HL Deb 26 July 1999 vol 604 cc1322-4

3 Clause 7, page 7, line 15, at end insert— ("() Where the panel allow any such person as is mentioned in subsection (4)(a) ("the victim") to attend a meeting of the panel, the panel may allow the victim to be accompanied to the meeting by one person chosen by the victim with the agreement of the panel.").

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 3. Amendments Nos. 10, 23, 26 to 39 and 49 are grouped together because they are technical or minor drafting amendments. Amendment No. 3 makes it clear that a victim attending a panel meeting may be accompanied by a supporter. Amendment No. 10 is a minor drafting amendment to ensure that witnesses are able to use communication aids if the court considers that it would improve the quality of the evidence. Amendment No. 23 is a minor drafting amendment. The original formula in Clause 52 could have resulted in someone who is able to understand questions put by the court but not to give answers that could be understood being deemed competent. Amendment No. 23 deals with that.

Amendment No. 26 is a technical amendment relating to Northern Ireland. There is no guarantee that the Northern Ireland Act provisions will necessarily be in effect by virtue of political agreement in Belfast by the time this Bill becomes an Act. We have, therefore, put in these provisions to ensure that the clause works in advance of devolution. Amendment No. 27 ensures that ministerial functions so far as exercisable under devolved competence would transfer automatically under Section 53 of the Scotland Act 1998 to Scottish Ministers.

Amendment No. 28 omits subsection (10) of Clause 66 in the usual way so that public funds can be used to implement the Bill. Amendment No. 29 ensures that paragraph 6 covers all possible ways in which the court can deal with the offender. Amendment No. 30 makes it clear that paragraph 10(2), extension of referral for further offences, relates to paragraphs 11 and 12 to avoid any confusion that might otherwise arise.

Amendments Nos. 31 and 49 replace references in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 to a convening officer with references to a "judge advocate" because "convening officers" are now out of date after the Armed Forces Act 1996.

Amendments Nos. 32 to 39 extend the existing exceptions to the prohibition on the use of answers given under compulsion in criminal trials to the insolvency area.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 3.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I agree with Amendment No. 3, which is welcome, and the other amendments for the most part. However, I wish to draw attention to Amendment No. 27 which refers to Scotland. It seems odd that we should be placing this action retrospectively on the statute book with regard to Scottish devolution before the Scotland Act 1998. The boundaries of issues devolved to Scotland are sometimes difficult to follow. That is potentially damaging. However, that is a larger question than the immediate issue here.

To say that this Act—in normal circumstances it is patently a post-commencement enactment as regards the Scotland Act—shall nevertheless be taken to be a pre-commencement enactment does not seem satisfactory in principle. It alters devolution in this one, I admit small and rather technical, respect after the event. I do not think it a good idea for Acts of Parliament to carry this kind of provision in future.

It would be helpful if the Minister would explain further what is happening. Devolution has become an important matter. The boundaries of devolution between England and Scotland, England and Wales, and, it is to be hoped in due course, England and Northern Ireland, are different. They are not the same boundaries. The same items are not being devolved. They differ between the three countries within the United Kingdom. That makes the matter more difficult.

It is an extremely small issue as regards this Bill. Nevertheless, I believe that a bad principle underlies the small amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to be fully instructed on this otherwise arcane matter.

I take the noble Lord's point, but it is a standard provision which enables Scottish Ministers to make the commencement orders in due course. I anticipate that there will be some occasions in the future when this will happen. I agree that one needs to be careful, but the amendment simply says that any provision of this Act extending to Scotland should be taken to be a pre-commencement enactment within the meaning of that Act. It is a mechanical device to give powers to the Scottish Ministers. I am grateful for the noble Lord's query.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I endorse the amendments. On Amendment No. 3, Clause 7 of the Bill allows for an offender to be accompanied by another person. I am somewhat horrified that the Bill passed through this Chamber without a proposal for the vulnerable victim also to have the opportunity to bring a person with him to the panel meetings. I can find no other reference to that. I believe that I should criticise myself and others if we did not insert that at this time. I warmly welcome the amendment.

I believe that Amendment No. 10 is a great improvement and clarifies the original version.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, in his comments on Amendment No. 27, the Minister said that it was to enable Scottish Ministers to put down commencement orders. But are the matters referred to here matters for which Westminster has been legislating after the matter has been devolved to Scotland? If so, the House is doing a little more than the Minister said. Are we using the clause in the Scotland Act, which provides that Westminster can continue to legislate on any matter already devolved if it finds it necessary to do so?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, because your Lordships disagreed to certain matters and the timetable was disrupted, Clause 27 is necessary to enable the Scottish Ministers to make the commencement orders. There may be similar occasions in future, although they should diminish with time. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, this is simply the mechanism which allows the Scottish Ministers to make the commencement orders. I do not see anything wrong in principle in that.

On Question, Motion agreed to.