Oral Answers to Questions — Criminal Law (Law Commission's Recommendations)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th April 1970.

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Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood 12:00 am, 7th April 1970

asked the Prime Minister whether he is satisfied with the co-ordination between the Home Office and the Law Officers in implementing the recommendations of the Law Commission on matters affecting the criminal law.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Yes, Sir. Four of the Reports of the Law Commission so far published have included proposals for changes in the criminal law. All these proposals have been carefully considered, and most of them have been embodied in legislation.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood

Have not the Government made considerable progress in revising and bringing up to date the criminal law? Will the Prime Minister confirm that no responsible body—and I do not include the Opposition in that statement—has suggested that trespass and public demonstrations should be subject to the rigours of the criminal law, and that the Government have no proposals to introduce legislation to that effect?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

In dealing with organised and other forms of crime, the Government have done a great number of things, including strengthening the police force quantitatively and qualitatively—equipment and so on—that were never done before we came into office. It is equally true, as my hon. Friend suggests, that changes in the law can have a great bearing on the crime problem. For example, the fundamental changes in the Gaming Act which were introduced by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and which led to the danger of a criminal Mafia in this country, is one of the most important legislative changes in the matter of crime.

We have been considering the law of trespass for many months. The Government and the police have never been happy about being involved in the criminal or any other sense in trespass matters, particularly in cases affecting landlord and tenant.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

In view of what the Prime Minister has said and claims, will he explain why the number of crimes committed goes on increasing every year?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that this should not be a matter for interparty argument—[Interruption.] It has been stirred up as a political matter by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Fair enough, if they want to do it. If they want to know the figures which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind, the annual average rate of crime has increased by 5·3 per cent. over the past five years. I give that to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It increased by an annual average rate of 9·6 per cent. in the previous five years.

Photo of Mr Arthur Woodburn Mr Arthur Woodburn , Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire

In view of the figures for violent crime, will the Prime Minister ask the Law Commission to consider whether it would be a good idea to intimate to criminals that anyone carrying a deadly weapon would be liable to have five years added to any sentence which would otherwise be imposed upon him, and so stop the carrying of weapons?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

These are matters which the Law Commission, and indeed other inquiries, can continue to study, but my right hon. Friend will remember the Government introducing a Measure which was supported by him and which considerably increased the penalties for the carrying of guns. I think this was about three years ago. Penalties were increased to truly penal proportions, and quite rightly so.

Photo of Mr Quintin Hogg Mr Quintin Hogg , St Marylebone

Although I accept that one does not want to make a grievous social problem of this kind a football of party politics—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—do not the figures which the right hon. Gentleman has repeated, showing a consistent rise year by year in the total of professional crime in this country of a serious character, constitute a serious social problem? Is it not therefore inevitable that Parliament should interest itself in this matter as of the highest priority? Would not any party on either side of the House which did not do so be failing in its responsibility?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Yes, Sir, the figures are grave and have been for many years. I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman will continue to resist the temptations which he made clear. It is right that all parties in this House should discuss this matter, but I find that he is more willing to discuss them outside the House than inside the House. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman reads some of his recent pronouncements—and I have even heard some of them on television—including incriminating me in the activities of the train robbers, who I think were even caught under the right hon. Gentleman, and in the activities of a number of other criminals who practised under the right hon. Gentleman and, as it happens, were caught under us, perhaps he would feel that he was making this rather too much of a party football. He must not be surprised when we boot the ball back to the other end.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) has no status in a matter of this sort, since only recently in the courts he defended a gaming club which because of its reputation failed to obtain a licence? Is that not conducing to crime?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

It is not for me to comment on the professional activities of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It is sometimes suggested that lawyers take briefs they do not believe in wholeheartedly. I do not know if that is true, but certainly what lawyers do is to be dissociated from their position as Members of Parliament and as shadow spokesmen. The position of the right hon. and learned Gentleman as shadow spokesman helps a little to crystallise this issue of law and order since the public will have to decide whether it wants my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Quintin Hogg Mr Quintin Hogg , St Marylebone

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have had a number of distinguished clients in the courts, including the right hon. Gentleman, and that I was extremely proud to appear for him? May I return to the subject by asking him whether he is aware that the only thing I have criticised about the right hon. Gentleman is that a certain degree of complacency seemed to creep into his Nottingham speech.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

On the first point, may I say that I was proud to be represented by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I was in no doubt about his sincerity in accepting that brief, but then I am not a gaming club. The right hon. and learned Gentleman in his concern with law and order will agree with what I said earlier that we were right to correct the activities of the gaming fraternity who had been let loose, and a lot of dangerous people were trying to get into this country under legislation of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. With regard to his comments about complacency in my Nottingham speech, he obviously did not read the whole speech, and certainly did not quote the relevant parts. Nor has he mentioned another speech that I made a little later on the subject of law and order. But since the burden of his remarks was related to my responsibility for the train robbers, may I say that I was not a bit complacent about the train robbers.

Hon. Members:

Walter!

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I am grateful to the House for advice. Mr. Edward Short. Statement.

Photo of Sir Harmar Nicholls Sir Harmar Nicholls , Peterborough

On a point of order. We have just had an exchange across the House between two right hon. Gentlemen which is obviously dangerous to Parliament unless we can have a Ruling from the Chair.

I should have thought that it was against the procedures of the House—and I should like to know whether Erskine May has pronounced on it—to have an exchange where the private professional operations of a Member are dragged in as part of a political argument in this House.

If the exchange to which we have just listened is allowed to pass without an official Ruling, I do not see how a practising barrister can make any contribution in this House—[Interruption]—or, for that matter, a trade union official who operates in the same way.

Photo of Sir Harmar Nicholls Sir Harmar Nicholls , Peterborough

Could there be a Ruling from the Chair, Sir, to make it quite clear that such an exchange to which we have just listened is unparliamentary and ought not to be entered into?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I listened very carefully to what passed between the two right hon. Gentlemen, but I thought that it was good-natured badinage between the two.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

On a point of order. Would you be good enough, Mr. Speaker, to say, as the Prime Minister was not here yesterday, whether your strictures on the length of Answers apply to answers which are not answers?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The strictures I made were couched in very broad terms. They could apply to any hon. or right hon. Gentlemen in the House.

Photo of Mr Stanley Henig Mr Stanley Henig , Lancaster

On a point of order. In view of the fact that the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) is now in his place, and since he had down an interesting Question No. Q3 earlier, would it not be in order for that Question to be asked and answered now?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. That is a bogus point of order.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport , Knutsford

On a point of order. We continue in the House to get this cheating on the other side. [Interruption.] When have I raised a point of order that was not a point of order, you great, ugly brute?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I must remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that I am neither great nor ugly.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport , Knutsford

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, if that was thought to be a reflection on the Chair. But we look at these animals on the other side of the House day in and day out. We cannot particularise.

My point of order is quite simple, short and fair. Within the last 20 minutes we have had one moron, the right hon. Gentleman—if I may say so; he is not right and he is not honourable. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which one?"] Now we have another one.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

The hon. and gallant Member must——

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport , Knutsford

Mr. Speaker, I will withdraw that.

Within the space of 10 minutes we had another one, with spectacles on his kisser to try to make himself look intelligent, who raised another point of order which was not a point of order. When, Mr. Speaker, will you regard this as cheating? [Interruption.] I am not raising a point of order. I am raising a point of order on points of order which are not points of order.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. Points of order on points which are not points of order are not points of order.

Photo of Mr Hector Hughes Mr Hector Hughes , Aberdeen North

On a much more serious point of order. Is it not clear that the interchanges between the Front Benches deprive Question Time to the Prime Minister of its usefulness by blotting out a number of Questions which might have been asked?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

It is in order for there to be interchanges between the Front Benches during Question Time. That is the simple answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's point of order.