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5.16 p.m.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, instead of immediately thanking all those who have contributed to the debate, perhaps I may record with some regret that, unfortunately, a Member of your Lordships' House, Lord Selkirk, who over many years regularly contributed to debates on criminal justice in Scotland died last week. His contributions will be greatly missed. Those of us who are members of the Faculty of Advocates were proud that, with his distinguished political record, he was also a member of the faculty.

I thank all those who have contributed to the Second Reading debate. The Bill was characterised by a number of your Lordships as being a tinkering with the system. The Bill is the result of extensive consultation. I

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certainly reject the idea that in any sense we did not recognise that what is at issue here is justice. In the foreword to our paper Firm and Fair we say:


    "Scotland is well served by its distinctive system of criminal justice. An independent prosecution service acting in the public interest and a judiciary of absolute integrity are among its particular strengths".

I would be the last person in your Lordships' House to suggest to the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, that in any respect his intellectual capacity is failing. However, it seems to me, with respect, that he is coming to an age when his memory is becoming somewhat golden. If he genuinely believes that the 1979 Bill, and in its later form the 1980 Bill, commanded the universal respect of all Scotland, that does not square with my memory of it, although as time has gone by some of the features which were opposed at that time are now accepted as being important parts of our system.

This is not a tinkering with the system. We looked long and hard at all of the issues and where we might improve them. Certainly we did not try to address such fundamental issues, even if we wanted to, of whether we should move from our current adversarial system to an inquisitorial one. I would vigorously resist that, particularly at a time when so many countries in Europe are looking this way across the Channel to see whether they might move more towards our adversarial systems rather than remain with their own inquisitorial systems.

I accept that, if there is one big idea which is not contained within the Bill, it is in relation to the proposal that there should be a fresh view, possibly including the establishment of a tribunal, in relation to miscarriages of justice. As the Bill progresses through its later stages there may be those who will wish to return to that matter. We recognise the interest in it. We also recognise the great complexity of the issue. It is for that reason that the committee under the distinguished chairmanship of Professor Sutherland has been established. Perhaps I may say this to the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay. It would seem to me that its membership is not without distinction, including within it the Lord Justice-Clerk, and Sheriff Gerald Gordon, who will be well known to anyone with an interest in the criminal system, along with many other distinguished lawyers and others who have a knowledge of our system.

I make no apologies for returning to a number of matters in procedure which existed previously. Our experience has been that by focusing carefully on intermediate diets in the sheriff courts remarkable progress has been made in reducing the number of witnesses unnecessarily called to our courts and the number of trials unnecessarily adjourned or sometimes cancelled. Already we have achieved significant success. I believe that the provisions in the Bill will make those experiments even more successful.

It is not a matter simply of saving the fiscal's time or the court's time. Among the correspondence that I receive are letters from members of the public who have been cited as witnesses. They find that they have repeatedly to come to court and are then sent away without explanation. They have to return weeks later

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and then find that a plea of guilty is tendered, so even in those circumstances they are not required. What is alarming is their conclusion: that should they be witness to another criminal activity they would turn a blind eye to it. At the centre of the Bill is a serious purpose: it is to avoid just such a problem. As my noble friend Lady Carnegy pointed out, huge numbers of people are called to the courts as witnesses every year. We hope to reduce the number substantially.

I am grateful to my noble friend and to others in the House who have given a welcome to the provisions in the Bill. It contains a wide variety of different issues. Sometimes the support came, if I may say so, from unexpected quarters with unexpected vigour. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, for his trenchant and brief explanation of the desirability of Clause 26. I hope that it will be understood far more clearly in Scotland what a modest proposal it is and where it fits into the existing common law.

At another point the noble and learned Lord complained that the balance of the Bill was entirely wrong; that it had all been inspired by Crown Agents, the Crown Office or the Law Officers. I cannot accept that. I believe that there were matters on which we wished to achieve a rather better balance. If I recollect the matter accurately, he singled out the change which we proposed on the peremptory challenge of jurors. His narrative of what took place in the 1980 legislation was entirely correct. Since then a similar abolition was proposed and indeed enacted in England. A number of anxieties were expressed at the time. However, my understanding of the situation south of the Border is that, notwithstanding that abolition, the threatened problems have not arisen.

There was general complaint that there was risk of some under-resourcing of both the fiscal service and the criminal justice system more generally. I come back to this point. I am concerned that our criminal justice system should work efficiently and effectively, and that no one--be they court staff, sheriffs, procurators fiscal or whatever--should have time wasted and public money wasted if it can be properly avoided, and that might best be done in relation to our provisions on routine evidence, certificated evidence, agreed evidence and intermediate diets.

There will be expenditure, and provision is allowed for it in the Bill. We should like to extend some of the arrangements and go further with 100 per cent. funding if the arrangements prove successful in relation to supervised attendance orders and the like. I have no doubt that noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, will warmly approve of the arrangements that we have already made and of the way in which we wish to extend them.

I hope that our proposal that those who have had a fine imposed and do not pay it should have the matter resolved by the requirement that they are subjected to a supervised attendance order rather than be sent to prison will be more specifically welcomed. Anyone who has contact with the prison service in Scotland will realise the enormous waste of resources involved with the huge number of receptions required. Such a situation achieves

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absolutely nothing. People are sometimes in prison for only a matter of hours before their fine is paid but huge burdens are imposed on the service.

A number of detailed questions were asked. It would be difficult for me to attempt to answer them all. I shall take up the offer extended to me by my noble friend Lord Lyell to write to him on the issue of the qualifications of forensic scientists. As he will appreciate, forensic scientists carry out a wide range of functions. He also asked me about the video-taping of police interviews. A pilot scheme in Lothian and the Borders has just been completed and we are looking to see what experience might be gained from that scheme to take the matter forward.

I am grateful for the welcome for many of the detailed provisions which have been introduced in the Bill. From the speeches that have been made, I am encouraged that the House will enjoy positive and constructive Committee and Report stages. I hope that sufficient has been said in the Second Reading debate to set out for all those not only in your Lordships' House but in Scotland who wish to know what the Bill contains. I hope that they derive that information from our deliberations this evening. I look forward to the later stages of the Bill. I commend it to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Motor Coach Industry and European Legislation

5.28 p.m.

Lord Teviot rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what has been the impact of European Union legislation on the United Kingdom motor coach industry.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have pleasure in declaring an interest of which many of your Lordships are aware. For many years I have been in touch with the bus and coach industry, and I am delighted to ask this Question today. I thank those noble Lords who are taking part in the debate.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, will develop the subject of road safety. I shall touch on it but will allow him to develop it. I am also pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, who this afternoon is wearing his hat as the official Opposition spokesman. It would be helpful if he could give the benefit of his wisdom on the background of some of the legislation with regard to Europe. It is an important subject for the industry as a whole.

The major part of the motor coach industry in the United Kingdom--the number of vehicles is estimated at 15,000--is operated by small to medium sized enterprises. That ranges from operators of one coach to those with up to 50 vehicles. We do, of course, have a few significant large international operators with fleets numbering hundreds. However, many of the fleets are family owned and rely upon the dedication and flair of their owners for their continued success. In rural areas coaches are frequently the only means of transport for work and leisure pursuits and also provide evergreen

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holidays. But, most importantly, both nationally and internationally motor coaches play a key role in inter-urban travel and key express routes.

The safety of passengers is one of the principal concerns of United Kingdom coach operators and governments alike. Proven solutions to increasing safety have always been welcomed by the industry. I must confess that 1994 was not the best year where accidents are concerned, but coach travel continues to be one of the safest forms of transport.

Legislation from Europe which has opened up the market for transport by motor coach has been welcomed. That has been particularly true of the simplification procedures and authorisation of certain services. Common rules for access to the profession are all welcome. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, was responsible for that in his 10 years as a Commissioner.

The Commission White Paper on the Common Transport Policy, especially the development of the Citizens Network, is most encouraging for the role of communal transport, in which coaches play a key part. However, there are a number of developments in Europe which add significant additional costs to the operator and may put many of the small enterprises out of business. Among the most worrying is the proposal to apply value added tax on intra-Community bus and coach travel but to allow air and rail travel to be zero rated. That move is discriminatory and places the bus and coach sector at a competitive disadvantage. In addition to that outright discrimination, the nature of the VAT will create such a burden that many will be forced to withdraw from established operations.

The international coach passenger, when compared with international passengers travelling by other modes, is least able to bear the increased cost of travel which will arise from the imposition of VAT. While VAT will be paid in the country of the point of departure and not on "territoriality", it will be zero rated in the United Kingdom. The industry is concerned to know whether, if a positive rate of VAT is introduced in the UK, other forms of travel will have a positive rating for value added tax. Coaches are further discriminated against, since they pay the full rate of excise duty on fuel, whereas rail and to a lesser extent air travel are exempt.

I now move to speed capability. By 1996 the EC Directive 1992/6 will have reduced the maximum speed capability of most motor coaches to 65 miles per hour. At the time when that directive was agreed, the United Kingdom Government reassured the industry that the reduction would not result in a ban from the outside lane of motorways. Yet the Government have now consulted on such a proposal and are due to make a decision shortly. They have in their possession an independent report which shows that:


    "there is no conclusive evidence that the exposure to the risk of accidents would be either increased or decreased due to the imposition of a ban on coaches from the third lane".

o why is it being considered? There are serious safety and commercial implications for the coach industry if the ban goes ahead, because coaches will have to operate at the level of the heavy goods vehicle at 56 miles per hour and will thus be placed at a competitive

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disadvantage with other forms of transport. That is another example of discrimination against motor coaches. It seems to be against the general encouragement for people to travel on public transport.

I turn to weights. The European Community allows two-axle vehicles of up to 18 tonnes to operate throughout the Community, but the UK Government have a derogation until 1998 to allow for bridge strengthening. It would be helpful if the Government could find some means of relaxing those rules to permit vehicles of 18 tonnes on some parts of the network so as to allow UK operators to compete more effectively with Continental operators. Reports indicate that the bridge strengthening programme is almost complete.

Another point which has been brought to my attention in the past hour is a problem which has been dealt with responsibly by operators. It is that some of their passengers have wished to purchase ample quantities of duty-free goods, thus overloading the coaches. The operators have had to achieve a compromise with their passengers to avoid grossly overloading their vehicles. I can only add that if vehicles of 18 tonnes were allowed on the roads, that problem would be unlikely to exist.

As regards vehicle lengths, I should be grateful if the Minister would state the Government's views on the use of 15-metre vehicles, which are in common use throughout the continent. Many United Kingdom operators would like to use 15-metre vehicles in this country.

To wind up my remarks, when one talks about any form of legislation one comes to the matter of enforcement. The enforcement of regulations is a key part of transport and coaching in particular. Adherence to regulations on drivers' hours is a key part of road safety. There is a growing anxiety about the level of enforcement in Europe and the lack of consistency. The Commission's response to the issue is not to suggest that member states provide the right level and quality of staff but to computerise enforcement by means of a tachograph black box. Again, that brings additional costs, makes the system complicated and discourages further small to medium sized enterprises.

I have been brief, but I hope that I have dealt with the subject adequately. The issues are of great concern to the industry and I look forward to hearing the views of your Lordships and in particular of the Minister on these important matters.


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