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Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The Home Secretary has been justifying the guillotine motion on the basis of the Opposition's tactics. He is of course aware of the reasoned amendment to Third Reading that has been signed by 18 of his Back Benchers. Perhaps the truth is that the guillotine motion is to prevent his Back Benchers from articulating their opposition to the Bill.
Mr. Straw: That is utter nonsense. The debate will show that there is no suggestion or possibility that those who take a different view on this issue, whether on the right hon. and learned Gentleman's side of the House or mine, should not express their point of view.
Mr. Straw: I make an honourable exception of the hon. Gentleman. This great issue that the Opposition have raised could take up only four Committee sittings, and the Bill reported by agreement without ever a closure motion being moved. So the idea that there is now insufficient time to debate the issue--we have five hours altogether--is frankly fanciful.
Mr. Malins: The Home Secretary will be aware that there are four groups of amendments and that each is led by one that I have tabled. What evidence does he have that I would choose to filibuster, knowing as he does that all I have ever sought is to debate briefly and to the point? What does he have to say against me?
Mr. Straw: I made an honourable exception of the hon. Gentleman, in respect of whom I have no such evidence. However, I need only look at Hansard for 24 to 26 January to find evidence of the capacity of others among his erstwhile hon. Friends--including the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who smilingly pleads guilty to the charge--to filibuster even matters that Opposition Front Benchers support.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I was a member of the Standing Committee. I cannot understand why the Home Secretary, with one breath, asserts that we will filibuster, but, with the next, says that those who were members of the Standing Committee were prepared to engage in serious debates, in which the former Attorney- General and others spoke, without filibustering. How can
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman makes my point that there has already been adequate discussion as far as the Opposition are concerned. However, having read the report of the Standing Committee, I know that he almost reached the point at which he agreed with the terms of the Bill. I am glad to know that he was persuaded by the eloquence of the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke).
The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) makes my second point for me by pointing out that, although there are four groups of amendments to the Bill, encompassing 14 amendments selected by Madam Speaker, not one of the lead amendments has been tabled by the official Opposition Front-Bench team. There has never been such an incompetent Opposition--they are incompetent even by their own standards. We have moved the timetable motion because we know of the capacity of the current Opposition to attempt to talk out even measures with which they agree. They are complaining that there is insufficient time, so we should attempt to deal with the guillotine motion as quickly as possible so that we can get on to the amendments and Third Reading.
The Bill is not about abolishing the right to a jury trial, and I am flattered that the Opposition feel the need to parody and distort our proposal in order to oppose it. It is about following the practice of every other common law jurisdiction that we can find, which ensures that decisions on which sort of court should try cases should be made judicially by the court, not at the election of individual defendants. I remind the House that such proposals have been the subject of serious discussion for at least seven years. The royal commission report published in 1993 recommended:
Mr. Straw: I shall bring my remarks to a close as soon as I am able to do so. My point is that the matter has been the subject of considerable discussion both inside and outside Parliament for some time.
Mr. Straw: My hon. and learned Friend is wrong in every particular. The Lord Chief Justice was speaking at this time last year, some months before the No. 1 Bill was published, and he was talking at large about the general principle of whether or not mode of trial in either-way cases should be determined judicially or by the defendant.
Mr. Straw: The one point of principle that the Lord Chief Justice, entirely properly, raised in discussions with me before the publication of the No. 1 Bill, to which he referred in his speech on the Second Reading of that Bill late last year--five months after making his speech at Mansion House--was whether or not, in contrast to the royal commission's recommendation, the mode of trial should be simply for decision by magistrates without any right of appeal, or whether there should be a right of appeal. We agreed between us that there should be a right of appeal to an experienced Crown court judge against a decision to refuse to transfer jurisdiction to the Crown court, and that provision was put into the No. 1 Bill.
My hon. and learned Friend's claims are both inappropriate and disingenuous. There was indeed discussion between the Lord Chief Justice at the time and myself about changes that we proposed should be made in the No. 2 Bill. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and I have always said that our reason for making those changes was to achieve a balance. We made them because of concerns expressed in the other place about the No. 1 Bill and on Commons Second Reading of the No. 2 Bill that the inclusion of criteria relating to reputation could lead to two-tier justice.
I shall deal with the exchange of correspondence with the Lord Chief Justice. When we were discussing the issue over preceding months, the Lord Chief Justice made it clear to me that he regarded the issue of whether there was a right of appeal as one of principle. That became clear when he spoke on Second Reading of the No.1 Bill in December. However, unlike the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway, he is in favour of the principle of having the mode of trial determined judicially. My hon. and learned Friend must accept that he opposes not only the position in the No. 2 Bill, which I adopt, but the criteria that the Lord Chief Justice supported. He opposes any suggestion that the right to elect jury trial should be transferred to the magistrates, with a right of appeal, rather than being left with the defendant, as it is now.
What happened? I wrote to the Lord Chief Justice on 21 February to explain our thinking, picking up on the representations that had been made. The Lord Chief Justice wrote to me on 22 February to say that many different things might be relevant in answering the question, which is where the matter may be tried. He wrote that