I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Although I may take just a little longer than I did moving some of the Amendments which we have recently been considering, if that is the appropriate word, I promise the House that I shall not take any great length of time.
In commending this Bill to the House on Second Reading on 12th December, which now seems a very long time ago, I explained the three main lines of policy. The first was to streamline our criminal court procedure, so as to enable all those concerned with law enforcement to operate within a less time-wasting framework. The second was to give us a criminal law which is less concerned with observing what I described as the traditional rules of a stately, but sometimes archaic minuet, and more concerned at arriving at the truth, both for the guilty and the innocent. The third was to modernise our penal system so that it could better perform the triple rôle of deterrence, rehabilitation and reform.
On Second Reading the Bill was given a generous welcome, and since then it has been minutely debated in Committee, and at considerable length last night and tonight on the floor of the House. The result is a Bill which we can, most of us, agree, has been substantially improved. A large number of Amendments have been made, some of them purely drafting or clarificatory, some mainly procedural, but making none the less important points of principle; and others of major significance, of which the new Clause constituting the prison licensing board is the most striking example.
The Government are most grateful for the help given by my hon. Friends, and I should like to say how much we appreciate the generous and non-partisan way in which the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), and his right hon. and learned Friends, hon. and learned Friends, right hon. but not learned Friends and hon. but not learned Friends, have all contributed in their various ways to the improvements which we have been able to make in the Bill.
We have been able to make these without departing in any way from the underlying philosophy of the Bill, and I hope that the House will agree that we have observed the undertaking, which I gave on Second Reading, that we would not be unduly rigid in considering proposals for change, from whatever part of the House they may originate. We had some discussion at an earlier stage this evening as to whether free votes were not appropriate, but hon. Members, when they come to study the Division Lists tomorrow, will see that something very near to a free vote on both sides of the House took place on any matter which might have been important or outstanding.
The Bill now goes to another place, and before long I hope that it will be on the Statute Book. I hope and believe that it will be a significant contribution to the reform of our criminal law and that it will make it easier to convict the guilty while preserving the safeguards which we all regard as essential. I hope, too, that it will help to give us a penal system more closely related to the needs of our society. I should like to thank all those hon. Members, not least my right hon. and hon. Friends who have spoken on so many detailed points from the Government Front Bench, in Committee and here, for the help that they have given us throughout.
Speaking for myself and, I am sure, for many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I appreciate the open-mindedness which the Home Secretary has shown over many important matters in the Bill, and I acknowledge the hard work which has been done by the Minister of State and the hon. and learned Under-Secretary.
It is a better Bill now, and that can rightly be regarded as being due to the efforts of both sides of the House. I should even like to do something which I do not do very often, and that is pay tribute to a Liberal hon. Member for the great interest which he has shown in the Bill. I refer, of course, to the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley).
I hope that I shall not mar the pleasant atmosphere in which we are ending what have been very hard labours if I make this comment. It was not until 30 days after the last day in Commitee that we got the first marshalled list of Government Amendments. I do not complain of that, In view of the vast amount of work which had to be done, with Easter intervening, 30 days was not an excessive time. But we did not get that marshalled list until last Friday morning, and all our Amendments had to be in by 10.30 on Monday evening, which made it rather a rush job. In the circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman will perhaps acknowledge that we did not do too badly, but it was a very rush job.
I draw attention to that because the Bill is capable of still further improvement in detail, even if there are disagreements in principle as well, and, in another place, I hope that they will feel completely free to do what we have not had time to do as perfectly as we should have wished.
Having said that, the Bill is something which should, in the main, help the administration of justice greatly to overcome many difficulties. I am uneasy still about some features of it. I am uneasy, particularly, about the way in which the discretion of the courts is fettered, and I hope that further thought may be given to that. None the less, I am glad that the Bill is now to get its Third Reading.
There is one aspect of Part V of the Bill which I want to raise at this late stage because it could not be raised earlier, except on Second Reading.
Clause 60 says:
Subject to any exemption having effect by virtue of this section any person who has in his possession or purchases or acquires a shot gun without holding a certificate authorising him to possess shot guns shall be guilty of an offence.
We all know what the purpose of that is, but I suspect that it is not to do something which it might do involuntarily, and I ask the Home Secretary to think about it before the Bill goes to another place.
People who live in the more distant parts of the United Kingdom, such as the West Country, Scotland and Wales, nowadays have no local gun maker. If a shot gun develops a defect, it has to be dispatched to London or Birmingham. As I read the Clause, it would be an offence for anyone in British Railways or British Road Services to be in possession of a shot gun without holding a certificate authorising him to possess it. I am quite sure that that was not the intention when the Clause was drafted, and I shall be happy to be reassured by the right hon. Gentleman that there is some other provision which cancels the implication which I read into the Clause.
It is quite obvious that most of the areas where shot guns are used extensively are remote from the centres of manufacture and repair. This will be a legitimate reason for wanting to pass the possession of the gun temporarily into the hands of somebody who is not a licensed firearms dealer, such as British Railways, or some other carrier. If the right hon. Gentleman is not able to assure me that this point is covered somewhere in the Bill, I should be grateful if, before we give the Bill its Third Reading, he will assure me that he will introduce a suitable Amendment in another place to deal with this.
I rise to offer a general welcome to the Bill, and to wish it all possible success in its future stages.
The Home Secretary will recollect that in Committee I frequently found myself voting against the Government. I say "against the Government", rather than "with the Conservatives", because it was not always easy to see who the Conservatives were. In other words, many of the Divisions were on non-party lines. Indeed, from what the right hon. Gentleman said about the vote earlier today, and from what we will see on the Division Lists, it seems that we may have introduced certain habits which may stick.
We on this bench support the Measure. We welcome particularly the right hon. Gentleman's intention to make room in our prisons for the people who really ought to be there, and keep out the people who ought not to be there.
I arrived with this Bill, honourable perhaps, but certainly not learned. I hope that as a result of the great courtesy and help which I have received from right hon. and learned and hon. and learned Members on both sides of the House I have emerged, if not more learned, considerably more knowledgeable.
I rise to thank the Home Secretary for the gracious way in which he proposed the Third Reading. I think that it would have been easy for the Opposition to spend a lot more time on the Bill than has been taken, and it would have been easy to defend such a course of action, because almost everything in the Bill is capable of having two opinions about it, but we thought it our duty, after thinking of it very carefully, to give the Bill as fair a wind as possible.
Although on the whole we have had a very full discussion on the Bill, we have tried very much to keep the wind of party controversy out of the discussion, and sometimes we have almost flaunted our internal difficulties to achieve this desirable result. I think on the whole, therefore, the debates on the Bill have been better than they would otherwise have been, and we are grateful for the Home Secretary's acknowledgement of the work which my right hon. and hon. Friends have put into it. Certainly I could not have done the immense labour of drafting Amendment without the assistance of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and I should like to acknowledge my debt to them in every respect.
I should like to endorse what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) said about the solitary Liberal representative on our Committee, who was both right-minded and very helpful.
Having said that, everything else that I should like to say about the Bill is out of order, because my doubts about it have been very considerable indeed, and the doubts which I have had are not because of what is in it, but because of what is not. I hope that we shall not be very much older before another and rather more comprehensive and perhaps a little more radical Measure will be before the House, which will possibly divide it even more deeply that the Bill has done. In the meantime, I wish the Bill all success.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will keep a very close eye on some of the more experimental provisions in the Bill. We do not know how they will work. I supported the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon over majority verdicts, and I do not regret it, but there were two strongly held opinions about this. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will keep in touch with the judiciary about how it is working, and will constantly seek reports not only from the Lord Chief Justice, but from other members of the judiciary, high, low, and intermediate, to find out how the various provisions in the Bill are getting along. I hope that he will keep closely in mind the working of Clause 30, about which a private enterprise Division, so to speak, was held a few moments ago. Grave doubts exist about this Clause.
I wish the Bill well. I am grateful to the Home Secretary and his team for their kindness in handling the Measure and I hope that they feel that they have been treated well by my hon. Friends.
I do not rise to deliver a speech in reply but merely, as an anticlimax, to answer a question asked by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), who wondered what application these provisions have on shot guns and how they relate to carriers. The answer is that Clause 60(5) applies Section 4 of the Firearms Act, 1937, which exempts carriers from these provisions.