|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Bill Walker: The hon. Gentleman is bandying around some interesting slogans. Is he suggesting that Labour's proposals will increase the pay of a policeman over and above the real terms increase of 30 per cent. that has already been achieved by the Government? The number of policemen has also risen. How will the hon. Gentleman deal with that, and what will be the cost?
Mr. McFall: It is very simple. Nearly all local authorities in Scotland are Labour controlled and work with the communities and the police. It is the actions on the ground that count, as against the Government's lack of intention. Opposition Members are proud of the way in which good Labour local authorities work with communities and the police; it is a shame that Conservative Members are not. Let us look at the Conservatives' record on law and order and the courts. The position of the courts has already been mentioned. According to the figures, it is estimated that 250,000 citations are served annually on a total uniformed police strength of 14,000. Each day, 700 police officers attend court to give evidence in criminal cases going to trial, but only one in five gives that evidence. Police evidence accounts for only 2 per cent. of police court duty. The rest is travel and waiting time. So I put it to the Government that if they want to do something about fighting crime and putting police on the streets, they should do something about the scandalous waste of police resources in courts. It has a severe impact on operational duties.
Mr. McFall: The Bill does nothing of the sort. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we pressed Lord Fraser of Carmyllie to examine the wasting of police time in court. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) wrote to him. In his reply, the noble Lord said that he found much of my hon. Friend's analysis facile
Column 778and unenlightening. He said that he was surprised that my hon. Friend did not understand why police officers spent time waiting to give evidence. Let me remind the House that the Public Accounts Commission took the same view as my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South. It found that there was a scandalous waste of police time. It has asked the Government to do something about it. As yet, the waste still takes place in courts.
Only last year, the chief constable of Central region mentioned in his annual report that police in his area wasted 98 per cent. of the time that they spent at court. What do the Government intend to do about the problem? It has gone on for years and years. It requires the Opposition to cry day in and day out for the Government to do something. We congratulate ourselves on the fact that a measure is now in the Bill.
The social context in which the Bill has been introduced is a phenomenal increase in drug-related offences. Between 1989 and 1993 total recorded crime in Scotland rose by 10.1 per cent. Yet drug-related offences leapt by an incredible 1,000 per cent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) asked earlier, what is the Government's policy on drug enforcement? Drug abuse is one of the greatest social problems facing Scotland today. It is one of the principal causes of crime. The Opposition recognise that the problem of drugs must be tackled if any headway is to be made in the battle against crime, but the Government have stubbornly refused to do that, despite evidence from the Medical Research Council, the World Health Organisation and Greater Glasgow health board. A survey by the board showed that 80 per cent. of those surveyed engaged in crime to service their drugs habit.
The Government can no longer continue pretending that there is no link between drug abuse and deprivation. I should like to see in the Bill measures to assist drugs education so that we can change the agenda, control the supply of drugs and experiment with strategies at the social and community level with voluntary groups and the parents who are involved in the problem to help the people who are regular users not to get into trouble.
Crimes of violence are of particular concern to many people. The latest figures show that crimes of violence have increased. What have the Government done in the light of that? Last year they removed the entitlement to legal aid from a quarter of a million people. They then implemented sheriff court fees. That means that people who take action in sheriff courts are expected to meet the full cost of the sheriff's salary.
Mr. McFall: This is an integral part of the issue. The Law Society of Scotland has contacted us on the matter. The Government intend to introduce measures on criminal legal aid similar to those which they introduced on civil legal aid and on criminal injuries compensation.
We all sympathise with the case of Judy, but what have the Government done? They have dismantled the legislation that a Labour Government established in the
Column 779mid-1960s and, as a result, if a police officer aged 30 with two children is killed in the course of duty, his widow will receive £10, 000 no matter how financially or psychologically difficult her position, whereas before it was £150,000.
In case the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) thinks that we are straying again, I wonder whether he would support us in the following case. If a police officer is killed, does he agree that his widow should not merely be given the pitiful sum of £10,000, as would be the case with the criminal injuries compensation scheme? If we table a positive amendment, we can ensure that the tariff scheme is kept for the less severe cases, but we could use the scheme that we had previously for the more severe cases and those that impinge on the families who are left behind. Police officers' widows would then get the sum of money that they rightfully deserve.
Mr. Bill Walker: I want to understand what the hon. Gentleman is offering. Is he saying that he will table a detailed amendment so that the widow of a police constable killed on duty will receive substantial benefit? Will it be a narrow amendment, dealing purely with police constables?
Mr. McFall: Yes, and if we get Conservative support it will be fine. I am saying that the tariff scheme should be abolished at one end of the scale to give us some flexibility. Let us have a tariff scheme at the bottom, but not at the top. The hon. Gentleman has been helpful to his Front Bench as always and I will be delighted if we can follow that path.
The Secretary of State said that the Government were at the forefront on crime, but if they are, they must be standing there watching--they are certainly not doing anything about it, because it is increasing year on year. They talk about the success of crime prevention and say that they are backing the police. Let us ask the police what they think after the Sheehy inquiry. Ask the prison officers what they thought when the Government took away industrial dispute legislation.
Labour is looking for positive measures to encourage the community to work with the police in close co-operation and to support home security schemes, which result in safer neighbourhoods. We want measures to encourage local victim support projects, neighbourhood watch and other community projects. We want measures to implement social strategies and tackle some of the causes of crime, because there is undoubtedly a link between increasing crime and social deprivation. That is the distinguishing mark of the official Opposition compared with the Government on this issue.
We are telling the Government to tackle the causes of crime--poverty, poor housing, poor education, high levels of unemployment and drug abuse. Yes, deal firmly with the perpetrators, but target young offenders to prevent them from becoming hardened criminals and an obligation on the state, then we will have a positive framework on which to work so that the Bill gets its Second Reading.
Column 780paid tribute to Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. They have mentioned his great personal kindnesses in offering legal advice, in particular. Many of us will miss him as a friend--not just the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who had been his junior counsel, as indeed have I. I believe that the late John Smith also served in that capacity. We will all miss his puckish sense of humour. Although he did not always agree with the Government, I am certain that he agreed with the bulk of the Bill, and we miss his presence tonight.
The Bill contains many reforms that are critical. I must start by telling the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) that one of the most significant reforms is the introduction of intermediate diets, and the pilot scheme has been remarkably successful. It was carried out in Airdrie and Dundee sheriff courts and the analysis showed that intermediate diets cut unnecessary court attendance in half. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right--the police presence in courts should be cut and the measure will help to do that.
Courts in Edinburgh, Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy and Dumbarton have introduced the diets, with similar results. The provisions in the Bill are needed to ensure that courts throughout the length and breadth of Scotland can also secure those benefits.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton also asked whether guidelines on prosecutors' comments on the accused's failure to give evidence would be issued. I confirm that the Lord Advocate gave an undertaking in the other House that he would issue guidelines to Crown counsel and procurators fiscal.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) raised the issue of closed circuit television. He is right to say that those television facilities will be extended to every sheriffdom in Scotland. The equipment currently in use in the sheriff court in his constituency will be reviewed and a final decision will be taken in the light of demand.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about those who are sent to Carstairs and how easy it is for someone imprisoned there without a time limit to get out. I would say that it is extremely hard. When I practised in the High Court, we often took the view that if someone was charged with murder and ended up in Carstairs, he was likely to be there much longer than if he went anywhere else. The two major issues are the individual's mental state, which is a matter of clinical judgment, and public safety, which is entirely the responsibility of the Secretary of State, who must be satisfied about that before deciding to release the prisoner. Any such committal is appealable to the sheriff court.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the criminal court rules council. I confirm that it will be drawn largely from professionals who use the court, but the legislation prescribes that one member should have an awareness of the interests of victims of crime and witnesses in criminal proceedings. That person, at least, need not be a legal professional.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East raised the issue of financial consequences of the Bill. We have every reason to be confident in our assessment that
Column 781the Bill will cover its cost at worst, because it is full of proposals that will relieve financial burdens on the police, prosecutors and courts. For example, the police will waste less time attending court needlessly and citing witnesses in person. Fiscal fines will be reduced and prosecutors in the courts will be relieved of some of the burdens that they now sustain. There will be savings in compensation paid to witnesses and jurors for attending court, and the cost of sending fine defaulters to prison will be reduced as supervised attendance orders will be used instead. Those and other proposals will probably more than offset the additional burdens but, of course, we shall closely monitor the position in the light of experience.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East asked about cases marked "No proceedings". Like him, I have prosecuted--I was an interim procurator fiscal. It would have been unthinkable for me to have marked any case "No proceedings" on the ground of work load pressure and I am glad to say that I never came across a fiscal who took that action. I can give the hon. and learned Gentleman some figures. The main categories in which no proceedings were taken were insufficient admissible evidence and triviality. In 1993- 94, 23 per cent. of cases were marked "No proceedings" because of evidential difficulties, and 29 per cent. because the offence was viewed as trivial. In the period between October 1993 and September 1994, not a single case was marked "No proceedings" for the reason of staff shortage. But I shall make further inquiries into the point which the hon. and learned Gentleman raised.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked about facilities in Linlithgow. I am glad to confirm that those are currently being reviewed in the Linlithgow and Livingston areas. I shall be pleased to ask my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State to write to the hon. Gentleman to bring him up to date on progress. The hon. Gentleman also asked about fatal accident inquiries when those are held to establish when and where death occurred, the cause of death, any reasonable precautions whereby death might have been avoided, and any defect in any system that contributed to the death. We are conscious of the need to pay even greater attention to victims and the Bill contains a number of practical measures, for example, to decrease the number of times that witnesses may have to attend court, to reduce the number of occasions when a trial must be cancelled or adjourned without warning and to remove one restriction on the prosecution's freedom to lead evidence of the accused's previous misconduct in cases where the defence has attacked the victim's character. All those measures are evidence of the Government's commitment to treat victims with courtesy, dignity and compassion and to reduce the trauma of their necessary involvement in the criminal justice system.
Mr. Dalyell: In the Government's view, is it the purpose of a fatal accident inquiry to get the truth or is it designed, as in the case of Lockerbie, to get maximum damages for certain parties and evade the truth? Does the hon. Gentleman think that Ministers and the intelligence services should, where necessary, be called to fatal accident inquiries?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The hon. Gentleman's questions go somewhat beyond the terms of the Bill, because fatal accident inquiries do not feature in it. Without question, the purpose of those inquiries is to
Column 782get at the truth, which is what happened at the FAIs at which I was present. No doubt the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity will be such that he will follow up his lines of inquiry elsewhere.
My hon. Friends the Members for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) and for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) and many other hon. Members wanted to know whether the provisions on bail go far enough. It is the purpose of the Bill to toughen the existing provisions, for example, by enabling the courts to impose double the current custodial penalty on those who offend on bail. Any attempt to reduce offending on bail also depends on minimising the time those awaiting trial spend on bail. The longer the delay in bringing offenders to justice, the greater the risk of their continuing to offend. The measures in the Bill will also therefore assist the courts in dealing with delays and backlogs in the hearing of cases. That will also make an important contribution.
There have been a number of cases of bail abuse and it is absolutely right that we should tighten the law in that connection. The proposal to restrict access to bail in clause 3 is not unique. Section 26 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975 states that bail cannot be granted for the crimes of murder or treason. Those restrictions have existed in statute since 1888. We are extending that restriction further, which we believe to be necessary. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) spoke about the "Crossey Posse". The problems posed by large numbers of pending cases can best be resolved by better use of courts' resources. Too much time is wasted with late pleas, non-appearance by accused persons and late adjournments. If we can reduce that waste of resources, the courts and the prosecutors will be able to process pending cases much more speedily.
The position of young offenders is uppermost in our mind. We have commissioned a major research study into the children's hearing system, which is being carried out by Stirling and Edinburgh universities. It will focus on decision making within the hearing system and the outcome for the young people who come before it. We have also announced a major development project, which is being undertaken by Barnado's and Central region, to address the problems caused by persistent young offenders, in which we are investing £1 million over five years. We are engaged in a number of other projects, because it is important to tackle the circumstances that give rise to crime.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr and the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) spoke about raves. The report by Sheriff Gow was also touched upon. The Scottish Drugs Forum has been commissioned to prepare guidance for local authorities and licensing boards to assist them in advising the organisers of raves on the practical measures they can take to minimise the health and welfare problems which sometimes arise at such events. In consultation with the local authorities and the police interest, consideration is being given to the practicalities of introducing model licensing conditions into licences for raves, possibly dealing with such aspects as stewarding, permitted numbers and searches.
Column 783Does he agree that the real problem is that young people continue to take drugs such as Ecstasy, and that that is the issue that we must tackle?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I appreciate my hon. Friend's argument. Drug misuse is a serious problem in Scotland. We are spending no less than £40 million a year on the various agencies to combat it. We are determined to have a considerable drive, especially with regard to young people, aimed at its prevention, and the drugs task force will have a major part to play in that. There are now new schools drug prevention packages for under-10s and over-14s. Substitute prescribing also has a role to play in tackling drug misuse. We shall work extremely hard at that subject for a comprehensive response.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) mentioned the homosexual age of consent. The House reduced it for homosexual acts from 21 to 18 and the House expressed a clear preference for a reduction to 18 rather than 16.
Since last November, when the law changed, instructions have been sent to procurators fiscal, saying that they should continue to report to the Crown Office, for consideration by Crown counsel, any case where both participants are over 16 and the act appears to have been consensual and in private but is an offence by reason of the fact that one or both are under 18. Since the issue of that instruction, no cases have been so reported for consideration by Crown counsel. Each case that is reported will be considered on its merits, and a decision will be made whether it is in the public interest that proceedings be taken.
Mr. Watson rose --
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I have nothing more to say about that. The hon. Gentleman is welcome to pursue the matter in Standing Committee, and I look forward to his volunteering for that role. With regard to clause 8, the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East asked about a joint application to have a juror excused. In those circumstances, both parties will continue to have the right to seek a juror's excusal by showing cause to the court.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East, if I remember correctly, asked why we were not following a similar procedure to the Thomson committee. What was required, in our opinion, was a detailed examination of certain specific areas of concern. One solution that we propose is a continuation or development of Lord Thomson's recommendation--mandatory intermediate diets. Other proposals for a clause dealing with examinations of the facts are Thomson recommendations that were not implemented in 1980. The consultation that preceded the Bill was extremely comprehensive.
I come to the issue of intermediate diets, which I believe will help enormously to speed up the process of justice. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East asked about temporary sheriffs. There are about 120 temporary sheriffs, who are used to maintain the work of the sheriff courts. That helps when the sheriffs are on holiday or on sick leave or the resident sheriff is absent, for whatever reason.
Column 784The judicial strength of the supreme courts and the sheriff courts is kept under constant review, in consultation with the judicial heads of those courts. In recent years, as the work loads of those courts have increased, so have the numbers of judges and sheriffs, and temporary judges and temporary sheriffs make a useful contribution to dealing with the work loads of the courts and to reducing inconvenience to court users.
Scotland now has more judges and more sheriffs than at any previous time in its history.
Mr. Menzies Campbell: Can the Minister confirm that there are now more temporary sheriffs than there are those holding permanent commissions? If there is a need for more temporary sheriffs than permanent ones, is that not a clear sign that the work load is sufficient to justify more full-time sheriffs? The Scottish system is based on full-time professional judges. Why are the Government not implementing that?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: There are now more judges and more permanent sheriffs than ever before. Judicial strengths are kept under constant review. It is notable that, for many types of court business and in many courts, waiting periods are now at or below the target figures.
On the subject of additional evidence, the difference of view between the Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice Clerk has been mentioned, but that does not necessarily mean that the cases involved are at odds. All it means is that the subject will need to be considered by five judges. I should not say anything more as cases referred to the full Bench are sub judice.
It is remarkable that Labour Members have said that the right to silence is being threatened. Distinguished members of the Labour party or members who have been Labour Law Officers--
"It is deeply patronising to say that that cannot be commented upon. If the judge can comment upon it, as he can--though he should do so with restraint; and those restraints are fairly well known--I do not see any reason in the world why the prosecutor should not say, `Well, ladies and gentlemen, you have heard the evidence. His fingerprints were found all over the safe. His footprints were found on the carpet and his DNA sample matched that found on the broken window'".---[ Official Report, House of Lords , 29 November 1994; Vol. 559, c. 569.]
Madam Speaker: Order. I think that the Minister is quoting from a Member of the upper House who is not a Minister. I think that he knows that he can quote from the upper House only from those who are Ministers.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I shall paraphrase what I was saying. It was considered not unreasonable to mention the facts of incriminating evidence and the fact that the accused who, in the circumstances, was the only person who might know exactly what had happened, refused to do so.
The clause does not remove the right to silence; it allows the prosecutor the right to comment on the fact that a person has sat tight in the witness box. When I was an advocate, if I saw an accused person in a serious criminal case of rape,
Column 785murder or assault to severe injury, sitting tight in the accused box, it was usually a sign that he or she was as guilty as sin.
Mr. McFall: I thought that we were talking about justice, until the Minister mentioned his own form of justice. Does he accept that some cases will involve over-zealous prosecutors, and such cases require more guidelines? Does he also accept that an over-zealous prosecutor can do as much harm to the prosecution case as to the accused? There is a vital need for guidelines--will they be forthcoming from the Minister?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I made clear earlier the circumstances in which the Lord Advocate would issue guidelines. It is absolutely clear that it is the prosecutor's job to put the facts before the courts, elicit the facts and leave it to the jury to make up its mind. If he has prepared his case thoroughly and there is a lot of evidence, that will weigh with the jury.
The Government have been in the forefront in introducing measures to deprive offenders of the profits of crime and property used in crime. The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1987 introduced confiscation of the proceeds of drug trafficking in Scotland and has been extremely succesful. We believe that those new powers will make a huge difference in ensuring that ill-gotten profits from crime are taken away from those who would otherwise benefit from them. They will deprive criminals of assets where crimes such as serious fraud, theft and pornography have given rise to economic benefit. That is an important provision in the Bill.
I turn now to the subject of the not proven verdict. Much has been made of the fact that Sir Walter Scott expressed doubts about the not proven verdict. With the greatest respect to him, Sir Walter did not practise very much, for whatever reason. There is a great difference between the circumstances in Scotland and those in England. The royal commission's remit--to which the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) referred--was confined to England and Wales. It was considering whether not proven should be introduced in a system of juries of 12, with unanimous or 10 to two majority verdicts. The Government have consulted in Scotland on whether not proven should be retained in a system which has juries of 15 and simple majority verdicts and in which the not proven verdict has played its part for 250 years. The overwhelming response was that the not proven verdict should be retained and that is why the Government will not support its abolition. We have consulted about the issue and the overwhelming majority of people are in favour of its retention. Therefore, we will oppose any moves to abolish it.
Mr. George Robertson: I said in my speech that, in view of Scottish legal history, if there was to be any change in the Scottish legal system, it should be decided by a free vote. Will the Minister give a guarantee that Government Back Benchers will be free to vote according to their views and their consciences?
Column 786With regard to the not proven verdict, hon. Members will recall the case of Madeleine Smith who asked her boyfriend to return her love letters and, when he refused to deliver them, she gave him a drink laced with arsenic. The jury could not bear the thought of sentencing that young girl to be hanged so it brought in a verdict of not proven. I suggest that having the option of that extra verdict is very much in Scotland's interests.
To continue the story, Madeleine Smith remarried some years later. However, she quarrelled with her husband, who thought that he saw a glint in her eye, so he took off. It would be much more humanitarian to have a not proven verdict in circumstances where a jury is not 100 per cent. certain-- beyond reasonable doubt--of the person's guilt, but where the jury is reasonably certain that the person committed the crime. In 1993, 18 per cent. of those who were acquitted of crimes were found not proven on at least one charge. In the past five years, the not proven verdict has been used in between 18 per cent. and 23 per cent. of acquittal verdicts.
Reference was made to the Sutherland committee. We had to wait until the royal commission released its report and, thereafter, there was no undue delay. We issued a consultation paper in January 1994, the consultation period ended in mid-April and our White Paper appeared in June. Committee members were chosen over the summer and the membership was announced in November 1994. That represents a focused and energetic response to the royal commission's report. I believe that alleged miscarriages of justice will be treated very seriously and the Secretary of State already has substantial powers in that area. Since 1928, six out of the 14 individuals whose cases have been referred back to the Court of Appeal have had their convictions quashed.
Mr. Gallie: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Opposition Members will agree that he has made an excellent case for supporting the Bill. In the last three minutes of his speech, will he make an impassioned appeal to Opposition Members to withdraw their ridiculous and stupid amendment?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Yes, I will. Apart from anything else, the amendment refers to rising crime and, as my hon Friend the Member for Ayr knows, crime in Scotland is decreasing in large measure because of the legislation that he introduced to control the carrying of knives. In 1992, there was a small reduction in crime, and there was an 8 per cent. reduction in 1993 and a further 3 per cent. reduction in 1994. There has been a substantial and continuing fall in crimes of dishonesty.
It is important to note that the number of crimes involving firearms have also decreased. The number of victims of homicide has decreased by 15 per cent. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr performed a great service for Scotland and the House by introducing the tough Carrying of Knives etc. (Scotland) Act 1993 which has helped to decrease the number of knife- related crimes in Strathclyde. Trends in recorded crime are affected by several factors, particularly the willingness of the public to report crimes. Far more are being reported than ever before. The war on crime must be fought relentlessly. The Bill greatly strengthens the system of justice, and will make Scotland a safer place in which to live.
Column 787Question put, That the amendment be made:--
The House divided: Ayes 207, Noes 282.
Division No. 86] [10.00 pm
Column 787Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D N
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Donohoe, Brian H
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Ms Angela
Evans, John (St Helens N)