HC Deb 23 March 1984 vol 56 cc1332-63
Mr. Dubs

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 8, leave out 'ten' and insert 'seven'.

I welcome the opportunity to introduce the amendment, the more so because I can now answer fully within the terms of the amendment the allegations made by the Minister in the debate on new clauses 1 and 2.

It is quite wrong for the Minister, as a by-product of a discussion about the nature of our jury system, to accuse the Opposition of not believing in law and order and the catching and bringing to justice of criminals. He came close to saying that anyone who had committed any offence at all should be barred from jury service. I do not believe that any person in this country would go so far as that. It is entirely consistent to believe strongly that criminals should be caught and brought to justice and in the importance of a proper jury system that is fair and seen to be fair.

The Minister knows as well as anyone that people who are fined are not caught by the Bill whereas those who receive other types of sentence are caught. The amendment covers the whole range of people who have committed the offences covered by the Bill.

Mr. Mellor

That exposes exactly the dilemma. If, having made the point about fines, the hon. Gentleman proposed that they should be included in the list of disqualifications, we could at least respect the fact that we started from the same standpoint. His position seems to be, however, that because for perfectly proper reasons my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) took the view that fines covered too wide a range of offences and that on balance he wished to exclude them, although at the upper end they relate to fairly serious offences, that argument can be used to prise out other exclusions. That calls into question his genuine commitment to any measure that will actually bite on a problem that concerns not just Conservative Members but his own former colleague Lord Harris, who wrote an eloquent article about it in The Times in far more stringent terms than I have used and who held the onerous office of Minister of State, Home Office throughout the Labour Government.

10.45 am
Mr. Dubs

The Minister's intervention was so long that it was virtually a speech, but I will try to develop those arguments as the debate proceeds.

New clauses 1 and 2 sought to increase the number of people disqualified from serving on juries. The Minister is now using that to say that we seek to reduce the number of people able to serve on juries. Certainly, some of the later amendments are intended to have that effect, but if we are to have a sensible jury system we must discuss seriously and not in such impassioned terms the point at which it is reasonable and proper to draw the line between excluding anyone who has had any criminal convictions and excluding only those who have served long periods in prison. The line must be drawn somewhere and the question underlying almost all the amendments is where it should be drawn.

It is quite improper for the Minister to make allegations purely for party political advantage when he well knows that we are all united in the wish to have a jury system that works reasonable and effectively. There may be differences of judgment about where the line should be drawn, which was the reason for some of the debates in Standing Committee, but the allegations that he has made today suggest that he wants a different set of debates from those that most hon. Members wish.

Mr. Mellor

It is no use the hon. Gentleman simply saying that and expecting us to accept it. It is by his deeds that he shall be known, not just by what he says. Far from tightening up the law, the amendment will make it easier for anyone sentenced to between three months and five years' imprisonment to serve on a jury earlier. The present disqualification is for 10 years. The hon. Gentleman proposes to reduce it to seven years. That being so, it is no wonder that we are profoundly sceptical about his commitment.

Mr. Dubs

I must throw that one back at the Minister as I have doubts about his own commitment to these issues when, instead of having a Bill produced by his Department on a matter about which he claims to feel so strongly, he is content to ride on the coattails of the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) who had the good fortune to come high in the ballot for private Members' Bills. If the Minister judges the matter to be so serious why did he not get the Department to prepare legislation rather than allowing it to be introduced in this way and then trying to claim credit for taking a stand when, but for the vagaries of the ballot, there might have been no such legislation this Session? The Minister cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Mellor

Again, in seeking to wriggle off the hook of a perfectly sound charge against him, the hon. Gentleman gets it wrong. Our manifesto contains a commitment to legislate on this. That commitment is significantly absent from the Labour manifesto, so heaven knows what a Labour Government would have done. The manifesto sets out a programme for an entire Parliament. The question of what conies in when is always difficult. As the hon. Gentleman knows, important Home Office legislation has already gone through this Session. It would have been nonsense to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon, given his commitment to introduce this measure, that we wanted to do it ourselves so it would have to wait another year. My hon. Friend is perfectly capable of taking the Bill through, provided that there is some commitment from the Opposition. That is what seems to be absent today.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Earlier, I explained to the House that I would allow a fairly wide-ranging debate on new clause 1 to set the scene for the other amendments. My duty is to protect the business of the House. There is much business on today's Order Paper. We are now dealing with the fairly restricted point of whether there should be a disqualification period of 10 years or seven years. I ask hon. Members to address themselves to that narrow point.

Mr. Dubs

I agree completely with what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Under-Secretary of State briefly described the present disqualification provisions under the Juries Act 1974. At present, anyone who has served a sentence of five or more years is disqualified from jury service for life, and anyone who has had a prison sentence of three months or longer is disqualified from jury service forthe following 10 years. The amendment concerns the change being made in the Bill.

The Bill brings a greatly increased number of people within its scope. The Under-Secretary of State estimated that about 250,000 people — I may have the figure wrong—would, from now on, be disqualified from jury service. That disqualification covers not only people who have served a prison sentence of more than three months—the present position — but those who have served much shorter sentences and those who have received other punishments that are not custodial.

We should consider reducing the number of years of disqualification from 10 to seven not, as the Under-Secretary of State said, because that is a way of getting more crooks on to juries. The Bill, with the amendment, would greatly reduce the number of people qualified for jury service. As the Bill is drafted, it brings a large number of people within its scope.

Is it right that the disqualification period should be that long for all the sentences contained in clause 1? Frankly, I have doubts about that, notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman's strictures. I shall give the reasons for my doubts in a nutshell. It is all very well to say that someone who has committed a criminal offence is therefore suspect as a jury member. People who have served their sentences and are going straight have the right to be regarded as law-abiding citizens in all respects. We should be careful before we stipulate too long a period during which they are disqualified from serving on a jury, merely because it is suspected that one or two of them might not be totally in sympathy with the aims they serve on a jury.

People serving on juries will include those who have committed offences and never been caught and those who have never committed offences but are still hostile to the idea of bringing criminals to justice. The Under-Secretary of State is too glibly making a direct association between people who have committed certain offences and their motives for serving on a jury.

The main reason the disqualification period should be reduced from 10 years to seven years is that people who have committed offences and then gone straight have the right to be rehabilitated in all senses of the word. If they are not, they cannot become law-abiding citizens. They cannot be expected to go straight if society continues to penalise them long after they have served the formal sentences imposed by the courts. That is the main reason we passed the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. That is why we say that, after a certain period, people are rehabilitated and should, in all respects, be entitled to be treated as if they had never been sentenced and punished.

Mr. Lawrence

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that someone who cannot sit on a jury because he is disqualified is more likely to commit further offences because we are not rehabilitating him to the 100 per cent. level?

Mr. Dubs

I am not saying that. The matter is not that simple, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows. We must think hard before we state that, in addition to serving a sentence, many years must pass before those individuals are treated in all respects as having expunged their offences and therefore able to take part in society in the same way as everyone else. We must consider how much we load the practices of our society against the ex-criminal so that, in the following years, he will continue to be punished in a different sense. The purpose of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act was to deal with those people. Hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee will recall that the Committee debated an amendment to give parity to the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and the period during which individuals are disqualified from jury service.

Mr. Waller

The hon. Gentleman has used the words "penalised" and "punished" about someone prevented from sitting on a jury. A person whose civil rights are affected in that way is not penalised in the same way as if, for example, he had been deprived of a vote at a general election. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we must bear in mind that a judge in a jury trial will first look for a unanimous verdict, or, at least, a verdict of 10 to two? The hon. Gentleman referred to one or two people who may not be completely rehabilitated. Two or three people sitting on a jury might interfere considerably with the interests of justice. Should not the interests of justice be paramount in our thinking on this matter?

Mr. Dubs

Justice matters a great deal. There is a difficulty in the hon. Gentleman's point, and I believe that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that problem. I referred to it a few moments ago. There is no direct relationship between a person who has served a prison sentence or who has been punished in another way and a person who is unwilling to treat jury service in the way we would wish. There is no relationship between people who have never committed a criminal offence and their willingness to serve with the right motives on a jury. One of the difficulties of a jury system is that juries will always include people—even though we might debar some of them under the Bill—whose motives may not be as pure and proper as we wish. That problem is inherent in a jury system. If we go down that path, we can ask why there should be a jury rather than one, two or three judges. We would become involved in difficulties similar to those in Northern Ireland. We must say that we firmly believe in the jury system, and that we will discuss the amendment in terms of whether it will help to make the jury system better. We should do that in relation to the Bill's proposals and the amendment I have tabled.

We must consider the way people who have been offenders take their place in society. The amendment means not that we shall have more crooks serving on juries, as the Under-Secretary of State said, but that society will be better protected if people who have committed criminal offences are, after serving their punishment, enabled to have all the civil rights, freedoms and powers ordinary people normally would have. That is a simple proposition. Some of the disqualification provisions in the Bill go too far.

It would be appropriate to reduce the period of disqualification from 10 years to seven years. People who at present are for 10 years debarred from jury service will be debarred for seven years if my amendment is accepted. A far greater number of people will be disqualified under a combination of my amendment and the Bill as it stands.

11 am

We are talking about people who, at the moment, are not disqualified — those who have served less than a three-month custodial sentence — and who, under my amendment, would be disqualified for seven years. That does not seem an unreasonable proposition. Those on suspended sentences, who clearly may not be as much of a threat to society as those put inside, would now be disqualified for seven years, as would people on community service orders. The Minister has said that a community service order is an alternative to imprisonment, and because more people are given alternatives to imprisonment, we should not be too easy on them. He said that in years gone by they would have been put inside but now, because we have different methods of punishment, they are not.

The Minister has forgotten one thing. It is the courts that have decided that some people do not deserve the rigours of a custodial sentence, for whatever reason—and the courts are there to look into those reasons—and that they should be given a punishment that does not take them out of society. That is why we have suspended sentences, community service orders, and probation, to which we shall be coming later.

The purpose of my amendment is to deal with those who have served shorter prison sentences, and for whom seven years' disqualification would seem to be enough, and, secondly, with people on community service orders and suspended sentences.

There is another matter to which I wish to refer, which the Minister has not yet mentioned. It is regrettable that many people who come before the courts and who are sentenced tend, on completion of their sentence, to re-offend and have a further sentence imposed upon them. The figures are alarming, but the fact that that happens means that habitual offenders who have already run foul of the law will be debarred from jury service anyway. Even if we reduce the period of disqualification from 10 to seven years the statistics show that the likelihood of such people re-offending is that they will do so within seven years. It is most unusual for someone who has committed an offence not to commit another for at least seven years, if they are to go on committing offences. The number of people who would be excluded from serving on juries by this amendment would not be all that many.

There is another group of people about whom I am worried and who have not been mentioned — fine defaulters who are sent to prison. As the Bill stands, fine defaulters sent to prison even for a short period — as I interpret the Bill — are likely to be debarred from jury service. If that is not the case I should be delighted to hear it.

Mr. Mellor

I make no point of criticism; may I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is not the case.

Mr. Dubs

About 21,000 fine defaulters a year go to prison. If they are not to be excluded from jury service, I am relieved, because that takes one large group of people out of the scope of the Bill.

The tendency to re-offend, which is a distressing one, makes a material difference to the number of people who will be caught by the Bill's provisions. We should take that fact into account before saying that the amendment will affect a significant number of people. I do not know the figures. The Minister, with all the resources of the Home Office at his disposal, would be better placed to tell the House what difference my amendment would make to the number of people affected. It seems to me that it probably would not make all that much difference but it would make enough to make the amendment worth while.

My argument for the amendment, in a nutshell, is that while, of course, we should keep off juries people who have recently committed serious offences and been punished for them, we should think hard before we make the period of disqualification so long, as, in effect, to be saying to people, "No matter what the offence, though you have had some punishment other than a fine, you will be debarred from serving on a jury for a very long time." Excluding probation, we are talking about a disqualification for 10 years. That is too long. We must arrive at a balance. On balance, I believe that the 10-year period is too long, and that is why I have tabled the amendment.

Mr. Watson

It is beginning to take a degree of fortitude to listen to the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) and my hon. Friend the Minister engaging in a rather esoteric game of parliamentary ping-pong over the finer points of what is, at the end of the day, my Bill. I shall, therefore, be relatively brief in putting the case against the amendment. It is easy to be brief, because the amendment runs counter to the Bill's main purpose.

At the moment, 250,000 people are disqualified from jury service. They are people who have been sent to prison for five years or more, in which case they are disqualified for life, or they are people who have been to prison for between three months and five years in which case they are disqualified for 10 years.

The purpose of the Bill is to increase the number of people disqualified from jury service. The effects of the Bill, as drafted, will be make a further 250,000 people ineligible, which will therefore mean about 500,000 people being disqualified from jury service. It is a modest measure.

Mr. Soley

Surely the hon. Gentleman's intention is not to increase the number of people disqualified, but to be sure that he is disqualifying people who could not. be relied on to respect the rules of law while carrying out jury service.

Mr. Watson

That is the purpose, but I suggest——

Mr. Soley

It is different.

Mr. Watson

I do not believe that it is. I suggest that to look at the number of people who are disqualified is a reasonable way to measure the effect of the Bill upon restoring confidence in the jury system generally.

The Bill has been widely welcomed as a modest measure. It has had two predecessors in the past three or four years, both of which would probably have had the effect of disqualifying about 1 million people from jury service. The Bill goes only half that far. As there has been a wide welcome for the Bill outside this place, I am reluctant to accept any amendment which would reduce below 500,000 the number of people disqualified from jury service and could, conceivably, reduce the number below the present 250,000. That is the principal reason for my objection.

The second reason why I ask the House to reject the amendment comes from the painstaking care with which I have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Battersea. The hon. Gentleman seems to have based almost all his observations on the offender's point of view—the person who has been to prison.

I consider the Bill occasionally in that light, but more frequently, and I suggest more necessarily, I study the need for the Bill through the eyes of the average British citizen who looks to the judicial system for some protection from the lawlessness that he sees around him.

I ask hon. Members to consider the feelings of the average British citizen if he were to hear that in 1984 courts were to have juries composed of people who had been in prison as recently as 1977. If that were to be the case, which is a substantial dilution of the present law, I believe that the faith that it is so necessary to have in our judicial system would be not reinforced, which is the Bill's main purpose, but perhaps seriously damaged.

Mr. Soley

I apologise for not being here at the beginning of the debate. I had every intention of being here and had changed some of my arrangements for this morning, but, unfortunately, I was caught on an immigration case involving, as usual, the rather daft immigration laws operated by this Government. Consequently, I give advance warning to anyone going to a concert at Hammersmith Odeon tomorrow night that the drummer will not be there, because he cannot get into the country at present. So there will be problems unless I can sort something out in the next 24 hours.

I shall confine my remarks to the amendment, but I hope that it will be borne in mind that the Minister has taken the matter much further than I had originally estimated. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) rightly alerted me to some of the Bill's dangers, and I was worried about them. However, having heard the Minister, I am now even more worried. I respect what the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) has said, and I think that his intentions are valid. However, politicians should provide leadership in, above all, matters of law and order. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is pursuing a populist trend, which is to get tough and do something about all these dreadful things. If I though that that prevented crime, I would be happy to follow that trend, but as the Minister knows, it does not do so. The Minister's argument fails because he does not talk about preventing crime and protecting civil rights, and he does not recognise that what he is doing runs counter to some of his Department's arguments.

The proposal is for an extension of 10 years for certain types of sentence. The Minister apparently wants to prevent people from serving on juries if, in some way or another, they do not support the rule of law. However, that is the first fallacy. Those who know offenders are aware that they are often tougher in their interpretation of how the law should be applied than others. I am rather sad that one of the Bill's sponsors, the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) — a Conservative Member — is not here today. With his experience as a prison governor, he will confirm what I have said. It does not follow that because a person has a conviction he will be bad news on a jury. He might be bad news at times for the defendant, but the reverse is not always true.

I accept that the Minister should try to stop a person serving on a jury if he has committed particularly serious offences of corruption and so on over a period of time. However, the Bill will not achieve that. Indeed, the 10-year provision will certainly not achieve that. I am even worried about the seven-year period. I can accept the imprisonment provision. But let us consider the next provision relating to youth custody or detention. Some young people are sent to detention centres on a second or third offence when they are about 17 years old, and never re-offend. The same is true of borstal. Some years ago, when I was a probation officer, a young lady aged about 17 was under my supervision. If I remember rightly, she had committed a minor offence, involving shoplifting. Her parents would not have her back and she was homeless. She was difficult to contain in hostels, because she bucked the system wherever she was, and we had nowhere to put her. Very reluctantly, I made the sort of recommendation that we had to make from time to time to send her to borstal. As the judge said, we did not know what else to do with her.

11.15 am

The Minister has failed the House badly, because he knows that crime peaks in the teenage years. Indeed, I am glad to have confirmation of that from some hon. Members. People tend to commit offences between the ages of 13 and 20. The vast bulk of crime is committed then, and after that, it tails off. Those who continue to offend are the problem ones, who are likely to become recidivists. They are often very pathetic individuals, who are addicted to alcohol, and so on. They are the sad cases, but the bulk of young offenders grow out of it.

That young lady left borstal when she was 18 or 18½, having served her full sentence. However, she will not be allowed to serve on a jury until she is 28. Why not? There is no evidence to suggest that she was not a good citizen by the age of 21, yet her crime will be held against her.

I am even more concerned about suspended sentences, for the reasons that I have already given the Minister. Suspended sentences were introduced with the specific aim of reducing the prison population. The idea was that the courts would use suspended sentences to keep people out of prison. However, I defy the Minister to deny that as a result of those sentences the prison population has increased. The courts have used them inappropriately. I am not greatly criticising the courts, but the assumption is made—as so often happens in courts—that crimes are committed in some rational way. Some of them are, but most of them are committed irrationally. In inner-city areas about 70 per cent. of them are committed under the influence of drink. Thus, someone who would not have been sentenced to prison receives a suspended sentence, commits another offence and is then sent to prison for both of them. It might be said that that is fine and that such people should not serve on a jury. There may be a case for saying that, but that is not the Minister's case.

The crime rate, particularly under this Government, has increased more rapidly than under almost any other Government in recent years. Indeed, that is another reason why the Minister fails in his law and order argument. It has also increased because of the way in which we have changed sentencing. There are now more people in prison than ever before. Britain has more people in prison than almost any other comparable country. The only two Western countries to compare with us are the United States of America and West Germany. However, it is significant that those three systems were modelled on each other.

Thus, suspended sentences are a very dubious reason for excluding people for 10 years. Someone who had committed a relatively minor offence could receive a suspended sentence if, in particular, he had previous findings of guilt. Thus, a person who is just 17 and has a couple of findings of guilt against him, may suddenly receive a suspended sentence for a minor offence. He may never again get into trouble, but he will still be told that he is not a good enough citizen to serve on a jury for another 10 years.

The Minister will say that community service orders are an alternative to prison. In view of the debates in the House at the time, the Home Office quite correctly said that community service was an alternative to prison.

Mr. Mellor


Mr. Soley

I shall give way to the Minister in a moment. But for his own sake, he had better hear me out.

However, in reality, magistrates have used community service as a sentence in its own right. I shall cite the case of one magistrate, although in many ways I respect that person despite the great problems that I had when I was a probation officer. That magistrate would say that he had the Home Office circular saying that community service was an alternative to prison but that there was nothing in the Act, and that he believed that community service should be a sentence in its own right and would use it in that way. Does the Minister want to intervene now?

Mr. Mellor

I shall wait.

Mr. Soley

I had a feeeling that the hon. Gentleman might say that.

Mr. Mellor

The hon. Gentleman knows only too well that suspended sentences are specifically an alternative to imprisonment. He cannot slide away from that by saying that the courts are using them for something else. The hon. Gentleman also knows that community service is treated as an alternative to prison and is generally applied only as a last chance of turning people away from prison. He must give us a little more than the sentimental argument that the offenders that he has known are very committed to the administration of justice before he can deliver on some of his rather excessive statements and assertions.

Mr. Soley

That is a typically pathetic response from the Minister, because once again he is missing the main point.

I am saying that the hon. Gentleman's Department has the evidence—and he knows it—that that sentence has not always been used as a strict alternative to imprisonment. The hon. Gentleman knows that the prison population would not be so high if it had been used as it was intended. I should point out that this is not the criticism of the courts that the Minister thinks that it is. In a rather unpleasant way, the Minister has tried to distort the argument. I have considerable respect for the way in which a number of judges and magistrates try to handle the situation.

What has gone wrong over the years is that as sentences at the top end of the scale have been lengthened the pyramid has been jacked up. That is why there are more people in prison today. The Minister knows that. The Home Secretary and his predecessor know that, but the Minister made no recognition of it in his contribution today.

It is reasonable for a magistrate to say that a community service order is a sentence in its own right. The Minister is not prepared to apply the test. If what he says is true, if a community service order is breached the person who breaches it should automatically go to prison. In practice they very rarely go to prison. That gives the lie to the Minister's intervention. If when such orders were breached all concerned, or 90 per cent. of them, were sent to prison, one could argue that they are an alternative to prison, but because so few are sent to prison it is clear that they are not being used as an alternative.

Newspapers such as The Sun may rant and rave about what is happening, but the Bill uses a sledgehammer to crack a nut and will cause other problems. The hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon must be prepared to give leadership to people and not just follow a populist trend. I know that it is unpopular to argue as I have today. I get a lot of stick for it in my constituency. The Conservative candidate at the 1979 election used a beautiful slogan on the following lines: "Clive Soley knows all about the problems of criminals, but he does not know anything about the problems of victims. The Tory party will cut crime." It did not, but that is another matter.

Mr. Lawrence

We have cut crime.

Mr. Soley

That is not true. Crime has risen rapidly. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is taking only the figures for the last 12 months. Even taking the drop in that time into account the overall figures show that crime has increased. The hon. and learned Gentleman should not distort the figures.

There is a need for leadership. We do not want to continue to increase the prison population and prevent people from serving on juries because they committed a serious crime in their adolescent years. We are criminalising them and saying that they must stay outside the system because the Government and the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon think that we can catch a small number of people who should not serve on juries. I agree that there is a problem because some people should not serve on juries, but this is the wrong way of going about it. Further problems will be caused. Anyone who has worked in the courts or prisons should be aware o f that and we should all beware of eroding a well-established tradition.

In Victorian England, when people in a curious way had a much greater regard for the law than the present Government have, and when people were aware of the need to protect civil liberties in a way that the Government are not, a measure of this nature could never have been conceived.

Mr. Lawrence

I shall not be tempted to prove how this Government's attitude to law and order is showing signs of success, although there has been a fall in the level of crime for the first time in four years. The fall is 4 per cent. in London and there has been a reduction of 25 per cent. in armed robberies. That is a substantial achievement.

We are in danger of losing sight of the real issue—whether, and to what extent, criminals should be judges. That is what jurymen are. They have to decide the facts. The judge in a criminal court has only to rule on matters of law, sum up and direct the jury on those matters. The jurymen are the judges. We are talking about whether criminals should be judges.

Last time I spoke I complimented the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) on testing a matter that would not otherwise have been tested. But this amendment will make it easier for villains to sit as judges. The public will think that anyone who makes such a suggestion is up the pole. I mean no disrespect to the hon. Gentleman but the issue goes beyond testing the detail of the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman suggests that villains should sit on juries more easily because under existing law a person is disqualified for jury service for life if he has been sentenced to more than five years. A person is also disqualified for 10 years if he is sentenced to prison, detention or youth custody for more than three months.

By the reduction in the time ban from 10 years to seven years a number of people will be released for jury service who are now disqualified. Some of the worst types of people will be released—those sentenced to the most serious sentences. Persistent offenders with whom the courts have lost all patience will be released. Such people will have been told that the public must be protected from them. The amendment would release for jury service people who have been convicted of armed robbery, serious violence or a succession of burglaries. They are the very people we do not want to sit on our juries as judges of the rights and wrongs of other citizens.

Mr. Dubs

The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) talks about allowing persistent offenders to sit on juries. What does he mean by persistent offender? In the terms of the amendment a persistent offender would have to commit an offence every seven years. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman explain the effect of my amendment, taken in conjunction with the Bill on the number of people disqualified? Does he admit that my amendment, with the other provisions in the Bill, will result in a significant increase in the number of people disqualified?

Mr. Lawrence

Perhaps more people will be disqualified, but my objection to the amendment is that it specifically helps people sentenced to the longer terms of imprisonment. That runs directly contrary to the wishes of the people. The amendment will release to serve as judges people who have been convicted of reasonably high degrees of criminality, as evidenced by the lengthy sentences served. That will happen more often than before because in the old days if one committed a certain offence one would be sent to prison for a substantial time. Recently, because of a "more enlightened" approach to sentencing, some people who would have served sentences in excess of three months are not sent to prison. Others are given suspended sentences or put on probation, not necessarily for "enlightened" reasons. They will be able to serve as jurymen for no better reason than that we need to keep the prisons emptier to prevent a decline in the penal system.

The same criminal whom Parliament said should not sit on a jury for 10 years or perhaps for life, is being made eligible for judgeship, not because he has changed, but because there is a slightly different attitude—perhaps for no better reason than to keep the prisons empty. That is absurd. The hon. Gentleman says that people have a right, once they have served their sentences, to be regarded as ordinary citizens. I agree with him. People who have served prison sentences should not be deprived for the rest of their lives of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They should have the right to live normal lives.

Nevertheless, most people would draw the line at people who have shown a substantial propensity to criminality being judges. That is what we are talking about. We are not talking about the ordinary freedoms of living. We are talking about people being judges, and I draw the line at that. Rehabilitation is one thing, but the opportunity to be good citizens is another. To say that these people should be judges is a long way from the point——

Mr. Dubs


Mr. Lawrence

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my point. There will be plenty of other opportunities for him to speak.

At one stage the hon. Gentleman went so far as to say—it underlines his lack of objectivity in the amendment—that people cannot be expected to go straight if they are not allowed to sit on juries. A person who has served a prison sentence, has been convicted in our courts, and has the determination to live a good and honest life, as he must be encouraged to do, will not say, "I would do that, I would live an honest life, but because I am being stopped from sitting on a jury I will stay a criminal for the rest of my days." That is utterly preposterous.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley)—it looks as though he has been called out to deal with another immigration problem—spoke about young people who had been sent to borstal or youth custody or given some form of custodial sentence. He said that perhaps such sentences were not justified and that because it might be a mistake, they should not be disqualified for 10 years. If people have been wrongly setenced to custody, either on the recommendation of a probation officer or on the mistaken judgment of a judge, that may not be justified—I see that the hon. Member for Hammersmith has now returned to the Chamber. But for the purpose of deciding whether they should serve on juries after seven or 10 years that does not matter, in my opinion. It is just bad luck. It is not the end of the world. They are not cut off from their right to live or to enjoy life or to rehabilitate themselves. The difference between a seven-year or 10-year period of disqualification does not affect that.

I see no merit in the argument that has been advanced in favour of the amendment by the hon. Member for Hammersmith. The British public do not want more villains sitting as judges. Therefore, the amendment must be thrown out.

11.30 am
Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

I apologise for not being here at the beginning of the debate, but I was unavoidably detained somewhere else. I want to raise only a few points at this stage, following what has been said in the debate. I am anxious to save time, and, if I may say so, with respect, some hon. Members have raised some thoroughly irrelevant and bad points.

The problem of 10 or seven in the amendment must be seen against the background of what strikes at the very root of the administration of justice — either unsuitable people sitting on juries, or juries being interfered with by those who wish to pervert the course of justice. It has been said, and I said as much in Committee, that the Bill does not go far enough. I personally would favour more sweeping reforms to exclude from jury service not only the people caught by the Bill but many others.

The administration of justice depends on the integrity of those who serve in it. If we have members of juries with a propensity against the administration of justice, however understandable that is in view of their previous experience, the whole process is perverted. There have been innumerable cases in recent years in which trials have been interrupted, juries discharged, huge sums of public money wasted, and defendants and witnesses have been inconvenienced and endured hardship because someone on the jury has been found, after the trial started, unsuitable to sit on the jury.

There are two possibilities. First, a perfectly respectable person on a jury may be interfered with, either by bribery or threats from outside. The other possibility is that there are people sitting on juries who are unsuitable to do so because, for example, they bear an unremitting hostility towards police officers and will never convict on any evidence given by any police officer in any circumstance. What is the point of permitting such people to serve on juries? It must pervert the whole administration of justice.

It has been rightly said on both sides of the House that in this country we are proud of our system of administration of justice, and that we should all work to make that system fairer and more efficient. One has only to attend courts these days to see juries acquitting in cases where there is overwhelming evidence of guilt, not because of a lacuna in the evidence, but because there is someone on the jury—perhaps more than one person—who is utterly perverse and will not convict in any circumstances.

Mr. Soley


Mr. Ryman

If my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) wishes to interrupt, I shall gladly give way, but perhaps he will allow me to finish what I am saying. There are people who bear hostility towards the administration of justice, and it is in the interests of the administration of justice that these people should not partake in its processes.

Mr. Soley

My hon. Friend will know and, I am sure, agree with me that perverse judgments have been made by juries for hundreds of years, and that the strength of the jury system is that we accept the fact that at times there will be perverse judgments, instead of structuring juries to stop that, particularly when the perverse judgments do not necessarily come from the people my hon. Friend is attacking.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I assume that the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman) is getting towards the end of his introduction, and that he will tell the House why the provisions of the clause should operate for seven and not 10 years.

Mr. Ryman

I am, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You are quite correct to draw attention to the relatively narrow ambit of the amendment. However, I must deal with the interruption, which wholly missed the point.

All of us, whether we support or oppose the amendment, believe in the jury system. I, of course, strongly believe in the jury system. There have been fairly recent amendments in the law to strengthen the operation of the jury system. For example, the introduction of majority verdicts was calculated to strengthen the jury system, as the amendment envisages, because experience showed that there had been occasions when someone was being unreasonably awkward in the administration of justice and who, just for the sake of being awkward, would pervert the course of justice, in the sense of ignoring all the evidence and bringing in perverse verdicts. That was why unanimous verdicts were abolished and why it was made possible, after an interval of two hours and 10 minutes, to bring in majority verdicts on the direction of the judge.

I do not see the logic of the amendment. Why was the figure of seven selected? Why was it not five or four, or three or eight? No logical reason has been put forward. As I understand it, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, the purpose of the amendment is to fly a kite in order to make a plea on behalf of people in an exaggerated manner in order to reduce the number of persons disqualified to serve on juries. I do not understand the logic of the amendment if it has logic. I do not understand the reason of the amendment if it has reason. I do not understand the figure in the amendment if the figure has been calculated in any mathematical or scientific way. As far as I can see, it has simply been put forward as a vehicle for complaining in a vague and general way about a measure which is long overdue.

There were various altercations in the debate as to who should bring in such a Bill and when it should be brought forward. My recollection is that—perhaps the Under-Secretary of State or my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea will be able to help me—in the previous Parliament there were attempts in the House to bring in such legislation in another Bill. The Government later changed their mind about it because complaints were made that such a fundamental measure should not be tacked on to another Bill. My recollection about that is rather vague, but I think the measure is long overdue. I welcome it, and I cannot support the amendment.

Mr. Mellor

I am glad to follow that excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman). I appreciate that it created great discomfiture in the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) who has been becoming rather irascible during the course of the morning. He and his hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) fail to realise how out on a limb they are on this issue. Regardless of party and interest any of those who practise on the courts are profoundly troubled about the present situation and feel that something must be clone. That is why we have the Bill.

The hon. Member for Blyth Valley stated roundly—I am grateful for his support of a proposition that I put forward earlier—that these amendments are being used as a peg upon which is hung a basic failure to grasp the seriousness of the situation, as perceived by others throughout the system, and a basic unwillingness to come to terms with the need for change. That is why I was staggered when the hon. Member for Battersea said that his amendment did not seem to be an unreasonable proposition. It is utterly unreasonable and falls comprehensively below the level of events, when there is such widespread concern, to suggest that far from tightening the bonds they should in a material respect be loosened. He is saying that people, having served a term of imprisonment between three months and five years who are disqualified under the present inadequate law for 10 years, should, if we accept the amendment, be disqualified for only seven years. My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) ably made the point, and I do not need to extend it except in two small respects.

The hon. Member for Battersea prayed in aid the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. That simply is not right. That Act mainly enables offenders to avoid answering questions by prospective employers about their spent convictions provided that a given period has elapsed. That period depends on the length of the sentence. But the Act has nothing whatever to do with rehabilitation in a wider sense. In any case, there are numerous exceptions from the Act and some of those—I hope that I have the hon. Gentleman's attention because he needs to understand this—relate to jobs associated with the administration of justice. So there can be no argument based on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, that someone who would have to disclose a previous conviction in relation to a job connected with the administration of justice should be allowed to serve on a jury earlier than would otherwise be the case.

The hon. Gentleman has not achieved what he claimed he set out to achieve—to bring the Bill into line with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act—because any sentence beyond six months' imprisonment is not spent until after 10 years whereas the hon. Gentleman's amendment would mean that anyone sentenced to a term of imprisonment of up to five years would be able to serve on a jury three years earlier than is presently the case.

I appreciate that the hon. Member for Hammersmith has considerable experience of one part of the criminal justice system and, as a general rule, I have a considerable respect for him. However, I am bound to say that he does not add to his credibility when he uses as a basis for an attack upon this proposal what I can only say is an anecdotal and sentimental account of the willingness of offenders to uphold justice, almost as if justice would be enhanced if juries were comprised only of people who had previously been sentenced by the courts. I should have thought that the more authentic voice of the villain, although I accept that it is equally anecdotal, came in a Daily Mail interview with Mr. John Luck who served on a jury unlawfully. He spent three and a half years in prison and would through the courtesy of the hon. Gentleman, if we were to accept his amendment, be able to serve on a jury three years earlier. He was reported as saying: I hate the Old Bill … and as far as I am concerned the defendants are not guilty unless they have been molesting kids … If a guy has done a bit of thieving to get a few bob that's all right with me. In my book he's not guilty. I've always made my views very plain on that. I made myself foreman in two of the cases. No one seemed keen to do it. About the case that he tried he went on to say: They were guilty, bang to rights. All they had done was to turn over a Paki shop. The Paki was in court and he didn't seem very worried. I do not know whether those that the hon. Gentleman supervised have given him the right impression or whether Mr. John Luck is the authentic voice of the criminal. That is not something on which it is helpful to speculate. What matters is that the administration of justice should be protected. The burden of proving that serious offenders should be protected. The burden of proving that serious offenders should serve on juries rests on those who advance the proposition and nothing that the hon. Gentleman has said strengthens that belief. The balance of public convenience must favour the maxim—when in doubt, exclude. That is why the distinction is drawn between the more serious range of penalties, which are not dependent on proving that every person sentenced to community service order or suspended sentence would, were this disposal not available, have gone to prison. As the hon. Member for Blyth Valley said, that is to miss the point. What matters is that those sentences are imposed by the courts only when a serious offence has been committed. The commission of a serious offence for which someone has been punished must call into question their commitment to the system. The period of 10 years is inevitably a rough and ready one but it has already been established in respect of the exclusions based on the Morris committee. It is far better to cleave to that, than that, in the pursuit of what to so many people seems to be a rather narrow adherence to the interests of the offender rather than the broad appreciation of the rights of the community, the hon. Gentleman should persist in the seven-year amendment.

11.45 am
Mr. Soley

I am grateful to the Minister for that particular example. He will agree with me that what he is after is a person with the attitude and values that were expressed. Those attitudes and values will not change in another three years. Therefore, the only logical road to go down in the case of such people is the one down which my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman) went, and to say that some jurors are suspect and should not serve on juries and therefore we should have a 10-year rather than a seven-year rule. That man's views will not have changed one iota.

Mr. Mellor

The hon. Gentleman is right but the logic of his case is not exactly that which he is advancing. The logic is to say that there should be a lifetime prohibition on such people as there is on those sentenced to more than five years' imprisonment. The essential modesty of this proposal is evidenced by the fact that, notwithstanding such considerations, my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon says 10 years. I am content to go along with him in the belief that, with the exception of one or two hon. Members that we see before us today, most hon. Members and people in the other place will find that these provisions represent a sensible compromise. It will not do to advance the argument that 10 years is not stringent enough to support the proposition that 10 years should be seven years. That is logic which Lewis Carroll would have immortalised in one of his novels. Supporters of that view are out on a limb. The amendment that has been advanced, and the way in which hon. Members have kicked against the pricks of common sense in this measure is irritating not just to Conservative Members but to the hon. Member for Blyth Valley, with his massive experience.

I draw the attention of the hon. Members for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) and for Hammersmith to the fact that after five years as Minister of State, Home Office during the previous Labour Government, Lord Harris of Greenwich has condemned the present arrangements in his arguments in The Times with much more formidable eloquence than I can deploy. That must count for something. Do not the hon. Members see the sheer illogicality of their position? They are asking the House to soften a provision that as long ago as 1967 the Government formed by the party that they support saw fit to put into the law, based on the then sentencing structure. That cannot be right.

Mr. Ted Garrett (Wallsend)

Does the Minister agree that we have spent some time today on the numbers game? Does the hon. Gentleman further agree that Lords are not allowed to sit as jurors, as peers of the realm? They do not have withdrawal symptoms because they are not allowed to sit as jurors. Have the Minister and his advisers considered a complete ban for life from serving on a jury for certain categories of criminals? It is simple logic. That would be suitable for certain crimes with which the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) has to deal. Would it not be possible for the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) to consider amending the Bill, deleting the provision for 10 years and inserting a category of criminals who would be banned for life from serving on juries?

Mr. Mellor

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) proposes to leave the law as it is so that only those sentenced to terms of imprisonment of over five years are banned for life. In the spirit of compromise that has resulted from the two Bills introduced last Session, that is right. I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I have made it clear that I was attracted by a much more severe proposal advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) last Session. It startled me that the hon. Member for Hammersmith supported my hon. Friend's thinking, when he also opposes a much less stringent requirement than that.

Mr. Soley


Mr. Mellor

I shall not give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to perpetuate that illogicality. He knows that it is a fair point. I suspect, as does the hon. Member for Blyth Valley, that the hon. Members for Hammersmith and for Battersea are out of sorts with any proposal to strengthen the law. We should not play into their hands by prolonging the argument. The amendment should be rejected out of hand by the House in the confident belief that, in doing so, it is doing the right thing.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Dubs

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 9, leave out 'or the Channel Islands'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 3, in page 1, line 9, leave out `or the Isle of Man'. No. 9, in page 1, line 19, leave out 'or the Channel Islands'.

No. 10, in page 1, line 19, leave out `or the Isle of Man'.

Mr. Dubs

This group of amendments is concerned with the extension of the Bill's provisions to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The references to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are made in two places. First, in clause 1 the disqualification will include A person who at any time in the ten years has, in the United Kingdom or the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man served the specified sentences, or has had a suspended sentence or a community service order imposed upon him. When the Bill deals with probation, similar words are used: A person who at any time in the last five years, has in the United Kingdom or the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, been placed on probation. I appreciate that the same phrase appears in the Juries Act 1974. Before the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) draws my attention to earlier legislation, let me say that I am prepared to concede that it has been carried forward from previous Bills. It tends to be a justification in the House that because something has appeared in legislation from time immemorial as at has been amended or adapted over the years, that makes it all right. However, if we challenge the existence of certain concepts, we are told it is not a valid argument because from time immemorial it has always been that way.

That may or may not be the argument in this instance. I tabled the amendments because I am genuinely puzzled why the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are included. I could speculate that one reason is that the legal and criminal justice systems in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are so similar to the system in the United Kingdom that, to all intents and purposes, they may be regarded as the same in the Bill. Furthermore, no other country has a criminal justice system that is so similar that it could be regarded as part of ours for the purposes of the Bill.

In a later amendment we shall deal with the Republic of Ireland. I do not want to merge two debates that you properly have considered should be kept separate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, it is slightly difficult to follow the reasoning for the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man being included.

My general proposition might run counter to the amendment, but it was tabled to establish a debate. I wish the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man to be more widely included in our legislation as a matter of course, but that will have to be argued on another occasion. I draw the attention of the House and the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon to the fact that while the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are included in clause 1, the Act covers only England and Wales. Therefore, at that level, too, there may be some illogicality.

I wonder why the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are included. If the argument is that the criminal justice systems of the two sets of islands are so like that of the United Kingdom, why did the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon not seek to include other parts of the world where the criminal justice systems are also similar to ours?

Mr. Watson

I suspect that we have reached the groups of amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) without the expectation that he would have to propose and have a serious debate upon them.

The answers to the points that the hon. Gentleman raised are straightforward. The amendments would lead in two significant ways to inconsistency in British law, which would be highly undesirable. In the first place, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands not only have judicial systems that are close to ours, but they have available to their courts—this is the crucial point—a mirror image of the pattern of sentencing available to courts in England. Similarly, in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, citizens are ultimately subject to the wishes of this Parliament. The hon. Member for Battersea cannot say that citizens in the fish Republic or other countries have a pattern of sentencing available to their courts that is so similar to this country's as that of the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands or that any citizens other than those of this country are so subject to the wishes of this Parliament. However, that is not the biggest and most glaring of the inconsistencies that would arise.

Mr. Dubs

I should like to correct the hon. Gentleman. The Minister may have a further correction. My understanding is that the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are less subject to the wishes of Parliament than many British dependent territories.

Mr. Watson

I can give only my personal opinion. That is not right. The phrase the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands is an almost invariable component of any legislation. Their judicial systems seem virtually identical to that in the United Kingdom. It is valid for the Bill to seek to do no more than to extend the present law and the present sytem of disqualification to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

Inconsistencies would be likely to arise if the amendment were passed. It would mean that someone in Liverpool who had been sentenced to four and a half years' imprisonment would be disqualified from jury service for 10 years, but someone 60 or 70 miles away in Douglas on the Isle of Man, who had received an identical sentence in an almost identical court, probably for an identical crime, would not be disqualified. That would do nothing to restore faith in the jury system, which is one of the principal purposes of the Bill.

12 noon

There is a further inconsistency. The Bill changes the law only for those who have been in prison for less than five years. It makes no attempt to change the law for those who have been in prison for more than five years. The life disqualification would continue, and currently that applies to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The consequence of the amendment would be that, for example, someone who in Douglas was sentenced to five and a half years in prison would be disqualified for life, whereas, if he were sentenced to four and a half years, he would be subject to no disqualification. There would not be the intermediate threshold of 10 years disqualification that has become fundamental to jury service qualification in the United Kingdom. For those two reasons, I urge the House to reject the amendment.

Mr. Dubs

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Dubs

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 9, at end insert 'or the Republic of Ireland'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 11, in page 1, line 19, at end insert 'or the Republic of Ireland'.

Mr. Dubs

This amendment deals with a point of greater substance — whether those who have been sentenced in the courts of the Republic of Ireland should, when they return to Britain, be subject to the provisions of the Bill. As the Bill is presently drafted, they are not so subject.

I listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) said in the previous short debate on the amendments concerning the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. It is not for me to correct him on one or two factual points about the constitutional position of the islands, but if he argues that their criminal justice system is similar to that of the United Kingdom—and I almost fed him his speech—and that it is right that the Bill should cover them, is not the criminal justice system in the Republic of Ireland also so close to to ours that, therefore, it logically should be encompassed by the Bill?

I hasten to explain that I am happy that there are no proposals now—and I hope that there never will be—to prevent people from Ireland from voting in British elections and playing a full part in British life. That proposal was under discussion some time ago, and I am glad that it is no longer an issue for debate—I hope that it never will be. It is right and proper that people from Ireland living in Britain should have the full opportunity to take part in our life and accept their full responsibilities.

In the Juries Act 1974, the qualification for serving on a jury is based on registration as a parliamentary or local government elector. People from Ireland who are resident in Britain are on the voting list in the same way as British and Commonwealth citizens. Inevitably, they are selected for jury service in the same way as anybody else. They qualify once their names appear on the voting list. Would not it make sense for the Bill to include the Republic of Ireland in the same way as it includes the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man?

Despite the tragedy of events in Northern Ireland, there is a great deal of closeness between this country and the Republic. Many institutions operate in a similar way. Our systems of criminal justice are not all that different. It would make a great deal of sense to accept the amendment. If we do not, somebody who may have been subjected to a probation order or served a month's imprisonment in the Republic of Ireland would, on his return to Britain, be eligible to serve on a jury virtually immediately. That is illogical.

Of course, we are talking not only about Irish people but about British citizens who go to Ireland. They may run foul of the law there and receive sentences which, if they had received them in Britain, would have debarred them from jury service. I am suggesting a fairly minor change, but it is wholly logical and on all fours with the provisions for the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

Having tabled earlier amendments about those islands to obtain a clear statement from the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon about the reasons for including them, it is logical to take the same point and apply it to the Republic of Ireland and include that country, as the amendments suggest.

Mr. Watson

I acknowledge what the hon. Gentleman said about the amendment not being enormous in substance, but the principle underlying it has a certain significance which, consequently, makes me reluctant to accept it.

The present law on disqualification from jury service is based clearly upon the sentence that has been passed. Therefore, it has enormous benefits of clarity. One of the benefits of my Bill is that it is also based upon the sentence passed. It assumes that if that is to be extended to any territories, they must at least have a consistency of sentencing policy. The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands have such consistency, not only in their judicial systems but in their sentencing policy. That cannot be said for the Republic of Ireland.

Certain sentences available to British courts may not be available to Irish courts. The sentencing standards may be rather different also. Perhaps most important, the Irish judicial system is subject ultimately to the will of a Parliament other than ours. I do not think that, in those circumstances, we should introduce the subject of disqualification on the lines of the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Dubs

I beg to move amendment No. 13, in page 1, line 18, leave out 'five years' and insert 'twelve months'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we shall discuss amendment No. 14, in page 1, leave out line 20 and insert `completed a probation order'.

Mr. Dubs

We come now to the most important issue in the Bill — the one which, in a sense, gives many people the greatest cause for concern. For the first time in this country, persons who have had a probation order made against them will be debarred from serving on a jury for five years.

Whatever our disagreement about the other sentences and the arguments that we have used, those arguments would hardly apply in the case of probation. It has always been considered by the courts, by Parliament and by people generally that the courts in Britain give a probation order for an offence that is less serious than that for which they give a community service order, a suspended sentence or a custodial sentence.

That is almost inevitable because a probation order entails the supervision of the individual for from six months to three years. In the majority of cases probation orders last for one or two years. I must tread warily here because my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) is much more experienced in matters of probation than I am and will correct me if I misinterpret the way in which the system operates.

We are here discussing the least serious of sentences for the least serious offences. I am not condoning sentences which give rise to people being put on probation. I am simply saying that the courts have taken a view about the offender and his sentence which puts the offender and the sentence on a less serious plain than other offenders and offences which we have been discussing.

In England and Wales, 36,480 people commenced probation supervision in 1982. As the average length of a probation order is more than one year, more people than that number will be on probation at any one time, perhaps between 40,000 and 45,000. That means that we are talking about a large number of people who commence probation supervision.

Those who are placed on probation have committed a wide variety of offences. The figures for 1982 show that over half of them committed the offences of theft or handling stolen goods. The second largest category was burglary, and there followed a range of other offences for which the percentages of the total receiving probation were under 10.

I have discussed the matter with representatives of the National Association of Probation Officers who share my concern about an additional form of punishment being placed on the persons with whom they deal in the course of supervising probation orders.

It is widely acknowledged that the inclusion of probation is the weakest argument for the Bill. There is no widespread concern in the country that persons who have served under a probation order are in some way likely to undermine the criminal justice system should they continue to serve on juries.

Many of the people about whom I am talking will not wish to serve on juries, anyway. Indeed, most of them will probably regard serving on a jury as a confounded nuisance and are more likely to commit the offence of refusing to serve than they are likely to demand to be allowed to serve, and that point could have underlined some of our earlier discussion.

Nevertheless, we are talking about a quite large group of people and about debarring them when there has been no debate in the country to suggest that these people cause juries to bring in perverse verdicts. The debate in the country about perverse verdicts has been widespread and, as I made clear in my earlier remarks, we recognise the position; I leave aside whatever the Minister may have said about my motives. The arguments for debarring people from serving because a probation order has been made against them are thin.

My amendment would accept the principle of the Bill. An amendment to delete all the provisions in relation to probation could not be tabled at this stage; we debated and voted on that subject in Committee. Thus, my amendment would lessen the impact of the provisions concerning probation by amending the clause to read: A person who at any time in the last … twelve months … has in the United Kingdom or the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man … completed a probation order. The period of disqualification would thereby be during the lifetime of the probation order plus a further 12 months thereafter. I do not think that even the Minister in his most hostile mood would say that that proposal, modest as it is, would undermine the integrity of the criminal justice system.

12.15 pm

The report of the departmental committee on jury service, of which the chairman was Lord Morris, was published in April 1965. It said in paragraph 142: 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. It is true that this will involve accepting as jurors persons who have been convicted and dealt with in other ways, for example by being fined or being placed on probation. But it seems to us consistent with the general approach adopted in the preceding paragraphs to limit disqualification to persons who have been sent to prison or other penal institutions. In the first place, the fact that the court has seen fit to impose a punishment of this nature is some indication that the offence (or the offender's previous record) was of a serious character. Second, we think that a person who has been deprived of his freedom by a court is far more likely to be biased in his judgment as a juror than a person who has been dealt with more leniently. The recommendation of the Morris report was that it should not apply to probation—indeed, that it should not apply to non-custodial sentences — and that report represented the latest and fullest assessment of the work of the jury system in Britain. It came to the conclusion that probation should not be a reason for disqualification.

Set against that, my amendment is very modest indeed. It is not out of keeping with the main aims of the Bill. Nor would it damage the integrity of the jury system. Indeed, no examples have been quoted of anybody on probation making the sort of statements in opposition to the jury system that the Minister, in his one anecdotal piece ofevidence, gave about a more serious offender serving on a jury.

The difficulty facing us is that most of the evidence supporting the Bill is anecdotal, although perhaps that is not a difficulty regarding probation because there is not even much anecdotal evidence about that. At any rate, there is no evidence of substance about it. It would be a pity, for the reasons that I have stated, for the House to go so far as to take away the obligation and right to serve on a jury from people who in the recent past have been subjected to a probation order.

I concede that somebody who is currently on probation should not serve on a jury. I said that in Committee and I repeat it now. But to debar people for so long as the Bill suggests—for five years, and perhaps for up to four and a half years after they have completed the probation order, remembering that the probation order might be only for six months—is unduly onerous and is out of keeping with the stated aims of the Bill, be they the more moderate version of the aims as adduced by the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) or the more aggressive aims as put forward by the Minister.

I could quote at length various statistics relating to the probation service. I will refer to only one other set of figures. In 1982, a report containing probation statistics in England and Wales gave in table 210 details of the termination of probation orders covering the full range of probation orders for various years. I will confine myself to 1982. In that year, 68 per cent. of probation orders ran their full course, 3 per cent. were replaced by conditional discharge orders and 11 per cent. were terminated early because of good progress.

It is significant that 11 per cent. of probation orders were terminated early for good progress, yet the very people for whom probation had worked so well, and in respect of whom the orders could be stopped earlier than the courts had originally decided, are to face five years of debarment or disqualification from jury service. There were other reasons for termination. I understand that 2 per cent. of terminations were due to a failure to comply with the requirements and 14 per cent. following conviction for a further offence. Reconviction would bring those concerned within the scope of the Bill if previously they were no longer within it. Another 2 per cent. of probation orders were terminated for other reasons.

No good case has been made out, or can be made out, for not accepting the amendments. They are fully in keeping with the spirit of the Bill. They are modest proposals that will lessen the impact of the disqualification by reducing its period for those who have been made the subject of a probation order. I contend that the amendments are reasonable and sensible, and I hope that they will be accepted by the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon.

Mr. Soley

I support the basic argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs). He has saved me some time for he has covered much of the ground that I intended to traverse.

The amendment shows the basic fallacy in the thinking underlying the Bill. It is said that people should be prevented from serving on a jury on the basis of the nature of the sentence that was imposed upon them. Everything that has been said by the Minister and the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) has shown that that is not really what they are worried about. They want to remove from jury service those who have committed certain types of offences or—this is the Minister's case, although he has not been bold enough to say so—those who hold certain attitudes and values which they think are unacceptable. That is why there is logic in disqualifying for ever. If we are to obtain what the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) wants, we shall have to prevent people from serving on juries because of the attitudes and values that they express, which is what the Minister wants, or because of the nature of the offence or the number of offences, that they have committed.

I am the first to concede that there is a good case for considering the possibility of stopping people from serving on juries for a period, perhaps in some circumstances for ever, because of the number of offences that they have committed or the type of offence for which they have been convicted. There is no justice in disqualifying on the basis of the sentence and certainly none on the Minister's attitude towards values and actions. The Minister's approach would mean that we should have to have some test of attitudes and values to determine who would be suitable or unsuitable to serve on a jury.

When the Minister intervened to explain to the House the sort of person that he wanted to prevent serving on a jury, he gave the game away by reading part of the interview that appeared in the Daily Mail. He said, in effect, that he was not really concerned about sentences of five years, seven years, 10 years, probation orders or driving disqualifications. It was clear that he was interested in stopping those who share the attitudes and values that were set out in the interview from serving on a jury.

I share the Minister's concern about a man with such views serving on a jury, but he will not stop that happening and nor will the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon. The Minister conceded that after three years had elapsed the interviewee could give exactly the same interview to another newspaper and that that newspaper could produce a headline saying "This man has denounced juries by saying that he will not do anything to support the 'Old Bill—. The editor could write an editorial to the effect that it was disgraceful that a man who expressed such a view was disqualified for serving on a jury for five years or 10 years and that he should be banned for longer.

What would the Minister do then? What would the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon do? Would they say, "We must change the law because public pressure is telling us that we must be tougher?" In other words, they would be saying, "We must not give leadership. We must not think this issue through. It is not necessary to think about the implications. We must respond to public pressure and we shall do that by extending the period of disqualification. Let us extend the period of disqualification to 15 years, 20 years or for life."

I take strong exception to the attacks—sadly, there has been one from the Opposition Benches—on juries and jurors. I do not share the view of the Minister and the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) that juries are infiltrated by those who are not suitable to serve on them. The jury system is one of the best means devised by human beings of determining guilt or innocence. I make no apology for the fact that, unlike the Minister and his Back Bench colleagues, I am here to defend the jury system and not to undermine it. My purpose is not to make carping criticism of it of the sort that has been indulged in by the Minister and the hon. and learned Member for Burton. It is rather typical of some lawyers — thank goodness not all — that when they get into difficulties with their arguments they try to muddy the waters. The Minister betrayed that intention in his intervention in which he referred to the Daily Mail. He demonstrated that his concern was to stop people with certain attitudes and values from serving on juries. It would do him more credit if he came clean and explained that he wants to control the type of person who serves on a jury and that he will bring forward proposals to achieve that purpose.

My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea was right to say that the majority of probation orders are made for those who have committed minor offences. The majority of those persons are teenagers. A probation order is made if the court decides that the offender needs to be advised, assisted and befriended. That is a summary of the words that appear in a probation order. The purpose of such an order is to help the offender to change his or her behaviour for the better. However, some probation orders are made for those who have committed serious offences. I supervised some of those cases and I realised that some of my clients were especially difficult and dangerous. I knew that in some cases they posed far more of a danger to society and the fabric of society than some of those who had served long prison sentences.

In some instances I was supervising those who had not been caught for committing offences of a particularly dangerous sort. A person might receive 18 months' imprisonment for shoplifting because of the number of previous convictions recorded against him. All the offences might involve bad behaviour but basically that behaviour causes a nuisance and not a danger. On the other hand, someone might be placed on probation for a first offence because the nature of the offence shows that his problems are such that he is likely to get into extremely serious trouble and pose a serious risk to other members of society. In those circumstances, the courts might well recommend the making of a probation order. The Minister and his hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon must know that.

Exclusion from jury service should not be determined on the basis of the sentence. Exclusion should be based on the nature of the offence or on the number of offences. As I have said, the majority of offenders are teenagers who do not offend thereafter. There is a case for picking on people who are still offending in their twenties and beyond. The Minister will confirm that it is they who are likely to go on offending.

There is a case for excluding such people for a very long time, but it does not follow that, as the Minister tried to imply in his attack on juries, those people are the ones who would give perverse judgments. Often the perverse judgments are made by those who have never been in trouble before. If the Minister concedes that the jury system is desirable and that people who have offended do not necessarily make perverse judgments, he is conceding the thrust of my argument that there is no point in trying to disqualify on the basis of the sentence of a court.

Mr. Mellor


12.30 pm
Mr. Soley

I do not want to hear seated comments from the Minister. I want hard, clear arguments. We are serious about defending the needs of law and order, but we should be equally serious about defending the jury system from being eroded in irrelevant ways that are not likely to achieve what the Minister or his hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon want.

I am worried about the Bill, and I should have thought that the Minister and his hon. Friend, who are both lawyers, would also be worried. They should know better. Our courts are designed to prevent the rough justice that would take over if people simply expressed their feelings about what had happened. Yet the Bill is a response to an editorial in the Daily Mail about a juror who said that he did not like the "Old Bill".

It is a panic reaction, and does not get to grips with the real problems. The problems are that crime is rising, particularly under the present Government, and that we need a jury system in which people will have confidence. This Bill will not deal with those problems.

The Minister might have to read out an identical article in a few years' time, and then he would be stuck. 'What would he do then? Would he say that people who had been on probation must be banned for 10 years? He would find himself going down a never-ending road.

There would be logic in disqualifying those who have had more than 10 convictions beyond the juvenile court stage. One might disqualify people for 10 or 20 years on that basis. One could also disqualify those who had committed certain types of offence such as large-scale fraud and corruption — which certainly indicate that someone is prepared to undermine the system of administration in the country — and certain offences involving violence or dishonesty. However, to disqualify on the basis of a probation order or a community service order not only is wrong in principle but will not achieve what the Bill is expected to achieve. The lawyers on the Conservative Benches should think again and not simply muddy the waters with cheap attacks on other people' s intentions.

I keep a mental list of those lawyers whom I would pay not to defend me. The Minister and his hon. Friend are in danger of being added to that list.

Mr. Mellor

This is not my Bill and I am not obliged to reply to the debate. However, I should like briefly to take up what the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) has said. It was a bit much of him to end his speech with a high-minded rejection and personal attacks——

Mr. Dubs

It was the Minister who started it.

Mr. Mellor

—when he had spent the whole of his speech making a travesty of our arguments. The hon. Member for Battersea and his hon. Friend are here today to delay progress on the Bill. They would be pleased to see the Bill fail to complete its stages. I say that openly and frankly. When another Opposition Member made the same frank comment about the fate of his own Bill, he was cheered to the echo by the hon. Gentleman. Let us not have any cant about this.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

Will the hon.. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mellor

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) has just arrived, no doubt to help in delaying the progress of the Bill. I do not intend to play that game.

It is nonsense to suggest that anything in the Bill would undermine the jury system. That is about as sensible as suggesting that if a person looks to the restoration of an old building when nothing has been done about it for a number of years he is thus showing his contempt and dislike of old buildings. That is utter nonsense.

When the Morris committee considered the state of the law in 1965 it took the view that for the first time in our law some statutory intervention was needed to keep a certain number of criminals from serving on juries. It defended that view as follows: These considerations have made us conscious of the need to maintain the system of trial by jury as one that both merits and commands public respect. It is vitally important that it should be a fair, sensible, and workable system for ensuring that law and order are maintained, that justice is done, and that liberties are preserved. It was saying with considerable eloquence that those who care about the jury system must keep it under review and ensure that things do not creep in which bring it into disrepute. In view of the evidence of numerous practitioners and the police that a large number of juries include people with long criminal records, it is thought right to respond with the kind of Bill that my hon. Friend has introduced.

My hon. Friend has resisted the temptation to exclude for a long period all those with criminal records. The Bill is carefully tailored and he believes that it is now at the outer limit of acceptability, bringing probation orders into exclusion but limiting the period to five years. That is essentially a modest proposal, given that, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith as a practising probation officer well knows, the dramatic increase in resources given to the probation service in the past decade has meant that an increasing number of serious offenders have been brought into probation. As it is not possible to make a distinction between the two categories, it is necessary in the interests of the public to provide for a blanket disqualification of this kind. The fact that it may be unfair to some is a risk that must be taken when the consequence of not acting would be to be unfair to many.

Mr. Soley

A distinction can be made on the basis of the offence rather than the sentence.

Mr. Mellor

I do not think so. Theft might be theft of the Crown jewels or of a milk bottle. In the end, one cannot know what goes on in the jury room and I regret that it is necessary to reply to the calumnies of the hon. Gentleman, but I willingly state my utter confidence in the jury system. Nevertheless, the system needs to be burnished and cannot long survive the widespread allegations that criminals on juries are making it even more difficult to arrive at a fair verdict.

Mr. Deakins

Where is the evidence?

Mr. Mellor

As the hon. Gentleman, who has only just arrived, well knows, this is not a matter capable of absolute proof, but the concern is so widespread that he does his constituents no service by seeming to fly in the face of it.

Mr. Lawrence

I shall be brief as I do not wish to delay this very good measure. I have no difficulty in opposing the amendments. I do not believe that the people who sent me here want persons convicted of theft, handling stolen property or burglary, which accounts for a high proportion of those sentenced to probation, to sit as jurors judging criminal cases. That is not what the public want.

Of course probation sentences suggest that the offences are less serious than others and the Bill takes account of that by making the disqualification proportionately less severe. As those of us who practise in the courts well know, however, very serious offences sometimes result in probation sentences. One therefore cannot take the risk of saying that anyone sentenced to probation has committed no offence worth mentioning and expect the public to regard it as a good thing to have such people on juries.

I am sorry that the National Association of Probation Officers does not particularly like the measure. We are told that probationary offenders might be "embarrassed". I am sorry if that is so but I think that I can just about live with that.

Mr. Deakins

I briefly take issue with the Under-Secretary of State and, as one who has been a Member rather longer than he has, give him a little advice. The House does not take kindly to arrogance and pomposity, even from lawyers. The House allows lawyers a great deal of scope. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman does not often attend the House on Friday, or he would know that it is normal for hon. Members with other engagements to come to the Chamber in the early part of the morning and leave by lunchtime or to be elsewhere in the early part of the morning and come in later in the morning for the rest of the debate.

I invite the hon. Gentleman to observe that it is not the rule of the House that hon. Members on Report, or during any other debate, must be present for the whole of the proceedings. That would be a novel step. I should be interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman's view is held by the Government or whether it is his personal observation. It is a ludicrous view, because at least one Conservative Back-Bench Member now sitting behind the Under-Secretary of State performs radically during Friday sessions without being present for the whole time. No names, no pack drill—but the hon. Gentleman involved will know who I am talking about. I make no objection to that type of conduct in this place.

It ill becomes the Under-Secretary of State to adopt the hypocritical pose that an hon. Member who has not been present for the whole of the proceedings is, in a sense, precluded from participating in the debate. It would be a new feature of parliamentary proceedings if hon. Members were to be excluded from participating in the debate if they had not been sitting in their places from the start. I invite the Under-Secretary of State to consider the effect on Government policy generally if those hon. Members who cannot always be present for the whole of a debate, including debates on Report, were to be excluded from participating. I do not believe that the Under-Secretary of State seriously believes that his argument to me, when I intervened from a sedentary position earlier, is capable of being sustained. I do not ask him, because he is so arrogant, to withdraw the remark. It is what one expects from people of his class and his profession.

I oppose the Bill. I gave notice to the Under-Secretary of State that, in view of its treatment, I was prepared to listen to Conservative Members' arguments. There is little one can read in Hansard on the Bill. I am prepared to listen and, if necessary, to participate if I believe that the liberties of the subject and my constituents will be eroded because of the attempt to ensure that juries are packed only with people who are likely—I hope to show this if we get as far as Third Reading—to be strongly in favour all the time of law and order and of not putting criminals away. On Third Reading the arguments that should have been put forward earlier will be exposed. The Bill is illogical. The Under-Secretary of State has provoked me. I intend to remind the House on Third Reading of the Bill's basic illogical flaws.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

The press have mounted a limited campaign during the passage of this small Bill. The Conservative press must show that it is part of the law and order lobby, so it has come out in support of the Bill.

Earlier, the Under-Secretary of State quoted an article in the Daily Mail about a man wo had committed criminal offences and had served on a jury. Let me bring to the attention of the Minister and the House an article in The Times of 25 February. It may be the same case as the one to which the Minister referred. The article was about the Daily Mail taking up a criminal juror. The article referred to the juror who filled in his form on the first day and went on a jury. He was not sure whether he was disqualified so he went to the citizens advice bureau which told him that he would probably be all right. After that, the juror contacted three national newspapers including the Daily Mail.

12.45 pm

The Daily Mail led the juror on. The Times headline said: Disqualified juror led on by paper'. The Daily Mail rang him every night to ensure that he was still on the jury.

The article continued: At the end of his service, the Mail sent a reporter and photographer who arrived at his home, asked him several questions, took some photographs and left. The final article on July 1 gave the appearance of being more or less written by—and contained very few facts. It claimed he made himself foreman and fixed the verdict when in fact he never served as foreman.

That is the type of campaign that lies behind some of the clauses.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman explain the relevance of his remarks to this amendment?

Mr. Cohen

They were preliminary remarks. Part of the Bill will undermine the jury system. That may not be the conscious intent of Conservative Members, but I suspect that it probably is. The amendments seem to reflect the Conservative party's attitude towards the jury system. We have seen increased police vetting of jurors and yet Conservative Members do not raise an eyebrow about that. The advantage of the jury system is that it reflects a cross-section of society. To exclude those who some time in the past—that means those on probation—have completed what is only a minor sentence, is scandalous. That is what the amendment does. It deprives those people of their civil rights.

The hon. and learned Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) is quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying that the Bill would distinguish between serious crimes on the basis of the gravity of the offence itself and not rely exclusively on the sentence passed for it. The hon. and learned Member was talking about the gravity of the offence, but those who have been placed on probation are hardly those who have committed grave offences.

There is no dispute in the House that those who have committed serious offences should be excluded from serving on a jury, but the amendment does not deal with such people. Only minor offenders, in the main, are placed on probation. This is the first time that a jury disqualification will be extended to that category of offender. Whether they should be excluded raises an important principle. Perhaps they should, for a short lime after committing offences, but the clause is excessive and arbitrary. It sets a five-year period and has no regard to the subsequent good behaviour of the offender or the fact that he may have reformed and changed his ways. As my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) said, a great many offenders do.

Mr. Deakins

Is not my hon. Friend aware that the Bill is based on the assumption that he is criticising? It is based on the assumption that people will change their ways in that people are disqualified for 10 years and not for life. The argument for 10 years, or for any other period, will need to be explored further a little later, but I hope chat my hon. Friend will accept that his argument seems to be shared by the Bill's sponsors.

Mr. Cohen

That is a genuine point. If there is a chance that people will change their ways, and it seems that they will, they should not be excluded from jury service. That is the very reason why those who have been on probation and who change their ways should be allowed to serve.

Thus, the amendment is modest and is more sensible than the arbitrary period of five years. Twelve months after the probation order has been served, civil rights are restored to that individual. It is a modest and reasonable amendment and is better than the original provision. It should be borne in mind that we are talking about people who have committed only minor offences and who are supervised throughout their period on probation. Invariably, the probation period is fairly short. Most of those involved are youngsters who are often caught in a vicious downward spiral, which could eventually lead them to prison. We need to find ways of helping them out of it. Restoring their civil rights represents one small way of giving them the opportunity to go straight. We should accordingly seek to restore their civil rights, and I support this modest amendment.

Mr. Watson

I shall try to be brief in response to what has been a relatively lengthy debate.

With a slight note of reluctance this time, I must urge the House once again not to accept the amendment. The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) said that the coverage of probation offenders was the Bill's weakest point. I should be reluctant to accept that phraseology, but, in extending the Bill to probation offenders, I accept that we are extending disqualification from jury service to less serious offences than those previously included.

However, the Bill's fundamental purpose is to exclude from jury service those who have been found guilty of an offence of a significant degree of seriousness. In this instance, the measurement of seriousness must be the sentence that is passed. It is not correct simply to say that the recipients of probation orders are all young, basically innocent at heart and not fundamentally guilty of major offences. In 1982, 36,500 probation orders were imposed, so they are a major part of our sentencing system. Not all the recipients by any means were young offenders. As has already been mentioned, 52 per cent. of probation orders were for theft and handling stolen goods and 17 per cent. for burglary.

I tried to do some research to see what my attitude should be. I discovered from a survey carried out in 1971 that 58 per cent. of those awarded probation orders went on to commit an indictable offence within the following six years. I would therefore be reluctant to put anyone on a jury who had a six in 10 chance of going on to commit an indictable offence. That is the principal reason why I urge the House to reject the amendment.

My further objection to the amendment has substance, but it is technical. The amendment refers to the disqualification running not from the time from which a probation order is served, but from the time when it is completed. If the amendment were agreed, the disqualification period would not start until probation had come to an end. That would lead to the ludicrous position of someone being qualified for jury service while on probation and disqualified when the probation was at an end.

Amendment negatived.

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