|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister on three counts. First, for giving us the information that we should hang around during the afternoon to make sure that we hear the education Statement; secondly, that we should hang around during the late evening of Wednesday, 10th September, to ensure that we can take up our hot tickets for the front seats in the show for the Fire Services Bill, which I note will begin only after the conclusion of all other business on that day, so we may be in for a long night; and, thirdly, for his explanation in response to my amendment. However, I am bound to say that I still have some difficulty with it.
The Minister knows that the only reason I tabled the amendment was to seek some clarity about the overlap between the Bills. I was not particularly interested in the integrated risk management planning process. We are all agreed on that and it forms a part of this Bill. However, if the Fire Services Bill ever had to be deployedI understand all the "ifs" and "buts"then some of the provisions in that Bill would relate to the reorganisation of fire services within local authority areas. I do not refer to the moving of equipment and so forth, rather to the reorganisational aspects.
If that were to happen then one Bill is going to have to be superior to the other. I understand that, in those circumstances, the Secretary of State or the Deputy Prime Minister would be able to impose a solution, but under the terms of the Local Government Bill he would already have passed that responsibility over to the local authorities. I do not think that the Minister has yet resolved the conflict about which of the two Bills would be paramount.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, there is no doubt about that. The Bill which would be paramount would be the Fire Services Act, as it will become. If the forthcoming Fire Services Act had to be operated, that would take place only under the circumstances of an emergency and the failure of the partiesthe employers, the Fire Brigades Union and everyone elseto agree. We would have a disaster on our hands. The two-clause Fire Services Act would give the Deputy Prime Minister the power to impose solutions, settlements, changes to contracts of employment and the moving or using of equipment. A dispute which the parties had failed to resolve themselves through their own procedures and their own arbitration, so that it was then necessary to operate the Fire Services Act, would amount to an emergency and the Fire Services Act would take precedence. That would be necessary in those circumstances in order to protect the public.
I do not need to take advice; in my mind I am absolutely clear on the point. The Fire Services Act would be paramount at such a time, but obviously for the shortest period possible because the circumstances would be those of a breakdown in negotiations and the need to impose a settlement so as to draw a line under the dispute. We have learnt the lessons of the past 12 months and that is why the Fire Services Bill has been brought before your Lordships' House.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I shall not rehearse the problems that we have with the Fire Services Bill, one of which is whether the Deputy Prime Minister will be able to do anything that he wants to under the Bill because there are no parameters in it. But that is not a matter for today. I thank the Minister for his robust reply and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I am very hopeful that the amendment will be accepted by the Government because Clause 57(8) refers to a trial conducted without a jury in the Crown Court, and trials conducted without a jury will not exist after Part 7 disappeared from the Bill the other day. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord would not want an inconsistent Bill sent to the House of Commons. I beg to move.
Lord Goldsmith: Perhaps I may deal first with the amendment and then take the opportunity to deal more generally with this part of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said, it is the first time that we have touched on it.
The purpose of Amendment No. 132J is to delete subsection (8) consequential upon the deletion of Part 7 of the Bill. The noble Lord used the word "disappearance" in relation to that part of the Bill; the Government's view is that that disappearance is temporary. We oppose the removal of Part 7 and will restore it in another place. Having said that, as matters stand at the moment it would not be reasonable for me to resist the amendment. That could possibly delay the Committee's consideration of other important parts of
If Part 7 is restored to the Bill, it will be necessary to bring forward consequential amendments. I give notice of that now because it will necessarily add to any amendments that may come back from another place.
There are a number of other consequential provisions in the Bill which may not be as straightforward as this one and which may require different handling. We will give further consideration to those but, on this occasion, I can accept the noble Lord's amendment.
Let me take a moment to say something further about this part of the Bill in order to avoid saying it at a later stage in Committee. This part of the Bill creates a new right of appeal for the prosecutor against any ruling made by a Crown Court judge, either at a pre-trial hearing or during a trial, that terminates the trial early before the jury has been asked to consider the evidence.
At present, the defence has a right of appeal against conviction and sentence at the end of a trial but the prosecution has no equivalent right to challenge judges' rulings that bring cases to an end prematurely before the jury has been asked to consider the evidence. The purpose of these appeal provisions is to remedy that imbalance. This will assist in improving the consistency of judicial decision-taking. Where the Court of Appeal disagrees with a judge's ruling it will enable cases that otherwise would have been lost to be determined by the jury.
The provisions will enable the prosecution to appeal two kinds of rulings. The first category concerns rulings that are terminating in themselves, such as a stay of proceedings or a ruling of no case to answer. The second category concerns rulings that are so damaging to the prosecution case that at present the prosecutor is forced to offer no evidence, or no further evidence, such as a ruling to exclude a key piece of prosecution evidence or an order to disclose sensitive material to the defence.
In a letter I have sent to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and copied to other noble Lordsincluding the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of GresfordI have attached examples of the kinds of cases to which this can apply. I have also placed a copy in the Library. Should any Members of the Committee wish to refer to the letter but do not have it with them, I have copies available in the Chamber. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is asking for a copy and one will be provided to him.
As the letter indicates, the Government hope to bring forward a series of amendments at Report stage. There will be two kinds of significant changes to the structure of the existing clauses. The first change will refine and clarify the existing provisions. This will include provision for essentially two matters. First, it will extend the time during which a prosecution appeal may be made to include the whole trial up to the start of the summing up. This is because a judge may withdraw a case from the jury at any time during the
The second kind of amendment will introduce a right of appeal against certain non-terminating evidential rulings. The purpose of this will be to deal with evidential rulings or a series of rulings that significantly weaken the prosecution case but fall short of being fatal to it and therefore qualifying as terminating rulings. The difference between this right of appeal and the right of appeal against other rulings in the Bill in Clause 59 is that the trial will continue regardless of the outcome of the appeal. The Court of Appeal will not be required to acquit if the appeal is unsuccessful and the prosecution will not be required to accept that if leave to appeal is not obtained or the appeal is abandoned the defendant should be acquitted.
In Committee in another place, my right honourable friend the Solicitor-General, in response to a point raised by Mr Humfrey Malins, indicated that the Government were considering extending the right of appeal to such rulings, which she described as rulings that were very damaging but could not be predicted to be fatal. I mention that now simply to give added notice that that is there; plainly it is not for debate in this Committee, but I was anxious that noble Lords and others who read these debates would know what we intend. That is an extremely long response, given that I am accepting the amendment.