HC Deb 06 April 1984 vol 57 cc1255-70

Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

9.35 am
Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

A number of things were said on the last two Fridays about the attitude of many Opposition Members to the Bill. The Third Reading gives us a chance to set the record straight, and to say one or two things about the content of the Bill, and what we think is wrong with it.

I emphatically support the jury system in this country. I have done so for a long time. It has served us for centuries. Although there have been criticisms of the jury system for many years, it is still the best system. One has only to look at the problems in Northern Ireland, which does not have juries in the courts, to realise that juries in this country are a source of strength to us all.

It is a personal regret of mine that I have never served on a jury. It might have given me some different ammunition to use in speeches on the Bill. I have listened with envy to people who have served on juries, and who have told me about what goes on—subject, of course, to confidentiality on what has taken place in the jury room.

When one is asked to serve on a jury, it is not just a matter of exercising one's civil liberty. It is also a matter of meeting one's civic duties and obligations. It is therefore not just a matter of saying that we believe that people, possibly with criminal records, should exercise their civil liberties. It is also a matter of making sure that people live up to civic duties and obligations. I believe that there is a problem. Nobody has denied that there is a problem, and there have been some disquieting stories, mainly anecdotal, about individuals called to serve on a jury whose attitudes to serving on a jury have not been consistent with a fair and sensible system of criminal justice.

The Minister in his speech a couple of weeks ago, and, indeed, in Committee, quoted one individual who said that he would try to acquit every person who came before him. There is a problem, although the evidence of the extent of the problem is somewhat thin. Most of the people who claimed that there were difficulties were using anecdotal evidence rather than anything more solid.

William Shakespeare, in "Measure for Measure", put into the mouth of Angelo the following: I do not deny, The jury, passing on the prisoner's life, May in the sworn twelve have a thief or two Guiltier than him they try. That excerpt was quoted in the report of the departmental committee on jury service under the chairmanship of Lord Morris, whose report I think is still the most authoritative report on the subject. On page 41, paragraph 131, it refers to section 3 of the Civil Rights of Convicts Act 1828. It is relevant to the Bill and to Third Reading. It says: And whereas it is expedient to prevent all doubts respecting the civil rights of persons convicted of felonies not capital, who have undergone the punishment to which they were adjudged: Be it therefore enacted, that where an offender hath been or shall be convicted of any felony not punishable by death, and hath endured or shall endure the punishment to which such offender hath been or shall be adjudged for the same, the punishment so endured hath and shall have the like effects and consequences as a pardon under the great seal as to the felony whereof the offender was so convicted". Thus, the Civil Rights of Convicts Act seems to say that, once the sentence has been served, the individual should have a clean slate. Of course, the purpose of the Bill and, to a more limited extent, our present system is that the consequences of having committed a criminal offence should last longer than the duration of the punishment.

I note that the Bill attempts to tackle a problem. However, the only research into that problem that I have discovered takes a slightly different view from that adopted by many Conservative Members. I refer to a book published in 1979, entitled "Jury Trials". The joint authors were John Baldwin and Michael McConville. They set out to do research into the effectiveness of our jury system and in their conclusions they commented on its perfections and imperfections. In its conclusions, which appear on page 134, the book states: It may be the case that the system reaches a right and just determination as often as can reasonably be expected of any tribunal and we must live with a proportion of failures. The results of empirical research do not in the end obviate the need for value judgments, but such evidence ought to compel the protagonists in the debate to define the issues with greater clarity and discrimination. In future debates, it seems to us that opponents of trial by jury will have to contend with the fact that the jury seems to enjoy the considerable confidence of the public; it appears to return verdicts that are generally deemed reasonable by judges, lawyers, and the police; and, so far as one can tell, it successfully maintains its political and constitutional independence. On the other hand, defenders of the jury must take account of the fact that the ideal of the jury as a representative cross-section of the community is only partially reflected in its actual composition; that its verdicts are with some frequency highly questionable in character; that its capriciousness is likely both to prejudice the innocent and to benefit the guilty; and that there is no obvious corrective for its unpredictability. That is the conclusion drawn in the only research on the way in which juries operate that I have been able to discover. Most Conservative Members seem to disagree with the conclusion that there is no obvious corrective for that unpredictability. Clearly the line taken in the Bill is that the jury system can best be made more predictable by excluding those who have committed criminal offences on a much wider basis than at present. No one has argued that that will solve all the problems and that, if the Bill is enacted, there will not be jurors who will be opposed to the integrity of our criminal justice system even though they cannot be caught by the Bill. I certainly would not argue that. Nor has anyone argued that the great majority of those disqualified under the Bill would not be sensible and objective jurors if only they could serve.

The Bill is intended to catch the few individuals who are opposed to the system. However, despite some of the political rhetoric last week and the week before that, the argument has always centred on where to draw the line. It is not a matter—as the Minister said—of some of us being in favour of crooks on juries. There will always be crooks on juries, and the Minister knows it, but the argument simply centres on where to draw the line. That has been the argument for several centuries, and it is still the argument today. It is an essential feature of the Bill that the line should be drawn quite a bit further over.

We do not disagree that a line should be drawn. We do not disagree that those who have served custodial sentences should not be allowed to serve on juries. Indeed, I believe that those who have served such sentences should be barred from serving on juries, but we are concerned about those whom the court has considered worthy of more lenient treatment. I refer, in particular, to those who have served community service orders or those who have been on probation. The argument centres on whether the exclusions imposed on them by the Bill go too far. I believe that they do go too far, and that is the nub of our argument. If the Minister and the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) had been willing to accept that, we would not have had to spend so much time debating the matter, and the Minister knows it.

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

The hon. Gentleman is labouring mightily in the vineyard to try to give some credibility to what I, and no doubt my hon. Friends, persist in regarding as an essentially spurious case. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has quite a lot of time that he wants to fill in, but perhaps he will do us the courtesy of dealing with the central argument, which has been persistently advanced by Conservative Members, but which he has repeatedly—no doubt consciously rather than unconsciously—slipped away from. I am sure that the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman) will also want to know the answer.

Far from recommending that there should not be changes, the Morris committee recommended changes that were carried into effect by the then Labour Government. What does the hon. Gentleman say to the suggestion that the imposition of suspended sentences and other disposals mentioned in the Bill essentially cover those who would have been sent to prison before 1967 and so would have been disqualified? That is the question to which he must address himself

Mr. Dubs

That is one point to which I must address myself, but it is not the only one, because the Bill goes much further than that. I was addressing myself to some of the arguments—

Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)

Address yourself to that

Mr. Dubs

Subject to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that I shall address myself to whatever arguments I choose. It so happens that I was going to come on to that point. The Minister's point was dealt with quite adequately a few weeks ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley). The Minister may say that he does not agree with that, but he should listen for a while. He is piqued because he has egg on his face because of what happened last week and the week before that

Mr. Mellor

I have no egg on my face. I have enjoyed the diverting spectacle of the hon. Gentleman mounting a one-man, three-week filibuster. I hope that his services to the Opposition will be recognised. Indeed, I am sure that they already have been. The other day, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) was not at his best. I put it to him, and my hon. Friends agreed, that he thought that unless every jury had a leavening of crooks the system would not work properly. I do not regard that as a substitute for an intellectually watertight argument.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) has trailed his coat this morning by saying, in effect, that we have got it all wrong. He is obviously in a good forensic mood this morning and is capable of knocking down any argument, so I am asking him to knock down that central plank of our case and to put us out of our misery. If he refuses to do so, it must be a sign that he is trying to weasel round the central issue, which has convinced the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman), but which obviously does not get anywhere near convincing him—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is a very long intervention. I should remind hon. Member that long interventions make speeches longer

Mr. Dubs

The Minister says that the central issue involves suspended sentences and community service orders. Having listened to the speeches that have been made in support of the Bill, I do not think that that is the only issue at stake. There are other much more important issues, such as the fact that anyone who is given any custodial sentence will be barred from a jury for at least 10 years. I understood that that was the main point at issue, and that the argument about suspended sentences, community service orders and probation took the point a stage further

Mr. Mellor

indicated dissent

Mr. Dubs

The Minister shakes his head. If that was not the point at issue, neither he nor his colleagues made that abundantly clear.

I stick by my argument that the debate on the Bill and the principle embodied in Third Reading is about where the line should be drawn on disqualification. I repeat that it is going too far to exclude for 10 years people who have served a community service order, and for five years people who have served a probation order. Those who have had those punishments imposed upon them by the courts are regarded as not deserving of a custodial sentence. Therefore, they are treated differently from those being sent into custody. They are not regarded as a threat or a danger to their fellow citizens, which is why they are allowed to stay at large and to live in their homes.

The Minister's argument is that everybody on a community service order or a suspended sentence would, years ago, willy-nilly have had a custodial sentence—

Mr. Mellor


Mr. Dubs

I shall not parade a great number of statistics as that would take too long. Given the increase in both custodial and non-custodial sentences, it does not follow — nor does the judiciary say — that every community service order is directly and solely an alternative to imprisonment. Indeed, when there are breaches of community service orders, it does not mean that, of certainty, the person is then sent into custody. The contention that, but for a little luck, such people would be inside is not fully supported by the facts.

There is an equally good argument that people on community service orders are being treated leniently by the courts because their circumstances are such that they should be so treated, and they would not necessarily have gone to prison. The courts are using the community service order as a new form of non-custodial punishment.

Even if the Minister disagrees with my judgment—I cannot prove it by hard facts, although I suggest that the figures support my case — he cannot use the same argument about probation orders. It has never been argued that probation orders are in the main an alternative to custody, yet they are widely used. Under the Bill, people on probation will be debarred for five years from serving on a jury. That goes too far. I accept that it would be right to debar from jury service anybody currently serving a community service or probation order, but once they have completed that punishment they should not be debarred. That is my main disagreement with the Bill, although I have others. The Minister is aware of that. Had he conceded that there was a case and agreed to meet that point, we would not have had to argue the Bill at such length

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

The hon. Gentleman is as concerned as everybody else with the issue of public confidence. Is that not the central point? Is he not arguing that the public will have confidence in a jury system that allows people to serve on juries when they have been convicted of crimes of dishonesty which often involve a complete discrediting of, or an attack upon, the police? Is it not difficult for public confidence to be reposed in anybody who will not convict anybody in any circumstances when the police have given evidence? Do not such persons frequently receive probation or community service orders? Is that not a question of public confidence, and is not that the main thrust of the hon. Gentleman's remarks?

Mr. Dubs

Of course, public confidence is the key issue, but until the hon. and learned Gentleman used that argument I was not aware that that issue attached itself directly to anyone who had served a probation or community service order.

I mentioned anecdotal evidence—I do not discourage it—of individuals who set out to acquit everyone. I have yet to hear of anyone who has served a community service or probation order being judged to have such an attitude. I am not sure that public confidence in the jury system has, in the past, been undermined by the knowledge that somebody five or eight years previously had served a community service or probation order. If that is the contention, it has not been argued in Committee or in the House.

The Morris report took that point to heart. In paragraphs 135 to 142 it stated: We conclude that while it does not necessarily follow that all persons who have been convicted will lack the qualities needed in jurors, it is reasonable in the general interests of the community for some convicted persons to be disqualified. We now proceed to consider what should be the extent of this disqualification, and to whom it should apply… We respectfully agree with this view"— that is, the view of Lord Chief Justice, Lord Goddard, in what was called Kelly's case— and we think that any disqualification should be as limited as is consistent with the proper administration of justice and the maintenance of public confidence in the jury system. The Morris report did concern itself with public confidence, but said that disqualification should be as limited as possible, consistent with that aim and with having proper administration of justice. It stated: We have come to the view that the criterion for disqualification should be conviction for an offence which has resulted in imprisonment or some other form of detention being imposed. That conclusion took into account the points raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman.

If the hon. and learned Gentleman argues that matters have changed dramatically since 1965 when the report was published, so be it. But the points that he and other hon. Members have been making, if they have any validity, had that validity many years before the Morris report. That report is still the most authoritative report on the workings of the jury system. Its conclusions still have a great deal of merit. If some hon. Members argue that the conclusions do not still have some merit, they must show what has changed since the report was published

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

Has not my hon. Friend overlooked the fundamental fact that, after the Morris report, majority verdicts were introduced by the last Labour Government?

Mr. Dubs

The very fact that we have majority verdicts rather than unanimous verdicts is the answer to the charge that one person on a jury might not be sympathetic to the criminal justice system and might want to acquit all criminals. I understand that that is why majority verdicts were introduced. I am not against them—they are an additional safeguard against the problem we are discussing

Mr. Lawrence

The hon. Gentleman has not addressed himself to the point that the jury system is that much wider as a result of introducing anyone on the voting register. That is another factor that was not in the mind of the Morris committee

Mr. Dubs

It was in the mind of the Morris committee because it referred to that point in its report. Its conclusions were based on the system as it then was, but it took into account the suggested changes that have since been implemented significantly to widen the qualifications for serving on juries.

The Minister has said on several occasions, both in Committee and in the Chamber, that the Home Office has given its full blessing to the Bill because it fulfils a Conservative manifesto commitment. That was the answer to questions about why a Bill was not introduced by the Home Office which would have allowed us to deal more thoroughly with some of the omissions, which we do not intend to discuss today but which the Minister and the promoter conceded were serious matters for which they had no solution.

The Minister said that he had enormous support because the issue was in the manifesto, and the Conservatives have a huge majority in the House. Yet the Friday before last he managed to muster a grand total of 36 Members—of whom most, though not all, were on his side — to support the closure, which is to say, to support the Bill. Last Friday he succeeded in mustering only 24 Members plus two Tellers. That is a very small proportion of the alleged supporters. The Minister had been chiding the Opposition, saying that we did not have massive support for our criticisms of the Bill, but he was found out and finished up with quite a bit of egg on his face. If the Government can muster only 26 Members to support a fundamental manifesto promise, one wonders what things are coming to

Mr. John Watson (Skipton and Ripon)

I am reluctant to say anything that may give the hon. Gentleman fuel to continue his speech even longer. He accuses the Government of having insufficient support. Despite his protestations that there was widespread anxiety among the Opposition about the Bill, on the last two Fridays he has managed to muster a total vote of precisely nil. Will he explain that?

Mr. Dubs

The hon. Gentleman knows the answer to that as well as anyone. As he well knows, to carry the Closure requires 100 votes, so there is no purpose in the Opposition voting. Last week we merely sought to test whether there were 40 Members in the House to demonstrate the support that the promoter and the Minister claimed for the Bill. If we had gone into the Lobby, even to vote against the Bill—

Mr. Timothy Wood (Stevenage)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that you will protect the rights of other hon. Members whose legislation has widespread support and encourage those taking part in this debate to proceed apace. Lengthy speeches related to the Bill are bad enough, but a discussion as to how many Members were present on various occasions does not help to progress private Members' legislation one iota

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have been listening carefully. Unfortunately, it is usual on such occasions to make passing reference to the presence or absence of Members, but hon. Members should deal with the contents of the Bill

Mr. Dubs

I am absolutely with you on that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was tempted by the intervention of the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon about numbers. I think that it is understood that the procedure used last week was a test of the support for the Bill, which proved to be inadequate

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

May I briefly offer another explanation?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. To pursue that further would be to get away from the contents of the Bill. I think that we should proceed

Mr. Dubs

It is my contention that the Bill has proved not to have the wide support claimed for it by the Minister and others.

The final point which concerns me a great deal has not been covered by the Minister or any other supporter of the Bill. The Bill makes no provision for enforcement. The answer may be that the same procedures will be used as in the present disqualification system. As the Bill greatly widens the disqualifications, however, it is difficult to know whether it will prove necessary to enforce the procedures by checking the eligibility of persons summoned for jury service. Because the disqualifications are so much wider, I believe that there will be pressure on those who administer the courts and the jury system to reconsider the enforcement procedures. It is regrettable that the Bill contains no provisions about enforcement and that the Minister and his supporters have made no reference to it.

It was clearly stated in Committee that enforcement was a weakness in the Bill. The answer today may be that the present enforcement procedure will be used, which I believe merely involves the signing of a simple declaration, but I believe that pressure will mount for people called for jury service to be screened by the computers and criminal records systems at Scotland Yard and perhaps elsewhere. I do not say that that will necessarily happen, but it is a worrying possibility if the Bill is passed in its present form. I hope that the Minister will give assurances about how the Home Office intends that the legislation will be enforced if it goes through both Houses in its present form.

There have been many arguments in the past about the different but related issue of jury vetting. There have been attempts to exclude people from juries on the basis of their life styles because the prosecution thought that it would be harder to secure a conviction with such persons on the jury. There will certainly be pressure to vet jurors to ensure that they qualify. I am not even certain that the present law prohibits that. The very least that the House is entitled to demand is a clear statement from the Minister about how the legislation will be enforced. It is no longer a matter of answering the simple question, "Have you been imprisoned for five years or longer?" That is clear and explicit and catches a certain number of people. We are now dealing with something far less precise involving suspended sentences and community service orders and I am not at all sure that the present procedures will be regarded as adequate by people who fully support the details of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will give us some answers on that.

I do not wish to prolong my speech. I merely wish to explain our concern and to set the record straight. In case there is any doubt, I repeat that I am not interested in having crooks on juries, although there will always be some, even if the Bill is passed. I am concerned that the line has been drawn too widely so that people will be excluded by the Bill although no case has been made for their exclusion. I very much regret that the promoter and the Minister have not accepted our arguments on that.

10.8 am

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

Enough time has been spent on diversionary tactics calculated to obstruct the Bill's progress. The Opposition are anxious to assist in the administration of justice and the upholding of the rule of law. I find myself in a slight dilemma because, as the Minister and several hon. Members will know from my speeches on the Bill on previous occasions both in the House and in Committee, I strongly disagree with some of the arguments that have been advanced from my Front Bench. I have great respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) but I must register my profound disagreement with him.

It is obvious to anybody familiar with the administration of justice in criminal courts today—the Crown courts, and the assizes and quarter sessions before the passing of the Courts Act 1971—that there is a serious problem of juries, for quite improper reasons, failing to convict on overwhelming evidence in certain types of cases. That problem has confronted those involved in the administration of justice for many years. I welcome the Bill which, to a modest extent, seeks to deal with that problem.

As I have said in Committee, the Bill does not go far enough. I should like to see removed from jury service other categories of persons. But let me address myself shortly to the issues presented by the Bill. It is essential that judges, members of the Bar, solicitors and jurors have confidence in the administration of justice and that public confidence in it is in no way diminished. That is why the standards of the judiciary and both branches of the legal profession are very high. It makes nonsense of the system if we permit jurors to serve on juries whom we know may have a built-in bias and hostility to the administration of justice. It helps those who oppose jury trials and a considerable body of opinion in Britain does.

I am a great believer in the jury system. Juries have a lot of common sense. I should fight any suggestion against them, with the exception of big commercial frauds which are unsuitable for jury trials, but that is another subject completely. I understand that the Home Secretary is to appoint a high-powered committee to look into the question whether big commercial fraud cases should be tried by a High Court judge and two assessors. Subject to that, I am a strong believer in jury trials, provided that we take every reasonable step consistent with civil liberties to ensure that those who serve on juries are honest people doing their best to help in the administration of justice.

The argument about whether a person has been sentenced in the past, whether it be a sentence of imprisonment, probation, community service and so on, wholly misses the point. What matters is not the sentence that is imposed by the trial judge but the fact of the conviction. It is understandable that a defendant who is now eligible for jury service may have been properly treated with leniency and compassion by the trial judge but that is no reason to endanger the administration of justice by permitting such a person to serve on a jury.

The essence of the argument is that the administration of justice is jeopardised if trials have to be halted and juries discharged and one has to start all over again. Much public money and time is wasted and nobody is more prejudiced than the defendants who have to be re-tried

Mr. Dubs

I have listened with interest to my hon. Friend's arguments. Is he saying that he wishes that the Bill should also cover people who have had fines imposed upon them? If he is not, will he relate his argument to the inclusion in the list of people disqualified those who have received community service and probation orders?

Mr. Ryman

I shall not be distracted by yet another red herring. I fully understand my hon. Friend's concern in wishing to put forward the rehabilitation argument for persons previously convicted. Judging from the tenor of his speech today and on previous occasions, he believes that to be deprived of jury service would prejudice a person's rehabilitation. I fully understand that argument and have a good deal of sympathy for it. It is a serious matter to deprive a person of the right to serve on a jury, but it would not be helpful if I were to deal with each individual case that could arise in the way in which my hon. Friend has suggested.

May I deal with my hon. Friend's question in a general way? It is essential to the administration of justice that we have as many honest people on juries as possible. If we find that there are people on juries who are not honest for various reasons, I support the will of Parliament in promoting any measure that can mitigate that to some extent. I fully agree that the line is a difficult one to draw. We are in the dilemma that on the one hand we want to do our best for the administration of justice and on the other hand we do not want to be too hard and lacking in compassion towards those who have been convicted in the distant past and who, after a reasonable period, should take their full place in society. I recognise that dilemma; it is a difficult one to deal with

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that there are more crimes for which a person can be put on probation or sent to prison than simply a crime of dishonesty? Is he suggesting that where a jury may have a formerly dishonest person on it that person should be removed? If he takes that line, surely there must be some distinction for people who have been convicted, perhaps in their youth, of a crime which did not involve dishonesty but which still carried a sentence of either imprisonment or probation

Mr. Ryman

That is a real difficulty, and my hon. Friend is right to make that point. But I would rather be safe than sorry. It may well be that an injustice will occur in the case of a person who should serve on a jury. But the honesty of the jury is of paramount importance. My hon. Friend has made a valid point. There may be a risk of unfairness in debarring certain people from jury service if the Bill is enacted in its present form, but I would rather have such an unfairness than risk a jury being tainted. If a jury is tainted, the repercussions are far greater. Far better that a dishonest individual is perhaps treated unfairly than that the trial dependent upon a jury should become abortive, the jury have to be discharged and the trial begun again, with all the unfairness that that involves for the witnesses and the defendant in the case.

This is a matter of common sense. Some of the arguments made by my hon. Friend on the Front Bench, while persuasively and attractively put—I pay a great tribute to the ingenuity of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea—are an intellectual contortion and completely lacking in reality and common sense. I am bound to say that. I have unbounded admiration for my hon. Friend's skill as a forensic advocate, but what he says is nonsense. This subject is too serious to play about with. It is too serious a subject for attractive polemics on a Friday morning in the House of Commons. Enough time has been wasted. Filibustering, although a perfectly legitimate parliamentary device, is inappropriate in these circumstances. I would like the Bill to reach the statute book as soon as possible. It has my support.

10.20 am
Mr. John Watson (Skipton and Ripon)

This will, I hope, be my final speech on the Juries (Disqualification) Bill. I am sure that my hon. Friends will share that hope. It would be inappropriate for the Third Reading to pass without a speech from the promoter of the Bill, but I shall be brief.

Several years ago I heard a magistrate in Leeds sentence an unfortunate accused to six months' imprisonment with the memorable words: "I do not know whether you are guilty or not. There is an element of doubt in your case, but you are not getting the benefit of it. If you are guilty, you have got off lightly. If you are innocent, let it be a lesson to you."

As a parliamentary innocent, I have learnt one or two things during our protracted debates on the Bill. I have learnt to believe the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) when he says he believes strongly in certain issues and that he will therefore delay the passage of the legislation in the hope that some concessions will be forthcoming. When I was studying the British constitution at school, I learnt that the Opposition have no power to legislate but that they have the power to delay legislation. I can only say that that power rests in safe and competent hands when exercised by the hon. Member for Battersea.

I listened with interest two weeks ago when the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said that the Government were pandering to public opinion. He said that, because public opinion was in favour of the Bill, the Government were being weak in putting it forward. I have noted with regret that, whenever the Government do things that people want, they are accused by Opposition Members of pandering to public opinion, failing to give a lead and lacking in courage. When the Government do things that people do not want—as they sometimes do—they are accused of ignoring the people's wishes, political arrogance and neglecting the principles of democracy.

One of the great strengths of the Bill is that people want it. That is a positive fact. It is frequently assumed in the House that public opinion is a by-product of debate, but that is not so. Public opinion is a factor which needs to be taken into account in its own right in all debates. The fact that people outside the Chamber—and quite a large number of hon. Members as well — recognise the contents of the Bill in principle and practice makes it all the more necessary that it should be passed as it stands.

I have also learned to distrust some of the more intellectual arguments which can be marshalled against a Bill such as this. As the promoter of the Bill, I have received a relatively large number of letters about it. All but one were in favour. The letter opposing the Bill was written in an academic style, with footnotes and references. The English was flowing and impressive. However, the gist of the argument was that the jury should be a cross-section of society as a whole: society contains criminals, so no jury is complete unless somebody of dodgy character is sitting on it. I find that contention highly arguable. I am reminded of A. J. P. Taylor's observations of London of 20 years ago. He said: I admire St. Paul's cathedral because it is an ugly building which we all unite in calling beautiful. I admire Brixton gaol because it contains the biggest collection of unsuccessful criminals in London, and I admire the House of Commons because it is the biggest collection of successful criminals in London. We know that that is not true. We know that the public do not believe it to be true. I submit to the House that public confidence in this Chamber would be lowered rather than raised if there was a suspicion that such a contention might be true.

If we pass the Bill, we shall achieve three things. First, we shall have brought the law up to date. Since 1974, when the most recent effective juries legislation was passed, more short sentences have been passed, more probation orders have been made, and community service orders and suspended sentences have effectively been introduced.

Secondly, we shall have done something marginal about interference with juries, or jury nobbling. It is only common sense that people on a jury who have been found guilty of a significant criminal offence are more likely to be influenced by those who wish to nobble the jury. They are more likely to be vulnerable to blackmail or to other forms of coercion, and less likely to have faith in the judicial system.

Thirdly, we shall have increased from 250,000 to 500,000 the number of people disqualified from jury service. In so doing we shall have removed the kind of people whose experiences have found their way into the newspapers over the past three or four years and have diminished public faith in the system. If by passing the Bill we can restore that faith, the House will have done the nation a service.

10.27 am
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) has already addressed the House on Third Reading. I did not like the content or the presentation of his speech, but that is by the way; once is enough

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Under the procedure of the House, we begin again this morning. The fact that the hon. Gentleman spoke last time that we debated this matter does not prevent him from speaking again

Mr. Cohen

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall introduce some new material into my speech today, and there are important issues to be raised again.

This is the third week running that I have spoken on the Third Reading of the Bill. For a new Member that must be a record of some kind. Certainly it cannot have been done for a long time.

Precious few Conservative Members attended last week's debate. Although the Conservative party is supposed to be the party of law and order, Conservative Members did not show much concern about the Bill. The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) said: I shall make it my business to send to each person in my constituency who complains about burglaries, delays in trials or about any part of the criminal justice system some speeches by Opposition Members". — [Official Report, 30 March 1984; Vol. 57, c. 562.] There is an implicit threat in that. I do not know about jury nobbling, but that sounds like an attempt to nobble Members of Parliament. I shall have to point out to any of the hon. Members who write to him that there was a dearth of Conservative Members present for the vote on the Bill. So much for the keenness and interest of Conservative Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman) has said that this matter is too serious for polemics. It is also too serious to be dealt with in terms of anecdotes. I have read in detail the record of the Committee stage, and I have been present for the debates in the Chamber, and I know that the fundamental basis of the arguments for the Bill has been a series of anecdotes.

I am not opposed to the jury system. I support the present jury system, and I do not want it to be undermined. That is the reason why I oppose the Bill. Parts of the Bill would have the effect of undermining the jury system, because a broad cross-section of the community is needed if the jury system is to work, and the Bill would undermine that cross-section to a degree. For example, it will disqualify many youngsters who have had probation orders put on them. I support the present jury system and the present arrangements by which people who have committed serious offences are kept off juries —sentences for five years barring them for life, sentences for three months barring them for five years and imprisonment barring them for 10 years. I also support the arrangement which keeps the present jury system fair—the Crown and the defendant can challenge juries. They are fundamental powers which keep the jury system straight. In Committee the Minister said: As to its general principles, the Bill strikes an appropriate balance in the interests of achieving the broadest consensus possible."—[Official Report, Standing CommitteeC, 7 March 1984; c. 9.] If that is so, why did the Government not come to an agreement with Opposition Members about the minor matters in the Bill—such as probation? It was suggested that people's civil rights should be restored 12 months after they had completed a probation order. However, the Minister and the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) were not interested in that type of broad consensus. That gives the lie to the Minister's comments in Committee.

Much anecdotal evidence has been given in support of the Bill and we have had more today. Analysis reveals some interesting features. For example, the Minister quoted an article in the Daily Mail. As I pointed out in an earlier debate, there was a report in The Timesof 25 February which said that the Daily Mail led on the juror. The chap concerned found himself selected for jury service, filled in the form incorrectly, went to a citizens advice bureau and then the press to see what he could do and the Daily Mail led him on and told him to keep on the jury so that it could get a good story afterwards

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

The hon. Gentleman promised the House fresh stuff but this is precisely the same speech he has made twice before

Mr. Cohen

This speech if a mixture of fresh stuff and what I have said before. This is an important point which bears repeating. The Minister also quoted the case of "Mickey the Fish" Roche and The Sunas his source. That is an excellent basis for his case. "Mickey the Fish" had 10 convictions for burglary, was on a suspended sentence but ended up on the jury. The fault there lies not with the system but with the courts. The Minister cannot reasonably quote that case in support of his argument.

There are a few exceptional examples but they cannot be used for making the rules. Of course people will slip through the net—they will continue to do so if the Bill is passed. I refer the House to an exchange in Committee between the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon and my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley. The hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon said: Will not the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that if the potential juror scrutinised the document wrongly, made a mistake and filled in the form on that basis he would thereby have committed a criminal offence?

Mr. Ryman

No, because de minimis lex—if there were a misunderstanding, whether or not there was a technical offence, prosecuting authorities would use common sense and discretion, no proceedings would be taken against a potential juror in those circumstances."—[Official Report, Standing CommitteeC, 7 March 1984; c. 8].

People could still make a mistake but it would not be a criminal offence.

I shall not delay the House much longer but there are some important points that I should like to make. One concerns jury nobbling. It is a serious offence in some circumstances but it is up to the Government to tackle the problem, if they perceive it as such, head on. Why do they not introduce stiffer sentences for jury nobbling? Why do they not use their own time to achieve that, rather than go via the back door of a private Members' Bill with all the vagaries and problems associated with it? They are supposed to be the law and order Government. Jury nobbling is a false reason for the Bill as jury nobbling will still continue. All we are doing is imposing another draconian restriction on civil rights. [Interruption.] The main thrust of my opposition to the Bill—

Mr. Ryman

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you please rule that it is grossly unfair and improper for Conservative Members to barrack my hon. Friend and to talk loudly to distract attention from his speech because, although I happen to disagree with it, he should be given a fair hearing?

The Lords Commissioner to the Treasury (Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones)

He has had one, and this is the same speech as before

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is my duty to uphold the Standing Orders of the House and I try to do that. It is not for me to give judgment

Mr. Cohen

The Government Whip said that this is the same speech but it is not, because most of my earlier remarks concerned extending the exclusion to people who have undergone probation orders, community service orders and suspended sentences. In this speech I have taken up some of the important discrepancies that have cropped up in debate in the House. I am also dealing with the anecdotal evidence that has been given in support of the Bill. I should have thought that it was important to do that.

The crux of my argument is that the Bill extends disqualification to people who have undergone probation orders, community service orders and suspended sentences. That is quite wrong. The Minister said in Committee that the need for that extension made the Bill necessary. The present arrangements for juries were introduced in 1974. Suspended sentences were introduced in 1967 so there was nothing new about them when the Juries Act 1974 was introduced. The community service order was introduced in 1972, again before the 1974 Act

Mr. Mellor

I am sorry that I have been tempted by the hon. Gentleman, who is plumbing new depths of irrelevance and inaccuracy in his further attempts to delight the House. As he should know, the 1974 Act is a continuation of previously agreed matters introduced in the 1960s following the Morris report

Mr. Cohen

But the 1974 Act came before the House in 1974, while community service orders were introduced in 1972 and suspended sentences in 1967, so they must have been known when the 1974 Act was debated. Perhaps the 1974 Act was altered to take into account that knowledge.

A suspended sentence is given by the court because it finds good reason for not sending somebody to prison. The same good reason applies for not putting that person in the same category as prisoners for jury disqualification, but the Bill is seeking to do that and must be wrong.

By extending the Bill to probationers, we are taking in many minor offenders, and taking away civil rights unnecessarily and for an excessive amount of time. I shall not repeat the arguments that I made last week, but the Bill is aimed at youngsters and there is no recognition of rehabilitation for those serving time on a probation order. The hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon said in a previous debate that six out of 10 probationers are found guilty of a subsequent offence. He is finding them guilty before they have even committed a subsequent offence by disqualifying them under the Bill. Effectively, he is penalising them twice — once in the court, and for the second time through the Bill.

For those reasons, and particularly because the Bill extends the disqualification to probationers and is a harsh and excessive period of disqualification, I still think that there are parts of this Bill that are very wrong.

10.43 am
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

I shall make only a brief speech to show why I disagree with the Bill. I support and uphold the concept of keeping juries untainted. However, I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman) that one begins to walk down a dangerous path, which I hope that the House will not follow, if one says that certain cases should not have jury trials. Perhaps he should reconsider his views on that, although I know about commercial fraud cases

My opposition to the Bill is based simply on the point that I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley. It is a blanket Bill. If one has been to prison one is barred from jury service for 10 years, and that bar applies even to one who has been sent to prison, a detention centre or Borstal for non-dishonest matters. In that respect, the Bill is badly drawn and I hope that their Lordships, when it reaches the other place, will take that point on board.

Many a youngster gets into a scrap at the age of 17, in a fight that will arise more from drink than dishonesty, and he may get a short custodial sentence. Are we going to say to that young man, who has always been honest up till then, and has not committed an offence of dishonesty, that he is to be barred for 10 years for jury service? That must not be the intention behind the Bill. By all means, we should keep the habitual criminal and the habitually dishonest person off juries. I welcome and support that, and there are ways in which juries can be challenged. However, young people occasionally do silly things for which they are incarcerated or put on probation, but which are not offences of dishonesty. Perhaps the Bill could be looked at again with a little more care, and not so blandly, in the other place.

The Bill is extremely brief and its brevity is its problem, because it does not differentiate between different types of offences. In the point that has been made by many others, it encompasses the person put on probation for a non-imprisonable offence, and that is ridiculous. I maintain my opposition to the Bill on the point that it is badly drafted, and that probably in the long term does more harm than good. In any society one has to maintain the balance between the rights of the individuals and the rights of society. We should continue to keep the habitual criminal off the jury, but we should not retard the rehabilitation of he who is not dishonest but has been merely stupid when young.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided:Ayes 46, Noes 0.

Division No. 234] [10 45 am
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Knight, Gregory (Derby N)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Lang, Ian
Boscawen, Hon Robert Lawrence, Ivan
Bottomley, Peter Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Lyell, Nicholas
Brooke, Hon Peter MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Cope, John Mates, Michael
Crouch, David Mellor, David
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Rhodes James, Robert
Forth, Eric Sayeed, Jonathan
Fox, Marcus Sims, Roger
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Gale, Roger Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Goodhart, Sir Philip Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Grant, Sir Anthony Tracey, Richard
Greenway, Harry Twinn, Dr Ian
Henderson, Barry Watson, John
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Watts, John
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Wood, Timothy
Hunt, David (Wirral)
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Tellers for the Ayes:
Kennedy, Charles Mr. Gary Waller and Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo.
Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. Harry Cohen and Mr. Gerald Bermingham.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.