HC Deb 07 March 2000 vol 345 cc886-980

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

I should inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews).

4.46 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is part of the Government's programme to modernise the criminal justice system and to improve public confidence in it. Its purpose is to make the system more responsive to the needs of victims, witnesses and the public at large—and defendants. The proposal has been considered extensively in the past seven years. In 1993, it received the unanimous backing of the royal commission on criminal justice.

Today, it enjoys the active endorsement of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, and of the vast majority of the High Court Bench of nearly 100 senior judges; of the Magistrates Association, representing 30,000 justices of the peace; and of all three police associations, representing more than 125,000 police officers, each of whom has to deal every day with the victims of crime and its perpetrators and who know that justice is not served, either for victim or defendant, by an antiquated and time-wasting procedure, which the Bill seeks to remedy.

The Bill is justified in its own right, but it will produce considerable savings of more than £120 million a year, representing resources which could, and will, be better used elsewhere in the criminal justice system.

I understand the concerns in the House about the effect of the Bill on the principles of trial by jury. I understand those concerns not least because, when I first considered the matter, my instincts were similar; I acknowledge that. However, as the House knows, I have changed my mind—there has never been any dubiety about that—because the more I have examined the arguments in favour of the present arrangements, the weaker they appeared to be and the stronger the case for reform.

In no sense does the Bill undermine the availability of trial by jury for appropriate offences. What it does is to ensure that there is a fairer and more objective basis than the decision of the accused for determining which cases involving the middle range of offences should be so tried. In doing so, we bring ourselves into line with the better practice of almost all comparable jurisdictions and come closer to the practice in Scotland.

Often, Scotland is, rightly, held out to be a nation with a more effective criminal justice system than ours. There, the decision on mode of trial has never rested with the defendant, but is made by the prosecutor. The Bill provides greater safeguards for the defendant by having the initial decision made by magistrates and the final one, on appeal, by an experienced Crown court judge.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Perhaps my right hon. Friend could assist me a little in that respect. Although I understand the Scottish example, if the Bill became law, unusually we would have trial by magistrate and perhaps sentence by judge, whereas in Scotland there is trial by magistrate and sentence by magistrate. Will he not think again? If the matter is to be tried in the magistrates court—he knows of the extensive correspondence that I have had with him and of my views on the matter—sentencing should be in the same court.

Mr. Straw

I understand my hon. Friend's point, which he and I have discussed at length. It would be better explored in Committee. However, I tell him now that one of the reasons why, in Scotland, it is possible to have a system in which the judge in the sheriff-only court has limited powers to sentence—three months in the case of a first offence; six months in the case of a second or subsequent offence—is that the prosecutor has access to a full record of an accused's previous convictions and makes that choice. Our system is different, but the fundamental similarity remains. Once the Bill becomes law, in neither system will the defendant have the right to choose his or her forum.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

I shall give way in a moment to my hon. and learned Friend.

I remind the House that, in another place, my hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, Lord Hardie, while acknowledging that he was from what he called a "foreign jurisdiction", said: What is essential in any system is that the various interests are balanced: that society's interests, as represented by victims and witnesses, are balanced against the interests of the accused. But what must be ensured is that the accused is protected from the effect of arbitrary decisions. Who better to perform such a task than an independent judiciary?—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 January 2000; Vol. 608, c. 1287.] I am not aware of any campaign north of the border to change the system, which is widely held to work well. Moreover, it is held to work well not simply because of the limits on sentencing power.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the Scottish system, there is a three-months' sentence limitation for sheriffs or magistrates sitting without juries? In those circumstances, any prosecutor making the decision on where any case warranting more than three months' imprisonment should be heard must elect for jury trial. Is my right hon. Friend not aware that, in our jurisdiction, in any event, all three-months cases are summary-only cases? Therefore, the parallel with the Scottish system is completely false.

Mr. Straw

That is not the view taken by experienced Scottish lawyers and jurists, who see very sharp similarities in the way in which the Scottish system and our system operate. If my hon. and learned Friend were proposing that the prosecutor should determine trial venue in every case, rather than what we are proposing—which would provide much greater safeguards for the accused, and entail the magistrates court making the initial decision, with a subsequent appeal to an experienced Crown court judge—he would have some argument in his favour. However, I do not accept that argument.

It has long been a feature of our system that magistrates have a power to commit a case for sentence. There is nothing objectionable about that. However, as my hon. and learned Friend will know—as he has studied with some care the small print of my Bill—if the magistrates come to the view that the punishment that a magistrates court would have to impose for an offence would be inadequate, clause 1 requires them in any event to commit the case to the Crown court.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

I should like to make some progress, and then of course I shall give way to my hon. Friend.

Most either-way cases heard in the Crown court are there because of a decision by magistrates. Interestingly, defendants who want to be tried by magistrates have no choice if the magistrates direct a Crown court trial. Similarly, the Government do not believe that it is right for the final decision on Crown court trial to be a matter for the defendant's personal choice. Both the royal commission and the Narey review found that too many defendants have been working the system and choosing jury trial purely to delay proceedings.

One very experienced magistrate, Rosemary Thompson, who is well known to hon. Members on both sides of the House and is a former chair of the Magistrates Association, told Narey, at the time of his review, that in considering elections for trial I cannot remember the last time someone elected for reasons of reputation. Inevitably, the ones who elect are experienced defendants, the ones who know how to play the system. Rosemary Thompson has recently confirmed: Abuse is still rampant and there is still a pressing need for reform. Nothing has changed since the publication of the Narey report. It cannot be right that we continue to allow repeat offenders with strings of previous convictions to demand full Crown court trials for trivial offences that can and should be heard in magistrates courts. As David Phillips, chief constable of Kent, said recently in support of our proposals: In the end it is plain daft to allow a persistent criminal charged with a minor theft to invoke the full panoply of a criminal trial with solicitors, barristers, court officials, jurors and judges at massive public expense. The majority of those who opt for jury trial plead guilty at the door of the Crown court, but only after greater inconvenience and worry to victims and witnesses and considerable extra cost. Most people rightly regard that as a manipulation of the criminal justice system. The Bill will end it. If defendants are convicted at the Crown court, their success in delaying proceedings brings them not the lighter sentence that they might have hoped for, but a higher one. They lose their sentence discount and may spend longer on remand.

The evidence presented to the royal commission suggested that one of the key reasons why defendants chose trial by jury was that they thought that they would get a lesser sentence at the Crown court than they would at the magistrates court. Anyone with any experience of working in the two knows what the data show overwhelmingly: those who opt for a Crown court trial, even if they plead guilty at the door of the court, as many do, will justifiably receive a longer sentence because they have not pleaded guilty timeously.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

The Home Secretary is being selective in the evidence that he chooses to support his case. Two reports commissioned by the Home Office in the past 10 years have shown overwhelmingly that defendants who elect to go to the Crown court do so for reasons other than simply to stay out on remand or because they think that they can spin out the case. A defendant in the Crown court gets sight of all the evidence against them. That is not available in the magistrates court. They could also be given advice by lawyers to plead guilty on the basis of later evidence at the doors of the Crown court. Why cannot we have an objective assessment of the case for law reform, saving costs and improving justice as a whole rather than taking one issue, which the Home Secretary accepts is controversial, against—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that perhaps his interventions should be brief.

Mr. Straw

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's reading of the data. It is preposterous to suggest, particularly these days with the huge cost of criminal legal aid, that defendants in magistrates courts are denied the availability of legal advice.

Mr. Hughes

I did not say that.

Mr. Straw

That is the implication of what the hon. Gentleman said. He said that they were denied advice from lawyers and that they might get that advice at the Crown court. I heard him say that, but it is not the case. The excellent Library briefing sets out the data, as have we. The figures do not show any evidence of injustice being perpetrated by the way in which magistrates try cases.

The hon. Gentleman also made points relating to the Auld review, which is currently taking place. The Bar Council and some of my hon. Friends have asked why the issue cannot be dealt with by that review, which is considering the future of the criminal justice system in the round. Our proposal has been considered extensively, not just by a very distinguished judge of the Court of Appeal but by a royal commission set up by the previous Administration. Their unanimous judgment was in favour of the change, but without the safeguards that we are proposing.

I took what the Bar Council said to mean that it would abandon its opposition if Lord Justice Auld approved of the change. If that is not the correct inference to draw, the idea is merely a tactic for procrastination. We have already had the opinion of the senior judiciary on the merits of the proposals, if that is all that the Bar Council is waiting for. The Lord Chief Justice made a powerful speech on 20 January in which he came down wholly in favour of the change. He said on the record that he had canvassed the opinion of all the senior High court judges—more than 100—and that all bar a tiny handful were emphatically in favour of the change. The Bar Council has its response already.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking)

The Home Secretary's point about defendants playing the system to get to the Crown court may have been a good one some years ago, but it is now grossly exaggerated as it hardly happens at all—not least because of the introduction of plea-before-venue, coupled with full credit for early guilty pleas. Does the Home Secretary accept that there is now very little milking of the system?

Mr. Straw

If I did, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I would not have gone to considerable effort to bring this Bill before the House, and I have applied myself to the evidence. If that were the case, does the hon. Gentleman think that I would be bothering to go through this exercise? What he says is not the case.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

Will the Home Secretary re-read what the Lord Chief Justice said, and ask himself whether he has overstated the case a little? The Lord Chief Justice said that he had stood up at a meeting of 100 judges and asked if anybody disagreed. Earlier at the meeting—at which Mr. Justice Mitchell was endorsed—he had said that the proposed change could be supported, but only if the magistrates' decisions on jurisdiction were subject to appeal to a circuit judge. That was not then part of the proposal, but has been accepted subsequently by the Government. Is not it fair to say that the judges felt reluctant to stand out against the elected Government, but that they hardly showed the wholehearted support that the Home Secretary suggests?

Mr. Straw

Perhaps the record should be sent for, for the greater elucidation of Opposition Members, but I do not think that what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said can be remotely justified. The speech by Lord Bingham of Cornhill was unequivocally 100 per cent. in favour of the change—although with the change that he had proposed of a right of appeal to a Crown court, which we have accepted and which was in the original Bill.

The noble Lord Bingham made it clear that almost every single judge was in favour. He invited the 100 judges present at the meeting to write to him if they dissented, as he said that one or two of them—despite their lengthy experience at the Bar and on the bench—may have been shy in coming forward. One wrote, and a further judge indicated dissent orally. However, there seems to be considerable unanimity of opinion on this matter.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

The Home Secretary should be cautious about relying on the support of the judiciary. I exempt the Lord Chief Justice from what I am about to say, but is not it correct that those of us who practise at the criminal Bar know full well that many members of the judiciary—both lay and professional—develop a predisposition in favour of the prosecution because they are exposed to crime over many years? It is precisely for that reason that many of us want to retain the jury system, and precisely for that reason that the Home Secretary should be cautious about relying on the views of the judiciary.

Mr. Straw

That was an extraordinarily ill-judged and intemperate attack on the quality of our judiciary by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am sure that it was not a contempt of court, but it was getting on for that. I simply do not accept what he says and, later, I shall give figures which show without any doubt that the magistrates—whom he is suggesting are hard-boiled and willing to accept prosecution evidence, however poor—simply do not operate in that way.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

In dealing with the so-called idea that people are playing the system, is my right hon. Friend aware that Michael Zander's report to the royal commission suggested that the overwhelming reason why people changed their plea was that in 50 per cent. of cases the charges were reduced, because of the well-known practice of overcharging defendants, especially black defendants, in magistrates courts?

While I am on my feet, my second point is that my right hon. Friend says that he is applying the Runciman royal commission, but he is not, because Runciman said that we should allow magistrates the powers only if they deliberately considered, as a statutory point, the reputation of the defendant. That is exactly what—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is far too long a contribution.

Mr. Straw

I understand my hon. and learned Friend's point about reputation and livelihood, but he will know that much concern was expressed in the Chamber and in the other place about the inclusion of the criteria on reputation and livelihood, on the ground that that could unfairly discriminate against black and Asian defendants and those of what were regarded as a lower social class. I have responded to that concern by including in the Bill criteria relating to the seriousness and complexity of the offence, and to the sentencing power of the court, but not to reputation and livelihood.

My hon. and learned Friend will be able to make his point in greater detail in Committee but, if he is seeking to make a strong case, I advise him not to quote Professor Michael Zander in his favour, because both in his report to the royal commission and in an article in The Guardian on 25 May last year he came out strongly in favour of the basic principle of the Bill. He said: Opponents of the reform pray in aid Magna Carta, ignoring the fact that the defendant's right to choose jury trial dates only from 1855. It is true that juries acquit more often than magistrates, but in the Royal Commission's view it is as wrong to give the defendant the right to insist on the level of court that will give him a better chance of acquittal as it would be to give him the choice of a more lenient judge.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

Does not the real unfairness of the Bill rest in who will be allowed to have a trial by jury? Will not it benefit the rich, the powerful and the famous who will have the right to trial by jury? Will the Home Secretary answer the questions he himself asked a few years ago: If … a Member of Parliament or even a Secretary of State were charged with an offence of dishonesty, would they not insist on being tried by a jury? If that is the case, why should others be denied that right of election?—[Official Report, 27 February 1997; Vol. 291, c. 434.]

Mr. Straw

I have answered those questions, because I have said that I have changed my mind on that point. Moreover, the more I thought about it, the more I accepted that it was wrong to have a system in which one of the criteria was tipped in favour of the people whom I mentioned. We have established criteria that are related to the seriousness and complexity of the offence and the sentencing power of the court. However, I said only yesterday that I have never brought a Bill before the House that has not been improved as a result of debate in the House, and that may well be the case for this Bill. The purpose of debate is to consider propositions from Government and, we trust, to improve them.

The provisions in the Bill are likely to prove significantly fairer. I repeat that we have strengthened the safeguards proposed by the royal commission to include in the Bill an interlocutory right of appeal to a Crown court judge against a decision of the magistrates to refuse to transfer jurisdiction.

Dr. Lynne Jones

Will my right hon. Friend explain how the measures will assist victims of crime, when he is introducing a right of appeal to the Crown court and when the magistrates courts will cause a longer delay before disposal of the case in the Crown court? Does he not realise that when the Government introduce such measures, that is precisely why so many Labour party members and supporters feel alienated?

Mr. Straw

I do not know to whom my hon. Friend talks but, in my constituency, which includes a lively Labour party, I have found no significant opposition to the changes. In the frequent open-air meetings that I hold in the centre of Blackburn in King William street, all the comment about the proposals has been in favour of the changes. People know that the reality is very different from what is being advanced by some hon. Members here today.

Before I go into the details of the Bill, two fundamental matters must be addressed. The first concerns the categorisation of offences. In England and Wales, the venue for a criminal trial is determined by the classification of offence that is charged. In the first category are the most serious offences—such as murder, rape, robbery, wounding or causing grievous bodily harm with intent—which can and should be tried only in the Crown court.

Then there are offences that can be tried either in the magistrates courts or the Crown court. The most common cases are stealing from shops and stalls, absconding from bail, and assaults occasioning actual bodily harm. In 1998, the numbers of prosecutions for each of those offences amounted to more than 75,000, 45,000 and 38,000 respectively. Where the offence is serious, and the magistrate's sentencing power is too limited, magistrates themselves may commit the case to the Crown court.

That very important point has not been fully understood outside the House. Of the total number of cases that went for trial at the Crown court last year, 45,000 were directed for trial there by magistrates. As I have already said, quite a lot of defendants want to be tried by magistrates, but in such cases they have no choice: if the magistrate so decides, the case must be tried in the Crown court.

In the common types of case that I have described, the defendant must give his or her consent to be tried by the magistrates—even if the circumstances of the case are very petty. Last year, 19,000 elected to do so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) will be interested to know that does not mean that there is less delay when there is election for trial. There is always greater delay than when the trial is held in the magistrates court, as is shown clearly in the data provided by the House of Commons Library.

Finally, there are summary-only offences which can only be tried by the magistrates. These include offences such as minor assaults. This categorisation is intended to represent a hierarchy based on the seriousness of the offence. In practice, however, that is often not the case. As the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, has pointed out, a number of offences can be tried only in the magistrates courts, where a conviction would—and does—have serious consequences for the defendant that go far beyond the formal punishment imposed by the court.

I shall give the House an entirely hypothetical example. Let us imagine that a Member of Parliament gets drunk, takes a car without consent and then assaults the police officer who apprehends him. If that hon. Member were convicted on those three sets of charges, I suggest that there would be a serious question mark over his or her career. Yet Parliament has decided that the serious offences involved—of taking a vehicle without the owner's consent, of assault on a police officer, and of drink-driving—are ones that only magistrates can try. There is no right of election for jury trial and, as far as I am aware, there is general confidence in magistrates' ability to try such offences.

The second, general, observation that I want to make concerns the position of magistrates in our criminal justice system. I can tell Opposition Members—especially my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews)—that the logical consequence of much of the opposition to the proposal in the Bill is to deny the competence and capacity of magistrates to arbitrate on any judicial matter. That is odd, as about 97 per cent. of all criminal cases in England and Wales—many of them with very severe consequences for defendants—are already tried by magistrates.

Magistrates routinely handle decisions relating to defendants' bail, matters of guilt or innocence, and appropriate sentencing following conviction. Many of those decisions have a far more serious effect upon the defendant's liberty than the decision relating to the mode of trial. In the debate in another place, the Lord Chief Justice said about magistrates that it seems to me strange to baulk at entrusting to them the power to decide whether, subject to appeal, a case is more fitted for summary trial or trial by a judge and jury.—[0fficial Report, House of Lords, 20 January 2000; Vol. 608, c. 1253.]

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

Not yet. All the evidence shows that magistrates courts conduct themselves fairly in dispensing justice. Each year, our magistrates conduct 70,000 contested trials. That is two and a half times the number conducted in the Crown court, yet the Criminal Cases Review Commission has received remarkably few complaints about summary conviction and has referred only one case involving the magistrates courts to the Court of Appeal.

I suggest that that is partly because there is an unfettered right of appeal following conviction by the magistrates before a judge sitting with two justices, whereas there is no automatic right of appeal following conviction in the Crown court. Contrary to all suggestions, including that of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), when magistrates hear trials, they acquit in 33 per cent. of cases. Of those cases that go for appeal—one in seven are subject to appeal to a Crown court judge and two magistrates—one third are successful.

Let me come on to an important issue on which I have thought long and hard—whether the Bill would disproportionately affect black defendants. It is said that they elect for jury trial because they believe that they will not receive a fair trail in the magistrates courts. I have considered the issue seriously. Lawyers, above all, need to weigh the evidence, and the evidence suggests that any such belief is entirely misplaced. Recently published Home Office data show a higher conviction rate for white defendants than for black or Asian defendants in the magistrates court.

That finding is backed by another recent study, showing that in both the magistrates court and the Crown court, black and Asian defendants were less likely than white defendants to be convicted after contested trials. At both courts—although it is not possible to make direct comparisons between the two conviction rates—black defendants were 6 to 7 percentage points less likely to be convicted than white defendants. There is also a strong similarity between acquittal rates in magistrates courts and in the Crown court for contested either-way cases when account is taken of the differences in seriousness and complexity in Crown court cases.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Does not my right hon. Friend understand that these statistics about the conviction rate of black defendants in magistrates courts come as no surprise to civil libertarians? They vindicate the view, and the resource material that is available, that black defendants are regularly and repeatedly overcharged in magistrates courts. Regularly and repeatedly overcharging people means that it is highly likely that they will have a greater incidence of acquittal. Indeed, it vindicates precisely that view.

Mr. Straw

I do not accept my hon. and learned Friend's implication with regard to these figures. I believe that, if they are properly considered, it is impossible to follow his line of argument. He makes one fundamental error in talking about the offences charged at the magistrates court. The magistrates court does not charge offences. My hon. and learned Friend should know better than anyone that the police charge offences. That is of fundamental importance.

There is no evidence to suggest that black defendants, even if they are overcharged by the police, are treated in a discriminatory way by the magistrates court as opposed to the Crown court. In both the magistrates court and the Crown court, there is a higher acquittal rate for black defendants over white defendants.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

indicated dissent.

Mr. Straw

There is no point in my hon. and learned Friend shaking his head. That is a fact, and it is in the House of Commons Library data. There is no difference at all there.

Let me deal with whether the changes might adversely affect mentally disordered defendants. Interestingly, the Royal College of Psychiatrists offered us a view about this. It said: We do not envisage that the proposed changes will affect access of needy individuals to psychiatric assessment, defence, mitigation or treatment. It is even possible that by speeding up the process, some mentally disordered defendants may benefit. The Bill amends the relevant provisions of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980, omitting the requirement for the defendant's consent to summary trial in either-way cases. I have already explained about the changes that we have made in respect of livelihood and reputation. I believe that the safeguards that we have introduced will make a significant difference to the operation of the criminal justice system and that they maintain the right to jury trial for appropriate offences. At the same time, the system will not be brought into disrepute by cases such as the one that I am about to quote. Far from being a dim and distant case given in evidence to the royal commission six or seven years ago, it happened only last month.

A 26-year-old man with 15 previous convictions covering a total of 63 offences, including 36 offences of theft, elected trial for the offence of stealing one bottle of champagne. I ask the House whether it is sensible to have a system that allows that kind of election for trial.

Mr. Hogg

What if you were charged?

Mr. Straw

If I were charged with that offence, I should be happy to go before the magistrates because I happen to believe that they are capable of conducting fair trials. If I were convicted, I should have a right—

Sir Nicholas Lyell

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

No. If I were convicted—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot have shouting across the Chamber.

Mr. Straw

I have given way a great deal but will give way shortly to the former Attorney-General, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), before I make some progress.

The seriousness of the offence and the nature of the case are the criteria that should, in our judgment, determine whether a case is dealt with by the Crown court or the magistrates. We can discuss that point in Committee, but I believe that our proposals will fairly and sensibly achieve that end. We have also strengthened the safeguards, moving away from those proposed by the royal commission, by providing for an interlocutory right of appeal. The appeal would go to the Crown court, and the procedure would be fast and efficient with most cases determined within 48 hours. That will not hold up progress with the case in the magistrates court.

We have sought to improve the safeguards relating to appeals by providing that magistrates would be required to give reasons for their decisions. The Lord Chief Justice has suggested that appeals on mode of trial should be heard by the resident judge or by a judge nominated by the presiding judges of the circuit. The Government agree that that would help to ensure public confidence in high standards of decision making. Appropriate arrangements will be made by way of a practice direction.

I shall give way—for the last time—to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I am most grateful to the Home Secretary. Did he not become carried away by his own rhetoric in his example of his being accused of stealing a bottle of champagne? Does he recognise that those of us on the other side of the argument fully respect the way in which magistrates conduct themselves in the great majority of their hearings? However, the logic of the Home Secretary's argument is that, because magistrates generally provide a fair trial, the right to trial by jury can be largely dispensed with.

Mr. Straw

I am afraid that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is being carried away by his own rhetoric, but it is not very good. In any system of courts in which a hierarchy exists, there must be some criteria by which to select which cases go to the higher and lower courts. One criterion is sentencing power, but another is the seriousness and complexity of cases. Of course, some cases are serious in themselves, and serious enough to trigger the criterion of sentencing power. In addition, other less serious cases may have complicated evidence that makes it appropriate to take them before the Crown court.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

No, I have given way a great deal.

The logical conclusion of the argument being presented against us is that magistrates courts should never try cases—except, perhaps, for failure to pay a parking ticket. It is being continuously insinuated that magistrates are unfair. That was the clear implication of what was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham.

Mr. Hogg


Mr. Straw

As I have referred to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I suppose I must give way.

Mr. Hogg

I am most grateful. What I actually said applied to both the lay and professional judiciary. It was that there is a predisposition on the part of the judiciary—lay and professional—to favour the prosecution.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to suggest that one cannot get a fair trial anywhere.

Mr. Hogg

From a jury.

Mr. Straw

I know. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that it is not unheard of—indeed, it happens often—for a judge with a fairly clear view of a defendant's guilt or innocence to suggest cleverly that a jury might come to one conclusion rather than another.

I am only too well aware—not least from the debate—that our proposal, modest though it is, has aroused some controversy, in the House, in the other place and outside. I have taken careful note of that, and have sought to respond by strengthening the Bill's safeguards and amending the criteria to make them as objective as possible.

In putting the Bill before the House, I draw some comfort from the fact that at almost every point that a Home Secretary has sought sensibly to modernise our system of jury trials, he has been met with similarly vocal opposition. Yet once the measure has gone through, the opposition has faded, as the sense of the measure has been appreciated.

In 1967, Roy Jenkins proposed a change to the system of jury trial far more fundamental than this one: to change the requirement of a unanimous verdict to that which the European Union now likes to call a qualified majority. The proposal was met with howls from all sides. I give the House a flavour of the reaction by quoting the then Labour Member for Oldham, West, Mr. Leslie Hale, who said of the proposal made by the noble and Liberal Lord Jenkins—then the Home Secretary—that never before in the history of Parliament has there been a provision undermining the constitution of the nation, the liberties of the people and a system of justice that, with all its faults, is the envy of the world, on less evidence, with less consideration, and with a more complete absence of reasoning in its support.—[Official Report, 26 April 1967; Vol. 745, c. 1744.] He was joined by many Members on both sides of the House. His comments could even have been written by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway, who has just come back into the Chamber. I am glad that he has returned.

The measure had a bumpy ride, but it passed. None of the consequences foretold by its opponents came about. Even a year later, no one suggested that the clock should go back.

The story is remarkably similar for the proposals made in 1988 by Douglas Hurd. He proposed an end to the right of pre-emptory challenge to jurors; that a prosecution might appeal against unduly lenient sentences; and a reclassification of offences, such as drink-driving and taking a vehicle without consent, to summary only.

The whole of the then Opposition—myself included—trooped into the Lobby against that Bill on an amendment tabled by my now noble Friend, Lord Hattersley, claiming that it would result in a substantial reduction in civil liberties.—[Official Report, 18 January 1988; Vol. 125, c. 691.] Notwithstanding our ritual opposition, the Bill passed. The claim that those changes would substantially reduce civil liberties disappeared like snow in the sunshine, never to appear again.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Is not the difference between the witty examples offered by the Home Secretary and the measure the fact that those examples were of universal application, but his Bill is discriminatory?

Mr. Straw

I do not begin to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman's comment. The examples I gave were applicable to the criminal justice system; so is the Bill.

I understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman, rather than the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), will open the debate for the Opposition. I suggest that he should argue why it is wrong for there to be objective criteria for mode of trial—such as the royal commission suggested and the previous Government came close to agreeing.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Straw

Many people want to speak and there is a 15-minute limit on the speeches of Back Benchers. I have a few more comments to make.

One of the most powerful arguments made in 1988 came not from the Labour Benches, but from those of the Liberal Democrats—from Alex Carlile. It is interesting that all three of the Members to whose comments I have referred were elevated to another place on the strength of their opposition to those changes. Alex Carlile protested loud and long against the reclassification of criminal damage and common assault offences as summary only. He made the point that there would be no right of election to trial and no right of trial at a Crown court. He said that a defendant in those circumstances—charged with criminal damage and common assault offences— may well be in jeopardy of losing his job, and he will certainly be in jeopardy of losing his reputation and the respect of all around him. That is much too serious a case for the defendant to be deprived of his right to trial by jury.—[Official Report, 18 January 1988; Vol. 125, c. 719.] That was in 1998. I searched in vain—I made the search myself, to avoid any accidents—in the 1992 Liberal Democrat manifesto for any proposal to restore those offences to the either-way classification. The manifesto was silent. Those changes—

Mr. Simon Hughes


Mr. Straw

There is no need for the hon. Gentleman to intervene. That is the truth. I warrant that the same will be so of the opposition to this Bill.

The proposal was recommended not only by the 1993 royal commission but by the Narey report on speeding up the criminal justice system, which the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the then Home Secretary, commended to the House on 27 February 1997, when I famously expressed my opposition to it. I have made no bones about that—how could I? I have told the House that I have changed my mind. I do not often do that, but every so often one is entitled to do so on the basis of the evidence.

It is true that the right hon. and learned Gentleman never quite committed himself to legislating on that proposal, but he did everything but. When the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who until last month was the deputy to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, asked about either-way trials and asked if we can trust magistrates to decide guilt or innocence, why cannot we trust magistrates to decide whether cases are sufficiently serious to be tried by a jury in a Crown court?—[Official Report, 27 February 1997; Vol. 291, c. 438.], the right hon. and learned Gentleman greeted his remarks with approbation.

My guess—it can only be a guess—is that had the previous Administration been re-elected in 1997, they would have gone ahead with the proposal, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman hinted heavily that he would. No doubt, if the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald were to speak this afternoon, she would say that this was yet another issue on which she was profoundly opposed to her then boss, although not sufficiently opposed to him to resign. She now says that it is a matter of fundamental principle, but not such a matter of fundamental principle that she will make a speech about it.

The Bill represents a modest and important modernisation of our criminal justice system and will speed up justice in the interests of victims, witnesses and defendants alike.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

I shall give way, as I always do, to my hon. Friend.

Mrs. Dunwoody

It is no secret that I am not a lawyer. I have listened carefully to my right hon. Friend, who was doing quite well until he started quoting Lord Jenkins.

I want to ask my right hon. Friend a simple question, because I need to be convinced. Is the change being pushed through because it will save money, or is it being pushed through because it will improve the law? I am really not clear.

Mr. Straw

The Bill is being put through the House because it will improve the administration of the law; it will also save money. That is the answer.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)

Will the Home Secretary give way on that point?

Mr. Straw

No, I am sorry. I must finish my speech. As the House knows, I always give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), and I explained the special circumstances for that yesterday.

As I said, the Bill represents a modest and important modernisation of our criminal justice system and will speed up justice in the interests of victims, witnesses and defendants alike. It commands the widespread report of practitioners. As the Lord Chief Justice said in Committee in the other place almost the whole High Court Bench … nearly 100 judges, including some former circuit judges supported the proposal. He added that there seems to be a considerable unanimity of opinion on the topic. He hoped that the Committee would attach some weight to a body of people with a close and current knowledge of the administration of criminal justice who are— I point this out particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich— to the last man and woman, very strong supporters of jury trial in appropriate cases. There have been many occasions in the past when the judges have been united or almost so in resisting change. It is difficult to think of cases where they have been as much of one mind in approving it.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 January 2000; Vol. 608, c. 1255.] The Lord Chief Justice said that about this Bill.

We have made improvements on the recommendations originally made by the royal commission and the Narey review. We have listened to, and acted on, concerns expressed in the other place and elsewhere. The Bill threatens no hallowed rights. It is just, fair and proportionate. It will enhance public confidence in the criminal justice system, and I commend it to the House.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before I call the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), I point out that Madam Speaker has said that there will be a 15-minute limit on the speeches of Back Benchers.

5.34 pm
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

I think that the Attorney-General made a better and shorter speech in the other place.

I declare an interest as a practising member of the Bar who appears before juries in defamation and other civil trials but not—or at least not for the past 20 years—before juries in criminal cases save when sitting as an assistant recorder of the Crown court. My experience as an assistant recorder and as an advocate in civil and criminal cases tells me that we tamper with the current system of jury election in either-way cases not just at our own peril as legislators, but at the peril of the system of justice itself and the public's confidence in it.

I make it clear at the outset that my arguments and those of my party against the Bill do not depend on attacking or denigrating the lay magistracy. Magistrates do a magnificent job for no pay and mean expenses. Over 90 per cent. of all cases that fall within the criminal or quasi-criminal jurisdiction go before magistrates. That includes parking and motoring matters, licensing applications and cases that we would all recognise as criminal. Magistrates form a vital part of the jigsaw of local justice, which Conservative Members want to strengthen and enhance. Our argument is not that magistrates cannot do the job that the Bill gives them, but that, as a matter of justice and fairness, they should not have to.

The Home Secretary has had a Bill similar to this one defeated in another place. It was defeated not by the much maligned but in-built majority of the hereditary Conservative peerage, but by an alliance of peers who, in the Prime Minister's reformed House of Lords, take the Whip not only of my party but of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party. They were not alone in their disapproval of the first Bill, because they were joined by Cross Benchers and bishops.

The Government were defeated by 96 votes overall, but it should not be forgotten that the Prime Minister, who created the new House and who has created more life peers in his short period of office than any other Prime Minister in a comparable or even longer period, was defeated by a majority of 50, if one considers only the votes of life peers. That was a vote of the new House, whose decisions the noble Baroness Jay—new Labour's equivalent of a hereditary peer—said would command the respect of her party and Parliament as a whole.

If the Government had half an ounce of the common sense of their Members and half an ounce of real respect for their new House of Lords, they would pay attention to the vote in the other place on 20 January. It is not as though they were taken by surprise—or was Homer nodding or too arrogant to pay heed to the reasoned arguments deployed against the first Bill on Second Reading last December? Alternatively, are the Government now too stubborn to pay any heed to the lessons that they have been taught about the futility and sheer stupidity of trying to ram the new Bill through the House tonight?

If the Home Secretary were bad or stupid, or both, I could perhaps forgive him the Bill, but he is neither: quite the contrary. Yet he has allowed himself, either on his own initiative or perhaps at the behest of others, to introduce a bad and stupid Bill. It is fair to point out, and I do so willingly, that all Cabinet Ministers work hard and they work long hours. Every Cabinet post is a strenuous job, particularly for the Minister who is in office for reasons that have more to do with balancing the various interests of the Labour party than with intellectual or political ability.

I readily concede that the Home Secretary is a hard-working Minister who was appointed because he has the abilities to make a good Home Secretary. He works harder than most, if not all, of his Cabinet colleagues, and I will not permit the mauling that he received at the hands of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) in the debate on the dismissal of Derek Lewis in the previous Parliament to detract from my high opinion of him.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Garnier

The hon. Gentleman might let me carry on for a moment while I am expressing my high opinion of the Home Secretary.

The Home Secretary has an enormous legislative programme in this Session, and he has had a great deal else to deal with on top of that, including the welfare and accommodation arrangements of General Pinochet during his stay in this country, discussions with the Foreign Secretary on how best to ensure that the President of China was suitably cared for by the police during his stay here, and the welfare and accommodation arrangements for the passengers and crew of the hijacked Afghan aeroplane.

Each of those matters will have kept the Home Secretary busy polishing his periscope and adjusting his wing mirrors to see where the next disaster was coming from, because he knew that no sooner had he dealt, or failed to deal, with the fiasco of the passport office, than another disaster was bound to come at him unannounced. Every time a prisoner falls out of the bed, the Home Secretary is held responsible; every time an octogenarian Soviet sympathiser confesses that she was a communist spy—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Those problems come with the Home Secretary's territory, but they are not within the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Garnier

I appreciate that your patience may be wearing thin, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but if you will allow me to develop my point, you will find that it fits in extremely neatly with the arguments.

Every time that the Home Secretary tries to do something, such as dispersing asylum seekers throughout the country, he takes the blame when the plans fall apart. He used to laugh off the catalogue of disasters that have marked his period of office by saying that he could now call himself a fully paid-up member of the Home Secretaries' club—a nice little joke, but it would appeal to the public only if the disaster that hit him had not been wholly foreseeable.

Being a Labour Home Secretary is a big job. It requires 24-hour-a-day vigilance and the political radar of a nuclear-fuelled bat to survive the criticism of the press and of one's colleagues in the House, the Cabinet and the wider party outside. It brings on a state of mind that demands success at all costs in every battle. Retreat becomes unthinkable. Intelligent regrouping or choosing another way forward is retreat.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am anxious to hear arguments relating to the Bill. The House is merely getting is a lot of flannel from the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have already made an observation on the matter. Although a Second Reading debate allows a certain leeway, we cannot stray entirely from the Bill.

Mr. Garnier

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am speaking about the Bill and its creator. What we have—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. As chairman of the proceedings, I would say that the hon. and learned Gentleman has made the point that our Home Secretary is an extremely hard-working Home Secretary. We must move on.

Mr. Garnier

What we have is a Home Secretary who is persisting with this silly and unthinkable Bill, not because it will do good or because it is the right thing to do, but because if he were to withdraw it and pass the issue to the Auld inquiry into the criminal courts, he fears that he will be seen as weak, as the Home Secretary who gave way to the unelected House of Lords—albeit softened up by the Prime Minister's removal of the hereditary peerage—as the Home Secretary who gave in to the 69 Members of this House who signed the early-day motion criticising his stance, and as the Home Secretary who was pushed around by his colleagues who are responsible for today's amendment.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Garnier

The Home Secretary fears that he will be seen as the Home Secretary who gave in to those of his hon. Friends who fulminate against him on the one hand for trying to be the darling of the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, and on the other for being the poodle of the Treasury.

Mr. Bermingham

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman answer two simple questions? Do he and his party agree that the Crown Prosecution Service should set the level of the charge? If so, do they agree that the CPS should decide the level of venue, so that we could end once and for all our rather stupid system of hybrid offences and perhaps follow the Scottish system in full?

Mr. Garnier

The interesting point is that the Home Secretary prays in aid the Scottish system, but does it, as the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) pointed out, in such a way that he misuses the Scottish example. I shall come on to that.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that the House would be better off with a Home Secretary who was overruled by the courts on, I think, 11 occasions, rather than with the current one?

Mr. Garnier

If the hon. Lady thought that she was helping her side, she has another think coming.

It is because the Home Secretary has been doing too much, because he has been overwhelmed by the volume of paper and advice in his Red Box with which he has to contend, because he does not dare admit that he is wrong, and because he believes that he must devour with gusto every scrap piled on his plate, that he has trapped himself with this Bill.

The Bill does not and will not appeal to the writers or the readers of the Daily Mail or The Daily Telegraph, or to the writers or the readers of The Guardian or The Observer, all of whom know in their heads and their hearts that it is wrong and muddled.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

The hon. and learned Gentleman has been speaking for 10 minutes. We want to hear his fundamental opposition to the Bill. As he mentioned Scotland, has he considered the fact that more than 50,000 people in Scotland every year are tried without being allowed to elect for jury trial, and that that has been going on not just for the 18 years his party was in power, but at least since the 1600s? As there has been no outcry from Liberty or anyone else that that has caused any great breach of justice, does he accept that there are strong merits in the Scottish system, and that it is those merits and that part of the system which my right hon. Friend is trying to incorporate in the Bill?

Mr. Garnier

There may well be merits in the Scottish system, but the Home Secretary is not trying to incorporate that system in the Bill. If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) had studied the Bill, perhaps he would not have made that intervention.

The Bill is also designed to appeal to the Treasury, despite claims that it will lead to savings of only £128 million. That is a smaller figure than the sum that the Government have made the taxpayers of Britain spend on General Pinochet in the past 16 months. The Home Secretary enabled him to escape trial—before a jury or otherwise—in this country or anywhere else because he permitted him, at least, the right of election; he granted him the right to choose a confidential medical examination.

Not long ago, an hon. Member for Blackburn spoke about a suggestion that the House should restrict a defendant's right to elect trial by jury in the Crown court.

On 27 February 1997, little more than two months before the general election, whereafter he became Home Secretary and a right hon. Member, he said: Let me now refer to the proposal to end the right of many defendants to elect for trial by jury, even though they may face charges of dishonesty, and their reputation and their whole future may be at stake. Surely, cutting down the right to jury trial, making the system less fair, is not only wrong but short-sighted and likely to prove ineffective … Is it not the case that that not only is the view of the Opposition and many practitioners and jurists, but was the view of the Secretary of State, at least until today? If the cap fits, wear it. The same man today sneers at woolly liberal lawyers from Hampstead who oppose the Bill. If he was right in February 1997, he is wrong now. If he thought that the justification for opposing the change was sustainable then, his current volte-face is incredible and—worse—risible.

The Home Secretary may believe that charges of theft, arson, burglary, handling stolen goods and some sex crimes are trivial now, but for those in the dock, they can be life-wrecking and career-shattering. In February 1997, he said: If a police officer, a Member of Parliament or even a Secretary of State were charged with an offence of dishonesty, would they not insist on being tried by a jury? If that is the case, why should others be denied that right of election?—[Official Report, 27 February 1997; Vol. 291, c. 433-34.] I agreed with the right hon. Gentleman then. However, unlike him, I adhere to the principle of justice for all now. When the Home Secretary changes his mind, it is apparently a matter for self-congratulation; but the fate of those who have not changed their minds and oppose his policy is to be castigated and abused.

Jean Corston (Bristol, East)

Given that the hon. and learned Gentleman has become slightly more impassioned about the subject, will he confirm today that, in the unlikely event of the Conservative party winning the next general election, it will make a manifesto commitment to reverse the effects of the Bill?

Mr. Garnier

Yes, I will. The Home Secretary should write it down.

The Home Secretary was not alone in the views that he previously held. In July 1993, after the royal commission on criminal justice had reported, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who is now Attorney-General, but who was then an Opposition spokesman on legal affairs in the other place and a former chairman of the Bar, wrote in The Times: The serious blemish in an otherwise admirable report is the proposal that in those cases where the accused can now opt for trial by jury, this right should be removed, and in cases where the Crown Prosecution Service does not agree to trial by jury, the magistrates would have the power to decide. This would be madness. There are delays and inefficiencies at present, but the way to deal with them is to improve the mechanics, not to erode a fundamental liberty. How will a defendant feel about his case if he has failed to obtain a jury trial and has his case heard in the very magistrates court that refused him his present rights? I hope that Parliament will refuse to countenance legislation of this kind. So do I.

In an interview at the time, Lord Williams also said that there were "no circumstances" under which he could agree to a proposal such as that contemplated in the Bill.

He said he was "adamantly opposed" to such a proposal. It now seems that he is adamantly in favour of such madness.

If so, he is not the only man guilty of conspiring to damage the administration of justice. Step forward another lawyer, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who said that it was "totally unsatisfactory" to prevent defendants from choosing trial by jury. He said that "fundamental rights to justice" could not be "driven by administrative convenience." I agree.

Who else agrees with the views then expressed by those three members of the Government? The Criminal Bar Association, the Bar Council, the Association of Magisterial Officers, the Society of Labour Lawyers—every member of the Home Office apart from the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), may be a member of that august body—the Society of Conservative Lawyers, the Society of Liberal Democrat Lawyers, the Law Society, any number of Crown court and High Court judges to whom I and others have spoken but who cannot speak out publicly, the Legal Action Group, Justice, Liberty, the Institute of Race Relations, the Blackstone Society, the Howard League, the Portia Trust, Professor Lee Bridges—professor of law at Warwick university—Northumbria police, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, the Quakers and the legal committee of the Joint Council of Her Majesty's Stipendiary Magistrates.

Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Garnier

In a moment. Also in agreement are the Institute of Legal Executives, the Society of Asian Lawyers, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation and, I hope, the hon. Lady.

Ms Blears

The hon. and learned Gentleman is reciting a litany of those who oppose these measures, but has he given any thought whatever to the rights of witnesses, victims and people who have a stake in the criminal justice system, who all too often are not heard in the House and elsewhere because they do not have the ear of rich and powerful lawyers?

Mr. Garnier

Yes I have, which is precisely why I oppose the Bill.

Which are the most notable organisations that support new Labour's policy? The Crown Prosecution Service, the Association of Chief Police Officers, Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, Warwickshire trading standards department, the joint office of the Department of Social Security and the Department of Health solicitor, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, to which the Home Secretary referred.

The Home Secretary also places great reliance on the views of the Lord Chief Justice. When he speaks in court as a judge his view, subject to appeal, is paramount. When he speaks in the other place as a legislator his views command respect, but are not to be granted any more respect than those of the Home Secretary.

What arguments do the Government put up for this silly and unnecessary Bill, which was not even mentioned in their election manifesto? First, they say that the accused does not have the right of election in Scotland so why should he have it here. After the mess that Labour has made of the party in Wales and the race for mayor of London, we could be forgiven for thinking not only that in Scotland there is no right of election, but that the Home Secretary's comparison is false for precisely the reasons advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Medway. The prosecutor chooses venue in Scotland, but the sheriff who tries the summary case is the equivalent of a stipendiary magistrate or a circuit judge in this jurisdiction, not a bench of lay magistrates.

Moreover, the maximum sentence available on summary trial in Scotland is three months, not six, and unlike in this country, the summary court has no power to commit a convicted defendant to a higher court for a more severe sentence if it feels that its powers are insufficient.

Mr. Hogg

Although I have a great respect for the stipendiary magistracy, is it not worth reminding the House that a stipendiary magistrate sits in a magistrates court as one judge—the judge of fact? We must consider whether one judge—namely, the stipendiary magistrate—should be the judge of fact in, for example, cases involving dishonesty.

Mr. Garnier

That is a perfectly good point and I hope that we shall be able to discuss it further in Committee.

Another point was mentioned by the Minister of State on the Radio 4 "Today" programme in support of the Bill: Britain is the only country in Europe, and possibly elsewhere, that allows the defendant the right to choose his place of trial. So what? Britain is the only country that does a great many things that do not need to be changed or done away with on that account. Many European countries do not have trial by jury at all.

Mr. Grieve

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that a particularly chilling feature of the Bill is that the Government who introduced the Human Rights Act 1998 want to ratchet down to a common mean every single right that defendants have in the courts that are well over and above that Act?

Mr. Garnier

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I often wonder why the Government allow themselves to rubber-stamp their Bills with the declaration under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act without having thought what they are doing.

Mr. Straw

Challenge the Bill.

Mr. Garnier

The Bill is not yet an Act of Parliament.

Many European countries do not have trial by jury at all. If new Labour stands for drab, dull, monotonous uniformity—or what the Home Secretary calls modernisation—we have further cause for concern.

In another context, but equally to do with human rights, the Government support those who dare to be different. For once, why do not they stand up for the distinctiveness that is Britain and have the courage and the pride to do so?

The Government's next point is that the Bill will save money. The figure has gone up in the past few days from £105 million to £128 million a year, but that is still less than they spent on General Pinochet. It is a misleading statistic anyway, as more than £80 million of the alleged savings will not come from reduced fees for lawyers or court costs. They will, so the Government say, come from the shorter prison sentences imposed by magistrates. They will be savings for the Prison Service. At least two points concern me about that. Why should a defendant receive a different and lesser sentence in another court for the same offence on the same evidence after a contested trial? Why are the Government, who said that they would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, using the Bill to be weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime?

The Government say that efficiency savings in the courts will follow the passage of the Bill, claiming £12.5 million on committals and £41.5 million on Crown court trials that would no longer take place, but the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), who is no longer in his place, has already shot that fox. He said: Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 (plea before venue) has led to a decrease in the number of persons committed to the Crown Court for trial. He did not, of course, thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe—the Home Secretary who introduced the provision to make that sensible change to criminal procedure—even though the number of cases going to the Crown court has almost halved, from more than 30,000 to about 18,000, as a direct result.

As Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws admitted in the other place on 20 January, making the simple administrative change of asking the defendant for his plea before asking where he wants to be tried has achieved an extraordinary reduction in Crown court cases. Like her, I have absolutely no doubt that it is not beyond the wit, even of this Government, to introduce proposals as useful as that in respect of the 1996 Act rather than bashing on with the Bill.

Mr. Clappison

Does my hon. and learned Friend recall that the Home Secretary, when shadow Home Secretary, said on 27 February 1996 that the Government should wait to see what effect the 1996 Act had on the number of cases being committed to the Crown court at the election of the defendant? Since then, as he rightly says, the number of cases has gone down. The Home Secretary does not have a leg to stand on.

Mr. Garnier

I agree with my hon. Friend.

If, as the Government claim, people are abusing the system of election because they want to spend Christmas at home rather than in prison, it should be made clear to them at the point of election that they will be penalised if they are found to have abused the system. As Baroness Kennedy said: Ways can be found of creating sticks and carrots here that would achieve the same ends.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 January 2000; Vol. 608, c. 1282.] That seems sensible and timely advice.

The Bill will save money, says the Home Secretary. Will it really? Can we rely on the Government's unaudited assumptions? First, there will be a hearing before the magistrates about where the case should be heard. They will no longer be able to take into account the effect of a possible conviction on the livelihood or the reputation of the accused, which means that instead of discriminating in favour of one class of defendant—or to use the Home Secretary's words, a police officer, an MP or even a Secretary of State—the new Bill will lead to a new and diametrically opposite sort of discrimination. Those with previous convictions will—thanks to proposed new section 19(2)(c) of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980, to be introduced by the Bill—have a greater chance of a jury trial than those with no criminal record at all. Potential loss of a good reputation and livelihood will now be a positive bar to trial by jury, because the Bill does not allow that to be taken into account in a decision on venue.

Added to the many concerns that have been made plain by those who speak on behalf of the ethnic minority communities—the Home Secretary surely remembers the voices of the Lawrence family solicitor, Imran Khan, and of Peter Herbert, the chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers—that will add to the loss of confidence in the summary justice system that many groups have already undergone. It is undoubtedly true that those venue hearings will be lengthy and fiercely contested and that they will lead to dissatisfaction in the minds of many defendants with the summary process and the magistrates courts. With what result? There will be appeals to the Crown court under new section 20 of the 1980 Act, and there will be plenty of them. The Home Secretary's written answers about projected appeal numbers are no doubt honestly given, but they betray the Whitehall mandarin's detachment from real life in the criminal courts. These appeals will go only to the resident judge—the senior judge in each court centre—and will be heard, the Home Secretary tells us, within 48 hours.

Mr. Hogg

There is, of course, a right of appeal, to which my hon. and learned Friend is drawing the House's attention; but will he also point out that, if the appeal is heard within 48 hours, there is a real risk that those legal representatives of the accused person who are familiar with the case will not be present, or able in any way to deal with the appeal?

Mr. Garnier

That is a telling point, and one that has escaped the Home Secretary.

The resident judges—there are not many of them—will not thank the Home Secretary for this additional work when they are already hard pressed dealing with trial, pre-trial and other contested matters, as well as the administrative work that goes with their job. Even according to the Home Secretary's figures, appeals to resident judges are likely to add between two and four hours a week to their court work load, which will mean that other trials are delayed or held up. Nor is there any help at hand, as the Lord Chancellor's Department keeps them on short rations, and the Home Secretary has announced in a written answer that there will be no additional judges, full or part time, and no additional stipendiary magistrates, full or part time, to assist in dealing with the extra work that the Bill will create.

Let us assume that the judge agrees with the magistrates, and sends the case back for summary trial. Another bench of JPs will have to be found for a third hearing; if they convict, the defendant has the right of appeal to the Crown court for a complete re-hearing, before a judge and two magistrates, against conviction and/or sentence. If they convict but do not think they have adequate sentencing powers, the magistrates can commit the defendant to the Crown court for sentence. The defendant can appeal against the increased sentence as well. That involves five possible court appearances.

Rather than decreasing the number of court hearings, the Bill will tend to increase their number, and to increase the cost of criminal justice. By increasing the number of hearings and causing delay, it will increase the anguish experienced by witnesses and victims of crime. That is the very point about which the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears) was concerned, and if she maintains her concern she should vote with us tonight.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I hope that Labour Members are listening to this. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that the arguments about the number of stages that will follow the Bill, and the cost and delay involved, have never been evaluated by Government, have never been added to the equation, and have never been counted against any arguable savings that Government are presenting as some justification for their case?

Mr. Garnier

The Bill was presented by a Home Secretary who claims to be a lawyer, but who has simply not advised himself of the evidence and the issues. There have been a number of written answers from either the Home Secretary or his junior ministerial colleagues over the past two or three weeks dealing with the number of cases likely to go to appeal and the possible costs, but they are wholly unaudited: they are guesses.

Ms Blears

The figures given by the hon. and learned Gentleman in regard to the likelihood of appeals strike me as guesswork on his own part. How does he explain the fact that the appeal rate against magistrates' decisions in the thousands of cases already heard by them—cases of theft, burglary and plenty of either-way offences—is less than 2 per cent? How does he explain the fact that people are content with magistrates' decisions, feel that they have had a fair trial and feel that they have been dealt with properly? Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman's figures have been plucked out of the air: we have no evidence that that is the likely number of appeals.

Mr. Garnier

I am not sure that I follow the hon. Lady's argument, but if extended to its logical conclusion, it probably suggests that we do away with any form of criminal trial system.

What further reason did the Home Secretary adduce to persuade us to support the Bill? He said that the current system was an old lag's charter. It is no such thing, as the Home Secretary knows and as even a cursory analysis will reveal. But if it is an old lag's charter, why not listen to Lady Kennedy? If it is an old lag's charter, why did the Government abandon our "honesty in sentencing" proposals, which allow a judge to disregard time spent on remand by those who have tried to play the system?

In any event, as the hon. and learned Member for Medway pointed out, it is well known that the Crown Prosecution Service overcharges defendants on occasion. The defendants then do not plead guilty, and elect trial at the Crown court. At the Crown court, perhaps at the plea and directions hearing in advance of the trial, independent prosecuting counsel will advise on the merits of the prosecution, reduce the charge and secure a guilty plea to the lesser charge.

How can the exercise of a right to jury trial—where a defendant is given better disclosure of the prosecution case, and where he may feel that he will be tried by his peers and not by those of a different ethnic, social or economic background—be termed an abuse? It is as much a defendant's right as any right enjoyed by the citizen, and should not be done away with at the whim of this Home Secretary.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

Is not that point particularly important now, when the Director of Public Prosecutions has just gone public with his grave concern about the difficulty of the police in giving proper disclosure, and the difficulty of the Crown Prosecution Service in correcting that? We are talking about 40 per cent. and 14 per cent. of all cases in each instance.

Mr. Garnier

My right hon. and learned Friend is entirely right. These are not new points, yet they seem to have escaped the attention of the Home Secretary.

Our concern is all the greater when we consider that our criminal justice system is largely consensual. Defendants are rarely shackled in court, and often sit in the dock by themselves. Security is low key, and guilty men are sentenced knowing that, although they have been convicted, they have been justly convicted by their fellow citizens who have heard the evidence.

This is a short and simple Bill. It is a short, simple and bad Bill. It is an unwanted and unnecessary Bill. It is an unjust Bill. It is a Bill whose older sibling was deservedly defeated in the Lords, and it is a Bill that deserves to be defeated here. If we cannot knock it down here—even with the assistance of the many Labour Members who know a just cause when they see one—we, the Bill's opponents of all parties and of none, look forward to its defeat in another place.

The Bill will do the Home Secretary no credit, and he knows it. It does the Government no credit, and they know it. It will hang round the neck of the Home Secretary like a rotting albatross.

6.7 pm

Jean Corston (Bristol, East)

I support the Bill, and I do not do so on grounds of cost. I spoke recently to someone from the Commonwealth, who said that, when he thought of Britain, he thought of fair play, justice and democracy. Justice and democracy are expensive, and I think that we should be prepared to pay the price. I accept that those who are responsible for the Government's purse strings may consider that to be a factor, but to me it is utterly irrelevant.

Unlike my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I did not criticise the proposal when the royal commission published its report, because I paid great attention to who was on the commission. It consisted of 11 people, most of whom I did not know, although the positions that they held at the time suggested that they could be trusted to consider the way in which our criminal justice system should be amended to deal with the collapse in public confidence that came in the wake of all the miscarriages of justice that we have seen, many of them in Irish cases.

Two members of the commission in particular, who are known to me in different contexts, led me to feel that I should respect its unanimous view. I refer to the chair, Lord Runciman—Garry Runciman, a highly respected social scientist, treasurer of the Child Poverty Action Group for many years and also, as it happens, a business man, as well as being the author of major works of sociology—and Professor Michael Zander, of the London school of economics.

I must declare a kind of interest at this point: Professor Zander was one of my teachers when I was a somewhat elderly law student at the LSE. In any event, I have the utmost respect for him, and no one could doubt his civil liberty credentials.

The royal commission relied on figures from research by the Home Office's research and planning unit, conducted by Hedderman and Moxon and published by HMSO in 1992.

In case anyone is going to say, "Ah. We now have plea before venue," the House of Commons Library says that, so far as it is aware, the number of cases in the last year for which figures are available, post-plea before venue, where people plead guilty at the door of court, is 11,000. At that time, however, Hedderman and Moxon pointed out that only 18 per cent. of cases tried in the Crown court were indictable. The remainder were either-way cases. Fifty-two per cent. were directed automatically by magistrates, who considered that it would be more appropriate for a Crown court to deal with the matter.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Is my hon. Friend aware that it was an essential part of Runciman's suggestion that, should the right of trial by jury be given up, that magistrates should consider, by statute, the reputation of the people to whom they were denying trial? It was an essential part of Runciman, which has been taken out of the Bill. As she knows Michael Zander, does she know whether he has changed his mind?

Jean Corston

Of course I am aware that the commission thought that the reputation should be considered, but surely my hon. and learned Friend is aware of the reasons why it has been removed from the Bill.

Thirty per cent. of cases went to the Crown court as a result of the defendant's election—the defendant chose trial by jury. Three main objectives in making that choice were cited. The first was that it put off the day of trial, which is obvious. If in custody, the defendant will spend time on remand. Spending time in any prison is not pleasant, but at least someone on remand will have better access to lawyers, more visits, the right to wear their own clothes and to spend more money in the prison shop.

The second objective was said to be that defendants believed that there would be a better chance of acquittal as they thought that the trial process would be fairer. There may be some truth in that, but the royal commission found it odd that most of them ended up pleading guilty. By the day of trial, 70 per cent. of those who elected for trial had pleaded guilty to all the charges. A further 13 per cent. pleaded guilty to some charges.

The third objective cited was the belief that a Crown court sentence would be lighter. That belief is much mistaken. Judges are three times more likely to impose immediate custody. On average, sentences are two and a half times as long. One third of defendants who elected trial by jury said that, in retrospect, they would have preferred to have been dealt with by magistrates. For all types of offences, magistrates are more likely to order defendants to pay compensation to victims.

The royal commission knew that there would be objections, particularly from the legal establishment. It was not mistaken, but it said that magistrates conducted more than 93 per cent. of all criminal cases—that is 1.8 million cases a year—and should be trusted to try fairly. Therefore, it is invidious to suggest that it is not possible to get justice in a magistrates court. Very few miscarriages of justice have been referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission following magistrates court decisions; indeed, it may be only one.

The royal commission did not consider that defendants should be able to choose the mode of trial that they thought would offer them a better chance of acquittal, any more than they should be able to choose the judge whom they thought would give them a more lenient sentence.

Last year, 400,000 either-way cases were tried by magistrates: that is, 400,000 cases where defendants said that they were happy for the magistrate to proceed immediately to trial. That does not seem like a lack of confidence to me. Furthermore, of the 65,000 cases that went to the Crown court, 47,000 were sent by magistrates themselves because they thought it inappropriate for them to try those cases. They do have some knowledge of what is appropriate in terms of their jurisdiction.

In any event, the Bill will provide for a right of appeal to a Crown court judge for anyone who is refused jury trial as a result of a magistrates court deciding to reserve the case to themselves. It is an important safeguard, but not one that was recommended by the royal commission.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Jean Corston

With respect, may I ask for a short intervention because there is a time limit on my speech and there will not be on the hon. Gentleman's?

Mr. Hughes

The question is simple. Why is the hon. Lady's argument not an argument for getting rid of jury trial all together?

Jean Corston

That is an extraordinary question from someone who, I understand, practises law. In some cases—for example, murder and rape—no one would suggest that magistrates have the competence to deal with such matters. Apart from anything else, there is the length of the trial.

The Attorney-General, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for whom I have much respect, said that those who opposed the Bill would have to say to the female complainant in a rape case— the type of victim to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) referred earlier— Your case is not going to come on for nine months" … why? Because the system is clogged up with matter that … does not really need to be there.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 January 2000; Vol. 608, c. 1293.] That is something that we have to acknowledge.

Mr. Burnett


Jean Corston

I will not give way again because of the time limit on my speech.

I turn to the question of race. In my constituency, there is a considerable population of people from the black and Asian communities. If I had thought that the Bill would in any way harm their prospects of a fair trial, or their representation in the criminal justice system, I would have been the first to have said so and to have voted against it. I am absolutely committed to the eradication of racism in our society and oppose the way in which black people can be stigmatised by the criminal justice system, but I have been influenced by research by Dr. Bonny Mhlanga of Hull university, who conducted an analysis of 5,500 defendants, which was published in October.

The research concluded that black and Asian defendants were less likely to be convicted after contested trials in both Crown and magistrates courts. At magistrates courts, 48 per cent. of cases involving black defendants did not result in conviction. The equivalent figure for white defendants was 41 per cent. In the Crown court, 36 per cent. of black defendants and 30 per cent. of white defendants were not convicted. Therefore, it is not true to say that black people are less likely to get justice from magistrates.

If there is a problem with the magistracy, let people say so and let us do something about it. As a result of the royal commission and the lack of confidence that most of us displayed in our criminal justice system after the disgraceful and outrageous cases involving people such as the Birmingham six, the Bridgewater four, the Guildford four and all the rest, Labour Members said that we should look at the way in which the judiciary was elected and judges behaved. We are trying to do that. If there is a similar problem with the magistracy—it has not been brought to my attention that there is—let us deal with it, rather than say, "Let us have a Crown court system," which is bogged down with things that simply do not need to be there and is used as a delaying tactic by people who know the form.

In turning to the legal profession itself, I have to declare an interest: before I came to the House, I practised as a barrister. I never practised criminal law, but I have during my time as a Member of Parliament been much persuaded by briefings from organisations such as the Bar Council—I am a member of the Bar—the Law Society, Justice and Liberty. I am not so persuaded now.

I served on the Standing Committee that considered the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. One of its provisions was the abolition of the right to silence. A new form of caution was to be administered to people when they were arrested, or taken to a police station.

We were all told—those of us on the Standing Committee had a specific responsibility to look at every single briefing that came before us—that that was the most appalling attack on the rights of defendants, that it would lead to miscarriages of justice, that it was wrongheaded and anti-democratic. I cannot describe the effect that that had on me. Those were the days when we were in opposition and used to turn up at a three-line vote for a principled abstention.

I was one of the 40-odd Labour Members who made myself very unpopular by voting against that Bill. I did so on the basis that the Bar Council and Law Society had said that it was the end of justice as we knew it, or words to that effect. Ever since, I have been waiting for all those miscarriages of justice that were going to emerge because of that measure to do so, but they have not. All I say to people at the Bar Council and the Law Society is, "Think very carefully about how you conduct yourselves, because some of us are beginning to think that you sometimes raise siren voices."

The name of the Attorney-General was invoked by Opposition Members. He was once the chairman of the Bar Council. When he heard some of the objections being made to the Bill in another place, he said that, as a former Bar Council chairman, he himself had behaved in that type of "neanderthal" fashion. I tell those organisations—for many of whom I have the utmost respect—"Be very careful in how you express yourselves, because the way in which you are pursuing some of these issues is having precisely the opposite effect to that which you intended."

6.20 pm
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston). She made an extremely cogent speech. I particularly enjoyed her remarks about the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. She will recall that, in opposition, Labour Front Benchers opposed the right of silence provisions, although they did abstain on Third Reading.

I was also particularly interested in the hon. Lady's comments on the long study that she has evidently given to the issue of jury trials. She will forgive me if I am wrong—I hope that she will correct me if I am wrong—but I do not recall her rushing to support the original proposal, which now finds itself in the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial)(No.2) Bill, when I made it in February 1997.

The Home Secretary has acknowledged that introducing the Bill in Parliament represents for him a complete volte-face from the position that he took when I proposed it, for consultation and without commitment, in February 1997. He then described it as wrong, short-sighted and likely to prove ineffective. Unfortunately—I say this to him as gently as I can—he has been more than a little disingenuous in explaining the change in his position.

In a press notice issued by the Home Office, on 19 November 1999—the day on which the original version of the Bill was introduced in another place—the Home Secretary laid great emphasis in explaining his change of position on what he described as the "new provision" of a special right of appeal. That, he said, deals with what he described as one of his "key worries" when he was in opposition.

The Home Secretary cannot possibly be unaware of the fact that, in the very statement that I made in February 1997, when I announced the proposal, I referred to the provision of a right of appeal against a decision by the magistrates not to allow a case to go to the Crown court. So that is hardly a "new provision".

So far from making any reference in his response to my statement to what he now describes as one of his "key worries", the Home Secretary criticised that right of appeal on the grounds that it would cause delay. I am, therefore, sorry to say to the Home Secretary—as gently as I can—that he has been less than straightforward in the explanation that he has given for his change of heart.

I suppose that no one should be at all surprised by that. The Home Secretary's change of heart on this issue is all of a piece with his change of heart on many other issues. When he was in opposition, he described private prisons as "morally repugnant", but now he embraces them with enthusiasm. The truth is that Labour Members won the previous general election through unprincipled opportunist opposition, and they have remained true to those values in government.

My right. hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench have made their position on the proposal clear, and they are perfectly entitled to do so. As I made clear when I originally made the proposal, it was for consultation and it was without commitment. But I know what I wanted to do. The Home Secretary is quite right: had I remained Home Secretary after the general election, I would indeed have tried to persuade my colleagues to accept and implement the proposal. I do not know whether I would have succeeded in doing so. Nevertheless, that is what I have tried to do—for all the reasons stated by the Home Secretary and, in another place, by the Attorney-General when they presented the Bill in its original form.

If the Bill had been presented to the House in its original form, I would have voted for it. I know that it is a moot point whether that support would have caused more embarrassment to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench or to the Home Secretary, but that is what I would have done. That is what I was fully prepared to do, because I have not changed my mind.

Mr. Hogg

Had my right hon. and learned Friend presented his proposals on the right of appeal, would that right of appeal be an oral one or on the papers, as is proposed by the Home Secretary?

Mr. Howard

I had not considered in detail the type of appeal that would be offered, and so I cannot give my right hon. and learned Friend an answer to that question.

The Bill that we have before us today has departed from the original Bill in one vital respect.

Virtually every statement that I have been able to find on this issue has emphasised the importance of taking into account, in any decision on the mode of trial, the effect of a conviction on the reputation and livelihood of the defendant. The reason for that—it has absolutely nothing to do with class, colour or any of the other matters that have been drawn into the argument—is that, for someone with a string of convictions, the only punishment that he would receive if he were convicted is the sentence imposed by the court. If someone of good character were convicted, however, particularly if his or her livelihood depends on that good character, the punishment is far more severe than the sentence imposed by the court.

That is why the Home Secretary was absolutely right, when he originally announced his proposal, to describe the requirement to take into account the effect of a conviction on the defendant's livelihood and reputation as a "safeguard". That was the word that he used, and he was right.

That is why the Attorney-General, when he was justifying the original Bill in another place, chose this example to make his case:

Is it right that someone, let us say, who has 10 previous convictions for shoplifting a jelly or a banana from Tesco is automatically entitled to the right to trial by jury?—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 December 1999; Vol. 607, c. 923.] That is why the Lord Chief Justice, when he spoke in favour of the original Bill in another place, used this example to make his case:

On a relatively recent visit to a court outside London … I found myself trying for shoplifting an elderly man, of weak intellect, in poor health, who had more than 60 convictions for that offence. He had really no defence, as the jury concluded.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 January 2000; Vol. 608, c. 1253.] The example cited by the chief constable of Kent, and quoted by the Home Secretary in his speech today, was a similar example. The example quoted by the Home Secretary himself in his speech today was a similar example. That is why the original Bill contained the requirement that the magistrates should take into account the effect of a conviction on the defendant's livelihood and reputation.

I agree with the Home Secretary that that provision was a safeguard. I agree with the Attorney-General that someone with 10 previous convictions for shoplifting a jelly or a banana from Tesco should not have an automatic right to trial by jury. I agree with the Lord Chief Justice that the elderly man whom he tried, who had more than 60 convictions for shoplifting, should not have an automatic right to trial by jury. I agree with the chief constable of Kent in the example that he gave. That is why I would have voted for the Bill in its original form.

But I also passionately believe that a lorry driver with an unblemished reputation, whatever his colour, who might lose his job if he is convicted of an offence of dishonesty, should at least have that fact taken into account by the magistrates when they decide the mode of trial.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that one of the Bill's major vices is that magistrates are proscribed from considering anybody's background? They are forbidden to do so.

Mr. Howard

I was coming to that point. The scale of the Home Secretary's volte-face on the issue is enormous.

Mr. Straw


Mr. Howard

I should like to make my point before I give way to the Home Secretary. The original Bill required magistrates to take such issues into account. The redrafted Bill could have said that reputation and livelihood may be taken into account, but instead it forbids magistrates to take them into account. They are not allowed to have the slightest regard to the effect of a conviction on the reputation or livelihood of a defendant. If the Home Secretary still wants to intervene, perhaps he can explain how magistrates can decide whether they have sufficient powers to sentence a defendant, as the Bill requires them to do, without taking into account their circumstances, which the Bill forbids them to do. That is beyond me and the House has had no explanation. I shall be delighted to give way if the right hon. Gentleman wants to answer that.

Mr. Straw

My question to the right hon. and learned Gentleman is different. It is clear from the text that he has just read out that the court can take into account the likely sentence. That is bound to include some circumstances relating to the offender.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman gave an example of a lorry driver. Whether a lorry driver convicted of a theft loses his job will depend on the circumstances of the theft, but a lorry driver convicted of drink-driving will certainly lose his job. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that the offence of drink-driving should be upgraded from summary only to either way?

Mr. Howard

I am assessing the criteria that magistrates should take into account when deciding the mode of trial for either way offences, because that is what the Bill is about. The Home Secretary has not answered my question and I believe that what he said was wrong. New section 19(2) says: For the purpose of subsection (1) above the court shall consider—… (b) any of the circumstances of the offence (but not of the accused) which appears to the court to be relevant. I stress those words "not of the accused". Paragraph (c) continues whether, having regard to the matters to be considered under paragraph (b), the punishment which a magistrates' court would have power to impose for that offence would be adequate. Paragraph (b) governs paragraph (c). According to the language of the Bill, in considering whether they have sufficient powers to sentence the defendant appropriately, magistrates would, extraordinarily, not be allowed to take into account the circumstances of the defendant.

On the Government's estimate, at least 2,000 people a year who would have been tried by a jury if the magistrate could take into account the effect of a conviction on their reputation or livelihood will not be so tried as a result of the proposals. That is not justice. This is not a Committee point, as the Home Secretary said to the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). The provision cripples the discretion that magistrates can exercise and strikes at the heart of the Bill. That is why I shall vote with my right hon. and hon. Friends against Second Reading.

6.35 pm
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill which, while making provision for determining the mode of trial in the case of offences triable either summarily or on indictment, fails properly to safeguard or maintain the right to trial by jury in either way offences which may result in serious punishment and loss of livelihood. I declare an interest in the debate. I have been a member of the Bar for 33 years and recorder of the Crown court with full powers of a Crown court judge for 18 years. In that time I have presided over many criminal trials, sitting together with magistrates in appeals from magistrates and committals for sentence. I have represented many defendants. I have represented the police, serious crime squads and regional crime squads. I have met a lot of coppers, a lot of victims and a lot of witnesses.

I have one abiding and passionate interest in the Bill: that it should preserve the integrity, reputation and fairness of the system in which I have served. With that experience and interest, I have no hesitation in saying that this is one of the worst Bills to come before the House for many years. It will cause real and perceived injustice; it will cause immense delay and anxiety to victims, defendants and witnesses and their families; and it will create vast expense. I hold that view in common with every institution and organisation that is concerned with civil liberties.

I have three preliminary points, the first of which has already been made several times. The Bill is a total volte-face for the Home Secretary. I shall not repeat again the quotation that has been given several times, when he asked whether any Member of Parliament, if charged with an offence that would have a serious effect on their well-being if convicted, would not choose trial by jury. That rhetorical question is as relevant today as it was then. I have heard nothing from him to explain that apostasy. I am not against apostasy. St. Paul had his change of mind on the road to Damascus, where he was going to carry out a bit of public prosecution on behalf of the Romans without a jury. I commend to my right hon. Friend the fact that that example of apostasy was in favour of civil liberty and religious tolerance.

My second preliminary point is that this is not a manifesto commitment of the Labour party or any other party. It has never received careful consideration and control through conference or any forum—policy or otherwise—in my party. It has never been placed before the electorate. The proposal has been brought from its huts in the Home Office, where it has been lingering for the past 25 years, rejected repeatedly by respective Home Secretaries and Home Office Ministers, among whom it is not possible to find a single Hampstead liberal.

It is surely wrong that the Government should use their massive and quiescent majority without the issue ever being put before the electorate, particularly as a review commission is sitting and will report by the end of the year. Its finding may then be properly considered by the electorate.

My third preliminary point is that much use has been made of statistics that were described in the House of Lords as a heap of guesses. That was charitable. Many of the statistics that have been used to reinforce the Bill turn out on close examination to be misleading to the point of deceit. I shall give one example. The number of appeals likely to be generated as a result of magistrates in 14,000 cases denying to people who have pleaded not guilty the right to go to trial by jury has been arbitrarily calculated by the Government at 25 per cent. There is no reason to suppose that that is an accurate assessment. Anyone who practises in the courts will know that there is likely to be a much more significant number of appeals—let us say 10,000. How many days do the Government say will be lost on these appeals? The answer is 148. If 10,000 appeals are to be heard in 148 days in the Crown court, that allows four minutes and eight seconds for each appeal.

Some in the Home Office may think that such a decision can be taken in the time that it takes to boil an egg, but that will not appeal to Crown court judges. If judges hear 10 or 12 of these cases a day, 1,000 days of Crown court time will be lost. The answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) is that if hon. Members want to clog up the Crown court system, pass this Bill.

Mr. Hogg

Is not another vice of the appeal system as prescribed in the Bill that it is not a real appeal system? Has the hon. and learned Gentleman seen the written answer on 2 February, in which the Home Secretary makes it plain that, in the great majority of cases, the appeal will be a paper appeal, not involving representation?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. This is a wish and a prayer. The idea is that it should start off as a paper appeal. The appropriate judge will consider it, and then decide whether there should be representation. In the vast majority of cases, the judge will allow representation. The average price of an appeal to the Crown court is £679. If there are 10,000 of these cases, more than £6.7 million of public money will be wasted on the system. There is no mention of that in the Government's statistics.

The point of principle is that jury trial is fundamental to our system of criminal justice. The reason—which the Government seek to avoid—is simply this: our system is adversarial. We do not inquire after the truth; we are interested in proof. The state brings the case against its own citizen, and must prove it. It is an axiom of our law that the state does not prove it in front of its own appointees. If cases are serious, they must be proved in front of your fellow citizens. That is the right that you have. That is not an aspersion on magistrates. It is simply a matter of saying that justice must be seen to be done.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

I thought that my hon. and learned Friend was on the point of suggesting that the members of the magistrates bench—of which I am one in north-west Leicestershire, although I am not sitting currently—were somehow placemen and appointees at the whim of the Government in the decisions at which they will arrive. Surely my hon. and learned Friend is not suggesting that.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Of course I am not. My hon. Friend, with great respect to him, confuses what I said. If we have a system such as this, it is implicit that justice is seen to be done—not only that it is done. If the state brings a case, it must be judged by one's fellow citizens, because the perception of justice matters more than anything else. I have enormous respect for magistrates, to whom I shall refer in a moment.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

I have been following my hon. and learned Friend's argument closely, and his logic seems to suggest that he would have to argue for the right of election to jury trial in every case. As I understand it, that is not what he is arguing.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Certainly not, but I am grateful for the intervention. With great respect to my hon. Friend, I am either not articulating or she is not understanding what I mean. I said, in terms, that in any case where there is the risk of serious punishment—whether by sentence or by loss of reputation—the right to jury trial must be maintained. However, that right need not be exercised and, in the vast majority of cases, it is not.

Mr. Straw

My hon. and learned Friend knows that a serious loss of reputation and employment can follow from convictions for drink-driving, indecent exposure, assaulting a police officer or taking a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner—each of which are summary only, with no right to jury trial whatever. Is he proposing that those charges should now become either way?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Certainly not. [Interruption.] I will tell you—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman must remember to use the correct parliamentary language. He should not use the word "you".

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

If I may enlist what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said himself, in making such a decision there must be areas on the margins. For me, the margins are about right. I would not object to the margins being extended in some way, but there must be margins.

I refer my right hon. Friend to a short passage from one of our greatest judges, who explained the issue far better than I could. He said: Each jury is a little Parliament. The jury sense is a parliamentary one. I cannot see the one dying and the other surviving. This is a good quote. The first object of any tyrant in Whitehall would be to make Parliament utterly subservient to his will, and the next to overthrow or diminish trial by jury, for no tyrant can afford to leave a subject's freedom in the hands of 12 of his countrymen. That principle underpins the whole of our judicial system. It is a fundamental principle in all cases where serious punishment may apply, either by sentence or by loss of reputation.

In this respect, I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) that the Government have performed an impossible volte-face. To overcome the initial difficulty—which everybody understood—that the gross loss of reputation is very often a far greater penalty than the sentence in not very serious cases, the Government put in the reputation clause. Of course, the reputation clause is repellant because it creates a two-tier system. We have all argued against that, and everyone on the Government Back Benches would make common cause on that.

The Government replied not only by abolishing the safeguard, but by making the position infinitely worse, so that now magistrates cannot take these matters into account in deciding on the right to criminal trial.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

Are we not in danger of losing another safeguard if we remove the right to elect for trial by jury? Is it not correct that about 70 per cent. of those accused who opt for trial and then plead guilty at trial actually plead guilty to different charges, and that the removal of the right to jury trial would invite overcharging through the magistrates courts, which would be their own perversion of justice?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

That is absolutely right. The findings of the royal commission were clear—one of the principal reasons why defendants change their plea when they get to the Crown court is because, in 50 per cent. of cases, charges are reduced. That is as a result of something that is well known—namely, overcharging in magistrates courts. That accounts for the otherwise inexplicable point that people elect jury trial and subsequently plead guilty.

Mr. David Taylor

Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Before I do, could I clarify a brief point, Mr. Deputy Speaker? I was told by your immediate predecessor in the Chair that, as that I was to move the amendment, I would be allowed injury time on my fifteen minutes to take interventions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. and learned Gentleman will not be given any special treatment. Interventions on him are allowed, but his responses are not.

Mr. Taylor

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for allowing me this brief intervention. He refers to overcharging in magistrates courts, as though it were the magistrates courts bench that is responsible for that. Is it not at least possible that those cases which will be retained and heard in the magistrates courts under a revised regime will result in a lower charge to which defendants can, with some equanimity, plead guilty?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Obviously, it is the police who overcharge, but they do so in magistrates courts knowing full well that the expertise, experience, learning and knowledge to deal with that practice does not exist in magistrates courts. When a case of overcharging comes before the Crown court, it is immediately perceived. The statistics are against my hon. Friend.

I shall give two examples of what will happen if the Bill is passed, and in both I have in mind real cases. The first is the case of a schoolteacher who has taught for 30 years, is widely respected in his community, and stands charged on one offence of indecent assault on the uncorroborated evidence of one pupil. The sentence would not be custodial, but it would destroy his life. In those circumstances, the man will almost certainly lose his right to jury trial because the magistrates are deliberately precluded from being told of the nature of the penalty that will be imposed.

Ms Blears

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that the national guidelines issued to magistrates on the circumstances of the offence could include the fact that one person was in a position of trust and responsibility over the other person? Magistrates would be able to take that into account when deciding venue.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

That is right, but for that to be brought before the magistrates they would have to be told that the case concerned a teacher of immense reputation who had been teaching for 30 years and who had abused that trust.

Fiona Mactaggart

Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I am sorry; I cannot do so because I have to finish.

My second example is dear to all our hearts. It is the case of a young man, of impeccable character and background, who has spent much of his time fighting and demonstrating against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Let us suppose that one day he is charged with theft—not robbery—from a bank, on the basis of a patently false identification. Under the Bill, that young man would almost certainly be denied the right to jury trial.

Mr. Straw

There is no doubt that such a case—of the kind that was faced by an hon. Friend—would go to the Crown court because of its complexity. My hon. and learned Friend knows that, and so does our hon. Friend.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

My right hon. Friend and I can argue that point, but it was not a complex case. However, our hon. Friend would be at risk if he were in that position today because he would no longer have a right to opt for jury trial. The decision would be a lottery as to whether a particular bench of magistrates had decided that it was too complex or not complex enough. It is too serious a matter to be left to a lottery in that way.

My time is up. I am grateful for your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall simply say in closing that the Government have, possibly unjustifiably, a reputation for being authoritarian. The jury system is the main and principal bulwark against authoritarian—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am afraid that the hon. and learned Gentleman's time is now up.

6.54 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

I am happy to follow the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). My colleagues and I will vote for his reasoned amendment, and if that does not succeed we will vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. If we still have not prevailed, we will seek to persuade the House that the Bill should go to a Special Standing Committee to take evidence on the facts, so that people can make up their minds on the facts instead of on the Government line. I do not claim that we have not had internal difficulties about the issue or that everybody in our party originally had the same view, but after a considered debate we have come to the view that the proposal is wrong in principle and would be wrong in practice.

It is not an argument to say that something is good because it is modernising. That was the argument used for the poll tax, which is hardly a commendation. The issue is whether a proposal will improve the law and make the system fairer and more just. The fact that a system has been long established is also not an argument against it. We are clear that the history and effectiveness of trial by jury both argue in favour of its retention.

After the general election, we were surprised to discover that the Home Secretary had changed his mind on the issue. One of the reasons why people voted the Tories out was that they wanted an end to what were perceived as right-wing policies, but they have now come from another source. Some of the arguments from the Home Secretary and Ministers have just oversimplified the case. They say that the system is abused, but that is not borne out by the facts. They claim that the concession made since the House of Lords threw out the Bill has solved the problems. That is an oversimplification, because it has not solved some problems. Ministers also claim that great costs will and should be saved. Both points are arguable, but the bigger point is whether a small amount of cost-saving is the price that should be paid for a large amount of loss of choice.

Sometimes people get bogged down in the detail of the arguments, but I wish to return to the starting point for the Bill. We have a system—we can argue about how we got here—in which some cases have to go for jury trial. Those are the big cases. Some cases—the smaller ones—have to go before the magistrates. In between are many offences—interestingly, when I asked Ministers how many they could not tell me—that are either-way offences. There are 370 categories of such offences in English law, applicable in England and Wales. The proposal is that—without considering the detail or whether it is appropriate for the individual offence—all those offences will be changed in one go from a situation in which the defendant chooses the venue to the court choosing the venue.

There will be no review of whether the Bill should apply to all the offences. No one is asking whether some summary or some indictable offences should be either way. Many of the offences included in this sweeping change are significant offences. They include making threats to kill; assault occasioning actual bodily harm; putting people in fear of violence; child abduction; indecent assault; indecency between males; burglary; theft; handling stolen goods; affray; possessing firearms; possessing controlled drugs; supplying controlled drugs; and cruelty to children. It is callous of Parliament to think that the right way to deal with that huge number of serious offences is to say to defendants to charges of any of them—it could be one of us one day—that at a stroke they will lose their right to choose where they will be tried.

Mr. David Taylor

I shall try to help the hon. Gentleman. He is right to detail the litany of serious offences that fall into the each way category. He will know from the detailed documents that of the 1.8 million cases processed by the judicial system every year, some 65,000 are each way cases. By simple subtraction, some 47,000 cases are already referred to the Crown court on the decision of the magistrates bench, so the offences to which the hon. Gentleman refers are already properly handled by the magistrates courts.

Mr. Hughes

The House is aware of the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. The truth of the matter is that most of these cases are decided by the courts and the defendant is happy with the decision. As the hon. Gentleman says, many of the cases are sent to the higher courts by the magistrates, not at the election of the defendant. However, I shall give the hon. Gentleman two facts that he may not have picked out of the raft of parliamentary answers on this topic over recent weeks. First, only about 18,500 defendants elect trial every year, whereas, as we know, magistrates send more than twice that number to Crown courts. Secondly, although three quarters of defendants plead guilty in Crown courts, the significant fact is that there is very little difference between the numbers of people who plead guilty who have elected for Crown court trial, and the numbers who plead guilty whose cases have been sent for trial in the Crown court. Clearly, those answers show that people are not abusing the system.

Mr. Taylor

That is utterly illogical.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman may say that, but the facts support many arguments that I do not consider to be illogical. However, the more important point does not arise from statistics.

I remind those hon. Members who are still minded to support the Government but who are not on the payroll vote of what the arguments are.

First, the public case for retaining a broad base for jury trial is that it allows citizens to participate in the legal process. Jury trial is popular and adds to the legal system's credibility. It reduces those elements of the legal process in which only lawyers are involved.

The hon. Members for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) and for Salford (Ms Blears) take a pro-Government view. However, I maintain that the argument does not come down to supporting either the witnesses or the defendant. Both are worthy of support: many hon. Members are committed to ensuring that victims and witnesses get a better deal, but not at the expense of defendants. It is important for the balance of civil liberty and justice that everyone feels confidence in the system. That system will be undermined for all of us if it loses the public's confidence.

Another argument concerns the defendant's case for a jury. The election for Crown court trial is an election for trial by judge and jury, and not just by jury alone. The Crown court system separates questions of evidence, procedure and abuse of process—which are heard when the jury is not present—from the facts that are for the jury to determine. Some people believe that magistrates cannot easily separate what they hear in the debate about procedure from what they hear in the case.

Mr. Taylor


Ms Blears

That is patronising.

Mr. Hughes

It is neither: I practised at the Bar before I came to the House, and I was involved in both prosecuting and defending. I have been in court often enough to know that people do not trust magistrates as much as they trust judges and juries, because they believe and understand that judges and juries have different roles.

Mr. Hogg

If the position were as the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) suggested, would not trial judges in the Crown court deal with questions of admissibility in the jury's presence? It is because it is important that the jury does not hear the underlying debate that it is excluded.

Mr. Hughes

One of the reasons why people do not plead guilty at the beginning of their trial is that they do not see all the evidence against them. The clerks' advice to magistrates is given out of sight, so that defendants never know what that advice is. It is never recorded, so cannot be read subsequently. There are all sorts of ways in which the magistrates system is less open and transparent.

The crucial point for defendants, whether we like it or not, is that the composition of the magistrates' Bench is not representative of Britain in 2000 in the same way that the composition of juries is.

Ms Blears

That is such nonsense.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. We must not keep having interventions from sedentary positions.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Member for Salford does her reputation no good by saying that. Juries represent age, gender and race in a more balanced way than the magistracy. For defendants, therefore, the case for trial by jury is strong. The Home Secretary cited the people who support the Bill, but defendants, and those who represent them, also have a right to an opinion. They are just as important as judges, magistrates and the police.

There is also a political case for retaining jury trial. Certainly, there is a political case to be made against abolishing jury trial for hundreds of offences in one go. We must be careful that the Government do not push Parliament into supporting the majority against the few. Most people are not defendants in court cases. It may be popular on the streets to talk about toughening up the system, taking away people's rights and giving people who have been in trouble before a hard time, but that does not mean that it is right. We must resist populism, especially in the criminal justice system, as it sets a very dangerous precedent.

The Government have made some concessions with regard to the Bill. They inserted a reputation clause, but that only serves to show their dilemma over the Bill. A Bill with a reputation clause is clearly discriminatory, as some people have a reputation that could be presented as being more important than that of someone else. For example, if two people with no convictions were brought to trial for the same offence, and if one were 21 and out of work, while the other were a member of the Government, would the court regard their reputations as similar? No, it would not.

The reputation clause has to go, and in that I disagree with the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). That leaves a proposal that does not allow people, irrespective of reputation, to choose jury trial at all. I hope that the House will accept, therefore, that these arguments in support of the Bill are poor, however one approaches them.

The Government say that abuse goes on, but they are out of date. It is no longer true to say that. The evidence cited by the House of Commons Library makes it clear that most people who plead guilty at the door of the court do not do so because they want an extended time on remand. They plead guilty because the evidence that comes to light between committal and trial has persuaded them to plead guilty, or because their lawyers have. Research by the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department proves that.

Ms Blears

What does the hon. Gentleman say about the research that shows that 27 per cent. of defendants intend to plead guilty at the time that they elect for jury trial? That means that about 6,000 cases a year proceed on the basis of a sham.

Mr. Hughes

The other argument is that the number of people who change their plea later is going down, as is the number of those electing jury trial. The figures are not going in the direction that supports the hon. Lady's case. They are going in the opposite direction. A parliamentary answer to a question of mine states that, in 1995, 33 per cent. of either-way cases were committed for trial on the election of the defendant. However, that figure fell to 32 per cent. in 1996, and to 28 per cent. in 1997. The studies show that that reduction can be put down as much to reasons of legal process as to reasons of the interests of defendants.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the 27 per cent. of defendants who, according to Hedderman and Moxon, intended to plead guilty in 1989 all knew that they would go for trial in the Crown court anyway? That was where they were to be committed for sentencing, so they were not causing any trouble in the judicial system.

Mr. Hughes

That is clear from the reports, and colleagues can read the research.

Even if some people abuse the system, punishing the many because of the "abuse" of the few is wrong. It is like saying that because some people fiddle housing benefit, there should be no right to claim housing benefit. Therefore, the hon. Lady cannot argue that case and the Government should not. It is fundamentally illiberal and unjust.

Mr. Garnier

Is not that precisely the point made by Labour's Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws? We do not have to destroy the right to jury trial in either-way cases to deal with the abuses mentioned by the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears)—we change the mechanics.

Mr. Hughes

Not only is the hon. and learned Gentleman right, but many of the mechanics have been changed and are being changed. They have produced the speedier process and better system that everyone agrees should be achieved.

On cost, the argument that these changes will save a lot of money is untested. Once we add appeals systems, we add to the cost. I ask colleagues, if they have not already done so, to read an article by probably the most learned expert in Britain on sentencing. Writing in Current Sentencing Practice News in December, Dr. David Thomas describes the bizarre procedure now proposed in the Bill and referred to by Conservative Members. Three different groups of magistrates could be trying different parts of the proceedings, as well as having appeal processes at two stages.

The truth is that any possible cost benefits could be lost. In any event, most of them, as a parliamentary answer to me revealed, do not result from changes to the system. As a sentencing court cannot pass such long sentences, the cost of imprisonment is less. I am in favour of reducing the bill that the Prison Service gives the state, but let us do so by reducing directly the costs of imprisonment. Let us not use cost as a back-door advantage when there is no direct relation.

The crucial point is that the fewer jury trials there are, the cheaper it will be. No jury trials would mean a very cheap legal system. Making every trial a jury trial would make it very expensive. Please let us not argue that in order to save a bit of money, it is worth reducing the right to jury trial. If we believe that certain offences should not go before juries, let us argue for that, but for reasons other than cost.

Mr. Burnett

My hon. Friend is making a most powerful speech. Is he as surprised as I am that the figures for the proposed savings have changed in the past month from £105 million to £128 million? Is he not amazed that there has been no independent validation of those figures?

Mr. Hughes

It may disappoint my hon. Friend if I say that nothing now surprises me. A Bill is coming back to this House tomorrow in which free post for the London election was originally stated as costing £40 million, when it has now been agreed that it will cost £1 million or thereabouts. Independent auditing of the Government's figures does not seem to be a characteristic of this Administration. Although I am not surprised, my hon. Friend is right to argue that there should have been an audit.

The Scottish point is another very poor point. The Government say that they want the system in England and Wales to move more in line with that in Scotland. If we are to have a debate about whether the legal system in England and Wales should be more like Scotland's, let us have it. Perhaps we should have juries of 15 people; perhaps a straight majority on a jury should be enough; perhaps we should have verdicts of "not proven"; perhaps we should have an entirely different court system. The Scottish system has a better reputation than the English one, with sheriffs and judges having better reputations than magistrates. However, a system in which there is no right to send to the higher court once someone elects conviction in the lower court is not a proper parallel. Scotland has different judges with different powers in different courts. There is no parallel.

The Government are on weak ground in arguing the Scottish case. They cannot say that we must follow their legal system but not their stance on tuition fees. The Government say that we should not pray in aid the view of a devolved Administration. We may think that to do so is fair enough—we believe in devolution. However, let us not argue false parallels.

Let me now deal with the ridiculous argument that anyone who knows anything about the subject is in favour of the Government's proposals. First, Lord Bingham spoke out in favour of the proposals. He cited the fact that he had had a conference and called on other High Court judges to give a view, and that the majority had apparently given their support. However, in a vote in the other place, these senior judges voted as follows: Lord Donaldson voted with the Government; Lord Ackner, Lord Brightman, Lord Lane—a former Lord Chief Justice—Lord Oliver of Aylmerton, Lord Simon of Glaisdale and Lord Wilberforce voted against the Government. Of the judges who voted, the majority were not on the Government's side but against them.

Secondly, the High Court and the Court of Appeal are not the most appropriate forums to judge such matters. Crown court judges have a very different view—they deal with these offences and with jury trials every day. From my correspondence with them and knowledge of them, they have a different perspective. Praying in aid Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and his amendment in the 1970s to reduce the verdict in juries from unanimous to majority is no argument, as Lord Jenkins himself said in another place. He did that with significant cross-party support and only a small minority of opposition in this place. The Government cannot get away with arguments that are not supported by the facts.

Finally, of course the Government have evidence on their side. There was, for example, the royal commission view—its report was unanimous—and the Narey recommendation. There are, however, equally strong bodies of evidence, commissioned by the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department, that show that it is not an open and shut case. The parliamentary answers show that the changes introduced by the previous Government are having an effect. Taking the plea before the venue is decided has resulted in fewer cases going to the Crown court. Delays are reducing.

A National Audit Office report in December made many further good proposals to speed up the legal system. Nobody wants a slow legal process; nobody wants to block justice being done quickly. The Auld committee is there—the issue can be referred to it. Even if Labour Members are committed, bizarrely, to supporting the Government on what will become an increasingly unpopular position, I hope that they will take the option to refer the matter to a Special Standing Committee. All parties will be able to call people in to explain the position and come up with a better formulated response.

I am not against considering whether some offences should be tried by a different method. However, it should be done in the context of looking at the criminal justice system as a whole rather than pushing through one untested, untried and unpopular item against the will of the other place and, as far as it can be judged, the will of the public.

This is piecemeal criminal justice legislation, which is a bad way to legislate. It is populist without being principled, which is a bad way to legislate. It is not popular with people who have considered the issue and looked at the facts, which is not a good way to legislate. This measure is unworthy of the Government and many people find it particularly surprising that it should come from a Labour Government.

The Government may discover that their proposals are politically foolish as well. They have already had one defeat in the other place. It is almost certain that they will not get the Bill through in this Session. So they will be back for the fourth time—the fourth argument, the fourth row—after the next Queen's Speech, in the run-up to the election. If Labour colleagues think that this is good election-winning stuff, they underestimate the criminal justice affinity and the liberal instincts of the British people. I hope that they learn their lesson soon. If they push the Bill through tonight, they should not expect any support for their wider criminal justice agenda. This Bill will not help reduce crime, it is not in the interests of defendants, it is not in the interests of liberty, and it should be opposed.

7.20 pm
Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

What are we going to do about the Home Secretary? I found his speech deeply depressing. Until today, in my innocence, I had thought that the function of Cabinet Ministers was to get good publicity for the Government and the political party whom they represent. If the Home Secretary thought that his speech today would get him good publicity, he and I come from different planets.

One of the Home Secretary's major arguments—taken up by at least two Labour Back Benchers—went roughly like this: in the past, when anyone tried to change the English legal system, there was an outcry, but subsequent events proved it unjustified, so the outcry in this case must be unjustified. I know 11-year-olds who could tell the Home Secretary that that is a false Aristotelian syllogism, in which the conclusion has not come from the premises.

As the Home Secretary seeks to drive an indelibly stained Bill through the House, we should give him a touch of his own retributive justice. We should strip him bare, whip him to the bone and send him into exile to a land governed by tyrants. I am tempted to say that the rule for the Home Secretary should be not "three strikes and you're out", but "one strike and you're dead, Jack." However, I am a bit diffident about adopting that approach, because something about the Home Secretary calls on one to temper condign criticism with admiration—if it is possible.

In addition, I have a reputation to uphold. In recent months, I have been described as an odious, obsequious, toadying Government lackey; a Blairite loyalist; and an unthinking supporter of the project. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has sedulously put it around that I have given up the search for truth and have become a desperate man in search of ermine. I can only refer hon. Members to Michael Foot's wonderful biography of Byron, who, as he lay on his death bed and the priest asked him whether he would confess and return to God, replied, "Let's not be silly at this late stage."

I hope that my criticism of the Bill and its progenitor, the Home Secretary, will be temperate, targeted, restrained and worthy of a hearing. Let me begin not with the fatal flaws in the Home Secretary's character or the iniquities of a fallen politician, but with a few general comments on the jury system that might explain to the irrational, the uncomprehending and the totally stupid why the Bill has aroused such hostility in those who believe that freedom and justice are not accidents of the English character, but necessary constructs for civilisation the world over.

While the jury trials that are about to be abolished are, as far as the Home Secretary is concerned, "irritations"— a word so offensive suggests that he was on Prozac when he uttered it—they live deep in the psyches and the history of most English men and women, and they are a matter of national pride. I say nothing about the Welsh, who have the same legal system as the English, because of what that nasty, bloody Welshman Judge Jeffries did to my ancestors after the battle of Sedgemoor in the summer of 1685. England's attachment to jury trial is the lamp that shows that freedom lives. Those words were uttered by Lord Devlin, who was quoted in part by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). Lord Devlin went on to add that if a tyrant took over our country, one of his first acts would be to diminish trials by jury because no tyrant could leave a subject's freedom in the hands of twelve of his countrymen. Well might the Home Secretary ponder those words tonight as the Division Bell sounds.

Before trial by jury, England had trial by ordeal, which was certainly summary justice, the scope of which the Home Secretary is intent on extending. The ordeal often involved submerging people in cold water. If the suspect sank, God had accepted him, and he was innocent. If he bobbed to the surface, however, God had rejected him, and he was guilty. Today, we would call that a catch-22. I suspect that the Home Secretary, as a born-again Christian, and though constrained by the mores of modern civilisation, has a sneaking admiration for that quick, cost-free kind of summary justice.

No matter what Home Office officials and Ministers think, there appears to be general agreement that jury trial originated in 1166 with the Assize of Clarendon, at which Henry II ordained that 12 lawful men of each hundred, and four of each vill, should report to the royal justices or sheriffs those persons reputed to have committed certain serious crimes. Out of that developed the grand jury and, later, jury trials.

However, the most important event in the history of the criminal jury was the abolition of trial by ordeal by the edict of the Roman Catholic church in 1215, when God's messengers here on earth realised that summary and retributive justice was, perhaps, not all that it was cracked up to be. Slowly, democratic instincts replaced God as the arbiter of justice.

My point is that a system that has a lineage stretching back not to, but beyond, Magna Carta should not be tampered with lightly. To that, the Home Secretary replies that either-way offences have been with us only since the mid-19th century. Even if we ignore a certain sophistry in that, the Home Secretary is tampering with a system that has survived for 150 years. I should be surprised if he could point to any other thing under the purview of his Department that is deemed to be good and that has lasted 150 years—150 days, perhaps. Indeed, I defy the Home Secretary to come to the Dispatch Box to tell us of any such thing.

The Home Secretary cites three reasons for supporting the change. I shall not go over his "irritations" again, but the other two are delay and cost. I agree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that we should put cost aside, but we cannot. Like every Member of Parliament, I know that cost, cost and cost are what drive the Bill. It has nothing to do with the Home Secretary's irritations, as if he had problems with his bowel movements. It has nothing to do with delays and with whether old lags are fiddling the system; it is all about money.

I am prepared to cede the Home Secretary the argument on cost. I do not know whether he is right or wrong, but I have examined the figures produced by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway and I have listened to the Home Secretary. My hon. and learned Friend should give up trying to challenge the Home Secretary on those grounds. Do we really want the public to believe that our battle hymn should be "Cry freedom—so long as it doesn't cost too much"? Who wants to follow a leader who utters such limp and palsied words? Our battle cry must be "Cry freedom—even though 'twould cost the earth". We should fight the Bill on principle, or not at all. We should leave it to the mean, small-minded Poujadists, shopkeepers and tradesmen on the Conservative Benches to haggle over the price of freedom and justice.

The Bill will undoubtedly lead to miscarriages of justice, by which I mean the conviction of the innocent. It will undoubtedly disadvantage young black people and other ethnic minorities. It will lead to an increase in excessive charges and convictions in magistrates courts. By definition, it is, therefore, a very bad Bill indeed.

At times like this, when I want to rail bitterly against the Home Secretary—whom once I considered nice, kind and wise—I seek refuge in the words of the poet Shelley, who wrote, in "Prometheus Unbound", perhaps the greatest cry for freedom and justice:

  • To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
  • To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
  • To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
  • To love and bear; to hope till Hope creates
  • From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
  • Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
  • This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
  • Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free.
Let us, therefore, this day in the House of Commons, with our hearts and our minds, vote to preserve the freedom of and the right to trial by jury.

7.30 pm
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking)

It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), who has spoken brilliantly. About 33 years ago, I played rugby against the hon. Gentleman. He was outstanding on the pitch, if a little punchy. I congratulate him on everything that he said this evening.

I declare an interest: I have been a practising criminal lawyer for many years. I have sat judicially as a recorder of the Crown court and as an acting metropolitan stipendiary magistrate, also for many years, in dozens of court centres in London and the south-east. I may be the only Member of the House who has sat both in the Crown court as a judge and in the magistrates court.

The debate has nothing to do with where one receives a better trial. It has nothing to do with whether the trial is better in the Crown court or the magistrates court. It is possible to have a wonderful or a bad trial before lay magistrates; to have a wonderful and fair trial before a stipe, or not; or to have a jury that goes one way or the other. The debate is not about that. It is about the freedom of people in this country to say, in relation to certain offences, "Rightly or wrongly, I would like to exercise my right to trial by jury."

What does the Bill do? What does it say? What are the Labour Government saying through the Bill? They are saying, "You, the defendant—man or woman—are charged with an offence of minor dishonesty. You are a person of good character. You have a job and an outstanding reputation. As a Government, we understand that if you are convicted, you will lose everything." The Government are telling the defendant, "Until today, you have had a right to jury trial—trial by your peers. With this Bill, we are taking away that right, simply because we believe that we can save money thereby." That is the issue.

That approach is shameful and shoddy. The Government should not have introduced the Bill. They did not have to do so. There are several reasons why it was unnecessary. As we have already heard, Lord Justice Auld is reviewing the working of all the criminal courts and the court system. Is not it silly to introduce such a dramatic Bill and to make such a fundamental change, rather than to wait for his report?

The Government say that the changes will save money. The explanatory notes state that the Bill is expected to save £128 million. I do not believe a word of that. If I were allowed to ask hon. Members to put up their hands if they agreed with the Government's figures, I do not suppose that a single hand would be raised. Indeed, not a single hand has gone up. What is that £128 million? Tomorrow, it could be £138 million or £148 million. Who in the Chamber believes a word of that claim?

Mr. Garnier

It was £105 million last week.

Mr. Malins

Indeed. It is nonsense. Anybody who has been around has learned by now to distrust Government figures. However, money is their prime motivation for introducing the Bill.

I worry about the Bill, not least because of the delays that might result. Let us picture the scene: a defendant in the magistrates court is refused trial by jury, and he or she appeals. Until a few hours ago, I had assumed that the normal rules in the magistrates court would apply; there have always been 21 days for appeal—probably with a hearing 21 days later. However, it was only when I was talking to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) that I learned that it was envisaged that the appeals should go through in 48 hours.

The Home Secretary must get real. It would be nonsense for him to go to a magistrates court or a Crown court and to try to get an appeal through in 24 or 48 hours. Ten to one, the prosecutor in the magistrates court would be an agent, who would push off immediately after the hearing and take a fortnight to return the papers to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Who would draft such an appeal? What about the defence lawyer? If it is intended to conclude the appeal within 48 hours, why is there no provision for that in the Bill? Why is there no mention of it in the explanatory notes? Furthermore, will it not be a sham if the appeal is merely carried out by paperwork? A worthwhile appeal must have an oral hearing. In his reply, will the Minister undertake that oral hearings may be granted in every case? Any appeal judge would look at the bits of paper and say, "I want to hear the advocate on this matter." It cannot be done in 48 hours; it is nonsense to believe that that could occur.

There is another cruel unfairness about the Bill. The Government are saying to a defendant, "We won't let you go to the Crown court for your trial, but having insisted that you be tried in the magistrates court, we retain the right to send you to the Crown court for sentence." That is a fundamental unfairness. It will create much dissension and unhappiness.

The Government claim that many people who elect for trial in the Crown court eventually plead guilty. It is true that some people do. However, we need to ask why. Furthermore, just because that happens, does it mean that we have to introduce this measure? Of course it does not. There are two principal reasons why people go to the Crown court and plead guilty. The first is significant; it is to do with disclosure. Only when a case is committed to the Crown court does the defence receive all the papers—or nearly everything.

Mr. Hogg

On disclosure, is there not another point that my hon. Friend would want to make? In the magistrates court, there is not the same degree of disclosure. Consequently, the defendant's conduct of the defence case in that court would be hampered by lack of disclosure.

Mr. Malin

My right hon. and learned Friend is right. In the magistrates court, disclosure sometimes amounts to only one side of A4 paper with a summary of the facts. It is only by going to the Crown court that the defendant knows everything and so, better-informed and with counsel's advice, has to say, "I must plead guilty."

The second reason that people who go to the Crown court sometimes plead guilty is because when they arrive there, the charges are reduced. In response to the point made by the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor), no one is saying that the magistrates overcharged—the charge has nothing to do with the magistrates. The CPS or the police overcharge; it is a real problem.

Those are the main reasons why people change their plea at Crown court. They do not suggest that we should remove the right of jury trial. All we have to do is to give closer consideration to accurate charging and to proper and fuller disclosure.

Furthermore, what will happen in the magistrates courts or the stipes courts? What happens if the appeal fails and the case has to be tried in the magistrates court? Come with me to the stipes court at Camberwell Green, or wherever, and read the daily list. There are 100 overnights or remands, and sentences all morning. The space is crammed. Where is there room for a two or three-day trial? In a Crown court, the trial carries on—Monday, Tuesday and the next day. If a trial is adjourned part-heard in a magistrates court, it will go two or three months down the line. What would be the chance of getting the same bench or the same stipe? It would be slim. If there are to be more trials in the magistrates courts, the listing problems will be awful.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is the reason why the average delay in contested cases in magistrates courts is 21 weeks, whereas the average time for two-day cases to be heard after committal to the Crown court is five weeks? The delay is infinitely less.

Mr. Matins

The hon. and learned Gentleman has an outstanding history at the Bar. He is right. At present, to get a two-day slot for a trial in the magistrates courts, one has to look months ahead. It is much quicker in the Crown court.

Ms Blears

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in the Narey pilot areas the time taken to deal with cases in the magistrates courts has been reduced by two thirds and that, because the Narey recommendations came into force on 1 November last year, we should see a similar decrease in the time that it takes such courts to dispose of cases?

Mr. Malins

It is my fault, but I do not know whether the hon. Lady has a great deal of judicial and court experience; I am sure that she has. The Narey courts that sit at the moment are creating quicker through-processes, but that is no reason to introduce this Bill. It is every reason to let the situation develop over the next few months and see how things go on.

I shall have to conclude my remarks shortly, but let us consider the position and assess what we need to keep and what we need to change. First, plea-before-venue has done very well. It was introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the former Home Secretary, and it has saved a lot of time. It has been coupled with the huge credits that defendants now get for an early guilty plea, so when I am in court I see, day after day, plea-before-venue and guilty pleas. That saves a lot of time.

There is far less abuse of the system than there used to be. Frankly, if, once every couple of months, I scratch my head as I sit judicially in a stipendiary court and say, "This is a bit of an abuse of the system"—and I have said that—that is a very small price to pay for the greater good that we want to maintain.

Why do we not look at other issues, such as declassifying—or is it reclassifying—offences? Hon. Members have pointed out that habits and moods change. Years ago, all cases of criminal damage would go to the Crown court, but now—I shall be corrected if I am wrong—there is a £5,000 maximum limit. Taking and driving away a car used to be worth a sentence of three years on indictment, but now it is only six months. Driving while disqualified was worth a sentence of 12 months, but now it is worth only six even though sometimes it should be worth more. Finally, drink-driving is only a summary offence. Times changes and should we not, along with the Auld report, consider such issues? Are there other offences which we could perhaps consider for summary trial only?

I have described the approach that we should consider in future. We also need to wait to see what the Law Commission says about assault cases. My goodness, one sees many assaults charged as actual bodily harm even though they should be charged as common assault. Why are the people in the House who know about the subject not being asked by the Government for their views? Why do we not think about the issues carefully and constructively? That is what we should do.

What we do not want to do is say to that man or woman to whom I referred earlier, "You've had this right for many, many years. We're taking it away because we are going to save money." That is why this Bill, which has not been thought through and will not save time or money, is at the end of the day terribly unfair.

7.43 pm
Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

I say at the outset that I shall support the Bill, as I said I would in my contribution to the debate on the Queen's Speech. It is much needed and it gives us an opportunity to debate the role of lay people in the justice system, which is a good thing. It is important that we consider the balance between fairness to the accused and fairness to victims. We have to ensure that we make justice efficient and fair.

I believe that I am the first person to speak in the debate who is not, or has not been, a practising lawyer. I am therefore rather reluctant to enter the fray with the great and incisive minds of our revered legal profession. However, I find it difficult to leave something alone if I see something wrong with it. I feel obliged to challenge it, and that is one of the reasons for my speech.

I am tempted to say that I have come to bury lawyers, not to praise them, but I will not. Some of them are not such bad people. However, I hope that the Bill will bury the arrogant, patronising and elitist attitude that so many in the legal profession have shown towards the lay magistracy and to the jury system.

When I spoke in the Queen's Speech debate, I said what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) said earlier. My reasons for supporting the Bill are not to do with whether it saves any money. That should not be the serious motivating factor behind it, and I hope that it is not. If there are financial gains as a consequence, that is well and good and I shall welcome them. However, it is not my first reason for supporting the Bill.

There has been an amazing outcry from some quarters, including the press and the legal profession, that the Bill is an outrageous assault on civil liberties. Although I realise that some hon. Members—and certainly the gentlemen of the press—do not allow facts to get in the way of a good story, let us consider them. More than 90 per cent. of all criminal trials begin and end in the magistrates courts. Some of them are for petty offences and others are for quite serious ones, such as those that we have heard described tonight. I think that assaulting a police officer is a serious offence, and I hope that the House would agree. That offence is dealt with in a magistrates court. I think that driving while unfit is a serious offence, and that is dealt with in a magistrates court.

If trial by jury is such a safeguard for our civil liberties, why is no one suggesting that those offences—indeed, all offences—should have jury trials? I hope that, because we have sufficient faith in the magistracy to deal with such cases fairly and with common sense, we accept that it is appropriate for them to be dealt with in the magistrates courts.

As has been pointed out, of the either-way cases sent to the Crown court, the vast majority are sent by magistrates declining jurisdiction themselves. Using their common sense and experience, they say that they prefer certain cases to be dealt with in the Crown courts. That is despite the fact that some defendants would have preferred to have their cases tried in a magistrate court at the time.

When defendants opt for jury trial—the figure of 18,500 has been bandied about—70 per cent. of them admit guilt before the case comes to trial. We are talking about a small number of people who go before a judge and jury. Defendants in the Crown courts are three times more likely to receive a custodial sentence than defendants in magistrates courts being tried for similar offences.

The guardians of our civil liberties—affectionately known as the legal profession—say that this is a bad Bill for another reason. They say that magistrates are case hardened or that they are unqualified lay people. The implication is that the higher acquittal rate by juries shows that juries must be right and magistrates must be wrong. However, there is no way of telling whether that is true, because we do not analyse the way in which juries come to their decisions. We have no evidence on that.

I wish to reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East said in passing. Miscarriages of justice in this country have taken place in Crown courts. It was not in magistrates courts that we saw the Guildford four, the Birmingham six and many others being, tragically, the subject of miscarriages of justice.

Some people suggest that defendants should have a right to trial by jury because that gives them a better chance of acquittal.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Will my hon. Friend explain why the proportion of acquittals in magistrates courts is less than the proportion of cases thrown out by judges which never come before a jury because there is no evidence? That is a worrying statistic, but why does it happen?

Ms Prentice

My hon. and learned Friend made a similar point to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but he misses the point. There are fewer acquittals in a magistrates courts because more people plead guilty, and very few cases are thrown out by judges. People go to the door of the court and decide to plead guilty. My hon. and learned Friend's point is a different argument altogether.

The claim that defendants exercise their right to a jury trial because they think that it will give them a better chance of acquittal is a dodgy reason for supporting the present system. We might as well say that the defendant should be able to opt for the judge whom he thinks will be a soft touch. That would bring the whole system into dreadful disrepute.

I want to make it clear that I support both the magistrates system and the jury system. I have been a magistrate and a juror, and both sets of good citizens work hard to come to the right decision. No system is perfect, but on the whole jurors, like magistrates, try to bring their common sense and local experience to each case and do their best to come to a fair judgment. It is wrong to suggest, as hon. Members have done in the debate, that magistrates do not know or understand the local area. They come from that area; they live and work there; they represent it, and they are as concerned as anyone else in the area to uphold justice.

I agree that magistrates could do with a makeover. They do not get a very good press, which is probably thanks to debates such as this. They are portrayed as living in a world separate from that of those on whom they sit in judgment. I think, and after listening to the debate I am even more convinced, that that image has been conjured up by people who have not spent much time in magistrates courts in recent years. Magistrates are citizens too. Certainly, we need more JPs from ethnic minorities, and JPs must reflect all strands of our society, but they are much closer to doing so than some of the hysterical arguments that we have heard would lead us to believe.

In response to a point raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), I put in a plea about the jury system. Are we really seeing the true reflection of our communities on every jury? Do we really understand how juries come to their conclusions? The fact that we uphold the jury system as a good method of justice is no reason to believe that it is always perfect. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not here at the moment. He suggested that the jury system was far more representative and therefore better than the magistracy.

Last week, I sent the student on placement with me to the Inner London Crown court at Elephant and Castle, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, to carry out a rough check of how many of the jurors in the 10 courts there were white and how many were from ethnic minorities; and, if possible, to give me a gender and age breakdown. I acknowledge that it was not scientific research, but the results were very interesting. She said that 95 per cent. of all the jurors were white. That does not represent inner London terribly well. My simple point is not that juries do not do a good job, but that it is wrong to assume that only juries are representative.

Jackie Ballard (Taunton)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is not here to speak for himself, I ask the hon. Lady whether she accepts that everyone on the electoral register has an equal chance of ending up on a jury. That is not the same mechanism as the one by which magistrates are chosen, and every member of the population does not have an equal chance of ending up a magistrate.

Ms Prentice

That is only partly correct, because there is enormous opportunity to decline the chance to sit on a jury. I looked at the form that a colleague had and saw that the number of exemptions is remarkable; so jury selection is not a straightforward, random process.

I turn now to some letters and articles from barristers, whose ignorance of the magistracy seems to know no bounds. One said that in Scotland sheriffs are qualified, experienced and respected—good, so they should be—and went on to say that magistrates are unqualified. That is true; it is part of the process and it is why they are magistrates. His implication was that because they were unqualified they were unfit to try cases. How qualified does he think juries are?

Another barrister described magistrates as worthy people who sit on the bench. Being worthy seems now to be a disqualification. A third barrister described magistrates as legally untrained, which is not true. They get rigorous, regular training. One need only consider the training that they are receiving to deal with human rights legislation. The patronising attitude and sheer arrogance of some leading banisters is almost breathtaking. Clearly they do not spend much time in magistrates courts.

It strikes me that too many defendants in magistrates courts are not being given the best advice by their legal advisers, and I wonder why. Call me an old cynic—

Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

Never an old cynic.

Ms Prentice

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Many legal advisers are allowing, or perhaps even persuading, their clients to opt for trial by jury, knowing that it will prolong events and may well financially benefit themselves. When a considerable number of defendants, having opted for jury trial, would prefer to have been dealt with in the magistrates court, we owe it to them to ask whether they were given the best advice in the first instance.

Opponents of the Bill say that we cannot compare our system to that of Scotland, in which the procurator fiscal decides where a trial should take place. They accept that the people of Scotland believe that their system is just and fair. They are upholding the civil liberties of the people of England and Wales, but they are saying that it is all right for the prosecution to decide where a trial should take place, but not for lay justices to do so. That is a strange argument to make, from a civil libertarian point of view.

Victims want swift justice. So do most defendants. Those defendants who go court shopping, looking for the venue that will give them the best chance of delay or acquittal, are bringing the system into disrepute. That is wrong in principle because it puts the interests of the defendant above those of witnesses, victims and everyone else. No other country that I am aware of allows the defendant to decide where he should be tried, and it is beyond me why we should do so in a minority of cases, and not even the most serious ones.

I hope that whatever money is saved as a result of the Bill will be used to fight crime, not to pay lawyers. I do not blame the legal trade unions for fighting the Bill, but let us get real and not pretend that they are doing it for reasons of altruism and civil liberties. The Bill will make the justice system fairer and more efficient, and it will show that we value the magistrates system and the jury system, because both will be allowed properly to do the job that we ask them to do. I hope that we will take this opportunity to say loudly and clearly that we value juries and magistrates, and in doing so we will legislate for a better system of justice for everyone.

7.58 pm
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

I am afraid that after the speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice), I have to declare an interest as a member of the Bar. I suspect that her criticisms of banisters are sometimes justified, but I do not agree with her criticism of the jury system. Her contribution and that of the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) swam against the tide of opinion on both sides of the House.

There is concern about the future of the jury system, and there has not been much support for the Government's position on either side of the House, with the partial exception of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who made clear his position and his support, in principle, for the Government, but not for their methods in the Bill. He can claim to have spoken frankly today and to have been consistent in his behaviour towards the jury system.

In opening the debate, the Home Secretary was wise to warn against overstating one's case, so I shall confine myself to saying that I have not been convinced by the arguments of the Home Secretary and his supporters that there is sufficient justification for removing a civil liberty and what used to be a right for the ordinary man in the street. I agree with the analysis of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who made an outstanding speech. The Bill removes a right enjoyed by all our fellow citizens, and exercised by many of them. The measure will result, at the very least, in perceived unfairness, especially for many members of the public of relatively humble origins and good character.

The Home Secretary may have been wise to warn against overstating one's case, but he is not in the best position to give that warning. In his speech he spoke as though the proposals in the Narey report on the jury system and in previous reports were self-evident truths, and as if all those who opposed them were blinkered and hysterical. The Home Secretary read out a long list of previous examples.

I shall not labour the point, as it has already been touched on, but I recollect the approach of the Home Secretary in dismissing the Narey report shortly before the last general election. He said then that it was wrong, short-sighted and likely to prove ineffective.

When the right hon. Gentleman dismissed the Narey report with those words shortly before the general election, he must surely have considered all the underlying arguments and the example of the Scottish system and all the European systems that he now prays in aid.

I do not want to hear about the Scottish system this evening. The Home Secretary considered all that and dismissed it when he opposed the Narey report. I wait to hear from the right hon. Gentleman, but so far in the debate, he has not produced a shred of new evidence to have emerged since February 1997 in support of his position. He can produce long lists of eminent people who support his view now. We can all produce long lists on one side of the argument or the other, and we could have done that in 1997, but there is not a single piece of new evidence to justify the Home Secretary's change of mind.

The number of committals generated to the Crown court by defendants exercising their right in a magistrates court has gone down. We heard the percentages and we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Woking some of the reasons why that is happening. The Home Secretary said in 1997 that the then Government should wait and reflect. A diminution has occurred in the problem that he perceived then, which he now prays in aid as a reason for making the change.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe comprehensively demolished the Home Secretary's argument that the new right of appeal is some sort of magic ingredient. It existed in 1997, but the shadow Home Secretary then, now the Home Secretary, did not even bother to mention it in his response.

Mr. Hogg

I accept that the point that I am about to make could be debated, but when the last general election took place, the electorate judging the Labour party's position would have done so on the present Home Secretary's then stance, which was hostile to the proposal. Not only was the Bill not in the manifesto, but the electorate would have assumed from the posture adopted by the Home Secretary at that time that it would never be introduced.

Mr. Clappison

My right hon. and learned Friend is right. There is no way that the Home Secretary can rebut the criticism made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe.

The Home Secretary is entitled to say that he has changed his mind, but he cannot convincingly rebut the criticism that he has not been consistent and that he has been opportunistic. I wait to hear from him any new evidence in support of the complete volte-face that has taken place since 1997.

I am not attracted by the argument on savings. No doubt the Home Secretary was aware in 1997 that there would have been savings. The argument is flawed and doubtful. There will be delays and additional expense as a result of the new right of appeal, and the magistrates court system will become clogged up. I place no trust in the estimates given by the Government.

I do not like the argument, anyway. The Government are telling us that the price of law and order is the curtailment of freedom—we can have a properly staffed police force, but only if the Government save money by doing away with one of our rights. Without being partisan, I do not think that the Home Secretary and the Government are best placed to present arguments about police numbers and police forces, especially in respect of my constituency, after the terrible problems that we have experienced in Hertford—but I shall not go down that road.

The line of argument pursued by the Government is not an attractive one. We have heard the argument before that the price of law and order is the curtailment of freedom, and we know where it eventually leads. It is a dangerous argument.

The Home Secretary got off to a bad start by having to perform a complete volte-face, but matters have got worse since then because of the way in which the Government have introduced the legislation. By trying to address the problem of reputation, which is a real problem, the Government got into trouble and were criticised for creating a two-tier system of justice. Some legitimate criticisms were made in that regard.

The solution to the problem is even worse. Under clause 1(2)(b), the court may not take into account the circumstances of the accused. That means that reputation cannot be taken into account. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe made clear, that is extremely damaging. It is inevitable that men and women of good character, whose reputation and livelihood will be at stake, will be deprived of the right to trial by jury—just the sort of people who many members of the public would think should have the right to a trial by jury, if they so wish.

Mr. David Taylor

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Can he adduce evidence to demonstrate that the prospect of such a defendant obtaining justice in the Crown court is greater in each-way cases than in a magistrates court? If he has, he should tell the House.

Mr. Clappison

I have heard that argument, but I am not impressed by it. Let the individual choose. Let us not take away the right to choose. The Bill would do so in an unfair way, as I hope to show. Before I do, I shall deal with another argument advanced by the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) and by the Home Secretary: that the existing jurisdiction of the magistrates court justifies extending jurisdiction to whole new and different categories.

As the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) said, there must be margins. Especially in respect of offences such as those of dishonesty, it is important for people to have the right to a trial by jury, because dishonesty carries a certain stigma. It is important that people, especially those of humble origin and perhaps with low incomes, should have the opportunity of a trial by jury when reputation and dishonesty are at issue.

Mr. Straw

Is the hon. Gentleman therefore saying that taking a car without the consent of the owner involves no dishonesty on any occasion? Is he also saying that indecent exposure does not carry any consequences for the reputation of the defendant? Is he suggesting that we should not have summary-only cases at all?

Mr. Clappison

The Home Secretary is again advancing an extremely unattractive line of argument, by extrapolating justification from the lesser to the greater. There must be margins, especially in cases involving dishonesty that go to the Crown court for trial by jury, such as shoplifting and burglary. For offences where people's reputation and way of life may be at stake, they should have the right to trial by jury.

We can consider the classifications and the margins, but individuals whose reputations are at stake through dishonesty should have that right. [Interruption.] I am sorry that the Home Secretary does not take the matter more seriously. It is serious, not least because the measure will prove to be discriminatory.

The lorry driver, about whom we heard, the council employee charged with stealing from the council, the shop assistant alleged to be stealing from her employer, the confused old lady charged with shoplifting, a coal miner charged with stealing coal—I have defended many humble people like that in the course of my career as a member of the Bar, and in each case I think that the person concerned should have had the right to a trial by jury.

These are the sorts of people most likely to lose the right to a trial by jury. The famous broadcaster, businessman or politician, the Member of Parliament and certainly the Secretary of State, perhaps also the rich man who arrives at the magistrates court with eminent counsel—all those people will get the right to a trial by jury. But the man in the street, who comes from humble origins, has a lower income and perhaps cannot afford counsel at all—certainly not eminent counsel—will not. It is inevitable that, under the proposals, ordinary men and women will lose the right to trial by jury—trial by their peers. They want to exercise that right when something greatly important to them—their reputation for honesty, their livelihood—may be at stake.

The Bill is a bad measure, and it can only be bad for the man in the street. Without indulging in the high-flown rhetoric against which the Home Secretary warned us, we should use our consciences and consider whether we are justified in removing a right that has been exercised for a long time by many ordinary people—not the rich, the powerful or the famous, but the humble, the man in the street, the ordinary employee and the ordinary chap. Under the Bill, they will lose a right that has hitherto been theirs.

The other place was right to throw out the Government's first version of the Bill.

Ms Blears

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clappison


The Bill is a worse version of the previous draft. Hon. Members should not lightly remove such a right from the ordinary man in the street.

8.11 pm
Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West)

I have sat through the debate from the start, and I have been intrigued by the complex and difficult arguments that have been presented by what could be described as counsel for both sides.

I am not an expert in the law. I made my living as an electrician, not a lawyer. However, I have taken a lifetime's interest in the notions of justice available in the society in which I live. I was at school during the second world war and the period immediately afterwards, when public debates were commonly held about that society's values for which it was worth fighting and dying.

One value that was repeatedly brought to my attention was the wonderful right to a trial by jury. That made sense to me. It was represented to me very simply. Our teacher never described it as "trial by your peers," because he probably believed that I would not understand that; he was probably right. He presented it as being "tried by your fellow citizens," who had some understanding of the offence with which someone might be charged and the effect that that might have on a person's life and the lives of those close to him.

Trial by jury holds a place in the public's mind that is special, if not unique, among the elements of the British constitutional structure. If we face the likelihood of being charged fairly and properly, or unfairly and improperly, the notion that we can get a hearing before our peers comforts us. Trial by jury represents a commonly held sense of justice. It is common-sense justice, which people understand. Anyone who interferes with access to that sort of justice walks into a difficult area, where people have been before, but which has led to serious civil rights difficulties.

Mr. David Taylor

I have the greatest respect for my hon. Friend's views on almost every subject. However, is he aware that miscarriages of justice are far more frequent in the Crown court and the jury trials that underpin it? For example, I am not sure that the Birmingham six were reassured by the verdict that was reached by the 12 people who were drawn from the society in which they had lived and worked for many years. Trial by jury did not do them much good.

Mr. Best

I am, to say the least, acutely aware of that. Anyone who has been involved in politics in the past 20 years will also be acutely aware of it. However, my memory of the case suggests that the problem was that the evidence in the trial was rigged, and that that caused the jury to reach the wrong conclusion. I am surprised that my hon. Friend, with whom I normally agree, should make such a point.

We are not considering whether the jury system is infinitely superior to magistrates courts and the role that they play. No one who has made the case against the proposed diminution of the right to jury trial has attacked magistrates. I cannot understand magistrates' hypersensitivity to the debates that have taken place in the Chamber on the subject. I would be grateful if someone could remind me of any attack on magistrates courts in our system.

I am also acutely aware that, in any justice system, we get it wrong. My closest friend is a judge—perhaps it is one of my life's disbenefits. However, he is a fine fellow and his wife is a magistrate. They do not spend their time falling out. There is remarkable agreement about the jury system. Other friends who are magistrates spend a remarkable amount of time agreeing about the justice that derives from the jury system, of which we should be proud.

A lawyer, who is a Member of Parliament, said that we were considering a matter of justice for the offender. When I heard those words, I nearly fell off my seat. That was a prejudicial judgment if ever I heard one. The phrase "justice for an offender" implies that the judgment has already been made that we are considering an offender, who has to be treated differently. That emphasises my worries about professionalism in the judicial system.

In the 1960s, I had the pleasure of listening to a barrister whose name was Freddy Beeton. It is possible that one other hon. Member who is present might have heard of him. He was a well-known barrister in Leeds and he spoke to the Leeds trades council, a body of trade unionists. I was a shop steward and I went to listen to him. He spoke about the proposed move to introduce majority verdicts in the jury trial system. He was vehemently opposed to that. When he had finished speaking, the Leeds trades council decided to write to the Home Secretary of the day to say that we would not support such a move.

Freddy Beeton made another comment that I found interesting and have not forgotten. He said that the professional prejudices in the jurisprudence system would return because an anxiety for costs drove the system, especially when increasing numbers of ordinary people opted for trial by jury because they believed that they might get a better deal. He warned us by saying that, in 20 years, proposals to cut down the number of options for the right to trial by jury would be introduced. He was wrong about the time scale; it is now 40 years later, but the proposals are before us. Another pound of flesh is being requested from the judicial system. That disturbs me enormously.

If we concentrate exclusively on the justice system, I cannot imagine how anyone could present an argument that would be detrimental to people's rights to exercise a wider choice for trial by jury. Rather than make observations against the diminution of the right to trial by jury, I would much rather make a case for its expansion. Perhaps the Home Secretary should consider that.

Despite all the attacks on the moves to reduce people's rights and the jury system, I notice that crime rates continue to rise and that the effectiveness of crime prevention seems not to be enhanced by further diminutions of the rights of people in the judicial system. The case that has been made against the Home Secretary's proposals is of such quality that, if tonight's decision were based on the evidence and made openly by a jury, its members would walk into the Lobby to support the amendment tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). That is where I shall stand. I thank the House for listening to my remarks.

8.21 pm
Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

I shall be brief. I compliment the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Best) on a speech that could hardly have put the case better. My approach is very much the same and, although I suspect that we disagree on a number of political matters, on this we agree strongly.

The debate involves three issues. Fundamentally, it is about liberty and the liberties of the subjects of the United Kingdom who live in England and Wales—I shall not discuss Scotland because the system is different. It is also about confidence in our criminal justice system and, to some extent, efficiency and cost, although I very much doubt whether the Bill will achieve many cost savings should it be forced through.

Liberty is the key point, and the right to elect for jury trial is one of this country's great liberties. The most serious offences—murder, manslaughter and a number of others—have to go to jury trial, but either-way offences do not. They are huge in number and run up to some serious offences. Almost always, they deal with either violence or a significant element of dishonesty. There are some 369 categories and at least 700 offences, and there may be a great many more.

Jury trial means that the citizens of this country have the right to be tried not by a professionally appointed member of the judiciary or an appointed member of the magistracy—I have the highest regard for the magistracy, as I shall explain—but by their peers. A random group of 12 ordinary men and women from all walks of life is brought together to consider a particular case, and probably a small number of others, over a fortnight, but they do not sit day in, day out judging such matters professionally.

I must declare my interest, obviously. I have been a barrister for 30 years, I am a recorder, I was a Law Officer for 10 years, I am the son of a barrister and High Court judge and my late stepmother was a magistrate for 25 years and chairman of the bench in Dacorum. [Interruption.] I see the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) in his place. I must have appeared hundreds of times in the magistrates court in my early days and a great many times in the Crown court, although I do not make my money there any more—except, from time to time, as a recorder.

The quality of justice in the magistrates court is very high and I am the strongest supporter of our 29,000 magistrates, but they should recognise the danger that erosion such as that provided for by the Bill will encourage erosion in their area. However, that is a different matter. One has to say that, for a number of reasons, the quality of justice in the Crown court is of a higher order, not because jurors are better people than magistrates—they know less than magistrates and have less experience—but because cases are better prepared when they get to the Crown court. As has been rightly said, there is much fuller disclosure. There is also time for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to make much fuller disclosures, for legal advisers to consider the matter, for evidence to be gathered and for advice to be taken.

It is not a criticism of the system that those who elect for trial by jury subsequently plead guilty in the Crown court. That is not a matter of wasted costs, but of saving costs. At least they and society know that those cases have been carefully considered and, by the time that they decide to plead guilty, all the proper avenues have been gone through.

I want to say something that may be thought to be more controversial and more critical, but is certainly not intended to be. I have personal experience of cases that were tried and rightly acquitted in the Crown court. I say rightly acquitted because I was convinced that either the person was innocent or the case was at least not proven. I have in mind examples from my experience as an advocate and as a recorder, when I watched cases being tried, and I cannot say with confidence that those people would necessarily have been acquitted in the magistrates court. That is not a criticism of the magistrates, but the system is more careful, more thought through and more balanced in the Crown court. In the Crown court we put ourselves before ordinary men and women who think frightfully carefully, and I have great admiration for the jury system and the seriousness with which jurors play their part. That provides a higher system of justice and one in which we can have the greatest confidence.

What will happen if we go down the route suggested by the Bill in matters of cost and efficiency? I do not believe that it will have the good effect that is intended. I am not naive enough to say that there are no semi-professional criminals who do not play the system. Of course there are. Accused persons elect for trial partly to serve their time in custody in less harsh and more open conditions on remand. There is an element of abuse there—I fully accept that—but those people will play whatever system we have. They will certainly try to play the system that the Government propose to introduce.

There will be a ping-pong match. Such people will elect for trial by jury, but that will be refused because they have a number of previous convictions and the case seems to be unmeritorious. They will therefore appeal to the Crown court judge. They will certainly make sure that their lawyers demand an oral hearing; if, as a result of the oral hearing, the matter is none the less heard in the magistrates court, it is highly likely that they will ask for it to be fought in the magistrates court.

I think that far more than 2,000 cases will be involved. I think that the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) was much nearer the mark when he said that there would be several thousand. Many people, having been convicted in the magistrates court, will then seek to appeal. If they are in custody the position will change, but they will nevertheless seek to appeal, and that will involve more time and more money.

Let us return to the question of one, two or three-day contested cases in the magistrates court. It is difficult to find time for the hearing of such cases; it seriously upsets the existing system, and it will undoubtedly lead to increased costs. In such cases, people will demand more discovery. They will demand adjournments for more discovery. They will expect advocates—indeed, they will rightly expect legally aided advocates—to defend them in the magistrates court. Although the costs of hearing such cases in the magistrates court will be less than those in the Crown court, because it will not be necessary to pay for the jurors and the extra accommodation, they will be significantly more than the average cost in the magistrates court.

The truth is that the Government do not know what the costs will be. As I am sure that the Minister knows, last June I tabled a series of questions that I had thought through carefully. The answers, which he will know as well as I do, show that the Government do not have the material at their disposal to be able to calculate the costs accurately. I think that the more recent figures that I have been given are at best educated guesses; in my view, they are significant underestimates. The bottom line is that we will not see much saving, but will see a considerable diminution in the quality of justice and in our liberties.

I respect those who take a different view from mine as much as I respect those who take the same view. I have read carefully what the Lord Chief Justice thinks, and would say only—with great respect to the Lord Chief Justice—that I consider the freedom to be tried by one's peers to be too precious for us to attempt to judge these matters narrowly. I believe that we would be wise to hold back and to refrain from adopting the course in which he believes.

I was probably the chief influence for the fact that Lord Runciman led the last royal commission. I thought it an excellent commission, but on this specific matter I beg to differ with its views. I had great respect for Lord Justice James, who prosecuted in the case of the great train robbers and produced a very similar report in about 1973. Nevertheless, I do not think that they reached the right conclusion.

Jury trial is one of our great liberties. It is one of the foundations of our democracy, as is the right to choose. When he gave his lighthearted example involving a bottle of champagne, the Home Secretary said that he would choose to go before the magistrates. That is his right, but he, and all other citizens, should also have the right to choose to go before a jury in the whole spectrum of cases in which honesty and dishonesty are involved. If we remove than right, we reduce our liberties; we should not do so.

8.32 pm
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Best), and unlike the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell)—and, I think, every other Member who has spoken—I have no legal interests to declare. I am not a lawyer, I am not a magistrate, and I have never even served on a jury. I therefore listened to the Home Secretary's original explanation of why he had introduced the Bill—or, rather, its predecessor, the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill—in what was as near to a state of grace, or at least of ignorance, as is possible, albeit for someone who remembers the 1986 White Paper that discussed the issues, and the attempt by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) to introduce a similar measure as Home Secretary in 1997.

Both were seen off by widespread opposition. In 1997, it was led by my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary, who launched a forceful attack on the proposals. On that occasion, my right hon. Friend persuaded me that he was absolutely right—and, indeed, persuaded every other member of the Labour Opposition. As I recall, he was cheered to the echo for his attack on the then Home Secretary.

As a layman, I have not been aware of anything substantially wrong with the right to elect trial by jury. In nearly 17 years as a Member of Parliament, I have not received a single letter complaining about that right. I wonder if any Member has ever received such a letter; I rather doubt it. I am, however, aware of the good principle behind jury trials that, if one of us is accused by the state of a serious crime, the right to be judged by a random selection of our fellow citizens is very precious. That may explain why the right to elect trial by jury is so important. If we are to change that right, the case has to be proved overwhelmingly. Neither the previous Home Secretary nor the present Home Secretary has produced an overwhelming case.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Fisher

No. We are short of time. I shall try to speak for less than 15 minutes to allow other hon. Members to get in.

I was persuaded by the Home Secretary's argument that any justice system can be improved and that we should not be against change just because it was change. I am not against change, but I ask whether the Bill proposes the right change to give better justice, rather than, for example, proposing recategorisation of offences between summary and committal?

Therefore, as I listened to the Home Secretary's supporting arguments today, I had an open mind. He was generous in giving way to hon. Members. It is difficult to deny that his speech was more concerned with attacking his critics than giving a strong explanation and defence of the Bill, but he was brought to the point by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who asked whether he could tell us what the Bill was about. He said concisely, "It is about cheaper justice and better justice." He said exactly that. She asked, "Will it save money, or give better justice?" He said that it would do both.

On whether the Bill will give cheaper justice, I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) and for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore): Governments are always concerned about saving money, but, on such an issue to do with our justice system, it should be the lowest priority, not a prime consideration.

Like other hon. Members, I am baffled as to what money the Bill will save. I had not heard the figure of £128 million before the explanatory notes were published. I cannot see any detailed audit or explanation of where the money is being saved. Perhaps it is being saved in the prison system, but that is not the way to improve the prison system. We should find other ways to save money.

Probably the figure is a guesstimate. Perhaps it has to be a guesstimate in the nature of things, but the savings argument is not a strong case. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) said, the figure probably ignores the undoubted cost of more appeals; there will be more appeals. Whether his or the Government's figure is correct, people will appeal if they have the right to do so—as they must have—so I wonder where the savings will be and where the hard evidence of savings is. However, I am certain that savings should not be what the Bill is about.

The Home Secretary was on better ground when he said that the Bill would give better justice, but again I was not sure what he meant. Surely, he did not mean better justice in the sense of better judgments. That would be an aspersion on the Crown courts. I suspect that he meant better administration of justice.

Again, is that a sufficient reason for making what is a fundamental change? Everyone wants an efficiently administered system, but the Bill goes to a fundamental right. To introduce it in the interests of better administration seems a very narrow and constrained ambition for such a Bill. Indeed, it is an ambition that seems to have been refuted by the Government's own 1998 consultative paper on either-way cases, which showed that, in the past 10 years, the proportion of such cases going to the Crown court had decreased. In 1987, 53 per cent. of cases were in that category and now only 28 per cent. are. If we want a more efficient system, we seem to be getting one.

The Home Secretary has a good point about abuse of the system. If he wants to create a better and better-administered system that squeezes out abuse, everyone will support him. Nevertheless, people will try to get the best out of any of the world's legal systems, and, particularly if those systems threaten the liberty of human beings, they will try to work the system. If it is an abuse to try to seek the best for oneself in protecting one's liberty, there will always be abuses. It is in human nature to try to protect oneself. However, I suspect that there are better ways than those proposed in the Bill of attacking abuse—such as by making greater use of plea before venue and recategorisation—and of creating greater clarity in the administrative system.

Therefore, the Home Secretary did not prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that, on grounds of cost, time and abuse, we should alter the system as the Bill proposes.

As I said, I am not lawyer and have no legal background. I therefore thought that I should consult my constituents on the Bill. I certainly did not want not to support my Government—whom I am proud to support—without knowing my constituents' thoughts on the Bill. I therefore approached all 14 firms of solicitors in my constituency, the chairman of the magistrates bench, the clerk and as many magistrates as I could contact. This is what they replied.

Mr. Eric Hodgkinson—who is president of the North Staffordshire Law Society, but stressed that he was replying in a personal capacity, rather than as a partner of Bowcock and Pursaill—said: I consider that the present arrangements as regards the right for an accused to insist upon trial by jury should not be interfered with. The right to trial by jury should not be sacrificed on the alter of expense. Mr. Steven Park, of Park and Co., said: I am most concerned. I do not believe that the present system is being abused. The biggest delay in getting cases into the Crown court is on the part of the prosecution preparing their committal file. I expected the magistrates and their clerk to be enthusiastic about the Bill, which would increase their responsibilities and their work. Indeed, the clerk was enthusiastic about it. When I asked whether he would be able to cope with the presumably greater load on courts—the number of courts in North Staffordshire has been reduced considerably in recent years—he said that he thought that there was no technical reason why they could not cope with the Bill's consequences.

Interestingly, however, and to my surprise, both the chairman and the magistrates whom he brought with him to the meeting were very cautious and uncertain about the provisions. Although they agreed that they could cope with the changes, they said that the process was speeding up regardless, particularly because of the recent pilot scheme in which North Staffordshire was chosen as one of the five areas to participate. Although they could not give me any figures, their view was that the majority of either-way cases were already being dealt with in the magistrates court.

One thing on which everyone I consulted agreed was that they could not understand why the Government were proposing the changes now, rather than waiting for the review of the criminal justice system that they themselves established. The review is chaired by Sir Robin Auld and will report later this year. Both magistrates and solicitors in my constituency said that, until they saw the exact scope of Sir Robin's report, we should not be tackling this one, small—albeit very important—part of the criminal justice system. They thought that we should first have the benefit of that overall review of the criminal justice system—much of which they thought could be improved.

Why are we dealing with one tiny sphere of the justice system, comprising perhaps 5 or 6 per cent. of all cases, when we shall soon have the benefit of Sir Robin's views and report on the overall system? After we receive that report on the broader context, we shall be better able to judge whether the proposed changes are sensible.

The Home Secretary's reply to that point was deeply confusing and unimpressive. He said that Sir Robin had already obtained an answer on the point because he had consulted High Court judges. I presume that Sir Robin will consult more people, and a wider range of people, than only High Court judges. Furthermore, we should not anticipate what the Auld report will say. We should wait for it, and then consider possibly much wider reform of the overall justice system. We should then perhaps place particular emphasis on recategorisation, which has helped us in the past, and probably could be beneficial in future.

I was certainly persuaded by the Home Secretary's speech—but it was the speech that he gave in 1997. That speech was much more persuasive than the one that he gave today. Therefore, with regret, I shall today be supporting not the Government, but the reasoned amendment tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway.

8.45 pm
Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

It is always a privilege and a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher). I could not agree more with everything that he said. I, too, shall support the reasoned amendment. Like him, I entered the debate with some trepidation, as a non-lawyer, but I considered being called a Hampstead liberal sufficient provocation for someone of my interests to take part. When listening to a debate that appeared to be between the technocrats and the lawyers, I was uncomfortable to find myself on the side of the lawyers. I have now redefined the debate as being between the Treasury and the libertarians, and I am on the libertarians' side.

The Home Secretary clearly has a case for dealing with this aspect of the judicial system. He knows that I share some of his views, as set out in the National Audit Office report a few weeks ago. There is a real problem with the criminal justice system. It is the least joined-up aspect of government. That arises partly from the necessary independence of components of that system. That is unavoidable. However, it also arises from the manipulation of the system by criminals and lawyers, each for their own ends. The management of our judicial system has historically been slack, bordering on the slapdash.

The cost of the current system, which processes about 2 million people, is £9 billion a year. The process is undoubtedly inefficient. I could give the House dozens of statistics, but I shall not, given the limited time. The easiest proof can be found by looking at the variation in the amount of time that even magistrates courts—we have heard a lot of good about them this evening—take in dealing with cases: from 30 to more than 90 days on less serious cases, and between 60 and well over 100 days on serious cases. That is driven by the fact that they have up to 2.6 million adjournments a year, each of which ranges from one to 101 days.

Some 40 per cent. of adjournments are driven by errors and omissions on the part of the various players in the system. Many of them are significantly influenced by Government rules or agencies. I found an example of one police force that turned out 80 per cent. of the prosecution files late or of inadequate quality. That is hardly acceptable. One quarter of the adjournments were caused by defendants failing to attend. Almost another quarter were caused by a defence solicitor. I know that the Home Secretary is doing something about that. Another 15 per cent. were caused by defendants in custody being delivered late. That is hardly acceptable. More than 10 per cent. were caused by problems with advance information. There are similar problems in the Crown courts, leading to costs in each case—£41 million for the magistrates courts and £40 million for the Crown courts. There are serious management problems.

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 brought into effect various measures to correct much of that. The pilot studies that we have heard about and the Narey report have brought down hearing times by 45 days in one of the six areas affected. However, that system went national only last November—barely three months ago.

There is a great deal wrong and a great deal is being done to put it right, but in the midst of all that good work the Home Secretary has introduced this ill-considered measure. The proposal to remove the right of election for trial by jury in each-way cases is seriously flawed technically, as well as striking at what is without hyperbole called a foundation stone of British liberty.

Let us deal first with the supposed savings. When the Bill was being debated in the other place, we were told that the savings were £105 million. Now we are told that the figure is £128 million. There has been no explanation of that difference. A large proportion of the savings come from a reduction in sentences, which I am not comfortable with when assessing the value of the measure. Those in the other place were also told that there would be no loss of public service jobs. I spend a lot of my time looking at supposed economies in government, and those two claims strike me as inconsistent. I find the proposal implausible in financial terms.

We must remember the size of the costs that we are discussing—£9 billion a year. We are now talking about £128 million, of which a small fraction would be within the judicial system per se. We will never know whether these illusory savings are actually made. Even if they were, if we had to choose between money and justice, surely we would choose justice every time. The case thus falls apart.

A more important component—to which the Home Secretary referred implicitly when he talked about the better administration of justice—is the problem of delay versus justice, or delay versus fairness. We all understand that justice delayed is, in a sense, justice denied, but if we had to choose between delay and fairness, we would again choose fairness on every occasion.

The Home Secretary talked about time-wasting activities that are undertaken by some people, and that the Bill aims to eradicate. The primary problem of the system about which I take the right hon. Gentleman to be talking is the so-called "cracked trials"—the one third of Crown court trials that fail to go ahead on the day, very largely because of guilty pleas at the door of the court. To be fair, preparation for these trials costs £29 million.

I do believe that hardened criminals play the system, and the reason for that derives directly from the way in which the system is operated. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) pointed out earlier that the practice of reducing the charge en route to the Crown court occurs in fully half of the cases. That procedure is guaranteed to get the case-hardened criminal to go to the Crown court—it is a way of reducing the charge against him. We have put an incentive into the system, in the behaviour patterns of the Crown Prosecution Service. We should put that right before we even think about such a Bill as this.

We have a higher tariff for defendants who change their plea late in the process—that came in under the last Government. That ought to deter anyone from playing the system—either to delay or to spend some expected sentence in a softer remand prison. The evidence is that that is having an effect, hence the reduction in the numbers of each-way cases going to the Crown courts. However, it is not having as big an effect as the Home Secretary or I would like.

The survey evidence, repeated in the NAO report, shows clearly that many defendants either do not understand or do not believe that they get the tariff. That should be put right also before we even consider this Bill. That could be done by increasing the tariff, as Lady Kennedy argued in the other place, particularly for those with numerous previous convictions—the group we are trying to target in this ill-targeted Bill. Most particularly, it could be done by requiring clear notification to the defendant of the consequences before the election and plea.

If we stop the overcharging mechanism and fix and communicate the steeper tariff, we may dramatically reduce the playing of the system. Had the Home Secretary tried to address that and allowed time for us to see the consequences, I might have been more sympathetic towards the Bill.

I view the right to jury trial as a foundation stone of our civil liberties, but I am not starry-eyed about it. It is not perfect, as many Members would agree. It undoubtedly leads sometimes to the guilty going free. There is no doubt about that. Sometimes—very infrequently—it leads to worse cases of an innocent defendant being found guilty. As an aside, if magistrates courts considered the sort of cases that appear before Crown courts, they would face similar problems of miscarriages of justice. However, the jury system is a better method of delivering justice than any other. That is why jury trials are expensive. They are, by nature, more thorough. They are a near-ideal balance between the professional skill and experience of the judge and counsel and the clear-eyed common sense of ordinary citizen jurors.

Mr. McWalter

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the delay to which the process is liable has the potential for seasoned criminals to try to put pressure on witnesses to withdraw? That is a significant aspect and the Bill seeks to address it.

Mr. Davis

First, such pressure is rare, and secondly, if it worked, 60 per cent. of defendants would not plead guilty at the door of the court—they would go through it with their intimidated witnesses. Thirdly, and most importantly, my argument is that we should try every other mechanism first to reduce the number of manipulations of the system before we throw away a fundamental civil liberty. That is what the Bill will do.

The jury trial is a better mechanism, but that is not to say that magistrates do not do a very good job. The proceedings of jury trials are carefully recorded and the procedures are carefully designed. While we are on the subject, those procedures have improved after every miscarriage of justice, but the reforms that have arisen from that process have not necessarily had the same impact on the magistrates court. It is not a criticism of individual magistrates to say that the jury trial procedure is better—it is more expensive and ponderous, but it delivers a high quality of justice.

My concern is not with the 60 per cent. who eventually plead guilty—we can reduce that figure by other methods—but with those people who go on to face trial by jury and who might not have that option under these proposals. We should not swallow the presumption that has been floated today that all those who elect for jury trial are playing the system. Some are, but a significant number are not. We should remember that almost 40 per cent. of those who eventually go to trial are acquitted. Those people will face the prospect of real and perceived injustice under the Bill.

Trial by jury may not go back to the Magna Carta or Henry II's Clarendon fields. In fact, its original roots date back to Anglo-Saxon times, but we need not worry about that. The system that we are talking about today has been in place for 150 years and it is stable.

Mr. Straw

Could the right hon. Gentleman explain why he believes that because there is an acquittal rate of 40 per cent.—it is a little higher than that—in the Crown court, it would lead to manifest injustice if the magistrates court were to deal with those cases? Many of the cases would still be heard in the Crown court, but in wholly contested cases in the magistrates courts, there is an acquittal rate of about 33 per cent. If one takes account of relative seriousness and complexity, there is little difference in acquittal rates in magistrates courts compared with the Crown court.

Mr. Davis

The Home Secretary misses my point. Actually, 38 per cent. of each-way cases are acquitted, and my point was that those people were not just a group of manipulators of the system. My other point is that jury trial is a fundamental civil right. It is the right of the British citizen in an each-way case to choose the more thorough process, in the reasonable belief that that will give him more opportunity of being proven innocent. It is those people about whom I am concerned.

The current arrangements go back almost 150 years. They have been in place longer than universal suffrage, and nobody calls that ill-founded. We should not remove that foundation stone without great care and without testing every other option first. That requires more care than has preceded the Bill.

There is a natural tendency in all Governments to be authoritarian. That tendency becomes more pronounced as time passes. However, the proper and natural role of the House is to defend the civil liberties of citizens. We shall do that today by supporting the amendment.

9 pm

Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)

I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis), who adopted a very managerial approach to some of the judicial system's problems. He noted, in the context of the Narey report, that some people think that justice and managing the system are contradictory. However, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that managing the system properly is vital to making it more efficient.

The contribution from the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden contained many sensible suggestions, but it missed the point. I believe that the Bill is right in principle. It transfers the decision about the venue for a trial from the defendant to the court. Defendants should not have the right to veto, on the basis of their personal interests, the venue in which the trial will take place. It is right that the court should decide, in an objective, transparent and straightforward way, the right venue for the charge that has been brought. The court will hear representations on the matter and will have to give its reasons for its decision, which will be subject to appeal.

That is the right way to proceed, as it allows an objective decision to be made, whereas the current system allows one side of the case the right to veto the decision.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

As a Labour Member talking about principles, does the hon. Lady feel comfortable arguing a case that is the opposite to the one being put by organisations such as Liberty and Justice?

Ms Blears

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I have been a member of Liberty for many years. However, I represent a constituency that has suffered tremendously from crime and disorder in recent years. In some respects, my community has lost faith in the criminal justice system. My duty as a constituency Member of Parliament to represent my community weighs more heavily with me than the pursuit of self-interest that has been the main concern of organisations that are dominated by the legal profession.

Dr. Lynne Jones

How will the Bill help the community whose concerns my hon. Friend rightly wishes to represent? For example, how will it help victims of crime?

Ms Blears

I strongly believe that the Bill will tackle the problems of delay and manipulation by experienced criminals. As a result, the confidence of victims and witnesses in our system of justice will be increased, as they will know that the process can no longer be manipulated by experienced criminals simply stringing out trials for their own self-interest. That is an important point.

The changes proposed in the Bill will mean that it is for magistrates to determine the appropriate venue for trial, in light of the circumstances of the offence. I agree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who is no longer in his place, that balance in the criminal justice system is crucial. However, I believe that the balance at present errs on the side of the defendant, rather than in favour any of the other parties involved.

At the moment, defendants choose where they will be tried. Home Office research shows that nine out of 10 of those electing Crown court trial have previous convictions, that five out of 10 have three or more previous convictions, and that two out of every 10 have in excess of 10 previous convictions. Most of those who plead not guilty and elect for Crown court trial end up pleading guilty when their cases are finally heard.

No one who has heard the debate can deny that some defendants manipulate the system to delay their eventual sentences. Perhaps stupidly, they are even prepared to risk a heavier sentence in the Crown court if by doing so they can remain on bail, at liberty, for a few more weeks or months. It is a sad fact that some defendants hope that witnesses will not come forward if there is a delay, or that they will be intimidated and not give evidence, with the result that the defendants will be allowed to go free.

Research has also shown that 27 per cent. of defendants who plead not guilty and elect for Crown court trial intend to plead guilty later. That means that nearly 6,000 cases are a complete sham from start to finish. It means that the full machinery of the Crown court system has to be put into action. Victims and police are involved, witnesses are warned and a great deal of money is spent—when, in 6,000 cases, the defendant knows from the outset that he intends to plead guilty to the offences charged.

I have a couple of examples from my city. They are not from a royal commission or any theoretical report but are real-life cases that have taken place in Salford in the past 12 months. In one case, two defendants were charged with possession of a class B controlled drug, cannabis. The date of the charge was 5 May 1998. They were found in possession and charged with possession. The matter was committed to the Crown court on 13 November 1998. They had a plea and direction hearing a month later. Four prosecution witnesses were made absolute and, on 10 June 1999—seven months later—the defendants appeared before the Crown court at Manchester. All prosecution witnesses were in attendance—police officers not patrolling the streets of Salford but stuck in the Crown court because they had been called to appear. The defendants changed their pleas to guilty; they were each fined £100, and that was the end of the matter. The case took 13 months to dispose of, all the witnesses were in attendance and, at the end of the day, the defendants were each fined £100.

The second case involved indecent assault on a female under 16. The date of the charge was 20 April 1998. Nine prosecution witnesses were made absolute in July of that year, including young people who had to give evidence. The trial was set for 2 December 1998. All nine prosecution witnesses attended, including police officers. The defendant changed his plea from not guilty to guilty. No jury was sworn. The case took 26 weeks to be dealt with, an enormous amount of police time was wasted and the distress and anguish caused to the witnesses was considerable.

My third example is a little closer to home. A young man reached into a parked vehicle on a garage forecourt and stole a handbag. He committed that offence on 25 July 1998. It took a year to deal with him in the Crown court. Five prosecution witnesses attended and were sworn.

That example is close to my heart, because last year I was the victim of the same offence. A young man stole my handbag from my car. I chased him for 400 yd. I shouted, "Stop, thief, I'm a Member of Parliament," but that did not seem to have much effect. He jumped over a 7 ft wall and, as can be imagined, I was not able to follow him. A month later I identified him on an identification parade. He arrived with his solicitor and said, "She'll never pick me out," but despite his having shaved off his hair, I managed to identify him. He then took the case all the way to the Crown court. It took seven months to resolve. Witnesses were warned and appeared, and on the day of the hearing he pleaded guilty to the offence against me and asked for 30 other similar offences to be taken into consideration, including robbing Bev Callard of "Coronation Street". I am glad to say that he was dealt with very severely.

Those are examples of what is happening week in, week out, month in, month out, up and down this country, when defendants play the system.

In my view, this is not a cost-driven measure. If we save £100 million, all well and good. But this measure has been introduced because it is the right thing to do.

I have discussed the matter with the chief constable of Greater Manchester, who said that the provisions are likely to save him about £2 million in wasted police time. Greater Manchester is about to get 378 extra police officers, and I want them on front-line policing duties, not tied up in the Crown court on the sort of wasted cases that I have described.

Dr. Lynne Jones

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Ms Blears

No, because time is limited, and I know that other hon. Members want to contribute.

There are genuine concerns about the possibility of more cases being dealt with by magistrates. They already hear 90 per cent. of cases, and the appeal rate is very low. I do not for one minute believe that magistrates will suddenly want to hear cases that it is inappropriate for them to deal with. I think that it was Lord Justice Bingham who said that magistrates are respectful of the Crown court. In fact, they are deferential to the Crown court, so I do not think that they will take on very serious cases.

I would like to see improvements to the magistracy, irrespective of the changes proposed in the Bill. We need more representative magistrates, particularly in inner cities. Three wards in my constituency have no magistrates at all. The majority of them come from the better off, affluent areas of the city, and we have a responsibility to recruit more representative magistrates. They need more training, and we need more consistency in sentencing. We should recruit more stipendiary magistrates, who offer quicker and more efficient justice and who are not intimidated by lawyers—prosecution or defence—or heavily influenced by the police.

I am pleased that improving the criminal justice system is a top priority for the Government. Tackling crime is fundamental to making communities such as Salford safer for people to live in, for businesses to locate in and for people to bring up their families in. In some areas, we must acknowledge, there is a criminal culture. Theft and burglary have become a way of life, and experienced criminals prey on the most vulnerable people.

We have set tough targets for reducing crime, we are providing extra police officers and we have anti-burglary initiatives. All that is welcome, but we must ensure that people have confidence in the criminal justice system. Witnesses must feel safe if they come forward. It is disastrous when they are forced to wait for months to give their evidence, only for the trial to collapse at the last minute. That will not encourage them to come forward again.

Hon. Members are properly concerned about the fundamental rights of defendants, but I must ask them to think about the rights to freedom that many of my constituents have lost as a result of the tidal wave of crime that has swept over them in recent years. All of us—victims, witnesses, defendants and the wider community—have a stake in the criminal justice system. We need always to strike the right balance, and the Bill will bring fairness, objectivity and transparency into the system. It will reduce delay and manipulation by experienced criminals. The right of appeal on venue and the general right of appeal will safeguard defendants' positions.

I shall vote for the Bill because I believe that it is another step forward in our battle against crime. It will help to make the criminal justice system swift, effective and fair to everyone. I urge hon. Members to support it.

9.12 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Like several hon. Members, I declare an interest as a practising member of the Bar. I come from a family long associated with the law. It happens that both my sisters are members of the judiciary—one a judge, the other a magistrate. I therefore come to the debate with some baggage.

I have a lot of sympathy with the Home Secretary. My criticisms of him are perhaps less dramatic than those made by some of his hon. Friends. That said, I think that he is wrong. Over the years, I have been rather attracted by propositions of the sort that he advanced, but I have always recoiled from them in the end because they do not satisfy the proper requirements of justice. In truth, as the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Best) said, the sense of the debate has gone against the Home Secretary. If a decision were genuinely to be made on the basis of what had been said in the House, there would be no doubt that the Bill would fail.

I shall begin with two preliminary points. I am extremely cautious—indeed, wholly unpersuaded—on cost. The figures are extremely suspect. For example, if the appeal against a decision to allow a jury trial means anything—I suspect that it does not, and that it will exist only on paper—there will be a great many appeals, which will be extremely expensive. In addition, if the Bill proceeds, I suspect that there will be many more appeals against conviction to the Crown court. Those two considerations lead one to suppose that the figures on costs with which we have been supplied are defective. In any event, they are not particularly relevant. Unlike the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears), I am sure that the Bill is Treasury driven, and I have had some experience of spotting such Bills. It should not be so. We should not determine this matter on the basis of cost—the real motive causing the Government to advance the Bill.

My second preliminary point, which does not go to the substance of the matter, is the criterion of reputation, to which justices ought to have regard when determining whether a trial by jury should be allowed. If we are to have the Bill, justices should have regard to the impact on a person's reputation of refusing or allowing a jury trial. However, the Bill prohibits that. If it is so offensive for reputation criteria to be enshrined in the Bill, we should not have the Bill; the matter simply comes down to that.

In relation to the substance of the Bill, I make a proposition that is self-evident: a conviction—especially for dishonesty—can be wholly disastrous for a person of good character. We should therefore be slow to remove the protection that such persons enjoy.

The Home Secretary expostulated when I intervened during his speech to make a point about the character of the judiciary—of which I have considerable experience. Labour Members constantly made that point in opposition, although, curiously, few of them make it now. If one spends a long time exposed to criminal courts, one develops a certain attitude of mind. If one spends a lifetime listening to dishonest explanations of what people get up to, one develops a predisposition in favour of the prosecution. There is nothing odd about that.

I spent many years in the criminal courts, so I know that that is true. I have often thought that the judiciary—lay or professional—had a predisposition in favour of the prosecution, but seldom in favour of the defence.

Mr. McWalter

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that that might be directly related to the fact that members of the judiciary work closely with the police and that often, after a long and difficult investigation, they do not want to let down the police?

Mr. Hogg

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to him because he supports what I am saying. I am not making a criticism; I merely point out that we need to face life as it is. There is a risk of a predisposition in favour of the prosecution within the judiciary—whether lay or professional.

The role of the jury is to prevent that predisposition from doing injury to defendants. That is why I attach such high importance to juries. By definition, there are no juries in magistrates courts to redress that predisposition—although, of course, there are juries in Crown courts.

Although I have the greatest respect for stipendiary magistrates—they do an extremely good job and I should like to see more of them—that does not alter the fact that a stipendiary sits alone and is the only person to make judgments as to fact, honesty and so on. If that person has a predisposition in favour of the prosecution, the defendant is in serious trouble. When I was a young man at the Bar, I knew several stipendiary magistrates to whom my comments would have applied.

Incidentally, the processes in the magistrates courts, especially on determining the admissibility of evidence—the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke to that point—and on disclosure, tend to mean that the trial is less satisfactory for the defence.

I am concerned about the predisposition in favour of the prosecution among some members of the judiciary—I make no distinction between lay and professional members.

I ask the House to consider some related points. Our jury system is diverse—in ethnic mix, age, background, experience and so on. The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice) shakes her head, so I shall make a concession. The magistracy is better than it was. When I first went to the Bar years ago, it was a very middle class and professionally oriented organisation. It is better than it was, but it is not as diverse as the jury system. The professional judiciary most certainly is not.

Many of the questions that juries or the judiciary have to determine in a criminal case are very much questions that ordinary people are perhaps best suited to answer because of their own experience of the ordinary events of life that give rise to criminal actions. For example, the cases relate to what has happened in a street, pub or supermarket. Juries have to consider whether provocation existed and was likely to cause someone to act in the way that he did. They consider whether a degree of force was reasonable and whether people could really believe that something happened in the circumstances described. Ordinary people, drawing on their experience of ordinary life, are perhaps better placed to answer such questions than the judiciary, either lay or professional. I am anxious not to remove the protection that the jury system provides.

Finally, I wish to make an unusual point that the House should take into account. In a small number of cases, the elements in the charge are established but, for one reason or another, it would be unconscionable to convict. For example, there may have been a high degree of provocation that fell short of lawful justification. That can happen in assault cases and in cases dealing with sexual offences. In another type of case, the offence may be intrinsically trivial, but the consequences may be dire. Therefore, a conviction would be unconscionable.

In such cases, a jury serves as the public conscience in a way that the members of the lay or professional judiciary—I include myself in this—would find difficult. We are attuned to applying the law more strictly than a member of a jury would. He would have more regard to the broader interest and the public conscience test that I just mentioned. I would be very reluctant to see the jury trials system withdrawn in the sense that we are debating.

Mr. David Taylor

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman perhaps guilty of smearing magistrates by associating them with the professional lawyers? He has suggested that, because some of judiciary might be somewhat detached from the realities of everyday life, so are magistrates because they fall within his umbrella definition of professional people in the legal system.

Mr. Hogg

I have smeared no one. I have made no distinction for these purposes between the lay magistracy and the professional judiciary.

Mr. Taylor

The hon. and learned Gentleman should.

Mr. Hogg

No, I should not. I am drawing on years of personal and vicarious experience and I venture to say that there is not much dispute on these matters among those who really know about them. If one spends a long time in a criminal court, one is likely—if not certain—to develop a predisposition in favour of the prosecution. The hon. Gentleman should talk to the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter), because he agrees with me.

I have a lot of sympathy for the Home Secretary. I understand that he is an honourable man who is dealing with a problem that causes anxiety. However, he would be well advised to reflect on the fact that he has derived very little support from those who have spoken in the debate. He will derive very little support in the other place and his Bill has already been defeated there. That is not coincidence. The plain truth is that the sense of the House is that the Bill is unfair and will diminish the justice administered in this country. I hope that the Home Secretary will reflect on what has been said tonight.

9.25 pm
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

I am relieved to have the opportunity to explain why I oppose the Bill. My objection is based on principle, and not the details to which many hon. Members have referred during the debate. I summarise that point of principle as follows: this is a Bill from a mighty Government to weaken one of the bulwarks of our liberties that protect us from the acts of some future over-mighty Government.

I realise that I am open to the same accusation of self-interest that is faced by many other hon. Members—for 20 years before election to the House I was a solicitor, and I practised regularly in the magistrates court and even presented cases in the Crown court before a judge. I declare an interest in that I am a non-practising solicitor, because I have left that behind me.

My 20 years' experience leaves me with great respect and admiration for the magistrates court and the Crown court as means of delivering criminal justice. However, I had to write letters of advice to any of my clients who had the opportunity to decide whether to consent to a trial in the magistrates court or to insist on a trial before a jury in the Crown court.

I hope that my hon. Friends who are magistrates can bear to hear me say that the points that I made against a magistrates court trial sometimes included the lack of representation of the local community on the magistrates bench. I am heartened by the fact that the Attorney-General accepted a similar point in the other place during the Second Reading debate on the first Bill.

Of course, I also mentioned in my advice the systems failings of magistrates courts, such as magistrates' inability to determine points of law and put them out of their mind when dealing with a case. How, for example, do magistrates decide that they are ruling a confession inadmissible and then go on to determine the case without taking account of the fact that the person confessed? It is difficult for magistrates to do that. Equally, the level of disclosure of evidence in magistrates courts is inferior.

There are reasons why some people should not elect to have a trial in a Crown court, and I would warn them against the dangers of receiving a custodial sentence from a judge which they might not have received in the magistrates court. I would warn them also that they might receive a longer sentence in the Crown court than in the magistrates court. When people heard all that advice and chose to go to the Crown court for their trial, even though they risked serving a longer time in prison if they were convicted, they were choosing the right of a trial by jury ahead of that risk.

I come to the Government's difficulty on reputation. Clearly, in the original Bill they accepted that people with an unsullied reputation who were faced with an offence of dishonesty ought to have a trial by jury. They tried to accommodate that in the first Bill by allowing people to be excepted, on the ground of reputation, from the magistrates' decision that they should have a summary trial. That proposal has rightly been thrown out because it would provide a two-tier system of justice, in that some could go to the Crown court for a jury trial and others could not.

The Government are now trying to justify a Bill that does not protect people with reputation. That shows that the Government cannot win on this issue because the removal of access to a jury trial is wrong however it is dressed up. On this occasion, the third way really is the right way; the third way is to retain trial by jury.

Even the previous Government balked at making such a change—but they wanted to stamp out the perceived abuses of the system, so they made other changes. In 1994, they introduced a more overt system of discounted sentencing for an early guilty plea. They introduced plea before venue only from October 1997, but those changes are making a difference. In the 1990s, the number of accused electing to go to the Crown court for trial fell.

The Government understand that there are many ways to continue trying to stamp out abuses of the system without withdrawing wholesale the right of people in either-way cases to have a trial by jury. That is why Lord Justice Auld was asked to report this year on changes that could be made. Interestingly enough, he will investigate, among other things, the composition of courts, including the use of juries and of lay and stipendiary magistrates. As these matters will be dealt with by the end of the year, why rush into making one judgment ahead of those?

Yes, jury trials are expensive, but they have a value beyond money. They contribute to the stability of our constitution and to the trust that we have in our institutions. The existing right to withhold our consent to summary trial by magistrates in either-way cases is a safety valve. Perhaps some eccentrics and some incorrigible rogues will withhold their consent when magistrates could easily try their cases, but they must be a small minority of the 18,000 who each year exercise their right to withhold their consent to summary trial.

I believe that, overwhelmingly, that right is exercised responsibly. Those who are to be denied a jury trial by the Bill may hold a grievance for a long time afterwards. Other citizens who thought that the right would have been available to them if they ever needed it will feel discontent. Confidence and trust in our legal system will be diminished.

9.31 pm
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

This has been a thoughtful debate, during which we have heard many good speeches.

I start by declaring an interest as a former member for a number of years of the practising Bar, who appeared on many occasions in both Crown courts and magistrates courts. Although I am not currently in practice, I believe that I speak from some experience, but not as much experience as many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who have contributed to the debate.

Reading the debate on the first version of the Bill in another place, I was struck by the words of a distinguished member of the Bar, not of my party, which rang particularly true. On 20 January this year, the noble Baroness Mallalieu said: The truth is that the jury system has the confidence of ordinary people because they believe that it is the fairest system of trial. She went on: If I were accused of an offence which I had not committed I would want to be tried by a jury if at all possible, and I would know that I would have a substantially higher chance of being found not guilty. I would want 12 minds to look at the evidence and 12 fresh minds, not one, two or three people who had already heard many similar cases. As a lawyer, that is the advice I would give in almost every case where I considered my client had a good defence.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 January 2000; Vol. 608, c. 1260.] Those are wise words, which hon. Members in all parts of the House should take to heart, from a distinguished and senior member of the Bar who has also sat for many years as a recorder.

I am surprised to see the Home Secretary being so disingenuous when he comes to the House with his No. 2 version of the Bill, having been defeated on the No. 1 Bill, with so many of his noble Friends having spoken against him. He says that he has changed his mind, as though that made everything all right.

The Home Secretary has a charming way of coming disingenuously to the House, as he has done on many previous occasions, and saying, "In the past we were wrong, but now we are right." In the time that he has been Home Secretary, he has done that on so many issues connected with law and order.

The Opposition think that both the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor have had their minds changed for them. We believe that they have been strong-armed by the Treasury. It is the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury who are really behind the Bill, as has been said repeatedly by so many hon. Members attacking the Home Secretary with so-called friendly fire from behind him.

The score in tonight's debate is that only three of the Home Secretary's hon. Friends on the Back Benches have been prepared to support him, whereas no less than five have attacked him. It is much the same picture as in the other place on the No. 1 Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) in a superb speech, and the hon. Members for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Best), for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) and for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) have all attacked the Home Secretary.

The only three hon. Members who have been prepared to support the Home Secretary are the hon. Members for Bristol, East (Jean Corston), for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice) and for Salford (Ms Blears). I believe that they would find it uncomfortable to return to their constituencies and tell their activists that they had attacked the arguments of organisations such as Justice, Liberty, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, the Society of Asian Lawyers and the Society of Black Lawyers. Even the Home Secretary's few supporters will find it difficult to explain why all those organisations, which have a proud record of supporting civil liberties, are wrong.

The hon. Member for Bristol, East rightly paid homage to those who had taught her in the past, such as Lord Runciman and Professor Michael Zander. However, in an interesting passage in a good and thoughtful speech, she said that she would vote against the Bill and support the hon. and learned Member for Medway if she believed that it would increase the scope for wrongful convictions among ethnic minority communities. She referred to research by Dr. Bonny Mhlanga. However, she may not have read the debates in another place because Lord Dholakia—again, not a member of my party—used the research to support the opposite case and attack the Home Secretary. In a powerful passage of his speech on 20 January in column 1278 of Hansard, he said that Dr. Mhlanga's research led to the conclusion that the hon. and learned Member for Medway presented. I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol, East will reflect on that, examine the debates in another place and decide that we and the hon. and learned Member for Medway are right.

In a powerful speech, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) reflected on the time when the original proposals were put forward by him and considered for consultation without commitment. He made it clear that if he had continued to be Home Secretary after the last election, he would have tried to persuade other Conservative Members to go ahead with some sort of proposal, but not the Government's measure, for reasons that he wisely set out.

Despite my enormous respect for my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe, he would not have succeeded in persuading me to accept such a proposal. Throughout my legal career, I have strongly supported the right to trial by jury. My right hon. and learned Friend's attacks on this Bill are especially accurate.

The hon. and learned Member for Medway, who has been a practising barrister for 33 years and a recorder for 18 years, pointed out that even St. Paul on the road to Damascus to conduct public prosecutions without a jury, did not undergo the same sort of conversion as the Home Secretary. He pointed out that the proposal had been brought from the Home Secretary's hutch in the Home Office, and was not a manifesto commitment. When the Minister winds up for the Government, I hope that he will make it clear that, if the Bill is defeated tonight or in another place on a subsequent occasion, the Government will decide that, because the measure was not mentioned in their manifesto, it would be wrong in principle to try to railroad it through another place. It would be right for the Government to accept defeat, crawl away and lick their wounds.

The hon. and learned Member for Medway rightly pointed out that the costs of the appeals could amount to £6,700,000. He said that the Bill will not achieve the savings about which the Treasury has persuaded the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor. It will cost more money.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke of the importance of not proceeding with piecemeal change to the law. He correctly said that we should wait for Lord Justice Auld's committee to report. In a powerful speech, the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) rightly pointed out that, when considering the civil liberties aspect of trial by jury, we should take account of the cry of freedom.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who is a practising lawyer, a recorder and an acting stipendiary rightly said that the Bill was shameful and shoddy. He comprehensively demolished the Government's arguments on cost saving and the time of appeals. He also pointed out that Crown court delays are not as great precisely because of the reforms that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe introduced when he was Home Secretary. I was a member of Committees that scrutinised the Bills that introduced many of those reforms and a lot of the Home Secretary's arguments undoubtedly fall away when we consider the recent speeding up of Crown court trials. The plea-before-venue system has saved a lot of time.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice) half said that she had come to the House specifically to bury lawyers, not to praise them. She indulged in the conventional rhetorical trick of erecting an argument that nobody was making—an alleged attack on the lay magistracy, which the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West moderately said that he had heard nobody make— and then said that we must defend the lay magistracy. We on the opposition Benches are proud of the lay magistracy and its work, but one does not have to be an attacker of the lay magistracy to be against the Bill, which is flawed in its own right for reasons unconnected with the lay magistracy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) correctly dismissed the Scottish experience—as the Home Secretary has pointed out that he had considered it—and said that the Home Secretary had made the provisions worse since the failure of the first Bill. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West referred to the common-sense justice that is founded on trial by jury, which he was taught at Meanwood county school, and rightly said that he had not heard any attack on magistrates.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell)—a former Attorney-General—rightly complimented the lay magistracy on all its work and said that the Bill would achieve no cost savings. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) made two good points: he said that no one ever writes to him or to any other Member of the House to complain about the right to trial by jury and the Home Secretary is required to prove beyond reasonable doubt—the usual standard of proof in criminal courts—that the Bill does not attack civil liberties. He concluded that the Home Secretary has failed to reach that standard.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis) spoke as a libertarian, against the Treasury. He said that it is important to try every other mechanism to improve our criminal justice system first and that we must not throw away fundamental civil liberties. In a speech that can be described only as somewhat egregious in its loyalism to the Millbank spin doctors, the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears) said that the organisations on which I challenged her, such as Justice and Liberty, are motivated by self-interest and dominated by lawyers. I suspect that she will have cause to regret that, and her speech could be described as selling her civil libertarian soul for a mess of pottage in the Bill.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) gave the House the benefit of his sharp-end experience and pointed out everything that could go wrong if the Bill become law. The hon. Member for Stafford, who has extensive practical experience of the magistrates courts, made a brief but well-observed contribution and foresaw many difficulties with the Bill.

The hon. and learned Member for Medway quoted the leading work on the history of trial by jury, which was written by Sir Patrick Devlin, who became a most distinguished Law Lord. Like most lawyers of my generation, I was brought up the words and judgments of the late Lords Denning and Devlin. The hon. Gentleman missed out some of what Sir Patrick Devlin wrote. He concluded his book on trial by jury with these words, quoted from Sir William Blackstone: So that the liberties of England cannot but subsist so long as this palladium— he meant trial by jury— remains sacred and inviolate; not only from all open attacks … but also from all secret machinations, which may sap and undermine it; by introducing new and arbitrary methods of trial; by justices of the peace, commissioners of the revenue, and courts of conscience. And however convenient these may appear at first (as doubtless all arbitrary powers, well executed, are the most convenient), yet let it be again remembered, that delays and little inconveniences in the forms of justice, are the price that all free nations must pay for their liberty in more substantial matters; that these inroads upon this sacred bulwark of the nation are fundamentally opposite to the spirit of our constitution; and that, though begun in trifles, the precedent may gradually increase and spread, to the utter disuse of juries in questions of the most momentous concern.

9.45 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)

I agree with the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) that this has been a good debate, enlivened by some excellent speeches. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, East (Ms Corston), for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice) and for Salford (Ms Blears), but I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) and the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis), who made well-considered speeches, albeit opposing the Bill.

We heard 19 speakers, 14 of whom—more than 70 per cent.—were barristers or solicitors. That constitutes a significant watering down of the lawyer content since the debate in the other place. A number of serious points were made. In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) asked my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to what extent cost was a motive. That was raised in a number of other contributions, which asked questions about, for instance, the legitimacy of the estimates. All those were fair enough points, but I emphasise that none of our case rests on the cost savings that may arise from the Bill—it derives entirely from the need to create a more transparent, clear and fair criminal justice system. That is why the Bill is before us, and that is its intention.

The law requires us to make an estimate of the cost savings involved, and we have set out those savings in the Bill to the best of our ability. I acknowledge that many of the points made about cost savings are fair, and that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating; but those points are not germane to the central issue, which is whether we want to enact a measure to modernise the criminal justice system and to make it more transparent. That, in fact, is the entire motivation behind the Bill.

Mr. Burnett

The Minister says that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Would it not be wiser for him to look before he leaps, and to arrange an independent scrutiny of the figures that the Government are using to justify their actions?

Mr. Clarke

There are many scrutinies of the figures, but the hon. Gentleman makes my point for me. My point is that cost issues, significant though they are, are not the central motivation behind the Bill. The central motivation is the need to secure a modernised, efficient and effective criminal justice system.

I pay tribute to all who have spoken. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East observed, much of the discussion outside the House—certainly that in the other place—has tended to demean the role of the magistrates courts, but that has not been the tenor of our debate. The hon. Member for Woking, for example, said that it had nothing to do with the suggestion that one court was better than another, and many others have made similar points. Some outside and in the other place have rested their whole case, in an arrogant and sneering way, on the proposition that justice in the magistrates courts is somehow less worth while than that in the Crown courts; but no such suggestion has been made today, and I am glad that it has not. It is, of course, important that that should be the case, given that more than 95 per cent. of cases are resolved in the magistrates courts.

A number of Members made the point that this was a matter of balance and judgment. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) made it when he said that it was not an open-and-shut case. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) made it when he said—in response to an intervention from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—that the issues depended on the balance of judgment, and lay on the margins.

It is a question of balance and judgment, but the issue is clear: we are seeking to achieve a transparent and clear criminal justice system.

Mr. Bermingham

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Clarke

I shall not at this stage.

A number of the arguments against the Bill have been somewhat overblown. The facts are that there are cases that go automatically to the Crown court, where the venue is clear, there is no choice for the defendant and the situation is set out—there are 24,000 on average every year; and there are cases that go automatically to the magistrates court—there are about 1.4 million every year—where, under current legislation, there is no choice for the defendant to go to the Crown court. The position is simple: they go straight to the magistrates court.

Some say that no question of reputation is involved. The list of cases considered in that summary way includes assault on a constable, common assault, brothel keeping, cruelty to animals, cruelty to or neglect of children, aggravated vehicle taking, indecent exposure, and driving after consuming alcohol or drugs. Those are serious offences, where a serious issue of reputation is involved. All are decided in the magistrates court today, without any question of the defendant or anyone else deciding that the matter should go to trial by jury—to a Crown court.

It is a substantial point: a significant list of offences goes at the moment directly to summary court and summary judgment, without anyone suggesting that they should go to the Crown court. It is important to place on the record that no one in the debate has suggested that we should change the law so that, in the sort of cases that I have mentioned, the individual has the automatic right to choose trial by jury.

We have talked about each-way cases: there are about 465,000 every year, 400,000 going to the magistrates court and 65,000 going to the Crown court. Those are the overall figures.

It is important to put the debate in perspective. As I say, today more than 95 per cent. of cases are judged automatically by the magistrates courts. Many of those cases include serious offences involving reputation in a variety of ways.

The simple issue on each-way cases is: does the prosecutor, the defendant, the magistrate or the court decide, subject to appeal? Many international comparisons can be made. All the systems are entirely different in their character, history and orientation, but it is true that the English and Welsh system is eccentric in that it permits defendants to choose. In general in the rest of the world, either the court decides or, in some cases, which are equally eccentric, the prosecution decides. It is eccentric for the defendant to be given the right to decide. What is universal is the right of everyone to have a fair trial, whether in the magistrates court or Crown court.

Mr. Bermingham

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we took away the right of the defendant and left it to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide the level of charge, those that it considered merited a sentence of six months or less could go to the magistrates court and those that it considered merited a sentence of six months or more could go to the Crown court? In that way, we would get rid of that argument and solve the whole problem.

Mr. Clarke

I am familiar with the idea. I have seen the correspondence that my hon. Friend has had with the Home Secretary. There are interesting arguments in the debate in relation to reclassifying some of the offences in different areas. Many issues arise.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

On the subject of eccentric systems, what are the other systems in the world where there is a right of trial by jury—let us forget Scotland for a moment—and where that right is not exercised by the defendant? Let us have a list.

Mr. Clarke

I will let my hon. and learned Friend have the list, but I do not regard Scotland as an eccentricity in any respect whatever. No Labour Member could possibly do so.

The change that we have proposed is significant and important. It is focused on reducing opacity in the system—on increasing its clarity—and on reducing abuse.

Mr. Garnier

That is the third time that the Minister has mentioned either transparency or opacity. In what way is the current system lacking in transparency?

Mr. Clarke

I should be very surprised if the hon. and learned Gentleman does not see many cases in his surgery, as I do in mine, involving victims, criminals or jurors, for example, who say that they do not understand how the legal system has worked for them or that they have not had justice from the system. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford made an excellent speech containing some very specific examples showing why people might feel that way. I do not think that the criminal justice system does very well in those spheres.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke

No. I shall not give way again, as I am near the end of my speech and have to finish it in four minutes.

The Bill, for the reasons eloquently stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East, is supported by the royal commission, the Lord Chief Justice, magistrates and police. The matter involves a balanced judgment. Although I hear what the Bar Council and the Law Society had to say, I also know that there are divided opinions on the matter within the legal profession. It is important to stress that the case is very clear and straightforward. We need to change the criminal justice system—to modernise it and to take it forward—and that is what we are doing.

Mr. Hughes

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke

No, but I shall deal with the points that the hon. Gentleman made. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] No. With three minutes to go, I shall not give way but try to deal with the points that have been made in the debate.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews


Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Clarke

No, I shall not give way.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey asked about establishing a Special Standing Committee on the Bill. We shall not take that course, but consider the Bill properly in the normal course of events. We promised to do that, and that is what we shall do.

Various hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, the hon. Member for Woking and my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, made the important point that some people play the system to their advantage. The point has been made clearly, and we should deal with it.

The issue of effect of plea-before-venue was raised by various hon. Members, but particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher). We do not accept the view that plea-before-venue is reducing the number of elections and makes the Bill redundant. Plea-before-venue allows those who wish to plead guilty to do so in the magistrates court, which was not possible in directed cases prior to implementation—

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Will the Minister give way?

Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Clarke

In 1999, the number of elections increased by 3.6 per cent., to just under 19,000.

The issue of appeal was raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and the hon. Member for Woking. It is open to the party to request an oral hearing and to the judge to accede to that request, but it is at the judge's discretion. We expect most appeals to be dealt with on the papers and most appeals to be dealt with within 48 hours.

The matter of reputation has been dealt with at great length in the debate. As I have said very clearly, regardless of whether a case is to be committed to summary trial or to each-way trial, very many cases may have an effect on the reputation and integrity of all types of individuals. Such cases may profoundly affect individuals—whether Members of Parliament or anyone else—and even damage their lives. It is absolutely clear that magistrates courts give a fair trial, and that they will continue to give a fair trial. We should defend that very important principle.

I ask all my hon. Friends to vote on the Bill's merits and to modernise the criminal justice system—taking into account the considered view of police, the legal system, the royal commission, the Lord Chief Justice and magistrates, and in the interests of victims and witnesses. Our constituents want a modern criminal justice system that will serve the needs of all our society and not only the needs of the band of lawyers who are seeking to protect their own interests.

We have to safeguard the interests of every citizen. That is our duty. That is why this matter is being dealt with in this Chamber—the elected Chamber—where we all have our responsibility to safeguard those interests. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 214, Noes 315.

Division No. 94 [9.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Allan, Richard Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Amess, David
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Clwyd, Ann
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Cohen, Harry
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Collins, Tim
Baker, Norman Corbyn, Jeremy
Baldry, Tony Cormack, Sir Patrick
Ballard, Jackie Cotter, Brian
Barnes, Harry Cran, James
Beith, Rt Hon A J Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bennett, Andrew F Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Bercow, John Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Beresford, Sir Paul Day, Stephen
Blunt, Crispin Donaldson, Jeffrey
Body, Sir Richard Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Boswell, Tim Duncan, Alan
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Duncan Smith, Iain
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Brady, Graham Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Brake, Tom Etherington, Bill
Brand, Dr Peter Evans, Nigel
Brazier, Julian Faber, David
Breed, Colin Fabricant, Michael
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fallon, Michael
Browning, Mrs Angela Feam, Ronnie
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Fisher, Mark
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Flight, Howard
Burnett, John Flynn, Paul
Burns, Simon Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Burstow, Paul Foster, Don (Bath)
Butterfill, John Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Fox, Dr Liam
Fraser, Christopher
Cash, William Gale, Roger
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Garnier, Edward
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Chope, Christopher Gerrard, Neil
Clapham, Michael Gibb, Nick
Clappison, James Gill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Gray, James Öpik, Lembit
Green, Damian Ottaway, Richard
Greenway, John Page, Richard
Grieve, Dominic Paice, James
Gummer, Rt Hon John Paterson, Owen
Hague, Rt Hon William Pickles, Eric
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hammond, Philip Prior, David
Hancock, Mike Randall, John
Harris, Dr Evan Redwood, Rt Hon John
Harvey, Nick Rendel, David
Hawkins, Nick Robathan, Andrew
Heald, Oliver Robertson, Laurence
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxboume)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Ruffley, David
Hopkins, Kelvin Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Horam, John St Aubyn, Nick
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Sanders, Adrian
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Sedgemore, Brian
Hunter, Andrew Shepherd, Richard
Hurst Alan Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Jenkin, Bernard Skinner, Dennis
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Keetch, Paul Soames, Nicholas
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W) Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Key, Robert Spring, Richard
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Steen, Anthony
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Streeter, Gary
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Stunell, Andrew
Lansley, Andrew Swayne, Desmond
Leigh, Edward Syms, Robert
Letwin, Oliver Tapsell, Sir Peter
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Lidington, David Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Loughton, Tim Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Luff, Peter Tonge, Dr Jenny
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Townend, John
McDonnell, John Tredinnick, David
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Trend, Michael
McIntosh, Miss Anne Tyler, Paul
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Tyrie, Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David Viggers, Peter
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Walter, Robert
McLoughlin, Patrick Wardle, Charles
McNamara, Kevin Waterson, Nigel
Mahon, Mrs Alice Webb, Steve
Major, Rt Hon John Wells, Bowen
Malins, Humfrey Whitney, Sir Raymond
Maples, John Whittingdale, John
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Mates, Michael Wilkinson, John
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Willetts, David
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Willis, Phil
May, Mrs Theresa Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Mitchell, Austin Wise, Audrey
Moore, Michael Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Moss, Malcolm Tellers for the Ayes:
Norman, Archie Mr. David Kidney and
Oaten, Mark Mr. Harold Best.
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Ainger, Nick Ashton, Joe
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Atherton, Ms Candy
Alexander, Douglas Atkins, Charlotte
Allen, Graham Banks, Tony
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh Ellman, Mrs Louise
Beard, Nigel Ennis, Jeff
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Field, Rt Hon Frank
Begg, Miss Anne Fitzpatrick, Jim
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Fitzsimons, Loma
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Flint, Caroline
Benton, Joe Follett, Barbara
Bermingham, Gerald Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Berry, Roger Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Betts, Clive Foulkes, George
Blackman, Liz Galbraith, Sam
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Galloway, George
Blears, Ms Hazel Gapes, Mike
Blizzard, Bob Gardiner, Barry
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Gibson, Dr Ian
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Bradshaw, Ben Godsiff, Roger
Brinton, Mrs Helen Goggins, Paul
Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E) Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Browne, Desmond Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Buck, Ms Karen Grocott, Bruce
Burden, Richard Grogan, John
Burgon, Colin Gunnell, John
Butler, Mrs Christine Hain, Peter
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hanson, David
Campbell-Savours, Dale Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Caplin, Ivor Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Casale, Roger Healey, John
Cawsey, Ian Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Chaytor, David Hepburn, Stephen
Church, Ms Judith Heppell, John
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hesford, Stephen
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Hill, Keith
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hodge, Ms Margaret
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hoey, Kate
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Home Robertson, John
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hood, Jimmy
Coaker, Vernon Hope, Phil
Coffey, Ms Ann Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Coleman, Iain Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Colman, Tony Howells, Dr Kim
Connarty, Michael Hoyle, Lindsay
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cooper, Yvette Humble, Mrs Joan
Corbett, Robin Hutton, John
Corston, Jean Iddon, Dr Brian
Cousins, Jim Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Cranston, Ross Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Crausby, David Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Cummings, John Jamieson, David
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Jenkins, Brian
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Dalyell, Tam Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Darvill, Keith Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Davidson, Ian Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dawson, Hilton Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Dean, Mrs Janet Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Denham, John Keeble, Ms Sally
Dewar, Rt Hon Donald Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Donohoe, Brian H Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Doran, Frank Kelly, Ms Ruth
Dowd, Jim Kemp, Fraser
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Efford, Clive Khabra, Piara S
Kilfoyle, Peter Primarolo, Dawn
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Prosser, Gwyn
Kumar, Dr Ashok Purchase, Ken
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Laxton, Bob Quinn, Lawrie
Lepper, David Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Leslie, Christopher Rammell, Bill
Levitt, Tom Rapson, Syd
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Raynsford, Nick
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Linton, Martin Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Lock, David Roche, Mrs Barbara
Love, Andrew Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
McAvoy, Thomas Rooney, Terry
McDonagh, Siobhain Ross, Emie (Dundee W)
Macdonald, Calum Ruddock, Joan
McFall, John Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McGuire, Mrs Anne Ryan, Ms Joan
McIsaac, Shona Salter, Martin
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Savidge, Malcolm
McLeish, Henry Sawford, Phil
McNulty, Tony Sheerman, Barry
MacShane, Denis Singh, Marsha
Mactaggart, Fiona Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McWalter, Tony Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McWilliam, John Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Mallaber, Judy Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Snape, Peter
Martlew, Eric Soley, Clive
Maxton, John Southworth, Ms Helen
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Spellar, John
Meale, Alan Squire, Ms Rachel
Merron, Gillian Steinberg, Gerry
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Stevenson, George
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Miller, Andrew Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Moffatt, Laura Stinchcombe, Paul
Moonie, Dr Lewis Stoate, Dr Howard
Moran, Ms Margaret Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Morley, Elliot Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mountford, Kali
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Mudie, George Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Mullin, Chris Temple-Morris, Peter
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Timms, Stephen
Naysmith, Dr Doug Tipping, Paddy
Norris, Dan Trickett, Jon
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
O'Hara, Eddie Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Olner, Bill Turner, Neil (Wigan)
O'Neill, Martin Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Organ, Mrs Diana Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Osborne, Ms Sandra Tynan, Bill
Palmer, Dr Nick Vaz, Keith
Pearson, Ian Walley, Ms Joan
Pendry, Tom Ward, Ms Claire
Perham, Ms Linda Watts, David
Pickthall, Colin White, Brian
Pike, Peter L Whitehead, Dr Alan
Plaskitt, James Wicks, Malcolm
Pollard, Kerry Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Pound, Stephen Wills, Michael
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Wilson, Brian
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Winnick, David
Prescott, Rt Hon John Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Woodward, Shaun Wyatt, Derek
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony Tellers for the Noes:
Wray, James Mr. David Clelland and
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth) Mr. Don Touhig.

Question accordingly negatived.

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

The House divided: Ayes 315, Noes 188.

Division No. 95] [10.13 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Coleman, Iain
Ainger, Nick Colman, Tony
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Connarty, Michael
Alexander, Douglas Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)
Allen, Graham Cooper, Yvette
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Corbett, Robin
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Corston, Jean
Ashton, Joe Cousins, Jim
Atherton, Ms Candy Cranston, Ross
Atkins, Charlotte Crausby, David
Banks, Tony Cummings, John
Battle, John Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Bayley, Hugh Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Beard, Nigel Dalyell, Tam
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Begg, Miss Anne Darvill, Keith
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Davidson, Ian
Benton, Joe Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Bermingham, Gerald Dawson, Hilton
Berry, Roger Dean, Mrs Janet
Betts, Clive Denham, John
Blackman, Liz Dewar, Rt Hon Donald
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Donohoe, Brian H
Blears, Ms Hazel Doran, Frank
Blizzard, Bob Dowd, Jim
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Efford, Clive
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Ellman, Mrs Louise
Bradshaw, Ben Ennis, Jeff
Brinton, Mrs Helen Field, Rt Hon Frank
Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E) Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Loma
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Flint, Caroline
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Follett, Barbara
Browne, Desmond Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Buck, Ms Karen Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Burden, Richard Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Burgon, Colin Foulkes, George
Butler, Mrs Christine Galbraith, Sam
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Galloway, George
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Gapes, Mike
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Gardiner, Barry
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Caplin, Ivor Godsiff, Roger
Casale, Roger Goggins, Paul
Cawsey, Ian Golding, Mrs Llin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Chaytor, David Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Church, Ms Judith Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Gunnell, John
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hain, Peter
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Coaker, Vernon Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Coffey, Ms Ann Hanson, David
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Meale, Alan
Healey, John Merron, Gillian
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hepburn, Stephen Miller, Andrew
Heppell, John Moffatt, Laura
Hesford, Stephen Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Moran, Ms Margaret
Hill, Keith Morley, Elliot
Hodge, Ms Margaret Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hoey, Kate
Home Robertson, John Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)
Hood, Jimmy
Hope, Phil Mountford, Kali
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Mudie, George
Howells, Dr Kim Mullin, Chris
Hoyle, Lindsay Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Humble, Mrs Joan Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Hutton, John Naysmith, Dr Doug
Iddon, Dr Brian Norris, Dan
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) O'Hara, Eddie
Jamieson, David Olner, Bill
Jenkins, Brian O'Neill, Martin
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Organ, Mrs Diana
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Osborne, Ms Sandra
Palmer, Dr Nick
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Pearson, Ian
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Pendry, Tom
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Perham, Ms Linda
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Pickthall, Colin
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Pike, Peter L
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Plaskitt, James
Keeble, Ms Sally Pollard, Kerry
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Pond, Chris
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Pope, Greg
Kelly, Ms Ruth Pound, Stephen
Kemp, Fraser Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Khabra, Piara S Prescott, Rt Hon John
Kilfoyle, Peter Primarolo, Dawn
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenitworth) Prosser, Gwyn
Kumar, Dr Ashok Purchase, Ken
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Laxton, Bob Quinn, Lawrie
Lepper, David Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Leslie, Christopher Rammell, Bill
Levitt, Tom Rapson, Syd
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Raynsford, Nick
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Linton, Martin Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Lock, David Roche, Mrs Barbara
Love, Andrew Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
McAvoy, Thomas Rooney, Terry
McDonagh, Siobhain Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Macdonald, Calum Ruddock, Joan
McFall, John Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McGuire, Mrs Anne Ryan, Ms Joan
McIsaac, Shona Salter, Martin
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Savidge, Malcolm
McLeish, Henry Sawford, Phil
McNulty, Tony Sheerman, Barry
MacShane, Denis Singh, Marsha
Mactaggart, Fiona Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McWalter, Tony Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McWilliam, John Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Mallaber, Judy Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Snape, Peter
Martlew, Eric Soley, Clive
Maxton, John Southworth, Ms Helen
Spellar, John Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Squire, Ms Rachel Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Steinberg, Gerry Tynan, Bill
Stevenson, George Vaz, Keith
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Walley, Ms Joan
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Ward, Ms Claire
Stinchcombe, Paul Watts, David
Stoate, Dr Howard White, Brian
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Whitehead, Dr Alan
Straw, Rt Hon Jack Wicks, Malcolm
Stringer, Graham Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Gerry Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Wills, Michael
Wilson, Brian
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S) Winnick, David
Taylor, David (NW Leics) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Temple-Morris, Peter Woodward, Shaun
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W) Woolas, Phil
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Worthington, Tony
Timms, Stephen Wray, James
Tipping, Paddy Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Trickett, Jon Wyatt, Derek
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Tellers for the Ayes:
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Mr. David Clelland and
Turner, Neil (Wigan) Mr. Don Touhig.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Allan, Richard Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Amess, David Donaldson, Jeffrey
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Duncan, Alan
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Duncan Smith, Iain
Baker, Norman Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Baldry, Tony Evans, Nigel
Ballard, Jackie Faber, David
Beith, Rt Hon A J Fabricant, Michael
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Fallon, Michael
Bercow, John Feam, Ronnie
Beresford, Sir Paul Flight, Howard
Blunt, Crispin Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Body, Sir Richard Foster, Don (Bath)
Boswell, Tim Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Fox, Dr Liam
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Fraser, Christopher
Brady, Graham Gale, Roger
Brake, Tom Garnier, Edward
Brand, Dr Peter George, Andrew (St Ives)
Brazier, Julian Gibb, Nick
Breed, Colin Gill, Christopher
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Browning, Mrs Angela Gray, James
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Green, Damian
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Greenway, John
Burnett, John Grieve, Dominic
Burns, Simon Gummer, Rt Hon John
Burstow, Paul Hague, Rt Hon William
Butterfill, John Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Hammond, Philip
Hancock, Mike
Cash, William Harris, Dr Evan
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Harvey, Nick
Hawkins, Nick
Chope, Christopher Hayes, John
Clappison, James Heald, Oliver
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Horam, John
Collins, Tim Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Cormack, Sir Patrick Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Cotter, Brian Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Cran, James Hunter, Andrew
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard Robathan, Andrew
Keetch, Paul Robertson, Laurence
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxboume)
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Key, Robert Ruffley, David
Kidney, David Russell, Bob (Colchester)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) St Aubyn, Nick
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Sanders, Adrian
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Shepherd, Richard
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Lansley, Andrew Soames, Nicholas
Leigh, Edward Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Letwin, Oliver Spicer, Sir Michael
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Spring, Richard
Lidington, David Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Steen, Anthony
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Streeter, Gary
Loughton, Tim Stunell, Andrew
Luff, Peter Swayne, Desmond
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Syms, Robert
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Tapsell, Sir Peter
McIntosh, Miss Anne Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Maclean, Rt Hon David Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Taylor, Sir Teddy
McLoughlin, Patrick Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Major, Rt Hon John Tonge, Dr Jenny
Malins, Humfrey Townend, John
Maples, John Tredinnick, David
Mates, Michael Trend, Michael
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Tyler, Paul
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Tyrie, Andrew
May, Mrs Theresa Viggers, Peter
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Walter, Robert
Moore, Michael Wardle, Charles
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Waterson, Nigel
Moss, Malcolm Webb, Steve
Norman, Archie Wells, Bowen
Oaten, Mark Whitney, Sir Raymond
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Whittingdale, John
Öpik, Lembit Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Ottaway, Richard Wilkinson, John
Page, Richard Willetts, David
Paice, James Willis, Phil
Paterson, Owen Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Pickles, Eric Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Prior, David
Randall, John Tellers for the Noes:
Redwood, Rt Hon John Mr. Stephen Day and
Rendel, David Mr. Peter Atkinson.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63(2), That the Bill be committed to a Special Standing Committee.—[Mr. Simon Hughes.]

The House divided: Ayes 181, Noes 325.

Division No. 96] [10.25 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Allan, Richard Beresford, Sir Paul
Amess, David Blunt, Crispin
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Body, Sir Richard
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Boswell, Tim
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Baker, Norman Brady, Graham
Ballard, Jackie Brake, Tom
Beith, Rt Hon A J Brand, Dr Peter
Brazier, Julian Key, Robert
Breed, Colin King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Browning, Mrs Angela Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Lansley, Andrew
Burnett, John Leigh, Edward
Burstow, Paul Letwin, Oliver
Butterfill, John Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Cash, William Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Chope, Christopher Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Clappison, James MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey McIntosh, Miss Anne
Collins, Tim MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Cormack, Sir Patrick Maclean, Rt Hon David
Cotter, Brian Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Cran, James McLoughlin, Patrick
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Major, Rt Hon John
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Maples, John
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Day, Stephen Mates, Michael
Donaldson, Jeffrey Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Duncan, Alan May, Mrs Theresa
Duncan Smith, Iain Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Moore, Michael
Faber, David Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Fabricant, Michael Norman, Archie
Fallon, Michael Oaten, Mark
Feam, Ronnie O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Field, Rt Hon Frank Öpik, Lembit
Fisher, Mark Ottaway, Richard
Flight, Howard Page, Richard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Paice, James
Foster, Don (Bath) Paterson, Owen
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Pickles, Eric
Fox, Dr Liam Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Fraser, Christopher Prior, David
Gale, Roger Randall, John
Garnier, Edward Rendel, David
George, Andrew (St Ives) Robathan, Andrew
Gibb, Nick Robertson, Laurence
Gill, Christopher Ruffley, David
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl St Aubyn, Nick
Gray, James Sanders, Adrian
Green, Damian Shepherd, Richard
Greenway, John Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Grieve, Dominic Soames, Nicholas
Gummer, Rt Hon John Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Hague, Rt Hon William Spicer, Sir Michael
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Spring, Richard
Hammond, Philip Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hancock, Mike Steen, Anthony
Harris, Dr Evan Streeter, Gary
Harvey, Nick Swayne, Desmond
Hawkins, Nick Syms, Robert
Hayes, John Tapsell, Sir Peter
Heald, Oliver Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Taylor, Sir Teddy
Horam, John Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Thompson, William
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Tonge, Dr Jenny
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Townend, John
Hunter, Andrew Tredinnick, David
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Trend, Michael
Jenkin, Bemard Tyler, Paul
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Tyrie, Andrew
Keetch, Paul Viggers, Peter
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W) Walter, Robert
Wardle, Charles
Waterson, Nigel Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Webb, Steve Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Wells, Bowen Wise, Audrey
Whittingdale, John Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wilkinson, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Willetts, David Mr. Andrew Stunell and
Willis, Phil Mr. Bob Russell.
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Corston, Jean
Ainger, Nick Cousins, Jim
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cranston, Ross
Alexander, Douglas Crausby, David
Allen, Graham Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Cummings, John
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Ashton, Joe Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Atherton, Ms Candy Dalyell, Tam
Atkins, Charlotte Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Banks, Tony Darvill, Keith
Barnes, Harry Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Battle, John Davidson, Ian
Bayley, Hugh Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Beard, Nigel Dawson, Hilton
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Dean, Mrs Janet
Begg, Miss Anne Denham, John
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Dewar, Rt Hon Donald
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Donohoe, Brian H
Benton, Joe Doran, Frank
Bermingham, Gerald Dowd, Jim
Berry, Roger Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Betts, Clive Efford, Clive
Blackman, Liz Ellman, Mrs Louise
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Ennis, Jeff
Blears, Ms Hazel Fitzpatrick, Jim
Blizzard, Bob Fitzsimons, Loma
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Flint, Caroline
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Flynn, Paul
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Follett, Barbara
Bradshaw, Ben Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Brinton, Mrs Helen Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Foulkes, George
Browne, Desmond Galbraith, Sam
Buck, Ms Karen Galloway, George
Burden, Richard Gapes, Mike
Burgon, Colin Gardiner, Barry
Butler, Mrs Christine George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Gerrard, Neil
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Gibson, Dr Ian
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Godsiff, Roger
Campbell-Savours, Dale Goggins, Paul
Caplin, Ivor Golding, Mrs Llin
Casale, Roger Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Cawsey, Ian Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Chaytor, David Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Church, Ms Judith Grocott, Bruce
Clapham, Michael Grogan, John
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Gunnell, John
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hain, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hanson, David
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Clwyd, Ann Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Coaker, Vernon Healey, John
Coffey, Ms Ann Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Colman, Tony Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Connarty, Michael Hepburn, Stephen
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston) Heppell, John
Cooper, Yvette Hesford, Stephen
Corbett, Robin Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Hill, Keith McWilliam, John
Hodge, Ms Margaret Mallaber, Judy
Hoey, Kate Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Home Robertson, John Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hood, Jimmy Martlew, Eric
Hope, Phil Maxton, John
Hopkins, Kelvin Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Meale, Alan
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Merron, Gillian
Howells, Dr Kim Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Hoyle, Lindsay Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Miller, Andrew
Humble, Mrs Joan Moffatt, Laura
Hurst, Alan Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hutton, John Moran, Ms Margaret
Iddon, Dr Brian Morley, Elliot
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam Morr's, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Mountford, Kali
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Mudie, George
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Mullin, Chris
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Naysmith, Dr Doug
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Norris, Dan
Keeble, Ms Sally O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) O'Hara, Eddie
Kelly, Ms Ruth Olner, Bill
Kemp, Fraser O'Neill, Martin
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Organ, Mrs Diana
Khabra, Piara S Osborne, Ms Sandra
Kidney, David Palmer, Dr Nick
Kilfoyle, Peter Pearson, Ian
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Pendry, Tom
Kumar, Dr Ashok Perham, Ms Linda
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Pickthall, Colin
Laxton, Bob Pike, Peter L
Lepper, David Plaskitt, James
Leslie, Christopher Pollard, Kerry
Levitt, Tom Pond, Chris
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Pope, Greg
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Pound, Stephen
Linton, Martin Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Lock, David Prescott, Rt Hon John
Love, Andrew Primarolo, Dawn
McAvoy, Thomas Prosser, Gwyn
McDonagh, Siobhain Purchase, Ken
Macdonald, Calum Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
McFall, John Quinn, Lawrie
McGuire, Mrs Anne Radice, Rt Hon Giles
McIsaac, Shona Rammell, Bill
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Rapson, Syd
McLeish, Henry Raynsford, Nick
McNulty, Tony Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
MacShane, Denis Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Mactaggart, Fiona Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
McWalter, Tony Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Rooney, Terry Temple-Morris, Peter
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Ruddock, Joan Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Timms, Stephen
Ryan, Ms Joan Tipping, Paddy
Salter, Martin Trickett, Jon
Savidge, Malcolm Truswell, Paul
Sawford, Phil Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Sheerman, Barry Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Singh, Marsha Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Skinner, Dennis Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Tynan, Bill
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Vaz, Keith
Walley, Ms Joan
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Ward, Ms Claire
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Watts, David
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) White, Brian
Snape, Peter Whitehead, Dr Alan
Soley, Clive Wicks, Malcolm
Southworth, Ms Helen Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Steinberg, Gerry Wills, Michael
Stevenson, George Wilson, Brian
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Winnick, David
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Stinchcombe, Paul Woodward, Shaun
Stoate, Dr Howard Woolas, Phil
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Worthington, Tony
Straw, Rt Hon Jack Wray, James
Stringer, Graham Wright Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Stuart, Ms Gisela Wyatt, Derek
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. Don Touhig and
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S) Mr. David Clelland.

Question accordingly negatived.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).