I was pleased recently to hear the Government announce plans—rather belatedly, in my view—to restrict some of the so-called rights to bail under the Bail Act 1976. Indeed, the Home Secretary spoke about that the other day in relation to other legislation. Will the Minister say something about the interlinking between this legislation and other projected legislation? On Opposition amendments, we have talked about a potential mismatch in thinking in relation to the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill, which is in another place. We have sought to expose the Government's lack of logic between that legislation and this measure.
In this instance, I suspect that we are talking about the Criminal Justice Bill. I am told that the Committee considering that Bill will sit for a number of weeks—almost as long as the Committee that considered the Proceeds of Crime Bill last year, on which I served with other members of this Committee. I gather that there are due to be 28 Committee sittings, some of which will be double sittings in the afternoon, with only a quarter of an hour break. If I may say so without going out of order, Mr. O'Hara, that is more of the nonsense that the new hours have brought upon us. I am genuinely concerned about that.
When my party was in government, I spent much time arguing that we needed to amend the Bail Act 1976 because it was one of the least workable pieces of legislation. When I practised at the Bar from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, I found that the Act led to more people being out who should have been in custody, if I may use that shorthand, than any other piece of legislation. It got things completely wrong. The Act was introduced when the previous Labour Government, the Wilson-Callaghan Government,
were still on their civil liberties kick, which the present Government seem largely to have abandoned.
One thing that went wrong with our criminal justice legislation was the establishment of the so-called right to bail. I believe that, if someone is accused of a criminal offence, particularly a serious one, they have no such right; it is a question of what the state decides is appropriate.
I am always interested when the 1976 Act appears for amendment in other legislation. I remember saying to colleagues when I first studied to be a lawyer—not long after the Act had been implemented—that one reason why I wanted to pursue my interest in politics was to try to do something about the appalling 1976 Act if I ever got into Parliament. That was genuinely one of my motivations for standing for election to this place, which is why I feel so strongly about any amendments that are proposed to that Act.
Did the Minister and his advisers think through the interlinking between these changes and the other things that they are planning to do to restrict the operation of the 1976 Act? I shall be delighted if the Government one day repeal the Act and replace it with something much tougher, in the same way that the Bill replaces previous legislation.
I take it that the hon. Gentleman believes in the presumption of innocence. It is a fundamental tenet of our justice system that someone is innocent until proved guilty and that the burden of proof is beyond reasonable doubt.
Of course I do. The hon. Gentleman has heard me talk about the presumption of innocence in moving some amendments, but the presumption of innocence is different from a so-called right to bail. The most important function of any criminal justice system is to protect its citizens. If someone had a propensity to commit serious offences, especially if they had a record of having done so on bail, it would go too far for any legislation to refer to a right to bail. It certainly goes much further than the presumption of innocence in which every proper citizen of this country and all legally qualified people should and do believe. Having got that off my chest, I hope that the Minister will address the narrower point of how the change to the Bail Act 1976, which we welcome, will interlink with other current Government proposals. Will he also set out how it differs from the arrangements for bail under the previous extradition legislation?
I do not intend to get involved in the argument between the two hon. Gentlemen about the jurisprudential basis for bail, although I assure the hon. Member for Surrey Heath that I listened to him with a great deal of care and attention, perhaps more than his party did when it was in Government. It ignored all his strong views on bail.
I will not get into that discussion because the amendment raises a simple point that does not bear the weight of rhetoric that we heard from the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. The clause simply amends the 1976 Act so that extradition proceedings under the Bill are governed by the bail provisions that apply in other criminal justice proceedings. The hon. Gentleman asked about other Bills that are currently
passing through the House of Commons. This Bill will bring extradition proceedings in line with other criminal justice proceedings, so if the provisions of bail are altered, so will provisions of extradition.
The amendments to section 4 of the 1976 Act contained in the Bill will extend the presumption in favour of bail to proceedings in extradition cases in which a person is accused of an offence. That presumption does not currently apply—that should answer the hon. Gentleman's question—and the Bill will remove that anomaly by bringing extradition proceedings into line with other criminal proceedings. In conviction cases, the presumption in favour of bail rightly does not apply.
Subsections (7) to (11) will apply when a person has been granted bail in the course of extradition proceedings and will mean that the person is subject to the same liability to arrest as if he or she is granted bail and under a duty to surrender into custody in the course of a criminal case. Therefore, when a person fails to surrender as required, a magistrates court has the power to issue a warrant for his or her arrest. In addition, if there is reason to believe that the person is likely to break bail conditions or fail to surrender, he or she may be arrested without warrant by a constable.
All that we are doing is bringing extradition in line with domestic proceedings, and I hope that, on the basis of that explanation, hon. Members will agree that the clause should stand part of the Bill.
The Minister says that my wider concerns about bail are not relevant, but he is mistaken. He said that there was not a presumption in favour of bail in extradition, but there will be now. He has already admitted that there are changes and that this is new law. For once, I was able to work that out from the explanatory notes, but I wanted to hear him say that on record. He rightly says that the presumption of bail does not apply after conviction, but I am not sure that there should be a presumption of bail anyway. Far from the Minister saying that my party did not listen to me about bail, he is saying that the Conservative 1989 Act did not include a presumption of bail, but that this Bill will include one. That is going in the wrong direction. Most of the time, the other Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), has been at pains to say that the Bill is much tougher than previous Conservative legislation. However, with clause 191, the Government are making the Bill weaker in cases in which there has not been a conviction, because it introduces a presumption of bail that did not exist in previous legislation.
I am not comfortable with the clause. It will be re-examined in another place, and I hope that the Minister will respond to the points that I have just made. The explanatory notes and Minister's comments seem to show that the Government are introducing a presumption of bail that did not exist before. That is going the wrong way.
I will try again to try to make the point a bit clearer to the hon. Gentleman. The arguments
about bail can be conducted in other forums. We are trying to remove an anomaly and bring extradition in line with other domestic proceedings, and I have not heard one word from the hon. Gentleman about why extradition should be dealt with differently. All his remarks about bail were general points, but if he wants to be listened to, he should argue with greater detail and precision than he has done so far.
Perhaps it is my fault, but, as both Ministers said earlier, extradition is different. There is every reason why it should not be an anomaly. Both the Bill and previous extradition law make special arrangements for people facing extradition. Where the UK has decided that someone faces extradition, why should there be the presumption of bail? As I said, extradition is different; it is not an anomaly. A useful provision existed in previous law, which the Government are attempting to remove.
I do not want to protract the debate unnecessarily. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect further on why bail should be treated differently for extradition proceedings than for domestic ones. Many differences apply in respect of the execution of warrants and so forth, but much of our debate has been about bringing the Bill into line with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, removing anomalies and clarifying processes to eliminate doubt—in short, to streamline and expedite the proceedings. We are trying to remove an anomaly—we can argue about bail elsewhere—and if the hon. Gentleman feels so strongly about the matter, he must make his case with greater clarity and precision. I hope that we can now make progress.
I shall not prolong the debate beyond saying that although the Minister is right to bring the Bill into line with other legislation, in extradition cases, where people have every temptation to abscond, bail is a different matter. I take the Minister's point that we may need a more precisely targeted debate either on Report or in another place, but it is important to place on record that it is unwise of the Government to make bail provisions for extradition cases the same as for other cases. Extradition is different because of the temptation to abscond. I shall not prolong the debate, as I said, but it has been helpful to place our concerns on the record so that the issues can be reconsidered on Report. It may well prove wiser to have no presumption of bail for extradition cases in line with previous Conservative legislation.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 191 ordered to stand part of the Bill.