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Column 708spent on the police force in Scotland each week than when Labour was in power. That is in stark contrast to the actions of Labour-controlled Strathclyde region, which we have had to cajole for years to bring its police force up to establishment standards.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Is the Secretary of State concerned also about the squandering of police time? Police witnesses still are kept hanging around sheriff courts such as Linlithgow. Is he aware also of the importance of the streamlining of courts? To take a Lothian example, it would be highly desirable to move the court structure from Linlithgow to Livingston, for reasons that the Minister of State--Lord Fraser of Carmyllie--knows well, because he received a delegation led by Mr. Jim Keegan, on behalf of solicitors, and myself.
Mr. Lang: The hon. Gentleman is right to put his finger on a central issue that concerns us and the various committees that we established to review criminal justice procedural systems. I will return to that theme at various points in my speech.
The fight against crime is not one that the criminal justice system alone can win. If we want to divert potential offenders before they begin offending, we must begin the process much earlier. That is why we are tackling crime prevention in schools through the national guidelines, emphasising social responsibility and respect for others. We are taking measures to combat truancy, indiscipline, bullying and vandalism. We believe that if these problems are tackled at an early stage there is a significant possibility that those children will not later turn to more serious offences and start to commit crime. We are not content, however, to rest on initiatives in schools. We are also very much aware that the problem of offending by young people needs close attention. We are addressing this by new initiatives through the children's hearings and through new community-based development projects to address the problems caused by persistent young offenders.
We are also pursuing traditional crime prevention measures, and a more general national crime prevention publicity campaign to engage much more widespread public awareness of the part which individuals can play in the fight against crime. The multi-media campaign will be launched in spring 1995 and will focus on housebreaking.
I find it extraordinary that Opposition Members wish to oppose the Bill on the basis that the Scottish court system is under pressure from increasing work loads. One of the principal aims of the Bill is to relieve the pressure on the courts and prosecutors. We are making changes to the bail system, to late pleas, to pre-trial procedures, and improving procedures without unbalancing the scales of justice. If the Opposition have further suggestions to make, I hope that they will offer them to the House today.
If Opposition Members oppose the Bill, they oppose measures to improve the operation of bail; they oppose giving the courts powers to deprive criminals of the proceeds of their crimes; they oppose measures to assist the police in detecting crime through extending the use of DNA; and they oppose taking the opportunity to improve the operation of the criminal justice system in Scotland. And they oppose measures, of the kind referred to a moment ago by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), to reduce the waste of police time involved in waiting unnecessarily at court.
Column 709It does little credit to the Labour party and its pretence to care about these issues that it should so distort the facts and oppose a measure designed to reinforce the fight in which we should all be joining against crime in Scotland.
Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton): I know that the Secretary of State is under pressure on almost every front today, but that really is no excuse for his misrepresentation of our reasons for tabling a reasoned amendment in a Second Reading debate. He tries to imply that we oppose the Bill's Second Reading, but we do not. The amendment, in the tradition of reasoned amendments down the years, regrets certain aspects of the Bill, and states that the House should not give the Bill a Second Reading on certain specific grounds.
I intend to welcome certain aspects of the Bill, but its general failure to tackle the crisis of crime that so many people fear has led us to table a reasoned amendment, not to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill.
Mr. Lang: The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity in his speech to tell us whether his party will vote against the Bill tonight. He will also be able to tell us which measures he will propose in Committee; and he will have a chance to respond to some of the points that I have just made in answer to the terms of his reasoned amendment.
The Bill contains provisions which will mark a watershed in the operation of the criminal justice system in Scotland, and will equip it to deal with the challenges that we will all face in combating crime as we move into the 21st century. It is a Scottish Bill tailored to Scottish needs and circumstances which builds on the best traditions of our distinctive legal system.
The measures in the Bill were drafted after a comprehensive and detailed review of the present system and a consultation process which took account of the views of all the major organisations associated with the criminal justice system in Scotland and of a great number of individuals with particular knowledge and expertise. We are grateful for the many thoughtful comments that we received, which have informed the development of our proposals.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): At least one Opposition Member--namely, me--would be more sympathetic to the Bill if it included some provisions to give power to licensing committees, along the lines suggested by Sheriff Gow, in relation to places such as Hangar 13 which run raves. I know that the right hon. Gentleman shares my concern about the increase in drugs crime. I have tabled a parliamentary question, which has not yet had a reply, asking him to give some consideration to legislation that would take account of the recommendations of Sheriff Neil Gow in the wake of a fatal accident inquiry.
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the possibility of including some such provision in the Bill?
Mr. Lang: The hon. Gentleman raises a topic that has the makings of an interesting debate in Committee. I have no doubt that he will look forward to participating in such a debate.
I am confident that we have struck the correct balance with the proposals in the Bill. We have been prepared to listen to the advice that we have been given and to come
Column 710to conclusions in the light of that advice. That view was endorsed by the support that the Bill received in another place.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East): I understand the approach that the Secretary of State is adopting about the extent of the consultation that was carried through. Will he tell us why the Scottish Office rejected the approach that was exemplified in the early 1970s with the appointment of Lord Thomson to head a committee that was given the task of examining Scottish criminal law and procedure, which produced two extremely valuable reports? Why was the same approach not followed in this instance?
Mr. Lang: I shall have something to say about Lord Thomson's report or reports when I reach that stage in my comments on the contents of the Bill, if the hon. and learned Gentleman will bear with me until then.
The Bill seeks essentially to do two things: first, it contains provisions that will significantly enhance the powers of the criminal justice agencies in the fight against crime; secondly, and equally important, are provisions that are aimed at making the system work more effectively and efficiently.
I turn to the specific proposals in the Bill. Concern about the operation of bail, and especially offending while on bail, has featured in correspondence from hon. Members on both sides of the House in recent years. Breach of bail is a breach of the court's trust. We intend to tighten bail procedures by restricting the circumstances in which bail may be granted or reviewed, and by increasing the courts' powers to deal firmly with offending on bail. These proposals are contained in clauses 1 to 5.
In particular, the provisions on bail would enable a court to increase any sentence beyond what it would otherwise impose if a person has offended while on bail. Separately, we are extending to a limited, but desirable, degree the circumstances in which bail cannot be granted. Fewer than one in five of court cases is made the subject of a bail order, but there were an estimated 27,000 offences committed while on bail last year. Those offences were carried out by relatively few offenders. An extra six months, or 60 days in district courts, and/or a fine of £1,000 will, with the other provisions, send a clear message that release on bail is not a right to be abused. The provisions that are set out in the Bill will offer greater protection to the public from the menace of offending on bail.
Fundamental to our criminal justice system is the principle of trial by jury. The Bill contains a number of proposals to improve the selection of juries; to make them more representative and to reduce the inconvenience that is experienced by those who are called to court but not asked to serve. Those proposals are contained in clauses 6 to 8. They include the abolition of peremptory challenge, a procedure which the Government believe is widely abused and which serves no useful purpose that cannot be achieved by the other more rational means of exemption, namely, of cause shown to the court. There are about 1,300 jury trials a year. Of the 100,000 people cited annually for jury service, only about 20,000 serve on a jury. That is one in five. Clearly there is a need for more effective ways of avoiding such a huge waste of time and waste of resources.
Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood): Does my right hon. Friend agree that under the present system of peremptory
Column 711challenge, people turn up wearing nice suits, shirts and ties and are challenged by defence lawyers because they look respectable? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a disgrace and that it is one of the reasons for voting for the Bill?
Mr. Lang: I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that he will find that the package of measures that bear on juries in clauses 6 to 8 meets the concern to which he has properly drawn attention. The Bill contains two proposals flowing from a review of judicial examination and the right to silence. These have given rise to some controversy. That must be because they have been misunderstood. I look forward to hearing how Opposition Members justify their opposition. It may be helpful to the House if I try to make clear exactly what is involved.
The proposal in clause 10 to allow prosecutors to ask accused persons under examination whether they admit rather than deny certain facts is little more than a technical change. Judicial examination takes place at an early stage, usually just after the accused has been arrested and charged. It enables the accused in the presence of his solicitor, and under the protection of a sheriff, to answer the procurator fiscal's questions and, if he wishes, to state his own position at the earliest opportunity.
At present the procurator fiscal's questions must be framed in a convoluted form to avoid appearing to seek an admission, even though a failure to deny could be just as incriminating. The proceedings can be difficult for everyone, not least the accused, to understand. Clause 10 will enable a simpler and more intelligible form of questioning to be adopted, which will benefit all who participate in judicial examination and a subsequent trial, including the accused person.
The clause will not, contrary to what some have suggested, require the accused person to break his silence, or to incriminate himself. If the accused chooses not to answer questions, he could do so, as many accused persons do now. If he chooses to answer, his answers need not be any different from what they would be under the current law. After all, he can refuse to admit just as easily as he can deny.
Nor will clause 10 enable procurators fiscal to engage in cross-examination or to try to drag confessions out of the accused. The fiscal is prohibited from asking leading questions, or reiterating questions, or challenging the truth of anything that the accused has already said. The sheriff is under a duty to ensure that all questions are fairly put to and understood by the accused. There appears to be some confusion among Opposition Members about adversarial and inquisitorial systems. Judicial examination, which is a quasi-inquisitorial procedure, has existed in one form or another for centuries, although it fell into disuse in the early part of this century. The procedure was revived in 1980 following the recommendation of the Thomson committee on criminal procedure, which recommended that the procurator fiscal should be able to ask questions designed to prevent the fabrication of a false line of defence at an early stage; and that the accused should have an early opportunity to state his or her case and perhaps clear himself or herself.
Column 712The committee also suggested the type of questions that should be permitted at judicial examination. I entirely agreed with the committee when it said:
"it is difficult to see how such questions could prejudice the position of an innocent accused and even more difficult to see why they should be regarded as unfair to a guilty accused".
Clause 28 will allow the prosecutor to comment on an accused person's failure to give evidence at his trial. I believe that that is simply common sense. When an accused person has not given evidence, everyone in the courtroom is aware of that fact. The judge and the defence may, in appropriate circumstances, comment on it, but the prosecutor may not. Such prohibition is a wholly artificial constraint on the prosecutor's ability to put the full case before the court. In Scotland, juries have always been able to draw inferences from an accused person's silence and it defies common sense to suggest that they should not. We believe that it is far better that the prosecutor should be able to raise the issue directly and in open court, when it can be dealt with fairly under the direction of the judge.
There is no need to fear that the ability to comment will result in unfairness. Comments are likely to be made with restraint, lest they are challenged on appeal. The defence has the opportunity to respond to any comments made in its summing up, and the judge has a duty to ensure that comments made by both sides are fair and that the jury understands the law.
Both provisions were supported by a wide range of parties, including the Scottish judiciary, in consultation, and both received endorsement in another place from Lord McCluskey, a senior High Court judge. I think that we may therefore claim authoritative support for these modest but sensible reforms. I hope that Opposition Members will resist the temptation to indulge in knee-jerk reaction to the proposals for their own reasons.
The Bill contains important proposals, in clauses 13 and 14, for reducing needless attendance in court by victims and witnesses of crime. At present, no fewer than four out of every five of those called to court do not have to give evidence. About half of them are police officers, who could otherwise be out investigating and detecting crime; many others are victims, whose stress and trauma is increased by attendance in court; others are simply law-abiding citizens who have witnessed a crime and have come forward to assist the police and prosecution in upholding the law. It would very serious if such people became disenchanted by their experience and, therefore, less likely to come forward in future.
Our proposals for mandatory intermediate diets in summary cases, and the introduction of first diets in sheriff and jury cases, have the potential to cut by half the number of people who attend court unnecessarily. We know that because similar proposals have been tested in pilot schemes and because more and more courts are introducing those procedures voluntarily. For example, in Edinburgh sheriff court, 1,500 civilian and police witnesses are being relieved from court attendance each month. That is the equivalent of 18,000 in a year. In Dunfermline sheriff court, 340 witnesses are being excused each month and a similar number are being excused in Kirkcaldy sheriff court.
Taken together, the courts which have introduced intermediate diets are already releasing more than 1,000 police officers for operational duties each month. A
Column 713similar rate of success across the country would result in several tens of thousands of police officer days each year being freed for the fight against crime.
Mr. Foulkes: I welcome what the Secretary of State has just described. However, that cannot work in a sheriff court such as Ayr sheriff court, where there are not even enough witness rooms. That puts witnesses off. When witnesses for the prosecution are put in the same room as witnesses for the defence, they can be intimidated. That causes a great deal of concern.
I have been writing to the Secretary of State--the matter is being dealt with by the Minister--and to Strathclyde asking them to get together to sort out the accommodation problems in Ayr sheriff court. The problem has been going on for years. What is the Secretary of State going to do about that, because that point is even more important than the provisions in the Bill? I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to answer that question because he seems to be unable to answer questions. I know that he has a lot of problems on his mind at the moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) has been attacking him--
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow the Secretary of State to respond.
Mr. Lang: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the extensive capital programme of upgrading sheriff courts on which the Government have embarked since coming to office in 1979 and having found a somewhat derelict case. With regard to the provisions in the Bill, I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that precisely the same consequence can be achieved in Ayr as has been achieved in Kirkcaldy, Dunfermline and Edinburgh.
The purpose of the provisions in the Bill is to provide a firmer and clearer statutory framework for the best practice that has been identified and to ensure that those benefits are brought to victims and witnesses all over Scotland. If the experience so far is repeated across Scotland, we can expect many thousands of victims and witnesses to be relieved of the burden of attending court unnecessarily. That would represent a dramatic improvement for the victims and witnesses of crime, on whose support our criminal justice system relies. It would also provide an enormous boost to the capacity of the police to fight crime.
Mr. Dalyell: Is any action going to be taken against solicitors who allow their clients to plead guilty at the last moment when they must have known jolly well, for weeks if not for months, that they were going to do that? Is that not a deep abuse of professional conduct?
Mr. Lang: Again, the hon. Gentleman puts his finger on a very germane point which I will address, if he will permit me, when I reach that stage in my speech.
The burden which being called to give evidence can impose on witnesses is also being tackled in the Bill. Clauses 16 to 25 contain important measures for the agreement of routine evidence. That will reduce the extent to which witnesses, in particular police witnesses, have to attend court to give evidence which is uncontroversial and, in the event, not disputed.
Column 714The Bill contains two important provisions on sentencing. Clause 29 will make it clear that courts may take into account the fact that an accused person has pleaded guilty and the timing and circumstances in which the plea was made when deciding the appropriate sentence. Nearly 70 per cent.--this is the point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow--of accused persons plead guilty straight away while 90 per cent. do so eventually. Of those accused persons who at present plead not guilty up to the day of the trial, two out of three will plead guilty on the day of the trial. Clause 29 will clarify an area of law on which there has been some uncertainty in Scotland and may encourage those who will plead guilty anyway to do so at an earlier stage.
Clause 30 provides expressly for the Appeal Court to issue opinions on the appropriate sentence for cases similar to the particular case before it and requires the lower courts to have regard to those opinions. That should help to make available to the lower courts, on a systematic basis, the wisdom and experience of our most senior judges and so should help to increase consistency in sentencing without eroding judicial discretion.
The courts will continue to be able to take account of genuine variations in circumstances, which may not be apparent to the public in superficially similar cases. I believe that we should do all that we can to encourage consistency of sentencing in genuinely similar cases.
I want now to consider appeals. Further provisions aimed at reducing delay in the criminal justice system are contained in clause 37, which introduces a requirement for leave to appeal. The test which an application will have to pass in order for leave to appeal to be granted will be that it demonstrates arguable grounds of appeal. At present, many appeals are abandoned before they come to a hearing and the provision will allow frivolous and unmeritorious appeals to be sifted out at an early stage. There has been a threefold increase in the number of criminal appeals over the decade to 1992, but almost 40 per cent. are abandoned before the hearing and only about one in five is successful.
The new leave to appeal procedure, along with the proposals in clause 38 to reduce the number of High Court judges required to consider appeals against sentence only, should help the Appeal Court in dealing with the high number of appeals that have been lodged in recent years.
Clauses 41 to 49 contain proposals to change the way in which our criminal justice system deals with the small but vulnerable category of accused persons who are insane and therefore unfit to stand trial, and those who are tried but acquitted because they were insane at the time they committed the offence.
Our proposals will mean that, in future, when there can be no trial there will at least be an examination of the facts to establish that the accused did the act with which he is charged, before he is perhaps committed to hospital without limit of time. We also propose that the courts should have a wider range of disposal options in such cases, including a community- based "supervision and treatment order". However, let me stress that a court will still be able, on the same basis as now, to impose a hospital order with restrictions when it considers that necessary to protect the public from serious harm. Clauses 54 and 55 provide for the extension of fiscal fines, a disposal unique to Scotland within the United Kingdom. The provisions will extend the scope of fiscal fines to a wider range of minor offences.
Column 715I should make it quite clear, since some commentators have misunderstood our intentions, that those proposals have nothing to do with decriminalisation; nor are they targeted on drugs offences. They provide an additional weapon in the procurator fiscal's armoury. The consequence will be an increase in the capacity of our prosecutors and our courts to deal with more serious crime. In deciding whether to offer a fine in a particular case, the fiscal will be operating under clear guidance from my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate.
The Government recognise the significant potential which criminal justice social work services have to reduce offending behaviour. Our intention continues to be to reduce, so far as is possible, the use of imprisonment by the courts in cases where a community-based disposal would be appropriate. That policy is particularly important for fine default and the proposals in the Bill will encourage the use of supervised attendance orders in place of custody or, for 16 and 17-year-olds, in place of the fine itself.
Part II contains comprehensive provisions to deprive offenders of the proceeds and the instruments of crime. These are simple objectives which will, I hope, draw support from both sides of the House. The provisions in part II are derived from the report on confiscation and forfeiture which was presented to Parliament last September by the Scottish Law Commission. That report recommended the extension of confiscation arrangements to general crime where the offences are prosecuted on indictment or the maximum sentence in summary proceedings exceeds the normal penalties. It also recommended the reform of forfeiture provisions to improve the effectiveness of court forfeiture of the instruments of crime and to clarify the rights of third parties.
The Government moved quickly to present those provisions to Parliament by including them in this Bill. While we accept the main recommendations, minor amendments to the Scottish Law Commission report have been necessary. Some further minor changes may be required.
We have also announced our intention to consolidate Scottish criminal procedure. It is now 20 years since the last major consolidation of criminal procedure legislation. A number of provisions to facilitate that exercise are included in the Bill and we will be bringing forward others. This modernisation and rationalisation of the legislation will, I am sure, be welcomed by all who use our criminal courts.
At the same time the Bill includes, at the suggestion of the Lord Justice- General, arrangements for a new rules council for criminal court proceedings. With similar functions to the existing rules councils for civil court proceedings and a broad-based membership, the new council will provide a structured consultative forum for considering and commenting on proposals for changes to the court rules.
I have outlined thus far the main provisions in the Bill. I should not conclude without referring to three issues on which there has been public debate recently, but which are not included in the Bill presented to the House.
The Bill does not contain any proposals to change the verdicts which may be returned in Scottish courts. We reviewed the three-verdict system very thoroughly. We set
Column 716out the arguments for and against three verdicts impartially, and consulted widely before reaching a decision. The responses to that consultation made it clear that the three-verdict system continues to be valued in Scotland and that, although there are strong views on both sides, there is considerably more support for the retention of the not proven verdict than for its abolition. After full consideration of all the arguments, we concluded that the not proven verdict should remain. The Government's position is therefore based on the clear outcome of consultation with the people of Scotland, and I am sure that the House will take careful note of that.
We also consulted on whether there should be changes to the criteria for the consideration of appeals by the Appeal Court and the way in which alleged miscarriages of justice are handled in Scotland. We had in view the report of the Royal Commission on criminal justice, which recommended changes for England and Wales.
The outcome of our consultation was inconclusive. Many of those who responded felt that the issues were too complex to comment on in detail. We received no evidence that there was any consensus on the way forward in Scotland in that sensitive and complex matter. As a result, I decided to ask Sir Stewart Sutherland, the principal of Edinburgh university, to chair an independent committee to advise on whether any changes were needed to the current criteria for the consideration of appeals by the Appeal Court and to the machinery for handling alleged miscarriages of justice and, if so, what the nature of those changes might be.
The committee has started its task energetically and it has extended a general invitation to interested parties and to members of the public to submit comments. I have asked the committee to report by or before July 1996. If the committee is to give those difficult issues the consideration that they deserve, it will need time to do so. Those who call for an early report from the committee perhaps underestimate the task that it has been set.
I do not believe, therefore, that it would be right to include in the Bill provisions which purport to deal with miscarriages of justice. I intend to await the report of the Sutherland committee before deciding how to proceed.
Mr. Menzies Campbell: As the Secretary of State may be aware, there is some judicial controversy in Scotland as to whether existing provisions allow for the use at appeal of evidence which was not available at the time of the original trial. Indeed, it appears that the illustrious Lord Justice -General, Lord Hope, takes one view and that the equally illustrious Lord Justice Clerk takes another. As the Secretary of State is probably aware, it is proposed to convene a court of five judges to try to deal with the matter. May we take it that the Sutherland committee will take evidence from the two senior judges in Scotland?
Mr. Lang: The hon. and learned Gentleman will understand why the idea of my coming between the Lord Justice-General and Lord Justice Clerk would be to put myself between a rock and a hard place. I will allow the Sutherland committee to consider how best it should proceed in considering that matter, as I am sure that it will wish to do.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): The Secretary of State is aware that the Home Secretary has published a miscarriages review authority Bill for England and Wales. It will mean a mismatch of remedies available to United
Column 717Kingdom citizens regarding miscarriages of justice--one rule for England and Wales and another for Scotland. In the event that the Sutherland committee recommends legislation, will the Government ensure that the matter is given sufficient time in the lifetime of this Parliament?
Mr. Lang: In our legal procedures, perhaps more than in any other matter, we in Scotland should decide upon what is right for Scotland and Scottish circumstances rather than be driven by what is decided upon south of the border. That has certainly always driven our approach in the past. However, I can certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall await with considerable interest the outcome of the Sutherland committee's report before we are able to consider how to react to it.
Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South): Will the Secretary of State confirm that the committee's decision will not interfere with applications for the prerogative of mercy that are currently before him? Of course, the Secretary of State has used his discretion, for which we are very grateful, to look again at the Raymond Gilmour case. There is no need to wait for the committee's decision before that case is considered.
Mr. Lang: Of course, I cannot bind myself or my officials in the context of forthcoming cases, but, in respect of the cases that are before us, I see no reason why that should be the case. I am as keen as the hon. Gentleman to ensure that such cases are considered with all due haste but without prejudicing the interests of justice. Certain amendments addressing various aspects of the interests of victims in the criminal justice process were tabled for consideration in another place. They generated widespread debate, which the Government welcomed.
Let there be no doubt about our commitment to improving the provision of support and information to victims. Our funding next year for the organisation Victim Support (Scotland) will rise by 11 per cent. to £975,000. Local court-based initiatives, such as that at Hamilton sheriff court, are looking at how best to improve victims' understanding of and experience at court. Also, research is under way into the delivery of support services to victims and into exactly what information victims at court need and want. Those projects will inform our decisions as to what further improvements can be made. This Bill will also play an important part by reducing the demands made on victims by court procedures and improving the capacity of the police, the prosecution and the courts to deal quickly and efficiently with crime.
This is a substantial Bill, which aims to make significant improvements in the effectiveness and efficiency with which crime is tackled in Scotland. It builds on the best elements of our distinctive system of Scots law and takes account of the views of those who have participated in the comprehensive review that we have conducted in Scotland over the past two years.
Mr. Dalyell: Have the Government considered what some of us regard as the very unsatisfactory nature of fatal accident inquiries?
Mr. Lang: I do not think that anything in the Bill deals directly with fatal accident inquiries, but that issue could perfectly reasonably be raised in Committee.
Column 718We are fortunate in Scotland in enjoying a criminal justice system which commands widespread respect. Nevertheless, there can be no room for complacency, and none exists among Conservative Members. The public rightly expect justice to be delivered quickly, fairly and efficiently by our criminal justice system. I believe that the Bill, building on the strengths of our distinctive system of criminal justice, will, if enacted, mark a step change in the efficiency and effectiveness of our system. It will play an important part in reducing demands on victims by court procedures, and ensure that the system is more sensitive to their needs. It will help to clamp down on the unnecessary attendance of witnesses in courts, reduce the burden on the police and the public and, more important, allow thousands if not tens of thousands of police days to be spent back on the beat, not idled away in our courtrooms. It will bring in new provisions to tighten up bail procedures and help to tackle offending on bail, which the public rightly abhor.
In contrast, the frivolous and opportunistic approach of the Labour party is reflected in the preposterous amendment. The Bill is one more set of measures that have been developed with care, thoroughness and determination, based on the authoritative reports of four distinguished review bodies to help us to fight crime, deal with the criminal, assist the victim, and improve efficiency, for the benefit of police, witnesses and society generally.
In recent years, we have substantially strengthened the police, increased the funding of law and order maintenance, toughened sentences, and built up crime prevention measures. For three successive years, we have turned back the tide of crime. Now we must make sure that the criminal justice system plays its full part in continuing that battle and in preparing for the needs of the next century. The Bill enables it to do that, and I commend it to the House.
Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton): I beg to move,
That this House declines to give the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill [Lords] a Second Reading because it believes that the Bill is not an acceptable or effective measure to tackle crime because it fails to address adequately levels of crime in Scotland, particularly the rising trends in violent crime, vandalism, robberies and drugs offences, does nothing to address the underlying causes of crime, represents a major assault on the presumption of innocence and the right to silence as well as a tacit shift away from Scotland's present adversarial system of justice to an inquisitorial system, and fails to relieve adequately the pressure on the Scottish court system created by increasing workloads and under-resourcing.
It is staggering how sensitive the Secretary of State is to a reasonably expressed, reasoned amendment. The Secretary of State, perhaps rattled by criticism over the weekend, has decided that the procedure, which is well known in the House, is opposition to the Bill. Our reasoned amendment is as reasoned amendments always have been--a reason for the House of Commons to delay consideration of a Bill until issues identified in the amendment have been addressed and settled. Nothing in the amendment is controversial. Indeed, I am sure that, if they examine it, other Conservative Members-- although precious few are present--will find that it has attractive aspects.
Column 719The Secretary of State, of course, may consider debates such as this as big a burden on the Conservative party as the whole Scottish contingent seems to be.
Mr. Stewart: Will the hon. Gentleman explain why 43 Scottish Labour Members of Parliament are not present?
Mr. Robertson: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that they are not all out on the Pollok estate. The Pollok estate is probably quite safe; they are all out undermining the Government's credibility--which is low enough already--without the aid of any artificial implement. The House greatly regrets the absence of the late hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross--
Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) clearly cannot count. He suggested that only seven Labour Members of Parliament were present; at least 12 are here.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a matter for the Chair. If the hon. Gentleman had been paying attention to his Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), he would probably not have chosen that moment to make a frivolous point of order.
Mr. Robertson: Let me repeat that we regret the absence of our late hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross. He would have brought his distinctive knowledge and experience of Scottish law to our debate, and I venture to suggest that he would have had a few acerbic comments to offer the Secretary of State about some of the Bill's provisions.
Mr. Lang: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whose remarks are much appreciated by Conservative Members.
Mr. Robertson: I thank the Secretary of State, but I do not think that much of what follows will be greeted in the same way. I welcome the fact that the Government have at last introduced a separate Bill to reform the criminal justice system in Scotland. It makes a pleasant change from Ministers' usual practice of tagging Scottish measures on to English Bills. Many of us remember with considerable dissatisfaction the disgraceful way in which the crime of aggravated trespass--an alien concept--was introduced into Scottish law: it was simply added at the end of the Criminal Justice Bill affecting England and Wales.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will forgive me for saying that my colleagues and I look forward to the day when matters such as this will be decided in a Scottish Parliament sitting in Edinburgh, and when Scotland's legal system will at last have its own legislature.
Mr. Stewart: Will the hon. Gentleman be there?
Mr. Robertson: I certainly hope to be. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will be elected to any Parliament at the next general election.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North): I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman a question that is not frivolous, but important and fundamental. If he plans to sit in a Scottish
Column 720Parliament in Edinburgh, will he tell us where he proposes to pay his tax and where it will be deducted for the purposes of that Parliament?
Mr. Robertson: I have said--I will say it no more--that I shall be proud to be a Member of a Scottish Parliament: the Scottish Parliament that we alone will provide for the Scottish people, in accordance with their views. Even given the breadth of the Bill's long title, the details of taxation relating to that Parliament are not relevant to today's debate, but there is a perfectly reasonable answer to be made.
Ministers have spoken at length, in the other place and outside Westminster, about the painstaking consultation that preceded the publication of the Bill. I hope, however, that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State will give an assurance that we shall have adequate time in Committee to debate all aspects of the Bill. It may well be some time before we have a chance to debate such matters again; I hope that we shall do so in a devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, but it is vital for us to get the balance right at this stage.
In the House of Lords, the Minister of State described the Bill as
"the most substantial overhaul of the criminal justice system in Scotland in the last 15 years."--[ Official Report, House of Lords ; 29 November 1994; Vol. 559, c. 545.]
Although the Bill contains some worthy reforms, it hardly amounts to a major assault on crime and its underlying causes. No one would recognise it from the Minister of State's description.
The White Paper "Firm and Fair", which preceded the Bill, said: "This White Paper is a further step in our fight against crime . . . our highest priority is to protect the public from crime and criminals."
Some people in Scotland, sickened and let down by the rise in crime and the consequent fear of crime, will gain some comfort from the Bill, thinking that it may contribute to allaying their distress. They will be deeply disappointed. There will be victims of crime, left scarred emotionally and physically long after a trial and even a sentence, who are looking for hope --people trapped in their houses after dark, afraid to walk the streets or leave their cars unattended in the streets of the Scotland of 1995. They, too, will look today for reassurance and peace of mind and they, too, will be disappointed.
Reform and reorganisation of the Scottish criminal justice system on a piecemeal basis, containing inexplicable, alien and party political attacks on certain basic Scottish characteristics of the system, are no contribution at all to tackling some of the most worrying and depressing features of the way in which crime and criminality affect people in Scotland today.
Of course I welcome the recent drops in recorded crime figures. It must be said, indeed, that it is in the big Labour regions in Scotland that the most progress has been made, and it is there that some projects have had their impact. But is it not strange that when the crime figures are good and progress has been made it is to the Government's credit, while when things go wrong or establishment levels cannot be attained it is all the fault of local authorities? Those of us who observed the success of Operation Blade--pioneered in Strathclyde by a chief constable under a Labour local authority--can have no doubt that a locally accountable police force in an area