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Lord Borrie: My Lords, if the noble Viscount will allow me to intervene, I certainly never suggested any such thing. I suggested that trials by jury had always been only for the most serious cases and, in terms of numbers, were a small proportion of the total number of criminal cases. That was reduced somewhat further in 1855. The 1855 Act removed a number of previously indictable offences from the list of indictable offences and introduced the election which has existed ever since.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. It helps me to make my next point; namely, that it seems to me that a provision which has existed for 150 years has become a fairly fundamental right. Noble Lords opposite have argued about much more recent constitutional arrangements than the one we are discussing. It is important to stress that the concept of plea before venue has not had time to work properly in many instances. We know that the number of either-way cases coming to Crown Court has gone down. It would be helpful if the noble and learned Lord could give us the up-to-date figures.
I shall say a few words about Scotland. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, demolished an argument that the Government have used; namely, that all they were doing was to bring a provision into line with a provision in Scotland. However, it is quite clear that the position in Scotland is entirely different. The sheriffs there have different powers. There is good reason why the law in England can, and should, be different from that in Scotland. I do not believe that this Bill will ever reach another place. However, if it did, it would be interesting to note whether, under the devolved Parliament, the Scottish MPs would feel that
Equally, it refers to the accused's reputation. What does that mean? What kind of reputation? A public reputation? A private reputation? As far as I am aware, most people who are convicted suffer some damage to their reputation. That is the nature of convictions.
Contrary to what was said by noble Lords opposite, no one has attacked magistrates in the debate. The Bill proposes an unfair burden on magistrates. It will put them in an impossible position and give them an impossible task. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, spoke about admissible evidence and the different rules there would be for magistrates in comparison with the Crown Court. When magistrates have to rule whether or not evidence is admissible, they will know that evidence. In a Crown Court a judge may rule on admissibility and the jury will not get to see the evidence if it is ruled inadmissible. Electing for Crown Court trial gives the defendant access to material which would otherwise be available only upon entering a plea of not guilty.
In the light of the Macpherson recommendations, I find it extraordinary that the Government should bring in the Bill. It seems totally contrary to the spirit of those recommendations. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, successfully demonstrated how that was the case.
The Government would have a case if they could argue that quicker justice was better justice, but there is nothing in the Bill that does that. There will be additional appeals to the Crown Court on venue and on conviction which will clog up the system. It will not be quicker. As noble Lords have said, there do not seem to be any great financial savings. It is extraordinary that the Government are looking for savings of £100 million. I do not see how they will ever get them.
On the question of delay, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, in discussing the James Report, drew attention to the fact that the existence of a right of appeal would mean that a case retained in the magistrates' court would have to wait until the time for appeal had expired. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General can tell us how long the time for appeal will be.
My noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon described the Conservative Party in this House going back to its traditional role as guardian and protector of civil liberties. I believe that the Conservative Party has always been the guardian and protector of civil
This is an extraordinary Bill to introduce at this time. One can only come to the conclusion that the Home Secretary had his arm twisted by the Treasury; that he thought, "What do I do? I do not want to start the Bill in another place; I will start it in your Lordships' House. Then it will be mauled and kicked out and I can go and say, 'I am very sorry. I tried my best but it went down so badly that I have had to withdraw it'". That is the only logical explanation one can put on why the noble and learned Lord and the Government Chief Whip ever decided to start the Bill in this House. They do not have their hearts in the success of the Bill.
I invite the noble and learned Lord to put up the best defence he can this evening and then to go away and read Hansard. I then invite him to take a deep breath, go and see the Home Secretary and say, "I have done my best. I am sorry, there is nothing we can do about it"--and then to come back in the new year having quietly forgotten the Bill.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, what I shall say to the Home Secretary, since I am not bound by the constraints that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, rightly is--it is quite wrong to suggest that he is ducking the issue when he has his constitutional proprieties to observe--is, and I shall say it privately, "Jack, all the arguments that you and I anticipated were duly rolled out. Nothing new was said, although it was said in a variety of different ways and most attractively."
By and large, I believe that the debate has been conducted very courteously: I think I had only two insults hurled at me. One, I thought, must be the worst; that was from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who suggested that in the privacy of my own home I might be wearing spangled tights. I found that deeply offensive as the Solicitor-General and I were the only two who went to the Lord Chancellor's Breakfast refusing to wear even black tights. I hasten to say that we did wear trousers! Then, the worst, most considered and most wounding of all insults came from the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who said that I appeared to be an "insincere Michael Howard". If he reflects on it, I believe that a worse insult might have been that I appeared to be a "sincere Michael Howard".
I believe it is fair to say that this ground has been pretty well traversed. Any inconvenient fact, any phrase in the Bill which did not fit preconceived notions, was rapidly placed on one side. A number of your Lordships referred to what was said in the Runciman Commission report. I am happy to go back to that because I believe that the full citation is worth reading:
In fact, what Runciman did not propose was the right of appeal which is included in this Bill. I hesitate to invite your Lordships' attention to the text but I shall. Incidentally, it was suggested that the defendant was to be there almost as a person making a petition to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire as some sort of submissive creature. But quite the opposite is true. It is stated:
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