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Mr. Hogg: Will my hon. Friend take this explanation? Perhaps the Government were not worried about not being able to control their Back Benchers--it was the fact of Labour Back Benchers in considerable numbers opposing the Bill that was embarrassing to Ministers.
Mr. Malins: My right hon. and learned Friend is right. The Government have been driven to move their guillotine motion by the very fact that so many Labour Back Benchers, who have behaved so honourably in this matter, oppose the Bill.
The former Lord Chief Justice's comments on the matter have already been mentioned. Although I have never spoken to the former Lord Chief Justice, I respect his views immensely. However, in past years, I have had the advantage of speaking to literally hundreds of those who sit in our judicial system--to magistrates across the country; to stipendiary magistrates, both in London and in the provinces; to recorders of the Crown court; and to Crown court judges, who daily administer justice. Although their views on the matter are divided, many of them share the concerns of Opposition Members. However, they would all be united in one opinion.
If I were to say to any one of those people that the House is going to spend only two hours debating all the remaining stages of the Bill, he or she would be horrified. They would not be able to understand how hon. Members can conduct our affairs so stupidly that we spend only two hours debating a Bill that affects the fundamental liberties of millions of people. The judiciary would be united on that one point.
The guillotine is not even necessary. Why should we guillotine these four groups of amendments? No Opposition Member would speak to any of them at great length. Are the amendments so unimportant that they deserve not even two hours of debate? Indeed, after time spent on Third Reading and perhaps on a Division halfway through our debates, we might have only minutes to debate each group of amendments.
Labour Members know as well as I do that the workings of this place are such that, in all probability, most of these amendments will not be discussed at all. They will never be discussed. Why have we even attended the debate? Some Labour Members know about the subject, as do some Opposition Members. However, we will not be able to discuss the amendments. Is anyone proud of that? I am not.
The first group of amendments deals with committals for sentence--sending people to the Crown court for sentence after we have forced them to have a magistrates court trial. Is that not an issue worthy of debate?
The second contains a vital amendment seeking to have the accused's circumstances taken into account. Is not that what the Bill is all about? Are we not going to talk about that? Does it not deserve more time?
The third group of amendments deals with certain rights for the accused after a decision is made by the magistrates court, such as the right to have the reasons for that decision recorded in the register and given to the accused in writing. Are not those important issues that affect people's daily lives?
The fourth group of amendments deals with the appeals process. It is concerned not with giving the accused the right to appeal on paper, as I understand is being proposed, but with the accused's right to be represented and heard before a judge. Does anyone think that that is not worthy of discussion? Does anyone really think that we do ourselves justice by devoting only two hours of our time to debating issues of such importance?
There are other issues. However, no one will have a chance to address the disclosure of documents. Who will have the chance to talk about the costs--the so-called savings--of the Bill? Who will have a chance to discuss the views of the ethnic minorities, who have something to say about jury trial? We sit here simply waiting--waiting perhaps to vote.
In my view, this is a travesty of a parliamentary proceeding. This is not what I was elected for. I come to today's debates with some knowledge of the subject, and yet--for the second time in a fortnight--I may not be able to contribute. I could have contributed also to our debates on the Football (Disorder) Bill, and I am sure that other hon. Members could have contributed even more. Although I lack knowledge on many subjects, Labour Members and Opposition Members may well possess that knowledge. Let them have a chance to speak, rather than simply to go through the Lobby.
Here we are--we have let ourselves down again. We are facing a guillotine motion from an autocratic Government who do not seem to want to listen to Members of this House. Members of the public who regard the right to jury trial as one of most important rights, whether they are for it or against it, will look at us today and say, "Two hours to discuss all that? You should be ashamed of yourselves." We should be.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): It is a great honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). I feel that I can do no more than to adopt what he has said, because he speaks from such great personal experience. I should like, however, to make another point.
I am not necessarily opposed to timetabling Bills, which I think can be quite good if it is done by consensus. I should certainly not like it if, in any future reform, the Government were made solely responsible for timetabling Bills. I should like the Government to present their programme to Parliament, for both Whips Offices to make representations, and then for the Speaker and the Speaker's Deputies to determine the timetable. I think that that would be the fair way to go about it. Nevertheless, I am not necessarily opposed to timetabling.
I am also not necessarily opposed to guillotines. The Home Secretary was quite right to say that, since the passage of the government of Ireland legislation at the end of the 19th century, all Governments have been faced with determined Opposition tactics to delay Bills dealing with matters of high principle. As we all know, delay is the only weapon available to Oppositions. All Oppositions--including the previous, Labour Opposition, and the current Opposition--have resorted to perfectly legitimate time-wasting activities because that is the only weapon available to us. There is nothing wrong with using that weapon. Equally, however, as we all realise, the Government have to have their way, even if we are debating a very complex and long Bill and the Opposition are determined to go on talking. There is no argument about that.
Today, however, we are talking about a very different type of Bill. This is a rather strange Bill. Although it deals with a matter of high principle, it is not very technical, and it addresses an issue that we can all understand. It is very easy to understand the Bill's basic concept: whether those who are accused of dishonesty--or other offences, but primarily dishonesty--should have an absolute right to be tried by a jury of their peers. We are talking primarily about people of good character who are accused of crimes such as shoplifting. We are perhaps talking about a case involving a middle-aged housewife who has shoplifted and now faces a devastating moment in her life. The concept is quite easy to grasp and probably does not require tremendous time for debate.
Nevertheless, although the concept is simple enough, it is also very ancient. Last night, on a point of order, I said that the concept was seven centuries old, but I was wrong--it is more than eight centuries old. After a bit more research, I have found that the concept of trial by jury dates back to Henry II, and that it was given impetus by the fact that, in November 1215, the then Pope abolished trial by ordeal. People feel very strongly about that ancient right, and they want to talk about it. They do not want to talk about it at inordinate length--they simply want to have their say and to have their day in court. That is quite reasonable.
Interestingly, in 1275, jury trial was given another impetus by a form of torture called peine forte et dure, whereby people were placed between two planks with increasingly heavy weights placed on top of them.
Although the Bill deals with a matter of huge importance, we could have dealt with it fairly. Reference has been made to the famous Committee stage. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking could not be a member of that Committee, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) and I were the Conservative Back Benchers on it. We had some good debates. The whole thing was finished in eight hours. There has never been any question that we tried to delay matters unduly. Following what happened in that Committee, there was surely never any question that we would come here tonight to filibuster, time waste and the rest of it.
There is an honest difference of opinion in the House on the matter. Some take a principled stance and are opposed to any limitation of trial by jury. One can understand their view. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) is a distinguished proponent of that view. Others like myself take a different view and would be prepared to accept some limitation on the right to trial by jury, but want the reputation of the accused to be taken into account.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woking went through the four groups of amendments. The first group is important. It deals with an issue that is perhaps of particular importance to lawyers--committal for sentence. We could debate it for an hour or so. One can see quickly that, once we had debated that group for an hour or an hour and a half, it is possible that on the crucial second set of amendments--on matters to be considered by the court when determining mode of trial--there would be no prospect of voting. There may not even be time to have a serious debate.
I keep hearing comments from a sedentary position that we could have had five hours of debate on the amendments if we had not spoken on the guillotine motion. I hope that the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) will forgive me if I say that that is rather an arrogant attitude. After all, if the Government introduce a guillotine motion on a measure to abolish a right that has been around since 1215, it is not unreasonable that a few Members of Parliament should debate it.