Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Hughes: The right hon. Gentleman's party tabled the guillotine, not us. That is why we are having the debate. We would happily debate the amendments, although we oppose the Bill, for reasons that I believe to be self-evident. He opposed a similar proposal in 1997, so I am surprised that he--

Mr. Michael rose--

Mr. Hughes: No, I will not give way again.

Mr. Michael: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Bill embodies a principle that I, as an experienced magistrate, have always supported.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is a matter for debate, not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Hughes: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Hogg: Should not the hon. Gentleman also remind the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) that the Government have decided that the time taken for the debate must come out of the time allocated for the substantive debates on the Bill. That is their decision.

Mr. Hughes: That is absolutely true. The Government did not have to make such provision, and time could have been allocated for the guillotine and for the substantive debates. They are curtailing debate, and must take responsibility for that.

Although some amendments tabled by us and by the Conservatives were not selected, we want to debate the issues as much as possible because we believe that the case for not passing the Bill into law is overwhelming. We happen to believe that the Government's guillotine steamroller will make it much less likely that the Bill will become law. Bizarrely and paradoxically, it is the other place that perpetually has to slow the Government down when they use their artificial majority in this place to push measures through against opinion elsewhere, however well informed.

The Home Secretary, I hope not intentionally, led us to believe that the Bill would not take away a right. However, although it will not end jury trial, the right to choose trial by jury in England and Wales for charges such as making threats to kill, assault, possession of offensive weapons, child abduction, burglary, theft, handling, indecent assault, indecency between males, unlawful sexual intercourse with girls under 16, cruelty to children and violent disorder will be removed. If those are not important matters, on which people might want to choose who should try them, I do not know what important matters are.

The Government have never said that jury trial is not a good form of trial. On the contrary, they want to keep it for other offences.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman, too, is straying from the allocation of time motion. I should be grateful if he returned to it.

Mr. Hughes: I shall try to be very good and not stray from the motion.

25 Jul 2000 : Column 958

My proposition is that the Government have no justification for guillotining debate on the Bill. What in the Home Secretary's remarks was new? Nothing. What new evidence is there for putting the Bill on the statute book quickly? None. Is the right to trial by jury more widely abused than before? No. The evidence is in the other direction. Fewer people than before elect to go to the Crown court. Fewer people than before who go to Crown court "get off". Has the guillotine been tabled because we need to respond urgently to a royal commission? No, because the royal commission report was published in 1993. The Labour party described it as short-sighted then, and did not think it necessary to respond to it, either between 1993 and 1997 or between 1997 and 2000. Do we urgently need to respond to the Narey report? No. The report was published in 1997, before the election. The Labour party in opposition disagreed with it and said that its recommendations were wrong.

Mr. Hawkins: Including the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael).

Mr. Hughes: All Government Members, including the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, upheld the present position--the right to choose jury trial--at the election.

Do we urgently need to act because a past Lord Chief Justice or the new Lord Chief Justice has told the Government, "You urgently need to act." Not at all. Senior members of the judiciary have been asked their views, but have not proposed any initiatives. Much more importantly, do we urgently need to respond because an independent review of the law has just been undertaken? No. The Government asked Lord Justice Auld to carry out an independent review, and he has started work and produced a non-exhaustive list of issues on which he is basing that review. He is reviewing this question on behalf of the Government right now:

Such questions are being asked of the judge who is currently carrying out the review. On 5 May, he produced his progress report to Ministers about which questions he is focusing on, including the simple question:

The person who has been asked to produce a report has not reported, yet the Government are legislating before receiving the evidence. That represents bad legislation, bad timetabling and a bad argument for speedily moving in that direction.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has not the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) wandered even further from the point than the two previous speakers, who were rightly called to order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is entirely a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Hughes: I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

25 Jul 2000 : Column 959

All the arguments for haste, urgency and the guillotine motion are contradicted by the facts. Any urgency that there might have been when the Government introduced the Bill at the beginning of the year has lessened. The plea before venue initiative, which requires a plea to be made before the venue is decided, has reduced the number of people who change their plea. Disincentives to changing a plea late--removing the sentence discount, for example--have been introduced. With every month that has passed since the Bill was introduced, those measures have meant that fewer people have changed their plea late.

What is the reason for the urgency? Are the Government desperately short of public money, so that they have to make savings? Even if the measure will achieve a saving, that argument falls. Last week the Chancellor said that he had £43 billion of public money and handed it out left, right and centre like Father Bountiful. Even if the argument for the Bill is that it will save money, as the Prime Minister often says, I cannot believe that that is the argument for acting so quickly now. Is there new evidence from Scotland? There is not. Scotland has never had a right to jury trial, so it is not a parallel jurisdiction. England had an automatic right to jury trial until the middle of the previous century. No, there are no new arguments about costings, savings or benefits.

Is there a case for less scrutiny? Are the Government performing in such a way that the public can be confident that Parliament ought to spend less time considering legislation? No such evidence has been provided by the Home Office legislative programme over the past few months. It is not as if the Government always get it right and introduce Bills so well drafted and so carefully prepared that they glide through this House and on to the other place. The scrutiny that this House and the other place have given Bills has been central to our ability to get right what would otherwise have been severely flawed legislation. After proper scrutiny of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill and the Terrorism Bill we were able to ensure that the burden of proof was clearly with the prosecution. In spite of the guillotine motion last week, after proper scrutiny in this House and in the other place we were able to get changes in the Football (Disorder) Bill. The House of Lords has voted on the timetable for further changes, and has now refused to proceed as quickly as the Government would like it to, because it wants time to scrutinise the Bill properly.

This House and the other place are insisting that we scrutinise legislation to get it right. The number of times that the Government have introduced legislation that has clearly been flawed and has had to be amended is evidence, if it were needed, that we should consider the Bill very carefully.

The Bill is about the most fundamental right of a person charged with a serious offence--to be tried by his ordinary fellow citizens. It is a right that enables the most vulnerable, the most ill educated and the most prejudiced against to feel that they have a chance to put their case fairly. We are not against magistrates; we are not suggesting that they do not do a good job. We are saying that juries do a better job. We want all our citizens to have the right to let juries decide.

25 Jul 2000 : Column 960

If the Government are determined, against what they said in their manifesto, against all the indications, and against all the principles on which some of us thought the Labour party had come to office, to railroad the Bill through, against the evidence, against public opinion, against the advice of the House of Lords and against the view of many Labour Members, they must allow the House of Commons adequate time to stand up for the rights of the citizen.

I ask all hon. Members, especially Labour Members, who were elected to oppose such legislation, to give the Government the sharpest warning possible. The Government should await the Auld committee's recommendations, like the rest of us, so that we have some evidence and up-to-date opinion, and do not legislate in haste. It is perfectly reasonable to review the law, but we should ensure that if we consider changing it, we do so having listened to the voices and taken a free vote of the representatives, not a dragooned vote imposed by the Government against the clock.

This is a scandalous guillotine motion, and in our view, this is a scandalous Bill. I hope that the Government do not get it through the other place, even if they get it through this House. That would serve them right, and the public would, mercifully, be spared this bad legislation from--at least on this issue--an extremely illiberal, authoritarian and oppressive Government.

Next Section

IndexHome Page