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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 1 Mar 1990

Vol. 124 No. 4

Larceny Bill, 1989: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It is a source of great satisfaction to me, a Chathaoirligh, to bring this important Bill before the Seanad. It gives me an opportunity to affirm to this House the no-nonsense approach to criminal activity which this Government are taking. Senators will be aware of the practical steps that I have taken on the resources side, in the 1990 crime-fighting package, to ensure that more gardaí will be available to do the job we want them to do: to provide a visible presence on the streets and roads of Ireland so as to deter the criminal and reassure the law-abiding citizen going about his or her daily life. This Bill forms part of the other half of the Government's two-handed strategy in the fight against crime. That is the updating and refinement of our criminal law so as to meet the challenges presented to it today by those engaged in crime.

Senators will be aware that much of our criminal law is a legacy from preIndependence days. The Larceny Act, 1916, with which this Bill is mainly concerned, represents a drawing together of a miscellany of statutory provisions, mainly 19th century, and clearly reflects the concerns of those times.

The Law Reform Commission, in 1987, was asked by the then Attorney General to examine the pre-Independence criminal law, particularly in the areas of dishonesty, malicious damage and offences against the person. The Commission's first response was to produce, at the end of that year, their report on receiving stolen property. The Commission chose this area for immediate attention because of the most unsatisfactory state of the present law. In the opening paragraph of their report, they observe that "...the existing law permits receivers of stolen property to escape conviction for unjustifiable reasons"; and this, they say, "facilitates crimes of dishonesty over a wide area". Later on, at paragraph 106, they say that "... our present law on receiving is in many respects unnecessarily favourable to the accused, presents unreasonable obstacles to the prosecution and is seriously out of date".

I could not agree more. The Garda are operating with both hands tied behind their backs in receiving cases and I want to correct the balance.

How is it that "fences" can escape conviction? The simple reason is that the law at present places too heavy a burden on the prosecution. In order to obtain a conviction for receiving, it is necessary to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused actually knew at the time of receipt that the property was stolen property. Not that he or she suspected, or had a shrewd idea, or thought that maybe the goods were hot, but actually knew. Is it any wonder that faced with the absolute requirement of certainty for the prosecution to succeed, the defence has little difficulty in raising a reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury as to the accused's state of mind in many cases? This, despite the fact that the behaviour of the accused is often such that, on any objective view, it should not go unpunished.

A particularly objectionable feature of the business of receiving is that it generates and facilitates other crimes of dishonesty. There are organised "fences" operating, particularly in our major cities, who offer a ready market for all sorts of stolen property. I have no doubt that in some cases, these receivers indicate to their clients what type of commodity they are interested in, so that the thieves can, as it were, steal to order. If these backroom tycoons can be put out of business, then it follows that those who supply them, the front-liners who go out and steal, will have much greater problems in disposing of their booty and turning goods into cash. That is one of the aims of this Bill.

But it is not only the criminal wholesalers of stolen property at whom this Bill is directed. Trading in stolen property is equally reprehensible whether it is done in bulk or as a one-off transaction in the pub or at the doorstep. We have all heard the euphemisms for this trade in stolen property —"it fell off the back of a lorry" or "he got it at the right price, no questions asked". That is why the Law Reform Commission felt that changes should be made in order to create a legal environment less favourable to the shady deal and better able to bring the shady dealer to justice. That is also why the Government bring this Bill before you today.

The Bill approaches the receiving problem from a number of angles. First, it broadens the terms of the offence by taking in a wider range of nefarious activity. The existing offence applies only to the act of receiving stolen property. Under the new offence, set out at section 3 of the Bill, the following activities are brought in: receiving stolen property; undertaking or assisting in the retention, removal, disposal or realisation of stolen property by or for the benefit of another person, or arranging to do any of those things. The name of the new offence, "handling stolen property", reflects the wider range of activity which is made criminal, though not, of course, the entire range; for, as was pointed out in the other House, one might commit an offence under the new provision merely by making a phone call arranging to receive the property in question, without ever going near it at all.

The Bill also broadens the mens rea, the mental element of the offence. The present offence of receiving is committed, as I have said, only if the receiver knew at the time of receipt that the property was stolen. The new offence of handling, by contrast, will be committed if the handler of the stolen property knew or believed that the property was stolen. “Believing” in this context will include “thinking that the property in question was probably stolen”. This change is designed to make the task of the prosecution considerably easier than under the present law, since it will generally be less difficult to adduce evidence which shows the accused's knowledge or belief, as defined in the Bill, than evidence showing actual knowledge.

A further way in which the Bill will make it less easy for those engaged in handling stolen property to escape justice is by placing an evidential burden on the accused where the prosecution shows that he or she did any of the things which would constitute the handling offence in circumstances where it is reasonable to conclude that he or she knew or believed the property in question was stolen. In those circumstances, the accused will be taken to have known or believed this, unless the jury, or the court, if the case is being tried, for instance, in the District Court, is satisfied, having regard to all the evidence, that there remains a reasonable doubt as to whether he or she did so. Thus, once the accused is shown to have handled stolen property in those circumstances, then, unless the defence can raise a reasonable doubt as to the guilty mind of the accused by, for instance, offering an explanation for the handling which points to the accused's innocence, he or she should be convicted.

Senators will be aware that in taking this approach to the reform of the law, the Government have not followed the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission as to what the mens rea of the offence should be. The Commission, in their report, canvassed a number of possibilities, including an approach similar to that now adopted by the Government in this Bill, before finally settling on recklessness as their favoured mens rea. They based their proposals on a model scheme of legislation prepared by the American Law Institute. However, at the time of their report they were unable to point to any jurisdiction where such a scheme was actually in operation.

The Government, instead, opted for an approach based with modification on one which has actually proven to be effective in a neighbouring jurisdiction as a means of bringing to justice those who handle stolen property. I refer to the English Theft Act 1968. This approach is similar to that initially favoured by the Law Reform Commission in the consultation paper which preceded the publication of their final report. A consideration which influenced the Government in this course of action was the concern that an, as yet, untried legal formula in this area of the criminal law could result in a considerable amount of litigation by way of appeal as defence lawyers endeavoured to test the new law to its limits. The ensuing uncertainty could encourage rather than inhibit criminal activity.

Another important matter covered by the Bill is the possession of articles for use in larceny, burglary and other offences. Section 2 of the Bill deals with this. The existing law on possession of articles is covered at section 4 of the Vagrancy Act, 1824, and at section 28 of the Larceny Act, 1916 — this last a restatement of a number of older provisions. They are products of their times, and the Law Reform Commission, in their report on vagrancy and related offences published in 1985, recommended their replacement with provisions designed to reflect the modern need for a more generally-drawn offence which takes account of the changing technology of crime.

The new provision has two legs. The first makes it an offence to be in possession, otherwise than at home, of any article whatsoever with the intention that it be used in larceny, burglary, fraud, embezzlement, blackmail or taking a vehicle without the consent of the owner. It is normally no offence to be in possession of, say, a car key or a credit card or a chisel or a crowbar — these are all everyday household items or tools of a person's trade; but to be in possession of any of these items with the intention that it be used in larceny or any of the other specified criminal activities will now be an offence under subsection (1) of the new provision at section 2 of the Bill.

The second leg of this provision deals with articles which have been made or adapted for use in any of the offences listed in the section. Accordingly, possession anywhere of an article of this nature without lawful authority or reasonable excuse will be an offence. Thus, if a person is in possession of, say, a device for extracting coins from a telephone box — and such devices have been fashioned — he or she will almost certainly be guilty of an offence.

Offences under these provisions will be punishable on indictment by a maximum sentence of five years or a fine or both, and the court will have power to confiscate the articles in question.

I regard these provisions as a useful weapon in the legal armoury of the Garda Síochána in their efforts to prevent crime. Because the offences under the new provisions will be felonies, they will attract the general law that applies to such offences. One of the important features of that law is that the Garda have power to arrest without warrant a person suspected of having committed a felony. Thus, in this case the Garda will be able to use their powers to prevent the commission of more serious crimes.

Let me now turn to the remaining provisions of the Bill. Of particular note is section 8, which deals with alternative verdicts. The section is designed to deal with the situation where a person is on trial for larceny or one of the other crimes of dishonesty, but the evidence at the trial points to the fact that he was not the primary offender but rather handled the dishonestly obtained property in question. The converse situation, where a person on trial for handling turns out to have been the thief, etc., is also covered. In either of those cases, the jury will be able to find the accused guilty of the appropriate offence indicated by the evidence rather than of the offence charged, but he or she will be liable only for the lesser of the maximum sentences provided for.

Another important change which this Bill brings about is at section 5. This section repeals a provision of the 1916 Act under which it is possible to adduce evidence of the accused's previous convictions for offences of dishonesty, or of the accused having been found previously in possession of stolen property, in order to show the accused's mens rea in a trial for receiving stolen property. The Bill originally proposed to restate this provision in relation to the new offence of handling, but in a much modified form with certain safeguards built in for the accused. However, I was persuaded by the arguments made in the other House against even such a modified provision, and section 5 of the Bill now before this House does away completely with the evidential provision. Because of the nature of the existing provision, the repeal is being excepted from the three-month delay which applies to the other provisions of the Bill to enable lawyers and the Garda to familiarise themselves with the changes in the law. Accordingly, this repeal will take effect immediately on the passing of the Bill.

I spoke earlier of the crime-generating effect that the existence of handlers of stolen property has. This is why the Government take the view that the offence of handling stolen property is sufficiently serious to warrant a maximum sentence of 14 years' imprisonment. The new provision in section 3 of the Bill provides for such a sentence, and also enables the court to impose a fine in addition or as a substitute. This compares with the standard maximum of ten years' imprisonment for larceny, fraudulent conversion, embezzlement, obtaining by false pretences and blackmail, which the Bill provides for in section 9. This new standard maximum replaces a wide variety of different maximum sentences for larcenies of different types of property in the 1916 Act.

The remaining provisions of the Bill need not be gone into in detail at this stage. They are, in the main, largely technical; and if necessary, particular questions on them can be dealt with on Committee Stage.

Before I conclude, I should like to touch again on the Law Reform Commission's role in the development of this Bill. I thank them again for the excellent quality of their work report on handling stolen property and on the promptness with which they produced it. It is no reflection on that body that this Bill does not implement every recommendation in their report, whether at all or exactly in the manner set out there. This subject, like so many matters of legal policy, is one in which differences of opinion are inevitable. No one need read into the differences in approach between the report and the Bill anything on my part other than respect for and gratitude to that body.

I have already mentioned why the Bill does not follow the commission's line on the mens rea for handling. The commission proposed a provision regarding the compensation of crime victims; that will be considerd in my Department in the context of crime generally and not in the relatively narrow context of handling stolen property alone. The commission also made recommendations regarding the admissibility in evidence of business records: that, too, is being examined in the wider context of crime generally, and I will be putting legislative proposals before the Government shortly, which will deal with this and other matters of criminal evidence.

I am under no illusion as to the extent of the task before us in bringing up to date the criminal law so as to make it a suitable companion to the other technologically-advanced tools which the Garda Síochána have at their disposal in both preventing crime and bringing miscreants to justice. This Bill represents an important step on the road to a modern criminal justice system; it will, I am certain, have a significant effect in limiting the activities of those who traffic in hot property, and thus in cutting down on the activities of those who supply that market.

I am committed to an ongoing reform of the criminal law. I hope to publish shortly Bills providing for the abolition of the death penalty, on the reform of the law relating to criminal damage to property and on the law relating to evidence by spouses and, as I have mentioned, admissibility of business records in criminal proceedings. There are further proposals in preparation, including a Bill to eliminate the archaic distinction between felonies and misdemeanours. In the meantime, however, I commend this Bill to the House as one which will put "fences" behind bars.

I would like to welcome the Minister to this Chamber today and I would also like to welcome the Bill but with reservations. Such a Bill is long overdue. I think it is ridiculous that in 1990, as the Minister has accepted in his speech, the area of receiving is governed by law as enacted before the foundation of the State. Society has changed dramatically in the last 75 years since the law governing the receipt of stolen goods was enacted. Crime was always part of society but, like everything else, it has changed over the past 25 years. It has changed both in frequency and in severity. In this regard I would like to quote from the February edition of Garda News which refers to armed raiders.

Armed raids are now running at the rate of one a week, while on at least two occasions since the start of the year there were three in the same day in different parts of Dublin. In fact, the raids are now so common that they are no longer big news and only merit a couple of paragraphs in the media unless someone is killed or injured. It is the criminals who are bringing society down this road, but at the end of the day it is society which will decide if they be allowed to continue on that route.

When the Larceny Act of 1916 was enacted it was unheard of in the country for people ever to lock the doors of their houses. The original open door policy was in existence at that time. Homes were open to the stranger any time of the day or night. There was unilateral trust in one's fellow human person. How things have changed. We now have a situation where one is afraid to leave one's home even for a short period. Burglars are prepared to commit crime with extreme violence and to target the weakest of our society — the old and the vulnerable. When confronted they are prepared to use extreme violence, including murder, to carry out their evil deeds.

We are in danger of becoming complacent about this, as the Garda News indicated. We must fight this menace in all areas. An example of the attitude among the criminal elements is provided by the activities of a group who some two years ago were operating in the Limerick area. They targeted the homes of bereaved persons while the funeral was taking place. They looked up the various death notices and then targeted the homes. Society must do everything possible to bring to justice people with this mentality, their godfathers, their fences and those who make their job worthwhile — the receivers of stolen property. It is in this context that I welcome the Bill. I have some reservations, however, about its effectiveness in achieving its objectives. The Government, in drawing up the Bill, almost totally ignored the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission on this subject. The onus now must be on the Minister to justify this approach by him.

In Dáil Éireann last Tuesday the Minister for Justice announced a drop in the level of indictable crime by 3 per cent for 1989. While such news is welcome, it is of limited value, as it just brings the figures to the level of 1987 when recorded crime amounted to 85,358 offences. The detection rate for 1988 was 33.2 per cent — in other words, two out of every three criminals are not brought to justice despite the efforts of one of the most comitted police forces in Europe, the Garda Síochána.

The drastic situation in our prison service must be tackled. Criminals know that the possibility of them serving a full sentence for their evil deeds is remote. We need major reform of our criminal law to tackle this situation and I am pleased to have placed a motion on the Seanad Order Paper today asking the Government to establish a criminal law reform commission to devise ways of updating our criminal law. I believe that consideration should be given to providing the courts with greater powers to confiscate assets derived from the proceeds of crime. Forfeiture of bail should take place where the criminal commits other offences while out on bail. A wider system of on-the-spot fines should be introduced and the provision of payment of fines by instalment, attachment of income, confiscation of property, restitution to the victim of crimes and participation in training courses should be made available. This, I believe, would relieve the prison system to allow those convicted of serious crime to serve their full sentence except for time off for good behaviour.

The main thrust of the Bill relates to the changing of the offence of receiving to the new offence of handling stolen goods. Under existing law, the prosecution must prove actual knowledge that goods are stolen. Belief that the goods were stolen or suspicion that the goods were stolen is not adequate under present legislation. In 1988 only 268 convictions were recorded for receiving, out of a total of around 85,000 offences for larceny and related crimes. This highlights how difficult it is to get a conviction and how out of date is the present law.

The mental element in the offence of receiving or handling stolen property is the most difficult area, as indeed the Minister said. The core of this relates to the mens rea, the mental state. The Commission on Law Reform deliberated at length on this position and concluded that the test of liability in the offence proposed by the Bill should depend on whether the defendant knew or was reckless as to whether the goods were unlawfully obtained. The commission recommended the definition of recklessness as provided in the draft model penal code in the US. The Minister has not taken up this recommendation and has opted for the British approach instead, which is based on reception while the accused believed that the goods were stolen. This has proven to be defective in the UK.

There is a problem with using the word "belief" in this context. "Belief" admits of different degrees of commitment, ranging from certitude to suspicion. It is surely defective legislation to leave this aspect of the Bill in such an imprecise state. I would ask the Minister, in the interest of good legislation, to have a serious look at this aspect of the Bill. The Law Reform Commission clearly stated that the same sentence should be provided for larceny as for receiving. In this Bill the Minister has provided for a penalty of 14 years for handling but just ten years for the person who stole the goods. The concept of getting at the godfathers of crime is worthwhile, but surely an equal sentence for larceny and receiving would be a more correct approach.

As I have already said — and I have included this in the motion on the Seanad Order Paper — courts should be able to order compensation by the handler to the victim of the offence. Many such victims suffer extreme distress and have difficulties for the rest of their lives, especially if they are old and vulnerable. They live out their lives in terror of a recurrence of such an offence, especially in cases where violence is used. An approach to giving compensation and making restitution to the victim by the court is surely a worthwhile suggestion. I hope to introduce such an amendment on Committee Stage; in fact, the Law Reform Commission have recommended such an approach. Unfortunately, the Minister has failed to take this suggestion on board. It is unfortunate that the Minister has failed to take the opportunity to have this innovative approach to the penalty of receiving.

I welcome section 2 of the Bill in that it tightens up the loophole which exists at present in relation to the possession of dangerous weapons. It is unfortunate that the Minister has failed to take on board the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission. This body consists of a very senior judge, solicitors, barristers and so on. They had intense consultation before producing their report, including consultations with eminent judges, barristers, solicitors, the Attorney General's Office, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the department of Justice and the Garda Síochána. The Minister has decided to ignore the views of these people. He has an onus to justify this position. It is important that he do so.

First, I would like to welcome this legislation. It goes quite a long way towards convicting those people who provide a market for property that has been stolen. We have to try to deal with it because, of course, again it is breaking the law. In recent years stealing has become big business and we must help the Garda to stop this in some way. It is our responsibility, as legislators, to do so.

The objective of the Larceny Bill is to deal with the handling of stolen property. It is, therefore, a new weapon for the Garda in their fight against crime. Crime has become big business and the selling of stolen property is certainly big business today. It is right, therefore, that we should bring this Bill through the two Houses of the Oireachtas and give the power to the Garda to deal with these people. It is also important to point out that only those properly convicted will be dealt with. There are worries about who may or may not be charged under this legislation. It is a fairly technical Bill. Sections 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10 are certainly technical to me, but then they may not be to other Members of this House.

Where did this Bill originate? Back in 1985 the Fianna Fáil Party, then in Opposition, introduced a Private Members' Bill covering much the same ground as the Bill before us. The Government of the day did not accept the Bill at the time; but, recognising that a problem existed in this area, they subsequently referred the matter to the Law Reform Commission to consider and report on a number of aspects of the criminal law covering the pre-1922 legislation. This includes the Larceny Act, 1916, and the Principal Act being amended by the Bill. The commission considered that the law on receiving was an area of that Act which warranted priority attention. Therefore, as a result, they produced a report in December 1987, which is the principal source of the proposals in this Bill. In paragraph 1 of that report of the Law Reform Commission said that "the existing law permits receivers of stolen property to escape conviction for unjustifiable reasons". They also said that, in consequence of that, the law as it stands "facilitates crimes of dishonesty over a wide area". The Government agree with these views. In paragraph 106 the commission stated that "our present law on receiving is in many respects unnecessarily favourable to the accused, presents unreasonable obstacles to the prosecution and is seriously out of date". In paragraph 130, they state, "We think that the present law is undoubtedly too favourable to the accused".

I understand there is some disappointment on the other side of the House — it was stated in the Dáil and has been reiterated here this morning — because the Minister did not take on board all the Law Reform Commission's recommendations and put them into this Bill. I am glad he did not do so. The Minister and his advisers and the Government put quite a lot into this legislation, which will be followed by other Bills to deal with whatever gaps are left. I was pleased the Minister saw fit to talk to mere mortals like myself about the real world outside and the effects of this kind of dealing in stolen property. Does the Bill follow all the recommendations of the commission? Not absolutely, as I have just stated. There are a number of provisions where the Bill differs in matters of detail, mostly technical from the precise terms of the recommendations. Of course, the Bill includes important new provisions dealing with the possession of articles for use in larceny and so forth which is outside the scope of the commission's report on receiving. These provisions owe their origins to recommendations included in the earlier report of the commission. By and large, this Bill implements the principal recommendations of the Law Reform Commission report on receiving in the manner which appeared to the Government to be most appropriate following discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions and others.

Section 3 in one of the main provisions in this Bill, a most important provision which replaces the existing offence of receiving stolen property with the new and more widely drawn offence of handling stolen property as well as covering simple receiving of stolen property. The new offence of handling will cover activities such as undertaking or assisting in the retention, removal, disposal or realisation of stolen property by or for the benefit of another person.

Section 2 is another important section which modernises the law of possession of articles for use in larceny or other related crimes. I remember quite clearly some years ago when we had the Criminal Justice Bill in this House. I was on the floor of the House at the time as Leas-Chathaoirleach. At that time I had deep worries about some of the sections of the Criminal Justice Bill. We must as legislators understand that today we are dealing with a situation which I regard with great sorrow — people out there doing extraordinarily frightening and damaging things to homes and to persons in their homes, as my colleague who was speaking before me has just said. It is our responsibility to protect the people of this nation and, indeed, the people who come to visit us.

The Minister in his address to this House earlier this morning made reference to the scope of this legislation and said that he would be following it up with other measures such as the abolition of the death penalty and the reform of the law relating to criminal damage to property. He has given that commitment here this morning. This was a question which my colleague, Senator Ross, asked on the Order of Business this morning; so, it is answered here in the proper manner.

Section 9 of the Bill sets a standard ten year maximum prison sentence for all types of larceny and sets the maximum for handling stolen property at 14 years. At present the maximum prison sentence for larceny can vary from 18 months for stealing a dog to a life sentence for stealing a will. For ordinary larceny, the maximum is five years for a first conviction but it can be ten years for following convictions. Again, the question was asked by Senator Neville — and I understand there is an amendment down for Committee Stage — about the length of sentences on conviction and whether they should be extended.

The Minister regards this Bill as providing an important new legal weapon to the Garda authorities in their fight against crime. It is aimed therefore, at those who sustain the crime industry by providing a market for illegally obtained property. It can apply equally to the man who buys a video in a pub at the right price, with no questions asked, or to the shadowy wholesaler dealing in the stolen property. Again, that is a quote from the Minister's speech.

We have no doubt gone soft in recent times on some thieves. These offences almost always go hand-in-hand with violence. Again, that was mentioned by my colleague, Senator Neville. I want to recall and pay a tribute to RTE for the programmes they showed perhaps 12 months ago, which featured extraordinary films about people in the west of Ireland whose homes were broken into and goods stolen. This may not be absolutely relevant to the Bill before us, but I am glad to have the opportunity of saying it. Sadly, news, whether it be of violence or whatever, is not news for very long. Only the people involved and their families remember it later. All of us serving in public life are more aware of that than anybody else in society.

I welcome this legislation. I am on record as not seeing the Garda force in the right at all times but they are an extraordinary body of men, doing great things. They are a credit to this nation. Sometimes they do not get the back-up they require. I am not one of those people who say things just to be popular. As I said earlier, on the Criminal Justice Bill, with the former Senator Seán O'Leary at that time, I was not complimentary in regard to some of their deeds. I spoke at length on that Bill on Second Stage and all through the other Stages. However, I do pay tribute to the Garda Síochána. I am glad the Minister and the Government have brought this legislation to be debated by this House.

In his earlier address to us the Minister referred to certain parts of the Bill but because there are other speakers I do not intend to delay the House. His Second Stage speech is worth reading again before we take Committee Stage.

I welcome the Bill and I look forward to the Minister bringing in further legislation to us in the near future.

I expect to be brief on this Bill, though it is an interesting Bill, and I would like to give it a guarded welcome, as I am sure will all Members of the House. I take a particular interest in legislation that deals with education and I am quite sure, in view of his professional background, the Cathaoirleach will also take an interest in this Bill, and welcome it and will join with me in saying, like Senator Honan, I believe we have in the Garda Síochána an excellent body of men, generally speaking. I will be guarded in some of what I have got to say because I have some small reservations about the Bill although it appears to me — and I could be wrong — that the Minister this morning has actually dealt with some of my reservations.

The Minister started his speech by saying he is going to attack this problem, which is a very real problem, not only of larceny but also the handling, the professional business management of stolen goods on two fronts. The first will be the traditional one, that is called for by all parties, of making more men available on the ground. Few people will disagree with that. The Minister accepts it is only part of the problem and he goes on to say that the second arm of his fight is the updating and refining of the criminal law to meet the challenges presented to it today by those engaged in crime.

I believe there is a third and very important arm that has not been addressed in this Bill and perhaps it is impossible to address it in the scope of a Bill like this. It is the examination of our society as a whole. It is a very broad-ranging concept but it does have certain impact on the provisions of this Bill. I am reminded of something that a friend of mine, a very distinguished politican and former Member of this House, Dr. Noel Browne, said, when somebody invited him to join in a campaign for what were described as political prisoners. He said, looking at it in a broad sense all prisoners are plitical prisoners and they are in jail ultimately for political reasons and at least one of the reasons is deprivation.

I do not wish to stand here today as the criminal's friend but if we are really serious about trying to eliminate crime from our society we do not just attack it in a military and legalistic fashion, we try to understand its social origins and the consequences in sociological terms of whatever measures we may adopt. For that reason my first reservation would be with regard to the immensely lengthy sentences that are possible and I sincerely hope that in only the most extreme cases will they be imposed.

What benefit is conferred on the taxpayer, for example, by sentences of 14 years? It is a very expensive commodity for the taxpayer to pay for this. We are talking about at least £100,000 to £150,000. I do not know how to compute it. It seems to me to be a little ironic that we should pay perhaps many times the actual amount of the goods stolen in consigning people to prison sentences which will have absolutely no determinable remedial effect. So, I enter, first of all, my hesitation at the value of introducing very long prison sentences. I hope that these will be used sparingly and wisely.

The Minister referred to the Law Reform Commission and their report. I take this opportunity to say that in difficult circumstances the Law Reform Commission have often done valuable work and I am glad that at least some of their recommendations are taken on board here. The parameters are laid out for us here where the Minister quotes the opening paragraph of the report and says, "the existing law permits receivers of stolen property to escape conviction for unjustifiable reasons which process facilitates crimes of dishonesty over a wide area." This, again, may be true and it is very provoking. I know, I live in what used to be regarded as an area with a high incidence of crime. Certainly, I can say that anybody in the city of Dublin, north or south, metropolitan or suburban, who leaves his or her front door open, which as Senator Neville mentioned was at one stage a charming habit and custom in certain rural parts of this country, is a very foolish person indeed. I can say this with some certainty because a flat in my house was broken into on this basis. I can scarcely, however, blame the criminal because the person occupying the flat left a colour television on in full view of the window and left the front door open.

I actually believe that a crime of provocation or tantalising the poor should be introduced for such persons. I live in an area of 85 per cent unemployment and people may have an old battered television set on which they witness daily and nightly the values of our society which are consumerist, which are materialistic. If they then walk down a street in which there is a wide open door and a colour television set displayed, I really do not think they should be sent to jail for lengthy periods for helping themselves to it, however reprehensible it may be. In other words, there is a responsibility in terms of security on the part of the property owner.

I also have to say that I would be a little suspicious of a society whose central values were those of property, whose central values were those of materialism. I must say it is with a certain wry amusement that I remind myself of the Christian and democratic nature of the Irish Constitution, of which I was forcibly reminded in the Four Courts a few years ago. I read my Bible and as I understand the ethos of Christianity if a man came and tried to relieve me of my overcoat the Christian thing for me to do would be to run after him and say "here is my jumper, perhaps you are cold." This is apparently not what we wish to institute in law, nor indeed would it be practice. Let us come back from my little flight of fantasy to more practical matters.

The Minister describes the problems of the present law and he asks how offenders escape conviction, that there are technical legal difficulties demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt the accused actually knew at the time of receipt that the property was stolen property. I acknowledge the difficulties of this, forensic and evidential. How can you demonstrate that somebody actually knows? It is possible to stray into quite dangerous areas here and I will listen with great interest or if I am not able to be present in the House I will read with great interest the Minister's reply in this matter. Further on, when he is talking about handling, knowledge or belief, he says:

The Bill also broadens the mens rea the mental element of the offence, the present offence of receiving is committed only if the receiver knew at the time of receipt that the property was stolen. The new offence of handling by contrast would be committed if the handler of the stolen property knew or believed that the property was stolen. Believing in this context will include thinking that the property in question was probably stolen.

I am a little bit worried about that phrase because I think it is dangerous for any legal officer, police officer, detective or agent of the court system, to presume to know what somebody else thinks. It is much safer if you can demonstrate that it was beyond reasonable doubt that somebody should have known, being of reasonable intelligence, but using a phrase "thinking the property in question was probably stolen" seems to me to be entering a rather vague, a rather grey, almost a dangerous area. Perhaps I am over-sensitive to the use of the word "thinking" but I recall Geroge Orwell's celebrated phrase about the "thought police."

With regard to this question of mens rea, I would also like to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that this is one of the areas where they have departed from the advice of the Law Reform Commission. Perhaps they might take an opportunity to re-examine this area because the commission, as was pointed out, can review all the ways of dealing with this admittedly very delicate, very difficult subject. They finally settled on the notion of what they call recklessness, basing their proposals on a model scheme of litigation by the American Law Institute. The Minister discounts this and gives one reason. It is not a philosophical, principled or reasoned argument. It is simply an empirical argument against it because he says there is not in existence anywhere such a model that can be demonstrated to work.

This Minister has shown himself to be adventurous in a number of areas of law that are sensitive. He did, after all, initiate acceptance of the clauses extending the prohibition of incitement to hatred legislation to the travellers and the gay community, which was certainly adventurous for a Justice Minister. I hope such a Minister would be prepared to look at something that did not operate at the moment in other jurisdictions. Surely this would give a more positive coloration to the already noted phrase, "an Irish solution to an Irish problem." Perhaps we actually have creative legal intelligence in the Law Reform Commission. Perhaps they were right; perhaps her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom do not have all the answers, and perhaps it is a little bit unadventurous for the Minister to reach, once more, for the nearest available British precedent, which is always what they do. Predictably, a few lines further down we find that he is referring to the English Act of 1968.

I would here enter a little reservation. I do not wish to sabotage the Bill. I understand the intentions. I accept much of what the Minister has said and I think he is an active and courageous Minister but I have little reservation. We are here back to our old practices of new legislation coming in, of adopting the attitude, "let us not bother doing anything very exciting; England is not too far away, we will do what they did and it will suit us." Let us have a creative Irish solution to an Irish situation, or indeed an international situation. Would it not be rather exciting if people reviewing parallel legislation in European or American jurisdictions came up with a situation like that and said: "let us do what the Irish have done because there is a jurisdiction in which this more sophisticated approach has been demonstrated to be workable?"

The Minister then takes on some new provisions. One of these new provisions, which occurs in section 2 of the new Bill, deals with the possession of various articles and, in particular, possession with intent to commit crime of dishonesty. This is referred to in the explanatory memorandum in paragraph 3. I found it rather heartening and rather interesting to read:

The new section 28 (1) of the 1916 Act at section 2 of the Bill, makes it a felony punishable by a maximum of five years imprisonment, for a person to be in possession, elsewhere than at his place of abode, of any article for use in burglary or larceny, in blackmail or obtaining by false pretences or, in taking a vehicle without lawful authority.

This general description is modified in the Minister's speech and also in the Bill as I understand it, because it is given greater substance.

It may be given greater definition because, as it stands, it would suit me perfectly and I would urge the Minister to implement this provision immediately for a very specific reason. Senator Honan referred to the angst experienced by Senator Ross and myself about the delays in implementing or introducing a Bill abolishing capital punishment and other things. She said the Minister in his speech gave an undertaking these would be done away with. I have interests in certain legislation as well and I am awaiting the confirmation of the Government that they will do something. I refer, of course, to the 1861 Act and the 1885 Act outlawing all sexual activity between males whether in public or private. Why do I think it is relevant here? Because no less a person than Sir John Wolfenden in his report described the 1861 and 1885 Act as a blackmailer's charter. It could be argued that possession of these instruments, having been defined by an eminent legal authority as a blackmailer's charter, would constitute an offence because they are implements of blackmail.

I suppose it will be understood I may be making a more political than legal point at this time but this is a political as well as a legislative Chamber. It does, however, raise another issue. I understand certainly from the Minister's speech and also from a reading of the Bill, that possession in itself of particular items is not always capable of being construed as a criminal offence because there must be intent and that has got to be proved. That would probably, to my great regret, rule out possession in the context of the 1861 Act as a criminal offence. I wish it were a criminal offence. This business of intention is included in the Bill. It is also reasonable enough to assume that if special machinery has been developed for the extraction of coins from telephone boxes, it is unlikely that the same severe requirement of proof of intent will be placed on the prosecution in such a case.

I would like to continue my examination of the matter of mens rea which the Minister obviously considered to be important because he deals with it at some length in his speech. He deals with it under the sub-heading “Evidence of Previous Convictions etc. Reveal”. I presume that is just a printing error and that it means repeal, and I presume the Minister is now announcing his intention to repeal section 5 of the new Bill. I welcome this. It may not be quite as clear as I am suggesting but it looks as if this is being repealed. If this is the case, I applaud it. It seems that the introduction of evidence of previous convictions during the course of a trial can be a dangerous and prejudicial matter because we place high regard on the notion that persons are innocent until proven guilty. For that reason as I understand it — I am not a lawyer — it is regarded as good practice in a number of criminal offences to introduce evidence of previous conviction only at the time of sentencing to enable the judge to fix an appropriate sentence. Although I abhor the profession of fencing in a criminal sense, not in a sporting sense, it seems one must extend this principle to cover all court procedures.

With regard to the Constitution and its Christian and democratic provisions, is it Christian to introduce evidence of previous convictions as part of the mens rea element of a prosecution? Does the New Testament not indicate very clearly that all men are capable of salvation, and if we have a Christian Constitution and Christian laws should this not be reflected or should I ask the Minister the cynical question, is it really such a Christian Constitution, such a Christian body of law, or even such a Christian society, whose values we are reflecting?

I do not wish to be tedious but I would like to join with previous speakers in pointing out that different penalties are being imposed, on the one hand, for handling stolen property, which is 14 years imprisonment, and the maximum ten years imprisonment for larceny, fraud, conversion, embezzlement, obtaining by false pretence and blackmail.

I accept that there is a serious problem and the Minister is quite correct and shows his knowledge of urban life when he talks about items falling off the backs of lorries and also the shopping list mentality of some of our criminals. It is within my knowledge and I can concur fully with the Minister when he says these receivers ask their clients what type of commodity they are interested in so that the thieves can steal to order. This is certainly true. I have personal knowledge of it. I am also aware of situations in which, when local representations are made, goods that are stolen have been offered back to their original owners at a knock-down price. If somebody has a television or video stolen and, having made inquiries because he or she knows the local ethos, that person is told: "Ah, well since it is yourself you can have it back for £120." This is simply intolerable and if the Minister's legislation is able to do anything about it, then so much the better.

I would like to welcome two provisons whose explanations are in the explanatory memorandum. One is where the explanatory memorandum talks at section 7 (2) (xv) of the Bill, which provides that stolen property in the 1916 Act and the Bill includes as well as the property originally stolen any property which represents or has represented the stolen property in the hands of the thief as being the proceeds of any disposal or realisation of the original stolen property or of property representing it. It would be extremely galling if somebody had managed to dipose of an article belonging to some unfortunate victim, and because it was not in the possession of the thief or fence, it could not be recovered. The value should be recoverable but this also leads to an item that was touched on, the question of compensation of victim.

I note the Minister said this was too broad an area to be dealt with and required some kind of special legislation. I hesitate, having been so charitable all morning, to suggest that this is the stock answer but it seems it would be appropriate here when we are dealing with this area, where attention has been drawn to it in terms of larceny, to suggest that some degree of compensation should be possible. For example, the television set or video are very popular items. If somebody had been handling masses of stolen videos and they were all gone yet they had a bank account of £27,564 in a suburban bank, why should that not be disbursed back to the people whose videos had been stolen at the commercial value of the items taken?

I would like to hear further about the impact of this legislation in section 10 on Post Office Act offences; in other words, the interference with the mail, the abstraction of items from it. Although An Post have a very high reputation, sadly there are occasionally occurrences which reflect on the staff, their standing and their moral probity. I add this is rare, and I am glad about that. The citizens of this country are entitled to place reliance and confidence on the public postal services.

I noticed that there are no exemptions, but perhaps I am wrong. I could not help noticing when looking at the Estimates the £160,000 for the Secret Service. I am speaking as somebody who has had his mail opened and scrutinised in the Post Office, who has had materials abstracted from his personal post, apparently on the instructions of a Minister or a Department — I am not speaking about the present Government. It is history now but this was entered as evidence in my case in the High Court, was dealt with in the Supreme Court and in Strasbourg. I would like to know whether exemptions are provided whereby ministerial or Government intervention in the lawful transmission of material through the post is exempted and, if so, what are the provisions under which this exemption is made?

I would like to give a guarded welcome to this Bill. Let me emphasise the word "guarded". There are certainly aspects of it that are to be welcomed. Its intention is to be welcomed, to create a new offence of handling of stolen goods to replace the old offence under the Larceny Act, 1916, which dealt exclusively with receiving stolen goods, and to seek to ensure that people who were involved — and I would say equally involved — in the commission of crime as those who were stealing goods, would be brought to justice because we do know how extensive the operation of fences is in society in relation to the disposal of stolen goods and they operate at all levels and all classes in society. However, there are major flaws in the Bill and I hope we will have the opportunity of addressing them on Committee Stage with relevant amendments and that the Minister will take on board what will be proposed at that stage.

Any updating of pre-1922, pre-Independence legislation is to be welcomed and this Bill refers to the 1916 Larceny Act and the 1908 Post Office Act as well as the Defence Act, 1954. It indicates how ancient and archaic so much of our criminal legislation is. As can be seen from the wording of the Bill, it tinkers with the Larceny Act; it does not, in any sense, represent a comprehensive reform of that Act. It is to be regretted that the legislators did not go further in updating some of the very archaic sentiments, language and, indeed, offences and penalties that are included in the Act of 1916.

I welcome the Minister's remarks in relation to the publication of further legislation in this area. He specifically referred to his intention to provide legislation covering compensation for the victims of crime, which is a very necessary provision. Much attention is given to the actual commission of crime, to the finding of the perpetrators and to their being brought before the courts and being penalised for the offences. In the process, there is an innocent person, a victim of the offence who now is being perhaps, hauled before the court in very difficult confrontational circumstances to give evidence. They are not being compensated in any way by the present legislation for the trauma they experienced, whether physical or psychological. That is a matter that should be addressed at a very early stage by the Minister or the Government. Secondly, the Minister has promised to widen recommendations in this area in regard to the admissibility in evidence of business records. That would bring the legislation a bit more up to date, from the 1916 period when various types of fraud and business procedures were very different from what they are at present.

In relation to the abolition of the death penalty, the promise there is heartening but the issue has been going on for a considerable time and the Minister should address that matter now. He promised that we would have a Bill dealing with this area of criminal law reform before Christmas but that has not happened, and now he is promising it again. Finally, there is the area I want to mention — criminal damage to property. Legislation for all these areas would be welcome. They are not included in this Bill and we trust that the Minister will deal with them fairly soon.

What is required is a broader examination of the whole area of criminal law. Much of our criminal law is piecemeal. It came into existence prior to the foundation of the State. It is dealing with a different régime at a different time, for a different set of circumstances and a different society. That is why I say that this Bill is merely tinkering not just with the whole area of criminal reform, but with the updating of the 1916 Larceny Act. The attempt in the Bill to update that Act is disappointing.

Legislation should always be put in a societal context, particularly criminal law legislation. We are dealing here with offences against property and offences against property do not take place in a vacuum. We must remember the society, the context, the socio-economic context in which these take place. I also find it disappointing that the Bill seems to be drafted as through covering crime that could be taking place on Mars; it could be taking place in any country. There is no reference to its socio-economic context.

Perhaps the most important way to deal with crime is to tackle it on the ground, and that means the Garda Síochána. The garda on the beat is probably more useful than any set of measures or any sophisticated equipment. A well trained Garda Síochána is essential. I would like to pay tribute to the work of the Garda in general. They have a fine record; they are a fine body of men and they have a fine record of achievement when one makes international comparisons. Comparatively speaking, I do not think we have anything to criticise about the operations of the Garda Síochána. However, I have to say that times have changed and garda training leaves a lot to be desired. I know change from the six month's training in Templemore to two years' is taking place at present. All 12,000 gardaí in the Force should be retrained. What we had in the past was very much a barrack-like procedure where it was "them and us: the criminals out there; we are the good guys and they are the bad guys". The problem and psychology of crime in an urban setting, in a complex setting, has not been addressed. It would considerably improve the operation of the Garda Síochána if the new course being introduced in Templemore was extended to all gardaí as well as to new trainees.

As I have said, the intention of the Bill is good; it is to try to overcome the technical problems of getting prosecutions in an area where up to now it has been notoriously difficult to do so, that is, handling stolen property, where people have been receiving, fencing and dealing with property other than those actually stealing it. However, there is a certain subtlety in the way the Bill is drafted. I call it subtlety because what will be required of the arresting and prosecuting garda is the ability to comprehend, virtually to mind-read, the people he will be arresting.

In regard to the words "knew or believed that the property was stolen", how is the garda to know what the person believed? There will be a heavy onus of proof in that respect. How are you to prove that belief? Or, putting it even more subtly, how do you prove that somebody thought it was stolen? The language is becoming more vague by the moment when we are talking about an onus of proof that is required under our law. Again, if a person is found in possession of implements with the intention of committing a larceny, how is the garda to know his intention? What we are looking for here is not the traditional garda on the beat with six months training in Templemore; we are talking about some of the finest mind readers one could meet. I do not know how we are to train gardaí in terms of operating this legislation. It has wandered into the arena of fantasy in its attempts to deal with a problem which has been found to be difficult to deal with.

There is an attempt to standardise most of the penalties and it is provided that in certain areas the penalty is ten years and in other areas it is 14 years. There is lack of imagination in relation to penalties. The Bill covers the whole range of larceny from petty larceny, where somebody stole, say, a cat or a dog to somebody who committed major crimes of theft. That is the maximum penalty that is provided. Why can our legislators not talk in terms of alternative sanctions rather than prison sanctions? Why is it always custodial sanctions that penalties are determined in? We saw recently District Justice Hubert Wine saying categorically to the Director of Public Prosecutions and to the Government and the three Ministers who have responsibility for the care of children at risk, "You have not provided me with an alternative place to put this child". The choice open to the district justice was Mountjoy Prison or to allow the child back on the street. In this Bill, we are being presented again with the old traditional prison sentence. It is being seen by the people who drew up this Bill not as a last resort but as the only resort. That is not good enough. It is totally contrary to the provisions of the Whitaker report which was commissioned by the Government in 1984 and which provided a wide range of alternative sanctions for offences. Much more imagination should be displayed in relation to this Bill.

There are serious problems with the Bill, which I have mentioned, but one very serious problem is that while this is an updating of pre-1922 legislation, and that is to be welcomed, the draftsmen have looked across the water to comparable legislation in Britain, and have not looked farther afield than that. This legislation is based almost exclusively and, in parts, verbatim, on the English Theft Act, 1968. That is how the Minister found himself in hot water in the Dáil when he introduced the section in relation to evidence being adduced in relation to previous convictions, that that would be allowed in evidence in court against the person accused in relation to receiving stolen property. That is in the legislation that was prior to our Constitution. Therefore, the Minister found himself with no choice but to amend that legislation. If the Minister had been aware of a similar provision in the Vagrancy Act that was struck down as unconstitutional in the Supreme Court not so long ago, in King v. the Attorney General, he would never have introduced that legislation. So, we must welcome that the Minister has reversed his original intention in section 5. The provision in the Principal Act, the Larceny Act, 1916, has been repealed and his intention to extend it in this Bill has been struck down. That is a development. It would be a scandalous situation that, in this day and age, a person who had been convicted of an offence and had served their punishment should not be considered a free person starting from scratch, but should be treated as a criminal and that that should be used in evidence against them. I do not think the Minister should take undue credit for deleting that section. He would have found himself in very deep, hot constitutional water if he had not done so.

The Bill, as the Minister and other speakers have said, derives from the report of the Law Reform Commission on Receiving Stolen Property, No. 23, 1987, but it is based on it in a very flimsy manner. It might be fairer to say that while the Government looked at that recommendation, they totally ignored the vast bulk of recommendations made by the commission. The very summary treatment which the commission have received certainly cannot be calculated to encourage them continuing their work and does not encourage any faith in the Government's commitment to law reform.

What the Bill leaves out that should be included is more important, indeed, than what is in the Bill. There is a very large number of recommendations in the report of the Law Reform Commission which the Bill failed to address and which would have improved this Bill enormously. The commission made recommendations, for example, in relation to the offence of the attempted handling of stolen goods. The Government do not seem to have any opinion on this matter, do not refer to it at all. The problem of handling smuggled property is also left out of the Bill. Why? It was recommended in the commission's report. The commission suggested that this should be part of the new offence of handling stolen goods but the Bill does not deal with this problem. Perhaps the Minister will take an amendment to that effect later on.

There is also the problem of whether someone who steals property and then goes on to sell it or handle it in some other way is guilty of a second offence. The commission says that for practical reasons a person should be guilty of a second offence of receiving in such circumstances, but, again, the Bill rejects the recommendation and leaves the matter in doubt. There is nothing in the Bill to clear up the ambiguity of whether a person can be convicted of handling goods which he or she has personally stolen. Why has that not been addressed? The list of rejected commission recommendations is, indeed, a very long one and it is difficult to understand why the Government bother to consult the commission at all, if that is their attitude to them. Perhaps in the future at least the Government will give the commission a much more detailed brief than they do at present so that the commission's time and energy can be more productively used. In the case of the Larceny Bill the communication lines between the Attorney General's Office, the Department of Justice and the commission seem to have gone very seriously in disarray.

I would like to mention two further rejected commission recommendations which illustrate the Government's general inadequate approach. The commission recommended that a person who innocently receives property but subsequently retains it dishonestly should be guilty of handling stolen property. This recommendation is missing from the Bill. The reason for this is that whoever drafted the Bill has lifted the operative sections directly from the British Theft Act, 1968. So here once again the draftsmen, were looking too closely at what was happening across the water and were not looking closely enough at what their own law reform was doing. As Senator Norris has said, would it not be very nice if some day our draftsmen woke up and drafted Irish legislation for an Irish problem and not just always incorporated legislation from abroad verbatim in very many cases, and indeed without cognisance of our Constitution. This happened in the case of the last Criminal Justice Bill we were discussing here on genetic finger printing, where once again sections of the legislation were lifted in toto from the equivalent British legislation without advertence to constitutional implications.

The Law Reform Commission also recommended that a person should be liable for handling stolen goods if they knew or were reckless as to whether the goods were stolen. The Commission said that mere belief that goods were stolen should not be enough because such a phrase had, to quote paragraph 71 of the commissions report, "done more harm than good". It had done more harm than good when it was tried in the United Kingdom. Needless to say, the Bill reintroduces the concept of mere belief to which I have already referred, the concept which was tried and failed in the United Kingdom and which the commission itself have declared to be unworkable. Why should a provision be introduced that the commission declared to be unworkable? It is because the section is copied verbatim from the British legislation. Not only are the key provisions of this Bill lifted from the United Kingdom but the difficulties encountered in operating the United Kingdom legislation in practice do not seem to have been adequately considered.

What we must move towards is comprehensive reform. Our present law of larceny dates from 1916 and it is surely time for a through updating. The Bill is merely tinkering with the 1916 Act. The Act should be repealed in its entirely and replaced with a law which reflects the realities of life in modern Ireland, the complexities of the society in which we live. The 1916 Act was drafted in a style totally inconsistent with current thinking. It contains many references to the Crown, to British officials and to procedures applicable in England, Scotland and Wales only. All of these obsolete and irrelevant references should be deleted by the current Bill. The old Act also specified horrendous penalties for offences against property. There are frequent references to penal servitude and whipping and, indeed, reference is made in one section, section 29, to the death penalty which, of course, we are about to abolish. The Bill substitutes ten years imprisonment for all of the penalties under the 1916 Act but it is surprising that the Minister has not sought to delete the harsh and a rchaic punishment clauses from the old Act.

While the Minister's intentions on this matter are clear the Bill seems to be poorly drafted. The archaic reference to inhuman forms of punishment in the 1916 Act should be simply repealed to end all doubt on the matter.

The Minister should also give consideration to the complexities of the different offences under the Larcency Act, 1916. That legislation created 13 types of larceny depending on what object was stolen. Some objects attracted more severe penalties than others. For instance, larceny of dogs was a totally separate and less serious offence than larceny of wills. Each of these offences has a different scale of punishment. This Bill will now give a uniform maximum punishment of ten years imprisonment for all of these different types of larceny. Could there not be a lower maximum sentence for minor offences? Why should there be a standard offence in that schedule of offences? There are minor as well as serious larceny offences. Although the Minister's proposal in sentencing may seem a welcome simplification of the law it is in reality a half-baked idea because, if the 13 types of larceny now have the same punishment why not simply replace all 13 of them with one offence of simple larceny? The Minister should consider this simple reform which would in effect take his own proposals to their logical conclusion.

The Minister should also consider introducing a simplified offence of extortion. The provision in the 1916 Act is very cumbersome. The provisions have developed piecemeal over the years and are spread over several sections of the 1916 Act. Perhaps that would be an area that could be amended.

There is also the question of developments which have taken place since 1916. For instance there is no provision at present dealing specifically with the fraudulent use of credit cards or with computer fraud. I hope that will be included in the new legislation the Minister intends to introduce in the area of business records that he mentioned earlier. The people who enacted the old Act seem to have been mainly concerned with protecting property than with services or labour. The whole area of services and labour is new and has not been covered by the Bill. The old Act relates mainly to larcency of goods and there does not seem to be any provision in it prohibiting employers or others from fraudulently obtaining the labour or services of employees, for example. This Bill does not deal with that question at all.

Overall the Bill is a disappointment in the context of the proposals made by the Law Reform Commission, in the context of the reform that was required in relation to the Larceny Act, which is a major Act in its own right and which is so old that it needs comprehensive reform rather than tinkering as we have here. The 1916 Act is outdated and this Bill is not sufficient to bring it up to date. The drafting of the Bill is not satisfactory and the Government have set at naught most of the Law Reform Commission's recommendations. Only a few have been salvaged and all of the rest have been rejected. I hope the Minister will accept a number of amendments that will be proposed on Committee Stage and I would ask the Minister to address urgently the whole area of criminal law reform. When we look at this Bill in its entirely we find that while it looks like a major Bill that is addressing a major problem in fact it is dealing with only a tiny part of the Larceny Act and that entire Larceny Act is outdated. There is need for a major overhaul of the entire criminal justice area and of the sentencing policy in operation.

Like some of the previous speakers I welcome the Bill and I must say I do so guardedly as I have certain reservations about parts of it. I know that crime figures are appalling and I have some first-hand evidence of this. I have a number of friends who have been burgled not just once or twice but three times and recently a friend of mine was burgled for the fourth time. Like a previous Senator I, too, was burgled and one of the items stolen was obviously taken for a very very specialised market. If I could find that particular fence — I refer to a person here — I would not be too lenient on him.

I am extremely concerned, too, about the problems facing the Garda at present in their daily fight against crime and the dangers that they undergo. This was highlighted only recently by the vicious shooting of Garda John Moore on 8 January during a bank raid in Donnybrook. I understand, too, the Minister's concern and his intentions in this Bill and I commend him on his intentions. I know he is a hard-working Minister and is concerned about law and order, as everybody else is concerned. I still have some small reservations, like a previous Senator who spoke. Some of the legislation we are bringing in at the moment is reactive. I believe it should be pro-active. We always seem to do something after the fact. Perhaps we should be looking ahead rather than looking back all the time.

I want to refer to something the Minister said in his introductory speech. He said that under the new offence of receiving stolen property the following activities are brought in: undertaking or assisting in the retention, removal, disposal or realisation of stolen property by or for the benefit of another person, or arranging to do any of those things. That is fine. We all agree with that, but he goes on to say the name of the new offence of handling stolen property reflects the wider range of activity which is made criminal though not, of course, the entire range. I am not absolutely sure what is meant by that. He says that as was pointed out in the other House, one might commit an offence under the new provision merely by making a phone call, or arranging to receive the property in question without ever going near it. This entire range would need to be spelled out. Maybe it cannot be spelled out, but perhaps the exceptions to it should be mentioned more clearly in the Bill.

I am worried about the broadening of the mens rea where the new offence, by contrast, will be committed if the handler of the stolen property knew or believed. Believing, he says, in this context will include thinking that the property in question was probably stolen. In my own profession I find it very hard sometimes to find out how people are thinking. I do not know of anybody who can know what any other person is thinking unless the other person actually tells them. I wonder how this is going to be proved. I say this with the greatest of respect, because I understand the Minister's intentions. I have great respect, too, for barristers, judges and policemen but they are human and can make mistakes. I do not know how we are going to be able to prove what a person was thinking at the time that something was stolen. If I buy something in Quinnsworth which I think was stolen, do I commit a crime? I am not quite sure. That needs to be clarified also.

I am sure this Bill, as Senator Honan said, will be teased out quite a bit on Committee Stage. I welcome that because I believe that one of our tasks as Senators is to tease out exactly what legislation means. We did this, for example, on the Companies Bill with good result. When it comes to Justice Bills where people may be convicted of serious crimes or felonies, it not only behoves us but it is our duty to tease out exactly what is meant by a Bill. The Bill must stand on its own. It should be unequivocal and clear and capable of only one interpretation and not three or four interpretations by, perhaps, a clever lawyer or whatever.

The Minister in his speech also said it would be an offence to be in possession, otherwise than at home, of any article whatsoever with the intention that it be used in larceny, burglary, fraud, embezzlement, blackmail or taking a vehicle without the consent of the owner. I do not think we would have any argument about that. In the next sentence he says it is normally no offence to be in the possession of, say, a car key or a credit card or a chisel or a crowbar — these are all household items — but to be in possession of any of these items with the intention that they be used in larceny will now be an offence. Again, that worries me slightly. Does that mean that when I go to my car and open it I could actually be guilty of an offence, provided somebody knows that I am thinking of receiving stolen goods? I do not mean this in a flippant way; I mean it very seriously. I am sure the Minister will answer these questions. I do not mean to put him in a spot but it is important that this should be absolutely crystal clear. The wording in that area needs to be spelled out and I hope that on Committee Stage we will get a chance of doing this.

On section 5 of the Bill — I hope I interpret this correctly because I am not very legalistic — does this mean that previous convictions or previous receipt of stolen goods can be used to show that the person on trial has a mentality which would lead the judge to believe that he is now guilty under this change of mens rea? If that were the case, we would be finding people guilty before we try them at all. Even by analogy, if we could look at the rape case of a prostitute, the fact that she was a women of easy virtue does not mean she could not be raped. Perhaps I take that analogy too far. I hope I am interpreting section 5 correctly but I would like to see that clearly spelled out.

I welcome the Bill. I know the Minister's intentions. I know we have a crime problem. He is doing all he can to combat it, but I do look forward to Committee Stage where we will have a chance of going through these sections one by one and looking at them in more detail. As one of the other Senators said, we must always maintain the rule that people are innocent until found guilty.

Like other speakers here this morning, I welcome the Bill. It has gone a distance along the road of providing much needed measures to cope with and take care of the situation with regard to persons who are in possession of goods that are stolen. Much debate can be carried on as to the definition as to what is stolen and what is not. The objective of this Bill is to make life more difficult for those who receive stolen goods and this is extremely important. If we did not have persons to receive stolen property we would have fewer persons to steal property and to dispose of it.

One of the biggest problems of the Garda is to locate stolen property. I had experiences over the years of theft from motor cars. I was called down to the Bridewell to identify what seemed to be stolen property of mine, but none of it was mine. It vanished into thin air, even though the culprits were found within a matter of hours. They had a ready made market to dispose of goods. This Bill is designed to ensure that persons who think that the goods are stolen, are, in fact liable. I share the view of the expert in this area of what people think and what they do not think. It is a very difficult one. At the same time, it puts a lot more onus on the receiver of the goods than was there heretofore.

There is some difficulty establishing quite clearly what is stolen and what is not stolen property. We are, as I stress, talking about the persons who retain the stolen goods. The person who receives those goods is a likely suspect of the Garda Síochána. Not necessarily always, but he is often a likely suspect. If that person is called in and if after many searches no goods can be found, there has to be a safe haven immediately for the storage of and ultimate disposal of these various goods. People do not just steal goods from houses or from any other place unless they are going to sell those goods at, generally speaking, a reduced price. In the end it is all profit. Their cost price has been small. It is the middle person we must tackle. The Bill is designed essentially to get after that person.

We have these people who are referred to as the godfathers of crime. They have a whole network of persons working for them. They are in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of the public above and beyond any sort of suspicion with regard to being involved in theft or any other crimes. The godfathers of crime I would list under two main headings. First, there are the pimps, the people who control and operate prostitution which I know is not related to this Bill and, secondly, the drug barons. They are people who have others acting on their behalf and destroying the lives of people. I address my remarks about pimps and drug barons to the Minister to be conveyed to the appropriate authority. They are persons who should be dealt with most severely. They should be dealt with with greater severity altogether than the people who are involved in the acts that these people organise in the way of prostitution and drugs. In both instances the lives of genuine innocent people are being seriously affected. The Government and, in fact, all politicians have a responsibility to ensure that these persons are dealt with with the utmost severity.

This Bill goes part of the way — not, unfortunately, all the way — to bringing to justice all the persons who are in one way or another connected with or involved with property that has been stolen. Again, I go back to what Senator Lydon said about knowing or thinking something to be stolen as distinct from it being stolen. This can present difficulties but I am quite certain that there is sufficient expertise to tease out that one and to establish quite clearly that people know that something just did not fall off a truck or lorry. Many people are sheltering behind those less fortunate than they and, perhaps, making a good and substantial livelihood from having these people as instruments which they use to have property placed in their direction. Very often they themselves might not necessarily even be in contact with it. Other parties would be involved between them and the actual criminal. It is a very involved process. We have heard over the years about the Mafia in America. This situation is something similar to a Mafia position. In a country like America there is an underground organisation which is very effective.

Unfortunately, householders now who leave their homes here have to give the impression of a presence in their homes. They leave a television on, a light on or a car parked outside the door. They have to do all sorts of things to give the impression of a presence in their homes. People who go on holiday unless they have an arrangement with their neighbours to check their houses each morning or each evening, turning off lights in the morning and turning them on in the evening, come back after a week or two in a state of panic until they investigate their own homes to see if they are still intact. This is a frightening situation. It takes from the very short break from work that the family may have. In the latter days of the holiday people are worried about what they are going to find when they get home. This is something that has to be looked at. It will involve a greater number of gardaí. At the moment there are vast areas of our city here, and other cities like Limerick, Cork, Galway — and, indeed, major towns — that have no Garda presence for many hours during the day or night. The perpetrators of crime know precisely when families are away from the house, such as at times of weddings and funerals. They move in then. We are living in a society where people do not want to get involved. Neighbours might see people go into a house and they might not believe that they were persons other than friends of the occupant's or owners of the house. This is very misleading.

The whole area of alarms and systems of alerting the neighbourhood is good. Neighbourhood watch schemes have done a good deal of work in lessening crime, but have not tackled the problem to the fullest extent.

We have seen persons who are caught for these crimes getting very light prison sentences. This is regrettable. They come out of prison and start the same again. I would subscribe to the point made in the other House that a person's record must not follow him along the road all the way. If a person has paid the price and is seen to have paid the price this must not be taken into the reckoning at the time of a subsequent crime. The mens rea amendment in the other House was, in fact, something good which the Government took on board.

At the moment it is difficult for the Garda to go out and arrest people they firmly believe are the persons who have stolen goods or who have received stolen goods. This Bill is a very important new legal weapon for the Garda. It is much needed and should be welcomed.

We must not globally look at crime and regard petty crime, such as the theft of £2 or £3 worth of goods from a shop, in the same light as highly organised breaking and entering a house, premises or bank. There has been a tendency at times for the penalty not to fit the crime. Unfortunately a little over 20 years ago a Member of this House was assassinated. The persons who assassinated Senator Billy Fox were out of prison during Christmas. I understand they are shortly due for release. In my view a crime of that magnitude — while it is getting away from this Bill slightly — indicates that we must measure more correctly the seriousness of the crime and have sentence to fit in with it.

This Bill tries to counteract the person who "buys the article at the right price". Present legislation protects that person. This legislation does, in fact, take that individual into the net. I am satisfied that accountability will ensue.

The 1987 Law Reform Commission were referred to. I, like others, regret that much more of what is in their report is not contained in the Bill with regard to receiving stolen property. Of course, it is welcome that we are effectively updating a piece of legislation enacted in 1916. At the same time, we must go a good distance further.

I hope I have made my point about the need for this Bill. Furthermore, there is a need for certain significant amendments to the Bill on Committee and later Stages. Quite frankly, the position at present is very frightening. Regrettably, we must realise that there is no question of conscience in the minds of many people these days. They will steal goods and property if they believe that they can get away with it. This was borne out in 1987 when £34 million worth of goods were stolen. That showed an increase of £3 million on the previous year. Of that vast sum of money, only £3 million worth was recovered. This is the type of thing that highlights beyond all question that there are ready outlets for goods and property taken from their rightful owners.

I thoroughly agree with the substance of this Bill but I must say it is disappointing that the Minister did not include the very worthwhile proposals of the Law Reform Commission, many of which have been referred to. I do not propose to go back and itemise all those that were omitted. At this point I believe that, in addition to amending this Bill to the extent that it requires at this stage, it is a matter of great urgency to establish a more comprehensive approach and a more comprehensive study and investigation of the whole field of larceny and related areas. There are many areas not necessarily in the larceny field in the strict sense of the word but very closely allied to it. Obviously, in addition to that type of comprehensive study and, hopefully by the introduction of new legislation arising from it, we must — and I said this earlier — have more gardaí on the beat. I had the experience, and I am sure others have had also, that going to certain parts of cities — and I cite my own city of Limerick — you are pretty nervous taking your car. You will probably find an excuse to ask somebody to drive you there. You will not give the real reason you have not taken your own car. This is a sad reflection on the situation. It is a sad thing that we have to pretend we do not have our cars with us for some other reason. People's feelings are important. There are definite areas in our major cities where, if you park your car for ten, 15 or 20 minutes unattended, it is likely that there could be major damage to the car or that the car itself could be missing when you return.

The other regrettable feature about the existing position is the very low detection rate compared with the number of crimes committed. There were 85,000 crimes committed in 1987 and in only something like 288 cases were the criminals apprehended. That is very disappointing and alarming. In fact, it is an inducement and an encouragement to people to get involved in what they believe is a very prosperous business. Of course, at a time like this when people are finding it difficult to live — and I say that with all sincerity — there is a greater temptation for persons to engage in illegal activities in order to make money. It in no way justifies it, but it presents the Government, in the first instance, and the Garda, the Minister for Justice and so on, with a major dilemma.

The other unfortunate thing about it is this. I and others in this House have personal knowledge of the fact that there is no absolute guarantee that the criminal who has been arrested will be punished. I believe we have people here — do-gooders I will call them — who seem to have greater sympathy for the culprit, the crime doer, the misbehaving person, than they have for the person who is the sufferer. I mentioned petty criminals earlier. I believe there is no point congesting our prisons to keep those people under lock and key while major offenders are being set free after a very short sentence, as happens on many occasions.

The intent of the person is very important. Many people commit petty crimes; I do not condone that, but I would differentiate between those crimes and organised crime which has a very rewarding end result. These days the overriding feature is: everything is all right so long as you are not caught. Unfortunately, that seems to be the barometer, the yardstick, people operate under.

In society there are many kinds of goods that are readily disposable, such as television sets, videos and so on. It is not just by accident that these are stolen from houses and other places in preference to less disposable items. This again brings us back to the point that there is a place to have these items taken care of immediately. When I say "immediately" I am talking in terms of perhaps an hour or two or even a lesser time. Our gardaí are now receiving a much wider and broader training course than their predecessors did in Templemore. I would subscribe to the idea that those gardaí who came out before the new courses started should be given the opportunity of having refresher courses. If the present courses are in any way wanting they should be updated, because the custodians of law and order are the gardaí. They are entitled to nothing less than the best training.

Another point I would like to make concerns smuggling. Smuggling is an extremely big business in all the Border counties. People on both sides of the Border are making large sums of money from smuggling. This in its own way is theft. It is an evasion of duty paid on goods. This is an area where millions of pounds have been made over the years by some people. Smuggling is still going on. I would suggest that the whole area of smuggling, difficult as it is, needs to be included in the sort of comprehensive Bill and complete analysis to which I have referred. It is a matter of great urgency.

This Bill is definitely a step forward but it is a pity it did not take on board the many excellent suggestions of the Law Reform Commission in their report of 1987. I believe that when we come to Committee Stage the Minister, or the person acting on his behalf, should agree to worthwhile amendments. As an interim measure this Bill will be a positive step forward, but I would say quite honestly to the Minister for Justice and the Government that, even while this Bill is being completed, we should leave no stone unturned, no time lost, in getting down to this comprehensive study. As I said, the question of smuggling should come into consideration. Indeed, nobody would know the situation better than the Minister present, Deputy Kirk. He comes from a Border county and would be familiar with it, as indeed would my colleague, Senator Mooney.

I want to compliment the Minister and the Government on bringing this Bill forward. I want to place on record these reservations I have and to say that it is a matter of absolute urgency that a comprehensive and complete study of the entire area of larceny and related areas be undertaken immediately.

I would like to pick up where my distinguished colleague, Senator Hourigan, left off with regard to Border and cross-Border trading. It is in that context that I welcome this Bill because I believe it is going to have a very immediate and important impact in helping to reduce, and hopefully eliminate, the amount of smuggling that goes on, particularly in electrical goods and the goods Senator Hourigan and other speakers have been referring to throughout this morning's debate. However, there are one or two points I would like to make very briefly to the Minister.

Unfortunately, we will always have in society the hard core criminal class — what the Garda refer to as the ODC, the ordinary decent criminal. However, the increase in the amount of stolen merchandise, and its availability throughout this country over the last decade particularly has been as much due to the economic circumstances in which many of our people have found themselves as any inclination towards criminal activity by society as a whole. Naturally, the steps that have been taken by the Government in recent years are to be welcomed in the economic sphere and one hopes the old adage that a rising tide lifts all boats will apply to this country's economy in the immediate and long-term future. In other words, if people can afford to pay the market rate for luxury items such as televisions, radios, hi-fi's, videos and household accessories such as carpets and so on, then they are less inclined to buy from the huckster arriving at their door with a television under one arm and a carpet under the other, saying they fell off the back of a lorry.

The Minister refers to the attitude that has developed towards this concept that the goods in question did fall off the back of a lorry, and so what and said this Bill wishes to address that attitude of acceptability. In the context also the new legislation is to be welcomed. There are many aspects of our society which need to be changed; attitudes towards criminal activity of this nature, attitudes towards alcoholism and drunkenness, a social acceptability that has spread throughout the land for whatever reason, because we are generally a law-abiding people. However, we seem to have a blind spot about certain activities in society and the receiving of stolen property is one of them.

I hope, however, this legislation will not go to the other extreme. I see where the Minister proposes to increase the penalties for those now convicted of the new crime of handling stolen property. A custodial sentence of 14 years is very severe indeed when one compares that sentence with sentences which the courts have handed out for other crimes. I have to confess that I would deem these other crimes to be much more serious — crimes against the person, crimes against women, crimes against women in the home. When one compares the sentences which have been handed out in those cases to the proposal in this Bill for a custodial sentence of 14 years, perhaps there is a need to reappraise our whole approach to the area of custodial sentencing.

I make that statement in the new international climate, where liberal democracies such as our own are beginning to question the efficacy of long custodial sentences. The rate of recidivism, of repeat crime, among the criminal class is very high. One must question, therefore, whether the thrust of future legislation of this nature should not be towards rehabilitation and, specifically in the area of stolen property, hitting the criminal where it hurts most — in their pocket — rather than locking them up for several years and then freeing them to go back on to the streets to repeat what they had been doing before they were convicted.

In that context I would like to suggest to the Minister that he might consider implementing what is already under active consideration in regard to drug barons, that their assets would be seized as part of the penalty, that legislation would be introduced which would permit the Garda to freeze bank accounts and to investigate their business records. The Minister made reference to the fact that his Department are considering that, although it is not in the Bill — in other words, to cut off the money supply. Any person involved in the area of making profit, criminal or honest, will very quickly reassess their situation if the profit-making line is cut off. If someone in business finds that their business is not succeeding they will give it up and turn to some other area. If the illegal assets, financial and otherwise, of the criminal class are seized and they know that the law is after them, they may be less inclined to stay in the business of selling stolen goods. I do not want to labour the point, but basically my suggestion is that the Minister, in the context of addressing the penalties meted out to those who break the law, should perhaps introduce a new era with less custodial sentencing and more rehabilitation and encouragement.

I began by referring to cross-Border trade. It is important to inform the House that for many years past, due to the price differential between North and South, Border traders — those who are left, because unfortunately many of them have gone out of business — found and are finding the market place extremely difficult. That is not surprising. When the playing field is not level and when the ground rules are not fair it is extremely difficult to play the game properly. Many traders along the Border counties have got out of retailing electrical goods mainly because of the price differential. This has created a boom area for illegal operators, many of them coming in from the other side of the Border, selling illegal goods.

I welcome the recent decision of the Minister for Finance to reduce the high rate of VAT on many of these luxury items from today, March 1 1990. I know it is only a start and one can only hope that the Minister will move rapidly over the next couple of years towards reducing and, hopefully, eliminating the price differential between North and South. But in specific terms, the top rate of VAT on electrical goods and luxury items in Northern Ireland is 15 per cent and it is now 23 per cent here. Coupled with the economies of scale which operate in Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom — it is obviously much cheaper to manufacture and sell to a total population of 56 million or 57 million than it is to a population of 3.5 million as we have in the Republic — it is not surprising that there has been a great deal of activity in the area of television sets, videos and such items falling off the backs of lorries and turning up on the doorsteps of southern households.

I am curious to know whether the powers of Customs officers will be extended to permit them to act under this new legislation, because much of what I have been talking about comes into the area of illegal smuggling. Those of us who live in the Border counties — and the Minister present will be as familiar with this as I am — know that customs officers are very active and it is not unusual to meet them about their duty within close proximity to the Border. This is as it should be. I believe that the powers and conditions of Customs officers operating in this area should be strengthened. I note that the Minister's Second Stage speech referred almost exclusively to the Garda and perhaps the Minister might be able to enlighten me as to whether there is already existing legislation to allow Customs officers to operate this law once it comes into being.

Again confining my remarks to the area I am most familiar with along the Border, the announcement by the Minister that he intends to continue to support the Garda and improve their means of combating crime is to be welcomed. Before I conclude I feel it would be important to place on the record of the House a recent article in the Garda Review in which members of the force, particularly those operating in the Border areas, discussed the difficulties they were facing in a climatic context, in an environmental context — in other words, that their uniforms needed to be adapted to the terrain and the environment in which they worked. The article pointed out that it was not conducive to maintaining the high morale of the force and that perhaps the Minister might give some consideration to the proposals that new uniforms be provided that would be more in keeping with the terrain and environment in which the Garda operate.

Like my colleagues, I generally welcome this Bill. I welcome it as part of the ongoing attempt by the Minister to update legislation which in some cases goes back to the last century or to the early part of this century. One can only hope that legislation of this nature will help to provide a more criminal-free environment for our people.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Senators for their contributions on this Bill. Some of the points raised were quite detailed and Senators will bear with me if I defer discussion on these until Committee Stage and confine my attention to the major points raised.

Senator Neville, Senator Norris and Senator Costello criticised the Bill because it does not follow the Law Reform Commission's recommendation that recklessness forms part of the mens rea of the new offence of handling. Let me assure Senators that this decision to depart from their recommendation was not lightly taken. It was a decision taken by Government after having weighed up many factors and consulted with a number of interests, including, most importantly, the DPP and the Garda authorities, who at the end of the day have the job of implementing whatever law is enacted. If they are satisfied that what is proposed in the Bill is likely to be the most effective in practice in bringing the handlers of hot goods to justice, then that is something which any Government must give serious consideration to.

I might add that this is not the first time a Government have departed from recommendations made by the commission, and very probably will not be the last. I might cite as an example the Status of Children Act, a matter in which this House played such a significant role. In that case the Government of the day decided, on policy grounds, to depart in a number of important respects from the commission's recommendations. All parties, including my own, in both Houses were happy to accept this approach. I give this example to illustrate that recommendations made by that body, though always deserving of serious consideration, should not be regarded as engraved on tablets of stone and thus as immutable as the laws of the Medes and the Persians. Governments will continue to deal with the recommendations of the commission in the best way they see fit. That is their prerogative.

Senator Neville suggested that the English legislation which has provided the basis for the mens rea for handling proposed in this Bill is in some way defective or unsatisfactory. That is simply not the case. There were certainly some initial problems in the lower courts in that jurisdiction, but these were very quickly sorted out by decisions of the appeal courts and the law there has been successfully bringing handlers of stolen property to justice for over 20 years now. I should like to stress, of course, that the proposal in this Bill is based on the English legislation, but with an important modification, that is, as Senators will be aware, the inclusion in the meaning of “belief” in the Bill of “thinking that the property in question was probably stolen”. I am satisfied that the formula in the Bill will be effective in bringing “fences” to justice.

Senators Neville and Norris also raised a critical eyebrow at the fact that the Bill provides a higher maximum sentence for handling than for the primary offence of larceny. As was stated in the Minister's opening speech, the provision of a higher maximum sentence reflects the view of the Government, and the message I feel should go out from these Houses, that handling is a more serious offence than the primary offence, because handling generates and encourages further crime, so much more crime that the most heinous instance of handling should attract a sentence of 14 years compared to ten years for larceny. The maximum sentence should only be handed down in the most serious cases. No one expects that sentences of such length should be handed out on a daily basis. By creating the differential the Bill can signal to the courts that handling is regarded by society as the more serious offence.

Senator Costello raised the related matter of alternative punishments. In doing so he raised questions of a much wider nature than can be encompassed in this Bill. I would like to draw his attention to the fact that in addition to the present range of alternative sanctions at the disposal of a sentencing judge, such as probation or community service, the Bill gives the choice of a fine as an addition to or in complete substitution for the imposition of a custodial sentence. I do not want to go further into the precise reasons recklessness was not adopted at this stage. I will deal with it in more detail on Committee Stage.

Senator O'Reilly referred to the proposed long sentence for handling and the question of compensation. I look forward to going into these matters when we are examining the provisions of the Bill later. I can confirm for Senator Norris that the provision in the 1916 Act about the admission of evidence of the accused's previous conviction or misconduct is being repealed in section 5 of the Bill. Senator Norris was concerned about the provisions of the Bill dealing with the Post Office Act, 1908. They can be regarded merely as tidying up provisions which do not make substantive changes except to bring maximum sentences into line with those provided in the remainder of the Bill. I understand that provisions for the examination of postal packets are contained in the Telecommunications Act, 1984. They are well outside the scope of this Bill.

With regard to Senator Costello's point about sociological contacts, would he not agree that the generals of crime who order the foot soldiers to steal to order are deserving of very little altruistic consideration? They are the persons at whom the Bill is targeted. The Government are proposing the measure on behalf of the ordinary members of society, the victims of the nightly pillage that goes on in our cities and towns. Senator Costello also referred to the implementation of the Law Reform Commission's recommendation on alternative verdicts for theft and handling charges. How can he say that in view of section 8?

I take this opportunity to thank Members for their constructive and very worthwhile contributions. I am sure Members who wish to deal in more detail and tease out various sections will have an opportunity at an early stage when the Committee, Report and Final Stages are taken.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 7 March 1990.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

I have not got any instructions from the Leader of the House on this.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is 2.30 p.m. next Wednesday agreed?