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7.13 pm

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spent a considerable part of his speech--over half an hour--dealing with the views of the former Lord Chief Justice, and the comments that he had made about those views on Second Reading. He plainly thought that that was meat for a guillotine debate, and so do I. The views of the former Lord Chief Justice and the other senior judiciary are critical to this issue because they will sway Members of the House.

On Second Reading, at the beginning of the debate, my right hon. Friend said:

not a single Member of the House had the slightest doubt that when my right hon. Friend said "it" he meant the Bill--

We never debated that assertion, because we accepted it implicitly from the Home Secretary. Had there been reason to doubt it, that debate would have been very different. If there is now reason to doubt that assertion, this debate should be very different. We now need to spend time considering, challenging and analysing that statement. My right hon. Friend obviously thought that it was right to spend such a long time on it and to deal with what I had said about it, and I agree with him.

I know that you will bear with me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I deal with the assertion that was made about the views of the Lord Chief Justice. It gives me no pleasure to say that there is not the slightest doubt that the Home Secretary's statement on Second Reading, either wilfully or otherwise, misled the House. There is not the slightest doubt that the Lord Chief Justice did not give--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman must be careful with the words he uses.

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He cannot suggest, directly or indirectly, that the Home Secretary has misled the House. I should be grateful if he would rephrase his comments.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: My right hon. Friend's statement was manifestly inaccurate. I shall spend a moment explaining how that came about, because I took down exactly what my right hon. Friend said. He spoke at length about my views on the Bill, and he knows perfectly well that I and many of my colleagues have always been completely against it. We believe fundamentally in the right to elect jury trial for all the reasons that have been so articulately set out.

In the opinion of some, including the much-respected Lord Chief Justice, the Bill was acceptable, but only because of the recommendation of the Runciman royal commission that it should contain a reputation and livelihood clause. That matter is not peripheral, as my right hon. Friend suggested; it is central to the Bill. It is so central that on 10 March, three days after my right hon. Friend made his speech on Second Reading, Professor Michael Zander, the chief jurist on the Runciman royal commission, withdrew his support and stated publicly that the commission's support for the Bill could no longer be relied on. That shows how critical the matter was.

If Professor Zander had withdrawn his support, it seemed to me that the Lord Chief Justice may have withdrawn his support too, so I wrote to him and I asked him whether he had done so. I received a reply by return saying that he was embarrassed because he had been in correspondence with the Home Secretary and he did not wish to breach confidence. He said that he would waive any confidence in that correspondence if I wrote to the Home Secretary, which I did on 4 July.

Between 4 July and Friday of last week I heard precisely nothing from the Home Office. I had asked for details of that correspondence, and in particular of the views of the Lord Chief Justice that had been so glowingly endorsed by my right hon. Friend. On Thursday of last week, when we learned that the Bill was to be sprung out, I got in touch with my right hon. Friend's private office asking as a matter of urgency that I receive a reply. I got it by fax yesterday.

I confess that I was surprised by the fact that the correspondence revealed that the Lord Chief Justice had written to my right hon. Friend on 22 February, two weeks before the debate on Second Reading. I shall quote a little from that letter--it is very short. It said:

That letter had been entirely about the withdrawal of the safeguard of reputation and livelihood.

The Lord Chief Justice continued:

He went on to deal with the Bill, and, at the end of the next paragraph of his letter, said:

He then gave two examples of actual cases in which injustice would plainly result, and went on to say--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman is responding in part to earlier remarks

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by the Home Secretary, and I have therefore given him a little leeway, but he must direct his comments towards the allocation of time motion.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: I entirely accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I think that if you bear with me for a moment you will see why I raise the matter. There is very little more of the letter, and when I have finished quoting from it I shall end my speech.

The Lord Chief Justice wrote:

The Lord Chief Justice added--my right hon. Friend cited this passage--

Not a word was sent to Lord Bingham before Second Reading; but, bearing in mind what Lord Bingham had said in his letter, my right hon. Friend said at the beginning of the debate:

That, in my respectful submission, constitutes a fairly strange construction of the words "active", "endorsement" and "enjoys".

It is plain that Lord Justice Bingham was extremely concerned about the Bill. That is what we need to debate. The concerns that he aired, from an immensely respected position, were precisely the issues that we were put off debating on Second Reading by the Home Secretary's assertion. I make no bones about it: that assertion was wrong, and because it was wrong we did not debate the issue adequately.

Many of my colleagues were moved intellectually--undoubtedly and understandably--by what they understood to be the imprimatur of the Lord Chief Justice. However, now that we know that that was wrong, we need to ventilate the matter in full, so that the House can proceed on the basis of knowing precisely what the senior judiciary are saying.

It gives me no pleasure to bring this matter before the House. I do not suggest for a moment that what happened was deliberate, and I hoped to hear my right hon. Friend say that it was an error. I am sorry to say, however, that his reply centred on the definition of the word "it", which Members may not consider entirely satisfactory.

Thank you for bearing with me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Mine was a somewhat lengthy speech, given that this is a guillotine debate. For the reasons I have given, I urge Members to oppose the motion, so that we can engage in a proper and constructive debate on one of the most important issues that the House has debated in the new Parliament.

7.24 pm

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): I endorse what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews).

An amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition suggests that we should have eight hours for tonight's debate. If the Home Secretary agreed now to allow those eight hours--it is open to him

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to do so--I should be happy to say no more now, to sit down, and to allow the House to proceed with the debate on the substantive issues. However, there are important substantive issues to be discussed.

As is well known, I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Medway that the Bill is wrong in principle. That is an issue for Second Reading and Third Reading debates, which will rightly be dealt with on Third Reading tonight if we have time; but with only five hours we shall not have time for a proper debate, and I therefore hope that we shall have eight hours.

There are other important matters, even below the fundamental point of principle. That point was well put by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). We are talking about an ancient right of the people of England and Wales, dating back specifically to 1855, but in fact dating back to the century or so after Magna Carta. As long ago as the 14th century, all serious cases were tried by jury; indeed, the penalty for not accepting trial by jury in the early years was to be crushed to death.

Jury trial is a great upholder of our liberties. It is a very important part of our democracy. We need time to convey that point--which is not widely understood--to the Chamber, and to the country at large.

Some, like Lord Bingham--whom I hold in the greatest respect--may disagree with me. They may believe that the question where a person should be tried is a judicial question, which should be decided by a court rather than by the individual citizen as of right. Even they, however, must accept that the Bill fundamentally transgresses what both the former Lord Chief Justice and the Runciman royal commission made clear was a fundamental condition--that the court deciding where a trial should be held should be able to take into account all relevant matters, and in particular the question of reputation.

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