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Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 101:

Page 52, line 35, at end insert--
("( ) section 53 so far as it relates to abduction of a woman against her will;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 102:

Page 54, line 18, at end insert--
("( ) After subsection (5) insert--
"(5A) Where--
(a) a person is charged with an offence under this section, and
(b) the offence relates to the inclusion of any matter in a publication in contravention of section 1(1),
it shall be a defence to prove that at the time of the alleged offence he was not aware, and neither suspected nor had reason to suspect, that the allegation in question had been made."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this group includes Amendments Nos. 102, 104, 105, 106 and 108. Some of them are government-inspired and some opposition- inspired amendments. We want to look after and protect the most vulnerable members of society, particularly when they are children or young persons who may be involved in a criminal trial in the near future. I repeat that we remain happy to listen to representations from all those who are interested--not simply the media--about how we obtain the policy objective.

The Government propose to introduce two new defences for those accused of committing an offence by publishing or broadcasting in defiance of the restrictions. Amendment No. 102 in my name introduces a change to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 allowing a defence of not suspecting or having reason to suspect that an allegation was made.

To an extent that is paralleled by part of Amendment No. 106, which provides that it is a defence to show that the publisher or broadcaster did not suspect or have reason to suspect that a criminal investigation had begun. That applies in relation to Clause 43.

A further defence differentiates between alleged offenders and victims and witnesses. In the case of victims and witnesses, a public interest defence is included which applies when the reporting restrictions were substantial and unreasonable. That will allow greater scope for reporting news stories of national

8 Mar 1999 : Column 72

importance which often, of course--I take the point made by our colleagues in the media--are fast-breaking stories.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, tabled Amendment No. 105, rewording Clause 48. They might feel that the government amendments meet their points.

In Amendment No. 108 there is the proposal that amendments may be instituted only by consent of the Attorney-General. In all the circumstances, I do not think that the Attorney-General's personal attention in cases such as these is required. Having conversed with the Law Officers on many occasions, the burden of personal attention is already substantial.

I understand the concern that lies behind this amendment; in other words, that any such decision to proceed is taken only after full and serious consideration. It may be possible to ensure that the decision to prosecute is taken at a sufficiently high level in the Crown Prosecution Service to satisfy the spirit of this amendment. I am happy to tell your Lordships that I have discussed this with our colleagues in the press and I have told them that I am content to consider this in some detail.

The amendments that have been raised, and the thoughts behind them, have given us the opportunity to think further on the Bill. Therefore, I beg to move government Amendment No. 102 and, in due time, Amendment No. 106. On the basis of what I have said I ask the noble Lord and the noble Viscount not to move their amendments.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, as the Minister says, he has taken the point to some degree. Amendments Nos. 102 and 106 in particular fulfil some of the matters that we were seeking. Sometimes it will be difficult for the news media to know that such restrictions are supposed to have started. That was one of the criticisms that we made at an earlier stage. Therefore, I am grateful to the Minister for moving Amendment No. 102 and speaking to Amendment No. 106. In those circumstances I shall not pursue the other amendments in the list.

On Amendment No. 108, if the Minister can give an assurance--not today, but in due course--that prosecutions of this nature will be taken at a higher level in the Crown Prosecution Service that will go at least some way to fulfilling the purposes of Amendment No. 108. I am not aware whether there is a precedent for that kind of arrangement, but it may be more satisfactory than drawing the Law Officers into these matters.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 48 [Offences under this Chapter]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 103:

Page 35, line 40, leave out subsection (1) and insert--
("(1) It is an offence to include in a publication--
(a) any matter in contravention of section 43(2) or of a direction under section 44(3) or 45(2); or
(b) a report in contravention of section 46.").

8 Mar 1999 : Column 73

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Law Society of Scotland has suggested to me that Clause 48, as it presently stands, does not actually create an offence. If there is an ambiguity in this matter it is desirable to remove it, and that is the purpose of Amendment No. 103.

Amendment No. 107 has the same provenance and suggests that the fines alone may not be sufficient deterrent in some cases. I am unsure about the reasoning behind this amendment, but I thought it worth placing before your Lordships for consideration. Some of the news media would be less concerned about fines than about one of their number receiving a custodial sentence. On the whole, given that the benefit to the news media of breaking such a restriction is likely to be financial, a financial penalty may be adequate. As I have said, I thought it worth putting this proposition before your Lordships, given that it has been suggested to me. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, this group of amendments comprises Amendments Nos. 103 and 107. I cannot see the value of the proposition that Clause 48 does not provide an offence. I think that it is absolutely plain that it does create offences. If this has been suggested by the Law Society of Scotland, I think that the society has nodded on this one rare occasion because if one reads Clause 48, one sees the offences there constituted. The point is a bad one. I think that the Government's amendments make Amendment No. 103 unnecessary.

Amendment No. 107 raises the happy spectre of having editors and journalists sent to prison. I am instinctively against that--not least on the basis that one of my clients was an editor and was threatened with imprisonment and I was able to guarantee that he would not go to prison because if he had had to share a cell with someone, that would have been a cruel and unusual punishment for the person with whom he would have shared the cell! I am not sure that he was entirely convinced, but at least he was happy to receive a fine. I think that the levels of punishment are sufficient. I am happy once more to be the protagonist of the rights of the free press in indicating that I do not think that members of the press should go to prison.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, in view of the Minister's forensic skill in these matters, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 104 and 105 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 106:

Page 36, line 16, at end insert--
("(5A) Where--
(a) a person is charged with an offence under this section, and
(b) the offence relates to the inclusion of any matter in a publication in contravention of section 43(2),
it shall be a defence to prove that at the time of the alleged offence he was not aware, and neither suspected nor had reason to suspect, that the criminal investigation in question had begun.

8 Mar 1999 : Column 74

(5B) Where--
(a) paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (5A) apply, and
(b) the contravention of section 43(2) does not involve the person by whom the offence mentioned in that provision is alleged to have been committed,
it shall be a defence to show to the satisfaction of the court that the inclusion in the publication of the matter in question was in the public interest on the ground that, to the extent that they operated to prevent that matter from being so included, the effect of the restrictions imposed by section 43(2) was to impose a substantial and unreasonable restriction on the reporting of matters connected with that offence.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 107 not moved.]

Clause 49 [Offences committed by bodies corporate]:

[Amendment No. 108 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 108A:

After Clause 55, insert the following new clause--
(" . Schedule (Restriction on use of answers etc. obtained under compulsion), which amends enactments providing for the use of answers and statements given under compulsion so as to restrict in criminal proceedings their use in evidence against the persons giving them, shall have effect.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendments in this group essentially speak for themselves. They derive from the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Saunders v. United Kingdom on 17th December 1996. Mr. Ernest Saunders had been one of the defendants in the first Guinness trial. He complained that the prosecution at his criminal trial had used statements which he had given under legal compulsion to inspectors appointed under Section 432 of the Companies Act 1985. He said that that was an infringement of his right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the convention. The court concluded that the admission of his statements in those circumstances meant that he had been deprived of a fair trial and that there had been a violation.

The Government responded with the Guidance Note for Prosecutors, issued by the Attorney-General on 3rd February 1998. He said that the Government would bring forward legislation to implement the judgment when a suitable opportunity arose. A similar assurance was given to the Committee of Ministers in the Government's response. These amendments fulfil that undertaking by amending Section 434(5) of the Companies Act 1985--the point at issue in Mr. Saunders's case--and by amending a number of similar provisions. We thought that we ought to meet the principle of our undertaking by also including such amendments. I beg to move.

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