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Orders Of The Day

Volume 884: debated on Friday 24 January 1975

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Wild Creatures And Wild Plants Protection Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

11.5 a.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

To a very large extent this Bill is due to the work, concern and observation of thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands, of naturalists and people interested in our countryside and flora and fauna, who have carried out detailed observation and are now rather worried about the prospects for large numbers of species in this country. One cannot consider this Bill without paying tribute to those people, but I should like particularly to acknowledge the work of the Council for Nature and Mr. Tim Sands, the Friends of the Earth and Miss King, and the Botanical Society of the British Isles and Mrs. Briggs.

The Bill is basically an amalgamation of two Bills which were before the House of Lords—the Protection of Wild Plants Bill, which was introduced by Lord Beaumont, and the Conservation of Wild Creatures Bill, introduced by Lord Cranbrook. We have put these two together because it seemed that this provided Parliament with an early opportunity to take the urgent action which is required.

Basically the main purpose of the Bill is to establish a framework of conserva tion, which is becoming urgently necessary. The proposal in the Bill is that on the advice of the Nature Conservancy Council the Secretary of State for the Environment will by order add the names of creatures to Schedule 1 or of plants to Schedule 2 and thus confer a real and meaningful degree of protection on those plants and creatures. It is obvious that every single offence cannot be detected. The law may not easily be enforced, but it is quite clear that existing legislation in this field has a real effect, perhaps largely because of the educative influence that it has upon society.

We have said that the species named already for protection from the commencement of operation of the Bill are very much in danger. Perhaps it would be helpful if I said a few words about some of the creatures and plants named in the schedules. We have two bats, the greater horse-shoe bat and the mouse-eared bat. These are the two rarest of Britain's bats. I understand that there are only three colonies of greater horse-shoe bats and one colony of mouse-eared bats in the British Isles, and these species have suffered a tremendous loss of population in the last decade or two.

We have the sand lizard, the smooth snake and the natterjack toad. All three creatures prefer sandy and rather dry habitats, preferably near the coast. All three species have suffered up to a 90 per cent. decline in population in the last 20 years. At the present time they are extremely vulnerable to the irresponsible people in our society. I am told, for example, that one collector visited the only known site of the sand lizard in Surrey a year or so ago and removed practically every creature from that site. Thus the sand lizard is likely to be absent from Surrey, as it is now from most of the counties where it resided a century ago.

The same is true of the smooth snake, which was never very common in this country but is now exceedingly rare. It is wrong that it can be advertised by the pet trade for sale at £7.50, as I saw in a recent price list.

The natterjack toad was once very common indeed. In many parts of England a century ago it was more common than the common toad. It is now restricted to a few localities and is very much threatened, perhaps because it is easily to be found. It utters a very loud noise and thus can be detected without difficulty.

The dormouse is probably less immediately threatened than any of the others, but it has been declining rapidly, and if we have a harsh February and March it could be more severely threatened in most of the relatively few areas where it is still to be found. Normally, it suffers quite high mortality in the winter, and if the weather is particularly unkind in the next two months we could see the dormouse population reduced to minimal proportions.

There is one butterfly on the list out of the 50 or so species to be found in Britain. I understand that a score are in some danger, but the large blue butterfly is particularly rare. It ought to remain in Britain because it is in some ways unique. It lays its eggs on wild thyme plants near the hills of the red ant. The red ants take it into their ant-hills, where it is kept because it exudes a substance which the ants like. The ants tend it, I suppose, as a welcomed dairy animal. The large blue butterfly is not particularly grateful for this because it then feeds on red ant grubs, but it also has cannibal propensities, which is probably one reason why it is called the large blue.

Interestingly enough, in the list of plants to be protected in Schedule 2 there is the blue heath. The blue heath is a particularly rare plant, which has been declining rapidly quite recently. I am sure that hon. Members on the Opposition benches will be especially concerned about the future of the blue heath. I understand that it is now to be found on only one moorland in Perthshire.

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that, although the Government wish to expedite the Bill, there is no hope of protecting the blue heath by 4th February?

That may be so, but I am sure that in my hon. Friend's constituency, just as in my own, there are relatively few large blues or blue heaths, but we are all interested in seeing that a few survive, if only as a tourist attraction.

In spite of what the Minister has just said, I hope that he has noted that in the "Concise British Flora" the blue heath was described as having evergreen leaves.

That was probably when it bore the name Scottish menziesia. I understand that that name is now not regarded as the one to be used to describe this plant.

There are plants in danger. We have lost a lot of species from Britain in recent years, and I direct particular attention at this stage to the Cheddar pink and the Snowdon lily, the Cheddar pink being found around Cheddar Gorge in Somerset and the Snowdon lily in the Snowdonia area. They were relatively common not all that long ago but, unfortunately, collectors and gardeners have removed them from every accessible site, and the few plants remaining are to be found on cliff faces where people cannot easily get at them. They are very vulnerable, but they are regionally important and environmentally desirable and should be protected.

One of the plants listed in Schedule 2, the lady's slipper, is in a dramatic situation. It was once a relatively common member of the orchid family, at least in the North of England. It is now reduced to one plant only. Quite properly, the botanists concerned are keeping its precise location a matter of close confidence. If the lady's slipper disappears, if that single plant is uprooted by a collector, we shall suffer a loss which people in a couple of centuries may find far more regrettable than do people now living in this country.

One plant on the list, the fingered sedge, is to be found in my constituency. I am especially pleased that we have a chance not merely to protect it but to demonstrate that my constituency is not completely covered by pitheads and slag heaps but has within it areas of real attraction. I am delighted that in my own area people are determined that the environment shall be improved rather than be brought to further ugliness. The fingered sedge will, I hope, receive protection from the tiny minority who would destroy it and thus bring about the disappearance of yet another species from this country.

As one of the sponsors of the Bill, I know that my hon. Friend has put an enormous amount of homework into his proposals. He speaks of the tiny minority. We are chiefly concerned here, in relation to animals, with the pet trade. Could my hon. Friend say something about the consultations he has had with representatives of the pet trade?

I have myself had remarkably little consultation with the pet trade. I think it desirable that some organisation should be established to draw up, so to speak, a code of practice which the majority in the pet trade would, I am sure, wish to observe. In passing, I should add that a magazine which I saw recently carried three advertisements from the pet trade asking for dormice. In Victorian times dormice were looked on as pets in a good many households, but their scarcity in Britain now is such that no one should be allowed to make that species disappear merely because he or she wants to say that the family have a pet dormouse in order to be one up on Mrs. Jones with her 30-inch colour television set next door.

The Bill is a conservation measure. It relies on scientific advice, on hard evidence, not on emotion. To some extent it is based on the Protection of Birds Acts. It is interesting that birds have been protected for a score of years while plants and creatures have been neglected. It is right that we should now begin to broaden our approach on a more scientific and logical basis, not on the emotional approach which has previously applied. If we carry on as we have been doing, Parliament will have to look at each species in turn, and I am sure that very few hon. Members would wish to devote a great deal of time, or an opportunity such as is afforded to me today, to introduce a statute for the protection of the smooth snake or a Bill for bats, since these creatures have not the sort of cuddly image enjoyed by many of the animals which Parliament has viewed with affection in the past. The present position is not at all desirable in that respect.

We are relying also upon experience with the Badgers Act, which we passed two years ago and which has already begun to show a beneficial effect. I have to inform the House, however, that there is the possibility, to put it no higher, that Clause 8(1)(d) of the Bill will have to be amended in Committee. Consultations are continuing at present with a view to some amendment of that paragraph to allow the Ministry of Agriculture to destroy badgers in a few areas of England where badgers have been found quite certainly to be carriers of bovine tuberculosis. I emphasise that this is not a general problem but is restricted to a very few localities where bovine tuberculosis may have existed in badgers for centuries. However, we are obliterating this diseases and it would therefore be right to ensure that we do not allow badgers to carry the infection.

If we are to destroy badgers we have an obligation to do it humanely, and it may therefore be right to make the necessary change to permit the Ministry of Agriculture to destroy badgers by gassing, since that is by far the most humane way of doing it. The matter can be carefully considered in Committee, but I make clear that I shall be very willing to accept such a proposal because I regard gassing as the most wholesome and humane method of destroying this particularly attractive animal.

I shall not burden the House with a long speech, but I ought to add that one benefit which we hope to see from the Bill is a valuable educative influence. I think that the Badgers Act has been more influential by educative effect than by any threat of sanction, although sanction is important. I hope that the Bill will make people realise that our natural heritage in Britain ought not to be ruined by an irresponsible minority.

The minority is at times extremely irresponsible. I understand that it is increasingly difficult as each year passes for people living in this city to see primroses, because so many people have dug them up, probably at the wrong time of the year, in order to plant them in their gardens. Most of those that are planted in the gardens at the wrong time will never thrive, but once they are uprooted the plant may disappear for ever from that patch of countryside.

The countryside in Britain is one of the most precious parts of our heritage and I believe that it is right for Parliament to take action to preserve it. If we assume, and I think we are right to assume, that one-third of the total of our wild flowers will disappear this century and that the rate of disappearance is accelerating, this is plainly a matter for Parliament to consider with care. It is certainly quite wrong that although in any one area, for example, a large number of people within the community may get a great deal of pleasure from a particular wild creature, one person may come along and take or kill that creature without suffering any sanction.

It may be that up to now the fact that people may have been rather wary because their neighbours may have been rather critical of irresponsible conduct has been a deterrent, but the rate of disappearance of our flora and fauna is such that it is not a sufficient deterrent, and I believe that the Bill is urgently needed.

Finally, we propose a fine of £100. Perhaps I should explain that this is the level of fine generally applied in these matters. Indeed, in these days of inflation, if it were a lesser fine, it would probably not be the deterrent that is certainly needed. But I do not envisage that the courts of Britain will be filled with people who have committed offences in this connection. I hope that there will be relatively few prosecutions, because each prosecution will be in respect of an offence that we do not want to be committed.

I hope that the existence of the Bill will do the trick. I am convinced that the Bill needs to be passed in the shortest possible time, and I commend it to the House.

11.22 a.m.

I do not wish to hold up the House for long, but as one of the sponsors of the Bill I should like first to congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) on his good fortune in drawing first place in the Ballot, secondly to commend his judgment in getting two important Bills and combining them into one, and thirdly on the manner in which he has presented the Bill to the House. There are a number of observations that I should like to make in Committee, if I am lucky enough to be on the Standing Committee, but at this stage I shall do no more than assure the hon. Member that he has my wholehearted support.

11.23 a.m.

As another of the sponsors to the Bill, I should like to emulate the brevity of the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. James). There is every reason to think that although a £100 fine may not be a great deterrent in itself, the publicity that would surround anyone being prosecuted would be such as to cause him to be a bit shamefaced for having been brought before the courts for this kind of offence. Therefore I too, knowing the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) has done, wish to commend the Bill as a valuable measure.

11.24 a.m.

I, too, wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) on his good fortune in the Ballot, on his excellent choice of Bill and on the excellent manner in which he has presented it.

It is a matter of some shame to me that an eighteenth century ancestor of mine, Robert More, who for 30 years was a Shropshire Member of Parliament, was also an expert botanist. In these days it would be difficult to combine those two professions, such are the pressures of parliamentary life. He was a friend of the famour Linnaeus and he contributed to "Miller's" Gardeners Dictionary, apparently without any interruption of his parliamentary duties.

Among the other difficulties of modern life are the technical pressures. Modern farming methods have done damage in this connection. The unrooting of hedges has been mentioned. When I took over a farm 20 years ago, I tried to make it a rule that hedges should not be uprooted so as to make any field larger than about 20 acres, which I felt was a possible compromise between the shape that the countryside should have and the needs of modern farming.

The hon. Member referred to the danger of irresponsibility among the public and he mentioned the primroses. I am struck by the example of cowslips which I remember to have been visible all over England in my youth and which are now rarely seen. It is a matter of shame that when I was in Normandy last year I saw cowslips in masses along every roadside. We have done a lot of damage in this country.

I was interested to hear what the hon. Member had to say about bats. I am in the curious position of living in a house whose occupation the local bats have an absolutely irresistible urge to share with us. If bats are becoming scarce and it is possible to remove a colony of bats, I should be grateful if anyone interested would get in touch with the hon. Member for Ludlow.

On this side of the House we are all concerned that it is to be made a criminal offence to uproot the blue heath, but I do not think that this provision is intended to prejudice any electoral process that we may be going through, although it seems to have caused a certain amount of comment when the Bill was debated in another place.

Finally, I should like once again to congratulate the hon. Member on bringing forward the Bill.

11.26 a.m.

This is the second occasion in a week that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) has demonstrated his concern and interest in all matters to do with the countryside. On Tuesday he was the first Member on the Government side to refer to what I hope was the unwitting proposed effect of the capital transfer tax on forestry and today he has introduced this Bill.

As the hon. Member reminded us, the Bill follows his great interest in the Badgers Act and he is to be congratulated on that, and also on his record in the whole subject of environmental protection. In that respect the Bill fills a major gap. The protection of wild plants particularly is long overdue. It is rather surprising in view of the comprehensive nature of so much of the rest of our legislation on environmental protection that a Bill such as this has not previously had the approval of the House. Earlier Bills have come before the House but for one reason or another they have never succeeded.

Today is rather a red letter day for conservation and a day to be welcomed by all conservationists. I am sure the hon. Member was right to emphasise that the Bill's objective was to create a climate, not the possibility of a number of prosecutions. Prosecutions would demonstrate that the Bill had failed, and no one wants that. The penal powers of the Bill are a longstop.

I was pleased that the hon. Member drew particular attention to Clause 13, the educational clause. I believe that to be of great importance. He mentioned the possible disappearance of about one-third of our wild flowers during the course of this century. I do not agree with him about that. They may have disappeared temporarily, but I believe that there are more than enough dormant seeds lying around somewhere within the United Kingdom and that some day they will begin to sprout. What is important, on the other hand, is that when they decide to take on a different form of life they should have the sort of protection that the Bill will provide.

I should like to make one or two points now in case I am not on the Committee, although I hope that I shall be. The title of Clause 4 is
"Restriction on uprooting wild plants"
but the clause refers to "any" plant. In the schedule is included the daphne mezereum, but some people have this in their garden. Perhaps that point should be clarified in Committee.

I am not sure about the provisions of Clause 7. Under Clause 12 the Nature Conservancy has the power to review the schedule at five-yearly intervals. That seems a sensible period, which is broadly acceptable, but there should be some opportunity for interim amendment if that should prove necessary. After all, environmental disasters happen from time to time. We are suffering from dutch elm disease at the moment, and a similar outbreak might have an adverse affect on a small plant. That should be provided for.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but under Clause 12(a) the Nature Conservancy "at any time may"—in addition to the provision that it must every five years—contact the Secretary of State with the necessary information.

I am grateful for that clarification.

Finally, it has occurred to me that some of the plants in Schedule 2 have alternative names. For example, it is proposed to protect the Lloydia serotina, the common name of which is given as the Snowdon lily. I have discovered, again according to Keble Martin's "Concise British Flora", that it is also known as the spiderwort. It is important to ensure that names known in different parts of the country are included in the schedule as alternatives.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. Keble Martin was once the vicar of the parish in which I live. I was concerned when I saw the original list, but the names of the flowers are those which the Botanical Society of the British Isles, after careful consideration, has decided should be the official names of the species.

I am grateful. In that case perhaps it will not be necessary to change the name in the schedule, but it may be worth while to ensure that the alternative names are contained in any order which is made.

I congratulate the hon. Member on a considerable step forward to fill a gap in our legislation. I am sure that the country will have cause to be grateful to him.

11.35 a.m.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) on his place in the Ballot and on the Bill. I also congratulate the other sponsors. I think that the House greatly appreciated the way in which the hon. Member introduced the Bill.

When the hon. Gentleman spoke the other night on the Finance Bill in favour of forestry and of planting more trees, I wondered how that would affect his Bill. One of the main effects on wild plants has come from the great increase in forestry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) was not too gloomy about the prospects for wild plants, saying that he thought that they might seed themselves after some years. According to the World Wildlife Fund, however, nearly a quarter of British invertebrate animals and plants are threatened to some degree, and Dr. Frank Perring has said that probably 100 to 200 plants and animals, apart from insects and so on, are in danger of extinction in the next few years. So we cannot be too hopeful about the prospects.

The last debate concerning wildlife in which I took part was on the Wild Creatures and Forest Law Bill, which dealt with Royal animals—the whale, the sturgeon, the deer and the swan. We had some fun with that Bill, and it was on the tip of my tongue today to say that we had gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the swan to the natterjack toad, but that would be doing the Bill an injustice.

Perhaps I should declare an interest as a keen gardener and amateur collector. I know how difficult it is to try to dig up a wild plant with a plastic picnic spoon. I also once took part in an expedition to the Atlas Mountains as a kind of botanist extraordinary. I asked Kew whether it would like some plants. It said it would and gave me all the equipment. I discovered that the last person to collect plants in the Atlas Mountains was Col. Hooker, so I hope that my 12 plants in the herbareum have their modest place in botanical history.

Some of the plants and animals in the schedule may sound ridiculous—the oblong woodsia, for example—and someone said in another place that the list reminded him of Edward Lear's "Nonsense Botany", particularly the "manipeoplia upsidedownia". Perhaps "nasticrechia krorluppia" would describe some of these animals in the Bill—the bats, the toad and the dormouse. They may be tiny and insignificant and it may seem strange that the full power of the State is being brought in to protect them, but they are part of the stern battle between man and his environment which we are fighting today. Who knows, perhaps we may be actually turning the tide.

If I criticise some aspects of the Bill, that does not alter the fact that I am a dedicated conservationist and appreciate very much the hon. Member's initiative. A beautiful poster has been produced by the BSBI, a copy of which I have here, which reproduces wonderful pictures of the plants which are to be protected. However, one of the most delightful, the pasque flower, is missing from the schedule. Is this a good thing? The curious situation is that the more publicity these rare plants get, the more desirable they become to collectors and, therefore, the more vulnerable and the nearer to extermination.

One also asks oneself whether the best way to improve the quality and enjoyment of life, which is what the Bill is all about, is by roping off areas where hundreds of visitors will go to see these rarities, carrying cameras and trampling all over the habitat on which these plants depend. There is a conflict here. This is a real dilemma at the heart of all well-intended conservation measures.

My second question concerns the fact that the target of the Bill seems to be collectors when, according to the experts, the main menace seems to come from a different quarter. Dr. F. H. Perring's paper on the flora of changing Britain in the past 70 years speaks of agriculture, forestry, draining and ditching as the main culprits, and not the collectors. The only defence we seem to have against that kind of inroad is the Nature Conservancy Council's statutory duty to educate and advise and liaise. In the summary at the end of the paper, collecting was given only seven danger marks out of a total of 74. When the natural causes are taken away, that is seven out of 53.

My third question concerns Clause 4. I do not wish to dispute Clause 5, but Clause 4 seems all-embracing. When I first saw it, it struck me that it went wide and would be difficult to enforce. What would happen, for example, about pulling up ragwort? The only way to get rid of the plant, which is a danger to cattle, is to pull it up by the roots.

As one who has suffered a great deal from ragwort, I can say that one can get rid of it by spraying, but it must be done two years in succession.

But spraying is yet another danger to wild plants.

What about children collecting bull-rushes, which come up by their roots? What is the position over crofters, some of whom still, by traditional means, collect not only lichen but ragwort for the yellow dye, and knapweed for the blue dye in the outer isles. Will they have to have a licence?

Do I understand from my hon. Friend that Clause 4 is completely general and covers anyone uprooting any wild plant, so that if I pull up plantains on my lawn I am in trouble?

Clause 4 is basically a consolidation clause. The Home Office had model byelaws on the subject about 50 years ago. The clause says:

"If any person other than an authorised person without reasonable excuse uproots any plant, he shall be guilty of an offence."
We are dealing with people who trespass on other people's property or community property and uproot the wild plants therein. Most county councils already have byelaws to prevent and deter such action. We are seeking to emphasise and strengthen a position that has existed for a considerable time.

I understand that the clause does not affect private owners on their own property, but I think that the Nature Conservancy Council liaises with them if they have any sites of special interest, and advises them on the best method of protection.

I understand that byelaws have existed since 1928 dealing with public open places, but that some counties still have not introduced them. However, I think the byelaws are pretty general, so that we can accept the clause as a consolidation measure.

There are also provisions in the Theft Act 1968 and the Criminal Damage Act 1971 which give powers to deal with the digging up of wild plants.

My fourth question concerns enforcement. The Bill says that a constable may stop and search any person he suspects with reasonable cause of having committed an offence. The mind begins to boggle when one wonders how the constable will search a person for a dormouse or, even worse, a natterjack toad, which I understand is a very smelly animal. I can see the look on the faces of chief officers of police when they receive the Act and wonder how they will instruct their men to enforce the law. The Bill seems to go quite wide. We do not want to put extra burdens on the police. I believe that the reason for that wording is that it has been used in all the conservation Bills, covering badgers, plants and so on.

Why is there no reference to the code of conduct which I believe advises people about the collection of protected wild plants?

I come now to the question of animals. We are indebted to my noble Friend, Lord Cranbrook for this part of the Bill, with the exception of the large blue butterfly, which has come from the entymologists. My noble Friend makes a modest claim to being a bat-fan, but I believe that he is one of the greatest living experts. We have all been dive-bombed by bats—bats in the bedroom, not the belfry. I can say with experience that the best way to swat a bat is with a tennis racket, because it does not affect the bat's radar, and he cannot take evasive action. No doubt it is heresy to say that in the context of the Bill.

I hope that I am not betraying a confidence when I say that my noble Friend told me that he was very pleased that the dormouse was included, because he wanted at least one cuddly animal in the Bill. If he had met the fruit-bat, which lives in the Cocoa de Mer Forest in the Seychelles, as I have done, he would say that that animal is also eminently cuddly—a kind of cairn terrier with wings. However, it does not come under the Bill.

I have two questions about the animal part of the Bill. With regard to the ringing of bats, one accepts that it is important that they are not disturbed in their caves, particularly when they are hibernating. Should not the Bill also say that they should not be disturbed for the inspection of those with rings already on them?

Secondly, will the Minister examine the effect of the Rabies Act on the Bill? Some bats are very prone to rabies. The Act includes provisions for orders for the complete destruction of wildlife in affected areas. Therefore, in some respects the two measures run counter.

With those reservations, I have no hesitation in supporting the Bill and wishing it well. Unlike the plants and even small creatures in the Australian desert, which can bloom and come to life again after 50 years, our plants and creatures cannot come to life after such an interval. Once a species is extinguished, it is gone for ever, thereby impoverishing our national heritage.

11.50 a.m.

I hesitate to add my congratulations to those of my hon. Friends to the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) lest the universal approbation of the Opposition should be embarrassing. Yet certainly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) said, the hon. Gentleman has added further testimony to the care for the countryside which he showed in the debate only two days ago when he spoke so eloquently about forestry.

I should like to say what a relief it is and how remarkable it is that the House should be discussing a subject which is in no way related to productivity or efficiency or any of the contentious subjects with which we seem to preoccupy ourselves until such late hours. I am grateful for this opportunity of making a somewhat wider point which it might be appropriate for the House to take on record. That is that so much of the danger to those which the Bill seeks to protect arises from the use of mechanical and chemical contrivances which are often introduced for quite another purpose. In so many cases it is the local authorities which are to blame in their widespread and often indiscriminate use of chemicals and particularly in their use of mechanical hedge-cutters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) referred to the danger and the unfortunate consequences of totally removing hedges. But it is equally true that the decline in the old craft of hedging and the increasing use of brutal mechanical cutters, which just slice the tops off the hedges, deface them and disturb the nesting and breeding habits of those who inhabit the hedges, will in time lead to a gradual and very disagreeable alteration in the appearance of the areas in which they are used.

This might lead the House to consider a fundamental point: that these contrivances and devices of chemical spoilage are introduced so as to substitute machines and formulae for labour. Efforts are being made to reduce the labour intensity of industries, crafts and occupations which have tended the countryside for many centuries. Is it not appropriate that we should start considering whether we should make it possible to reintensify—if one may use that disagreeable jargon verb—the labour content used by all those who care for the countryside, and make it worth while for those crafts and occupations to be revived? Should we not recognise that the value of the labour of those who tend the countryside is, in terms of the quality of life, so much greater and more important than that of those who work on a production line in industry and employ the kind of powers that they do to extract ever-greater sums of money from the economy?

It is measures such as these which, when the House listens to them, and the quiet eloquence with which they are put forward, will help us and the country to realise that there is a sector far more deserving of our vigilance and care than some of those which we deal with night and day.

11.53 a.m.

First, I apologise for having an extreme cold. I also apologise to the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), but I congratulate him on having introduced the Bill. I apologise to him because I did not hear all of his speech. What I did hear of it I thoroughly enjoyed, and I shall certainly read the remainder in Hansard.

My interest in this matter is that I am chairman of the branch of the World Wildlife Fund in my constituency, which happens to have been reasonably successful in that it sends the third or fourth largest donation in the country to the national headquarters of the fund—over £1,000 regularly every year. There is also on the Isle of Wight a very active natural history association, of which my wife is a very keen member.

I want to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) when he dealt with the matter of hedges and mechanical machinery, which is unfortunately, as he rightly said, destroying the hedges purely by topping them, and there is none of the old craft of laying, or very little of it, being done. As the hon. Gentleman raised the subject, perhaps I may make a plea that we should somehow be persuading agriculturists—and I am one—at least to leave some of the elm saplings, because this country will be completely denuded of elms within the next few years unless we do so. Certain countries have seen the death of almost 100 per cent. of their elms. I have tried injecting my elms, but I am afraid that it has not worked. I have some 50 elms around my home, and I have seen them die off one by one.

Although it has nothing to do with the Bill, perhaps we could leave some saplings.

I like Clause 12. It gives the Nature Conservancy Council the power, at any time—it says "may"—and in any case five years after the passing of the Bill and every five years thereafter to review the schedules. I hope that the schedules can be extended in Committee.

May I also plead for the addition to Schedule 1 of a very rare butterfly—the Granville fritillary. In Britain it is unique to the Isle of Wight. It comes from the Continent, but it certainly breeds and lays eggs on the island, and in a mild winter it survives.

I should like to refer to the plight of the red squirrel. It may not be the time to include that in this particular Bill, but it is well worth thinking about rather more seriously. There are some parts of the United Kingdom where it still survives. It certainly survives on the Isle of Wight, where we do not have the invader—the grey. If the red squirrel is to be driven out of the British Isles generally, at least we could preserve it in one particular quarter—the Isle of Wight.

I must tell the House an amusing story of the efforts taken to keep out the grey. One grey from the New Forest got on the ferry from Lymington one day. It was spotted when it reached Yarmouth. The RSPCA and a number of people tried to catch it. It ran down the side of the ferry and even swam in Yarmouth Harbour. A few people got bitten in the process, but it was finally caught. It was taken back to the New Forest and released there. We went a long way to keep the grey out. The longer we do so the better.

Certain wild orchids abound in my constituency. Some people might be consulted about them.

I am sure that the Bill will be given an unopposed Second Reading. However, I should like to express the hope that possibly the schedules could be extended even at this stage.

11.58 a.m.

Having intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), I feel that I, too, should express my apologies to the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) for not being present during his speech. He will probably realise that the parliamentary timetable this week has not been conducive to a large attendance for the Second Reading of his Bill this morning. But that does not indicate any lack of interest.

As the hon. Member for Rother Valley will realise, my immediate reaction was one of some doubt about a Bill which appeared to impose a considerable number of restrictions, because I have the general feeling that we pass too many Bills and impose too many restrictions on our fellow citizens. However, I have been examining the Bill more closely. In the light of that, I do not find any specific objection. It has been carefully drawn. It is the kind of Bill which needs to be carefully drawn, because it would be so easy for people with motives other than the hon. Gentleman's to add to the schedules, and one does not want that to happen. I hope therefore that the hon. Member will not get the impression that he might have got that I am opposed to it.

I have one query about the dormouse as it is covered by Schedule 1. Presumably the fact that the Latin name is given in the right-hand column will isolate the dormouse the hon. Member has in mind. There is, however, the edible dormouse or the glis-glis, which is a serious pest in South Buckinghamshire. I should hate to think that it would be protected by the Bill since we want to get rid of it. I imagine that, although it might have the same English name as the dormouse to be proteced, its Latin name will be different and, therefore, the point will be covered.

12.02 p.m.

I am delighted to speak on behalf of the Government and to join every hon. Member who has spoken in expressing appreciation to my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) for the excellent service which he has done the cause of the environment and the House in using his opportunity to promote the Bill. As hon. Members have said in paying tribute to him, this is not the first time this week that he has shown a tremendous interest in the whole question of the protection of the environment.

I hope I may be forgiven for introducing a personal note. I am also very pleased to have this opportunity to speak because I usually speak in the House only on the subjects of sport and recreation. I do not think it is yet generally understood that when in July the Prime Minister redesignated my portfolio to cover sport and recreation he intended to create within the Department of the Environment a new Ministry on reasonably equal terms with the existing three—local government, transport and housing—to deal with much wider questions concerning the growth of leisure and the quality of life. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to speak on such a measure since then and I therefore particularly welcome it.

I could not put my present purpose better than to use the words of the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) when he said that the Bill was about improving the quality and enjoyment of life. I think that he expressed there the responsibilities I am now presumed to undertake within the Government, and that is very much to the good.

We already have a number of measures on the statute book which are designed to conserve various kinds of wild animals, and there have been several unsuccessful attempts over the years to devise means of protecting plants. About a year ago the Wild Plants Protection Bill was introduced in another place. We then had its successor together with the Conservation of Wild Creatures Bill, which were again debated in the other place in October. As my hon. Friend explained, his Bill is amalgamating these two previous Bills.

In the course of my new duties I have become aware of a rather rare species which perhaps symbolises this union. It is the lizard orchid. I wonder whether my hon. Friend will advise us whether it should appear in Schedule 1 or Schedule 2—

There may be some orchids on the Government Front Bench, but very few lizards. No doubt in Committee we can turn our attention to these matters in greater detail.

That particular species would go with the wild plants and it would join the monkey orchid, which presumably occupies the Opposition Front Bench.

I am delighted at the political connotations which have appeared in what I thought was a pleasantly non-controversial Bill.

I wish to pay tribute to the collaborators of the two original Bills as well as to my hon. Friend and the people and voluntary organisations who have co-operated with my Department in the discussions which preceded the introduction of the Bill. As a result, most of the text of the Bill will be commendable to all sections of the House. I therefore need not detain hon. Members for very long, because as far as I know none of the interested bodies has expressed opposition to it. Indeed, the reverse is the case.

I do not think that any intelligent person these days would in any way question the need to protect and preserve our species of animals and plants. I am glad that many organisations and particularly the schools, to which I pay tribute, have taken up the cause of the environment and the need for protection in an interesting and exciting way in recent years. I hope that they will find this measure a just reward for all their efforts.

My hon. Friend mentioned particularly the Nature Conservancy Council and the Friends of the Earth, and I join him in paying tribute to those organisations for their pioneering work. When he was speaking in the House of Lords on this matter, Lord Beaumont gave an example of the summer lady's tresses orchid which, he said, had become extinct in around 1947 due to drainage and clearance in the New Forest. I was interested that a number of hon. Members today have drawn attention to the fact that action such as this, and not simply uprooting, can affect such plants. In Committee we might have another opportunity to discuss those aspects of developing the countryside which endanger the species covered by the Bill as well as other species.

When I read Lord Beaumont's remarks I was surprised to see that the orchid he referred to was extinct. However, it seems to be illustrated in Keble Martin's excellent "Concise British Flora" in colour. The author of that excellent work died in 1969 at the ripe old age of 92 and he worked on his drawings, I gather, from about 1918 to 1965. That presumably means that he drew this orchid when it was still flourishing. The fact that we have such an illustration in colour and the fact that Lord Beaumont thought it right to mention it illustrate the terrible dangers of failing to take action. The picture must now be regarded as a memorial to that orchid, but for the sake of future generations we must take steps to protect such lovely flowers as the Cheddar pink. Also appearing in the schedule is the military orchid, a very upstanding flower, I suppose. For the sake of future generations, we must ensure that such a gloomy fate does not befall the military orchid and other flowers.

This species has been persecuted by gardeners and collectors and is now found only in a handful of places in Oxfordshire and East Anglia, and it is right that it should have found its way into the schedule.

Hon. Members have also mentioned species which interest them and which are listed in both schedules. I listened with interest to the discussion about the dormouse, and I had a little sympathy with the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell). No doubt in Committee we can discuss whether we should add to the schedules. I confess that I was surprised to see the dormouse included in the schedule. It seems to have a great attraction for hon. Members—no doubt going back to the days of Alice and similar pieces of literature. Someone said that there is a natural affinity between dormice and children, so that if it is in any danger it ought to be protected.

The House may be interested to know that the Bill follows closely the drafting of some earlier statutes, particularly the Protection of Birds Acts of 1954 and 1967, the Deer Act 1963, the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 and the Badgers Act 1973. The Bill appears to fill an immediate gap in our law relating to conservation of native species and wildlife and represents a useful addition to those earlier measures.

Hon. Members may also feel, as I do, a certain uneasiness about the way in which, from time to time, we have debated these matters in a rather piecemeal fashion. It is helpful that we should begin to concentrate our attention on the problems and upon legislation. I am therefore glad to tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked the Nature Conservancy Council, in consultation with voluntary bodies, to take a thorough look at the adequacy and effectiveness of our existing legislation dealing with environmental and similar matters. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) has already mentioned the important rôle of the council. While we intend to have a thorough and comprehensive look at this, I can say that the Government see no reason why the Bill should not be proceeded with. We regard the Bill as complementary to the review we are asking the Conservancy Council to carry out on our behalf.

Above all, a measure such as this must be educative in nature. The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) made that point forcibly in drawing our attention to the excellent provisions of Clause 13. Since I have already paid tribute to what the schools are doing, I hope that Clause 13 will give them further support. An Act can be most useful in bringing home to people the need to preserve our native wildlife. It is important that this should be backed up by suitable publicity. This is one of the aspects of this measure, should it find its way on to the statute book, at which my Department will be looking. I am glad to say that the voluntary organisations have produced a poster depicting most of the rare species of plants which would be protected by the Bill. There is clearly scope for an extension of that approach in helping with the educational aspect.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) doubted whether there would be many prosecutions following upon the passage of this measure. We all hope that there will be few prosecutions. Our hope is that the educational nature of the Bill will make them unnecessary. I have no doubt that from time to time prosecutions will be necessary. I again express the hope that such prosecutions in well-merited cases will enhance public awareness of the importance of protecting wildlife.

The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield told us that at one stage he had his doubts as to how far prosecutions would be proper. On reflection he has kindly said that he thinks prosecution would be an effective means of backing up the main educational purposes of the Bill.

We are satisfied that the general approach to the creatures and plants covered by the schedules is about right. The species listed in the schedule constitute a reasonable list of those threatened at present. We can look at individual cases later. It is important to recognise that the Bill is designed to afford complete protection to the scheduled species which are truly in danger. Unlike, for example, the Birds Acts, it does not provide for partial protection of the species which are uncommon but not threatened by possible extinction.

It is for that reason that it would be inappropriate to add species to the schedule without strong justification. It is in that respect that the views of the Conservancy Council will be much respected. It is for that reason that we think it right to ensure, as the Bill does, that the council reviews the whole situation every five years.

I was asked about the pet trade and whether it had been consulted. So far as we know, no discussions or consultations have been held with it. Most of the creatures mentioned in the schedule are not normally regarded as pets, except possibly the dormouse. We did not think it was appropriate for the Government to engage in discussions, although if there are any representations we will be glad to receive them.

I am concerned about the importation of pets, particularly such creatures as tortoises, which die in large numbers on their way to this country. I wonder whether in the review to which the Minister has referred the Government or the Department should look at the trade in imported pets such as parrots and other creatures which are brought into an alien environment. Many of us would like to see that trade banned completely. Does the review cover that?

I do not think so but I could certainly arrange for it to do so if I thought it was relevant. I am not sure, from what the hon. Gentleman has said, that it is relevant to the Bill. I think that the considerations he has been raising are more to do with a concern about cruelty to animals and certain birds. If he can convince us that this ought to be looked at for the purposes of the Bill, I will gladly arrange for the Conservancy Council to do so.

Doubt was raised on the general question of uprooting. We gave a great deal of thought to the present legislation, particularly as Clause 4 is rather wide. We were concerned that children and others would not be unnecessarily prosecuted if they went into the countryside and inadvertently, through ignorance, uprooted certain of the species.

We had to strike a balance and I think that the wording "without reasonable excuse" is sufficient and strikes the correct balance between people who may have acted ignorantly and those who may have wilfully gone around, for one purpose or another, uprooting plants. If necessary this is something we can look at in Committee. I would just add on this question that the need to prove intent permanently to deprive, which is necessary under the Theft Act, makes it almost impossible to mount a successful prosecution under the Act.

We have also found a difficulty under the Criminal Damage Act. The need to prove damage to property of some value plus a criminal intent makes it almost impossible to prosecute. In that respect the powers under the Bill are of considerable importance and will, I think, be welcomed by all environmentalists.

In his opening speech my hon. Friend made some very interesting comments on the subject of badgers. He said that the Bill would be a proper vehicle for dealing with the problem which had recently come to light. My hon. Friend is in an authoritative position to make those comments since two years ago he introduced the Badgers Bill to the House. Therefore, when he gives advice to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to authorise a certain degree of gassing of badgers, since he has been anxious to protect badgers we can accept his advice as extremely authoritative and important. The subject of badgers raises a great deal of concern among ordinary people.

My hon. Friend told us today that he is prepared to accept a new clause as a result of the infection of cattle with tuberculosis which, I am advised, has become an extreme difficulty in parts of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. Learned people have discovered that it is almost certain now that the cause of this repeated infection of the cattle, which had not been previously appreciated, was a strain of badgers which acted as the carrier and infected the cattle. This is a difficult and delicate problem which I hope we can discuss fully in Committee, when I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be serving with me to advise hon. Members of the importance of the agricultural considerations in that respect.

If the House and the Committee accept that the best way to deal with the problem of the infection of cattle with tuberculosis is to use this Bill as a vehicle, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley, the Government will be pleased to do so. I emphasise that the new clause would not permit badgers to be gassed by any occupier at any place for any reason. If the House agrees to these powers, I give an assurance that they will be used sparingly and only to the extent that evidence and experience show them to be necessary to protect the cattle population.

This measure will help to stop the destruction of badgers by inhumane means, which I know causes a great deal of public concern. I hope that this short statement will allay any public doubt as to the purposes the Government have in mind.

In this respect Parliament is acting in the classical tradition. We have been stimulated and encouraged to act by the concern and the campaign of a dedicated number of people, and especially by a number of first-class voluntary organisations in which the Nature Conservancy Council and the Friends of the Earth have taken the lead. In expressing national concern, our hope must be to protect our wildlife.

By enacting this legislation Parliament will be giving a strong educational lead to public opinion, expressing support for all those people and organisations who have helped us to create an acute awareness of the dangers of allowing the existing situation to deteriorate even further and, most important, to provide an Act of Parliament which may be effectively used for the purposes we have in mind.

For all those reasons I commend this measure to the House and I express the appreciation of the Government to hon. Members for the support and constructive approach which they intend to show during further stages of the Bill.

12.24 p.m.

First, with permission, may I express my sincere thanks for the kind words uttered by hon. Members on both sides? I should like to reply to some of the points made by hon. Gentlemen and to offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), whom I have not seen occupying a position on the Front Bench before.

No attempt has been made to ignore economic reality. We recognise that good agriculture and good forestry must be maintained. The Bill does not seek to prevent evolution. For example, if a plant is to disappear because of climatic change, we cannot prevent that. We can seek to build an arrangement for protection which will give those creatures and plants an opportunity to survive if they can survive within the present environment. The Bill in no way prevents someone from picking a dandelion from a lawn. The Bill is designed to prevent irresponsible people from pulling up plants on land belonging to other people or the community.

The stop-and-search provision, as the hon. Gentleman suspected, is in line with similar legislation. It is appropriate that we should not provide too many varieties of clause of that kind.

The Bill will deal with the question of disease. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the rabies legislation. There is an adequate arrangement for that situation in my Bill, a situation which we hope will never arise, but we must be prepared to deal with it drastically if necessary.

Mention was made of the ringing of bats. A good deal of bat-ringing has taken place and is extremely harmful to the species. However, the Bill recognises that scientific and educational research and activity have to proceed. For that reason we have the arrangement for the exemptions allowed by the Nature Conservancy Council, which will operate in the same way as exemptions offered by the same body under the Badgers Act.

My right hon. Friend suggested that we should be cautious in adding the names of creatures and plants to the schedules. We must be sure that the inclusion of any name in the schedules is based on good scientific argument. Whilst I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), I was grateful for his promise to read our speeches in Hansard, which seems to be a declining practice. He said that there was a rare butterfly in the Isle of Wight, and he particularly stressed the position of the red squirrel. I listened with great sympathy. There are some red squirrels in my constituency. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food seemed reluctant at the time of the warfarin order to accept that I had seen what I described two or three days before.

Red squirrels are on the boundary of threat. If red squirrels in the Isle of Wight were included in Schedule 1 and given regional protection we should find a great deal of clamour from areas such as mine where the species is found. That could lead to a considerable amount of argument. At this stage it is essential to include measures which can be clearly accepted, overwhelmingly approved and put on the statute book rather than see difficulty, delay and possible embarrassment about arguments of a regional kind. However, we must first get the Bill on the statute book and gain experience in its operation.

Parliament has been in existence for a very long time. Through the centuries it has seen many crises and many days of great difficulty. It has weathered those crises. We face many crises and difficulties now. It would be highly in accord with the history of Parliament if, despite the difficulties and crises that we face, we could demonstrate that we had faith that there would be a future which should not be one of barren and desolate monotony. I commend the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 ( Committal of Bills).

Unsolicited Goods And Services (Amendment) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

12.30 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, who spoke on the previous Bill dealing with wild creatures and plants, said that he hoped that that measure would not lead to many prosecutions. By contrast, I hope that my Bill will lead to a great number of prosecutions and will stamp out a particularly disgraceful abuse.

When I was a Minister it was thanks to the vigilance and skill of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) that my attention was drawn to a racket of monumental proportions. That was as long ago as 30th March 1973 by way of an Adjournment debate. What was happening then, and is still taking place today, is that invoices—or what purport to be invoices—are sent out to firms throughout the country with the purpose of deceiving them into paying for unwanted and unordered entries in directories. The 1971 legislation on this subject, which was an excellent measure introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), had the support of all sides of the House but proved too rigid and cumbersome to control this scandal, since its extent was staggering.

All a person has to do to take advantage of this loophole, if he is dishonest enough so to do, is to acquire a fairly tatty accommodation address and flood firms and companies throughout the country with documents which look like invoices but which one needs a magnifying glass to discover are not a demand for payment. There are many examples I could put before the House. I have a document in my hand which describes itself as "Classified Telex Directory and Register, Turnrules Limited, 12 Archer Street, London, W.1". In every respect, apart from some small wording, it purports to be a demand for £48. The BBC only this morning exposed Business Telephone Directories.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) drew my attention to a doument which described itself as "Sellers Directory", published by Portman Publishing Company, 60 Neal Street, London, again demanding to all intents and purposes, unless one looks at the document with a magnifying glass, the sum of £60. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East recently drew attention to Area Trades Directories of Harrow. That concern had the impertinence to use the greater Harrow Chamber of Commerce crest on its documents without any authority. There are many other examples.

We know that companies and firms which make these payments are careless since they are payments which they have no obligation to make. There is no substitute whatever in commercial life for vigilance, proper management and accounting procedures. But life is short, people are very busy getting on with the proper activities of their companies, and these things get by.

Let me try to illustrate the size of the problem. If, for example, 100,000 bogus pieces of paper are sent out demanding, say, £50—and Scotland Yard tells me that that is a realistic figure—even if there is only a 1 per cent. error in the companies contacted as a result of that mail shot by the recipient firms, it will produce £50,000 of ill-gotten gains. I understand that one individual got away with as much as £250,000. The thought that goes through my mind and through the minds of others is that we are in the wrong business. It is an outrageous situation that such downright dishonesty should pay off in that way.

Section 6 of the 1971 Act provided that such a document should say prominently that it is not a claim for payment. But those words are a subjective test. It has been proved extremely difficult for the courts to interpret them and to bring prosecutions. Another major defect was that the maximum fine, even if one could secure a successful prosecution, could be only £400. When we consider some of the loot extracted from firms by these outrageous activities such a maximum fine is derisory.

I understand that since 1971 the Department of Trade or the Department of Prices—and I am grateful for the assistance I have received from everybody in that Department, including its Minister of State—has received about 850 complaints about this abuse, nearly 300 of them from Members of Parliament. The complainants included business organisations such as the CBI, chambers of commerce and reputable publishers which are very concerned that this practice will give them a bad name.

My Bill is intended to stop the scandal in three ways. First, it follows the successful United States pattern by enabling the Government to ensure that the disclaimers are so conspicuous that they cannot be overlooked. Only in that way can one move ahead or abreast of the fast-moving scoundrels in the business.

I believe that the regulations should deal with the situation as to the way in which the disclaimer should be printed, the size of that disclaimer and possibly its colour. I hope that when he replies to the debate the Minister of State will give some idea of what he believes the regulations should contain. I believe that the words should be prominently placed and should be to the effect "This is not a demand for payment. There is no obligation to pay the charge shown." In the United States the practice is to print the words "This is not an invoice" diagonally across the document, and perhaps that course could be adopted in this country. The regulations should prescribe that the disclaimer should be bolder and in larger type size than other print on the form to make it clear beyond peradventure that there is no obligation on the recipient. These are matters which the Government can examine if my Bill reaches Committee, as indeed I hope it will.

The second objective of the Bill is to tighten up notes of agreement and procedures under the 1971 Act. The provisions have been found to be defective in some respects, and in some cases have even been found to be unnecessary and even oppressive to honest dealers. For example, the Post Office finds some of the provisions of the 1971 Act oppressive in its activities. The Post Office publishes frequent editions of directories, but cannot give the particulars required by Section 3(3) in the note of agreement because it cannot foretell matters such as the date of future editions or the prices which it will charge. Therefore, the purpose of the Bill is to tighten the procedure for the wicked trader but make it more convenient for the honest person.

I have been in touch with various bodies and I hope that the Minister will confirm that he, too, will consult outside bodies so that we may get the regulations right. I have in mind the CBI, which takes a great interest in these matters. I also have in mind the Institute of Trading Standards, the Post Office, the Periodical Publishers Association, the Consumers Association and chambers of commerce. They are some of the authorities which should be consulted. The proposed regulations will be subject to annulment, and the negative procedure is appropriate in this respect.

The third effect of the Bill in Clause 3 is to provide that conviction can be undertaken by way of indictment. This means that the fine, instead of being the derisory maximum of £400, could be unlimited. I hope that the courts will take note and ensure that, in this case at least, the punishment really fits the crime. In one case recently the fine was a derisory £20 when the loot was probably thousands of pounds. The new penalties would come into force on enactment of the Bill. The courts would not have to wait until the regulations were framed, which would take a little longer.

I am afraid that the Bill cannot cover the question of documents sent from overseas. As I have said, I have had about 850 complaints about this practice, and only 26 concerned overseas malefactors. Nevertheless, as a result of tightening up our legislation, there may be increased activity from abroad. We cannot legislate for people outside our jurisdiction, but I hope that the Government will pursue the possibility of persuading other countries to adopt similar measures. I have in mind, of course, the EEC in particular. I understand that only Germany has anything really comparable to this Bill. It would be helpful for the Government to have discussions with France, Belgium, Holland and others to try to bottle this practice up on an international scale.

The reason why I would give the Secretary of State power to make regulations in order to tackle this abuse is that there should be a flexible means at the disposal of the authorities in order to control large-scale deceit of this kind, which the 1971 Act, alas, has failed to do. By adopting this order-making procedure, the Government would be able to bring into effect quickly the measures necessary to deal with a widespread mischief and catch new abuses.

I believe that the Bill commends itself to both sides of the House. The sponsors are drawn from both sides, and I believe that the Government are sympathetic. I am grateful for the help I have had from the Department. I commend the Bill with confidence.

12.43 p.m.

It gives me great pleasure to support my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) in this new piece of proposed legislation. Were it not for the fact that I was up nearly all night, because of the rail crash in his part of the country, on a cold and draughty platform, I should have been able to produce a rather wider sample of some of the literature which has been sent to me from all over the country by firms which have been inundated by these bogus trade directory firms. It will have to suffice that I have only a small sample of my collection, which fills several filing cabinets.

I am grateful to the large number of firms which have presented me with this catalogue of material over the past two years, material which has allowed me to get a far more comprehensive picture of what has been going on than perhaps even the Department has been able to obtain.

My hon. Friend said that there have been 850 complaints to the Department. I have had more complaints than that. I will give one example. One firm alone, Shipton Automation Limited, has sent me over the past few months all the literature it has received. I have counted well over 200 so-called invoices that it has sent on to me. If one begins to do a jigsaw puzzle on them, one finds that most of them can be traced to two or three identifiable sources of origin. But, of course, they are cloaked in a variety of different names. For example, there are publishers like Brandon Publications Limited, of Edgware Road, London, which has a variety of different so-called directories, each directed at a different section of the market. There is duplication in the case of a group like Shipton Automation, because every single registered subsidiary of Shipton Automation is flooded with this type of material. That gives some idea of the extent of the abuse.

I am grateful also to several newspapers which have conscientiously tried to draw attention to these problems. In particular, the Lancashire Evening Post has done a very good demolition job in its area. But, of course, that helps only in the Lancashire Evening Post's area. The BBC has tried to expose this deceit on occasion. Newspapers too numerous to mention have from time to time, perhaps when prompted by Members of Parliament, also done their best to draw attention to the abuse.

I want to rectify at once what I am sure is an understandable misconception. This misconception has done harm to what I believe is a genuine firm which is trying to do a genuine job. I raise this matter specifically because my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central referred to the firm in question. I cannot blame him for it, but the matter highlights the problem which exists.

The few firms that are genuinely trying to perform a service in trade directories have virtually been hounded out of business by the abuse conducted by the fly-by-night set-ups, to the extent that I have files full of evidence, letters from those who have been plagued by these invoices, and so on. They tell me, "We are now so confused as to which is a respectable organisation and which is not that we turn them all away."

One firm which has been particularly hard hit by this problem is Area Trades Directory, to which my hon. Friend referred. I am partly to blame for this. I wish that to be put on record, because in my previous attack in the adjournment debate, to which my hon. Friend referred, I included this firm as one of those which had been sending out invoices. I subsequently took a great deal of trouble to investigate that firm. It is fair to suggest that perhaps I might have done so before I mentioned it, but pressure of time and a general misconception about the situation precluded me from doing so.

I have now visited the firm, however, have gone through the organisation, have met the directors, and have seen the work the firm produces, and I am satisfied that it operates genuinely. Indeed, I believe that the firm started the so-called "yellow directory", which the Post Office subsequently virtually stole from it. The firm still performs a very good service, producing a regular and satisfactory directory which circulates around the country.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making this clear. As far as I am concerned, if it be the case that this is a genuine firm I shall be delighted to give it any help I can.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The firm does feel embittered, not just by the activities of the bogus firms, which have hit it hard, but also because the publicity which has arisen as a result has probably damaged genuine people.

This highlights one of the major problems. There is an important commercial field of activity here. Directories perform a useful function. It is, therefore, essential that we eliminate the bogus set-ups and allow those which are prepared to give a genuine service to flourish in peace and prosperity. Genuine people have been hit by the activities of these set-ups, and it is important that we make it clear that it is not the intention of this Bill or of any other legislation to stop their businesses.

One or two new patterns are evolving. One feature of the history of this business activity is the way in which the bogus firms seem to be able to adapt themselves to changing circumstances. They are remarkably resilient to attempts to eliminate them. They get round the law by devising new techniques. We thought that we had stopped them with the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act, but they started sending out invoices on which was printed, in not particularly bold type, "This is not a demand for money." That still goes on.

The new technique is far more subtle. They send out not an invoice but what they call a proof for a provisional entry in a forthcoming edition. In fact, some of them point out that if the address and classification is correct, and if the customer signs and returns the form as being a correct entry, his firm will be mentioned in the forthcoming edition, and there is no question of a fee. In fact, some of them provide the service free.

Such a practice is very alluring. When hon. Members receive their annual proof for the entry in "Who's Who" the same procedure is adopted. There is no question of a fee. We are simply asked to correct the proof if it needs correcting and to return it. Usually we hear nothing more unless we wish to subscribe to "Who's Who".

But there is a subtle distinction in the case of the bogus trade directory. Although the entry is included free if the publication comes out—some of them never do—it is stated at the bottom of many of the so-called proofs, "If you would like your advertisement under more than one heading, please state." In that way they manage to extract a fee. Provided the entry is normal, they claim that it is free, but if one wants a slightly bolder or two-line entry one subsequently receives an account. I do not know whether one is legally obliged to pay it.

One firm which adopts this practice on a wide scale is Town and City Directory of Nuneaton. It operates under various titles. One of the features of its advertising is that it claims to be a member of the Coventry Chamber of Commerce. I do not quarrel with that. It is probably correct; I have not checked it. But it is further evidence of the depths to which some of these organisations will sink to try to achieve respectability. I have had a great deal of correspondence from firms which have received these so-called proofs or invoices and have sent memorandums to different departments in the firms saying "Will you investigate this? Is it all right for us to subscribe"? This wastes a great deal of the firm's time. Many automatically slip through the accounting procedures, and when invoices are sent they are paid.

A firm which is not a trade directory firm but one of the recipients which have been flooded with literature and which has been particularly helpful to me in my campaign is Crewkerne Horticultural Engineering, of Somerset. It had to waste much time initially before it got wise to the game in trying to prevent these documents slipping through. This concern has sent me an extensive file on the subject.

It is not only business firms and innocent traders who are caught out. Remarkably, the campaign extends to official bodies and organisations. For example, I have correspondence from the Inland Waterways Association, which has frequently been sent invoices from, for instance, Commercial and Trades Directories of Blackheath, London—incidentally, one of the worst offenders. The proposed entry for the Inland Waterways Association under the classification is
"Association—social, cultural and general".
It all sounds very impressive. Other official bodies have been plagued. The nationalised industries and public bodies do their best not to squander public money, but there are many examples of these documents slipping through if management is not as tight as it should be. The Essex River Authority was nearly caught out.

I have said that these organisations are extremely resilient to attempts to stop their activities. I mentioned one of the latest techniques being adopted. Another way in which they are displaying their strength and determination to survive is by adopting new "with it" types of directory. One of the latest styles is the Telex system. I have a large number of these for different types of Telex directory. I have checked and have found that, quite apart from the fact that they are irrelevant because they do not use anything which the Post Office does not already provide quite satisfactorily, they give the impression that this is a vital service for an up-and-coming firm involved in export business. This is one example of the way in which they are proving their ability to evolve new business practices.

I apologised at the beginning of my remarks that I was not able to produce my entire collection of material on this subject. That is probably as well, otherwise I should have spoken at much greater length. Suffice it to say that I wholly support any measures taken to eliminate undesirable business practices in this area. I wish it could have been done earlier. The fines imposed in one or two cases have been ludicrously inadequate and have not been widely enough publicised, so that the firms have paid up and carried on or moved their addresses.

I am, therefore, pleased to see the proposal for a more effective form of prosecution and the imposition of fines which will hurt. I hope that it will be highlighted during the progress of the Bill that the aim is to give protection to people who are attempting to provide a genuine, worthwhile service. It gives me great pleasure to support the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central, whom I congratulate on his initiative in introducing it.

1.0 p.m.

I am extremely sorry that I missed the opportunity to hear the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), who introduced the Bill. I am certain that I would have learned a great deal from his remarks. I am happy to compliment him on seizing the opportunity to introduce what I am sure is a very necessary Bill.

I am particularly interested in this subject, having had an opportunity to participate in our earlier debates on the matter. I remember that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson) who originally brought in a Bill, and this was followed subsequently by another Bill which became law. We were very worried about the state of affairs involving these directories and the frauds which were perpetrated on many people. There was a very serious situation, and it was necessary that something should be done.

It is extraordinary how when a measure of this kind is introduced to deal with these evils, although we provide a very worthy measure, there are people who are able to drive a horse and coach right through it, involving a great deal of trouble for our constituents. As I was on my way to do other work today I turned on the radio and heard of the large number of complaints. I also heard the hon. Member for Harrow, Central speak of the different methods which had been adopted to combat this state of affairs. I am very happy that he has drawn the Bill in very wide terms, and I am particularly interested in Clause 1. I believe that by drafting the clause as he has done, very wide powers are given to the Secretary of State.

By Clause 1 the Secretary of State is empowered to make regulations requiring specified information to be included in invoices and similar documents, and prescribing the manner in which specified information is to be included. The Secretary of State is thus given power to deal with the evils as they arise. It may be that some of these sharks can adopt methods which defeat the purpose of this Bill, but certainly these very wide powers will enable the Secretary of State to act expeditiously.

I support the Bill, and I wish it a speedy passage to the statute book.

1.4 p.m.

I join those hon. Members who have already congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) on his good fortune and his good sense in presenting this measure. He has done so with skill and with the benefit of the expertise that he gained as a Minister in the Department which was responsible for the implementation of the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act, and which was made conscious of the need for this amending legislation as a result of its investigations into the numerous complaints which were made.

To those of us who are interested in consumer affairs, the speed with which those who wish to mislead and defraud consumers can expose loopholes and exploit them is a matter of continuing concern. That is why, when we draft consumer protection legislation, we do so as tightly as possible, although in doing so we are often criticised by business interests for imposing too onerous sanctions upon them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) has said, because the overwhelming majority of traders are honest and provide a valuable service a very fine balance has to be kept. We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East for the modest way in which he pointed out how a company had been unfairly affected as a result of publicity.

It is because we have to achieve a fine balance that this measure represents no less than a third attempt to deal with the matter. The original provision in the Inertia Selling Bill, introduced by the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson), was strengthened and redrafted on departmental advice when it reappeared in the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), to whom we are deeply grateful. Like the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman), I was a member of the Standing Committee on that Bill, and I vividly remember our debates. Above all, I remember the unanimity of support for the Bill on both sides of the Committee and of the House, and the constructive nature of the debates. I am happy to find that today's debate has been similarly characterised, and we are grateful to the Minister and to the Government for their implied support of this measure.

I am sure that the hon. and learned Member will agree that it would have been unfortunate if all our deliberations on the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act, and particularly on Section 3, had come to naught, for in that section we tried to stamp out the activities of these bogus directory sharks. During those proceedings the former hon. Member for Oxford, Mr. Monty Woodhouse, pointed out frequently and forcibly that enabling powers would have to be provided, and I am delighted to pay a tribute to his foresight.

As the House will be aware, it was in Section 3 of that Act that we tried to stamp out the activities of these bogus directory sharks whose victims were misled, defrauded and subjeced to harassing demands for payment, very often in respect of services which they had not solicited and in many cases in respect of a directory which did not exist.

Although Section 3 makes it an offence to demand payment if certain conditions laid down in the section are not complied with, unfortunately, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, this has been widely evaded and many abuses have come to light. I received a letter from a constituent about such an abuse as recently as this morning. A number of these firms are hit-and-run firms which operate for a certain time and then disappear, only to reappear under a different name elsewhere in the country. The problem is one not only of detection but of deterring such firms. As my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, Central and for Derbyshire, South-East have pointed out, it is very hard to deter somebody by imposing a penalty of £400 when he is making tens of thousands of pounds out of his fraudulent activities.

In the Adjournment debate which was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East, for which we were very grateful because it gave a useful public airing to the subject, a number of examples were given of how, while complying with the provisions of Section 3, firms were nevertheless issuing documents which certainly looked like invoices and were deliberately meant to look like invoices and were mistaken as such by many recipients. Although these forms were not marked as invoices but were described as pro forma applications, it was clear that there was an intent to mislead. As my hon. Friend said, these forms carried a printed statement to the effect that no demand would be made for payment, and as long as the forms carried that wording, the firms could do almost what they wanted because of the defects in Section 3 of the Act. In one such case, if I remember aright what was said in the Adjournment debate to which I have referred, the top copy was marked that it was not a demand for payment whereas the carbon copy made just such a demand but was not, as I understand it, caught by the Act.

Given, then, the deficiencies and the inadequacy of the penalties in the Act, together with the unfamiliarity with the legislation of the vast majority of people, not only of the victims themselves, it is not hard to see how the abuses became widespread. Since the people affected were not the simple or inarticulate consumers whom we usually seek to protect but were business men, it may be thought that no further legislation is necessary. However, the businesses hit are often small concerns the owners of which, amid the many pressures facing all business today, are certainly not equipped to deal with the cunning nature of these documents or with the resultant loss.

My hon. Friend is making an important point here by emphasising that many of them are small firms, and, as we know, there are very many such firms—many more than there are large firms—in this country. Perhaps she will agree that it is often small firms which are more likely to want publicity to help them in their business promotion, and when they see these bogus directories and the relatively small charge which is asked they think that they will get good value for money through advertising in them.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise the vulnerability of the smaller firm in relation to these documents. As I have said, smaller firms are vulnerable in a good many ways nowadays, and these practices merely add to their burden.

In the larger firms, as we know, it has often been the young inexperienced employee who has been responsible for making the mistake, thinking that he could save his firm money, or having been led to imagine that he could do so by these phoney documents. It is right that we should try to protect these people in the same way as we should try to protect all consumers, by ensuring that the information which has to be provided is provided in unmistakable form.

By giving the Secretary of State power to make regulations as to the precise form and content of the information required by statute to be disclosed by the producers of the directories and, more particularly, as to the style and manner of the disclosure, the Bill is reminiscent of similar provisions in the Consumer Credit Act. Indeed, by requiring standard and consistent formulae for the information which must be given in notes of agreement, on invoices and in other documents we are at the same time both creating a safeguard for consumers and following well-established good consumer protection practice. Clause 2(2) seems to me to be a valuable reinforcement in that respect and should succeed in closing any further loopholes which may be found. However, time alone will tell whether the ingenuity of those who wish to mislead and defraud will get the better of it.

By giving the Secretary of State the flexible order-making power, o which the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington so rightly drew attention, we shall make it possible for quick action to be taken to protect consumers if, or when, any new malpractices arise. Again, that principle is enshrined in other contemporary consumer protection legislation, notably in the Fair Trading Act itself.

It crossed my mind—perhaps the Minister will comment on it—that we have here just the sort of case which the Director General of Fair Trading might have investigated and on which he might have made recommendations had the abuses not arisen between two businesses. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might look at that in other contexts.

The circumstances which have led to this amending Bill have highlighted the need for us to inform consumers of their rights, to make easily accessible advice and education available to them, and, above all, to see that new consumer protection legislation is publicised as widely as possible. In this connection, the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East were of particular value.

In conclusion, I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central and wish him every success with his Bill. I hope that it will have a speedy passage through Parliament and reach the statute book at an early date. It is a necessary and useful measure which will strengthen and supplement the consumer protection powers in the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act, and I accord it a warm welcome.

1.16 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Prices and Consumer Protection
(Mr. Alan Williams)

First, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I congratulate you on having survived the long night and on looking so fresh at this stage. I confess that I did not follow the proceedings with the close attention which you had to give to them.

I join hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) on introducing the Bill. We on this side support it and will give it every co-operation. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Government have already given full co-operation in advance of its arrival in the House.

We all agree about the basic situation here. We are dealing with crooks, and we want to ensure that they cannot find it profitable to carry on operations of this kind. I agree entirely with the hon.

Member for Harrow, Central on the inadequacy of the present fines. As he said, a fairly unsuccessful operation may bring in £50,000, and the fines are in the circumstances derisory.

The great advantage of the Bill is that as soon as it reaches the statute book there will be no limitation, so that it will be possible for the fines to match the level of gain which the crooks involved hope to obtain.

We realise that there has been widespread abuse. I was interested in the sheer size of the dossier which the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) had managed to build up. I am sure that some of the examples which he will be able to give in Committee, should he volunteer to serve, will be of value to us in deciding whether the Bill is appropriately drawn. We have had over 800 complaints in the Department, and 280 of these have come from Members of Parliament.

The hon. Member for Harrow, Central was wise to warn that the Bill cannot deal with the problem of the overseas "phoney" directory. The difficulty here is that as long as the operator chooses to stay abroad we cannot bring our law to bear upon him and impose a sanction. The only way one can deal with that aspect of the matter is the rather painstaking business of trying to come to agreement with the countries from which the posted matter originates that they will introduce similar legislation, thus catching the crook at the other end. But that is a slow and rather cumbersome approach.

All hon. Members accept the need for order-making powers. Flexibility is essential. Everyone has testified to the capacity of the people conducting these activities to adjust and adapt their methods according to circumstances at any given time. The granting of order-making powers is, therefore, the most important element in the Bill.

The hon. Member asked whether we had been having consultations. We have already started the preliminary consultations—and not only started them—with exactly the list of bodies he mentioned, and I will not bother to go through them all over again. However, what may be helpful is for me to explain the way in which we envisage progressing when we have the regulatory powers. I apologise for taking a few minutes on this subject, but it may help in Committee if hon. Members have had a chance to study exactly what the Government intend and assist them to undertake their own consultations in their constituencies and elsewhere with those who are interested, so that in Committee we can consider the nuts and bolts of detail.

The present thinking is that in the top left-hand corner of the face of the "invoice" there shall appear the following words:
"This is not a demand for payment. There is no obligation to pay the charge shown."
That would be the first precaution. The second would be that the words:
"This is not an invoice"
should be printed diagonally across the face of the "invoice".

We shall make requirements about size and colour and so on and it would be our intention that the disclaimer should be bolder than any other large print appearing on the form. These examples that we intend to follow are from the American experience. The Americans have been quite successful in stamping out this practice. For technical reasons relating to the powers of their postal authorities, they do not have the difficulties that we have about overseas postings.

Will the Minister explain how he proposes to protect genuine directory organisations when they send out invoices and demand payment, which subscribers are often only too happy to pay?

I understand the point. It is inevitable that the publicity given to this practice should have hit genuine as well as spurious directory organisations.

If it is a genuine operation, there is no reason whatever why a genuine invoice cannot be sent out marked as an invoice and as a demand for payment.

The hon. Lady has such a good idea that it is exactly what I intended to say myself. I thank her for saving me the necessity.

The more clearly we spell out what is involved and the more clearly we identify the false statement, the greater the protection we shall give to the genuine firm sending out genuine invoices. It is in the interests of such firms that we should follow through the type of action that I have outlined and the sort of disclaimer that we shall require. In the meantime, unless we are absolutely sure—and I understand the predicament—that a firm is an offender, it is essential to avoid mentioning names.

I shall say no more in order to allow following business to come on. This is a worthwhile Bill that will bring tremendous benefits to firms, particularly small firms, and we give it our full support.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 ( Committal of Bills).

Mental Health (Amendment) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

1.25 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am pleased to be able to introduce this small but sensible measure that will close a gap in the Mental Health Act 1959 and remove such doubts as have arisen about the operation of that Act. I hope that it will be non-controversial as the rectification of the small omission to which I have referred is clearly in line with the spirit of the Act.

The gap in the Act was first brought to light by a judgment of the High Court in July 1972 making it clear that the interpretation of the law on which hospital authorities had hitherto been working could no longer be supported. The position, I am afraid, is rather complex.

Patients compulsorily admitted to hospital under the National Health Act must suffer from one of the four classes of disorder specified in the Act, namely, mental illness, severe subnormality, subnormality or psychopathic disorder. A person of the age of 21 suffering from one or both of the two latter disorders may not be compulsorily admitted unless that is ordered by a court or unless he is transferred from prison.

However, a patient admitted from the community before the age of 21 and suffering from subnormality and/or psychopathic disorder and no other disorder may continue to be detained up to the age of 25 and beyond that age if the doctor responsible for him reports that if released he would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to himself or to others.

The diagnosis of mental disorder from which a person suffers may, of course, change, and a person admitted under one category may be reclassified as suffering from one of the other classes of disorder specified in the Act. Thus a person admitted to hospital as suffering from mental illness or severe subnormality may at any age be reclassified as suffering only from subnormality or psychopathic disorder.

Until 1972 it was thought that if a patient were reclassified in this way after the age of 25 the original authority to detain him still held good. But it is clear from the High Court judgment that that is not so and that if a detained patient, other than one subject to a court order, is reclassified as a psychopathic and/or subnormal patient and nothing else, after he is over 25 he may no longer be detained, no matter how dangerous he may be thought to be. This is so even though he may have been detained if he had been admitted under the age of 21 and at that time had been diagnosed as psychopathic and/or subnormal. He would then have been subject to the assessment procedure that is provided under the Act when patients attain the age of 25.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide for the examination of such patients and for their continued detention if it is decided that they would be likely to act in a dangerous manner if discharged. The Bill also resolves doubts that have arisen as a result of the High Court judgment in relation to certain classes of patient detained under a court order and patients admitted between the ages of 21 and 25. The Bill will secure that these patients too may continue to be detained, notwithstanding reclassification, as suffering from any other psychopathic disorder and/or subnormality if it is decided that they would be likely to act in a dangerous manner if discharged.

It is obvious that any measure of this kind must include adequate safeguards for the patient. The safeguards in the Bill are, first, that he would be given the right to apply to the Mental Health Review Tribunal and would be discharged if the tribunal were satisfied that he would not be likely to act in a dangerous manner. Second, any psychopathic or subnormal patient over the age of 21 who is detained would have to be reassessed as to his continuing dangerousness by the responsible doctor when making each of the statutory two-yearly reports. If the doctor does not report that he is still thought to be dangerous, the power to detain will therefore lapse.

The number of patients who will be involved in such a reclassification is very small. The number of those who would be considered to be dangerous is even smaller. It is impossible at present to tell how many cases fall into this category, but it seems reasonable to assume that we are talking of a measure which will apply to fewer than 10 patients per year.

I hope the House will agree that this is a useful measure since it aims at the protection of the public and at the same time provides adequate safeguards in every way to protect patients and to prevent abuse.

1.32 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) on the way he has brought this matter to the attention of the House after discovering this loophole in the law. Questions of mental health cause a great deal of concern to those who are asked to judge upon them, whether doctors, family or anyone else. They are extremely delicate matters. We all have experience of constituents who have been detained for such reasons who believe that they should not be detained.

As I understand it, the Bill will allow for reclassification after the age of 25—a right which does not exist at the moment—for patients detained at the age of 21. Although the patient may be reclassified, the Bill allows him still to be detained if he is likely to act in a dangerous manner.

However, I have one query. The body which reclassifies the patient and is responsible for deciding whether he is still likely to act in a dangerous way must know more about the patient than the Mental Health Review Tribunal which answers any appeal. How is it that that tribunal can make better judgments than those who are actually responsible for looking into the case in detail?

1.34 p.m.

I should like to express my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) on his luck in the Ballot and on having chosen this Bill. I should like to express the Government's support for it. It is a small but important Bill which will close a small gap in the Mental Health Act 1959, which was brought to light by the judgment referred to by my hon. Friend.

If the Act were left as it is, there is a chance that an unfortunate incident might occur which could have been foreseen and avoided. If this were to happen it could only reflect badly on the working of the Act as a whole and might result in reactions which damaged the good will of the public to the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped generally. At a time when the community is becoming increasingly tolerant of those with psychiatric problems, this could be most unfortunate and could undo much of the very valuable work which is being done to create this good will by the health and social service authorities, voluntary bodies and the patients and their relatives themselves. The Bill will thus have the function of protecting not only the public and the patients concerned but also the reputation and standing of the Mental Health Act itself.

My hon. Friend has explained the purpose of the Bill very well but it may still sound a rather complex matter. As he said, however, it is likely to affect only a tiny number of patients for whom adequate safeguards would be made and its main function is to close a gap in the existing legislation which could otherwise result in some unfortunate repercussions over a wider area. The Government feel that it is well worth while taking the precaution of closing this loophole and hope that the House will feel able to give it support.

I shall look at the point raised by the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) and write to him. If that is not satisfactory, he can, of course, raise it again in Committee.

While we are discussing the Mental Health Act, perhaps it might be as well if I gave the House some information on how the Government regard it. That Act reflected the major shift in public and professional attitudes to the treatment of mental disorder which had taken place over the past decade, and which had been analysed with great clarity and percipience by the Royal Commission. Implementation of the Act reinforced these changes of attitude and itself brought about important improvements in the care of the mentally disordered.

In particular, the introduction of the concept of informal admission and the use of compulsion only when absolutely necessary led to a big reduction in the number of patients compulsorily detained. In 1955, 70 per cent. of hospital inpatients at any one time were detained and 30 per cent. were voluntary, whereas today only 10 per cent. are detained and the rest receive treatment and care informally. As the Royal College of Psychiatrists has pointed out, this and other changes have encouraged the development of new therapeutic techniques within the hospitals, better doctor-patient relationships, and a reduction of medical time spent in operating compulsory procedures.

The balance which the 1959 Act struck between the liberty of the individual and the needs of patients and of the public for protection has proved to have been well judged. There have been criticisms from opposing directions—on the one hand that it had become too easy for patients to leave hospitals and on the other hand that the powers of detention were still too extensive—but such criticisms have been few and in general the Act has been well received. Developments in care and changes in public attitude since 1959 have not been such as to suggest that there is any need for a major reappraisal of the law of the kind that was undertaken by the Royal Commission. We do, however, need to look critically at the detailed working of the Act.

The Committee on Mentally Abnormal Offenders under the chairmanship of Lord Butler has been reviewing the provisions relating to offenders and its report is expected in the summer. The Department has received reports from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and will receive them from MIND—the National Association for Mental Health—which I know is looking at this matter itself, giving their views on the working of the parts of the Mental Heath Act which are outside the remit of the Butler Committee. These views will be considered with those of other interested bodies and individuals and the Department will then issue, hopefully later this year, a consultative document setting out provisional conclusions of the extent to which amendment of the 1959 Act is called for. This document may well be available for consultation and comment at about the same time as the Butler Committee's report, although the timing may well be different—I cannot predict that. On the basis of those very full consultations, the Government will frame any legislative proposals that they think necessary in regard to the Act.

In the meantime, I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I think that the House is wise to close this loophole. I hope that the Bill has a quick and easy run through its remaining stages. Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend.

1.39 p.m.

I am very grateful for the way in which the Bill has been received by the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) and by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. As the hon. Member said, matters of mental health are delicate and sensitive and we must approach them with all due sympathy and understanding.

The hon. Member seems to have doubts about the review tribunal. That tribunal will have before it all the evidence of the experts about each case, and therefore will obviously act with all the sympathy and understanding which is necessary. Therefore, I hope that this necessary safeguard for patients will be retained in the Act when it reaches the statute book. I am grateful for the support I have received.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 ( Committal of Bills).

Farriers (Registration) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

1.40 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am delighted to be able to rise at this unexpectedly early hour to commend to the House a Bill to provide for the registration of farriers.

The Bill's intention is fourfold. Most important, it is to prevent unnecessary suffering by horses and ponies. It is also to promote their proper shoeing, to increase the number of farriers by training and to prevent unqualified people from doing the shoeing.

It may help the House if I remind hon. Members of the background to the Bill. A similar measure was introduced in another place last year, obtained its Second Reading, passed through Committee and was given a Third Reading. It was coming to this House for consideration when it fell because of the General Election.

It is also worthy of note that that Bill received its Second Reading unopposed. Lord Wells-Pestell, who spoke for the Government, assured the noble Lords that the Government were in complete sympathy with some of the objectives of the Bill. He added that amendments needed to be made, and the Bill returned to the other place from Committee with amendments. Its Third Reading was also unopposed by the Government.

I understand from informal conversations that there is to be some objection to the Bill now that it is being introduced in the amended form in which it went through the other place. I gather that the Minister, who spoke to me about it informally yesterday, has some objections of which I am not yet aware. It is unfortunate that the Government should object to a Bill and not have the courtesy to tell the hon. Member concerned what the objections are. It is not my intention or the intention of anyone else to have the Bill passed in the face of opposition. We want to know what is considered to be unsatisfactory about it and to meet the objections. The Bill is necessary and has complete agreement outside.

Every organisation concerned with the welfare of the horse has given its unqualified support to the Bill. Those organisation stretch from the grand ranks of the Jockey Club right down to the mounted pony trekking associations. Every organisation, including the veterinary profession and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has given total support. Can they all be wrong? What has caused one or more officials in the bowels of some Government Department now to try to prevent the Bill from becoming law?

Perhaps it is an objection of principle. That is what the hon. Lady told me informally yesterday. No doubt she will tell us what that objection is. I plan to give her plenty of time in which to do so.

Perhaps there is an objection that when the Bill became law there would be a penalty upon those already practising farriery in an unqualified way. That is not the case. The Bill makes specific provision for such people. There are places, notably Scotland, where the work is done by a gillie or some other unqualified person. They will be able to continue to do it from the passing of the Act. All we seek to do is to prevent new, unqualified people practising this skilled and ancient trade without obtaining the necessary qualifications.

Perhaps the objection is that a complicated administrative set-up would be needed to make sure that the provisions of the Bill were carried out. I assure the hon. Lady that the administrative set-up already exists, and many farriers subscribe to it. I pay tribute to the Worshipful Company of Farriers, one of the oldest livery companies, which has put a tremendous amount of work into the Bill. It has been trying to get some form of statutory registration qualification since 1924. It knows that the Bill is necessary, I know that it is necessary, and I warmly commend it to the House.

1.46 p.m.

I listened most carefully to the case presented by the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates).

I imagine that the subject of the Bill is not one of which many hon. Members have first-hand experience or specialist knowledge. Nevertheless, its stated purpose—to protect horses from cruelty by improving the quality of the trade of farriery—will immediately commend itself to the sympathy of the whole House.

I had a meeting last summer with representatives of the Worshipful Company of Farriers and Lord Newall, who introduced a similar Bill in another place last Session. I know from that meeting, and from what the hon. Gentleman has said today, that the sponsors' intentions are entirely laudable. But it is not enough for those who place a Bill before the House merely to have good intentions. For some years I was vice-chairman of the all-party Parliamentary Animal Welfare Group, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think that there is any lack of love of animals on my part, but we are considering a piece of legislation, and, therefore, it must be studied very carefully.

It is the duty of the proponents of a Bill to satisfy the House unequivocally on a number of issues. They must show that there is a situation which is causing problems, and that legislation is required to solve the situation, because only legislation will solve it. They must establish that the legisation they are presenting will also resolve any doubts that it will have unintentional or undesirable consequences. The sponsors' case should be tested against those criteria, and if it does not meet them the Bill should not be given a Second Reading.

It is grossly unfair that this objection should be raised at the very last minute, and that my hon. Friend was warned only last night. A similar Bill went through the House of Lords last May. There has been all this time for these decisions to be made.

As I have just pointed out, I had a meeting with the Worshipful Company of Farriers and Lord Newall, with both of whom the hon. Gentleman has no doubt been in close contact. They have no doubt transmitted to him the reservations I expressed at the meeting.

Indeed, they did. The report I received from that meeting was that you were satisfied with what they had said, and that your objections—

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The impression I got was that the objections were answered fully and frankly by the representative of the Worshipful Company of Farriers and by Lord Newall, and that the hon. Lady was satisfied by the answers which they gave to the points she had raised.

I do not think that that is quite an accurate account of the meeting. I think that the people who were present would confirm that we had definite reservations about the Bill. As I shall go on to show, on this Bill, which is not the same as the original Bill in some respects, we also have reservations.

As the hon. Gentleman explained and as the Worshipful Company also made clear to me, the Bill has two main objectives, which are directly linked. The first of these is the prevention of cruelty to horses, cruelty which they might suffer at the hands of incompetent farriers or totally unskilled people who take it upon themselves to shoe a horse. I scarcely need say that the Government are in sympathy with that objective.

The second objective is the enhancement, by various means, of the status of the trade of farriery and the reversal in the decline of the number of expert farriers. The subject of farriery is not one, as I said earlier, on which we have had many debates in the House, so perhaps I may explain to the House a little about the trade, as it appears to such Government agencies as have any involvement with it. I should perhaps mention in passing that there is no one Government Department which has a clear or overriding interest in the subject-matter of the farriery trade or the Bill. I hope that I shall be forgiven, therefore, if I am unable to answer any technical questions that may arise from what I say. But I shall answer any such questions in due course in writing, and through the appropriate Minister if necessary.

Farriery is one of the craft industries which benefit from the technical, advisory and training services provided in rural areas in England and Wales by the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas, which I shall now refer to by its initial capital letters, "COSIRA", and in Scotland by the Small Industries Council for Rural Areas of Scotland. Both of these bodies are under the sponsorship of the Development Commission and are financed by grants from the Development Fund.

I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Lady in full flow, but are we not in some danger of getting away from the subject-matter of the Bill? This is not an industry. The farrier is very often a blacksmith. Blacksmithing is an industry. The farrier's trade is a profession. It is understandable that there has been a slight misapprehension about the purpose of the Bill.

Or craft. We know what we are talking about.

These bodies are sympathetic towards the Worshipful Company's wish to improve the standard of craftsmanship and the status of the trade—I have used both words there—and they have both expressed concern about the decline in the number of farriers, which is serious. On this point, I shall quote from COSIRA's report for the years 1970 to 1972, in which it said:
"Farriery is becoming an increasing headache in many counties…. Rather more master farriers are…unwilling to accept the responsibility of training…. Some farriers are enterprising enough to become itinerant and portable forges and cold shoeing are becoming the order of the day in Norfolk. But the overall picture is not a healthy one."
That was the picture seen by COSIRA a couple of years ago. The position may have changed slightly for the better over the last two years, but we are not very certain about the population of farriers. It is difficult to get definite statistics. Certainly there still appear to be insufficient farriers in many areas, and the insufficiency must, of course, be related to the trend in the population of ponies and horses that require to be shod. Again, precise information about the horse population is lacking, but whatever the size of the horse population—estimates vary between 400,000 and over a million—the number of horses continues to increase.

Both COSIRA and its Scottish equivalent and the Worshipful Company of Farriers have been tackling the problem with urgency. The two councils have in each of the last four years spent about £6,000 a year on the training of farriers, and COSIRA proposes in 1975–76 to increase its expenditure to over £10,000 by the appointment of a full-time farriery instructor. However, the increase in the number of ponies and horses to which I have referred and the necessity for their feet to be properly cared for indicate how important is the work which is already in hand to increase standards in farriery and to recruit apprentices. This is the position as the Government see it, and I do not think it differs in essence from the assessment of the Worshipful Company of Farriers. We were agreed. I am sure it makes clear why the Government are favourably disposed to the sponsor's second main objective.

The Government can, therefore, accept the proposition that there is a situation which needs attention. Yet, as I have already indicated, we have serious doubts about the Bill. On what counts do these arise? Before I answer that question, I want to look for a moment at the logic of the sponsor's case. This is not to criticise that logic but to attempt to understand it. The argument seems to be as follows.

There is a shortage of expert farriers in relation to the number of horses to be shod. A consequence of this shortage is that inexpert and unskilled persons are undertaking shoeing. The results of the latter's activities are two-fold. First, their intervention discourages master farriers from taking on the training of apprentices—which is, in the nature of the trade, a lengthy affair—and this aggravates the shortage of skilled men. Secondly, the unskilled at the least cause some discomfort to and in some cases inflict severe suffering upon the animals that they attempt to shoe.

The Bill, therefore, on the one hand aims at enhancing the status of the trade of farriery and thus encouraging new recruits to join, and on the other prevents the inexpert or unqualified from practising the activity. By both of these means it is hoped that the number of qualified farriers will increase and the incidence of cruelty being caused to horses will be diminished. Put briefly, the Bill has two inter-related objectives. Its first is to produce more skilled farriers; its second, which will arise out of the achievement of the first, is to prevent horses from suffering cruelty. For obvious and very proper reasons, the second objective has been placed first in the Long Title of the Bill.

Let me now turn to the first of the three key issues I presented at the begining of my speech. Is it necessary to legislate to achieve these objectives? Farriery is a trade—or craft, profession or job—with a long and distinguished history in this country. So long as the horse was one of the principal beasts of burden and modes of transport, the man who cared for the horse's feet was of paramount importance to the nation's economy.

The craft appears to have come to England from the Continent with William the Conqueror. The Guild of Farriers was in existence in 1356. I understand that it became the Company of Farriers in 1674, when Charles II granted it a Royal Charter. For over 600 years the Company has carried out this duty. My first thought is, to some extent, one of surprise that after so long a period of such distinguished service without the need of statutory support or of parliamentary intervention the Worshipful Company should find it necessary, in the last quarter of the 20th century, to legislate to protect the position of the trade.

Perhaps I might remind the Minister that an attempt was made to get some statutory support in 1924. Fifty years is quite a long time to be trying.

I can only assume that during that time quite good reasons must have been advanced against the proposition by successive Parliaments which served to frustrate the attempts. It is not a matter of dispute that there is a shortage of properly trained farriers.

May I deal with the Minister's point about the unsuccessful attempts? Until quite recently there was a sufficiency of farriers, and the charges they made were tolerable and reasonable. It was very easy for anyone who wished to have a horse or a donkey shod to get professional attention. Now the lack of farriers and the steep increase in costs are causing people to try to short-circuit the services of farriers, and this is leading to cruelty to animals. Legislation came quite late to the medical profession. If there were a shortage of doctors I am sure the Minister would not suggest that we should reduce the standards of the medical profession to ease that shortage. It seems logical that in present circumstances there should be some clarification of the situation.

I can see the hon. Member's point, but I am trying to pursue the argument and I shall deal with these matters later.

There is no difference between us about there being a shortage of properly trained farriers. The sponsors argue that this is an encouragement to the inadequately trained and the unskilled to become involved in shoeing. The direct result of this, they say, is cruelty to horses. It must be agreed that the Bill ought, once it has been in operation for a period, to prevent the inadequately trained from setting up in practice, and it will provide a means of removing the incompetent or the feckless from practising the trade. A man may be competent enough to pass the necessary examinations but that does not mean that he will necessarily retain, or continue to display, that level of competence in the future.

But is the Bill necessary to achieve this objective in respect of the incompetent? The shoeing of horses is by its very nature not a trade that anyone who is incompetent can profitably undertake these days. Causing direct and immediate pain to a horse which is being shod is likely to produce a direct and immediate response from the horse, while bad shoeing, which lames the horse, will readily be recognised as a fault of the farrier. In either case the incompetent man would not stay long in business.

Let me illustrate this point by quoting from a dossier which has been collected by the National Master Farriers', Blacksmiths' and Agricultural Engineers' Association and has been sent to me. It says:
"A number of members in the Staffordshire Branch have had to attend horses lamed through pricks".
This is where the nail is driven into the hoof inaccurately and pricks the soft part of the foot. It goes on:
"Some of these cases could be stated to have been caused through carelessness or lack of knowledge of the structure of a horse's foot. The pricking of an animal which has sound feet can only be put down to the inefficiency of the farrier concerned or lack of knowledge as to where the nail should start. One case is reported where a perfectly sound foot was pricked. The farrier concerned had made the foot fit the shoe, not the shoe fit the foot. Two nails on the inside were started at least 3/16″ over the white line. The farrier concerned soon came to an end but not before causing suffering to an animal."
This is my point. The animal was hurt and the farrier did not survive. The points to which I should like to draw attention are, first, that without the Bill being on the statute book the farrier went out of business, and, secondly, that his treatment of the horse could as well be attributed to a momentary carelessness as to a lack of knowledge. It is doubtful which it was. Perhaps it was a bit of both. Even a well-trained man, whose skill has for some reason deteriorated over the years or who has a temporary lapse of concentration, might cause this sort of harm to a horse. The Bill by itself would not preclude him from trading as a farrier. What would preclude him would be his incompetence if it proved to be permanent. Owners simply would not take their horses to him because the word would get around that he was an incompetent farrier.

But what of the totally unskilled, of whose activities the sponsors have made some play, the man who comes off the night shift and then goes out during the day-time offering to shoe horses without any knowledge or skill whatsoever? I think it is fair, in the first place, to express surprise that owners are foolish enough to expose their animals to risk of this sort and not to attempt to establish the bona fides of a person who is offering them this skill. It may be argued that such owners should be protected from themselves. But will the Bill provide such protection? If owners display this kind of irresponsible attitude to their animals now, will they be the less likely in an emergency to accept the services of an unregistered man? What difference will the Bill make?

To illustrate this point, let me again quote from the dossier I referred to earlier.
"A child's pony whose owner had outgrown it had been turned out but the owner realised that its feet needed trimming. Unfortunately, the local farrier was ill and unable to attend to the animal. The owner called at the local pub for a drink on the way back and mentioned about the pony having its feet trimmed. A local do-it-yourself man overheard the conversation and offered to pare the feet for a fee of £1. The owner accepted the offer and in due course the do-it-yourself man arrived, complete with hoof parers and rasp. He certainly cut the foot down—he almost cut it off. He lowered the wall far too much, then rasped across the sole. When he dropped the foot the pony was completely lame and the man was booted off the land minus £1, leaving behind a pony with three feet needing trimming and one foot he could not bear any weight on. This is a case of an animal being caused suffering by a do-it-yourself man who obviously thought a horse's hoof was similar to a block of wood. He himself ought to have been made to walk bare-footed over a patch of drawing pins."

I cannot understand the Minister's point. She is arguing against herself. She is saying that these unqualified men should not practice because they cause cruelty to animals. I cannot understand what she is driving at.

I said that I was quoting from the dossier. I do not want to comment upon the desire of the writer of the dossier to wreak physical vengeance upon the do-it-yourself man. What I want to draw to the attention of the House is that there is already a law which is designed to protect horses from suffering cruelty. The Protection of Animals Act 1911 makes it an offence punishable by a fine of up to £50 or a maximum of three months' imprisonment for any person, by wantonly or unreasonably doing or attempting to do any act, to cause any unnecessary suffering to an animal or, being the owner, to permit any unnecessary suffering to be so caused. Prima facie, at any rate, the do-it-yourself man whom I have just described would seem to have committed an offence under the 1911 Act.

The Minister used the term "wantonly or unreasonably" but she did not refer to something done out of ignorance. That is not covered in the Act, which is one reason why we need this Bill.

I am not sure that it would be easy to distinguish between something done wantonly, unreasonably and out of ignorance. "Unreasonably" and "wantonly" could certainly cover the third situation. It would be very difficult for a court to distinguish one from the two others.

This situation that I have described seems to apply equally to very many of the distasteful and senseless acts of incompetence and cruelty which are cited as being a justification for this Bill. So there is already legislation to protect horses from cruelty. The Bill is supposed to add a better defence. But will it? Will the owner who is ill-advised enough to use the odd-job man now because the qualified farrier is indisposed or on holiday be discouraged by the provisions of the Bill from turning to the odd-job man in the future? What will happen if he uses him? If the job is badly done and the horse is caused suffering, all that the Bill has achieved is that two offences have been committed and not one. On the other hand, if the job is well done and the owner is satisfied, who is likely to know?

The Government would certainly concede that the provisions of the Bill could contribute to an increase in the standard of farriery, but we doubt whether the Bill is necessary in order to prevent the incompetent farrier from staying in business, and we cannot see that it will give any extra protection against the totally unskilled casual farrier. On the ground of the prevention of cruelty, therefore, the sponsors do not appear to have made their case for introducing legislation.

The more good farriers there are, the argument runs, the less chancy that an owner will turn to the incompetent man who will cause suffering to his horse. Will the Bill achieve this? We have heard the argument of the sponsors. Master farriers are disinclined to take on young men who will, after a very short time, go off and set up in opposition to them, taking many of their master's customers with them. The qualified men feel also that they are exposed to the competition of the totally unskilled. How can it be worth their spending time and energy on training a man over a long period when he will have no prospect of earning a living? The Bill, it is said, will stop this. The sponsors also claim that to give the trade a statutory basis will enhance its status. Of course it must be a matter of opinion whether these objectives will be achieved by the Bill. I have heard the arguments put in its favour and do not find them entirely persuasive.

First, there is something rather odd about the logic of the sponsors' argument about competition from the unskilled. It would seem to me to be far more likely that master farriers will lose trade to competent and properly trained men than to the half-trained and the totally unskilled. Will they not, by training more apprentices and training them well, equally be cutting their throats?

Secondly, when the Bill was before another place last summer, Lord Wigg drew attention to the work accomplished during his time as the Chairman of the Horserace Betting Levy Board to stimulate the training of farriers. This had been done by the provisions of grants. Up to 1967 the annual grant from the levy board to the Worshipful Company had been £2,000. After that it was doubled to £4,000 and has increased steadily. What effect has this had upon the training of farriers? In 1967 there was only one entrant and the total number under training was 16. In 1972–73 there were 118 and in 1973–74 127, and there are 129 this year.

The conclusion that I would be inclined to draw from this, and it is the conclusion that COSIRA pointed to in its report which I quoted earlier, is that it is not the competition from the unskilled which deters master farriers from taking on apprentices but the lack of money. This is not in any way a reprehensible attitude. The training of apprentices is costly, burdensome and time-consuming. Clearly, it needs an infusion of money to stimulate it. But does it need more? The case for the Bill on this count is by no means clear.

Lastly on this point, I draw the attention of the House to the provisions of Clause 18 of the Bill. This clause would enable the Secretary of State to exclude by order a specified part of Great Britain from the operation of the Act, after consultation with interested organisations in the area. I should explain that the pro vision was not in the Bill when it was originally introduced in another place last Session. It was put in through an amendment moved by the sponsor in response to criticisms, particularly from Scottish peers, that because of the shortage of farriers in Scotland and because of the long distances involved, especially in the Highlands and Islands, the Bill could not at present apply to Scotland. The sponsors were unwilling, as I understand it, to concede that the Bill should not apply at all to Scotland and produced this clause as a compromise, enabling the Secretary of State to disapply it for such area and for such a time as seems proper.

This reinforces the point I made in my short opening remarks, that the people who are interested in this Bill becoming law are prepared to compromise over almost anything. We want a sensible piece of legislation. If there are particular difficulties, I can undertake now that we will guarantee to try to meet any wish that may be expressed in Committee. The fact that we have taken such a reasonable attitude is no reason for killing the Bill.

Perhaps I could finish all of my arguments against the Bill before the hon. Gentleman reprimands me for opposing it. I am trying to state clearly, and at some length, I am afraid, why we oppose it.

I do not want to comment in this debate upon the procedure that is contained in the clause. What I would draw attention to is that, to use an appropriate metaphor, it seems to drive a coach and horses through the logic of the sponsors' arguments. Their argument is that the way to ensure the recruitment of farriers is to preclude anyone other than a registered farrier from shoeing a horse. But if there is an area where there is at present a shortage of farriers, as there is alleged to be in Scotland, how can it make sense of the sponsors' argument to disapply the Bill in Scotland, since without the compulsory registration scheme farriers will not be recruited? The answer is that it will not be the operation of the compulsory registration scheme which will encourage recruitment but other initiatives, of the type in which the Worshipful Company of Farriers, with help from a number of sources, has for the last few years been effectively engaged.

So far we have tested the Bill against two criteria: Is it necessary to legislate to achieve the agreed objectives; and: will the Bill achieve those objectives? We are left with the third question: Will the Bill have any unintentional or undesirable results? This is speculation that must take place and should be based upon as firm data as can be obtained. If that data are not available we shall be speculating and, what is worse, legislating in the dark.

For this reason I consider that it is reasonable to ask whether, in preparing and presenting the Bill, those who are responsible for it have any clear idea of the number of horses in the country at present and how many farriers there are. [Laughter.] They should be able to make some realistic provision about likely trends in the horse population. [Interruption.] Unless we know these facts we are being asked to face an unknown situation. We shall end up running the risk of producing a situation—

I have sometimes heard you refer to hon. Members making copious use of notes during a debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask the hon. Lady whether the copious notes with which she is refreshing memory reflect her personal conclusions on this subject?

It is a very serious allegation to suggest that I might be making a speech in which I did not really believe.

The hon. Lady seems to have two separate briefs from which she is reading which disagree with each other. Could she make up her mind which brief she wants to speak to?

I am sorry that hon. Members treat the subject so frivously. Here is a Bill introduced to the House. I do not think that the fact that it is about horses is particularly funny. I was vice-chairman of the animal welfare group in Parliament. I am concerned about animal welfare. I do not think it is an amusing subject. I do not think that just because the Bill concerns horses it should be rushed through the House without any consideration or thought. If my speech is of some length, it is because I am taking the subject very seriously. If we bring in a Bill concerning horses or shoeing them, or concerning the people who shoe horses, I do not think it is unreasonable to ask a question as to how many horses and farriers there are. I should have thought these were two basic questions. Hon. Members responsible for a Bill concerning horses and farriers ought to be able to answer them.

There are approximately 1,600 qualified farriers in this country. Is the Under-Secretary of State saying that she does not know what the horse population is? As regards future horse population trends, the Bill is becoming more urgently needed since sports concerned with horses—riding, trekking, hunting and racing—are growing all the time. There is a growing need. There is a very large horse population in proportion to the number of qualified farriers. That population is growing faster than the population of farriers, and that is why this Bill is necessary.

That is a serious point. The Bill would produce a situation in which we should be running the risk of not having enough farriers to shoe the existing horse population. The hon. Member is stipulating that persons should be apprenticed before they can be allowed to shoe a horse.

It is as well that the sponsors have some idea of the figures involved so that we do not run the risk of simply not having enough farriers to shoe the horses that exist. We run the risk of producing a situation in which no one other than a registered farrier will be able to shoe horses, so that when the Bill is in force horses will have to go unshod and perhaps become lame.

I have made inquiries about the number of farriers. The latest figure which the Worshipful Company of Farriers has is just short of 1,650 registered farriers, but it does not know for certain how many of that number are full-time, how many are part-time and how many are not practising. There are some farriers who are registered with the worshipful company but there may be another group, larger or smaller, which is not so registered.

What of the horse population? There is uncertainty. A number of as low as 400,000 has been estimated. The British Horse Society suggested that the figure was over 1 million. When the Bill comes into force, will the existing number of farriers be sufficient to shoe the horse population? Merely to ask the question is probably to reveal the impossibility of answering it, because we do not have accurate figures. Surely, before legislation is introduced it is necessary to find out whether its effect would be that many horses would go unshod and suffer lameness as a result, otherwise the aims of the legislation might to some extent not be achieved.

No horse need go lame as a result of being unshod, but many horses will go lame as a result of being badly shod. A horse will not go lame unless it is attended by someone who does not know what he is doing. That answers the hon. Lady's question.

There still remains one question. We may stipulate that all future farriers must be registered—we are thinking of the long-term effects of the legislation, not the effect tomorrow—whereas existing farriers may continue. It would be nice to have an assurance about the future as well as the immediate effect.

When the Bill was first introduced, it gave the owner of a horse exemption to enable him to shoe his own horse. The sponsors and others thought that was not a good thing if cruelty was to be prevented, and one can see the force of that argument. The exemption was removed. Therefore, the Bill would mean that a man could not shoe his horse in his own back yard. Many would regard that as totally unsatisfactory.

Do the sponsors of the Bill know how many people shoe their own horses? Can they say with any confidence how many further horses will come on to the registered farriers' lists because people are to be prevented from shoeing their own horses?

Last summer it was reported in a newspaper that a young lady was shoeing her horse after a three-month course at the Montgomery College of Further Education. From the picture of the young lady and of the horse, it appeared that they were both satisfied with that situation. However, when the Bill is passed she will be prevented from shoeing her horse.

Indeed she will not, because the measure allows for anyone who has been regularly doing this to continue so to do.

When considering legislation, we must take account of the long-term effects.

All that will happen concerning that young lady in future is that she will shoe her horse to a certain standard and satisfy someone that she has done it to a certain standard, and she will continue to shoe her horses. There is no magic. It is just common sense.

When the Bill is passed, a lady such as I have mentioned will be prevented from shoeing her horse.

Because she was driven to take the course through lack of a local farrier, she will once more have to run the risk of her horse going unshod. That provision may apply to someone who has been shoeing a horse satisfactorily for many years.

When we introduce a Bill, we must think of the medium- and long-term effects and not only of the immediate effects.

We could go on for so long on this point. May I ask the hon. Lady whether this is not just the sort of subject we should discuss in Committee? We are willing for all these points to be thoroughly aired, discussed and justified. If they are not justified they can be removed from the Bill. Is not that what a Committee is all about?

That point is often made by sponsors of Bills and by Governments. If there is any opposition, they tend to say that it will be dealt with in Committee. However, once a Government consider a Bill they must put all these points to the House, which is what I am doing this afternoon, for the House in its wisdom to consider. Otherwise, why have a Second Reading? Why not go straight to Committee? I know what the hon. Member would like to do.

The point I have made relates to what will happen immediately the Bill comes into effect. A similar point can be made about the undesirable effects of the Bill when it has been in operation for some time.

There are two circumstances to which I should like to draw the attention of the House. What will happen if the local farrier who serves a remote country area is temporarily or permanently disabled? If he falls ill, who will shoes the horses in his area? We cannot look to the cumbersome machinery of Clause 18 to solve the problem. That is unlikely to work speedily or specifically enough to deal with this kind of local situation.

The likelihood is that when the Bill is in force the horses in the area, for a shorter or longer time, will have to go unshod with much discomfort and suffering being caused. Alternatively, owners will have to go to great expense to get their horses to a registered farrier, or they may be compelled to break the law to deal with the situation.

Is the hon. Lady seeking to introduce the principle that, if a qualified person is ill, restrictions on those who are less qualified to perform expert attendance are undesirable? Would she care to extend that view to any other profession or calling?

That is not the point I was making. If the hon. Gentleman looks at Clause 18, he will be able to follow my argument.

Secondly, what will happen if the Bill, rather than encouraging the recruitment of farriers, does the very opposite? Has it occurred to the sponsors of the Bill that that could happen? What will happen if, as is more likely, the Bill does not affect the issue one way or the other but some external factor causes a further decline in the number of farriers? Do the sponsors expect the Secretary of State by order to disapply the Bill over the whole of Great Britain—in other words, effectively repealing a parliamentary measure by statutory instrument?

Is the Minister aware that the Bill is the result of three years of consultations between the company, the national body of master farriers, the blacksmiths and the Agricultural Engineers' Association, which is the farriers' trade union? That having been the case, surely it is not good enough to raise all these matters on Second Reading when it is well known that there has been careful consultation in the preparation of the Bill.

I am sure that there has been consultation, and indeed I know that to be the case, but it does not mean that there is universal agreement on the Bill. It does not mean that it is a perfect Bill. It is only right that the Government spokesman should point out weaknesses, anomalies and imperfections in the Bill. That is exactly what I am doing.

As for the effect of the legislation, I wish to draw attention to the fact that those who wish to be placed on the register or to retain their name upon the register—that is to say, those who wish to practise the trade of farriery—will be charged a fee for doing so. The fee will be at a level set by the Farriers Council and it is intended that it should merely cover administrative expenses.

When I saw the Worshipful Company of Farriers it assured me that the fee would need to be no more than £10 or so. This would yield an annual revenue of between £15,000 and £20,000 from the present number of registered farriers. The estimates of expenditure, however, were based upon assumptions about the assistance which the council was likely to get in the way of staff and accommodation from the Worshipful Company of Farriers and from the other bodies which give money to the company.

The administrative costs, however, are constantly increasing. There are courses to be vetted and supervised, examinations to be set and marked and disciplinary and other committees to be served. These are expensive items. What would happen if through any circumstance the worshipful company or the other benefactors proved unable to sustain their excellent charitable work? Could the fee be held at a level of £10? If it had to be increased substantially, are the sponsors satisfied that it might not discourage the recruitment of farriers?

The point I am making is that in a number of ways the Bill may have the very opposite effect from that which the sponsors wish it to have. In other words, rather than diminishing the possibility of horses being open to suffering through the activities of incompetent farriers, the Bill's provisions may increase the difficulty of getting horses shod and thus cause them suffering because their feet are insufficiently cared for.

In conclusion, I hope that what I said at the beginning was sufficient to make it clear that the Government are sympathetic to what the sponsors are trying to achieve; it is the means by which they are seeking to achieve it which give the Government cause for doubt.

However, I do not want to be entirely negative. I invite the sponsors to withdraw the Bill and seriously consider whether they might achieve their objectives by means other than legislation. I wish to draw their attention to the remarks which I made in connection with the observations made by Lord Wigg and the financing of training schemes for apprentices. Should not the sponsors wait to see how effective the training programmes have been in the last six or seven years? Would there not be benefit in initiating proceedings under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 against some who cause unnecessary suffering to horses by totally unskilled shoeing, thus ensuring that due publicity is given to those cases? I suggest that the hon. Member for Petersfield and his supporters would be better advised to take that course and to await the results before seeking to get on to the statute book legislation the likely results of which they cannot with any certainty predict.

2.37 p.m.

There are several disastrous things that can occasionally afflict this House. It happens on the rare occasions when the two Front Benches get together, and it happens, above all, when the Home Office seeks to interfere on questions relating to the welfare of animals. I can only suggest that the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department—and I know that she has the highest respect for both human and animal life—had her speech written for her by somebody whose knowledge of horses does not go much farther than gazing at equestrian statues in Central London. It is appalling how many facile arguments may be deployed on Second Reading. Committee point after Committee point was raised, and I shall not bore the House by repeating them.

It is important to remember that the Bill has already received the approval of the other place. The meeting to which the Minister referred produced no correspondence, and my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) was given information only yesterday about the Government's position. In my not unlimited experience of private Members' legislation, I have never heard of such a disgraceful breach of parliamentary etiquette as that which happened in this debate. My hon. Friend was not given a chance to deal with the facile criticisms which were put to him. It is unnecessary to treat private Members in this way.

The hon. Lady, from her own knowledge, knows the virtues of professional training and, if necessary, of legislation to restrict the practice of those skills, particularly where they relate to human or animal welfare. I do not think that I need pursue that argument.

A great deal is said on the subject of animal welfare. I saw a case of a donkey's foot at Mr. Lockwood's donkey rest home at Witley in Surrey. This man pretends to be running a welfare organisation which people can visit, but anybody who knows anything about animal welfare has only to go to the home to see the cruelty that is taking place there.

The Minister spoke of the animal welfare Act—

I beg the Minister's pardon. The Minister argued that the use of these measures was well known. If somebody did not deliberately and wantonly practise cruelty but made a genuine mistake, that is a good defence.

As for the argument about apprenticeships, my view is that anybody who can practise the highly skilled and difficult art of shoeing a horse will make a positive contribution to animal welfare. I hope the Minister will think carefully before she advises the Government to whip the Labour Members into the Lobby. It is interesting to see that not one Labour back bencher is present for this debate. They are certainly not here to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill.

2.40 p.m.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). One of the reasons for doing so is that I was awakened at 6 o'clock last Saturday morning by a farrier on his way to work. He wanted to bring to my attention the merits of the Bill and the unanimous support accorded to it by about 20 farriers working in close proximity to Midhurst, where I reside.

I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) about the Under-Secretary of State's speech concerning the Protection of Animals Act. That Act would not apply in many cases which this Bill seeks to cover, and in any case the Act can be regarded as corrective whereas this Bill would be essentially preventive. The Act would not cover, as this Bill would, the many cases of cruelty caused by unregistered, untrained farriers. Many cases of cruelty in such circumstances never come to the attention of the public or the authorities. This Bill would substantially improve the situation.

The hon. Lady said that she did not find all the arguments for the Bill entirely persuasive. That suggests that she found many of them persuasive to some extent. Many of the points she raised should be more adequately and properly dealt with in Committee. On behalf of

Division No. 72.]


[2.44 p.m.

Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Hordern, PeterRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Body, RichardJames, DavidRidley, Hon Nicholas
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)Ridsdale, Julian
Channon, PaulLamont, NormanShersby, Michael
Cormack, PatrickLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Sims, Roger
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMarshall, Michael (Arundel)Stradling Thomas, J.
Fell, AnthonyMates, MichaelWalker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)Mather, Carol
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)Nelson, AnthonyTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hall, Sir JohnNeubert, MichaelMr. Jerry Wiggin and
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Pattie, GeoffreyMr. Alan Clark.
Hampson, Dr Keith


Mr. Thomas Cox and
Mr. Michael Cocks.

It appearing on the report of the Division that forty Members were not present, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared

my constituents in Chichester, a predominantly rural area, and of the many farriers in that locality, I support the Bill.

2.42 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State has treated the House in a shoddy way. If she glances at the benches behind her to see what the House consists of, she will note the total lack of interest among her right hon. and hon. Friends. The Bill was introduced as long ago as last May. It has been argued in the House of Lords. There was ample time for the Home Office to indicate its opposition, and for it to do so at the elevent hour is a bit much and not fair on the House. The hon. Lady has not convinced us.

The three examples that the hon. Lady produced emerged, in the event, against her own case. For instance, she asked about the situation where the local farrier was ill. The simple answer to that is that almost all farriers are mobile now, so it is not a question of not being able to get a farrier at all if the local farrier is ill. There should be no difficulty in getting a stand-in in such circumstances. It would have been far better if the hon. Lady had allowed the Bill to go into Committee, where all these arguments could have been presented properly.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 30, Noes, Nil.

that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next Sitting of the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides will agree that Private Members' Bills are of immense importance to the House. I wish to raise a point of order on whether it is correct for the Government to treat the Bill in this way. The Bill went to the House of Lords. The Government made no objection to it at that stage. I am informed that the first indication that the Government had any objection to it was conveyed to the sponsors last night. That in itself was a monstrous way to treat Private Members' legislation. However, for the Under-Secretary of State to speak against the Bill but not to have the courage to vote against it and instead abstain is another indication of the contempt with which the Government treat Private Members' business.

I hope that the Government will reflect on the manner in which they have treated this highly desirable Bill, affecting the question of cruelty to animals and other important matters, and early next week will make an apology to the House.

Order. Let me deal with the right hon. Gentleman's point of order. I fail to see why Members should raise subsequent points of order.

I make it abundantly clear that I am not responsible for the Government's actions or decisions. Even if it were open to me, I do not know that I should be willing to undertake that burden. However, hon. Members are entitled to vote as they wish. The Chair has no control over which Lobby an hon. Member enters. Therefore, the point of order does not arise.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) has said about the Government's tactics, which affect the rights and privileges of back-bench Members. The first time that I had any indication conveyed to me was last night in an informal discussion with the Under-Secretary of State behind Mr. Speaker's Chair—and that was only through the good offices of somebody on the Government side of the House who strongly supports the Bill.

I have had letters from no fewer than 60 hon. Members of all parties indicating their full support for the Bill. Had they known that objection would be raised, they would have been here today. I do not want it to be thought that there is a minimal interest in the subject-matter of the Bill. Hon. Members have other important engagements which they would have cancelled and would have attended today had they known what the Government would do. It is dishonest of the Government to treat the House in this way.

I apologise to hon. Members, but I do not think we shall get very far, because these are not points of order. I have been a Member of the House for 16 years, and to me tactics are the life-blood of politics. What conversations go on behind the Chair is not a matter for the Chair because it is not involved in them.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The formula which you read out, as you must read out on these occasions, referred to the fact that there were not 40 Members present. It is plain to anyone who casts his eye round the Chamber that there are at least 10 Government Members present. There are, therefore, 40 Members present. It is outrageous, in those circumstances, that a proper vote should not be taken and 40 names recorded and the Bill sent to Committee.

Let us take all these points of order together because they come under one heading. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I can deal with them individually. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) said that there were a number of Members on the Government benches who could have made up the necessary number according to the Standing Order. I cannot direct hon. Members to go into any Lobby.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I fully understand what you said and that this is a matter of great difficulty for the Chair. I shall not raise a point of order on the fact that the Government Chief Whip told me earlier that the Government opposed the Bill. What is the opposition to the Bill? Not one Member voted against it. However, that is not a point of order for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and, therefore, I admonish myself.

But I should like to raise this point of order. Consideration has been given to the extraordinary way in which the business on Fridays has been conducted over perhaps the last 100 years. In the last few years alterations have been made to the way in which the business on Fridays is conducted which have allowed through the House in the most peculiar manner possible the Vasectomy Bill, for instance.

Therefore, will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, refer the difficulty in which the House has found itself today to the Procedure Committee so that it might have further discussions on what properly should happen to business on Fridays.

I have carried out the Standing Orders as approved by the House. Had I failed to do so there would have been as many points of order because I would have fallen down on what the House desired to be done. I have carried out strictly the Standing Orders laid down by the House, and there is nothing more I can add.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We quite appreciate the difficulties in which you find yourself, but they are difficulties of the Government's making. Friday is traditionally a day for Private Members, for back benchers. The Leader of the House always claims that he takes an interest in back-bench Members' rights. Is not this an occasion when the Leader of the House should be here and should possibly announce that he will provide Government time to rectify this matter?

I cannot speak for any hon. Member. I say again to hon. Members that I am as anxious as anyone to maintain the proper dispatch of business, but my duty first and foremost to every hon. Member is to ensure that the Standing Orders are observed. If any hon. Member can show that I have failed to observe the Standing Orders by failing to call a Division when it was demanded, or that I failed to carry out a Standing Order relating to the smallness of the numbers present, I will listen to him.

On a new aspect of this matter, whether it is in Standing Orders I am not aware, but it is a well-established precedent, announced by Mr. Speaker, that in this House one's vote should follow one's voice. I can recall an incident when Mr. Speaker deleted the names of some hon. Members from the list because they had spoken for one side of the argument and voted for the other side of the argument in the Lobby. Disregarding the argument about numbers, there is no doubt that the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department spoke against the Bill and recommended the House to vote against it, but her vote was not recorded in the "No" Lobby. Will you consider that point?

I do not think so. I think one may be facetious and suggest that hon. Members may have found something in the Lobby which made them stay out. It may have been a dormouse. The point is that I really have no control over how Members vote. I cannot help the hon. Member.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House is fully seized of your position. We are quite aware that you have a duty to administer the rules of procedure as they stand, but it is clear that hon. Members on both sides of the House are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the procedure governing Private Members' business. There is no doubt that Private Members are seriously disadvantaged if the Government resort to tactics of this kind. May I ask you, as a servant of the House, to ensure that this matter is referred to the Committee on Procedure for further consideration so that private Members may be better protected than they are now?

I shall do everything I can to ensure that Private Members' rights are not infringed. May I make a simple suggestion to hon. Members? They could have provided 40 Members and prevented all these points of order.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We on this side of the House sympathise with your position. We agree that you exercise your position as Deputy Speaker in accordance with the rules of this House. But it must be apparent that we on this side of the House feel genuinely offended by the manner in which the Government have tactically defeated this Bill. I hope the Government will recognise that there is a genuine feeling that this is a very shoddy way to treat something which is totally non-political. There is no cleavage between the parties. This is a shoddy way in which to treat this type of business. We want to proceed with other Bills. It would be easy for any Minister to say that, in view of the real feeling and agitation on the Opposition side of the House because of the manner in which the Bill has been treated, the whole of today's tactics will be referred to the Committee on Procedure, so that the matter can be objectively examined in the interests of Parliament. We on these benches feel that Parliament should make sure that this shabby procedure does not occur again.

The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that he can find methods of pursuing what he has just suggested other than by raising points of order with the Chair. I am as anxious as others to get on with the next Bill. I appeal to hon. Members, having ventilated their feelings on what they regard as unjust treatment—I am not expressing any views on the matter—to proceed to the next Bill.

On another point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you, having been a back bencher for many years, will appreciate how precious back-benchers' time is to hon. Members, who may never have another chance of introducing a Bill in their parliamentary lifetime. Is it right and sensible conduct of the business of the House that the first day for Private Members' Bills should immediately follow the long debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, so that many hon. Members will, naturally, have gone away? Would it not be fairer if the Consolidated Fund Bill were taken, say, on a Tuesday so that at least hon. Members present on a Thursday would more readily have a motive to stay on until Friday? Will you be good enough to convey that to the Procedure Committee?

As one who served in the Chair until 7.30 this morning, I can fully sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, but, again, that is not a matter for the Chair. It is a matter for discussion between the Opposition and the Government. May I appeal again to hon. Members? There is really nothing more to this matter. I hope that I have satisfied hon. Members that I have not failed in carrying out the Standing Order.

On a new point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise if you have any other impression, and I assure you that not one of us is casting any aspersion upon your dignified conduct of our proceedings. But it is extremely important that we revert to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin).

There was an occasion when something most unsatisfactory happened in the House in relation to opposition to the Hare Coursing Bill. As a result, the Speaker at that time issued a ruling in which, in effect, he said that a Member's vote and voice must always go together.

May I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at the very least to consult Mr. Speaker so that another ruling based on that may be given to the House on Monday, so that we may never again have a situation in which the Government can create such a totally unacceptable state of affairs on a Bill of major importance for many people in this country through squalid tactical manoeuvres? I ask you at the very least to consult Mr. Speaker with a view to a ruling being given to that effect.

I refer now to "Erskine May", page 374:

"The objection that a Member's vote was contrary to his voice should be taken either before the numbers are reported by the tellers or immediately afterwards; it will not be entertained after the declaration of the numbers from the chair."
That is precisely the course which I followed this afternoon. No objection was taken. May we now get on?

I am not giving ruling. I am merely reading from "Erskine May" because I was asked about it.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I suggest that you really ought to protect the interests of the House. It simply cannot be right that the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State should come here to wreck the Bill without even voting against it herself. This is an abuse of the procedure, and I feel that you ought to protect the House.

May I just say—I hope that this will clear the matter up—that I undertake to report in detail the proceedings this afternoon to Mr. Speaker. That is as far as I can go.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and further to your ruling on my previous point of order. First, may I say that it is clear that the hon. Lady could not have found anything in the Lobby which she did not like because there was nobody and nothing there. But, with reference to your quotation from "Erskine May", may I point out that as a Teller I was probably the only person who knew that the hon. Lady had not voted? I have never heard in my limited experience—I am not sure that there is a precedent—of any Teller raising a point of order between the reading of the figures at the Table and their being declared from the Chair. I feel, therefore, that there was a special circumstance in these events.

I did not write the precedent to which I referred during the time when points of order were being raised. It was a direct reference from "Erskine May". It is clear that the point of order should have been raised before the result was declared.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I say something as a variant to the point of order previously raised? Fairly recently, the House decided that on a Friday and at certain other times there should not be a count. This arose out of an occasion when a certain Member for Rutland and Stamford counted the House out on the Consolidated Fund Bill when the present Government party was in power a year or two ago.

The rules were then changed, and we do not now have the count procedure. That entails that on a Friday we can continue business with fewer than the numbers required on other occasions. Would it not be fair to take that into account in your decision, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or Mr. Speaker's decision, on the attitude of the Government party, since what the Government have done has been to take advantage of the new rule in order to indulge in a ploy simply to kill this Bill?

It was the rule also that there could not be a count at certain other times on other days. If a Division had been called during that period, the argument which the hon. Gentleman is adducing would not have applied, because if there had been fewer than 40 Members voting the same thing would have happened.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point you have made is that, according to "Erskine May", it is essential to raise the point of order before the result is announced. May I ask you to consider the somewhat different circumstances in this case? In this instance the Government decided to put in Government Tellers, and it was, therefore, a reasonable assumption that, with Government Tellers appointed, the Government would be voting in accordance with their voices.

We now have total deceit. Government supporters have not voted and the rest of the Government Whips kept their supporters out of the Lobby. In the light of a total deficit of this nature, would it not be reasonable for the Chair to reconsider the previous decision and say that the objection about hon. Members not voting in accordance with their voices should be considered?

The right hon. Gentleman may label the action with any adjective he likes, but what I have to consider is whether in my discharge of my duties in the Chair I have failed to observe Standing Orders. I am satisfied that I have discharged my duties up to the hilt. I have given an assurance that I shall report what has happened to Mr. Speaker, and I appeal to hon. Members now to let us proceed with the next Bill.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You were kind enough to say that you would consult Mr. Speaker. May we have a categorical assurance from you that you will ask Mr. Speaker to give a ruling on the matter? After all, "Erskine May" has evolved in the course of time and we are not bound by every precedent within it. In the extremely strange circumstances of this afternoon, particularly the fact that the paid Government Tellers acted as they did in the Lobby, surely Mr. Speaker's ruling on the matter is called for.

I am sure that on reflecting on what he has said the hon. Member will realise that to ask a very junior member of a partnership to instruct the senior partner is grossly unfair and that such instruction will probably never be listened to anyway.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to continue the argument, but it is important to put it into context. It will be within your knowledge, as it is certainly within the knowledge of many hon. Members present, that this morning some of us were inclined to oppose the ending of the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill until it became clear that there was an understanding between the two sides of the House because of the all-party support for some of the Private Members' Bills down for today, and so we withdrew that opposition in the expectation of finding a co-operative attitude for the rest of the day. If you are to report the matter to Mr. Speaker, I shall be grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker if you will also report that aspect of the matter.

I am sure that hon. Members would regret the day when the Chair became a party to any arrangements between the Government and the Opposition. The neutrality and impartiality of the Chair would then be challenged.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to detain the House, but I should like to pursue the point of order raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). The Government Whips kept out of the Lobby not only Govern ment suporters who would have voted against the Bill but a member of the Government who would actively have supported it. That is a feature of this squalid manoeuvre, which brings no honour on the House.

That is not a point of order. I call the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) on a point of order. I hope that this will be the last point of order.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to revert to what was said a few moments ago about Mr. Speaker giving some sort of ruling on this matter if not next Monday, next Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday, or in a fortnight. I should like to cite a precedent. The precedent is not exact in that Mr. Speaker himself was in the Chair. However, let me say that there is nobody here this afternoon who for one moment disputes your handling of the case, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I draw your attention and memory to when the Vasectomy Bill was before the House. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will have much sympathy with this example in your effort to protect all Members of Parliament. In this case, it happens to be a majority that you would hope to protect if fairness reigned. In fact, chaos has reigned so far as the Government are concerned.

But in the previous case to which I refer, it was a minority of two that was affected who were trying manfully to fight a Bill. With the rules of the House as then extant, and because the vast majority of the House was against those two hon. Members, there was a great row. Mr. Speaker in his wisdom promised that he would come back—I think that this is what happened: I am trusting to my memory and do not have the book in front of me—and rule on the Monday or Tuesday. In fact, Mr. Speaker ruled in such a way that the minority of two were defeated without peradventure.

I am asking you on this occasion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether you will ask Mr. Speaker to ensure that the majority in this case is protected from the disgraceful conduct of the Chief Whip, the Deputy Chief Whip and the whole of the Government who are present at today's proceedings.

Order. I hope that we can dispose of this matter now. In reply to the point of order, I am sure that Mr. Speaker, had he been available today, would have listened to my report. Fortunately for him, he is away at a more peaceful function, the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I obviously cannot dictate to the Speaker what his course of action should be. All that I can undertake to do—I solemnly undertake to do this—is to report to him the feeling of the House. Whether he can take action or when he will want to take action is entirely outwith my responsibility. Now can we please get on to the next Bill?

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I make one brief comment? While one recognises some of the views expressed, would you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in your consultations with Mr. Speaker, bear in mind that this is not a narrow party issue and that it might be useful to widen the issue rather than concentrate on some of the incidents mentioned today? I believe that the whole question of Private Members' time on Friday is involved. It would be a pity if we were to concentrate on this one incident.

I am sorry, but I will not enter into details. These are not matters for a Deputy Speaker. They can be raised with the Speaker in the appropriate way.

Can we say that this is the last point of order? I am sure that the hon. Member has exhausted himself.

I am afraid that I have a long way to go before I exhaust myself, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to raise another point of order. We are all deeply grateful to you for what you have said about your forthcoming consultation with Mr. Speaker. However, while you were speaking another circumstance arose. We now have in the Chamber a Member of the Cabinet, a leading member of the Government, the Chief Whip. We are delighted to see him. He could state Her Majesty's Government's position with regard to this extremely important Bill. Would you please allow him to make a statement to the effect that the Government will reinstate this Bill in the business of the House and allow it a Second Reading on an early day so that it can go into Committee and be properly debated?

Order. That is certainly not a matter for the Chair. The Clerk will now read the title of the next Bill.

Evidence (Proceedings In Other Jurisdictions) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.19 p.m.

On a point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Government Chief Whip rose to speak. Are you not going to allow him to speak?

With respect, I wish to raise a new point of order. Throughout these proceedings I have backed Mr. Deputy Speaker 100 per cent., but when you say, Sir—I am sure it was a slip of the tongue, and I admit that I was not here at 10.30 this morning—

Order. It was not a slip of the tongue. It would not be in order for the Chief Whip to take part now.

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, your words were "I will give nobody a chance." [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]

Order. That would indeed have been a serious slip of the tongue. Mr. Channon.

I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a Second time.

We can now proceed on a rather calmer basis. I make no comment about what has just taken place. The feelings of the House are clear.

I shall speak briefly so that other Bills may be reached this afternoon. There is little dispute about the Bill, which deals with the possibility of taking evidence abroad. Evidence for proceedings before the courts must often be obtained from witnesses outside the jurisdiction of the court where the evidence is required. There has been some difficulty about this. Therefore, in 1968 the United Kingdom ratified The Hague Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters.

Incidentally, I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for being with us at short notice.

The Bill, which will allow the United Kingdom properly to ratify the convention, has several clauses. Those to which I should draw attention are the earlier ones.

At present, the powers of the United Kingdom courts to obtain evidence for the benefit of foreign courts are regulated by an Act of Parliament of the last century which falls short of the requirements of the convention. Therefore, legislation is necessary to confer the powers required. Our courts can at present take evidence only by way of oral statement, whereas the convention covers other forms of proof, such as obtaining samples, analysing materials and photographing.

There are a number of other minor matters, but if the Bill is allowed to go to Committee, as some Bills were fortunate enough to be allowed to do today, they can be explored further there if hon. Members wish.

I hope that the House will give this modest Bill a Second Reading.

3.23 p.m.

Now that the House is back in its normal good temper, it is a pleasure to welcome the Bill on behalf of the Government.

There was a period when the machinery for law reform depended on public-spirited people who worked in their spare time with inadequate resources. In recent years that situation has been greatly improved, though still the Law Commissions have no shortage of material for their consideration. But the problem now, perhaps, is not so much to see what law reform is required but to find parliamentary time for it. Therefore, we should all be grateful when an hon. Member avails himself of good fortune in the Ballot to initiate a measure of law reform.

As the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) said, the immediate occasion for the Bill is the need to ratify The Hague Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters, by which the States parties undertook to give mutual assistance one to another in the taking of evidence. Having recognised the necessity to amend our domestic law for that purpose, the hon. Gentleman has seized the opportunity to codify most of our law on the subject of taking evidence outside the jurisdiction, including the taking of evidence as between different parts of the United Kingdom. That has the effect of reducing the burden of looking in different places for one's law, which is no inconsiderable burden for those who have to operate it, particularly the legal profession.

I do not wish to take up the time of the House, but I should like to say a personal word, particularly in view of some speeches I made from the back benches. It is a particularly happy occasion when one can welcome a measure which recognises that the world is a unity and that civilised standards are indivisible. At a time when there is so much to divide the nations, and when there are those who emphasise what divides the United Kingdom, I commend a proposal which recognises that the rule of law is an interest which we all have in common, and which is designed to make the rule of law more effective as between different jurisdictions. One particularly welcomes a proposal designed to ratify an international convention in which the world community pledged itself to that end.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his initiative. I welcome the Bill. I wish it a speedy passage to the statute book.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 ( Committal of Bills).

International Road Haulage Permits Bill

Order for Second reading read.

3.25 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

May I first congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) on the very successful way in which his Bill managed to go through the House. Those of us with some experience previously of trying to get Private Members' Bills through on a Friday have had very uneven experiences.

The Bill which I have the honour to present to the House is a very simple measure. It is virtually a one-clause Bill. It is to deal with a nuisance which is arising on the carriage of goods abroad—that is, the use of forged licences or permits.

The purpose of the Bill is to prevent the use of forged licences or permits by what I can only describe as rather unscrupulous operators. The use of these permits is a very severe hindrance and difficulty for legitimate traders and operators who take the trouble to conform with the regulations and rules laid down as between this country and European countries. This use of forged permits has been proliferating. It is a very serious hindrance to the relationship of this country with France, Belgium and various other European countries. It has reached the level of an international scandal.

The purpose of the Bill is to protect the legitimate trader and to prevent the use of forged permits and licences. I hope very much that it will receive support from all quarters of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 ( Committal of Bills).

Social Security (Status Of Members Of Parliament) Bill

Order for Second reading read.

Assistance To Private Members


That Mr. George Reid be added to the Select Committee on Assistance to Private Members.—[Mr. Thomas Cox.]

Public Accounts


That, notwithstanding the Order of the House of 18th December relating to nomination of Members of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr. Richard Buchanan be discharged from the Committee and Mr. Norman Buchan be added to the Committee for the remainder of this Parliament:


That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.—[Mr. Thomas Cox.]

Wealth Tax


That Mr. Tam Dalyell be discharged from the Select Committee on Wealth Tax and that Mr. John Garrett be added to the Committee.—[Mr. Thomas Cox.]


Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Thomas Cox.]

Mr Patrick Colin Murphy

3.27 p.m.

I am grateful to have the chance of raising the case of my constituent Patrick Colin Murphy. I very much appreciate the presence of the Minister of State, Home Office, who has had a hard night, having replied, I believe, to no fewer than three Consolidated Fund Bill debates.

Patrick Murphy is at present serving a 12-year term in prison following his conviction in June 1970 for armed robbery of a post office at Newington Green and for grevious bodily harm to the postmaster, this robbery having taken place on 20th May 1969.

My purpose in raising the case is to try to persuade the Home Secretary to exercise his power under Section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 to refer the case to the Court of Appeal so that the court can consider whether these convictions should stand.

I fear that the case is a little complex. As the burden of my argument turns primarily upon the chronology and precise sequence of events, I am justified perhaps in spending a couple of minutes setting out briefly the history of the matter.

I have already referred to the raid on the Newington Green post office. There were in fact three post office raids involved in this case. The first was that on 20th May 1969 at Newington Green. The second was a raid on a post office in Middleton Road, Wood Green, also in North London, on 7th July 1969. The third, in September 1969, was a raid on a sub-post office in Luton when the sub-postmaster was murdered.

Patrick Murphy was first charged with the last of those three crimes—the Luton murder—and in March 1970, six months after the date of the murder, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to prison for life with the recommendation that he should serve at least 20 years. Throughout he protested his innocence of the charges in connection with the Luton murder and, as I think is now well known, following a good deal of publicity, his case was later referred by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr) when he was Home Secretary to the Court of Appeal. In December 1973, after Mr. Murphy had served over four years, his conviction was quashed and he left that court freed of the offence.

However, the pardon was by then no use to him because he was in the meantime in prison having been charged in connection both with the Middleton Road and the Newington Green raids. Evidence against him in respect of the Middleton Road raid was that one defendant, Edwards, who pleaded guilty, was driving a car lent to him by Mr. Murphy. In the event the case against Mr. Murphy was dismissed at a preliminary stage so that he did not stand trial for that offence. He stood trial, however, for the Newington Green raid and the case was heard in June 1970—three months after he had been sentenced for the Luton offence. Moreover, since two of the defendants in the Middleton Road charges were also charged with the Newington Green raid, the cases involving the two raids were heard together. It may be questionable whether that was right. Mr. Murphy was charged on only one of them. However, the Court of Appeal did not support as a ground for appeal the argument that the judge should not have allowed the two cases to be tried together, so I do not base my case on that today.

The upshot was that Patrick Murphy, already convicted of murder three months earlier, was brought to trial on a charge in connection with the Newington Green raid in the company of the other defendants one of whom pleaded guilty to another raid with which Murphy was being implicated though he was not charged with any offence.

At the outset of that trial, the jury were, of course, quite unaware of the Luton conviction. But—this is the central ground of my case today—they came to know of it during the course of the trial. Afterwards, when they went to the jury room they knew, or some of them knew, that Murphy had already been convicted of another post office raid and had presumably come to the court from his prison cell not as a prisoner on remand but as a convicted criminal.

It came out like this. During the trial his fiancée, Miss Marlene Baker, was called upon to give evidence on behalf of a co-defendant of Mr. Murphy's, a Mr. Fenwick. It was put to her in cross-examination that at an earlier trial—of course it was not disclosed which trial, but it was the Luton trial—she had given evidence of an alibi and she had not been believed. She admitted this. Counsel for each of the other defendants proceeded to ask her whether it was their client who had been involved in the earlier trial to which reference had been made, and in each case she answered "No". Naturally, the only counsel who did not question her on that occasion was counsel for Murphy, because she would have been bound to answer "Yes".

But at least one juror drew the deduction—the inevitable inference—from what transpired that it was Murphy who had been the defendant at that earlier trial and that presumably he had been convicted. One juror has subsequently made a sworn statement to the effect that he could see—I quote from the affidavit
"it was obvious that Murphy had been in another raid before".
One might have thought that that would have been sufficient by itself to have required a new trial, but not so. Mr. Murphy was granted leave to appeal in October 1971, but when it came to the Court of Appeal in December 1971 his appeal was dismissed.

There were several grounds, but while counsel was arguing the ground that it would be unsafe to let the conviction stand because the jury might have been influenced by the knowledge that Murphy had been previously convicted the court cut short counsel's argument with what must be by any standards a remarkable judicial observation. It was said:
"This was unfortunate and a bit of bad luck which follows if you have committed a crime before."
At the time we are talking about, December 1971, Mr. Murphy was still in prison serving a life sentence for the Luton murder. It was not until two years later, in December 1973, after a good deal of publicity and a good deal of pressure, much of which was exerted by the former Member for Ilford, North, Mr. Tom Iremonger, that the conviction was referred by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton back to the Court of Appeal, which quashed the conviction.

I find it impossible to believe that, if the Luton conviction had been quashed before the Newington Green appeal, any court, any judge, let alone the Court of Appeal, could possibly have uttered those words. I would regard it as scarcely credible that the Court of Appeal would not have felt bound to allow the appeal on the ground that the Newington Green conviction could not possibly be allowed to stand.

That a defendant should be prejudiced by a previous conviction becoming known is bad enough. But that he should be prejudiced by a conviction that later turns out to have been erroneously arrived at and subsequently quashed is intoler able. It is not, in the words of the Court of Appeal,
"a bit of bad luck";
it is an affront to justice. It is an affront which I am asking the Minister of State, who is to reply to the debate, to put right.

That is the principal ground on which I ask that the Home Secretary should exercise his discretion under Section 17 to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal. I must, however, add that it is not my only ground. There are at least three other reasons why it is unsafe to allow the conviction of Patrick Murphy for the Newington Green raid to stand.

The first reason is that the only witness who was able to identify Patrick Murphy as being involved in the raid was a short-sighted lady who claimed that she had seen a man with a helmet standing in the post office at the time of the raid. She later claimed to identify Patrick Murphy as the man with the helmet.

No one else said that there was more than one man with a helmet, whereas there was evidence before the court that one of the customers at the post office at the time of the raid was a building worker who was buying stamps. He was wearing his helmet as a mark of his trade. He was the only man with a helmet. Therefore, there must at any rate be a question mark about the lady's identification.

Secondly, Patrick Murphy's father could have given evidence at his trial and reinforced the alibi which Patrick Murphy sought to establish before the court, namely, that he was elsewhere at the time of the raid, engaged in the transaction of buying and selling a car with his uncle, a Mr. Collins.

Patrick Murphy's father, Mr. Stephen Murphy, was, in the event, not called because counsel decided—I certainly do not criticise this decision in the light of the situation with which he has faced—that in view of the cross-examination of Marlene Baker, which had tended to throw doubt upon her evidence when she gave it in support of Mr. Fenwick, the same thing might happen if Mr. Stephen Murphy went into the witness box on behalf of his son. Therefore counsel decided that, rather than reinforce what might then be in the jury's mind—the knowledge that Patrick Murphy had stood trial for another offence and had gone to prison—he would not call Stephen Murphy. That is a second ground on which perhaps it would be unsafe to let a conviction stand.

The third is perhaps a point of more general interest in view of the statement made by the Home Secretary last year about identification parades. Between his arrest and trial for the Newington Green raid, Patrick Murphy was put on no fewer than 27 separate identity parades in connection with several raids which had taken place at about the same time. Out of the 27 separate identity parades Patrick Murphy was identified only once, and that was by the short-sighted lady who thought that he was the man in the helmet, who was a customer at the Newington Green raid.

Section 17 of the 1968 Act does not constrain the Home Secretary's power in any way. The case may be referred to the Court of Appeal if the Secretary of State "thinks fit".

This young man served four years of the sentence for a conviction which was eventually quashed. He has now been in gaol for over five years. It is doubtful, to say the least, whether he ought to have been there for five minutes.

This is surely a case in which, in the interests of British justice and of the liberty of the subject, and indeed of the integrity of our legal system, the courts should be given another chance to put the matter right.

3.42 p.m.

The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) has argued with conviction for the exercise of the Home Secretary's powers to refer back to the Court of Appeal the case of Patrick Murphy. He has read out to the House the appropriate words of the section which give wide discretion to the Home Secretary to act in this way. The way in which that power is used has been constrained over the years by the constitutional position in relation to the courts and to the Home Secretary's powers, not only under Section 17 but under the exercise of the Prerogative powers.

Recently we discussed the exercise of the Prerogative powers in relation to the Shrewsbury pickets. Somewhat similar considerations arise in relation to the exercise of my right hon. Friend's powers under Section 17, which is that the courts must in the end be the arbiters of the factors which are brought before them in relation to any criminal trial, both in relation to conviction and in relation to sentence. If the Home Secretary of this country ever took upon himself the powers of deciding either guilt or appropriate sentence, the independence of the courts would be undermined. Therefore, in the exercise of these powers it has always been the position that the Home Secretary should not act unless there was some factor which came into the case after the courts had considered the matter, which, had they already considered it, might have led to a different conclusion. Where that factor obviously points in the direction of innocence the Home Secretary can act of his own volition in taking a view that the man was probably innocent, and he could exercise his prerogative power of saying that the conviction should be quashed or that the sentence should be remitted. However, if there appears only to be doubt about the matter, and the factor may have been one which would have, and perhaps should have, influenced the court, he ought to use the powers which are contained under the Act to refer the matter back to the court.

Even the right hon. Gentleman does not argue that the factors which he has relied upon today are such as to entitle the Home Secretary to change the verdict. It is simply that those factors give rise to the kind of arrangement that should be argued out again before the Court of Appeal. What the right hon. Gentleman must show is that these factors are so different from anything that has occurred before the Court of Appeal or before a lower court that they ought now to be referred to the court again. There is little in what the right hon. Gentleman said that falls into that category.

The three factors that the right hon. Gentleman raised—the question of identification, the question whether Mr. Murphy should have been called at the trial, and the nature of the identification parade—were all matters raised at the trial, or could have been. The question of the short-sightedness of the lady was before the jury. They knew about it, it had been argued before them and, in the end, they decided against the defendant. Members of the jury knew about the criticism of the identification parade, but none the less decided that it was a proper parade, and they seemed to have been persuaded that the evidence was cogent enough to convict.

In relation to Mr. Murphy, senior, they did not hear that gentleman but his evidence was available. However, counsel of his own decision decided not to call him. It has long been the rule of the Court of Appeal that it will not interfere where evidence was available to a defendant's legal advisers but where those advisers, on their own decision, decided not to call it. If that is the rule, it would be useless to refer back to the Court of Appeal because in those circumstances the court would decide not to hear Murphy.

The Minister will recall that Miss Baker was cross-examined on the basis that she had been disbelieved in the earlier trial. In the end Patrick Murphy was found to be innocent of the Luton murder—and, on Miss Baker's alibi; her evidence turned out to be true. So it may have been that if Stephen Murphy had been called by counsel and had been cross-examined what he said might have turned out to be true, and he would have been able to substantiate his son's alibi. It seems to me that if the Minister is right there is a considerable block to the achievement of justice in the kind of case which I have put before the Minister.

I shall come to Miss Baker's evidence in a moment. The decision about calling Mr. Murphy, senior, turned on the way he was cross-examined. I accept that there are similar considerations in respect of both those witnesses. This is the existing rule in the Court of Appeal and, unless it is changed by legislation, it is the kind of attitude which the Court of Appeal will apply to this witness. Therefore, unless the rule were changed, it would be valueless to send the case back to the Court of Appeal simply on the issue whether Mr. Murphy should have been called.

I now come to the question of Miss Baker. The right hon. Gentleman did less than justice to the Court of Appeal. I see some force in his argument, but it was a matter argued before the Court of Appeal that this was a method whereby the previous conviction could have been brought before the jury. Indeed, it was argued that it had been brought before a particular juryman to the effect of persuading him that Mr. Murphy had a previous conviction. The Court of Appeal, again in accordance with the long-standing rule, has said that it could not investigate the motives whereby a jury came to a particular conclusion, and it would not allow a situation in which a juryman was allowed to disclose what went on in the jury room. Therefore, again one is bound by the rules which have bound the Court of Appeal in its application of the law to this kind of case.

In questioning Miss Baker, the Treasury counsel who was presenting the case on behalf of the prosecution—a very experienced counsel—in a line of questioning which I am bound to say has never appealed to me but is not unacceptable under the rules of evidence and was not stopped by the judge or criticised on appeal, asked her:
"Would you answer this question 'Yes' or 'No'. Have you given somebody an alibi in a previous trial?"
Miss Baker answered, "Yes." The following exchange then occurred:
"Were you disbelieved? A. I do not know.
Do you not? The alibi failed, did it not? A. It was true.
It failed in fact. A. It was true.
But the jury did not believe it, did they? A. I do not know.
They convicted the person concerned; just answer 'Yes' or 'No'. A. Yes."
There is nothing in that to indicate in any way that Mr. Murphy was the one for whom she gave the alibi. There was nothing in the subsequent questioning by other counsel in the case which again could lead irresistibly to that conclusion.

Each of the counsel for the other accused in the case got on his feet in cross-examination and said "It was not my client on behalf of whom you gave evidence in the earlier trial, was it?" Miss Baker answered "No". Mr. Murphy's counsel did not ask that question. By a process of elimination it was possible to argue that it was Mr. Murphy on behalf of whom she had given earlier evidence, but it was not the irresistible conclusion.

I come now to what is really the high point of the right hon. Gentleman's case. It is the case that afterwards one of the jurymen was heard to say that he had assumed that Mr. Murphy did have a previous conviction, and he gave a statement to the solicitors for Mr. Murphy to that effect. It is noteworthy that he never said how he voted in the course of that statement. There was a divided jury which returned a majority verdict by 11 votes to 1.

But even if that consideration was not valid in the consideration of this case, the question arises how the Court of Appeal would look upon that point when it was argued before it. The right hon. Gentleman referred to an expression of opinion that was given in the course of argument by one of the Appeal Court judges. It does not appear in the transcript of the Court of Appeal. What appears in the transcript is this judgment of the point that was argued:
"The other contention was that the jury should have been discharged because Miss Baker, called to prove an alibi for Murphy, was cross-examined on having been disbelieved when she gave evidence of an alibi in connection with an earlier Post Office robbery. It was suggested that the jury must have been aware that that earlier alibi was offered for Murphy and therefore that he had been convicted previously of a Post Office robbery. There was no evidence that the man then concerned was Murphy—it might have been anybody. What is said is that the jury must have realised that it was Murphy because each of the other counsel elicited from Miss Baker that his client was not the man in question whereas Murphy's counsel remained silent. In our view the fact that a jury may draw a certain inference from the fact that a question is not asked cannot be a ground for discharging the jury."
On that basis it refused to intervene when at that stage the earlier conviction for murder stood.

What the right hon. Gentleman argues is this. As the earlier conviction had been quashed because other evidence came to light about it, and since it is arguable therefore that Miss Baker was telling the truth in the earlier case when she gave evidence in relation to an alibi, the questioning of the prosecuting counsel in the later case was fallacious, and indeed it could have been argued that since she had given truthful evidence in the earlier case she gave truthful evidence in this case.

But the right hon. Gentleman would have to carry the Court of Appeal a long way in achieving success on that argument. It took the view that the jury could not have been influenced in relation to its verdict in the second case by what was said in the course of the cross-examination of Miss Baker. If it took the view, it follows that the later quashing of the earlier case would not, in the Court of Appeal's view, have affected the jury's mind. This is the crucial point in determining whether we should refer the matter back to the Court of Appeal. It would not, in our view, be likely to change its view about the evidence of Miss Baker, and, therefore, it seems impossible for us to refer the matter back.

I will deal as quickly as possible with the substantive case against Murphy, but I shall come to that later.

I am not sure how appropriate that would be in seeking to deal with the question whether the case should be referred back. The hon. Gentleman must do what he thinks right.

However, on the question of the Court of Appeal and its attitude to the matter, does the hon. Gentleman really believe that any court which knew that the earlier conviction had been quashed—supposing it had been quashed before the Newington Green appeal—and that Murphy stood innocent of any convictions could possibly have taken the view which it did? The crucial fact is that, although juries do not know about previous convictions, judges do, and the Court of Appeal judges did. Therefore, they were dealing with a man who, so far as they were aware, was validly serving life imprisonment for a very serious crime. Is it impossible to believe—I use the hon. Gentleman's own words—that that did not affect their minds?

The right hon. Gentleman is being a little too devious. He knows full well that if the Court of Appeal did not place any weight on the effect of the cross-examination of Miss Baker in the earlier case and did not think it relevant to the way in which the jury arrived at its decision, the fact that the earlier conviction for murder was quashed would not affect its judgment about that matter in any subsequent rehearing.

I have no reason to believe that the Court of Appeal would take any different view in this case. There was substantial evidence against Murphy on the count on which he was charged and convicted. He was identified. The identification was contested. None the less, the jury accepted it. There were circumstances about the way in which he was arrested in a car containing the other men and the kind of things he and Miss Baker said in relation to the police which together make up a formidable case against him, quite apart from the question whether the cross-examination of Miss Baker prejudiced the jury's mind in any way. It is conceivable on the evidence that the jury could have come to the conclusion which it did and which the Court of Appeal later decided was unappealable.

In those circumstances, although I do not have the time to go into the evidence against Murphy in detail, we cannot on balance find any good reason for returning the case to the Court of Appeal.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Four o'clock.