I made it very clear at Second Reading that while I accept that an addict—a person who is properly described as an alcoholic—may well suffer from a relevant disability, a person who from time to time drinks to excess does not. That was my purpose in drawing to the attention of the noble Earl the decided case, handing him a transcript of it, and setting out in my speech at Second Reading the excerpts which made that clear. Clearly, we are not at eye level.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I shall come to the case to which the noble and learned Lord refers.

However, it is well enough established that alcohol misuse is, or can be, a disability within the meaning of road traffic legislation.

The noble and learned Lord argued that the Crouch judgment is incompatible with that view. Let us examine that judgment once again. The only material the magistrates had to work on was the solicitor's plea in mitigation that the applicant had had a drink problem. The Divisional Court concluded that that statement: does not go far enough to suggest that the applicant is in fact an alcoholic, and … there was no sufficient material in this case on which the magistrates could properly refer the matter to the Secretary of State". There was no evidence of a continuing drink problem, nor of any misuse of alcohol.

I shall quote another passage from the Divisional Court's conclusion: That does not suggest at that stage either that [the applicant] was suffering from a relevant disability or a prospective disability. It may be that it could be said that it was a prospective disability but that is not sufficient". I make two comments on that passage. First, the Divisional Court seemed to recognise that a drink problem falling short of alcoholism could amount to a prospective disability. Secondly, Section 22 provides in terms that if it appears to the court that the accused may be suffering from a prospective disability, no less than an actual one, they have no option but to notify the Secretary of State.

In his speech at Second Reading of the Bill, the noble and learned Lord said that a person who misuses alcohol or drugs may be on the way to dependency. I fully agree, and that can only mean that such a person had a prospective disability within the meaning of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Therefore, I suggest that the Crouch judgment, for all its inconvenience, does not cast doubt on the principle that alcohol misuse is at least a prospective disability, although it affects the level of medical evidence which a court requires in order to refer a case to the Secretary of State.

We must not overlook the other, perhaps wider, issues involved in the definition of disability. Those are: the duty of individuals to report their own disabilities and to refrain from driving when that would endanger others; and most crucially, the power of the Secretary of State to revoke licences.

Much as I sympathise with the sentiments behind the noble and learned Lord's amendment, I fail to be convinced that it would solve the problem without causing others which were more severe. It applies only to persons convicted of one particular offence —aggravated vehicle-taking—and only to the Section 22 procedure. It provides that only in that very limited context alcohol or drug misuse is "deemed" to be a relevant disability. That would seem to imply that in any other context, whether or not affected by the Crouch judgment, alcohol or drug misuse would not itself be regarded as a relevant disability. A court would then not be under a duty to refer an alcohol-related condition in any other person, possibly not even if there were evidence of a dependency. There must surely be some doubt whether the Secretary of State would have powers under Section 94 of the Road Traffic Act to revoke a licence on evidence of alcohol misuse. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord had no intention of opening a can of worms such as that.

Although I am sure that nobody in the Committee condones the offence at which the Bill is aimed, I also think it is rather odd to single it out from all other offences that may be committed in a motor vehicle. Let me return to my earlier point that revocations by the Secretary of State are on medical grounds. If there is a medical case for revoking a licence it should not depend on what kind of offence has been committed. That is not the factor which affects the degree of danger to the public.

I cannot commend this amendment to the Committee, nor can I conceive of any other amendment within the scope of the Bill which would do any better. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, has suggested an alternative way forward. He said that it would be open to the Secretary of State to prescribe alcohol or drug misuse as a "relevant disability". At this point I should remind the Committee that the definition is twofold. A relevant disability is either one from a prescribed list or any other condition likely to make driving a source of danger to the public.

This course of action would put beyond any doubt that alcohol or drug misuse were conditions which the courts must report to the Secretary of State. That is its obvious attraction, but there are a number of practical difficulties. For a start, there is a problem of definition. We should need a definition of alcohol and drug misuse that could be applied both by individuals and the courts with reasonable certainty, as we would not want to create a class of unwitting criminal offenders. The definition would need to target the real sources of danger to the public so that medical resources were not spread too thinly over too many marginal cases.

Much though I sympathise with this proposal I do not think we should underestimate the problems. I have not yet had an opportunity to take soundings among my ministerial colleagues. I am clearly not in a position to give the noble Lord any kind of commitment this evening. But I do assure him and the Committee that I will take the view of my honourable friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic between now and the next stage and shall be ready to return to the matter then. I have dealt with the matter at some length. I hope that, with that assurance, I shall be able to persuade the noble and learned Lord to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Lord Ackner

I am bound to say I am astonished that the Government, who have leaned over backwards to the extent of reversing the onus and spreading the doctrine of vicarious responsibility in the field of criminal law, are so stubborn in their resistance to admitting that it was wrong in the light of a judgment of the Divisional Court to refuse the public, which it is so anxious to protect, this one small measure. I have heard what the noble Earl has said with regard to seeing whether a designation power would be exercised. I have a settled, hopeless expectation that nothing will come of it, but at this hour there is little purpose in seeking to test the views of the Committee, which in other circumstances I would expect to be highly sympathetic to the amendment. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment essentially on the basis of reculer pour mieux Sauter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

Lord Airedale moved Amendment No. 15: Page 4, line 35, leave out ("Aggravated Vehicle-Taking") and insert ("Motor Vehicle Taking with Aggravation").

The noble Lord said: On Second Reading the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, drew attention to the inelegant Short Title that the Bill now bears. I think it must be a rule of good parliamentary drafting that one does not start the Short Title with an adjective if one can avoid it. I can foresee people confronted with the list of the statutes racking their brains to try to think of an adjective that denotes seriousness as the key to finding the Act of Parliament which they are seeking.

The Short Title that I propose begins with "Motor Vehicle". Everybody knows that the Bill is about motor vehicles. There must be some merit in my proposal, if only in that it will enable more people to find more quickly the Act for which they are looking. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

Students of human nature are well aware that nothing is more likely to destroy a happy marriage than the problem of naming the baby, especially when father and mother disagree. So it is with legislation. The title, as we have it on the Bill, although inelegant, uneuphonious and in so many ways unattractive, however, perhaps aptly stands at the head and tail of a Bill which describes a distinctly unattractive offence. We on these Benches remain entirely neutral on this crucial matter and will watch with great interest to see who falls off his Bench first.

Earl Ferrers

Fancy the noble Lord, Lord Morris, saying that he is entirely neutral and cannot make up his mind which side to take—whether to come down on the side of the noble Lord's amendment or of what is in the Bill! The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, said that it was an inelegant Short Title and that one should not start with an adjective. I can understand that argument. I am bound to say that I thought that "Aggravated Vehicle-Taking" was a somewhat ungainly title for the Bill. I also hesitated because "vehicle-taking" is a somewhat unattractive new coinage. I feel that noble Lords will agree that we have sufficient unattractive new coinages nowadays.

While it may not be saying much, it might be said for the title of the Bill that it is marginally less ungainly and less unattractive than the title suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. He suggests "Motor Vehicle Taking with Aggravation". At least we have the decency to provide a hyphen between the "Vehicle" and the "Taking".

However, as the noble Lord said, apart from his desire to modify the style of the Bill, he has the very laudable concern for the convenience of practitioners and others who may need to consult the legal textbooks. He feared that they may not think to look in the right place in the index if the first word in the name of the offence is an adjective rather than a noun. There are other offences and Acts of Parliament the names or titles of which begin with adjectives-for example, the Obscene Publications Act, the Environmental Protection Act, the Dangerous Dogs Act and the Malicious Communications Act.

This Bill is concerned mainly with amendment to part of the Theft Act. We are debating a criminal taking offence in its aggravated form, which will follow the existing offence in all the new textbooks. I am sure that the editors of those textbooks will provide cross-references in their indices, which is what they do now with the basic taking without consent offence. It can be found in the index to Archbold, which I understand is the bible of criminal practice. It can be found under "Motor vehicle" but with the main reference under "T" for taking, with cross-references under "Vehicle" and "Theft". I am sure that, with all the ingenuity of those who compile these dossiers, the Bill, with its existing title, will not be found difficult to find.

Lord Airedale

In the matter of the hyphen I shall be quite happy to catch up with the Government when we come to Report by putting a hyphen between "Motor" and "Vehicle". We shall come back to this point on Report. It is quite clear that we shall have a Report stage. However, it is getting late.

Earl Ferrers

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I agree that it is getting late, but the hyphen ought not to be between "Motor" and "Vehicle" but between "Vehicle" and "Taking".

Lord Airedale

I shall consider between now and Report the place in the Short Title where the hyphen ought to occur. With those few words, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received—

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, there has been no agreement that the Report be received. Is the noble Earl negativing the Report stage? There has been no agreement about that. In fact, on the suggestion that it might be, the answer was no.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am not privy to the arrangements which were made. However, as no amendments have been made in Committee, the normal convention is that there is no Report stage. If amendments are to be made, they can be made on Third Reading. However, I am entirely in the hands of the House. If the noble Lord, Lord Graham, wishes to have a Report stage, so be it.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I appreciate the fairness of the noble Earl. When the suggestion of dispensing with the Report stage was put to me earlier, I indicated to the usual channels that we preferred to have the Report stage in order to provide another opportunity for debate if we so wished. I can understand the misunderstanding.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the last thing that I wished to do was to try to bounce the noble Lord, Lord Graham. If I did try to do so, I should not succeed. I was unaware of the conversation which the noble Lord had and therefore I am content not to move that the Report be now received.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes past eleven o'clock.