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Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): From the day in 1974 when Nicky Fairbairn arrived in the House as the new hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross, and he told us that he was here entirely as a matter of the personal vote that he had got--he scraped in by the thinnest of majorities- -he was a friend of mine. We never had a cross word between us. It has stretched our imaginations that it was entirely a matter of the personal vote that had got him here. We thought that it was less than likely that, in their thousands, Conservatives of Perthshire would have preferred to vote for Nicholas Fairbairn than for Sir Alec Douglas-Home.
Be that as it may, even though our imaginations were stretched to capacity, Nicky Fairbairn did many of us great personal kindnesses. I prefer to remember him not for the funny, the bizarre or the outrageous that have been the subject of many obituaries, but for his willingness to give legal advice in difficult personal cases. Many of my colleagues and contemporaries had to go to him for legal advice. His legal advice was often very sound and with great insight. At least three of my West Lothian constituents have considerable cause to be grateful not to me as their Member of Parliament but to Nicholas Fairbairn for the unstinting, free legal advice that he gave people regardless of party. For that and many other reasons, he will be unforgettable.
I ask the Minister to address the question that was posed by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). Why, on this occasion, is it not thought right to have evidence from, say, the Law Society, the Police Federation, the Glasgow Bar Association and many other bodies? The hon. and learned Gentleman is now the only Scottish lawyer among us--that used not to be the case--and many of us need instruction in such matters. Why have the Minister and the Secretary of State not used the opportunity to put into operation the new procedure by which the Committee--this is not a highly partisan measure--can be better informed on obviously difficult issues? I, for one, if I am selected to sit on the Committee, have no intention of stringing out matters, but there is an argument for some serious questioning, particularly of the police and the Law Society. I ask for a reply.
I ask the House to forgive me for raising a matter which might be considered to be a bit local, but, in Linlithgow and in Ayr, it really is extremely unsatisfactory that defence and prosecution witnesses are mixed up together in unsatisfactory buildings. Incidentally, I say as a local that there may be fire risks in the Linlithgow building. I do not say that lightly, because that is the opinion of lawyers as well as myself. In that case--it can be generalised--I ask that new facilities be provided outside my constituency. Hon. Members normally ask that a certain facility should go to the area that they represent. On this occasion, I am absolutely in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) that it would be much more sensible to concentrate the whole court procedure, lock stock and barrel, near the police in Livingston.
Column 752I know that Ministers will immediately say, "You are asking for more money; where are the resources to come from? You know very well how difficult the whole public expenditure issue is." But they themselves know that I met Jim Keegan, who represents solicitors in the entire Livingston-West Lothian area. Mr. Keegan
suggested--expressing, I gather, the unanimous view of the colleagues on whose behalf he spoke--that there was a case for a new court building in Livingston.
A proposition for the financing of such a building by developers has been advanced. I do not wish to detain the House by giving the details, but the proposition should at least be considered. I understand that it is neutral in public expenditure terms, and would not call on Government finances. In fact, it would save a great deal of money: the developers speak of a distinguished building which, heaven knows, the new town could do with, and which could lessen a problem that bothers everyone, as the debate has shown --the squandering of police time. That could represent a considerable saving. At present, policemen are having to travel from Livingston to Linlithgow--incidentally, 90 per cent. of the difficulties occur in the south of the area, not in Linlithgow--and all that travelling time upsets police schedules.
The Lothian and Borders police F division has a civilised habit of inviting local Members of Parliament to lunch each January to talk over problems. I have discussed with them, in detail, the difficulties of police schedules and time off, and how difficult it is to deal with the fact that policemen may suddenly find that--regardless of their rotas--they must attend court. Hon. Members may not consider such practical problems to be the most momentous issue in the world, but they are extremely costly in practice. If the Minister cannot respond in his winding-up speech, I ask the Government at least to write to me about the specific issue of Livingston, possibly in the general context of the Bill's implications.
The Scottish Trades Union Congress has expressed its views on clause 12. Although its suggested amendment will be raised in Committee, I think it important enough to warrant mention now, so I shall set down a marker. The STUC wishes to insert the following words in the clause:
"In all cases, it shall be the duty of the prosecutor to make available to the accused all material relating to the charge or charges against the accused in the possession of the prosecutor; and such material shall include all statements, reports and productions in the possession of the prosecutor whether he intends to found upon them in the prosecution of the accused or not."
In Scotland, the Crown can conceal evidence that could help to clear an accused person. In a Scottish appeal case heard in May 1990, Lord Cowie said:
"there is no obligation on the Crown to disclose any information in their possession which would tend to exculpate the accused". The Lord Advocate subsequently confirmed that the Crown was under no legal obligation to disclose information to the defence. He stated, however, that
"the overriding principle is that the Crown must always act in the interests of justice . . . The overall aim should be to ensure that the true facts of any case are laid before a judge or jury". In such an important matter, it is essential for there to be clear and binding rules. We cannot depend on that principle.
I did not raise that issue just because the STUC has raised it; it is at the forefront of my mind. A question that I have tabled, which will receive a written answer on Monday 6 March--question 13N--asks the Secretary of State for Scotland
Column 753"what consideration the Crown Office has given to its duty in law to consider and investigate any evidence which tends to exculpate the two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie crime; and if the Crown Office is complying with this legal obligation."
This is not the occasion on which to go into the details of Lockerbie, but I have tabled a number of questions about it.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock Port Glasogw): I have listened to my hon. Friend's views on that issue for many months. I feel that, given that the Minister for Health is to appear before the Scottish Grand Committee in the near future, he should be followed by the Lord Advocate. That would enable my hon. Friend and, indeed, others to ask such questions of him.
Mr. Dalyell: It is extremely desirable for others to ask such questions. We are talking not of a trivial matter, but of the biggest crime against civilians anywhere in the western world since 1945. Its consequences rumble on, affecting major matters of foreign policy in relation to north Africa--let alone the strong views of relatives of the Lockerbie victims. I must tell the Government that those relatives simply will not go away.
When I intervened on the Secretary of State to raise the final issue that I wish to raise in my speech, he told me that if I wanted to ask about the fatal accident inquiry set-up I could do so in Committee. I ask the Government now, however, to consider how such inquiries are viewed by those involved. I think that I have been very naive about the matter for a long time: although there have been constituency complaints, I have always taken the view that the fatal accident inquiry was designed to try to establish the truth. It has come home to me in recent weeks, however, that--in relation to that biggest crime since 1945--whatever else the inquiry was designed to do, it was hardly designed to elicit the truth. In fact, the best that could be said of the lawyers is that they thought it was their job, by hook or by crook, to obtain as much as they could in damages for their clients.
The Government's answers to questions suggest that they think that the fatal accident inquiry was a substitute for the public inquiry promised by Cecil Parkinson, then Secretary of State for Transport, to the British Lockerbie victims--in good faith, in my opinion, but on condition that his colleagues agreed. As we now know, one colleague did not agree. On 15 December, I asked the Prime Minister a question. The whole House laughed when I received no answer; it was a pretty sour, wry laugh, not a ha-ha laugh. I asked, "Why did she do it? Why did Mrs. Thatcher veto her own Transport Secretary?" After all, only one member of that Government was going to tell Cecil Parkinson what to do in relation to his own portfolio.
A question arises in regard to fatal accident inquiries. When a Minister, and only a Minister--a Transport Secretary, or the Prime Minister--is in a position to give certain information, is it right for there to be Speaker's exemption certificates? Only recently has the House become aware of public interest immunity certificates. I asked my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who has vast experience in these matters, whether he had ever heard of a Speaker's exemption certificate. In this context, he had not. Nor had I.
It is a matter of considerable public importance to ask what information was given to the then Speaker, now Lord Weatherill, and to the then Clerk of the House of
Column 754Commons on which to base the decision whether to give a Speaker's exemption certificate. We are getting into very delicate water in relation to fatal accident inquiries.
The dramatically important fatal accident inquiry into Lockerbie raises the deepest questions of ethics on behalf of the counsel, who in this case were paid by the Government. I want to know why Brian Gill reached a stage at which he told Rev. John Mosey, the father of Helga Mosey who perished at Lockerbie, that he would no longer act for him if Mr. Mosey went on asking- -
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. The actions of counsel in an inquiry of the nature to which the hon. Gentleman refers go a little beyond the scope of the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that and return to the Bill.
Mr. Dalyell: It is difficult to ask questions about the actions of counsel, but some of us are profoundly dissatisfied because the matter goes so far as a counsel threatening his client that he will sue him. Dr. Jim Swire is a medical doctor--
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying from the Bill in discussing the actions of counsel. If his comments relate to the general principles of the Bill, the hon. Gentleman's comments are acceptable, but to go into the actions of counsel is straying from the Bill.
Mr. Dalyell: I am always obedient to the Chair, but the matter raises deep questions of the ethics of fatal accident inquiries. I do not want to transgress and go out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I put it to you that the Secretary of State has invited me in the debate on the Bill to raise the issue of fatal accident inquiries. I do not know where else in Commons procedure one does it. The matter is certainly relevant to criminal justice. If people think that fatal accident inquiries are a fiasco geared simply to money rather than to the truth, our criminal justice set-up is in the deepest water. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I see that you are becoming just a little concerned that I am going too far. I give notice that if I am selected to serve on the Committee which considers the Bill, I will raise the whole question of fatal accident inquiries and what happened, as an example, at the major inquiry on Lockerbie. No fatal accident inquiry in Scottish law was more important than the Lockerbie inquiry. All aspects of it, including the extraordinary behaviour of counsel to clients, are a matter of legitimate parliamentary concern.
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr): I, too, commence by making my own tribute to Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. As a new Member of Parliament, it was quite an experience for me to see Sir Nicholas in action in this Chamber and in Committees. One never knew precisely what he was about to say, but one always recognised that he had deep knowledge; that knowledge could have been put to so much better use for people over the years. I am particularly sad at what I consider to be his early demise. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) suggested, he was a kind individual in his own way. He was certainly kind to new Members. Perhaps I knew Sir Nicholas better in the past as someone within my party organisation who came to speak at constituency functions.
Column 755He was always a very popular speaker. His presentation of any case was tremendous; that was proved in the courts as well as in this place.
I apologise for missing the opening speeches in the debate. As the House may know, I am involved with the armed services parliamentary scheme. A project on that was scheduled for today. I regretted that I was not able to change the schedule when the Bill was placed on the Order Paper. I had not expected that debate on the Bill would come up so quickly, given that we are currently debating the Children (Scotland) Bill in Committee. Nevertheless, I welcome this Bill because it shows the Government's commitment to law and order issues and to doing something about a situation that has been unacceptable in recent times.
I ask the hon. Member for Linlithgow to clarify one point. He seemed to suggest that we should have an investigatory sitting at the beginning of the Committee stage similar to the exercise that we have undertaken on the Children (Scotland) Bill. I believe that that does not require a change in the rules. That facility has always existed. I would be surprised if now every new Scottish Bill had to go through that process. It seems to me that organisations such as the Law Society of Scotland will not be slow in coming forward to give advice to all Members of Parliament as we enter the Committee stage. I am sure that all Members of Parliament will welcome any input from it.
Dr. Godman : The hon. Gentleman will surely acknowledge that the Special Standing Committee which considered the Children (Scotland) Bill gained a great deal of useful information from those who gave oral evidence at its sittings in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The hon. Gentleman is right about Special Standing Committees. For example, that quinquennial legislative event, the Armed Forces Bill, by custom and practice is always considered by a Special Standing Committee.
Mr. Gallie: I thank the hon. Gentleman. He is much more experienced than me. I accept his statement that the establishment of a Special Standing Committee is not an unusual practice. I was suggesting that it should not be the practice for every Bill that comes before the House. I query the need for a Special Standing Committee on the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, but I leave that to others. I should have no objection if that line were ultimately adopted.
Mr. Dalyell: May I respond to the direct question which the hon. Gentleman put to me? I offer a carrot to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas- Hamilton). We were both members of the Committee that considered the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill--that absurd and ridiculous measure, which is becoming more ridiculous, expensive and absurd every day. Had evidence been taken from local government officials and other people, the Under- Secretary would have found that the long hours that others and I spent legitimately and properly reading out briefs from them--because we had to-- could have been shortened. If the Government's objective is to spend fewer
Column 756rather than more hours in Committee, it might be wise to have the hearings at the beginning of the Committee stage. That is an attractive carrot, is it not?
Mr. Gallie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that considerable intervention. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State needs any carrots when he deals with the Bill. I am sure that he will have plenty of information stacked up in his head and in the briefings that he has already brought together on the Bill. I turn my attention to the position of the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). Recently, I have welcomed some of his hard words on law and order. It seemed to me that, at long last, someone in the Labour party was coming to terms with the requirement to put law and order at the top of the agenda and, on that basis, I compliment him.
Having said that, however, I am totally disappointed with the Opposition's reasoned amendment, which bears the name of the hon. Member for Dumbarton, among others. I should have thought that he would welcome the Bill with open arms. He might not agree with every item in it, but that is why we have Standing Committees. I am sure that he has always found that the Government have had a responsive ear when he and I have pressed them on certain issues. If the Bill is given a Second Reading and gets to Committee, we will have provided a great opportunity to help people in Scotland, but what have we got from the hon. Gentleman? A negative and inaccurate amendment. The amendment is inaccurate because, as I understand it, there has been an improvement in the crime figures in Scotland during the past year or two. I welcome that improvement and I should have thought that the hon. Member for Dumbarton would do so, too. For example, during the past year recorded crime fell by 8 per cent.--a fall for the second year running--and the clear-up rate increased by 2 per cent. to 34 per cent. Those figures show that the amendment is inaccurate.
Mr. Menzies Campbell: From reading the newspapers at the weekend, I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a particular interest in drug- related crime. Perhaps he will comment on the fact that the figures for the category that includes such crimes went up by 7 per cent., the figures for the category that includes vandalism and fire raising were up by 5 per cent. and those for crimes of violence were up by 2 per cent. in the last year for which statistics are available.
Mr. Gallie: I acknowledge that drug-related offences have increased considerably, which I very much regret, but that problem is not unique to Scotland. It is a part of the scene world wide, it is spreading and we must deal with it urgently in the short term. That does not mean that there has not been an improvement in crime overall and in aspects of crime that concerned us greatly about three years ago, such as house breaking, and in serious violent crime. The Opposition amendment does us great discredit by not acknowledging those improvements. Once again, I must record my disappointment that the hon. Member for Dumbarton has not decided to put his money where his mouth has been by giving the Bill full backing on Second Reading, albeit while accepting that there might be much debate and argument thereafter.
Although there has been an improvement, I do not believe that all is right with the criminal justice system. I ask the hon. Member for Dumbarton to cast his mind back
Column 757to a conference that the Law Society of Scotland set up in Edinburgh just over a year ago. The conference seemed to be self-congratulatory. It included Government spokesmen as well as spokesmen from the bench--there were judges, lawyers, Queen's counsel and advocates, who seemed to believe that all was well with our criminal justice system in Scotland. When one speaks to people in the street, one realises that that is not the case, which brings me back to the reason why we must get the Bill into Committee and get the debate under way urgently.
I applaud a recent survey that suggests that people are more satisfied with solicitors. The other day, a straw poll suggested an 85 per cent. satisfaction level, which is a massive step forward. I congratulate solicitors on achieving such a performance, even though the manner in which the poll was presented and the accuracy of the data beg some scrutiny. The poll shows, however, that the Scottish legal service is getting to grips with some of the issues. Some of the disillusionment might be due to the fact that people feel that the procurator service does not give full value for money. Perhaps that is an unfair judgment. I feel that the service should explain why certain cases are not taken forward. Having had discussions with the Lord Advocate and the legal fraternity, I recognise some of the reasons why the procurator cannot always explain the thinking behind the decision, but I recognise that when that decision has passed into the public domain it leaves questions that may never be answered in the public's mind and give rise to disquiet.
Mr. Bill Walker: My hon. Friend will be aware of the disquiet that always exists about prosecutions. In my constituency recently, there was a case in which burglars were caught red-handed in the act, but were not prosecuted. Naturally, that caused great concern, especially to the people who had apprehended the burglars, at some risk to themselves.
Mr. Gallie: Such a situation brings the law into disrepute. I am sure that my hon. Friend cannot justify to his constituents why that should have happened. He and I know that we cannot obtain that sort of information for our constituents, and I thank him for mentioning that case as it helps me to expand my argument. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will give that matter some thought, although I recognise all the difficulties.
Another difficulty is the perceived inconsistency in sentencing. Some clauses seem to deal with that problem. If we can provide some consistency, through guidance to judges and sheriffs, it will do much to improve the attitude of the public to the criminal law and the criminal justice system in Scotland. It is vital that we keep the public on side. Recently, there was a terrible case in Edinburgh when a man lost his life. It appears that it was taken by other residents in his block of flats. He was a child molester. There had been signs of discontent and it seems that the residents took the law into their own hands. That is what I read in the newspapers, in the Edinburgh Evening News, and that is my judgment from reading the newspaper articles. That is the sort of situation that we must guard against. People need to feel comfortable with the law and feel that it stands for justice. We must ensure that inconsistencies and illogicalities in sentencing do not occur.
Column 758I am especially pleased with the aspects of the Bill that deal with bail. At long last, it seems that the court system will display some sense as far as bail is concerned. I have described instances of people committing four or five offences and being given bail time and time again--in the case to which I refer, held only on remand after the fourth or fifth offence--which brings the law into disrepute and greatly concerns the people at large.
I must register some disquiet about the wording of clause 3, however, which suggests that bail should not be considered if someone has committed an offence while on bail. To commit an offence while on bail suggests that an individual has been proved guilty of that offence. It would be better to change the wording to suggest that, if an individual has been charged with a further offence, rather than has "committed" a further offence, for a second time, he has then offended against bail and, at that point, bail should no longer be allowed.
The Government have introduced many measures to improve matters. Strathclyde police's Operation Blade and the Government support for the Carrying of Knives etc. (Scotland) Act 1993 have helped in recent times. The Government took a great step forward in improving law and order--I take some pride in it--when they gave the prosecutor the right to appeal against perceived lenient sentences. The measure was first promised in our 1992 manifesto and it was commendable that the Government delivered it in 1993.
I am not sure, however, that I agree totally with the legislation on criminal procedure and punishment. I remind my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary that we introduced a measure that allowed anyone sentenced to up to four years in prison to have his or her sentence automatically reduced by 50 per cent.; thus, a four-year sentence became a two-year sentence and a three-year sentence became an 18-month sentence. I do not think that the public signed on to that one. I recall mentioning that problem in Committee, but no one else on the Committee backed me. [Hon. Members:-- "Shame."] It was a shame. I expected better from Opposition Members, but their support was not forthcoming. At that time, I suggested to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that I could have accepted the measure, had the remission been earned. If an individual in prison has behaved well, it may be right to release him or her half way through the sentence, but I did not like the automatic aspect. Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary bear that in mind for the future, even if the matter cannot be dealt with in the Bill?
I am also concerned about juvenile crime, which is creating great havoc, particularly on housing estates where vandalism and under-age drinking are rife. Perhaps those matters could be dealt with in the Children (Scotland) Bill; they certainly do not seem to have been addressed in this Bill. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary may contradict me and say that there is scope to do so in clause 62; if so, I would welcome that.
Another serious omission from the Bill is a measure to combat child alcohol abuse. It is an offence for someone under the age of 18 to buy alcohol, but it is not an offence for a child to obtain alcohol and to drink it at home or in the street. Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary discuss that matter with me later to see whether we can table an amendment to cover that problem? The issue is important to many of my constituents and, I am sure, those of my hon.
Column 759Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson). I am sure that the problem exists also in Dundee, Midlothian and Paisley.
Mr. McMaster: I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the problem of young people drinking in public places. The problem goes back a long way. When I was a councillor, I encouraged an application for a byelaw against that, but each time I ask the Government whether they will do something about it, I am told that local authorities can apply to introduce byelaws. I would prefer the Government to take the action that the hon. Gentleman suggests.
Mr. Gallie: The hon. Gentleman's comments were fair and he gave an honest reading of the current position. The Government have looked to local authorities to use their powers, but many local authorities have failed to take the opportunity to demonstrate to the Government the need to take the matter further and amend the law. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary is listening to me tonight and saying, "By jove, that is a jolly good idea. I shall have a word with my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr later and see what we can do about that."
Mr. Bill Walker: My hon. Friend may be aware that I took up that matter during the passage of an earlier Bill and the Government assured me that any efforts made, for instance, by Perth and Kinross or Angus district councils to introduce byelaws would be looked on favourably.
Mr. Gallie: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was not aware of any arrangements that he had made with the Government. Perhaps he and I can have a chat after the debate and see whether we can find a way to take that matter forward.
Mr. McFall: The hon. Gentleman makes a positive point about drinking and young people. He may be aware that, on Friday, I launched an under-age drinking scheme--the proof of age card scheme--in Dumbarton and, if the hon. Gentleman proposes an amendment on that matter, the Opposition would be delighted to support it. The fact that young people can buy alcohol in supermarkets is a problem, and respectable supermarkets sell drinks like TNT. Cannot we sit down in a positive and constructive way and table amendments to the Bill? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's influence with the Government could bear fruit in this case.
Mr. Gallie: I am not sure whether I have that much influence. None the less, I shall press my hon. Friends to introduce an identity card, which would solve the problem of under-age drinking as well as a range of other problems. Will the Opposition join me in putting pressure
Column 760on my hon. Friends to introduce a compulsory rather than voluntary identity card? If the hon. Gentleman would care to rise and back me on that, I would welcome it.
Mr. McFall indicated dissent .
Mr. Gallie: I am very disappointed in the hon. Gentleman's response. This is an opportunity to achieve what the hon. Gentleman wants, but he stays in his seat and shakes his head. I am disappointed but not surprised.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) discussed the age of consent. I cannot understand how he concluded that there is an overall feeling in the House that we should again reduce the age of consent for consenting males. We voted on that issue not long ago and the motion was negatived. I should have thought that the matter was now over and done with and I do not see why the matter should be injected into the Bill. I acknowledge that it is almost impossible to enforce the law with regard to young boys who carry out such acts behind closed doors. At the same time, it is equally hard through recourse to the law to prevent girls of 14 or 15 from having intercourse. That law is, however, a deterrent and a standard. I do not want standards on the issue to be dropped any further. I should like to think that no one will waste the Committee's time by tabling such an amendment.
I understand that the Bill is also designed to introduce further changes to aggravated trespass. I would like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to clarify current Scottish law relating to that offence. When we passed the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, I understood that the clause relating to aggravated trespass would also affect Scottish law. I would be disappointed to hear that that was not the case. I am currently trying to persuade the chief constable of Strathclyde region to use that law to deal with events arising from the M77 extension. That legal route has been cleared by the Government and by Strathclyde regional council through democratic means. That work is now being held up and people are unable to do their daily jobs and are prevented from carrying out their honest efforts by others who have no right to occupy the site. The law of aggravated trespass could be used against those people. I had thought that it had already been incorporated into our law and I should like some reassurance on that from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I am sure that all hon. Members would like to welcome many of the provisions in the Bill, but I believe that the proposed changes to the intermediate diet procedure are the key ones. The amount of police time wasted in our courts is criminal. We are always shouting for more resources and more police on the streets. The extended use of the intermediate diet procedure will put policemen back on to the streets and it will save time. Those changes will benefit not only police officers but, more important, people with other jobs, who may otherwise be called to court on occasion up to four times, only to learn that the case has not been brought up. That delay means that those people have lost time at work, their employers have lost the use of their resources and everyone has been inconvenienced. That is not good enough. The extended use of the intermediate diet will certainly help to overcome that problem.
The list of welcome items in the Bill is endless. I notice that it is intended to give the courts the power to forfeit assets gained as a result of criminal activity. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell)
Column 761spoke about the drug scene--I believe that forfeiture represents a major means of tackling it. The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs spent considerable time considering the use of that power, for example, in America and the benefits that resulted from it. We called for the legislation governing forfeiture to be strengthened. Our call appears to have been answered by the Bill and I compliment my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on that.
I should like to draw attention to a recent decision by the European Court of Justice challenging the existing legislation on forfeiture, which is applied in the English courts. I understand that the court made that challenge on a technicality, because the English court had acted retrospectively. I appreciate that the European Court of Justice may have acted logically in that case, but I should hate to think that, at some future date, it will have any right to step in and criticise provisions relating to the forfeiture of assets contained in the Bill, once enacted.
I spoke earlier about sentencing inconsistencies. I understand that provision will be made in the Bill to develop sentencing guidelines, which would be most welcome. Other welcome clauses are also designed to attempt, once again, to stem computer pornography. That would be popular with those in Scotland who are extremely concerned for young people. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will also consider legislating against those who make and sell obscene videos. That problem deserves proper scrutiny. Any steps that the Government took to tighten the law on obscenity would be warmly welcomed by the Scottish public.
I am greatly encouraged by the powers offered to the police to stop and search vehicles, which will help in the fight against terrorism. I hope that the need for that fight has diminished greatly, given recent developments in Northern Ireland, but one never knows what will happen. It is therefore worth while for those police powers to be included in the Bill.
The Opposition may cry out about law and order, but I have looked through the reports in Hansard and it is clear that every time there has been a proposal to increase the police's powers to stop and search, the Opposition have voted against it.
Mr. McMaster: The Opposition have always defended civil rights. The hon. Gentleman should recall that when he introduced the Carrying of Knives etc. (Scotland) Bill, we offered support to ensure that, without any loss of civil liberties by the majority, those carrying knives were arrested.
When we talk about civil liberties, we get down to the heart of criminal justice. My idea of civil liberties is that people should be able to live in their homes, free of concern and children should be able to go about the streets without their mothers panicking when they have been out of their sight for more than half an hour. Those are the kind of civil liberties that we must defend.
People should enjoy quality lives by being assured that those people who are prepared to break the law and create misery for others are properly dealt with. I believe that the Bill will certainly do that, which is why I commend it. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, once again, on introducing it so expeditiously.
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Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian): I should like to take this opportunity to add my comments to those of my colleagues about the late Nicky Fairbairn. This is the first opportunity that I have had in the House to say that I considered him a friend.
In the short time that I have been in the House, Nicky Fairbairn helped me and a constituent, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), with extremely useful legal advice. He went out of his way to help us and that is the side of him that I should like to remember. I should also like to remember the entertaining and witty exchanges that we had on some visits together.
I was complimented by Nicky Fairbairn on two occasions. First, he wrote to me and said that I had made a visit to Brussels "tolerable". I do not know what he meant by that. On another occasion, he told me that he was writing a book and that he had written a chapter all about me. I said that if he said anything nice, I would sue him. He appreciated that very much. I shall certainly miss him very dearly, and I am sure that I am voicing the opinion of many hon. Members here. He was a good, very interesting, intelligent and extremely witty person, and above all a very kind person.
I wish to give my, I hope, constructive support to the law and order measure before us. I say to the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), that Opposition Members have a responsibility to be constructive in the debate. I should like improvements to be made in the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman realises that we are not voting against the Bill; on the contrary, we are voting for our amendment.
I have with me, and shall quote from, the Scottish Trades Union Congress document that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow. I agree with what it says, and it is constructive, in my opinion:
"The contents of the Bill will not improve the delivery of justice in Scotland. Certain important matters have been ignored such as the underfunding of the Procurators Fiscal Service in Scotland, the need to balance the scales of justice so that the defence as well as the prosecution can properly prepare its case and that victims should have enforceable rights.
Additionally, the cumulative effect of the Bill is `. . . expected to be broadly cost neutral with the possibility of some overall net savings in the longer term.' The watchers of and the practitioners in the criminal justice system agree that more money is required to prosecute cases. Any reform which ignores this fundamental problem cannot be successful.
Some clauses place an additional burden on the over-stretched Procurators Fiscal Service. Clause 10 which further limits the right to silence, imposes a duty on the prosecutor to investigate `to such extent as is reasonably practicable, of any ostensible defence disclosed in the course of the examination'. On the surface this may seem to compensate for the attack on the right to silence but as the Procurators Fiscal Office is so over-stretched, any investigation of an `ostensible defence' may be minimal."
When we talk to our friends in the police force, we find that one of the most damning things about the behaviour of the procurator fiscal--I hope that the Minister is listening to me--is the dropping of cases. The police go to the lengths of devoting hours, days sometimes, even weeks, to sorting out a case, assembling the evidence and finding witnesses, and hand in the papers to the procurator fiscal's office, only to discover that the case has been dropped, with no reason given, logical or otherwise.
Column 763Sometimes there are many months of delay between the time when the papers are given to the procurator fiscal and the time when the case is dropped. Witnesses and even victims are sometimes not even informed that the case has been dropped. Justice is ignored in those circumstances. Police time is wasted, and the opinion of the police is obviously ignored, from senior level down to the constable or the person who made the arrest. That problem is part and parcel of the problem of the procurator fiscal service being overloaded and undermanned.
Justice falls victim to another practice--plea bargaining. Plea bargaining obviously means that the person concerned can pick and choose the charges that he agrees he has committed. That is done for the sake of an easy way out and for simplicity, to ensure some movement and to get rid of a problem in the procurator fiscal service, in the opinion of others. Is that justice? Is that the way to deal with it?
What is the result? Morale is low among the police and others involved. Witnesses are amazed. They cannot and do not know what has happened, and the result is cynicism. The question even occurs to them: why try? The reason for that problem boils down to undermanning and underfunding.
I cannot understand why, when decisions are taken in the Crown Office, it need explain to no one, not even to a Member of Parliament--and I have tried. I have written to ask why the Crown Office reached a certain conclusion and why it dropped a case or made a comment, and I have received no explanation. The Crown Office merely quotes the legislation, which provides that it does not need to reply.
I know that the referees in the Scottish Football Association have a great deal of explaining to do because, especially when my team is playing, I do not know what they are doing half the time, and I do not know that they know what they are doing half the time, but I know that they are certainly biased against me.
Mr. Clarke: Yes, every time. The referees are all oriented towards Glasgow teams. I know that. Everyone knows that in Scotland. Seriously, I am talking about a different matter. I am talking about people making decisions or deciding not to follow through a case, and saying confidently, "We need explain to no one." I thought, innocently or ignorantly, in my official position as a Member of Parliament, that I could get answers to my questions from the Crown Office, but I asked to no avail.
Mr. McMaster: Does my hon. Friend believe that at least part of the reason for that might be that the Lord Advocate is a Member of the other place and the Solicitor-General is a Member of neither House? In the Scottish Grand Committee, we have been told that although we can question the Minister of State, we cannot question the Law Officers. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) points at
Column 764the Minister. There is a very important difference between a Minister and a Law Officer. That is why we should be able to question the Law Officers.
I agree broadly with my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster). I hope that the Minister, because I hope that he has faith in the Scottish Opposition's work, will try to negotiate innovations in the Grand Committee so that we may have the opportunity of bringing those officers before us, and in a friendly manner grill them in the usual way.