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Lord Carter: My Lords, the House will be extremely grateful to the Minister for explaining this measure. As he said, there has not been an increase for 10 years. We understand the increase in costs that the RICS has to bear. I believe that the measure has to apply only to the RICS; otherwise, the actual wording of the 1986 Act would have to be altered. That wording requires the president of the RICS to act in this way. It is a 64 per cent. increase over the 10 years compared to an RPI of 53 per cent. However, I am sure that the Government have looked hard at the arguments that the RICS has produced for increasing the fee. We certainly agree with the measure.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Deregulation (Corn Returns Act 1882) Order 1995

7.13 p.m.

Lord Lucas rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 27th November be approved [5th Report from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee].

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, since 1882 there has been a requirement under the Corn Returns Act for all first hand purchasers of grain in England and Wales, and since 1954 in Scotland, to complete a weekly return showing the volume and price of purchases made. This currently places a requirement on some 1,400 businesses to complete and forward the required data to the Home-Grown Cereals Authority, which collects it on behalf of the Government.

In 1994, my noble friend Lord Howe set up a working group comprising both officials and industry representatives in order to review the requirements of the Corn Returns Act. The working group confirmed the continued importance to Government and industry of the data collected under the Act. However, it also recommended that the requirement to complete returns could be lifted from the very smallest traders--who accounted for less than 1 per cent. of the total purchases--without compromising the value of the resultant data. Subsequent wider consultation with the industry supported this recommendation which is being implemented by the order before you today.

Under the order traders who purchase fewer than 1,000 tonnes of British corn during any one harvest year--a harvest year runs from 1st July to 30th June--will no longer be liable to submit corn returns during the subsequent year. This will remove the return requirement from some 800 small businesses, resulting in total estimated saving to those businesses of around £100,000 a year.

With the support of the industry, the order also provides for a relaxation of the current requirement for returns to be in writing and signed. This effectively means that purchasers have to send a signed copy of the corn return by first class post. This is clearly outdated. In future, regulations made under the Act must specify at least one alternative way of submitting returns.

Since it was first laid before Parliament in June 1995, the order has been the subject of careful study by the House of Commons Deregulation Committee and this House's Select Committee on the Scrutiny of Delegated Powers. Both committees recommended acceptance of the order without amendment. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 27th November be approved [5th Report from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee].--(Lord Lucas.)

Lord Carter: My Lords, once again, we have to thank the Minister for explaining this important order. If I heard him right, he said that the Act was introduced in 1882 but it did not apply to Scotland until 1954. Why did it take Scotland 72 years to catch up with the rest of the UK? The Minister need not answer my next point now, but I would be interested to learn the actual definition of "corn" under the Corn Returns Act. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, is in the Chamber. She may remember that we debated an order which stated that oilseed rape had to become a cereal for a levy to be collected on it under the 1965 Act. I presume that "corn" includes wheat, barley, oats and rye. I would be interested to learn whether what I have mentioned is the case. The one other provision, I

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presume, is to allow for the use of the Internet, computers or something similar. With those observations, I support the order.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I think the likely provision is for fax. I do not think the Internet has caught up with most corn traders yet. As the noble Lord said, corn comprises wheat, barley, oats, rye and maize. For the purpose of this order it does not include oilseed rape which is not deemed to be a cereal for these purposes. Perhaps in future it will be but that is not the case now.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until twenty-five minutes past seven o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.17 to 7.25 p.m.]

Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill [H.L.]

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 91:

Before Clause 37, insert the following new clause--

Transfer for trial

(".--(1) Where a magistrates' court inquires into an offence as examining justice in accordance with section 6 of the Magistrates' Court Act 1980 (discharge or committal for trial) the court--
(a) shall consider only written evidence when deciding under subsection (1) of that section whether to commit the accused for trial by jury; and
(b) may, at the request of the legal representative of the accused, commit the accused for trial under subsection (2) of that section without the accused being present in court.
(2) In section 6(1) of the Magistrates' Court Act 1980, for the word "evidence" where it first occurs there shall be substituted the words "written evidence".
(3) Section 102(4) of the Magistrates' Court Act 1980 (which requires a person to attend before a court to give evidence) shall cease to have effect.
(4) Section 44 and Schedule 4 to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (which provide for transfer for trial proceedings in place of committal proceedings) shall cease to have effect.
(5) In this section, "legal representative" mean an authorised advocate or authorised litigator as defined) in section 119(1) of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 and "written evidence" means evidence tendered in writing in accordance with section 102 of the Magistrates Courts Act 1980."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 91 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 93, 94 and 122, which have the minor additional effect of removing two clauses and a schedule from the Bill.

The amendments deal with the issue of transfer for trial from the magistrates' court to the Crown Court. It is an issue which has a history of aborted reform over a considerable period. I understand that on no fewer than

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three occasions the Government have tried to come forward with reform and on each occasion reform has been delayed.

The Royal Commission on Criminal Justice--the Runciman Commission--recommended in respect of full committals from the magistrates' court, in their present form, that where the defendant makes a submission of no case it is considered on the basis of the papers rather than in person and that the defence is able to advance oral argument in support of a submission but that witnesses should not be called.

Those who are deeply concerned with these matters; namely, the Law Society, the Justices' Clerks' Society, the Association of Magisterial Officers and the Chief Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, broadly support the Royal Commission's recommendations. They had a meeting with the Home Secretary last Tuesday which led them to feel that it was necessary to air the matter again today.

The Government's proposals, which were introduced in amendments at Committee stage rather than in the Bill as originally published, replace all committals with a transfer for trial scheme. The object was to spare witnesses having to give evidence twice--once at committal and again at the Crown Court trial--and to improve the efficiency of the courts. We agree that the first of those objectives is met by the Government's amendments, but we do not think that the second objective is met. That is the reason for the amendment and the consequential amendments.

We agree that the number of committals will be reduced by the Government's proposals. However, there are not very many committals at present. Old-style committals make up only 7 per cent. of all committals, and witnesses give evidence only in some of those. The Government propose to make a radical change to make all committals unnecessary, in order to produce benefits which will in any event apply only to a small proportion of cases. It is our view that the Royal Commission's recommendations could be achieved by Amendment No. 91, which is in effect an amendment to the Magistrates' Court Act 1980. Under the amendment a court would consider only written evidence when deciding whether to commit an accused for trial by jury under subsection (1) and could, at the request of the legal representative of the accused, commit the accused for trial under subsection (2) without the accused being in court.

The reasons that we are worried about the Government's proposals are, first, that there will be delays. The Government's proposals introduce for the first time new time limits which are supposed to be a discipline. Between the mode of trial and the first hearing guidelines exist as regards eight weeks in bail cases and six weeks in custody cases. They are met in most cases. However, the problem is that the proposals are likely to bring delays. Experience is that time limits imposed in this way are used fully. In other words, cases are not made until the last minute. In order to provide a workable scheme with statutory time limits, the Government have had to extend the existing time limits to 12 weeks, an increase of 50 per cent. in bail cases

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and 100 per cent. in custody cases. We do not believe that the Government's proposals will speed up cases coming to trial.

Secondly, we think that the Government's proposals are inflexible. They are claimed to give greater control of the pre-trial process. However, we believe that they are inflexible and will take control away from the courts. If the prosecutor fails to serve notice of the case within the prescribed period--let us remember that the prescribed period is required because the CPS has a record of taking a long time to bring a case--the court has to discharge the accused regardless of the seriousness of the offence and the strength of the prosecution evidence. That must happen under the Government's proposals. I suggest that there would be a justified public outcry.

There is no provision in the Government's proposals for the courts to require the prosecution to serve notice of its case in a shorter time than the prescribed period. The proposals take no account of whether the accused is in custody or on bail, whether the case is straightforward or complex or whether the evidence is already available or still being gathered. At present courts have some control over how long the prosecution will take and are able to press the prosecution to serve its evidence sooner if that is possible. If the prosecution do not serve a formal piece of evidence in its notice of case, that cannot be put right before the magistrates consider the evidence, and the accused will have to be discharged.

Where defendants elect for Crown Court trial but agree to summary trial after they have seen the prosecution evidence, the government scheme does not allow the accused to change their mind in cases of summary trial. Cases will be sent to the Crown Court unnecessarily.

The conclusion is that the scheme will cost more. The savings which the Minister stated at Committee would result from this scheme will be non-existent. The reverse may even take place. Where the accused is in custody there will be a larger remand prison population and greater costs for the Prison Service. There will have to be new administrative systems, new training given in their use, and new costs for the magistrates' courts, the Crown Prosecution Service and defence solicitors.

The Law Society and those concerned with magistrates' courts have always been in favour of reform. They have always wanted the same objectives that the Government have sought. But they simply do not believe that the wholesale scrapping of the existing procedures is necessary. It suggests that the more modest measures proposed in Amendment No. 91 would be better. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I recognise that there is concern among practitioners about the new transfer procedure. That is perhaps understandable since transfer for trial represents a major change to practice and procedure in the magistrates' courts, but it is a change which I believe to be both necessary and overdue.

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Practitioners and commentators may be having difficulties in coming to terms with the principle and practical application of transfer because of the understandable tendency to try to equate it with the existing system. It is essential, though, to recognise that transfer is a completely new system for dealing with pre-trial procedure in the magistrates' courts. When Parliament decided to abolish the committal system, the central aim was to introduce an entirely new mechanism in its place, to move from a mainly court-based system to a mainly administrative one. This will bring with it significant savings, both in terms of time and cost, as well as greatly improving the efficiency of the process.

The proposed alternative set out in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is deceptively simple in that it appears, on the face of it, not to involve wide changes to existing legislation and practice. But it misses completely the fundamental point about the new transfer procedure which is that, in uncontested cases, as soon as the prosecution has served notice of its case, the case will automatically and immediately be transferred to the Crown Court. In 1994, over 97,000 cases--some 93 per cent. of the total--fell into that category. In such cases, there will be no need for any court hearing, or for any consideration of the evidence. The procedure will be a simple one without elaborate paperwork. Savings will arise for the courts because of this streamlining and for the legal aid bill, because it will not be necessary for the parties' representatives to attend court.

Turning to the specific details of the noble Lords' amendment, the first part--it has the effect of limiting evidence to written statements--is similar to what is proposed with regard to an application for dismissal under the transfer procedure, but with one vital difference. Under transfer arrangements, hearings where the prosecution and defence representatives are actively involved will be the exception. Most cases will be dealt with entirely on paper, with no need even for the parties to attend. Under the noble Lords' proposal, by contrast, there would be a hearing attended by all the parties in every such case. Oral submissions by the parties, but not oral evidence, would routinely be allowed.

The second part of the noble Lords' amendment, which deals with uncontested cases, still envisages a court-based procedure in such cases, although it removes the requirement on the parties to attend. Valuable court time would be taken up to no clear purpose. As I have said, the transfer procedure by contrast provides for uncontested cases (the vast majority of all cases) to be transferred automatically for trial at Crown Court.

The noble Lords' proposal would thus not deliver the efficiency savings flowing from the transfer procedure. Nor under their proposal would there be the discipline of time limits, which the Royal Commission specifically recommended. Some have argued that the prescribed time limits under transfer arrangements will result in time delays, rather than in driving forward the proceedings as quickly as possible. I find it difficult to see why this should be so. The fact of the matter is that, under the existing committal system, the 42-day pre-trial issues guideline for service of the prosecution case

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appears to be met in only a relatively few cases. Although no comprehensive figures are available, sampling suggests that as many as 75 per cent. of cases exceed that timescale. The prescribed period of 70 days for service of notice of the prosecution case under the transfer procedure reflects that reality. It does not change it. The Government remain committed to the PTI guidelines and expect the police and the CPS to continue working to the 42-day period in the majority of cases. The 70-day period is a maximum limit. It does not mean that where cases can be processed more quickly they will not be. The 70-day period is also avowedly an initial limit. That is to say, my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary have agreed that the position should be monitored carefully. They are both determined that the time limit should be progressively reduced. The longer prescribed period initially will mean that in the majority of cases there will be no need to apply for extensions, thereby avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy and additional burdens on the courts or on any of the parties concerned.

Implementation of the new procedure has been delayed a number of times in recognition of practitioners' concerns which the Government are addressing in these amendments. Working together with practitioners, we will be able to produce an efficient procedure to act as a filter to stop weak cases from getting to the Crown Court, and avoids the problems associated with committals. There can be no real benefits from replacing committals with a procedure which would take up similar amounts of time and resources, as proposed under the terms of the noble Lords' amendment.

I therefore hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment. I should like if I may to draw another point to noble Lords' attention. The Government recognise and share practitioners' concerns that the transfer should be workable and effective. This is, of course, our principal aim in making amendments to the transfer provisions. The views of practitioners on the operational aspects of the procedure are clearly of invaluable assistance in achieving this aim. We are very grateful for their detailed comments on the mechanics of the procedure, and we are currently considering these in full.

As a result of the consultation which is still in progress, we wish to make some further technical refinements to the amendments which were tabled at Committee stage and clarification of the provisions contained in the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980, as inserted by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that it is essential that we should take the views of practitioners into account so as to ensure a system that operates effectively. I am sorry that that means that we are not in a position to table the amendments at Report as originally planned, but I hope that, in the light of the reason I have given--that is consultation with those who will be affected by it--the delay in order to get the legislation right is justified.

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