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Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : The Attorney-General said that he expected that Ministers, having been invited to appear at the inquiry, would not refuse to do that. That does not mean to say that they could not necessarily refuse. Will that also mean that civil servants and others will be able to attend--and will be compelled to attend ?
The Attorney-General : I do not anticipate that any relevant witness will refuse to attend. The reason that I frame my answers in this form is that, if we go to different 1921 Act rules, one has disadvantages which I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would wish to have.
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) : Following on from that question, why was the Attorney-General surprised earlier when someone mentioned the connivance of Ministers ? Is it not at least clear from the trial that, as late as November 1989, a Minister from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who is now in the Cabinet, a Minister at the Ministry of Defence who has now resigned and another Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry were conniving, colluding together and conspiring to act in entirely the opposite direction to Government policy ?
In the light of that, does the Attorney-General accept that the difference between the inquiry that he has announced today and one held under the 1921 Act is that those Ministers or their successors cannot be obliged to attend and answer questions ? Is the Attorney-General announcing a judicial inquiry today not in a spirit of openness, but precisely to prevent and pre -empt an inquiry under the 1921 Act which would force them to turn up and answer questions under oath ?
The Attorney-General : The hon. Gentleman completely misunderstands the framework. What I have said to the House--I repeat this clearly to the hon. Gentleman--is that I am quite satisfied that any relevant witness, including Ministers and civil servants, will give their evidence. I cannot imagine how they could refuse without calling upon themselves the utmost condemnation. However, the hon. Gentleman should not prejudge the issue. It is for the inquiry to look into the very points that he has raised and then give its independent view.
Attorney-General agree that this is a classic example where, if the rules in the DPP v. Ward with regard to disclosure had been upheld, justice could have been served better? It is not time that the Attorney-General's guidelines on disclosure extended to all branches, parties and prosecuting authorities in a way that is most effective and efficient, so that innocent people can never again be put at risk before the courts of our land? It is not good enough simply to say that one regrets it : it is a disgrace and a shame on our society. It is a test of our judicial system which luckily had a judge in it prepared to stand by the rules and to see fair play done.
Column 754than some, should phrase his question like that. There is no question of the requirements of the DPP v. Ward having been anything other than fully complied with, but if the hon. Gentleman believes so, he just does not understand what he is talking about. The point is that there will not be a full inquiry into the matters and the substance of the matters which underlie the hon. Gentleman's question.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) : My right hon. and learned Friend has confirmed that Her Majesty's Customs and Excise are an indpendent prosecuting body. That may be a unique power of Government, in that it does not fall under the Attorney-General's Department. Will the terms of reference of Lord Justice Scott's inquiry be wide enough to discover whether the prosecuting power of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise should come under the
Attorney-General and his Department?
The Attorney-General : I see no reason, if Lord Justice Scott should think that that question was relevant for him to answer, why he should not give guidance about it. However, fundamentally his inquiry is to look into the facts of the matter and the way in which it was handled.
Mr. John Morris : Is it not astonishing that the Attorney-General has not acknowledged that the prosecution went appallingly wrong and that there is no acknowledgement that the Crown prosecutor, learned counsel, could no longer accept the evidence of a former Minister? Who will decide what is to be published--the Government or the judge? As the Attorney- General has repeatedly said that prosecution is invasive, on what basis was counsel for the Crown able to tell the court that the documents that it was sought to exclude contained nothing of assistance to the defence?
The Attorney-General : The case was prosecuted by experienced and responsible leading counsel, who examined the issues extremely closely, as I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will accept.
The prosecution had to be withdrawn, and it was proper that it was withdrawn. The prosecution was withdrawn on the advice of the leading counsel because evidence which was in his possession in a statement was contradicted in the witness box. Thus, part of the important foundation of the prosecution case had altered. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will fully recognise that, in those circumstances, it would not have been proper to proceed.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked who on the inquiry would decide the issues to which he referred. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman realises that the point of having an independent inquiry by a learned Lord Justice is so that the Lord Justice will decide the issues [An hon. Member : "But will he be allowed to publish what he likes?"] I have said it about five times. Leading counsel for the Crown presented, as it was the Minister's legal duty to do, the public interest immunity statements, and expressly invited the learned judge who was trying the case to read the documents and exercise his independent judgment according to law as to where the balance of public interest lay. That is what he did.
Column 755asked whether Ministers could be summoned to the inquiry, he said yes. He then went on to say that Ministers would be invited to attend and he was sure that they would not decline.
It would be wrong for the House to move on to further business before the Attorney-General clarifies whether Ministers will be summoned and have no right not to attend or whether they will be invited to attend with the right not to attend.
The Attorney-General : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I shall clarify the position. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) would undoubtedly wish to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the 1921 Act to which I have referred many times.
My response to his point of order and the factual matter that he put into the ether is that Ministers can be ordered to attend by the Prime Minister. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, any Ministers so ordered--the Prime Minister has just told me that Ministers will be so ordered--who do not attend, which I find inconceivable, would be unlikely to remain Ministers for long if they did not obey such as order.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you confirm that when an hon. Member intends to raise a matter in the House about another Member it is the courtesy of the House that he should inform the Member involved in advance? The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) named me yesterday on a matter of privilege. Do you also agree that, as the hon. Member derives his evidence from a Murdoch newspaper which he normally would despise, and as those sentiments are about as sincere as Colonel Sander's sentiments for chickens, the matter is bogus? If I need an hon. Member to defend me, I will not seek help from the whippersnapper opposite.
Mr. Benn : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would like your advice on how the House is left following today's statement. Is it the case that no further questions can be put or answered on the many issues that have come up in the questioning, on the grounds that it is sub judice? I hope that you will not answer today, because it is an important question.
If a Minister can set up a judicial inquiry and no questions can be put on the matter for the next 18 months, on the grounds of the sub judice rule, parliamentary accountability will disappear overnight. Will you reflect carefully on that matter and give us guidance, because I regard it as potentially a great threat to the accountability of Ministers to the House of Commons?
Column 756Several hon. Members rose--
Madam Speaker : Order. I hope that hon. Members' points of order are not points of frustration, because I see numbers of hon. Members rising whom I was not able to call. I am not prepared to prolong this.
Mr. Jimmy Boyce (Rotherham) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you give me some guidance? The Attorney-General has left Opposition Members, at least, completely baffled as to the next stage in the procedure. Given that his terms of reference for the judicial inquiry were that it will be full, impartial and independent, can you use your good offices to bring the Attorney-General back here when he has drawn then up?
Mr. Dalyell : Further to the point of order raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), Madam Speaker. This morning, the Table Office accepted two identical questions from me--one for the Prime Minister and one for the Secretary of State for Defence--asking on what date they were first alerted to the Matrix Churchill situation. In the light of the answer to my right hon. Friend, are we saying that there is no need for Ministers to answer such questions, even if they remain on the Order Paper, on the grounds that the matter is sub judice, because that raises deep questions--
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you assist me further? If, as we have been told, the sanction against Ministers who refuse to give evidence is that they would lose their jobs, what sanction would the House have over former Ministers who decline to give evidence? Is there any way in which you can assist me on that matter?
Mr. Bermingham : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Perhaps you could assist me. I listened to the statement and to all the questions and answers, but I remain puzzled about our policy with regard to the shipment of machinery, which is capable of making munitions, to various middle eastern countries. Perhaps the relevant Minister--be it from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Prime Minister or someone else--could get up and tell me their departmental policies.
Column 757matter arises from this debate which calls for a statement to the House. I have examined dozens of questions and answers that I have received since 1987, and it is clear that the answers given to me by Mr. Alan Clark and other Ministers were untrue. Can the wrong that has been done to the House be undone by a statement from the Leader of the House and from the Government--a statement in which they will go through all the untruthful answers of the past four years and give us truthful replies?
Madam Speaker : I have no authority to instruct any Minister to come to the Dispatch Box, but the comments made by the hon. Member have obviously been heard by those on the Treasury Bench this afternoon.
Mr. Litherland : It was stated that the Prime Minister could instruct any Minister to attend the inquiry. I ask your guidance, Madam Speaker. Who can instruct the Prime Minister to attend the inquiry and make available his knowledge of this situation?
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen) : In relation to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), can you clarify whether it is not a fact that nothing that has been said this afternoon would preclude him from referring the matter to the Committee of Privileges?
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) : It will be within your recollection, Madam Speaker, that, three years ago, the then Attorney- General came to the House and announced a judicial inquiry into the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings, and that, once it became clear that the judge in charge of that inquiry, Sir John May, was
Column 758not willing to participate in a whitewash, the inquiry was nobbled. No Attorney-General has since come to the House to explain the fate of that inquiry. In order that we may know how seriously to take the inquiry just announced, could we first of all hear a statement from the Attorney-General about what happened to the last one?
Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East) : Can you help me by making it clear whether officers of MI5 and MI6 will be under a compulsion to tell the inquiry whether they advised the former Prime Minister of her son's arms dealings in this area and his involvement in the shipment of munitions to Iraq?
Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau, Gwent) : Would the Attorney-General care to explain the links between the Government and the firm, Allivane, which supplied equipment to Iraq and Iran at the time of the Iraq-Iran war?
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).
That the draft Legal Advice and Assistance (Scope) (Amendment) Regulations 1992 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Andrew MacKay.]
Question agreed to.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to confer upon the prosecution a right of appeal against decisions to grant bail ; to reverse the presumption in favour of bail in certain cases ; to make other provisions relating to bail ; and for connected purposes. I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, is able to be in the Chamber this afternoon.
This is the second time that I have sought to change the criminal law. Having practised at the Bar for 15 years, I take particular interest in these matters. In 1987, I wrote a pamphlet which was published by the Bow Group and which urged Parliament to give the Attorney-General a right of appeal against over-lenient sentences. I was very glad that this was enacted in section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and I trust that the Bill for which I seek leave today will receive similarly favourable treatment from Parliament. My Bill seeks to amend the law because our constituents are seriously concerned about offences which are being committed by people who have been arrested and then released on bail by magistrates. We read about such cases every week in our newspapers. The largest number of such cases relate to burglaries of dwellings and car thefts and it is the same group of people who are committing the same type of offence again and again. But the problem exists even in the most serious cases.
Hon. Members will recall with deep sadness and regret that Mrs. Anna McGurk was recently raped and murdered in Gloucester by a man who had already been arrested by the police for rape and had been let out on bail by magistrates, against the objection of the police. The House should take particular note of the fact that the murderer had been required by the magistrates to reside in a bail hostel as a condition of his bail.
My Bill would seek to make two changes to the law. First, it would give the prosecution a right of appeal to a judge where bail had been granted by magistrates against police objection. At present, the police can do nothing except watch the arrested man walk out of court. For police officers who spend their lives apprehending criminals on our behalf and at great personal risk, that
Column 760must be very demoralising. If the situation were reversed, and bail had been refused, the arrested man could apply to a judge for bail. My Bill would redress the balance in these matters between the defence and the prosecution.
The Scots are ahead of us in this matter, as in many things ; it is already possible for the prosecution there to appeal if bail is unreasonably granted, and we should have the same rule in England and Wales.
Secondly, my Bill would reverse the burden of proof in the case of persons who had already been convicted of committing an offence in the past 10 years, while on bail. I believe that those people have forfeited the trust that bail implies. I do not say that they should not get bail at all, but it should be for them to prove that they should be given bail, rather than for the police to prove that they should not.
It may be argued that my Bill would increase the prison population and the cost of the prison service. I believe that it can be argued, however, that gaol is cheaper than bail. Bail hostels are not cost-free, and it is certainly not cost free to allow such persons to be at liberty to rape and murder our constituents, to burgle their houses and to steal their cars.
It is the very first duty of any Government to protect their citizens not only from external attack but from internal attack by criminals within our country. I trust that this Government will discharge that duty.
In the interests of protecting all our constituents from crimes committed by persons on bail, I seek leave of this honourable House to bring in the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Michael Stephen, Sir Anthony Grant, Sir Trevor Skeet, Mr. Michael Shersby, Mr. Anthony Steen, Mr. Edward Garnier, Mr. Roy Thomason, Mr. Richard Ottaway, Mr. Mark Robinson, Mr. David Congdon, Mr. Hartley Booth and Mr. Roger Evans.
Mr. Michael Stephen accordingly presented a Bill to confer upon the prosecution a right of appeal against decisions to grant bail ; to reverse the presumption in favour of bail in certain cases ; to make other provisions relating to bail ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 19 February and to be printed. [Bill 80.]
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [9 November], That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Question again proposed.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education (Mr. Nigel Forman) : In the debate yesterday we heard a great deal of nonsense from the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and other Opposition Members about the allegedly centralising motives and characteristics of the Bill. Of all the charges that could be levelled at us--precious few have any validity--the charge of centralisation is the most absurd.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his brilliant opening speech yesterday, and as several of my hon. Friends also pointed out during the debate, Labour has wilfully misunderstood and misrepresented the thrust of the Bill. Not for the first time, Labour is confusing means with ends. The means provided in this measure certainly involve the use of central power exercised with the full backing of parliamentary statute. But the ends achieved will be greater local choice and local autonomy at the level of individual parents and schools. We are confident that this framework of truly local choice will bring managerial benefits for head teachers, participation benefits for parents and other governors and--most important of all--educational benefits for the children concerned. I am glad to be able to say that, even since yesterday, two more applications for grant-maintained status have been approved by my right hon. Friend.
The Government published the parents charter and have consistently sought to return the power in education to where it belongs--to parents, teachers and governors of schools.
Our policy, in the Bill and in other previous measures, is all about enfranchising ordinary people, not about protecting outdated trade union or bureaucratic practices. This principle was true of the Housing Act 1980, which the hon. Member for Dewsbury fiercely opposed ; it is true of our policies for wider pensions and share ownership ; and it is true of the Bill, which places new opportunities in the hands of parents, teachers and governors so that the people most closely involved with our schools--
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the main Labour spokesman on this issue, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), not to be in her place on the Opposition Front Bench for a debate of this nature ?
Mr. Davies : I appreciate the concern of some Conservative Members who may question the absence from the Chamber of my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). I understand that she is on the telephone to the Secretary of State for Wales, trying to persuade him to come here to take part in the debate.
Mr. Forman : I was explaining that we have been seeking to enfranchise ordinary people and not to protect outdated trade union or bureaucratic interests. I said that that principle was true of the Housing Act 1980, which the hon. Member for Dewsbury--who, as it has been pointed out, is not in her place--fiercely opposed. It is true of our policies for wider pensions and share ownership and it is true of this measure, which places new opportunities in the hands of parents, teachers and governors, so that the people most closely involved with our schools can truly develop a sense of ownership towards their schools and the education provided for the children in them. The parents charter made it clear that our policies involve giving parents important rights to complement their important
responsibilities. For example, parents have a right to choose between available schools, which will bring financial pressure to bear on less effective schools and increase standards for all ; parents have a right to good information about schools so that they can make informed choices in the best interests of their children and keep school performance up to the mark ; parents have a right to good information about how their children are doing at school so that they can form a genuine partnership with the teachers and staff [Interruption.] I am pleased to see the hon. Memberr for Dewsbury in her place.
Parents have the right to influence the management of their schools through serving as governors and voting in ballots on
grant-maintained status ; and parents have the right to be heard when things go wrong, meaning that appeal and complaints machinery is required by law.
All those rights, which were denied to parents for generations, are now enjoyed by parents, thanks to Conservative Governments and the series of reforming Education Acts from 1980 onwards. The Bill builds on those achievements and will ensure that, as the new framework emerges, those rights are preserved and enhanced.
Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower) : The Minister said that it is important for parents to be fully informed about the proposals. Will he join me in congratulating West Glamorgan county council on providing fair but forceful information that persuaded the parents of Gowerton comprehensive school to vote overwhelmingly not to go for grant-maintained status? Will he endorse how the county council provided that information?
Mr. Forman : The important point that lies behind the hon. Gentleman's intervention is that the information published in such cases should be fair and impartial. That applies as much to local education authorities as to those who support grant maintainance.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Is my hon. Friend aware of the progress that has been made at Hendon school since it became the first school in London to become grant maintained? Is he aware that, when it was under local education authority control, it was undersubscribed and that it is now heavily oversubscribed? Is he further aware that the headmaster has now been able to spend much more on books and teaching materials than he could when the school was under local education authority control?