HC Deb 29 April 1983 vol 41 cc1138-48

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

11.53 am
Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

I was pleased that the Bill last week was given a Second Reading so that the House has a chance to discuss this important issue.

Clause 1 is the nub of the Bill. I wish to mention some of the disturbing events which have increased the need for the Bill. The Bill springs from the Brodrick report which in 1971–12 years ago—made several recommendations involving coroners' courts which have been gathering dust ever since. Last year I managed to tack on a reform to the Administration of Justice Bill [Lords] which ensured that in future all inquests should be heard by juries where the death took place in custody. The Brodrick report recommended that coroners' juries should be seleced in exactly the same way as jurors are in the High Court of Justice. Clause 1 gives effect to that proposal.

I wish to speak briefly about the history of juries in the High Court of Justice since 1971 when the Brodrick committee reported. Throughout the 1970s there was increasing anxiety about the selection of juries and of the many issues surrounding juries in the courts. The anxiety began when during the Shrewsbury picket trial the Lord Chancellor issued a direction ex cathedra—I am not a lawyer so I do not quite understansd how he issues the directions—that jurors' occupations should no longer be made public. Many people considered that that would inhibit the defence in a trial of this type. That gave added interest to many issues connected with juries, especially jury vetting and jury selection.

Hon. Members may remember that in the middle of the ABC trial, which involved a privilege case in which I was involved, the then Attorney-General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin), issued new rules about jury vetting that were made public for the first time.

After the 1979 general election, the Attorney-General presented new rules for the selection of juries in the High Court which were based on a scheme presented by the Royal Statistical Society so that there could be no question in the future that juries were being rigged. I welcomed the statement of the Attorney-General when those rules were introduced and I pay tribute to the Government, which, I do not do very often, in moving the position forward because there were real worries.

Hon. Members may remember a famous case which took place in Wales in the 1970s. Some Welsh nationalists were on trial in Aberystwyth and although many people in that town are called "Jones" and "Evans", which are names characteristic of Wales, the jury appeared to have English surnames and accents. There was a great worry that the jury had not been picked on a random basis, that it had been fixed so that no Welsh nationalists would be on the jury.

I passionately believe in trial by jury. I am passionately interested in Parliament arranging a system whereby nobody can interfere with a jury. I am pleased that convictions were recently obtained in the High Court following incidents in which outsiders, when trying to pervert the course of justice, had tried to interfere with the jury process. During the past few years the Labour party has been worried that the enthusiasm by Governments of both colours for jury vetting—by running the names of potential jurors through a police computer to establish whether or not they have convictions—should not also have the same effect of perverting the course of justice. The English jury is a sacred institution and nothing should be done by the authorities to "clean it up" so that it ceases to represent a reasonable and average cross-section of the population. I have various reservations about jury vetting, but I shall not mention them now, because I do not think that they really apply to coroners' juries.

12 noon

Following all the row about juries, the Home Affairs Committee—one of whose distinguished members, the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler), I see entering the Chamber—produced a report about deaths in custody. I should like to say something later about coroners' juries and deaths in custody, but the report was very good. It shows how useful Select Committees can be. It picked up a forgotten report, the Brodrick report, and restored it to the Government's attention. The Select Committee recommended that coroners' juries should be selected in exactly the same way as juries are selected in a Crown court. Incidentally, the Select Committee made many other sensible recommendations, such as legal aid for relatives and the disclosure of police reports.

However, I have one criticism of the Minister. I am sorry to say that, after leading a delegation to him recently, I received a long and exceedingly depressing — and characteristically Home Office — memorandum, which turned down everything except the reform that we are now instituting. However, one must be grateful for small mercies. There is some uncertainty about how long this Parliament will last, and I have always believed that half a loaf is better than none. That is why I am particularly keen that clause 1 should be accepted.

The Brodrick committee and the Home Affairs Committee are behind the clause. I understand that we also have the benign support of the Home Office. I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary—I do not think that he is a Minister of State yet, but I am sure that he will be soon —and I hope that he will welcome the clause. I also welcome the fact that the Government have chosen—for some reason that I do not quite understand — to strengthen the Home Office with an extra Minister, who can now concentrate on coroners' courts and deaths in custody. Concern about them is much more widespread than many people realise.

Clause 1 inserts a new section 3A into the Coroners Act 1887 and its purpose is to apply to coroners' jurors the same qualifications and disqualifications as apply to jurors in other courts. That will enable them to be selected at random from the electoral roll, in exactly the same way and by exactly the same means as jurors in other courts. That means that we shall never again see a practice that I am told sometimes happens. Apparently, on occasion, a coroner suddenly finds that he needs a jury and he sends someone into the street to scoop up half a dozen random shoppers who happen to be walking by, and who may—for all the coroner knows—be personal friends, and on their way to a National Front or Communist party meeting. Such a selection would not be random.

Subsection (1) provides that a person shall be qualified to serve as a juror at a coroner's inquest only if he is also qualified to serve as a juror in other courts in accordance with section 1 of the Juries Act 1974; that is, if he is registered for the time being as a parliamentary or local government elector between the ages of 18 and 65 and has been ordinarily resident m the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for any period of at least five years since attaining the age of 13, unless he is for the time being ineligible or disqualified for jury service, as shown in parts I and II of schedule 1 to the Juries Act 1974.

Subsection (2) makes it an offence, punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale as defined by section 75 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982—at present £200—knowingly to serve on a coroner's jury while ineligible under group A, B or C in part I of schedule 1 to the 1974 Act. The offence and the fine are exactly in line with those that apply to jurors in other courts.

Subsection (3) makes it an offence, punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale—at present £1,000—for a person to serve on a coroner's jury knowing that he is disqualified under part II of schedule 1 to the 1974 Act. Again, the offence and the fine are in line.

Subsection (4) empowers the appropriate officer to question, or have questioned, any person summoned to serve on a coroner's jury under section 3 of the 1887 Act to establish whether he is qualified. Subsection (5) makes it an offence, punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale, to refuse without reasonable excuse to answer a question put under subsection (4), or knowingly or recklessly to give an answer that is false in a material particular". The offence and the fine, again, are in line. I hope that subsection (5) will not catch those who are summoned and who make an honest mistake about their eligibility. It should catch only those who are deliberately trying to evade the law, when they know perfectly well what the law is.

Subsection (6) makes it an offence, punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale, for any person who is summoned as a juror, or any other person on his behalf, to make, or cause or permit to be made any false representation to the coroner or to the appropriate officer with the intention of evading jury service. The offences and the fine follow those that apply to jurors in other courts.

Subsection (7) empowers the coroner to authorise someone to act as "the appropriate officer", and that will normally be the coroner's officer. The Select Committee sensibly recommended that coroners' courts should be "civilianised" so that it might become clear that the policeman in attendance on the coroner was not in cahoots with the police who might be giving evidence about how someone died in police custody. That was a difficulty at the inquest on the New Cross fire in the borough of Lewisham. I think that everyone now agrees that it was conducted in a highly unsatisfactory manner, and in a way that should not be repeated.

I suspect that the Minister may have time to comment on how the Home Office is getting on with its negotiations with local authorities about the "civilianisation" of coroners' officers. Indeed, I suspect that the Minister may be scratching around for something to say. The Bill is designed to enhance the status of coroners' inquests as wholly impartial inquiries. Therefore, the necessary linchpin is to "civilianise" coroners' courts. I know that the Home Office wants to do that and I hope that it will not be deterred because of the tiny element needed in the rate support grant in order to reassure local authorities that an extra burden is not being imposed on them.

Clause 1(8) defines "the standard scale" for fines.

Clause 1 is the crucial clause of the Bill. It puts jury selection for the coroners' courts, although not jury size, on all fours with that of the Crown court. I commend the clause to the House.

Mr. John Wheeler (Paddington)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). I agree almost without exception with the comments he made about the Bill. As he rightly suggests, the Select Committee on Home Affairs, of which I am glad to be a member, reported to the House in June 1980 on the subject of deaths in police custody. On that occasion, the Select Committee made a number of recommendations to the House and to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. We recommended that there should be a statutory obligation on the officer in charge of a police station to report to a coroner the death of a person in police custody. Following on that recommendation, we suggested that the coroner should be obliged to open an inquest when he is informed of the death of any person in legal custody, including persons who are compulsorily detained in hospitals. The Select Committee further recommended that such an inquest should be held before a jury. The importance of the Bill is that it takes up the proposal that when a coroner decides to sit with a jury it should be summoned in accordance with the same rules used by the high sheriff in summoning juries for other courts.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's description of the curious and somewhat 19th century manner of summoning a coroners' jury, where a coroner's officer goes out on to the streets and highways of our towns scouring for the unsuspecting who might be persuaded to spend an hour or so in the coroners' court adjudicating on matters of considerable importance.

The debate is not the appropriate occasion for me to present to the House in more detail some of the many important recommendations of the Select Committee on the coroners' court or, indeed, on the role of the police or prison service in dealing with deaths in custody. It is important that a more detailed debate on those matters should be held on another occasion but there will undoubtedly be a dramatic advance in the way the coroners' court operates and the way the jury is involved in examining matters of great concern. There can be no greater issue than to inquire into the death of a fellow citizen and for the public to be reassured that, following such an inquiry, a verdict is delivered in which the public may have confidence.

The Bill enjoys my wholehearted support. I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department in his place because I know that I can look to him for equally enthusiastic support of the Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, West on having the good fortune to be able to present the Bill in the knowledge that it enjoys the support of the Home Department and is supported also by the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which made recommendations that perhaps encouraged the introduction of the Bill. I am glad, therefore, to endorse everything the hon. Gentleman said in his speech.

12.15 pm
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I support clause 1. I do not think that the Dickensian description of coroners' courts put forward by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) necessarily applies to all coroners' courts every time a jury is summoned. I know for a fact that, in the majority of cases, the electoral register, which is the basis of the selection of juries in the Crown courts, is used for the summoning of coroners' juries.

I support clause 1 because there is an element of the Dickensian, an element of the arbitrary and an element of the suspicious in a handful of cases, where objection might be taken. If we can remove a grievance or a cause for objection we should take the opportunity to do so, although I notice that the Brodrick committee was set up in 1969 and did not report until 1971. So we have been a long time correcting this difficulty.

It is important to take this step because there is nothing as important as public confidence in our system of law and order. The public can be satisfied that justice is done and that fairness is observed only when the rules are laid down and are clear for everyone to see, as they are with regard to the selection of juries in the Crown court. It is a matter of great importance that the proper procedures should be seen to be applied by everyone in every case.

I have a doubt about the extension of the jury system to coroners' courts. It is perhaps a slightly insubstantial matter but in practice I regret — although in logic I cannot see how it could have been avoided — the reduction of the age of juries to an age at which school leavers, who have no knowledge or experience of life and no wisdom in the ways of the world, are expected to make monumental judgments about the future of their fellow citizens.

Mr. Christopher Price

I know that is a criticism but I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will admit that some people over the age of 21 have little judgment and little experience of the ways of the world. If one accepts the jury system one must accept also that, more than occasionally, members of the jury will be among the group he described, who do not have much judgment and knowledge of the ways of the world.

Mr. Lawrence

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We sometimes see examples of that in the House, perhaps more often on the Labour Benches than on the Conservative Benches. Nevertheless, it is always to be hoped that someone who has spent some time away from school, or some time away from the places of higher and lower learning, will have gained experience and wisdom in the ways of the world and life. If we know for certain that those whom we are taking on to juries may be still at school, have at that moment left school or are still engaged in some form of education, we know for certain that their knowledge and experience of the ways of the world must be, almost by definition, especially narrow.

The effect of the clause will be to call in 18-year-olds. It will give them the right to sit on coroners' juries, which perhaps coroners now may not—it is a matter for their discretion—desire. The coroner's officer—unfortunately in most instances it has to be a police officer—in going into the street to call in members of the public may bring in someone who looks very young. A coroner may now say "Thank you very much for coming, but I think that we have enough jurymen", or whatever his explanation may be. Under the rule that will apply when clause 1 fixes itself on to the established system for the Crown courts, that will no longer he possible.

Another matter that is even more difficult to explain in logical terms, although one recognises it when practising in the courts, is the significance that can be attached to the fact that the qualification for being a juryman no longer requires the status of being a householder. I understand how Labour Members justifiably considered that that distinction was one of privilege. They were right to take that view and it was a valid criticism. However, the effect of removing the householder qualification is to remove from many juries those who have a stake in society. I can only explain some of the almost unbelievable verdicts of which I have had experience by saying that some members of the juries were either irresponsible or had such little knowledge or wisdom of the world that they saw nothing wrong in setting free those who were guilty of serious and important offences upon the most overwhelming evidence.

The explanation does not lie with jury-nobbling because that could not have taken place in the cases that I have in mind. The answer might lie in the age of the jurors, or in the fact that they have no stake in society and consequently do not care much about society. This is a fault that we have developed in our jury system and we are extending it to the coroners' courts by the clause.

Weighing the matter in the balance, I think that the overwhelming factor of importance is the confidence of the public. I am sure that the confidence of the public will be greater through having proper, modernised and efficient rules for the selection of jurors rather than the somewhat antiquated and Dickensian system that some may have thought led to arbitrary selections by officialdom and that gave very little confidence to those who had an interest in the outcome of the proceedings.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Mellor)

It is my pleasure briefly to comment on the interesting debate on clause 1. In the spirit of ecumenism that now prevails, I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) on bringing the Bill forward. It is a useful measure, and I hope to have the opportunity of saying more about its usefulness, if it is the will of the Committee that we reach Third Reading today. We shall be making an important change in a system that has prevailed for many hundreds of years. It would be wrong, given that we did not have a Second Reading debate, that the moment should pass without a clear explanation of why the measure was thought necessary.

I am happy to be able to say that I warmly endorse all that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West has said about clause 1. There is no point of difference between us about the value of the Bill. It is fair to say, as I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say in an agreeably muted form, that I do not agree with all his thoughts about coroners' courts. However, apart from the contents of clause 1 there are other areas of agreement. I do not think that it would be to stray too far outside the bounds of what is properly within the Bill if we were to comment on other matters on Third Reading, especially if the hon. Gentleman is able to dilate on one or two of the issues that trouble him.

The effect of clause 1 is to insert section 3A into the 1887 Act, which remains the fundamental statutory basis for coroners' jurisdiction, even though we know that that jurisdiction is much older than that. As the hon. Member for Lewisham, West said, the purpose of the clause is a simple one—to apply to coroners' jurors exactly the same qualifications and disqualifications as apply to jurors in other courts. This will enable coroners' jurors to be selected at random from the electoral roll in the same way and by precisely the same means as jurors in other courts.

I listened with great interest to what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) had to say about the effect of the clause. He is realistic enough to understand that if we are to make a change to bring coroners' juries on all fours with other juries it w ill not be possible to insert in the Bill any distinctions of the sort to which he referred, even if that were thought to be desirable.

Opinions vary on the ability of individuals to serve as jurors. As the hon. Member for Lewisham, West said, there are some who doubt the ability of 18-year-olds to serve as jurymen, but, equally, there can be doubts about others of any age. I see no reason to be pessimistic about this. We have determined in society for some years that 18 is the age when people take upon themselves the responsibilities of being adult. I find it difficult to display any lack of confidence in the ability of those of 18 to discharge their duties on coroners' juries, if the Bill is enacted, any more than there is reason to doubt the ability of an 18-year-old to pass judgment in elections. The system of allowing 18-year-olds to vote in elections has prevailed for some time. We are all citizens and must do our best when called on by society to bring our best judgment to bear on important issues, of which, as he rightly says, the issue of the cause of death is one of the most important and difficult.

12.30 pm

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the question of the civilianisation of coroners' officers is not a point of difference between us. The question is how it can best be implemented. We are sometimes accused of being insensitive to the feelings of local authorities. On this occasion we think it right to seek to reach agreement with local authorities, and on this important aspect of the coroner's jurisdiction a steering committee has been set up. A report by the organisation and methods branch of the Home Office on the functions of coroners' officers outside the Metropolitan police district will be circulated to the members of that committee in the next few weeks and we hope that that will be a good basis for the kind of agreement that both of us hope to see being reached.

We understand that local authorities generally are opposed to civilianisation primarily because—it is not an unworthy thought by any stretch of the imagination—it will, they fear, result in additional expenditure. However, there are signs of progress. At least one county, Nottinghamshire, has recently civilianised its coroners' officers and is well pleased with the result, and one hopes that that will provide a useful example for others to follow.

Mr. Wheeler

The welcome news that my hon. Friend gives that the Home Office is looking into the recommendation of the Select Committee gradually to phase out—to use the words of the report—the use of the police officer as the coroner's officer has an additional advantage, on which he touched, in relation to expenditure. A police officer in London is today costing about £24,000 a year, a little less outside the Metropolitan police area. There would be considerable savings to the public purse if civilians were employed in the coroner's office, with the added advantage of returning professionally trained police officers to street duty, where they are greatly needed.

Mr. Mellor

My hon. Friend understands the issues well and, like the hon. Member for Lewisham, West, has done enormously useful work on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which has worked well and produced a substantial report on this issue. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend on the point he makes. We understand that the police are equally pleased with what has happened in Nottinghamshire and wish to see more of that happening in the country because many senior police officers regard the duties of coroners' officers as unsuitable for trained police officers.

The Government, as well as providing the police with the manpower and resources that they need to tackle crime, have been alive to the necessity of making sure that police officers are not carrying out duties over a wide range of matters. Some of us have a picture of "Dixon of Dock Green", the police officer sitting at the back of the station typing a report with one finger. That would be far better done by civilians.

Mr. Christopher Price

While resources are the largest problem that the local authorities see to moving generally in this direction, there is overhanging the whole issue the problem of the accountability of the coroner to the local authority, which is replete with a number of grey areas. That was made clear in the Helen Smith inquest when the coroner seemed — indeed, still seems —unwilling to tell the west Yorkshire county council how much Sir David Napley's Rolls-Royce cost the public purse. During these negotiations, any administrative tidying-up of things like the disclosure of costs and so on might oil the wheels and help people like John Gunnell, and folk in the local authorities who have begun to take an interest, probably for the first time in a thousand years, in the coroners' courts, to be favourable to the sort of reforms that we all want to see.

Mr. Mellor

I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point about the difficult issue of the appointment of coroners and to whom they should be accountable. I would not agree with him that coroners should be accountable in the sense of having to report to, or somehow having to subordinate their judgment to, local authorities. To be fair to Mr. Gunnell, I had a useful hour and a half long discussion with him the other day and that revealed a larger measure of agreement than some tendentious accounts of the meeting might have led one to think existed.

One of the things that I am content to tell the hon. Gentleman is that there are other areas where I do not think he and I would necessarily be far apart, any more than I thought that Mr. Gunnell and I were that far apart in our meeting. I refer to the Brodrick report and the recommendations about the appointment and qualifications of coroners. We have by no means finished our consideration of the Brodrick report. While it would be premature to announce a conclusion, or to say when time could be found for legislation to be brought forward, we have considerable sympathy with what Brodrick said about the appointment of coroners, that it should be brought much more within the confines of the judicial system and should be a matter for the Lord Chancellor At the moment local authorities appoint coroners. There is no underlying common qualification for being a coroner. The coroner has powers to appoint deputies. That does not always work as well as it might. If someone appoints a coroner, should the county council have control over him? That would be root and branch against the way in which justice is administered because the coroner's court is like any other and in the end politicians do well to keep out of what is said in court. It is for the court of appeal, the divisional court and other parts of the judicial system to put coroners right. We know that there are ways in which people dissatisfied with the outcome of inquests can go up the judicial ladder to achieve satisfaction. That was done in the Helen Smith case. We are all grateful for the clarification of the law on the death of British citizens overseas by the court of appeal, which has been very helpful.

We understand why a number of people of good will, whatever else they may disagree with, find more favour with Brodrick than anything that has found its place in the law, although it is right, as my hon. and learned Friend said, that the Brodrick report has been around for 12 years. We think that it was a worthwhile report and are looking at other parts of it because we do not feel that we have finished yet with desirable changes that might be necessary in the coroner's jurisdiction.

Mr. Lawrence

I hope that the Government will be around for the next 12 years. I hope that the Government regard it is a matter of urgency to implement the good recommendations of the Brodrick committee, which have been lying around for 12 years and which ought to get on to the statute book as soon as possible.

Mr. Mellor

There is an impetus. The Select Committee of which my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) was a member had useful thoughts on that. As I have already said, I cannot give a time scale, but, having taken an interest in the coroners' jurisdiction before I took up my present responsibilities, that matter weighs heavily on me and I would like progress to be made, although the progress and content of legislation do not lie entirely with either me or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. All that I can say is that within the Home Office there is a willingness to embark on a dialogue with all those concerned about the future of the coroners' jurisdiction. We have received great help from the Coroners Society. I should be disappointed if that did not lead to progress in the lifetime of another Parliament, although that does not lie in my hands and I cannot be seen to give a commitment on it.

Having dealt with one or two matters of detail about the coroner's jurisdiction, and while we hear a great deal of criticism about it, I have to say that in my dealings with the Coroners Society I am enormously impressed by the sense of commitment, the calibre of the men who serve that society, and their awareness that the jurisdiction should command public confidence, which is every bit as great as that of every hon. Member.

I know why there have been some complaints, and I acknowledge that complaint is sometimes inevitable because of the antiquity of some arrangements in the coroner's court. However, much of the criticism is unjustified and arises largely from a misunderstanding of the coroner's role. His role is to investigate impartially the medical and circumstantial causes of deaths, without attributing blame, and to establish the particulars necessary to enable those deaths to be registered. More than 174,000 deaths were reported to coroners in 1980 — that is an enormous work load — about 23,000 of which resulted in inquests. That is a considerable task, and I am sure that the Committee will agree that, generally speaking, it is a pretty thankless task. As well as knocking some aspects of the coroner's jurisdiction, we should pay tribute to the devoted work of those who perform a necessary and thankless task.

On the civilianisation of the coroner's office, I must mention the metropolis, which is of concern to the hon. Member for Lewisham, West and to me as a Member of Parliament from the greater London area.

Mr. Wheeler

And to me.

Mr. Mellor

My hon. Friend rightly says, "And to me." The Government have been trying to reach an agreement on this matter with the GLC. It is one of the reluctant authorities, and I believe that the reason for that reluctance is the additional cost. However, we have agreed to have further discussions on civilianisation in the Metropolitan police district when discussions on the report of the steering committee have concluded. I hope that we shall make progress. I do not wish to denounce the GLC on the one occasion when it appears to be worried about additional costs. We would be grateful if it were worried about costs in some of its more expensive responsibilities, and there are better examples where its cost-consciousness should come to the fore. As the hon. Member for Lewisham, West probably has more influence with the present regime at the GLC than I do, perhaps we could call his good offices into service to help us to make progress.

Mr. Wheeler

What will the cost be for the greater London area? The GLC has shown no reluctance since May 1981 to increase the number of people employed at County Hall, especially those who receive salaries of more than £15,000 a year. We cannot talk about its other spending in detail now.

Mr. Mellor

I cannot tell my hon. Friend what the cost will be, but compared with those parts of the GLC's budget that have, in my view — if the recent opinion polls are to be believed, in the view of the people of London as well—expanded beyond all reason, the cost would be de minimis.

I warmly welcome clause 1, which achieves fully in the minutiae of its wording the desirable aims of the hon.

Member for Lewisham, West. I do not disagree with his explanation of the eight subsections, and I commend the clause to the Committee.

Mr. Christopher Price

Briefly, I thank the Minister for his useful speech which, thanks to you, Mr. Armstrong, and your predecessor, went very slightly wider than the exact terms of the Bill. It was extremely helpful to all concerned in giving us an idea of the Home Office's views in this area. I disagreed only with the strictures of the Minister and his hon. Friends about the Greater London council, which, as we all know, is performing a wonderful job in London, working for the citizens of London and for peace in the world.

12.45 pm

I disagree fundamentally with the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) about 18-year-olds and non-householders. The basic characteristic of a jury system, if there is to be such a system, is that it covers the whole spectrum of the population—the good and the bad, the weak-minded and the strong-minded, those with experience of the world and those with less experience of the world. Any move by Parliament to legislate for a jury system based on a smaller spectrum would be to legislate for a form of jury-rigging of the kind for which certain people have recently been prosecuted and convicted. I hope that we shall regard the democratic base of the jury system in exactly the same way as we regard the democratic base of the electoral register as a result of which we all come to the House. I am sure that that analogy is correct.

I welcome the Minister's comments and I commend the clause to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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