|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): I apologise for intervening, because I have only recently come into the debate. However, as there is a wide variation in sentencing between different Crown court centres, will the hon. Gentleman tell us how on earth we will achieve, under this ridiculous new system, uniformity of appeal procedures as between Crown court centres?
Mr. Clappison: The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. He will be as disappointed as I am to see that the appeals process will be considered in the fourth group of amendments--the group least likely to be debated. I know that the Home Secretary sets particular store by the appeals process, so it is a shame that we will not have an opportunity to test in debate his arguments for that process. Many people in the legal profession, including the hon. Gentleman, are worried about the complexity of the process and the time that it will cause to be lost in the courts system, delaying cases with all the expense and inconvenience that will result. That is another issue that we shall not have sufficient time to debate.
The position of the man in the street in respect of the appeals process are issues that should be debated at length. I should have declared my interest as a member of the Bar at the beginning of my speech, but as I said on Second Reading, I feel strongly about the position of the man in the street. He will not face the serious allegations that will entitle him to a trial by jury, but may face allegations that may matter to him a great deal. He will not be able to turn up at the magistrates court with expensive solicitors and expensive counsel--I mean no disrespect to anyone present--with the impression that they would create. There will be interest in the cases of business men, famous people and celebrities and they will turn up at the magistrates court with their expensive counsel, who will be armed with all the legal arguments. Under the proposed system, such people will have the right to elect for trial by jury in a Crown court if they want it. The ordinary man in the street will not have that opportunity; he will lose out. I hope that I have made that point clearly, because I feel strongly about it.
The second reason for having more time to debate the Bill is its history in the House of Lords. The reasons for curtailing the debate sit uneasily with what the Government have said about the House of Lords. It has been partially reformed because the Government have got rid of some, if not all, of the hereditary element. The Government believe that that gives the House of Lords a more legitimate voice and they have also conceded that the other place's purpose, as a second Chamber, is to give this House an opportunity to think again about particular pieces of legislation.
This Bill came before the House of Lords and was defeated there. It was withdrawn and then reintroduced in this House--albeit with amendments. However, if debate on Report--the first opportunity that Members who were not on the Committee have to debate amendments to the Bill--is curtailed to just five hours, what does that say about our system of government and the way the
I now come to my third reason for thinking that the Government need to give the Bill more time. It is for the Government themselves to justify the course that they are taking on trial by jury. Today, the Home Secretary sought to justify the Government's course by referring to the views of the former Lord Chief Justice. I do not want to go into that any further, but the Home Secretary owes the House and the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) an explanation--indeed more of an explanation than we have heard so far. I shall not pursue that, but want to deal with the other great support that the Government prayed in aid, namely, the views of the royal commission which the Prime Minister, as well as the Home Secretary, said were among the main reasons for introducing the Bill.
The Home Secretary also owes it to the House to say a little more about the views that he expressed at the time of the Narey review, which he prayed in aid as another support for the Bill. He will remember that, in February 1997, when the Narey commission reported, he said that the proposal to cut down the right to jury trial, which is what the Bill amounts to, was
What has made this difference to the Home Secretary's view? What circumstance has changed, and what has the Home Secretary become aware of now that he was not aware of in 1997? We need some time to debate that, and I hope that the Home Secretary will shortly have the opportunity to do that, as he owes it to the House to say a little more about why the Government are taking that course on a fundamental civil liberty. The Government need time to do that: to deal with the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Medway and the question of reputation; and to explain the history of the Bill and the reason it has been brought to the House in a particular way. Frankly, time is needed if the Home Secretary is to try and save the Government's reputation on civil liberties.
I am a reader of The Guardian, and, as it said, civil liberty is this Government's poor relation; indeed, it is being trampled underfoot at great speed without sufficient justification. Government Members need to do more than harrumph, as they did a moment ago, and they must come up with better and more cogent reasons than they have so far.
A noticeable feature of our debate is that not a single speaker on either side of the house, whether from the Liberal Democrat party, the official Opposition or the Government Back Benches, has sought to support the course that the Government are taking in the Bill. The Government need to do much better in seeking to defend the Bill because, so far, they do not have a leg to stand on. They look as if they are prepared to use their majority just to drive through a damaging piece of legislation that will affect the civil liberties of the ordinary man in the street. They could not care less about parliamentary procedure, the views of the House, or anybody outside it.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): This has been one of the best debates that I have heard in my eight years in this House, although I except from that description the Home Secretary's opening speech. He began by trying to justify at great length his Second Reading speech, and to deal with the fact that the researches of the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) on the former Lord Chief Justice have blown his gaff. The Home Secretary's speech was convoluted, disingenuous and wrong.
In other speeches, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), we heard something of the history of trial by jury, and the fact that it goes back to mediaeval times. The House will recall that in mediaeval times, theologians used to debate the
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) dismantled comprehensively the Home Secretary's specious arguments on this Session's first Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, which the Home Secretary sought to pretend had been stopped in this House, even though he, like everyone else, knows that the Government chose to introduce it in another place, where it was stopped in its tracks, as this Bill will be when it gets there. My hon. and learned Friend pointed out that the Home Secretary was wrong in what he said about the Disqualifications Bill, which has not been proceeded with as a result of the Government's decisions in another place, and he dismantled comprehensively the Home Secretary's arguments about the Football (Disorder) Bill. The points that the Home Secretary sought to make were all specious.
The first attack on the guillotine motion came from the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). Ingeniously, he attacked the Government for failing to provide enough time in this debate to consider the role of juries that fail to convict when the facts of the case might support a conviction. I often disagree with the hon. Member on his underlying arguments, but I agree with his criticism of the Government on the timetable motion. In a powerful speech, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) pointed out that at the election the proposals were opposed, both specifically and in general terms, by the present Home Secretary and Prime Minister, as well as by everybody else in the Labour party. The Home Secretary himself set out his strong personal opposition, in the terms of which my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere has just reminded the House.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey used the cogent argument that, both with the ill-fated Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill [Lords] and the present Bill, the Government chose all the procedural stages that they went through. They could have given time for proper debate at any of those stages, including tonight.
The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that the then Labour Opposition included their opposition to these proposals in their 1997 general election manifesto. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) tried, quite wrongly, to deny his collective responsibility; he was on the Opposition Front Bench in the run-up to that election, but one would not have thought so from his intervention on the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey.
The hon. Gentleman then pointed out the lack of a need for urgency with these proposals. The Government have set up the review by Lord Justice Auld to consider possible changes to criminal procedure, so as the hon. Gentleman said, why not wait? He made a series of unanswerable points, including the most crucial point of
The hon. and learned Member for Medway is one of the most distinguished members of the Bar whom I have ever had the privilege to hear, and he was a member of the same circuit as myself--I declare my past interest as somebody who conducted many jury trials in my early years at the Bar. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke in particular on the views of the former Lord Chief Justice and the senior judiciary. If I may so put it, he comprehensively disembowelled the Home Secretary's utterly contemptible attempt to reinterpret his own remarks to the House so as to avoid the hook on which the hon. and learned Gentleman and The Guardian have impaled him for his terminological inexactitude on Second Reading.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) set out why the Bill needs proper time, and why we need time to point out all the misconceived reasons behind the Government's change of heart. The Home Secretary, the Attorney- General and the Prime Minister took up their offices and immediately rejected all their previous strongly held views on the issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), as usual, made a powerful speech--one of the most powerful that the House has heard this evening. He pointed out how the Home Secretary had severely damaged his reputation with this guillotine. My hon. Friend's experience of the Committee proceedings on the Bill enabled him to point out how wrong the guillotine is. He said that, as we know, the real reason for it lies on the Government side of the House, and the reasoned amendment signed by so many of the Home Secretary's colleagues demonstrates that beyond peradventure. My hon. Friend also made it clear how horrified the judiciary would be by this curtailment of debate, and that factor is crucial.
My hon. Friend asked the relevant question: why are Members of Parliament here? He anticipated the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) about an elective dictatorship, and I feel strongly that that is the correct way to describe the Government's arrogant behaviour. The timetable motion is a paradigm showing what the Government regard with contempt: the House, parliamentary traditions and English civil liberties. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking went on to stress how increasingly authoritarian the Government are, and he was right to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough put forward his own interesting approach to timetabling issues. He set out his experience of the sensible Committee proceedings on the Bill, and the historical perspective that we need to have. In response to the intervention from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough, my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough made clear the need for simple justice. He described the problems that the Government will have in another place because of the timetable motion and their attitude to the Bill--they now have egg on their face.
My right hon. and learned Friend concluded by referring to his father, the right hon. and noble Lord Hailsham, the former Lord Chancellor, and his important article on the dangers of elective dictatorship.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) used a happy cricketing analogy, with which I agree, about the need for the benefit of the doubt, but he rightly expressed concern about the byzantine and Florentine memorandums that pass between Ministers. He pointed out the unease about the failure of the Leader of the House to come to the Dispatch Box last night to attempt to justify this outrageous last-minute guillotine.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who spoke as powerfully as he always does, is an admirable guardian of the traditions of the House and the real liberties of the subject. He talked about the need for proper debate, and the need to allow a case to be made. He pointed out that it is shaming for the Government, with their huge majority, to have wheeled out a guillotine 38 times in only a fraction over three years. He said that they were guilty of disregard for due process. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere, whose speech I have already referred to, also set out many of the problems that he has with what the Government are doing.
If any jury had sat in judgment on this Government and the Home Secretary's guillotine proposals, and had to decide whether the Government were guilty of intolerance, of arbitrariness, of arrogance, of contempt for the House, of stifling debate and opposition and, above all, of being wrong, it would decide that they were guilty as charged on every count. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to vote against the Government and support our amendment.