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Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South): Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Garnier: The hon. Gentleman might let me carry on for a moment while I am expressing my high opinion of the Home Secretary.

The Home Secretary has an enormous legislative programme in this Session, and he has had a great deal else to deal with on top of that, including the welfare and accommodation arrangements of General Pinochet during his stay in this country, discussions with the Foreign Secretary on how best to ensure that the President of China was suitably cared for by the police during his stay here, and the welfare and accommodation arrangements for the passengers and crew of the hijacked Afghan aeroplane.

Each of those matters will have kept the Home Secretary busy polishing his periscope and adjusting his wing mirrors to see where the next disaster was coming from, because he knew that no sooner had he dealt, or failed to deal, with the fiasco of the passport office, than another disaster was bound to come at him unannounced. Every time a prisoner falls out of the bed, the Home Secretary is held responsible; every time an octogenarian Soviet sympathiser confesses that she was a communist spy--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Those problems come with the Home Secretary's territory, but they are not within the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Garnier: I appreciate that your patience may be wearing thin, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but if you will allow me to develop my point, you will find that it fits in extremely neatly with the arguments.

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Every time that the Home Secretary tries to do something, such as dispersing asylum seekers throughout the country, he takes the blame when the plans fall apart. He used to laugh off the catalogue of disasters that have marked his period of office by saying that he could now call himself a fully paid-up member of the Home Secretaries' club--a nice little joke, but it would appeal to the public only if the disaster that hit him had not been wholly foreseeable.

Being a Labour Home Secretary is a big job. It requires 24-hour-a-day vigilance and the political radar of a nuclear-fuelled bat to survive the criticism of the press and of one's colleagues in the House, the Cabinet and the wider party outside. It brings on a state of mind that demands success at all costs in every battle. Retreat becomes unthinkable. Intelligent regrouping or choosing another way forward is retreat.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am anxious to hear arguments relating to the Bill. The House is merely getting is a lot of flannel from the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I have already made an observation on the matter. Although a Second Reading debate allows a certain leeway, we cannot stray entirely from the Bill.

Mr. Garnier: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am speaking about the Bill and its creator. What we have--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. As chairman of the proceedings, I would say that the hon. and learned Gentleman has made the point that our Home Secretary is an extremely hard-working Home Secretary. We must move on.

Mr. Garnier: What we have is a Home Secretary who is persisting with this silly and unthinkable Bill, not because it will do good or because it is the right thing to do, but because if he were to withdraw it and pass the issue to the Auld inquiry into the criminal courts, he fears that he will be seen as weak, as the Home Secretary who gave way to the unelected House of Lords--albeit softened up by the Prime Minister's removal of the hereditary peerage--as the Home Secretary who gave in to the 69 Members of this House who signed the early-day motion criticising his stance, and as the Home Secretary who was pushed around by his colleagues who are responsible for today's amendment.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Garnier: The Home Secretary fears that he will be seen as the Home Secretary who gave in to those of his hon. Friends who fulminate against him on the one hand for trying to be the darling of the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, and on the other for being the poodle of the Treasury.

Mr. Bermingham: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman answer two simple questions? Do he and his party agree that the Crown Prosecution Service should set the level of the charge? If so, do they agree that the CPS

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should decide the level of venue, so that we could end once and for all our rather stupid system of hybrid offences and perhaps follow the Scottish system in full?

Mr. Garnier: The interesting point is that the Home Secretary prays in aid the Scottish system, but does it, as the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) pointed out, in such a way that he misuses the Scottish example. I shall come on to that.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Is the hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that the House would be better off with a Home Secretary who was overruled by the courts on, I think, 11 occasions, rather than with the current one?

Mr. Garnier: If the hon. Lady thought that she was helping her side, she has another think coming.

It is because the Home Secretary has been doing too much, because he has been overwhelmed by the volume of paper and advice in his Red Box with which he has to contend, because he does not dare admit that he is wrong, and because he believes that he must devour with gusto every scrap piled on his plate, that he has trapped himself with this Bill.

The Bill does not and will not appeal to the writers or the readers of the Daily Mail or The Daily Telegraph, or to the writers or the readers of The Guardian or The Observer, all of whom know in their heads and their hearts that it is wrong and muddled.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths: The hon. and learned Gentleman has been speaking for 10 minutes. We want to hear his fundamental opposition to the Bill. As he mentioned Scotland, has he considered the fact that more than 50,000 people in Scotland every year are tried without being allowed to elect for jury trial, and that that has been going on not just for the 18 years his party was in power, but at least since the 1600s? As there has been no outcry from Liberty or anyone else that that has caused any great breach of justice, does he accept that there are strong merits in the Scottish system, and that it is those merits and that part of the system which my right hon. Friend is trying to incorporate in the Bill?

Mr. Garnier: There may well be merits in the Scottish system, but the Home Secretary is not trying to incorporate that system in the Bill. If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) had studied the Bill, perhaps he would not have made that intervention.

The Bill is also designed to appeal to the Treasury, despite claims that it will lead to savings of only £128 million. That is a smaller figure than the sum that the Government have made the taxpayers of Britain spend on General Pinochet in the past 16 months. The Home Secretary enabled him to escape trial--before a jury or otherwise--in this country or anywhere else because he permitted him, at least, the right of election; he granted him the right to choose a confidential medical examination.

Not long ago, an hon. Member for Blackburn spoke about a suggestion that the House should restrict a defendant's right to elect trial by jury in the Crown court.

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On 27 February 1997, little more than two months before the general election, whereafter he became Home Secretary and a right hon. Member, he said:

    Let me now refer to the proposal to end the right of many defendants to elect for trial by jury, even though they may face charges of dishonesty, and their reputation and their whole future may be at stake. Surely, cutting down the right to jury trial, making the system less fair, is not only wrong but short-sighted and likely to prove ineffective . . . Is it not the case that that not only is the view of the Opposition and many practitioners and jurists, but was the view of the Secretary of State, at least until today?

If the cap fits, wear it. The same man today sneers at woolly liberal lawyers from Hampstead who oppose the Bill. If he was right in February 1997, he is wrong now. If he thought that the justification for opposing the change was sustainable then, his current volte-face is incredible and--worse--risible.

The Home Secretary may believe that charges of theft, arson, burglary, handling stolen goods and some sex crimes are trivial now, but for those in the dock, they can be life-wrecking and career-shattering. In February 1997, he said:

I agreed with the right hon. Gentleman then. However, unlike him, I adhere to the principle of justice for all now. When the Home Secretary changes his mind, it is apparently a matter for self-congratulation; but the fate of those who have not changed their minds and oppose his policy is to be castigated and abused.

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