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Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : Is it the opinion of my hon. Friend that it is because of the Government's reluctance to introduce these measures that the Chief Constable has announced that it is most unlikely that there will be any cessation of violence and terrorism in Northern Ireland for at least three years ?
Mr. Trimble : I can well believe that. If these are measures which the Chief Constable believes are necessary, if they are not put into effect it must obviously follow that the effectiveness of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in fighting terrorism is thereby diminished and the prospects of success are likewise diminished. It leads inevitably to the conclusion that the prospects of relieving the community of the scourge of terrorism are being diminished by Government's inactivity and their inability to make up their mind about these matters.
One measure on the RUC shopping list has been accepted, three are in the new clauses, and there are four others about which amendments have not been tabled. They concern matters such as proven cases of possession relating to the burden of proof in certain cases, and to previous conviction in others. Although those may not be important matters, the last measure is important. It concerns the need for a statutory scheme to protect and encourage witnesses. The story in last week's Sunday Times , to which I referred at the outset, reinforces the need for such a scheme. It is important to proceed with that measure as well.
Action on those matters is needed, particularly in the light of the IRA's clear rejection of the opportunity offered by the Government in the Downing Street declaration. One wonders whether that declaration and the manoeuvres in which the Government have been engaged are part of the reason why only the least important matter on the RUC's shopping list has been accepted while the important matters are being kept on the long finger. Is that why we are still waiting ? Is that why Her Majesty's Government are reluctant to take measures that will upset the godfathers of Sinn Fein IRA ?
Some of my friends attended the conference of the Friends of the Union in Cambridge on Friday night, when they heard the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), boast that the United Kingdom's anti-terrorist legislation was the "envy of the world". I am not sure whether I have quoted him correctly, as my comments on the matter are as a result of hearsay, but there is no doubt that the Minister made that boast.
What a pitiful thing to say. To claim that our anti-terrorist legislation is the envy of the world is rubbish. Look at western Europe--Spain, France, Germany and Italy. Each of those countries has been more successful in dealing with terrorism and organised crime than the United Kingdom. We are not the envy of the rest of Europe. If anything, we are the worst.
It is a bitter pill to have to stand here and say that we should learn from how Italy has handled such matters, but
Column 151we should. New clause 63, with its provision for authorised investigators, would reproduce something similar to the examining magistrates who have been so successful in dealing with the Mafia. That is part of the model on which the RUC has based those provisions. It has looked at why European countries have succeeded where we have failed, and the Government should be big enough to follow that example.
Mr. Maclean : I am pleased to respond to new clauses 60 and 61. The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), will be keen to respond to new clauses 62 and 63, which relate specifically to Northern Ireland.
I am mindful of the wish of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) to ensure that all possible steps are taken to prosecute criminals, including those guilty of terrorist offences. However, I am not persuaded that a case has been made that a significant number of prosecutions are being lost because of the inadmissibility of intercepted material as evidence.
The Interception of Communications Commissioner has cited statistics to demonstrate that interception has been successfully used covertly to lay the ground for the gathering of material that can be used in evidence. It has enabled the police or customs to be in the right place to catch criminals red handed. For example, in his report for 1989, he says :
"just under 50 per cent. of all warrants issued at the request of the police have resulted directly or indirectly in arrests. On any view, this must be regarded as a satisfactory success rate for interception as a means of combating serious crime."
Were the current protection afforded by sections 6 and 9 to the product and techniques of interception to be removed, there would be no certainty that that record could be maintained. If the value of that source of intelligence were diminished by disclosure of techniques in the courts, the number of successful prosecutions could even fall.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government keep that matter under review, recognising, not least, the special circumstances that apply in Northern Ireland. But the new clause, like the Act itself, extends to the whole of the United Kingdom. In that context, I am not persuaded that the case for change has been made. I have listened carefully to the points made by the hon. Gentleman and hope that he will not put the new clause to the vote.
Mr. Trimble : Does the figure of 50 per cent. of intercepts leading to successful prosecutions relate only to events in England and Wales or does it also include intercepts in Northern Ireland ? What is the percentage there ? Does the House of Lords decision in the Preston case have any implications for the legislation ?
The reasoned judgment of the House of Lords on Regina v. Preston has endorsed both the Crown's interpretation of the Interception of Communications Act 1985 and its practice under it in relation to warrants used for the prevention or detection of serious crime. I hope that the hon. Gentleman finds that response helpful. On new clause 61, except in the case of murder--where the mandatory life sentence reflects the unique wickedness
Column 152of deliberately taking another person's life --the Government are not in favour of introducing minimum sentences. We do not think that minimum sentences would help the courts to sentence justly in the wide variety of cases that come before them.
A minimum sentence must be low enough to allow the courts to make allowance for cases where there are exceptional mitigating circumstances. But setting a low minimum sentence is not only fairly pointless ; it can also give the public a false impression of how seriously the authorities view the offence. If the minimum sentence were set too high, there would be a risk that some offenders would be acquitted. That could happen either because the punishment appears excessive when extenuating circumstances are taken into account or, as can and has happened, because a jury is unwilling to convict for a particular offence as it believes that the punishment prescribed by law is too severe, even in the absence of extenuating circumstances. For those reasons, it would be wrong to depart from our long -established policy on the subject, even where, as in this instance, we, too, regard the offence as serious. I hope that, in view of those comments, the hon. Gentleman will not wish to push new clause 61 to a Division. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office will be able to respond to new clauses 62 and 63.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Sir John Wheeler) : The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) has already sought to amend the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991 by tabling similar new clauses in Committee. Those new clauses were ably dealt with by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office. I shall not, therefore, seek to give all those explanations in detail, but shall deal with them as swiftly as I can.
New clause 62 would allow hearsay evidence to be admissible in the trial of terrorist-related crimes in Northern Ireland. There must be a sound basis on which the court can satisfy itself that such evidence is reliable. There are a number of fundamental principles at stake.
First, there would be no recourse to cross-examination or any opportunity for the court to assess the demeanour of the maker of the statement in the witness box. Secondly, the evidence contained in the statement would not have been given on oath. Further, in the case of statements made by accomplices or by others involved in criminal activity, there are added grounds for excluding their untested and unsworn testimony. It is not hard to imagine the motives that such persons would have for implicating others maliciously. There is always the danger that mistakes might be made, either innocently or deliberately, by the person recording the statement.
It is not an easy issue. It requires careful consideration, with is precisely what has taken place. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is utterly committed to keeping the criminal law as effective as possible against terrorism by a process of continuing and careful review. We have concluded that the proposed change to the law in Northern Ireland would not be appropriate. It is obviously very important that the justice system should be seen to maintain its reputation for fairness.
Having looked long and hard at the Chief Constable's proposal, we have had to conclude that it does not conform to the minimum standards of fairness essential for any
Column 153system of justice. It is vital that the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland should not be tarnished by unfair procedures. We naturally consulted the Northern Ireland judiciary, and their views are consistent with the Government's approach. In those circumstances, I must ask for that new clause not to be pressed. The House has also debated new clause 63 more than once, and the hon. Gentleman said that he might bring it forward again. It would further limit the right of silence of those suspected of terrorist offences in Northern Ireland. As with the other new clause, fundamental principles must be taken into account.
The general right not to be prejudiced by refusing to answer questions about involvement in a criminal offence derives from the basic principle that in our system of justice, the burden of proof in a criminal case is placed firmly on the prosecution.
That points to the overriding need to treat any changes to that part of the law with great care and much seriousness. That matter is under detailed and careful consideration as part of a package of measures proposed by the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland last year. It would be in the best interests of the Northern Ireland criminal justice system and of the whole Northern Ireland community not to legislate in haste only to repent at leisure. It is a sensitive issue and achieving a balance is both vital and difficult. I therefore ask that new clause 63 should not be pressed.
Mr.Roger Stott (Wigan) : I find myself in a unique situation, in that I agree with the comments of both Ministers in respect of new clauses 61, 62 and 63 and the arguments that they advanced for rejecting them. The briefings that the Ministers were given by their civil servants are almost as good as those that I received, so I need not deploy further argument.
New clause 60, however, merits brief examination. Before I entered the House 21 years ago, I worked as a telephone engineer for what was then the Post Office and is now BT. Members of my union and my colleagues had to institute telephone tapping when the appropriate authority was given, so I am familiar with the technicalities. Tapping a person's telephone or intercepting their mail should be done only in extreme circumstances, because it infringes the individual's civil liberties. A fine line should be drawn between action against potential terrorism and the corrosive effect on civil liberties of telephone tapping or mail interception.
I was interested to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), and I could be persuaded that in certain circumstances, there might be reasons for tapping or interception. However, consistent with our arguments in respect of prevention of terrorism Act renewal orders and emergency provisions Acts, it is important that if evidence is gathered in a correct and proper manner, a warrant should be issued by a magistrate or another member of the judiciary. Ministers should not be given the power to tap a person's telephone on the basis suggested by the hon. Member for Upper Bann. I do not know whether the Government are prepared to look at the matter again in another place in the light of what has been said. Provided that there are the safeguards that I have just described--for example, where there is sufficient
Column 154evidence--a magistrate or other judicial authority can give the authority for that telephone to be tapped. Extreme circumstances involving terrorism might well be a reason for so doing, but I stress that it must be done not by a Minister but by a judicial authority. If that is the case, I am prepared to listen to the arguments.
Mr. Trimble : I am interested in what the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), responding for the Opposition, said about regard to the new clause, but I suggest that he has misunderstood its extent. What he said was an acceptance that the interception of communications might be permissible in certain circumstances. The new clause was not relating to when the interception might take place. I can understand the safeguards that he mentioned about when it might.
The new clause was directed only towards the admissibility in evidence of interception that is taking place under existing legislation. The hon. Gentleman did not address that issue. I wish to underline that issue, because my argument was simply that if the interception is taking place, the material should be admissible. I am sorry to say that I do not agree with the views expressed by the Minister, but will not press the new clause on this occasion. I now refer to the points that were made by the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office. I welcome him to the Dispatch Box while we are debating the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which is usually a Home Office matter. That reflects accurately the fact that it is not a parochial English Bill, but a United Kingdom Bill. It is appropriate that he should attend. If some hon. Members in Committee who were complaining about the absence of Scottish Ministers on appropriate occasions were here this evening, they would be quick to draw the parallel. I am told they will be here tomorrow and may well plead this welcome precedent.
I am disappointed with what the Minister said about new clause 62. It seemed to be a clear rejection of the proposal. I was surprised at the terms on which he rejected it when one considers that the royal commission said that the issue should be looked at again, and when the clear implication of the royal commission's discussion is moving towards the admissibility of such evidence.
The terms on which the Minister rejected the new clause seemed to suggest that his mind is closed on the issue. Before reading out the brief that was given to him, he should have looked again at what the royal commission said and addressed clearly my point that we are dealing in a case of a non-jury trial. That issue is appropriate and should have been taken into consideration.
I am glad that new clause 63 is still under consideration and hope that its consideration will be completed before we come to next year's criminal justice Bill. Having said that, I have no desire to push these matters to a vote, because I do not wish the Government to vote against sensible measures that they will eventually have to adopt.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
[ ].--(1) A person commits an offence if he
(a) loiters or solicits in a street or public place, or (b) solicits from a motor vehicle in a street or public place for the purpose of procuring a passenger for a hire and reward vehicle.
Column 155(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.
(3) In section 24(2) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Arrestable Offence) at the end of that subsection there shall be inserted
"(h) an offence under section [ ] of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (Touting from or for a vehicle)."
(4) For the purposes of this section
"hire and reward vehicle" means a vehicle used or intended to be used for the carriage of passengers for hire or reward, whether or not licensed as such, other than a licensed taxi or public service vehicle ;
"licensed taxi" means
(i) in relation to the City of London and Metropolitan Police District, a vehicle licensed under section 6 of the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869, and
(ii) in relation to any other district in England and Wales, a vehicle licensed by the local authority for that district under section 37 of the Town Police Clauses Act or any similar enactment ; and
"public service vehicle" has the meaning given in section 1 of the Public Passenger Vehicle Act 1981.'.-- [Mr. Bendall.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I declare that I represent the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association in the House ; that interest is recorded in the Register of Members' interests.
For the first time tonight, we have the opportunity of putting right an injustice--something that I believe has been wrong for a very long time. Let me deal first with the reasons behind the new clause. First, it is true to say that it has received all-party support. There have been more than 70 signatures in support of it. New clause 66 would do away with the injustice that has existed for a long time with regard to touting. Touting is illegal but it is a civil, not a criminal, offence. Following my discussions with the Minister for Transport in London, who is here tonight, I believe I can say that he is not unhappy with the new clause. From other discussions, I understand that the Home Office is also not unhappy with it.
There has been tremendous support for the new clause from various elements of the cab trade and elsewhere. For example, the graded private hire companies, the Metropolitan police, in the form of the Public Carriage Office, and the Consumers Association have all supported it with a view to seeing an end to the injustice and even abuse that often befalls people travelling in certain vehicles. Most important, the British Transport police have also been extremely concerned that they do not have the necessary powers to deal with the increasing violence and aggression against tourists of those plying for hire. Many of the problems occur outside stations and clubs where innocent people are often preyed on by those touting illegally for business. New clause 66 would outlaw the problem, just as prostitution and kerb crawling have been dealt with in the past. In view of the signs that the Home Office and the Department of Transport have given me, I hope that, even if they are not over-happy with the wording of the new clause--I am not wedded to it--they will be able to give a firm undertaking that the principle will be accepted in another place. I should be happy to accept such an undertaking. We have a unique opportunity to close the door against three major problems. First, we have the opportunity to
Column 156make women safer in hired vehicles. Many women have been raped or abused in such vehicles. Secondly, we have the opportunity to make hired vehicles safer. Many people do not realise that when they travel in them they are uninsured, which is a major worry. We also have the opportunity to help the black cab system, which is recognised as the finest in the world.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office is looking at me ; I am coming to the end of my remarks. Finally, we also have the opportunity to end the abuse of the social security system. Raids on stations have led to the discovery that many people who work in the mini-cab trade are claiming social security. Such people would be caught, which would save the taxpayer and the Exchequer a considerable amount of money. For those reasons, I hope that the House will accept new clause 66.
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : My friend who moved the new clause has my complete support. Twenty years ago, when I was a member of Sheffield city council, I began to move in the same direction. It seemed wrong that people could pick up passengers without being insured, thereby putting those passengers at risk. One could not be sure about the quality of the vehicle or the driver or his safety as a person. I understand from what I have been told by the Minister that the new clause finds favour with the Government and, 20 years on, I feel satisfied that a wrong is about to be righted. If the Minister says that it is fine and that he will change the wording, I shall go to bed a much happier man. It is not very often that one makes a dream come true, but tonight we may well do just that. If the Minister nods his head now, I shall shut up and sit down.
Mr. Maclean indicated assent .
Mr. Maclean : The purpose of the new clause is the laudable one of getting rid of the problem of people touting for passengers in cars not licensed as taxis. It is a serious problem and one that my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London has seen for himself on the streets of some of our provincial cities as well as London. There are two aspects to the problem. The most serious is the tout who preys on strangers and tourists, especially at our important stations and international airports. These men set out to fleece their victims. If they protest, passengers are likely to lose their luggage--if not worse. The police at London stations and at Heathrow struggle to deal with the problem in the present legal context.
Mr. Enright : Will the Minister make it clear that, in talking about tourists, he is talking not merely about people from foreign countries but about people from my constituency who have been done by the very drivers to whom he refers when they have come to London ?
The other aspect is in relation to circumstances in which touts who do not own the cars concerned offer the services
Column 157of minicabs or private hire vehicles in the street or in which the vehicle drivers offer their services outside pubs and clubs at closing time. The passenger who accepts a ride in those circumstances is at risk. By acting as an unlicensed taxi, the driver has almost certainly abrogated his insurance and if anything goes wrong, the passenger will have to rely on the good will of the insurance company or, failing that, the agreement between the Department of Transport and the Motor Insurers Bureau. The vehicles in which they ride may not be up to the standard of a taxi and the driver may not know where he is going or the best way to get there.
We commend the principles behind the new clause, but before we can advise the House to accept it, my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London needs to be sure that it will do all that it seeks to do and no more. My hon. Friend especially wants to ensure that touts at airports and railway stations would be caught and we may need to define the terms "street" and "public place" used in the clause to ensure that we catch them.
Representations have been made to us to the effect that, as drafted, the new clause could have an adverse effect on legitimately licensed private hire vehicles. Outside London, such vehicles usually carry signs identifying themselves for what they are. Their drivers could have problems under the present wording if they were parked at the roadside or were in a public place between jobs, especially if they were sitting in the car. How could they show that they were not loitering for the purposes of procuring a passenger, when they were carrying a sign proclaiming that they were available for hire--even though it is by telephone booking ?
To cut out any more debate, I ask my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) if he will withdraw the new clause and discuss its contents with my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London with a view to a more satisfactory clause being tabled in the other place, which would win wide support from both Houses of Parliament.
Sir Teddy Taylor : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As new clause 68 raises complex and difficult issues relating to religious belief, and as the Minister of State has kindly agreed to have a personal meeting with those seeking the protection of the new clause, I invite the House to agree that no hon. Member should seek to move it.
(1) The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 shall be amended as follows.
(2) After section 3 there shall be inserted the following section
female germ cells' means cells of the female germ line and includes such cells at any stage of maturity and accordingly include eggs ; and
Column 158fertility services' means medical, surgical or obstetric services provided for the purpose of assisting women to carry children." (3) In section 41(1)(a) (offences under the Act) after the words "section 3(2)" there shall be inserted ", 3A".'.-- [Dame Jill Knight.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Let me cheer my right hon. and hon. Friends withthe news that I do not propose to weary the House with a lengthy speech. On 22 February, I was given leave to introduce a Bill to prohibit the use of eggs from aborted girl babies, eggs which would be fertilised in a testtube and inserted into women who wished to become pregnant. Neither my Bill nor the new clause does more than that.
The new clause would not in any way affect the research that is presently carried out using aborted babies. It has nothing to do with the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, mental handicap or anything else of that nature. It would not affect the usage of organs from cadavers. It is specific, narrow and necessary.
I hasten to explain that the eggs for fertilisation procedure is not yet possible, although I understand that eggs drawn from aborted mice have been used, and that within a reasonable time the process will become possible with human beings.
The very suggestion has profoundly shocked hundreds of thousands of people all over Britain. Probably all hon. Members have had letters from their constituents expressing abhorrence. I have had enough to fill a filing cabinet. The unanimous view is that it is wrong to get rid of an unwanted baby to make a wanted one, and to have to admit to a child that his mother was never allowed even to be born, and that he can never know the first thing about her--how she looked, what her attributes were or what her medical history might have been had she been allowed to live. As a life continues, those factors can become important.
Such activities could herald the start of a lucrative market in aborted foetuses. Becoming pregnant so that the aborted foetus could be used in that way could be a brand new way of making money. All those possibilities are appalling, especially when there are millions of women of childbearing age walking around with perfectly normal, fully formed mature eggs that could be donated.
I want to send a message out
Mr. Dalyell : Has the hon. Lady had any discussions with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority ? Some people believe that research would be affected. Is the hon. Lady absolutely sure that it would not ?
I want to send a message to scientists that there is no point in spending any more time on research in that area, or in messing about with aborted mouse eggs, rat eggs or anything similar. The end product from using aborted human eggs for fertilisation purposes will simply not be
Column 159allowed to be used. There are occasions when the House must assert its authority and make it clear that scientists sometimes go too far.
The new clause would insert after section 3 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 a new section that would prohibit the use of
"female germ cells"
that definition includes immature foetal eggs
"taken or derived from an embryo or a foetus or"
the use of
"embryos created by using such cells",
to achieve a pregnancy.
The wording is most carefully drawn and the prohibition would apply to all current and all expected future techniques for treating infertility, such as in vitro fertilisation and transplants of foetal ovarian tissue--just that narrow point--or the use of early female germ cells from an embryo before the ovaries have developed.
The new clause is a catch-all, intended to stop what I have described as an abhorrent practice, and I am assured that it will do what it is intended to do. I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, with whom I have talked at length on the subject. She and the officers from her Department have helped and guided me through a river of procedural rocks and currents to reach the shore of my intention, and only that narrow shore. I can assure the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that there is no intention to do anything more than that. I am glad to have the support of the Government and many hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. I commend new clause 69 to the House.
The Secretary of State for Health (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley) : My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) has spoken about her new clause with characteristic flair and commitment. I pay a warm tribute to her for the strength of feeling with which she addressed the House and her persistence in bringing forward the new clause. My hon. Friend has spoken for a great number of people both inside and outside the House. She expressed with clarity and sensitivity her repugnance at the notion of creating a life from an aborted foetus. Her speech hit a nerve. Like me, many people will recognise and share the feeling of revulsion that she described. The House must face this important and emotionally charged issue today on a free vote. I shall vote in favour of the new clause. However, I shall take this opportunity briefly to set out some of the background and in particular to give a strong commendation to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for its consultation document on donated ovarian tissue in embryo research and assisted conception. The Government acknowledge the sorrow and sadness that infertility can cause. Medical science has made great progress, and we can now bring hope to many couples through in vitro fertilisation treatment.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority was set up under the Act-- the first statutory authority in the world--to control and regulate embryo research and new fertility techniques. It has already established an excellent record. Its two annual reports and the consultation documents already under way have led to further improvements and safeguards, which means that public opinion and the concerns widely expressed are properly addressed.