HL Deb 31 January 1983 vol 438 cc587-601

7.12 p.m.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill he now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Wigoder.)

On Question, Bill read a third time.

Clause 1 [Disqualification of certain convicted persons for jury service]:

Lord Wigoder

moved Amendment No. 1: Leave out line 6, and insert ("indictable offence"). The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is purely a drafting amendment. The words "indictable offence" are defined in the Interpretation Act 1978 as being an offence triable on indictment in the case of an adult, and it is therefore neater to substitute that expression for the one in the Bill, but it has precisely the same effect. I beg to move.

The Deputy Speaker

My Lords, amendment proposed: to leave out line 6 and insert "indictable offence". The Question is, that Amendment No. I be agreed to? As many as are of that opinion will say "Content".

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, it may be a convenient moment if one raises on this amendment a matter of general principle in regard to the Third Reading itself.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, I think that the amendment has just been decided, has it not?

The Deputy Speaker

My Lords, I was in the process of putting the Question on Amendment No. 1, which formally I am obliged to put. May I try again? The Question is that Amendment No. 1 be agreed to?

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord the Minister for what was a perfectly proper intervention, but I am also obliged to the noble Lord who is sitting at this moment on the Woolsack for his kindness in allowing me to have a second chance at making this speech. It may be a convenient moment to take this as the opportunity to talk about the quandaries that one is in in regard to this Bill as such, and how one should react either to this amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has said is a purely technical one, or indeed to the amendment which I understand is later to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell.

We all know what is the present position. It is that in respect of life imprisonment, an indeterminate sentence, or one for imprisonment for more than five years, there can be a life disqualification, and there can further be a disqualification under the 1974 Act if there has been a sentence of three months imprisonment. All of us are aware that there are difficulties in regard to that position being allowed to stand as it is without our having another look at it in the light of different circumstances largely caused by the non-custodial sentence being encouraged, largely caused, too, by suspended sentences, and so on.

Both at Second Reading and at Committee stage we listened to speeches which were very well informed and which dealt with such unfortunate circumstances as jury nobbling, and so on, which has become rather more frequent than it ever was before. The difficulty that so many of us are faced with, whether we agree to this technical amendment or go on to consider any further amendments—

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will forgive me for one moment? His observations are obviously very welcome and clearly made, but I cannot help asking whether they have any relevance to what is purely a drafting amendment, to substitute for words in a Bill other words which mean exactly the same thing. His observation may be highly relevant on Lord Campbell's amendment, or on the Question, That the Bill do now pass, which hopefully we shall come to reasonably shortly.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the last thing I would want to do is to hold up the business of the House purely because a speech that I might make is more suitable for a later stage than at the stage at which I am now making it. I am perfectly content to reserve my speech for a later stage, if that be the will of the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

7.17 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

moved Amendment No. 2: Line 6, at end insert ("not being an offence on any such occasion in respect of which the court shall only have imposed a fine of less than £50 or shall have granted an absolute or conditional discharge.") The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move this amendment. It is a qualifying amendment which is designed to serve four objects: first of all, to relate dis- qualification to sentence as distinct from any type of offence, thus restoring the concept of Part II, paragraphs (i) and (ii) of Schedule 1 to the Act of 1974 which this Bill seeks to supplement. One gets a different drift of concept unless one relates disqualification back to sentence as distinct from type of offence. Secondly, to avoid the introduction by this Bill of automatic disqualification by commission of an offence within a wide amorphous category of time without regard to the circumstances in which such offence was committed, this being again in conflict with the concept of the master Act, the Act of 1974, and in submission unreasonable and somewhat unnecessary. The third object is to trim off trivia which, without this amendment, would serve to activate disqualification to no good purpose. The fourth object is to use the sentencing discretion of judges, recorders and magistrates to regulate whether the circumstances in which any particular offence was committed are such as to warrant disqualification.

The reason for detaining your Lordships at this hour, and I shall be brief, is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said a moment ago, the mood of this House on Second Reading and at Committee stage was that the Bill in its present form was not quite right, and that somehow we might be able to get it right. It is only in that spirit that I move this probing amendment, and, having said that, may I acknowledge the defects that lie within my draft. First, "any" in line 1 should read "either", and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton for that correction. Secondly, the £50 provision would leave persistent minor offenders, such as shoplifters, free to serve on juries, which is wholly undesirable. Again, I am grateful to Lord Elton for that.

Thirdly, the part of the amendment after the word "or" is, strictly speaking, otiose, declaratory, because Section 13 of the Criminal Courts Act 1963 in effect says that, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for that. Fourthly, the whole concept that I have adopted, of drafting by proviso, is objectionable; it is a bad way of producing legislation, but I was saddled with the original draft. Fifthly, I think your Lordships must know that my whole concept of qualification does not commend itself to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane. I think I owe the House that duty of disclosure in such an important matter.

Having said that, the question is how to get the Bill right. How does one achieve a fair, reasonable, practicable and intelligible draft which can serve the most urgent needs of society? It is in that spirit that I beg to move.

Lord Rawlinson of Ewell

My Lords, until my noble friend said, "I beg to move", I was not sure on which side he was, for having moved it, he went on to explain how certain of the points in it were otiose and how others were incorrect, but nevertheless he was presenting it as a probing amendment. I see his difficulty and share his dilemma, because while I support very much what the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, had in mind in presenting the Bill, it seems that we are trying to achieve our objective in a way which we are not capable of doing—I say that with respect to either a noble Lord or an individual in another place—and it ought to be done by the Government. This is an issue which the Government must take in hand. If they do not intend to take it in hand, we must support the Bill; and the Bill, with or without the amendment, serves the purpose of concentrating the Government's mind carefully on the need for reform in the law in regard to juries.

I read my noble friend's remarks about what the Government have in mind. If that is so, that should be satisfactory, provided it is a Bill which deals with this problem. There is no doubt from all the reports one gets in relation to juries—and there are others in the House who probably know more about this matter—that the conduct and standard of juries in criminal courts is not as it should be. Therefore, while the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has made a noble shot at doing something which must be done, and while my noble friend Lord Campbell has brought forward this remarkable, otiose and incorrect amendment in seeking again to highlight the fact that the subject must be dealt with, we must call on the Minister (as I am sure he will be prepared to do) to give us the lead on behalf of the Government, with all their resources, and say they will grasp this nettle and deal with the problem of juries. Having said that, I must make my decision as to whether to support this otiose and incorrect amendment. However, as my noble friend probably intends to withdraw it, I may not have to make that decision.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I supported the Bill on Second Reading, my Lords, because its general objective seemed to me to be absolutely right, and the grievance it sought to remedy is crying out for a remedy. On the other hand. I saw the force of the counter proposal, which he made perfectly clear, of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and I think he answered in advance the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson; the Government propose to legislate. On the other hand, I felt difficulties about the lines of legislation. An offence punishable with a sentence of imprisonment seemed acceptable, but it was to be one sentence of imprisonment which would disqualify, I think for 10 years.

The Minister mentioned some very serious offences, one perpetration of which, he submitted with considerable cogency, should disqualify: trespass with a firearm, a whole number of wounding offences, robbery, burglary and so on. I have been, without success, trying to find a compromise between those serious offences committed on one occasion and the theft of a single milk bottle on one occasion, which was canvassed on Second Reading.

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, as he frankly admitted, will not do as it stands, and the Bill would need redrafting. However, something on those lines might provide an intermediate line, acceptable to Parliament and public opinion, between the serious offences which the Minister mentioned and the milk bottle offence.

Lord Edmund-Davies

My Lords, confronted by an extremely difficult problem, the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in my view, has attained as acceptable a conclusion in the matter as seems attainable. Whether it is absolutely right is another matter. I speak in relation to his amended motion and I do not, in the light of the cautionary qualification introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, propose to speak to his amendment, which I am, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson, not at all sure is still extant or has been withdrawn. The Government view, on the other hand, as revealed on Second Reading and in Committee, seems to me—and since I do not know whether there has been any change of mind by the Government, I must, for present purposes, proceed on the basis that it remains unaltered—is a view that goes much too far: all are disqualified for jury service who, on even a solitary occasion during the last 10 years, have been convicted on any offence punishable by imprisonment of any length and even though no sentence of imprisonment was actually imposed.

The word "draconian" springs to mind, but it has become so threadbare of meaning by over use that I purposely avoid it. I content myself by saying that the proposal of the Government, as indicated on Second Reading, is unacceptably wide. Unlike all acceptable notions of penology, it appears for present purposes to be unconcerned about the degree of heinousness which led to conviction, it makes no differentiation between offenders with past criminal records and first offenders, and it draws no distinction between crimes of great gravity and those far less threatening to law and order.

On the one hand, ruthless and wicked criminals and. on the other hand, the feckless and deeply repentant who, through a misfortune, may have slipped into crime on a solitary occasion are alike to be disqualified from jury service. While fully understanding the Government's deep desire to ensure immaculacy in criminal trials, in my judgment such a policy goes much too far and ought to be resisted, if persisted in. Accordingly, I urge support for the Bill with the amendment which has been proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and which has already been carried.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway for precipitating a very useful discussion of some important principles in the Bill; and the discussion ensued despite the very diffident manner in which he moved his amendment. He described its intentions as authoritative, and I should not wish to add to that. but I think that I should explain the Government's view on the various aspects of the amendment.

As the House knows, the Government share to a considerable degree the aims of the sponsors of the Bill, although they differ from them as to means. We should prefer a wider disqualification, triggered by any conviction of an imprisonable offence within the last 10 years. But our approach is not a rigid one, and I can tell the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, that we fully accept that there may be circumstances when a court is able to view an offender's conduct very leniently indeed, and to reflect that in the grant of an absolute or a conditional discharge. In such cases, even if the category of offence is a serious one, the offender's culpability is clearly minor in relative terms, and we agree that he should not automatically be disqualified from jury service. My noble friend is right to want to trim off the trivia (as he put it) in this direction.

However, I fear that, despite my noble friend's persuasive advocacy, we cannot accept his amendment in another respect, because we cannot take the same view in relation to offenders who are fined less than £50. The reason is simply this. The size of a fine is not related solely to the seriousness, or otherwise, of an offender's conduct; it must also be consonant with what he is thought to be able to pay, though not necessarily at once. Therefore a fine may be reduced below £50 simply because an offender is impecunious. It would surely be odd, as would undoubtedly happen if the amendment were accepted, for offenders to be eligible for jury service because they were poor enough to merit a small fine. Then, again, fines, unlike orders for conditional or absolute discharge, are quite likely to be used repeatedly for some offenders for whom imprisonment is not apt.

Therefore the noble Lord's amendment could well mean that repeated offenders who clearly did not accept the values of our criminal justice system were still eligible to serve as jurors.

It follows that our view of the policy contained in the amendment is fairly mixed. I also have to say—1 think that I have already warned my noble friend that I should have to do this, and he has alluded to it—that there are defective elements in the amendment, and he has I think tallied all of them. However, as drafted, the amendment would appear to mean that an offender has to receive a discharge or a fine of less than £50 for only one of his convictions to make him eligible for jury service, no matter how many convictions subsequently follow. But I do not think that we are concerned with the technical perfections or im-perfections of the amendment. All I wanted to point out was that we are not entirely solid on saying that it must be simply for conviction on a particular category of offence. There may be ways of trimming off the trivia which we would not resist, but since the amendment is not effective, we would not support it as it stands.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I shall be very brief. With the greatest of respect to my—

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will agree that, before he winds up the discussion on the amendment, I may say a few words about it. First. I should like to say that I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for stimulating this discussion. Secondly, I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord. Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, that this should be a matter for Government legislation. The Government are aware of the gravity of the problem and they are aware, too, of the urgent need to do something about it. They have made that abundantly clear in various comments that they have made over the last six months or so. It was only when, in response to the repeated suggestions by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and myself, the Government made it clear that they were not going to be able to take any initiative in this Session of Parliament, that, with very great reluctance, it was decided to proceed by way of a Private Member's Bill, in the hope that some pressure could be put upon the Government either to take over the Bill, or to initiate legislation of their own.

What was intended in the Bill was that there should be made ineligible for jury service, for a limited period of time, those who on more than one occasion have shown that they disregard the criminal law, that they are prepared to commit serious criminal offences. It was intended to be a moderate proposal that would appeal in general terms to sensible public opinion. As your Lordships know, the Government have taken the other view: that is, that one, single imprisonable offence would suffice. I can only say that I myself do not regard it as acceptable to public opinion that a person who, on one isolated occasion, has failed to provide a breath specimen, for example, should find himself disqualified from jury service. Yet that would be the effect of the Government view as it stands.

We have put forward this moderate proposal, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has sought to moderate it a little further. I entirely sympathise with what he seeks to do. He has sought to moderate it a little further by saying that if there is a not very important instance of what on the face of it is a serious offence, it ought not to count for this purpose. In regard to the noble Lord's proposal, I was going to comment that the fine of less than £50—it is the same point that the Minister has made—would disqualify the wealthy and allow the poor to serve, though each might have committed precisely the same offence, and indeed have committed it together, for that matter.

There is the further aspect that limiting the position by way of a fine as an indication of triviality is perhaps not altogether ideal. There are, for example, many occasions when a not very serious instance of an apparently serious offence is dealt with by a supervision order or a community service order. Whether such a course is followed, or whether a fine is imposed, does not really reflect the gravity of the offence.

Thirdly, as your Lordships will know, with inflation proceeding as it does, limits on fines are inevitably revised every few years, and the result will be that in the course of a few years' time £50 will be raised to £60, £70, or £80, and as time goes by it will become more and more difficult to look back at someone's criminal record in order to decide whether or not he is eligible for jury service.

Whatever is finally decided upon as the criterion of ineligibility, it is very important that it should be administratively practical, and I venture to suggest to the noble Lord that his helpfully intended proposal might in fact lead to certain complications in that way.

Having said that, I believe that so far the debate has served a very useful purpose, because it has enabled noble Lords to express their views about the criterion that is being suggested in the Bill. I have no doubt that the views that have been expressed in all parts of the House will be considered very carefully by the Home Office when, as inevitably it must, sooner or later, it comes to take action on the problem that is presented by the Bill. In the circumstances I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, will consider that his amendment has served a genuinely useful purpose, even though for the reasons that I have indicated it might be better to allow the Bill to go through without further amendment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for the kind words he has spoken. With respect to my noble and learned friend, Lord Rawlinson, I made it plain to the House that this was a probing amendment, why it was a probing amendment and why I did not propose to divide the House. Furthermore, with respect, the Government intend to legislate and have said so: Official Report, Vol. 436, No. 7, col. 619, lines 10 to 15. The Government have stated in those lines that they intend to legislate. The problem—and this arose on Second Reading and on Committee stage; it arises now and will continue to arise—is not that the Government do not expect to legislate; but that the basis on which they have stated, through my noble friend the Minister, in that passage of Hansard, that they propose to legislate is that of one indictable offence only and not two—which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, said just now, goes much too far. With the utmost respect, I agree with him, and on previous occasions other noble Lords have agreed with him. That is the problem.

It was in the hope, as I sought to make plain, that this amendment would serve as a catalyst for discussion to deal with that problem that I moved this probing amendment. I only search the intermediate line, as adverted to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon. Whether that is the right search or not, it is at least the search which I respectfully adopt, which was adopted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, previously, and has been adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and by certain others of your Lordships' House who have spoken.

Having sought to identify the problem, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for having made it possible to have this debate on a subject that requires the most urgent attention. I agree totally that whatever is devised must be practicable with the type of computer facilities that are now available for the records that are brought before those who have to empanel jurors; and that considerable thought needs to be given before we can get that Bill right. I agree with my noble and learned friend, Lord Rawlinson, that it is beyond the capabilities of a mere individual to come to grips with this and that what we need is the help—the urgent help—of the Government. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.43 p.m.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

In doing so, may I express the very fervent hope that the discussions that we have had at various stages on this Bill will not turn out to be an empty exercise but will stimulate the Government into dealing with this very real problem. I say that it is a very real problem because there is widespread concern that the present law is inadequate, and inadequate largely because of the growth of non-custodial sentences in the years since the Juries Act was first passed, as a result of which many people with very long criminal records are now not ineligible for jury service by the terms of the existing law. Of all the people who have spoken, not one has suggested that the present law is satisfactory. That includes noble and learned Law Lords, a noble and learned former Lord Chancellor, a former Home Office Minister, distinguished Queen's Counsel, a distinguished solicitor, and a distinguished lay person in the form of Lady Faithful.

All are agreed that the law is inadequate and all, I think, are agreed that the matter is one of very considerable urgency. It is of considerable urgency because it is quite obvious that the present law is distorting our criminal procedures by enabling people with long criminal records to sit on juries in judgment upon their fellow citizens in circumstances where common sense shrieks aloud that justice is not going to be done. And it is equally urgent because of the very substantial amount of evidence forthcoming in the last year or two of approaches to jurors for the purposes of nobbling them. where again it is perfectly clear that it is those jurors with criminial records who are most at risk and most likely to take part in perverting the course of justice. Not only is the course of justice perverted but the vast expense to the country of having to provide for some of the lengthy retrials as a result of attempted jury nobbling in recent times is such that, even on purely monetarist grounds, there is a strong case to be made for this Bill.

The real question—and I do not propose to repeat what we debated a few moments ago on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell—is precisely how to strengthen the present law. There is much evidence that a moderate proposal would be generally acceptable, one broadly on the lines of this Bill—and I do not seek for one moment to justify every single word or nuance as a criterion laid down in this Bill—but one that does not go to the extent that the Government are advocating.

Perhaps I ought to read to your Lordships at this stage what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, who regretfully cannot be here this evening, has written to me and told me that I may read: I should like you to know that I support most strongly the principle of the Bill but would repudiate totally the Government's proposals as being far too extreme. I have not finally made up my mind as to whether the Bill has got it quite right, but I far prefer the Bill's provisions to the Government's proposals". When I read that letter from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, earlier this afternoon, he said at once that he would very much like to be associated with that expression of opinion.

In these circumstances, the real question now for the Government is whether they are prepared to do anything about this matter, and, if so, what? It is known that there is a Private Member's Bill in another place. It is known that its Second Reading is due towards the end of February. The noble Lord the Minister indicated to me and to the House on Committee stage here that, as soon as that Bill was drafted, he would inform me and the House of its contents. It is clear, therefore, that that Bill has not yet been drafted, and the Government, therefore, are still in considerable doubt as to how to proceed.

I can only say, as I have said on a previous occasion, that if the Government, through the means of that Private Member's Bill in another place, seek to proceed on the lines they have so far indicated, with remarkably little support inside or outside your Lordships' House, then that Bill in another place would be doomed to failure. I hope in these circumstances that the Minister will accept that the proper course is either that the Government should take on this Bill and find time for it in another place, or should take on the Private Member's Bill in the other place, and ensure that time is found for it and that the contents of the Bill that the Government bring forward are broadly in line with the contents of the Bill that is in your Lordships' House at this moment. In other words, we seek to stop people serving on juries who on more than one occasion have made it clear that they are prepared flagrantly to break the criminal law. In those circumstances, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Wigoder.)

[The Lord Wells-Pestell sat Deputy Speaker.]

7.51 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, on an earlier occasion, I badly wanted to address your Lordships on certain aspects of this Bill. The House has been spared what might have been a lengthy speech of mine by the points which have been raised on the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. I noted with envy how speakers upon that amendment managed to give general expression to their views upon the Bill as a whole and the difficulties created by it. The envy, I assure your Lordships is a moderate one, and from my point of view I have no criticism whatsoever of those who suggested that I might speak later.

We are in a difficulty, and the difficulty, shortly, is this: all of us agree that something ought to be done regarding the 1974 Act. Something ought to be done to stop those whom your Lordships and I might well call villains for the purpose of this exercise from serving on juries and having a villainous influence upon those juries. This is even though we now have the happy situation of not having to have a unanimous verdict; of course a verdict of 10 out of the 12 will, in certain circumstances, suffice. That does not mean that there cannot be a very bad influence upon a jury decision.

What worries me is this: if one is going to reform something which is inadequate, if one is to better the law, there must be a consensus of opinion that one is doing it by something which is acceptable. The problem we face—we faced it at Second Reading, Committee stage and in the amendments we discussed earlier—is that nobody has come out with a formula which is acceptable to your Lordships and which is acceptable to absent and noble and learned Lords of the reputation and status of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Diplock and Lord Scarman. When one listens to the noble and learned Lords, Lord Edmund-Davies and Lord Simon of Glaisdale, both of them so much respected in this House, they too are in some doubt about the right formula. Certainly we have heard a most powerful speech that the Government formula is no good. and we are in doubts about the formula of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. I can remember a notable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, who gave instances of what circumstances would result from the minor offences that one person might commit on two occasions in the course of 10 years.

So this is an unhappy situation. I do not think that your Lordships will be any happier, either, in regard to the Bill that we are now looking at when one remembers the contribution made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. He reminded us of the committee presided over by someone much lamented in this House who contributed so much to it: Lord Morris. His committee pointed out that the phrase "indictable offence" would not be a way of dealing with the 1974 Act for one reason—apart from the others which have been mentioned—and that is this. What layman knows what is an indictable offence so that he can truthfully say that he either is or is not competent to sit upon a jury? The committee of Lord Morris said that there were many cases in their recommendations where matters were dealt with summarily and the person concerned might well think, "I was dealt with in a magistrates' court; that cannot be an indictable offence". We have already heard the objections to the use of "imprisonable offence".

A lot more consideration has to be given before one reforms a law if one really, after all the deliberation in our Lordships' House, comes to the conclusion that there is no really good formula which adequately reforms the law. So, I merely say this: it is not usual for this House to leave it to another House—especially on matters of law—without any guidance from this place. Although this Bill should now pass, I think that the guidance ought to be that, unless there is a formula which is not too light or too heavy—and your Lordships, with all the talent available to this House, have not been able to find such a formula—the Bill should not find its place on the statute book because, in endeavouring to reform the law, we should not have improved it. We might have walked into very many difficulties which even the present law does not afford.

7.57 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, I ventured on Second Reading to give my reasons for supporting this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said quite rightly that this Bill had highlighted a situation which calls for urgent action. The only legislative action that is before your Lordships is the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. There is a proposal—not a legislative one—by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, which he gave on Second Reading, which has been described by my noble and learned friends Lord Diplock. Lord Scarman and Lord Edmund-Davies, and a number of others of your Lordships, as going far too far. It is true that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, resiled slightly from that today and indicated that there might be some flexibility. But his objection to this Bill is that it does not go far enough. If there is, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said, a situation calling for urgent action, surely a step which does not go far enough is better than no step at all. If therefore the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, presses this Motion, I for one shall support it.

Lord Rawlinson of Ewell

My Lords, what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, has brought to our attention is that what we are debating is whether we now pass this Bill—and only this Bill. Therefore what he has said, I should have thought, commends itself very much to practically every noble Lord in the Chamber. I am aware, I tell my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, whose leg I tried to pull, that there were statements by the noble Lord the Minister regarding legislation. I want to see something very much greater than what he said, but not in that respect. I want to see the Government address the problem of challenges to juries. I want to see them address the problem of the actual composition of juries and from whom juries should be drawn. I think we have got it wrong at the present time and therefore urgent attention is needed by the Government to look at jury trial and at the selection of juries. I can see the advantages of what has been put forward, of having one short, sharp cut, but it is a very severe cut indeed and there is something to be said—despite the wealth of distinguished noble and learned Lords who have expressed a difference of opinion—if a person does offend, for making part of the punishment which is inflicted upon them the fact that thereafter they are unable to exercise judgment on their fellow citizens because they have committed a particular offence. That may he too extreme, too grave, but I can see that there is some sense in it.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said—and I repeat it—that what we have before us is this Bill, and this Bill goes in the right direction so far as I can see. I still call upon the Government either to say that they intend to legislate, although of course they have not got much time, or that there is a Private Member's Bill coming up in which such matters are raised. All these are matters which are raised by Governments of all complexions over the years. I trust that they realise how grave is the situation with regard to juries and how important it is to have a really comprehensive look at it and to deal with jury legislation at an appropriate opportunity.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I wish very briefly to support what my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson has said. This is an urgent matter. We are only at the 31st January, and there should be plenty of time, if this Session were to run its full course, for at any rate a modest measure, even though it did not go quite so far and so comprehensively as my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson has suggested. But if the Government are not going to introduce any legislation of their own, I feel quite sure that the very cautious and moderate proposal which the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has put before us should be allowed to pass and should be given a fair wind in another place.

8.4 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I have already made clear the Government's position on the Bill as a whole and therefore I will seek not to detain your Lordships for long. As I said at Second Reading, we very much welcome the opportunity it affords to debate an issue of increasing concern and of an importance, which many of your Lordships have underlined this evening, to all involved in the administration, and indeed the receipt, of justice. However, we do not think that this Bill goes wide enough in disqualifying from jury service those who by their way of life have shown that they reject the values of our criminal justice system.

As the House will be aware, broadly speaking, we believe that anyone convicted of an imprisonable offence within the last 10 years should be excluded from jury service. That is a view we have maintained consistently, and the House will be well aware already of the arguments on both sides and of the extent to which I was able to moderate our position on that a moment or two ago. At the same time, I have made it clear that we do not wish to oppose the noble Lord's Bill, with whose aims we have great sympathy. in its passage through this House. We have welcomed the discussion of the issues involved and the chance to gauge the feelings of your Lordships' House on these and on their detailed implications. and indeed of the importance of the Bill as a whole and of the subject with which it deals. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway provided a particularly valuable opportunity for this.

During the Committee stage on this Bill the noble Lord. Lord Wigoder, suggested that the formula in his Bill was a moderate one which would not arouse vehement opposition —I think he had particularly in mind the views that might be expressed in another place—and that it would be right for the Government to accept the Bill as a compromise solution, and that the Government should accept the arguments for finding time in another place for a Bill of this nature.

As to our views on the merits of the proposals in the Bill, your Lordships are familiar with them and it is clear that there is a difference of view in what, in an ideal world, is desirable. I accept that we must also take into account the acceptability to Parliament as a whole of our respective sets of proposals. This is one of the reasons why the debate in your Lordships' House has been so valuable. I must say with regret. however, that the noble Lord has himself underestimated the practical difficulties. In the Government's view, any proposal to alter the present provisions on jury disqualification are likely to meet with opposition from interests with a perfectly proper concern for civil liberties. This applies as much to the noble Lord's proposals as to the Government's.

As a matter of political judgment, therefore, I really do not think that the proposals in this Bill could reach the statute book unopposed. The noble Lord feels that the Government should simply provide time in another place for such a Bill. It would, however, be quite wrong for me to hold out any prospect of that. We have in any case a natural preference for the Bill which an honourable Member proposes to introduce in another place, and in that connection I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, that the drafting I offered to make available to him is in fact in preparation, though it is not yet complete.

I am sorry that I cannot be more forthcoming, particularly as the Government entirely share the objectives enshrined in the Bill, even though they may disagree with the noble Lord on the best way of achieving them. However, your Lordships' discussions have helped to clear some of the brushwood from the path of any such legislation. They have also, in the words of my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson, concentrated the Government's mind on the subject; and this has not been an empty exercise. We do wish to legislate at the earliest suitable opportunity. The discussions which the noble Lord has so eloquently led will be an invaluable source of informed views in that process which will, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. have to pass through this House of Parliament as well as through the other. That will surely be the occasion for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, and others to seek to modify it.

My noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson has also placed other important considerations in the same field before your Lordships. These are all for consideration. Your Lordships have not wasted your time. What you have said about the Government's approach to this problem, which we all recognise to be a matter of very great concern, has been and will be noted in the proper quarters. I think I have already made our position clear on the actual progress of the Bill beyond this point.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, may I make three very short observations in conclusion. First, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, about an indictable offence, can, I think, very easily be met by a simple procedure under which the court would notify a defendant after conviction that he had, or had not, committed an indictable offence which was a disqualifiable offence under this Act. I see no administrative difficulty about that at all.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will not mind my intervening, if only in order to make him smile, and nothing else; but I cannot imagine that such a notification is one that will be so precious to the person who receives it that he will retain it for 10 years.

Lord Wigoder

No, my Lords; but it will no doubt remind him when he gets a notice for jury service. Again, I do not think there would be any difficulty about that. The second point that I should like to make is this. There are an infinite number of possible formulae or criteria, as has been made clear. They grade from the very, very mild to the severe, such as the one that is proposed by the Government. I would hope that minor disagreement as to the precise nature of the formulae will not lead as a result to nothing being done. I think it is the Government's duty to decide now, in the light of the debate in your Lordships' House, what is the appropriate formula and to proceed to do something about it.

When the noble Lord the Minister says that the civil liberties organisations and those who are concerned with civil liberties—and I am sure that all of us who have spoken in this debate are concerned, with civil liberties—would object equally to the formula proposed in this Bill and the formula proposed by the Government, I respectfully suggest to him that that is quite wrong and that the formula proposed in the Bill is certainly very much more likely to be generally acceptable.

Finally, may I make the simple point that there is an urgent matter to be dealt with, and the Government recognise it. It involves a one clause Bill that could not conceivably take more than half a day on Second Reading in another place and two days at the most in the Committee stage in another place. It is quite idle of the Government to pretend there is no time to legislate this session if they want to do so. I hope that passing this Bill will stimulate them to do so.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.