Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Graham: My hon. Friend should be aware that several Members of Parliament in Scotland have written to the Lord Advocate about serious matters that constituents have drawn to their attention, especially in relation to some cases that have gone ahead and others that have not gone ahead. The replies that we have received are so cryptic as to be meaningless. They are basically telling us, "Keep out of our business; that is the end of it; no more." I find it appalling that Members of Parliament do not receive a full explanation.

Mr. Clarke: I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that the Minister takes notice of that, because there is a genuine, sincere feeling among many people who are law officers that no reasonable or even logical explanation is given of why those cases are dropped.

Mr. Gallie: I think that the difficulty goes deeper than the argument that was made by the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster).

Every Member of the House can make representations to the Lord Advocate, and I would suggest that each Member who has those anxieties should do so and have a conversation with the Lord Advocate about the matter. If one were to release details of every case that was not brought to law, it would bring into question the actions of both the perhaps guilty and the not guilty--the innocent victims. It would set a precedent that could well rebound against many other people.

I have the same unease as the hon. Gentleman; I made those arguments in my speech, but there is a balance to be found somewhere and it is not as simple as the hon. Member for Paisley, South suggested.

Mr. Clarke: I accept that it is not a simple position. I have carried out the wishes of the hon. Gentleman and written to the highest officer in the courts in Scotland, but to no avail. I received an explanation, but it was not satisfactory. I am sure that I am voicing the opinion of the majority of hon. Members present. I am not saying that there should be open house and that, on each occasion, we should be told. But it is not right for Law Officers to say merely that it is the law, that is as far as they are prepared to go and they are not accountable to anyone. I do not know whether they are accountable to Ministers--I suppose that they are in a roundabout way, and give them a nod and a wink.

Column 765

The hon. Member for Ayr mentioned juvenile crime. I am amazed that someone should come to the conclusion that unemployment and poverty equals crime. I have known that all my life. I think that, even without an inquiry, all Opposition Members know that such circumstances obviously bring an increase in crime. If those circumstances are combined with drug addiction--the hon. Gentleman is aware that we investigated that problem in Scotland through the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs--it creates a hopeless situation. In addition, there are the problems of homelessness, inadequate jobs and an inadequate future. In such circumstances, people drown their sorrows in drugs and drink.

Scotland is no different from anywhere else. I liked the comment of the hon. Member for Ayr that it was a worldwide affair. Of course, it is, but we are not in the United Nations, but in the United Kingdom Parliament at Westminster. We are looking after the interests of the people in Scotland and debating that subject. We cannot hide behind the crime statistics of other parts of the world. The problem is on our doorstep and we do not need to go to the United States, although it was useful to study the problems there and in Holland. When we talk about crime and justice, we must also talk about the environment of those whom we represent, particularly in Scotland. Without adequate housing or jobs or an improved environment, we cannot expect anything other than an increase in crime.

I want a police force that is adequately manned, and given the right equipment and opportunities. But there is an alternative to gaol. There has been no mention of a halfway-house system and greater supervision of petty offenders. Many people who are in gaol should not be there and could be in a halfway house where they could be supervised. Many prisoners are mentally ill and should not be in gaol. The people who run such institutions tell us that. We have an inadequate social service in our communities.

Mr. Gallie: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the mentally ill. Is it not the case that the Bill contains a clause to address that issue? That is another reason why the hon. Gentleman should join us in the Lobby tonight and stand wholeheartedly behind the Bill.

Mr. Clarke: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, but I think that he misunderstands what I am saying. The Bill contains clauses about people who are declared criminally insane. I am talking about people who, due to inadequacies in the system, commit petty crimes and wander the streets, due to the so-called policy of bringing people into the community, without supervision and back-up. The hon. Gentleman should not shake his head--he should go to the prisons and ask how many prisoners are mentally ill. He will be told that, on average, up to one third of prisoners are mentally ill. I am talking not about those who are criminally violent, but about those who are utterly confused, and who should not be in such an institution, but in another one. We would help the authorities by looking after those people properly. That is just one aspect of our criminal justice system.

We cannot ignore the social consequences of our criminal justice system and say that we must have a good criminal justice Bill. I should like harder sentences for some offenders. We must analyse the background and the position. It is easy to judge people from afar. The worst

Column 766

judges are those who are not even present in court, but who comment on specific items. A case may take three or four days, but a decision on whether a person is guilty or not guilty may take five minutes. The Bill partly achieves what we want, but we also want amendments and improvements which, I hope, will be constructive. I hope that we can achieve something of which we can be proud. The Bill contains many anomalies, which have been stated not only by me, but by those involved in the justice system on a daily basis.

We cannot expect the procurator fiscal service to deal with people equally or fairly if it has inadequate funding and is inadequately manned. We only waste police time by presenting the procurator fiscal service with cases that it has to push to one side because it does not have the time to deal with them. The morale of the police, of others handling the cases and of those who are prepared to act as witnesses leaves much to be desired. I hope that, even if the Minister takes none of my other points on board, he will address that one.

8.26 pm

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow): I offer my apologies to right hon. and hon. Members for not being present earlier in the debate. My wife was taken ill, and she and I had to spend four hours at Bart's hospital this afternoon. I believe that the message was given to the Minister earlier and to my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench.

Although I paid tribute to Nicky Fairbairn in Friday's European debate, it would be remiss of me not to mention him in my first Scottish debate since his tragically early death. I echo the fine tributes paid to him and add that he always treated me in an extremely civilised and friendly way, even when diametrically opposing my views.

The aim of the legislation is to put more criminals behind bars. I have no objection to that objective provided that such people are convicted in fair and open court proceedings. I disagree with the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie)--the Bill should be consigned to a Special Standing Committee. Not all our Bills should go to such a Special Standing Committee, but it seems likely that, at most, only two members of the Standing Committee considering the Bill will be lawyers: the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), and the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). I shall not be on the Committee, but I think that those without legal training could benefit enormously from being able to cross-examine witnesses at the four sittings of a Special Standing Committee.

Mr. Gallie: I am thinking back on my limited time as a Member of Parliament and to my knowledge that the Committee considering the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill contained no accountants--

Mr. McMaster: Or bankrupts.

Mr. Gallie: There were neither bankrupts nor accountants nor insolvency practitioners, but we still managed to debate the Bill for many hours and to obtain advice from elsewhere. It was the same with criminal proceedings and punishment--although perhaps we could

Column 767

have done with some help in that area. I do not think that we should open the floodgates and automatically consign every Bill to a Special Standing Committee.

Dr. Godman: Despite the brilliant intervention by the hon. Member for Ayr, I still disagree. We do not have a Scottish Law Officer--the last one was Mr. Peter Fraser from south Angus, who departed this place in 1987. That is to be regretted in the context of all kinds of legislation that must be scrutinised. I hope that the Minister will agree with my suggestion that the Scottish Grand Committee be given the opportunity to cross-examine the Lord Advocate on a wide range of measures relating to Scottish courts and our legal system. Lord Fraser is to appear before the Committee, so why should not the premier Law Officer from the other place do likewise?

Those who are convicted in the sheriff court or the High Court of violent crimes against the individual should receive condign punishment. I have said that often in this place and during the meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee. Many years ago I served as a military policeman and I saw at first hand the shocking injuries that were inflicted on defenceless women, youngsters and others innocently going about their business.

More recently, as a member of a local prison committee I often interviewed prisoners who were being assessed for release under licence and I felt that some of them had received light sentences in the sheriff court or the High Court. At Saughton in Edinburgh I was regarded by other committee members as something of a hard man because I frequently recommended that the people whom I interviewed should remain in prison for a considerably longer time.

I remember interviewing, over a period of three months, two men who were members of a much bigger gang which ran explosives to Northern Ireland for an extremist group. Thanks to very fine police work, they were caught but I believe that they did not receive sufficient punishment for the dreadful crimes that they were aiding and abetting by running explosives and weaponry to Northern Ireland.

I have no doubt that many of my constituents will welcome the Bill's measures because they are deeply concerned about the violent crimes that have been committed locally. I recently spoke with a fellow ex-shipwright who is now in his seventies. He was known locally as a hard man in his younger days, but he told me that he did not like to go out at night because of the violent characters who roamed around and with whom he could no longer contend. Many elderly people turn up early to my surgeries, which start at 4 pm on Friday, so that they can be safe and secure at home before dark. That is a disgraceful state of affairs.

I refer the Minister to a case which was reported last week in the Greenock Telegraph under the headline "Sex fiend sent to Carstairs". Last August a young man abducted two women in the car park of the Tesco supermarket in Greenock and forced them to drive him to a wooded area near Kilmacolm where he subjected them to an unspeakable ordeal. My young violent constituent was sent to Carstairs. Last Thursday, Lord Ross, the Lord Justice-General, said that he was satisfied that

"grounds had been made for a hospital order without time limit".

Column 768

In the context of the Bill and extant legislation, I ask the Minister: when such a person is consigned to Carstairs, can he be released within a relatively short time if the appropriate medical practitioners deem that he is sane enough to take his place in the community? What does the phrase "without time limit" mean? The act of violence that I have described frightened many of my female constituents of all ages. Is Lord Ross accurate when he says that the sentence is "without time limit" or, following detailed examinations of the young man in three or four years, could three consultant psychiatrists recommend to the Secretary of State that he be released? I believe that a person convicted of crimes of that nature must receive condign punishment. I sometimes despair of our sheriffs and judges who allow people off lightly and I wonder whether the legislation will tighten up the system.

I have not forgotten the case of the young marine in Arbroath who killed his wife and child--the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) will know the details of that case better than I do. Following a trial in the High Court, that young man was released and, when he tried to emigrate to Canada, the Canadian authorities, quite rightly, denied him entry.

Important measures must be taken to deal with bail, but I believe that clauses 1 to 5 should be scrutinised rigorously in Committee. Too many people commit further crimes while on bail and we must tighten up the provisions in that area. If I were a member of the Standing Committee examining the Bill--I hope to escape such service--I would look at that aspect very closely.

The Bill deals sensibly with juries, but I have some reservations--I must be careful about what I say as I recently escaped jury duty on the ground that I am a Member of Parliament. I believe that juries should comprise 15 good men and women.

Clause 15, which refers to the delay in trial proceedings, makes sense. I wonder whether there is a chance to extend that provision to the Republic of Ireland, although I suppose that that would require some international agreement. It constitutes a bolthole for some people and I imagine that it did not feature in the negotiations surrounding the framework document.

I thought initially that some radical measures would be introduced on the protection of complainers in rape cases. However, the legislation refers to "clandestine injuries". Clause 24 states: "Clause 24 adds clandestine injury and offences under 2B, 2C and 7 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 1976 to the sexual offences which attract special restrictions on questioning as to the sexual history or character of a witness".

That phrase is a little high flown--or, as I would say, a little fly blown. As the Minister knows, I have worked to improve the protection given to complainers in rape cases. There is still a good deal of trawling through a woman's sexual history, but perhaps the Minister will repudiate that statement when he speaks. I am deeply disappointed that the Government obdurately refuse to give complainers in rape cases more protection.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan): Does my hon. Friend agree that clause 28 is the most important part of the Bill? Whoever drafted the Bill cleverly sought two approaches, because clauses 10 and 28 go together. It is probably hoped that clause 10 will be accepted while clause 28 is rejected, but they are really the same. Lawyers are used because their clients feel themselves to

Column 769

be inarticulate and would be better represented by a legal mind. That is one reason why both clauses 10 and 28 should remain.

Dr. Godman: If my hon. Friend is fortunate to serve as a member of the Committee, he may find it worth while to read the excellent speech of Lord McCluskey in the other place who made interesting observations about those clauses.

I have long argued that complainers in rape cases should be treated as vulnerable witnesses. I say that despite the publicity that attached to a rape case in England that ended last week. Women are subjected to offensive questioning in the witness box. The threat of criminal proceedings deters many women from making a complaint. We do not know how many rapes are committed each year in Scotland or elsewhere.

I readily concede that advances have been made by the courts and police. Strathclyde and other forces have family units, where rape victims are treated a damned sight more sympathetically than in the days when they were left in the clutches of some insensitive police surgeons. Nevertheless, much more could be done.

Some years ago, I tabled in Committee a new clause to a Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill. Had it been accepted, it would have put a stop to all trawling through a complainer's sexual history. A curious combination of Nicky Fairbairn and the then Solicitor-General, Mr. Peter Fraser, demolished my case, to the satisfaction of Conservative Members.

The concept of a vulnerable witness should extend further than children. I know that the Minister, who paid me a compliment not so long ago, played a part in the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993, which give enhanced protection to child witnesses in sexual and child abuse cases. Section 34 concerns the use of screens to conceal the witness-- which, to be honest, is not very effective in most courts. Section 33(1) introduced a commissioner to take the evidence of the child. I offer my respects and compliments to the Minister for that radical measure. I would like such protection to extend beyond youngsters caught up in terrible circumstances. Why do the Government continue to refuse similar protection to people with learning disabilities? I regularly visit a centre in my constituency, but some of the young fellows there cannot face meeting strangers and will hide when someone enters the room--especially if he has a deep voice like mine. Such cases are rare, but a witness with learning difficulties should be given the same protection as a youngster who has been sexually or physically abused or criminally neglected.

Mr. McFall: Under clause 10, an individual would have to undergo judicial examination 24 to 48 hours after an offence. He or she may ask a lawyer for advice, but the lawyer cannot make representations. Would not that mitigate against a fair trial for individuals with special needs?

Dr. Godman: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intelligent intervention. I sound like my hon. Friend--a deputy head teacher. Clause 10 should be amended in that respect. I would like a new clause, or clause 24 extended to broaden the concept of a vulnerable witness to women

Column 770

complainers in rape cases and to men and women with learning disabilities. They too should be spared the ordeal of giving evidence in open court.

In the next hour or so, by a process of osmosis, the Minister will tell me that few such cases go to court. I do not care if the number is only two or three youngsters over three or four years--they should be protected.

I want the Minister to give an assurance that while this Government remain in office, which I pray will not be long, the status quo on the anonymity of the complainer and the identification of the accused will remain in rape and other sexual assault cases. I just paid the Minister a tribute--de mortuis nihil nisi bonum. I recall Nicky Fairbairn making outrageous statements on the question of anonymity. The Bill concentrates--some say rightly and properly--on prosecuting criminals, but seems to ignore the interests and needs of victims and witnesses. I have a question for the Minister on clause 50. I apologise if the Secretary of State touched on this matter in my absence. From where are members of the rules council to be drawn? Are they all to be members of the legal establishment, or will there be lay persons on the council?

I have a final word to say about the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses. About 10 days ago the Minister announced, in a written answer, the installation of closed circuit television systems in a court in each of the sheriffdoms. Will he confirm that the CCTV being installed in the-- recently renovated but still leaking--sheriff court in Greenock is a permanent fixture? Local opinion has it that it will be removed as soon as the Paisley sheriff court has been renovated. There may be some disagreement about this with my hon. Friends the Members for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) and for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster), but I am doing a bit of special plea bargaining with the Minister. My hon. Friends can always put in similar facilities at Paisley--

Mr. McMaster: That is a deal.

Dr. Godman: Yes, but I am looking for a deal with the Minister--with respect to my old and hon. Friend.

It would seem a shame to pull out this sort of facility once it has been installed. Even if CCTV were installed in a court in each sheriffdom, there would still be far fewer such systems in our courts than south of the border. I believe that nearly 60 English Crown courts now have such facilities: we have very few. There could easily be one in Greenock and one in Paisley--but I am just trying to stay friends with my two hon. Friends.

All these issues are close to my heart. I hope that my old and hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) is listening when I say that I do not anticipate serving on the Standing Committee. Still, I think that the Bill needs detailed, rigorous scrutiny. It certainly needs to be amended-- for instance, along the lines I have suggested for the victims of crime.

I have looked at the television system in sheriff court No. 5 in Glasgow, and I think that it works exceedingly well for everyone in the room-- although I hope never to be in the dock. It certainly works well for the jury, the sheriff and the judge. Certain witnesses, however, who have to relive the ordeal, say, of a vicious rape, such as my two constituents suffered last August on the Old Kilmacolm road, and who are denied such protection--all

Column 771

except child witnesses--should be given anonymity and a great deal more protection. The Bill needs to be changed to reflect the interests of such people.

8.53 pm

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South): Like all who have spoken in the debate I want to put on record a tribute to the late Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, who was a person no one in the House could miss. All the obituaries that I have read refer to his great range of skills and talents. He was prominent in legal circles in Scotland before he came here. Once here, he was known for his political abilities, which were always seen at their best when he turned on his own side. He was also well known as an artist, and I know from conversations with him that he always described himself, too, as a landscape gardener. Before coming here I was a senior lecturer in horticulture, and I can vouch for the fact that Sir Nicholas was a knowledgeable gardener. This place will be less colourful without him.

I have waited with great enthusiasm to take part in this debate, and I must thank my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke), our Scottish Whip, for giving me so much encouragement to say a few words. I shall therefore say all that I need to say tonight, and leave service on the Committee to others who have not yet had a chance to speak. I apologise in advance for not being able to stay for the wind-ups, owing to other duties not too dissimilar from this one.

All hon. Members who have spoken so far have referred to plea bargaining and the need to organise it better. We all know that there will always be an element of plea bargaining in the courts. The problem at the moment is that all those participating in a case are told to turn up at 9.45 am, then to wait a few hours and go for lunch, and then they are told that the case will not be heard that day because of plea bargaining. Some of the witnesses may be police officers, and as the police tend not to take deployed officers away from their usual duties, police witnesses are often paid for court appearances out of overtime budgets. That means that money that could be spent on all sorts of valuable police work is lost because of time wasted in court.

In Paisley, Divisional Commander Michael Currie and the local procurator fiscal some time ago developed an informal system of informing the police as early as possible if it was likely that an officer would not be required. Of course, officers have to be on standby, but at least they can be doing other work. The latest estimates show that as much as a third of the police overtime budget is spent in this way. It is also a waste of time for witnesses who have taken time off from other duties to appear in court. This is not a new interest on my part. As long ago as May 1992 I wrote to the Secretary of State about it--and to the Comptroller and Auditor General. As a matter of courtesy I sent a copy to the Scottish Office. I received a reply from Lord Fraser, dated 7 July 1992. In it, he told me that much of my analysis was "facile and unenlightening", and went on to give me all the reasons why legislation of the type that now appears in this Bill could not be put through the House of Commons. I am therefore glad to see that the noble Lord Fraser has since reconsidered--perhaps because the Comptroller and

Column 772

Auditor General commented on the resources wasted in this way. I hope that some sensible arrangements can now be put in place. The poor layout of courts and a lack of facilities can lead to witnesses on both sides of a case being in the same room at the same time. That can lead to intimidation. The problem is not confined to serious trials; there can be problems in what the courts would regard as routine trials. For example, anti-social behaviour involving neighbours may find itself in court. Those involved will leave the courtroom and then have to live close to one another. The problem will be exacerbated within the community for some time if there is any prospect of intimidation.

I hope that something can be done to ensure that more information and advice is given to victims, and especially the families of victims. A case in my constituency became prominent and many people will remember it well. A young man called Holmes was murdered outside a disco in Paisley. The culmination of events played a part in the introduction and enactment of legislation on knives.

The case went to court, where it was decided that the accused could not be found guilty of the charge. The Holmes family says that it has lost a son and that no one has been punished for the crime. I accept that the issue must be left to the courts. I would not wish to become involved in the detail of the case. The problems surrounding the case became exacerbated, however, because before, during and after the trial the family was provided with little information. When it was provided with information, including meetings with the procurator fiscal, it was inadequate. On one or two occasions, it was inaccurate. That causes great concern. I know that there is a group in Strathclyde that is involved with the families of murder victims and is pushing the case for more information.

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) made some important points about miscarriages of justice. The Secretary of State referred to these miscarriages in his opening remarks. He told us that he has set up a committee, which has not yet reported. He explained that he wishes to wait for the committee's conclusions before he makes any legislative suggestions. We understand the reasons for that.

The Secretary of State has recognised that there are miscarriages of justice by accepting an application on behalf of one of my constituents, Raymond Gilmour, for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy. There is evidence in the case--arguably and technically it is not new evidence--that was not available to the defence when the trial took place. Accordingly, it was not led in court. I do not want to prejudge the Secretary of State's involvement in the matter. I merely say that my constituents are grateful that the application was accepted. Obviously the family is anxious that there should be a decision as quickly as possible, but not at the price of an investigation that is not thorough. We must stand back and leave the Secretary of State to exercise his judgment. He must decide how thoroughly the issues must be investigated before he can come to a conclusion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian talked about the offices of procurators fiscal. He made a strong case that these offices are sometimes overworked. I go along with that to some extent. We must be careful, however, to ensure that overwork is not used as an excuse for a macho approach or, in some instances,

Column 773

incompetence. Those approaches can obviously be found in busy offices but they are to be found also in relatively quiet offices. I took up the case of procurators fiscal offices in 1992. In a series of cases at Paisley, blunders resulted in alleged drug dealers walking out of court on technicalities. There were instances of writs being served too late or wrongly dated. On occasions they were wrongly dated to be served on a Saturday or Sunday, when the offices of the procurators fiscal were not open. Such errors do not engender great confidence. When they occur and accused persons walk out of court, there is resentment. Those who are dealt with more severely feel that they have been treated unfairly and differently from those whom they perceive to be guilty but who walk free. We are reminded of the hackneyed phrase that not only should justice be done, but be seen to be done. We should ensure that everybody in the courts is dealt with in the same fashion.

I have asked a series of questions on this issue--I asked some as recently as Friday--because I am concerned about when the procurator fiscal decides to refer a case to the Crown for decision. I asked in what circumstances such a referral would occur and, quite honestly, the answers that I have received so far have been unsatisfactory. We need more openness in the Crown office and the procurator fiscal service.

The Bill must be seen in the context of the causes of crime because crime is related to hopelessness. That is not to say that all crimes are related to hopelessness, but hopelessness certainly creates more chance of crime. Every unemployed person is not necessarily a criminal--of course that is not so--but there is a direct link between crime and people, especially young people, who feel that there is no hope for the future.

In that context, the Government are putting forward the Bill as a means of dealing with crime while, at the same time, they are implementing massive and savage cuts in Strathclyde regional council and elsewhere. Cuts in the community education budget and in all sorts of community facilities will inevitably lead to young people having nowhere to go and nothing to do, which is precisely what leads them into crime. I appeal to the Minister to see the matter in context.

Dr. Godman: With regard to the relationship between unemployment and crime, does my hon. Friend agree that many minor offences are committed by unemployed youngsters and that, if they were in work, with all the disciplines that work would impose, they would not commit such minor offences?

Mr. McMaster: I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The general demise of the apprenticeship scheme, which put young people in a work situation and taught them discipline, is also disadvantageous.

Mr. Gallie: Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that many of the crimes to which he has referred, such as vandalism, house-breaking and other crimes are, in fact, committed by 14 and 15-year-olds and that those youngsters have an excellent education system to utilise? Why should they be of the same brand as that suggested by the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. McMaster: Young people of 14 and 15 want to be educated for something. They see 17 and 18-year-olds coming out of education to poverty, hopelessness and

Column 774

unemployment, and it does not motivate them. Young people should be given hope for the future. That would do a great deal of good. We have heard a lot about various types of drugs. In my constituency, the drugs that concern me most are jellies: temazepam. They are meant to be prescribed, yet, not only are young people swallowing them, but they are heating them up and injecting them. Some have had their limbs amputated as a result. Action could be taken swiftly if the Government were to repeat what they did a couple of years ago, which certainly helped for a short time. The Secretary of State should give guidance to every health board and tell every general practitioner in Scotland that temazepam should not be prescribed when there is any other reasonable alternative. 9.8 pm

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): We have had a worthwhile debate in which we have heard many good speeches from hon. Members of all parties. I shall begin by paying my tribute to the late Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. I took the post of shadow home affairs spokesperson without being a lawyer or having expertise, but from the first day Sir Nicholas Fairbairn was very kind and helpful in his remarks. Not once, in a professional way, did he try to take us down. That is clear from the record in Hansard . He did take people down on occasion and they felt the sharp edge of his tongue. However, when he realised that there were serious aspects and that people were trying to apply themselves and to learn, he was one of the most sensitive individuals in that regard--

Mr. Foulkes: That was before all the postcards started to arrive.

Mr. McFall: I was about to say "bundle", which is quite appropriate.

The Bill is a bundle of procedural reforms. If it were not for the Law Commission's report being implemented, it would be very thin indeed. The Bill lacks a strategic overview and coherence. It emerges from five consultation papers which the Government entitled "Improving the Delivery of Justice in Scotland". The topics covered were evidence and procedure, criminal legal aid, juries and verdicts and sentencing and appeals. Those four topics were preceded by the White Paper, "Firm and Fair".

Do those topics add up to a Runciman commission, which was a critical analysis of the Royal Commission on justice in respect of England and Wales? I do not believe that they do. Scotland has been short-changed in that respect.

Since the Government came to power, there have been 14 Acts of Parliament for Scotland. They started with the Bail etc. (Scotland) Act 1980 and the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 and they carry through to this Bill. However, those Acts did not follow a logical and progressive path. As a result, they do not point the way forward in terms of an approach that is coherent, efficient and effective for the criminal justice system in Scotland.

For example, there is no presage of the criminal courts rules council in the Bill. That provision simply appeared on Report in the House of Lords. If that is such an important element, why was it not in the Bill from the beginning? It seems that the Government are still developing their ideas and that they do not have a coherent whole yet.

Column 775

The Bill refers to many measures such as enhancing the intermediate trial diet. However, that is already operational. If my memory serves me correctly, it was recommended by the Lord Justice-General as long ago as 1982, but it was not working properly. I believe that about 12 courts are operating intermediate trial diets today. Will the Minister tell us precisely how many courts are operating that system and how effective they are? Have the Government undertaken a review of the effectiveness of the intermediate trial diet?

The Secretary of State said that a consolidation Act will follow the Bill. That is welcome, but it must be comprehensive. Will we find ourselves some way down the line with yet another criminal justice Bill, as a result of the piecemeal approach, and yet another consolidation Bill? I remember that the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 had to be revised. Some of the revision took place in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Hon. Members have already referred to judicial examination, the diminishing of the right to silence and the prosecutor's right to comment. Clause 10 relates to judicial examination whereby an accused person is taken before the court at a very early stage in the proceedings, before he even knows the case against him. He will have a copy of the complaint, indictment or petition, but he is then in many ways forced to explain his case. Within 24 hours of being arrested, an individual may be brought before a sheriff to be questioned by a prosecutor. He has a right to consult a solicitor before answering detailed questions about where he was, what he did, and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) referred to individuals with special learning needs. Such individuals might find themselves being pressured by professional people. That further undermines the right to silence. The official Opposition will press the Government on that matter in Committee.

Under such judicial examination, there cannot be many people who are capable of rational thought 24 or 48 hours after a trauma. The general public will view clause 10 as an attempt to make the accused confess. I shall press the Minister on that matter in Committee. I am concerned also about clause 28, which relates to a prosecutor's right to comment. How far will a prosecutor be allowed to go? What control will be exercised? A prosecutor's forensic abilities may be put into play, and without any restrictions or guidelines being set, he or she can not only intimidate a witness but, in the process, make sure that the prosecution case is won by default. It is a two-way process. I ask the Minister to consider it and to give us some written guidelines. If, in going over the top, he destroys the prosecution case, that is not good for justice, either. Clause 29 is worth consideration in Committee. It has a certain plea-bargaining element to it, but perhaps it is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It states:

"In determining what sentence to pass on . . . an offender who has pled guilty to an offence, a court may take into account-- (a) the stage in the proceedings . . . at which the offender indicated his intention to plead guilty".

Column 776

Is not there a chance that an offender will say, "If I plead guilty early, perhaps I will get away with it and get the problem settled very quickly"? There will turn out to be a plea-bargaining element. That matter is worth further consideration in Committee.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have mentioned miscarriages of justice. We welcome the establishment of the Sutherland committee, but we deplore the fact that it will not report until July 1996. We must compare that with the Runciman report in England and Wales. As I mentioned when I intervened on the Secretary of State, the Home Secretary has already announced a miscarriages review authority Bill. Citizens of Scotland will be subject to a different regime from that in England and Wales. Citizens of Scotland will have their right to silence diminished, as a result of the changes, when they appear at court and at judicial examination. Citizens of England and Wales will also have the right to silence removed, but they will have recourse to a miscarriage of justice review body, and Scotland will not. The mismatch of remedies available to citizens of the United Kingdom does nothing for the provision of justice in Scotland.

I ask the Minister to guarantee that, in the event of the Sutherland committee recommending legislation, the Government will give sufficient time to the matter in the lifetime of this Parliament. We need an unequivocal answer from the Minister. This matter is not just an aspect of the legal system. We are talking about a higher level; innocent people's lives are threatened. It is important to turn our attention to that matter.

One of the most ingenious comments in the Bill is that it will be financially neutral. It is hard to guess what the final financial element will be. Civil servants have already studied it. They have tabled plus and minus merits and demerits of aspects of the changes, so there must be a quantitative element. If the Government are not forthcoming with that information, we must ask whether they consider that change is worth while only if the cost is neutral. The calculations on which such expressions are based should be shown. Lord McCluskey in the other place referred to cloud cuckoo land. How can we introduce extra bail duties, which we are happy to endorse, for fiscals and advocate deputes? How can extra preparation be introduced for questioning at judicial examination? How can extra preparatory work for fiscals be introduced, and how can matters be dealt with in the earlier clauses of the Bill? How can extra work be introduced for hearings in relation to insanity cases, and extra responsibilities be conferred in relation to confiscation under part II? It just cannot be done without an increase in the resources available to the fiscal service.

There is a glaring lack of reference to the fiscal service. All practitioners in courts elsewhere say that the underfunding of the procurator fiscal system is the problem. Any defence lawyer who has a case wrapped up will say, in private, that the system is under such pressure that, to an extent, an advantage is given to the defence.

Mr. Stewart: I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Why are only four Scottish Labour Members sitting behind him?

Mr. McFall: There is a full turnout of Tory Members, but nevertheless only a handful are present. The hon. Gentleman was present at the beginning of the debate, but subsequently decided to leave; when he left, other hon.

Column 777

Members came in. If he had stayed throughout the debate, he might have based his information on fact rather than fancy.

Mr. Stewart: Where are they, then?

Mr. McFall: My hon. Friends have been in the Chamber at certain stages.

Mr. Stewart: Answer.

Mr. McFall: I think that the Eastwood bruiser is warming up to take over from Sir Nicholas.

The Bill is predicated on the White Paper entitled "Firm and Fair", in which the Secretary of State calls for "our fight against crime". The White Paper stated that the highest priority was to protect the public from crime and criminals. The question is, how efficient have the Government been in that regard since they took power? In 1979, 673,000 crimes and offences were committed; according to the latest estimate, the figure is now over 1 million. Even in the last year, when according to the Government the crime figures have fallen, the number of drug offences and violent crimes has increased. The fact is that the Government have little to present in terms of law and order. They have not been efficient in that regard, which is why Labour's slogan "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" has resonance up and down the land.

Next Section

  Home Page