Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the noble Lord is uncharacteristically going overboard a little. He knows that I have quite a high regard for his abilities, including now his ability to go overboard. Although I appreciate the noble Lord offering to help by precising my Answer, I thought that I had done that when I approved it.

It will not necessarily take years. As the noble Lord is well aware, this matter is under careful investigation by independent and responsible authorities. I cannot say when the work will be able to go ahead; it will be only when safe to do so and only when the necessary compliance has been given by the organisations concerned. That is the responsible approach. I do not know why the noble Lord draws the conclusion that it will take years. He does not have a vestige of evidence to support that proposition. It will be done as soon as possible, but the most important element is safety. As to the noble Lord's assertion about the Prime Minister, there was no reason to suppose at the material time that there was a problem about safety.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I lived in Caithness when the nuclear station was built. Can the Minister inform the House whether there is a cluster of leukaemia cases in that area? Given that this more powerful uranium has been sent there, what is the risk of seepage into the sea and contamination of water and fish?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the point that the noble Baroness raises goes very much wider than the Question tabled. I am not aware that there is any danger of leukaemia. However, because this falls outside the scope of the Question I shall look into the matter and write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Lyell: My Lords, can the Minister assist as to the length of time that the environmental audit may take? The Minister will be aware that similar problems have arisen at Sellafield which is very professionally run and where safety is paramount. Will this environmental audit or checking of both highly irradiated and normally irradiated material be out of the ordinary? Will it take years or can one expect some good news before the millennium?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, it is not just an environmental audit but an investigation that is being reliably and authoritatively undertaken. The essential requirement is not speed but thoroughness. To return to the conclusion drawn by the noble Lord who spoke from the Front Bench, there is no reason to suppose that this matter will take years. The noble Lord will understand that what is important here is that it should be done thoroughly. I am sure that no one in this House expects anything else.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, referring to the Minister's earlier response to my noble friend Lord

21 May 1998 : Column 1763

Selkirk, will the normal rules concerning return to sender of irradiated material be enforced in this instance?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, not in this instance because the amount involved was very small indeed. It would not be appropriate to return it to its source because it has no means of dealing with the matter. It would have been completely irrelevant had we insisted on it in this case.

The Earl of Strafford: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it is much safer for this material to be kept in this country where it is under control than to leave it in Georgia where it can easily fall into the wrong hands?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, there is substance in that point. At the heart of the matter is the question of taking action in the context of non-proliferation. I believe that by undertaking this particular contract this country also did the right thing in that respect. I believe that that is a very important point to underline, and I am grateful to the noble Earl.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the importance to the local economy of Dounreay? Can he assure the House that while this investigation is going on there will be no dismissals or suspension of workers at Dounreay?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, that is not a matter for the Government. No doubt the authority will note from its diligent reading of Hansard the point made by the noble Lord. As far as I am aware, the local community has not expressed deep concern about the matter. In the past Dounreay has been very diligent in ensuring that the local community is aware of what goes on.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest in that the cousin of my wife is dying of cancer having been a nuclear engineer at Dounreay. Can my noble friend inform the House who will pay for the storage and reprocessing of the material from Georgia?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, that is a matter for the contracting parties. I am sure that all noble Lords are sorry to hear the information that my noble friend has disclosed. I am sure that he does not wish to imply that there is any necessary connection between what goes on at Dounreay and the unfortunate condition that afflicts his relative.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, the Minister has said that he will write to me on the specific point that I raised. Will the Minister bear in mind that other countries carry out environmental impact assessments to the highest standards before they make key decisions of great importance?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, in one of my earlier answers I referred to the need for compliance with three

21 May 1998 : Column 1764

essential criteria: safety, environmental requirements and regulatory requirements in another respect. I am grateful to the noble Lord.

Magistrates' Courts (Procedure) Bill [H.L.]

11.25 a.m.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Hardie): My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered.--(Lord Hardie.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The page and line refer to Bill (66) as first printed for the Commons]


Clause 1, page 1, leave out lines 20 and 21 and insert--

(""(a) in a case where a statement of facts as mentioned in subsection (3)(b)(i) above was served on the accused with the summons, that statement;
(aa) in a case where a statement or statements as mentioned in subsection (3)(b)(ii) above was served on the accused with the summons and the court does not otherwise direct, that statement or those statements;".").

Lord Hardie: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1. It may be helpful if I speak also to Amendment No. 2 and explain the changes the two amendments jointly make to Clause 1 and how they improve the procedure which the Bill establishes. Both amendments reflect discussion with experienced practitioners. The Bill found favour in your Lordships' House as a practical measure to reduce delay in summary proceedings under Section 12 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980, particularly those for the less serious motoring offences.

Clause 1, as sent to the Commons by your Lordships, amended Section 12 of the Magistrates' Courts Act to allow a guilty plea to be given by the defendant in response to a summons served with a statement of facts as at present or a written witness statement conforming to Section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967. Service of the summons with a written statement is the key procedural change. The considerable advantage of that change is that the written statement can be used in two ways. First, it may be used as an account of the facts of the case when the defendant wishes to plead guilty. In those circumstances the witness statement serves the same purpose as the statement of facts does at present and will be read by the court clerk. Secondly, when the defendant does not respond to the summons the evidence in the statement may be used by the prosecutor to prove the case in the absence of the defendant on the first listed hearing thus avoiding the need for an adjournment.

21 May 1998 : Column 1765

In the first set of circumstances--when a witness statement is used to give an account of the facts following a plea of guilty--the original draft of Clause 1 would require the court clerk to read out the whole statement. Reading a witness statement will take longer than reading a statement of facts because it is a full account of what the witness saw, heard and did and will have been prepared to prove the case. The statement will include detail which is not required for a guilty plea. In a speeding case, for example, the statement will describe the steps taken to check the accuracy of a calibrated speedometer in a police vehicle. That evidence may be required to rebut any challenge that the equipment is faulty, but it is not needed when the defendant has already pleaded guilty.

Clause 1 as originally drafted would undoubtedly reduce the number of adjournments but each guilty plea will take longer than it does presently if the court clerk is required to read each witness statement verbatim. The cumulative effect of reading each statement in full could reduce the time and costs savings created by the new procedures. That would be an undesirable outcome in a Bill designed to save time and reduce delay.

A number of practitioners, including senior magistrates and justices' clerks, drew the Government's attention to the problem of Clause 1 as first drafted. The Government considered most carefully the points made by practitioners and accepted that in a guilty plea case a full reading of the witness statement was not necessary and could lead to court time being wasted. Requiring the statement to be read in full after a guilty plea would also mean that the court clerk would very likely have to do more than the prosecutor when proving the case. The prosecutor may, where the court so directs, give an oral account of what is said in a witness statement. Provision for the prosecutor to summarise in this way is made in Section 9(6) of the Criminal Justice Act 1967. For those reasons the Government brought forward the amendments which are for consideration today. The practical effect of the two amendments will be to allow the court clerk to give an oral account of, or to summarise, the witness statement when the defendant has pleaded guilty.

Amendment No. 1 stipulates what shall be read by the court clerk in a guilty plea case. This will depend on whether the summons served on the defendant is served with a statement of facts or a witness statement. When the summons is served with a statement of facts the clerk will read that statement of facts to the court. When the summons is served with a witness statement or statements and the court does not otherwise direct, the clerk will read that witness statement or statements to the court. The nature of the direction by the court is the subject of Amendment No. 2.

Amendment No. 2 does two things. First, it provides that when a witness statement has been served with the summons and the court gives the direction mentioned in Amendment No. 1, the court shall cause an account to be given orally before the court by the clerk of the court of so much of any statement as is not read aloud.

21 May 1998 : Column 1766

The second part of the amendment preserves the provision in the original Bill, that when a written statement is read out, the declaration at the beginning of the statement need not be read out. This is the declaration by the person making the statement to the effect that it is true to the best of his knowledge and belief and that he made the statement knowing that, if it were tendered in evidence, he would be liable to prosecution if he wilfully stated in it anything which he knew to be false or did not believe to be true.

The requirement for the court to give a direction means that the court will control the proceedings and that the clerk may only summarise what is in the statement with the express authority of the court. The Bill as introduced in this House was an eminently practical measure to tackle delay in summary proceedings. The changes made by these amendments reflect the concerns of practitioners. They will further improve the procedure which the Bill establishes and I commend them to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.--(Lord Hardie.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page