Imprisonment for Life on Further Conviction for Certain Offences

Orders of the Day — Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:36 pm on 20th March 1997.

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Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 2, line 16, leave out from ("opinion") to ("may") in line 19 and insert

("that it would be in the interests of justice for it to pass a sentence other than the sentence which that subsection would require it to pass, it")

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 6 and 31.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:49 pm, 20th March 1997

The amendments should not pass unremarked, because they represent a substantial climbdown by the Government from the wholly unreasonable position that they had previously adopted. Had the Government earlier displayed the same flexibility as they have been driven to demonstrate in the past few days, we might have had a much more constructive discussion about the best way to reform the law of Scotland.

The amendments that were accepted in the House of Lords have substantially restored the discretion of the judiciary on sentences for serious crimes. Perhaps more significantly, the Government have allowed an independent tribunal for Scotland to deal with miscarriages of justice. The Government rejected such a tribunal wholly and completely, notwithstanding the powerful and trenchant terms of the Sutherland report. At the meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee in Ayr last year, the Secretary of State for Scotland suggested dismissively that such a body for Scotland was unnecessary. Proud though we may be of the law in Scotland, we cannot assume its infallibility. In the past, the cases of Patrick Meehan and of Preece, among others, have shown that the legal system has been inadequate to deal with cases in which justice has not been properly done.

The amendments are a considerable improvement on the Government's original proposals. It is a great pity that they did not approach the matter in the constructive and consensual way that it deserves. I do not know whether the amendments will be described as driving a coach and horses through the Bill, but it is in a better state now than when it was first conceived. The Government could have had it in this condition if they had demonstrated any willingness to co-operate with the Opposition parties.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I draw your attention to Question 306 on today's Order Paper. I believe that a forged question has been put down in my name. I have discussed the matter with the Table Office, and the signature on the question looks like mine, but it is not. The terms of the question are not mine either. I take great exception to that. Perhaps it is an end-of-term prank, but if it is, I do not appreciate the joke. I suggest that we use all the forces of law and order that the Government have introduced recently and submit the question paper to DNA testing, to try to find out with whom the question originated.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I do not approve of end-of-term pranks. I shall do all I can to have investigations made, to see how this came about. You can be assured of that, Mr. Gallie.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 81 agreed to [some with Special Entry].