HC Deb 14 July 1980 vol 988 cc359-60W
Mr. Wheeler

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on his Department's response to the report of the Home Affairs Committee concerning race relations and the offence of being a suspected person.

Mr. Whitelaw

I wrote on 10 July to the Chairman of the Committee—my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir G. Page)—in the following termsI understand that the Home Affairs Committee would like to have on the record a written response from the Government to the Committee's Report on Race Relations and the 'Sus' Law. I did, as you know, indicate the Government's attitude to the Report in the debate which took place in the House of Commons on 5th June. Our view is summarised in the amendment which I moved to the Opposition's motion, and which the House accepted: That this House welcomes the important contribution made by the Report of the Home Affairs Committee relating to section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824, accepts the need for a change in the law, and looks forward to the imminent publication of the Law Commission's Report on Attempt and to the public response to these reports, as providing the basis for an early decision as to the best way of reforming the law while ensuring adequate protection for the public. As I explained, the Government is unable to accept the Select Committe's recommendation that the offence should be repealed immediately since it is necessary in our view to consider the matter in the context of the criminal law as a whole, including the ambit of the law of attempt on which the Law Commission has now reported. I informed the House that while the Law Commission's proposals would, if implemented, deal with one of the gaps in the law which would be likely to result if 'sus' were simply repealed—that concerning an attempt to steal from a bag or pocket which is in fact empty—they would not bear on the case, which the Select Committee itself had mentioned as a difficulty, of someone who is observed attempting to enter a locked car. It was in the light of these considerations that I advised the House that it would be necessary to consider whether the repeal of 'sus' ought to be accompanied by other changes in the criminal law in order to ensure proper protection for the public. I emphasised, however, that it was not the Government's intention simply to re-enact 'sus' in another form; and I undertook to reach an early decision. The Law Commission's Report on Attempt, and Impossibility in relation to Attempt, Incitement and Conspiracy (Law Corn. No. 102) was published on 25 June and we are giving urgent consideration to its recommendations and to the broad implications of any change in this part of the criminal law. You will understand that at this stage I cannot give any definite undertaking about how soon an opportunity for legislation will arise.

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