HL Deb 09 June 1993 vol 546 cc1004-19

7.40 p.m.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill seeks to confer on the prosecution a right of appeal against decisions to grant bail. It has been inspired by a feeling which is widespread in this country, to the effect that a certain type of offender or suspect frequently re-offends while on bail. This is a matter of concern both to the police and the other forces of law and order. It has been highlighted by recent research. For instance, it has been suggested that in the county of Northumbria as much as 51 per cent. of detected crime is committed by people on bail, if one takes into account cautions and admissions of previous offences by convicted people about to be sentenced. Research by the Home Office suggests a rather lower figure but there is no disputing the fact that the figure is most significant.

The case which first raised deep concern on this issue in recent times was that of Andrew Hagans who raped and murdered Mrs. Anna McGurk in August 1991 while he was on bail and charged with another rape. He had been ordered by the court to stay in a bail hostel. Her constituency Member of Parliament, Mr. Douglas French, and a group called the "Friends and Family of Anna McGurk" have been campaigning to change the law relating to bail and admission to bail hostels for sex offenders and violent offenders. In particular, the "Friends and Family" group wrote to all Members of Parliament in August 1992, the anniversary of Mrs. McGurk's death, continuing to keep the issue alive. I believe that it was largely in the wake of that case that my honourable friend Mr. Michael Stephen took part in the campaign when he introduced this Bill into another place under the 10-minute rule.

Other high profile cases which have highlighted the issue have involved tragic circumstances, including the death of Daniel Davies and Donna Cooper, young children who were mown down by people in stolen cars and, in February this year, the murder of Cathy Ainsworth, shot by her ex-boyfriend, Adrian Black, while he was on bail.

Deep concern has been expressed not only by the Association of Chief Police Officers but also by the Police Federation of England and Wales, for whom I am a parliamentary adviser. Their concern is based on the fact that, as the number of people granted bail increases, so does the number of offences committed by people on bail. Home Office research suggests that the number of such offences increased by 26,000 in the five years leading up to 1990.

Supporters of this measure take into account the fact that any offender who is refused bail by a magistrate is entitled to appeal against that decision before a judge. We now believe, because of the circumstances just mentioned, that in certain cases the prosecution should also have the right to appeal, specifically when a defendant is charged with an offence punishable by a term of imprisonment of five years or more, or if he or she is charged with an offence under Sections 12 or 12A of the Theft Act 1968. That is the provision laid down in Clause 1 of the Bill before your Lordships.

Those last mentioned offences involve removing a vehicle without the owner's consent or authority, including the offence commonly known as joy riding. On many occasions the offence is seen as trivial but on some occasions recently it has resulted in tragic consequences. There are those who feel that something must be done to prevent it, especially when committed by those who have already committed or are charged with a similar offence.

It is proposed under Clause 1 that the prosecution should have the right to appeal against the granting of bail to offenders on those charges to either a High Court or, more usually, a Crown Court judge. However, certain strict conditions are laid down which limit the right of the prosecution or the police to launch such an appeal. That has been done since we have fully realised the need to take into account the rights of any accused person and the danger of keeping in prison any suspect for any length of time, however small, after a magistrate in effect has said that he or she may go free.

Subsection (2) of the clause provides that an appeal may only be made if the prosecution objected to bail being granted and the objection was made before bail was granted. Court clerks are required by existing rules of court to take a note of arguments for and against bail, ensuring that there will be no dispute as to whether or not such objection has been made.

Subsection (3) provides that oral notice of appeal is necessary. That seems to be the most effective method of launching the appeal to all parties concerned, so long as they are present in court and there is no doubt as to the status of the defendant.

Subsection (4) provides that written notice of the appeal must be served on the court and the defendant within one hour of the conclusion of the proceedings in the magistrates' court. Rules of court will allow the prosecution to discontinue the appeal at any time up to its hearing, such circumstances causing the defendant to be released immediately on bail, with conditions if necessary, imposed by the magistrates.

Subsection (5) provides for the magistrates' court to remand the defendant in custody on receipt of oral notice of appeal.

Subsection (6) provides that the hearing of the appeal must commence within 48 hours from the date on which oral notice of appeal against bail is given. That is one of the key measures in the Bill and I draw it in particular to your Lordships' attention. The intention is to keep to a minimum the time held in custody of anyone under this measure.

With this Bill we believe that we have achieved a reasonable balance between the demands of good order and protection of the public on the one hand, and the rights of the accused person on the other. We do not quarrel with the fact that a magistrate should make a presumption in favour of bail and grant bail unless there is strong reason why he or she should not do so. There have been many recent cases of people held in custody for many months on end only to be released after trial, having been found not guilty, without a stain on their character. Whenever that occurs it is deeply regrettable.

Magistrates will rightly hesitate before following the prosecution's advice unless they are satisfied that an accused may be a danger to the public, may interfere with a witness, or abscond (as happened recently in one well known fraud case). There is no criticism of magistrates in the way that the Bill is drafted. It is merely designed to provide an additional safeguard to the public interest and to give the prosecution the same right of appeal as is presently enjoyed by the defence in certain circumstances. The law, if enacted, will in some cases of special concern put the prosecution on the same level.

I appreciate that the Government may wish to return to this issue later when tackling the whole question of bail, but they may wish to broaden the type of case where the right of appeal is available to the prosecution to enlarge the two categories listed in Clause 1 of the Bill. In the meantime, I hope that they will find it possible to support this Private Member's Bill.

It is made clear in Clause 2 that the law will apply only in England and Wales. I do not propose that the provision should be extended to Northern Ireland since there is not a general presumption in favour of bail in that part of the United Kingdom. I am often reminded that in Scotland the right of appeal of the prosecution has existed for a great many years without apparent problem.

I should like to make one final point. As I pointed out, this is a Private Member's Bill and it was only with some difficulty that its sponsor, Mr. Michael Stephen, was able to have it passed through another place. The problem is always one of time. Your Lordships will examine the Bill with great care and are perfectly entitled to table amendments, press them and pass them. That is your Lordships' prerogative. However, I think it right to point out that if any amendment should be passed in this House the effect would certainly be that the Bill would not reach the statute book. There would not be time available in another place to consider any changes made by your Lordships' House. In other words, an amendment to the Bill would effectively kill it. I point that out so that it is clear to all where we stand on the matter.

Therefore, I can only draw the Bill to your Lordships' attention. It does not cover the whole question of the granting of bail, which remains one of considerable debate throughout the country. But I believe that it takes us a step in the right direction until such time that the Government find it possible, when their agenda is less crowded, to tackle the whole issue anew. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time —(Lord Bethell.)

7.50 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, for the clear way in which he explained the purpose of the Bill. He placed many apprehensions in my mind—and that may be true of other Members of your Lordships' House—when he said that any amendment to the Bill would kill it. That places a grave responsibility upon those like myself who realise that the purpose of the Bill is a worthy one, but also that when the liberty of the subject sounds in the corridors of our courts, great care—great priority—is given to the subject. When liberty of the subject is affected by a Bill in this House, the tradition of this House and of Parliament as a whole is to give it the greatest care in order to ensure that that liberty is not infringed. I must point out to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, that there was no Second Reading debate in the other place and therefore the responsibility on your Lordships is extremely grave.

We have had debates in this House dealing with the question of bail and this House pronounced from all sides its wish to see that bail was granted, as provided in the Bail Act 1976, wherever possible—the presumption being in favour of bail. There is not the slightest doubt that we had in our minds at that time not only the overcrowding of our prisons, but also what happens to somebody who is remanded in custody. There are risks to his marriage; there are risks to his home from the point of view of landlord and tenant; there are risks from the point of view of his job. In those circumstances we decided to see that bail was granted—and I repeat—wherever possible. The result has been that many more are on bail now than there were before. In cases where there is any doubt the presumption applies.

As all of us will, I share the noble Lord's anxiety about the cases which he narrated so clearly and about which all of us are concerned. There is little wonder that with more people on bail, more offences will be committed. But, according to my information, the proportion of those on bail who commit offences has not increased.

I repeat that there is every reason for a Bill with the purpose expressed by the noble Lord being passed by Parliament, but he has placed on me an onus to show your Lordships that the Bill has been hastily drafted. It contains many points that I wish to draw to your Lordships' attention, and I repeat my sorrow that he should have said that any amendment, if passed by your Lordships, will defeat a Bill which deserves to have another end.

Perhaps I may begin by saying that originally the Bill was intended only to apply to cases where there was a serious risk to the public. That has been taken out. The Bill now before your Lordships merely provides for the cases mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell; namely, where there is a term of imprisonment of five years and where there are offences committed under the Theft Act.

That means that there is no limit, so far as the prosecution is concerned, when it gives notice that it intends to appeal against the magistrates' decision. We also find that it is not limited to a prosecution by the Crown Prosecution Service. We all know that there are private prosecutions and that institutions can prosecute. It is not the preserve or the monopoly of the Crown Prosecution Service. Therefore immediately an amendment occurs to one as to whether or not there should be a limitation upon who the prosecutors are and the responsibility cast upon them. As the noble Lord told the House, as soon as somebody representing a prosecution gives notice to the Court of Appeal, the person concerned has to be—I repeat, "has to be"—committed by the magistrates for at most 48 hours. But that excludes weekends and public holidays. Is that right?

I could go on, as indeed I must, with the other provisions of the Bill which are at the least doubtful in regard to their fairness. For example, the Bill provides that, Upon receipt from the prosecution of oral notice of appeal from its decision to grant bail the magistrates' court shall remand in custody the person concerned, until the appeal is determined or otherwise disposed or. The next clause reads, The hearing on an appeal … shall be commenced within forty-eight hours". It does not say that it shall be determined within 48 hours. That means that there is a possibility of a judge adjourning the matter. In the meantime the person who has been granted bail by the magistrates and has not had his appeal heard, is remanded in custody. Something must be done about that.

There is no reference in the Bill to whether the appeal is to be heard in the Crown Court in open court, or in chambers. If it is to be in chambers—one magistrate has already referred to this in criticism of the Bill—it means that somebody is granted bail in open court before the public and then is denied bail, if the appeal is successful in private. That magistrate has asked whether that is in accordance with our normal view of the way in which justice should be carried out.

There is no reference, and the noble Lord did not refer to it, to the effect upon legal aid. In criminal cases legal aid is granted with a criminal law certificate. The appeal is a civil appeal. That means that the person concerned—now the prisoner—has to apply for a civil aid certificate. If the hearing is to be in open court, has the solicitor the right of audience or must it be counsel? If it is counsel, a special application must be made under legal aid, which I can tell the noble Lord takes a considerable time to determine. What is to happen in the meantime?

I am sorry to have to point out all those matters. I do it not on my own behalf but so that the House realises the seriousness of the matter, with which they need not necessarily associate me. NACRO has pointed out that it finds the Bill full of deficiencies and hopes that it will be amended. The Criminal Law Committee of the Law Society feels that the Bill is wrongly drawn and ought to be considered by the Government in the following way. I hope that the Minister, with his usual courtesy, is listening to me.

The Home Office has set up a group to consider bail and all the problems associated with it, and is listening to the researches that the group is carrying out. All the right people are represented on the group—the Justices' Clerks' Society, the magistrates, the probation service, the Law Society and the police. At a committee meeting of the group —I will obviously not read out the copy of the minute that I happen to have but the Minister will know about it—there was criticism of the provisions of the Bill.

Is it not sensible that we do not panic, that we do not have slotmeter legislation, and that we and the Government carefully consider the recommendations of that group which they themselves have set up before we rashly go in for legislation in regard to which we are told—this is the sorrowful thing we are told—that if we dare to amend it in any direction the Bill will fall. Is it not better for the Government to do that? The purpose of the Bill, as I said in my introductory remarks, is a perfectly worthy one. But it is hasty legislation that we are asked to pass affecting the liberty of the subject. This House should never do that.

8.1 p.m.

Viscount Tenby

My Lords, after the high excitement of the past two days it is perhaps salutary to busy ourselves once more with down to earth, but nevertheless important, legislation. We are accordingly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bethel!, for introducing the Bill this evening. Before dealing with certain points in it, I ought to disclose two interests. First, I am a magistrate, and, secondly, I represent the interests of the Justices' Clerks' Society of England and Wales in this House.

That this Bill has moved so rapidly through the other place indicates the widespread concern which exists within the community about the matter of bail. There have, alas, been many instances which have been referred to already this evening of serious offences being committed by those who have been bailed, and no doubt some aspects of this will be taken into account in any future measures which may be considered by the Government at a later date. But why is the present position with regard to the granting of bail so unsatisfactory? I would suggest that there are three main reasons for this state of affairs.

First, if the issue be a monster, it is a monster created by Parliament itself in the shape of the Bail Act 1976. Magistrates, who are frequently reviled in the popular press —not an entirely dishonourable position to be in, given present standards—for giving bail in unsuitable cases, do so because that Act quite specifically requires them to give bail unless there are compelling reasons, which are formally laid down, for them not to do so. The presumption has been, and will continue to be, whatever the implications of this Bill, to give bail. What we on the Bench are therefore doing is carrying out the wishes of Parliament. And who is to say that that is a wrong position to adopt? After all, under English law a man or woman is presumed not guilty unless subsequently found against by a jury of his or her fellows.

A second, less frequent, reason may be that the prosecuting authorities have not been in a position to provide the necessary information which would enable a Bench to take an informed view. And lastly —the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has referred to this and has shot some of my birds already this evening —there is always the underlying fear that, the criminal justice system being what it is—bureaucratic, cumbersome and largely insensitive—the period between any plea and the eventual disposal will be a long one, often running into months. There is therefore a powerful disposition not to remand in custody for many months a person who may well ultimately be found not guilty of the offence with which he or she is charged.

These are all powerful arguments where there is the least doubt for tipping the scales in favour of bail. However, though of course there are mistakes—and they are very much regretted—do not let us become obsessed with the matter as a result of every tabloid scare story, often based on wrong or insufficient information.

Having said that, I clearly cannot oppose a measure which seeks to redress the balance in some degree. After all, in natural justice, if an offender has the right to appeal against a Bench's decision not to grant bail, a similar right should surely exist the other way for the prosecution. Perhaps therefore I may make certain points which I hope will prove useful in some fine tuning and interpreting the Bill in the corridors of power. I beg those in authority to listen to the points that I make. I do not know how matters will fall out following what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has said. But these are matters which do at least imply that, to say the least, there has been some looseness in the drafting.

In Clause 1(1) (b), taking a vehicle without consent or aggravated taking alone are listed—presumably on the grounds of public safety—as offences on which an appeal may be made. But, if the safety of the public is the issue, why are driving while disqualified and drink driving offences not included as well? And, conversely, taking without consent also embraces the offence of "being carried", which, though serious enough in criminal terms, cannot be seen as a threat to the safety of the public. Accordingly, it is my view that these additions on the one hand and exclusion on the other should be made clear in the Bill.

As regards subsection (2) my only comment would be a technical one, in that the use of the word "objected" to bail being granted implies an adversarial context to the proceedings which clearly cannot be intended. "Make representations" or some other form of words would be more appropriate. Subsection (3) of Clause I, however, poses some problems. The phrase "conclusion of the proceedings" is used. Does this mean that oral notice of appeal must be given immediately after the case in question, or at the end of the day's business? I believe that this should be made crystal clear. Then again, presumably oral notice of appeal immediately after the case in question—if that is the intention—will provide sufficient authority to detain a defendant for one hour despite the original granting of bail by magistrates which would legally permit that person to walk freely from the court.

Turning to subsection (4), several problems present themselves. I quote: Written notice of appeal shall … be served". By whom? The issue should surely be of sufficient importance to warrant the proviso that, say, no one below the level of branch crown prosecutor should issue such an appeal. Otherwise, there is always the danger of frivolous applications. And on whom should such an appeal be served? It is no good, my Lords, sticking the notice under the court front door during the lunch break and hoping that the law will be served thereby. In my experience it is human nature to get rid of something for delivery in the quickest and least troublesome way. I am strongly of the opinion that service should be on the Clerk to the Justices or on his named, delegated representative. Otherwise, tears will flow, mark my words.

And then, what happens if written notice is not served within one hour? Should the defendant then be released, even though subsection (5) provides that such persons should be remanded in custody until the appeal is determined? Natural justice suggests that he or she should be.

Finally—and this point is not covered by the Bill at all —if a defendant, as he or she has every right to do, appeals to a judge against a Bench's decision to refuse bail and that appeal is granted by the judge, it ought perhaps be made clear that the prosecution would have no future right to appeal against that bail decision since it would, so to speak, be giving the prosecution two bites at the same cherry.

As I hope I made clear at the beginning, the points which I have raised are neither intended to impede the passage of the Bill nor to emasculate it in any way. Rather, the intention is to strengthen it and remove any ambiguities. I am sure that it will receive the same sympathetic support from your Lordships, and improvements, as it had in the other place, for the matter, like so much in the field of law and order, is an urgent and important one.

8.10 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, I am pleased to support this Bill which was introduced by the honourable Member for Shoreham in another place. Having spent 25 years as a magistrate, I fully understand that a defendant is innocent until found guilty and has a right to bail unless certain criteria apply. I support that stance wholeheartedly and of course in the vast majority of cases bail is appropriate. In no way do we want to see a draconian society where everyone is locked up, but it is right that in some cases a defendant should be refused bail. Sadly, all too often, we see people back in court having been arrested for allegedly having committed another offence.

I am very conscious of our duty to try to give protection to the public. That has been emphasised to me by my husband's involvement as chairman of our local Victims Support scheme. I believe that the Bill will be widely welcomed by the public and particularly by those who nave surtered as a result of a defendant's actions. Of course, we should never forget that it does not follow that someone charged with an offence will be found guilty.

I also share the concerns of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, over drafting points in the Bill. I hope that, if we are not able to amend—to do so would kill the Bill—these points will be taken on board, whether it be by a rule or some other appropriate instrument. It seems to me that unless the situation is made clear to all courts, there will be different interpretation. I particularly go back to the question of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, regarding the end of the proceedings. There could be a difference depending on whether the matter is raised at the end of that particular case in the morning session or, as the noble Viscount said, at the end of the day.

It is important that these matters are clarified. The bail information scheme now operating in many courts is giving them much more detailed information on which to come to a decision. It seems to me that if a defendant has the right to challenge the magistrates' decision so should the prosecution. I have always felt that bail applications are some of the most challenging situations that magistrates face as the implications can have such a profound effect on the defendant and his family. But certainly magistrates do not have a monopoly of wisdom and we can only do our best. So it is in that spirit that I welcome the Bill and I am delighted that the Government are supporting it.

8.13 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, not for the first time my noble friend Lord Mishcon and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, have done your Lordships' House good service. We on our side give our fullest and firmest support to the principles behind the Bill. I say that quite unambiguously particularly since our colleagues in another place, Mr. Blair and Mr. Alun Michael, have been among the first to articulate the concerns of the public. Indeed, last year, when I was chairman of the Bar Council I made a number of speeches about this problem having consulted members of ACPO and the Police Federation.

Suggestions by way of improvement by Mr. Alun Michael were accepted in another place in some significant respects. We wish to honour the principle of the Bill, but to have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said, an effective and competent piece of legislation that will not break the record of the Criminal Justice Act and have to be amended in less than seven months' time.

But there are some specific areas of concern. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, mentioned the Scottish experience and I believe that we need to learn from that. The giving of these powers should not be contemplated unless the prosecution has a sensible apprehension of danger to the public or that there is some other weighty reason in the public interest like, for instance, absconding in important cases.

The Bill is silent as to that. It is not sufficient for us to have silence and hope for the best because the best, alas, very rarely happens. So we respectfully ask for the Minister's explicit assurances on the rules for Crown prosecutors. I endorse the point made by my noble friend Lord Mishcon; namely, that this is a decision which should be in the hands of the Crown Prosecution Service and not those of a mischievous, interfering private prosecutor. The only way to cure that at the moment would be for the director to take over a private prosecution and therefore disentitle the private prosecutor to continue. That is an absurd bureaucratic sledge-hammer to crack a nut.

I respectfully endorse what the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, said. There ought to be an explicit mechanism whereby the sanction for appeal must be in the hands of a Crown prosecutor of a specified seniority, whether it be a regional director or whatever rank. One simply cannot have a junior employee coming to a decision of this kind.

I believe that nothing which the Government can say by way of assurance will cure the point made by my noble friend Lord Mishcon on Clause 1(5) because it is mandatory that the magistrates' court shall remand in custody the person concerned, until the appeal is determined". That seems to me to imply that if a Crown Court judge started to hear a case and thought that he was unlikely to allow the appeal, but it went over into a second or third day, the unfortunate defendant would have to be remanded in custody. That cannot be right. I do not believe that it is an intended consequence of the noble Lord's Bill. After all, what one needs is to deal with the present mischief which undoubtedly exists in our view. But we want an ordered, uniform approach in England and Wales without clogging up the system with inappropriate appeals.

My noble friend Lord Mishcon mentioned the 48-hour limit. It is a significant improvement. The Bill originally spoke of five days. Mr. Michael in another place secured Mr. Stephen's assent to a limit from five days to 48 hours, but it still excludes public holidays and weekends. So one can have a Saturday, a Sunday, Christmas Day on Monday and Boxing Day on Tuesday. That is quite a significant deprivation of liberty as the noble Baroness has pointed out, and contrary to the principle which we normally apply.

Some strenuous effort should be made to enable bail appeal courts to sit in the evening and at the very least on Saturday morning. The courts are available. It is a perfectly simple device and from my own experience most bail appeals do not last very long as most bail applications, however vigorously disputed and contested, do not last very long in the magistrates' court. The issues are fairly simple.

Therefore we generally support the Bill as firmly as we can. But there are significant defects at the moment. My colleagues in another place have given every fair wind to the Bill but they have sought explicit assurances from the Government. I respectfully repeat the question put by my noble friend Lord Mishcon as to whether this matter should be in Government hands and receive a degree of expertise and consideration that it has not been able to receive because of the pressure of time. That is not a criticism of the sponsor in the other place and it is no criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, who has patiently expounded his aims. Despite the fact that we very much support the Bill and recognise and honour the public's unease, we are deeply concerned as to whether it will have the right consequences. I do not reiterate the technical questions which the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, raised, but they are well worth paying attention to.

8.20 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I should like to join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Bethel! on introducing the Bill and on giving us such a clear explanation of it.

As your Lordships will know, this Bill comes to us from another place where it was sponsored by the Member for Shoreham, to whom we also owe a debt of gratitude.

The Bill has made remarkable progress so far, no doubt because it seeks to deal with an issue which has, justifiably, given rise to much public concern. As we all know, magistrates up and down the country daily take decisions about the granting of bail. In taking those decisions, they are required to make very difficult judgments about the likely behaviour of defendants, often on the basis of limited information.

It is, therefore, a great credit to them that the vast majority of such decisions are sound and give no grounds for concern. We have good cause to respect the conscientious and professional way that magistrates—both stipendiary and lay—approach their duties.

But at the same time, we are all aware that there have been a small number of cases in which the decision to grant bail has had serious and, in some cases, tragic consequences. It is, of course, very easy to be wise after the event and I am sure that in those cases all concerned acted in what seemed to them to be the correct and most responsible manner. But once the decision to grant bail had been taken it could not be challenged, even if the prosecution had grave misgivings about the risks involved.

It is this element of the process which the Bill before us seeks to address by providing specifically that where the defendant is charged with certain serious offences and is granted bail despite prosecution objections, the prosecution shall have a right to appeal against that decision.

This is a very significant step and one which, as noble Lords have said, should not be taken lightly. Nevertheless, the risks are such that, provided there are adequate safeguards for the position of the defendant, the Government accept the general principle. It is, I fear, inevitable that the defendant should be held in custody pending the hearing of an appeal. It is all the more important, therefore, that the appeal should be heard as quickly as possible and we are pleased to see the requirement for an appeal to be commenced within 48 hours. In our view, this strikes the right balance between the practicalities of arranging for an appeal to be heard and the principle of holding a defendant in custody no longer than is absolutely necessary.

There have been a number of interesting points raised in connection with this Bill which my noble friend will certainly wish to comment upon, but perhaps I may deal with a couple. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said that there had been no Second Reading debate in another place. That is entirely true, but there was a debate in Standing Committee E on Wednesday 21st April, which took up 23 pages of Hansard, so the Bill was considered in another place. I think it is important that all of your Lordships recognise that point. The noble Lord also asked me about all the work that is going on. It is absolutely true that a lot of work is being undertaken to investigate offending on bail and to improve the decision-making. But this Bill is a safeguard against bail decisions that can have serious consequences. We therefore feel that the Bill could go ahead without affecting all the work that is taking place with regard to offending on bail.

To answer the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, perhaps I may say that if my noble friend is successful in securing the passage of this Bill, it will be necessary to draw up rules of court before it can be brought into force and that will provide an opportunity for consultation with practitioners. The rules of court will cover procedural arrangements, including the service of documents, arrangements for hearings, and discontinuance procedures so that no one is kept in custody unnecessarily if the prosecution decide not to pursue the appeal. Rules of court will make provision for several matters which have been mentioned, including the service of documents and time limits. The Crown Prosecution Service will be issued with guidance on the circumstances in which appeals should be lodged. These will include consideration of the seriousness of the risk to the public.

Once again, I congratulate my noble friend on introducing the Bill and wish him success with it.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, can he kindly inform the House, bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Bethel!, said about amendments killing the Bill, how rules can possibly provide that only the Crown Prosecution Service should be able to make the appeal, or that only a senior officer of the Crown Prosecution Service can deal with the question of whether there should be an appeal? Lastly, can he say whether the word "commence" is the correct word in the Bill, when it is quite obvious that the purpose behind the Bill, one imagines, is that the appeal is determined within the limited period, not commenced within it? As my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn pointed out, one has to carry in one's mind the question of adjournment. With great respect, how can all these matters be dealt with by rules? Should not the Bill be taken over by the Government and dealt with as only the Government's draftsman can deal with it?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, makes an important point. I am dealing with this Private Member's Bill from the Government's point of view. As your Lordships are aware, it will be my noble friend who will answer some of the more detailed points that have been raised about it. I am simply putting the Government's view of the Bill, and it is to the Bill that I am addressing my remarks. The noble Lord asked me about the Government's future intentions. I am afraid that I cannot be drawn on that because I must concentrate my remarks on the Bill. I believe that my noble friend will be able to answer the points which I am leaving to him.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, although I have not taken part in the Second Reading debate, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question because the situation is not clear to me. If the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, is right and amendments are made to the Bill on Report, would that mean that the Bill would automatically not go through the Commons?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I do not think that I can speak for another place. I think that my noble friend was saying that there is a timetable difficulty if Private Member's Bills have to go back to the Commons at this stage. I know that the noble Lord will realise that I cannot commit another place any more than its Members can make commitments on behalf of your Lordships' House.

8.27 p.m.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting Second Reading debate and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in it. I appreciate the points that were raised by those who participated from the Benches opposite and in particular the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby. With their specialist knowledge they have no doubt raised certain areas that need to be covered by the rules of court which will be laid down at a later date, as the Minister has suggested.

I am advised by those who are familiar with the timetables in another place that it will not, I am afraid, be possible to amend the Bill in this House if it is your Lordships' wish that it should become the law of the land. That is a result of the political situation as it exists today—

Noble Lords


Lord Bethell

My Lords, you may find this unsatisfactory, but if you do, may I ask you please to bear in mind the opposite: that there is overwhelming support for a measure of this sort not only in another place but in the country at large? There is deep concern in the country about the number of people who re offend while on bail, particularly about those who commit violent offences while on bail and about those who go joyriding, who take cars and who very often plough, with tragic results, into children or people going about their lawful business. No disrespect is meant to your Lordships' House, but it is for those reasons that Members of another place have acted swiftly. I hope that they have also acted with due care. I do not know whether it is in order for me to point this out, but I shall do so until I am corrected. An Early-Day Motion was presented in another place which attracted more than 100 signatures from right across the political spectrum—from Mr. Tony Benn to Sir Teddy Taylor, with all the gradations in between. That was not a sign of agreement with every jot or tittle in the Bill, but a feeling that something must be done; that if something must be done it should be done now, and in this Session; and that if there is anything unsatisfactory, it should be tidied up later. There will be less tragedy if the Bill is passed than if it is not passed or if it is amended out of existence.

Lord Howell

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I accept everything that he has just said about the urgency and seriousness of the matters with which he is grappling, but bad laws should never be passed. If, as some of my noble friends have suggested, there are aspects of the Bill which give cause for concern, it is our duty to examine them in detail.

The noble Lord told us that the Bill attracts wide support. If we send the Bill back after amendment, I cannot believe that it is beyond the competence of the Government's business managers, with the assistance of the Opposition's business managers, to find time to consider the wiser thoughts of this House as expressed in any amendments it may care to pass.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, if the noble Lord believes that this is a bad Bill—

Lord Howell

My Lords, no, I did not say that.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, the noble Lord should of course not support it.

Lord Howell

My Lords, I did not say the Bill is a bad Bill. I say that there are aspects of the Bill which apparently—I have listened to the arguments—produce bad law. Those parts of the Bill should be amended. I am not opposed to the Bill. I want to get it right. I hope that the noble Lord has the same ambition.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, I fully appreciate what the noble Lord has said, and that must be taken into account. I am merely pointing out the practical aspects of the Bill's timetable. He must make a judgment about whether to put down any amendments and, if any amendment is put down, whether to support it, bearing in mind the legislative timetable. He will of course do as his judgment and conscience dictate. That is his duty and his right. However, I thought it only right to point out the situation in which we find ourselves. I feel that the Bill is satisfactory. In that, I believe that I have the support of my noble friend the Minister. I hope that it will pass into law. Of course, the noble Lord is fully entitled to take a different view.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, we want to do all that we can to help. We have heard informed contributions from the noble Baroness, my noble friend Lord Mishcon and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby. They, of all the people here this evening, know what they are talking about. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, said that there is overwhelming support for a measure of this sort. One has a duty to be careful. We want the gap filled appropriately. No fair-minded person could say that an irresponsible quibble had been raised this evening. Indeed, I do not believe that the noble Lord thinks that any of the questions are irresponsible. But it will not do—I believe that he must see this—merely to say, "This is not a marvellous Bill, but we have to get it through". Nor will it do, with great respect, for the Minister to say, "We will cobble up some rules". There is no rule-making power in the Bill.

I am aware of the noble Lord's commitment to the Bill. He has spoken about the ACPO and the Police Federation. I discussed these matters with them on numerous occasions last year. I respectfully suggest that what my noble friend Lord Mishcon proposed is the way forward for everyone; that is, that the noble Lord should have much more assistance from the Government in the drafting of a Bill which would be good and have unanimous support. We all support the principle. The noble Lord and his Bill are entitled to some assistance from the Government's expertise and draftsmanship.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may help your Lordships a little. If this were a Government Bill, it might contain different provisions. It might be larger and it might cover different areas. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary took the view that, because there was considerable support for it on both sides in another place, the Government should take the Bill seriously, and they did so.

The Bill originally contained a number of measures which were unacceptable to the Government, in particular, Clause 2. Those were changed. The Bill was looked at closely. The Government will use the rules of court and guidance to ensure that there are safeguards against any abuse of a right to appeal. Of course guidance cannot cover private prosecutions. It covers decisions made by the CPS.

I accept that your Lordships might be worried because the Bill has limited aspirations as it does not contain all the other matters to which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred. We are dealing with a Bill which the Government feel takes a step in the right direction. That is why the Government were prepared to support the Bill.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, if it is a step in the right direction, why not complete the journey?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I have to deal with the Bill as I find it. I cannot deal with a Bill that does not exist.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I understand that. I have stressed, I am sure far too often, that we all want the Bill in an improved form to have a safe passage. But the conscience about which my noble friend Lord Mishcon and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, speak, and the practical experience that the noble Baroness adds, raise serious questions. The Government want the Bill through in an improved form. So do we, and so does everyone who has spoken. Surely it cannot be beyond the wit of well thinking people to offer the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, some reasonable measure of expertise and time.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, if I may get a word in, I hasten to point out that if the Government were to make me such an offer, no one would be happier. I am committed to trying to achieve a Second Reading of the Bill this evening. I have done what I believe it to he my duty to do—to explain the Bill to your Lordships to the best of my ability and to point out the pitfalls that could befall it in a certain eventuality. The Government must make their own decision as to whether they think it appropriate to take over the Bill. I shall proceed, when I have the opportunity, to invite your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, this may be the last interjection from anyone. It will be the last interjection from me. I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord Williams for having put the matter in the correct perspective. The policy is approved. Detail is very badly wanting in regard to the Bill. I suggest that the Bill has a Second Reading, because the policy behind it is approved by us all.

I turn to the Minister with a plea, and some degree of hope in my eyes as I do so. I hope that he will limit himself this evening to the observation that he will give serious consideration to what has been submitted in this debate as to the possible defects of the Bill with a view to seeing that they are removed by joint consultations. If the Minister merely gives the assurance that he will consider the matter in that light, we can all go home with the Second Reading passed, and the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, happy in the thought that he has succeeded at this stage.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, is it really not possible for the Government to say that they will help the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, with some amendments based on what has been said, bring the Bill back quickly and hustle it through the other place?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I have already said that I cannot speak for another place any more than they can speak for your Lordships. However, I can give the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, the assurance that I always take very careful note of what he says.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, I think that we have come to the end of the matter now, to some extent satisfactorily. I very much hope that the Bill reaches the statute book. As I pointed out, I should be only too pleased if the Front Bench were to take it out of my hands. I am sure that they would do a much better job than I could. I am merely doing my humble best.

I thank noble Lords for their participation in the debate and leave the question of a Second Reading to he decided.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.