Lord Hunt of Wirral (Conservative)
My Lords, I start by thanking the Minister for the courtesy with which she has always listened to debate in the House. She has always given way. I intervened only when I thought she had finished. The House pays her every possible respect for the graciousness with which she approaches these debates; it does not mean that we always agree with her.
I do not think that the House would want me to answer all the points made. However, I should like to deal with the point on Clause 41. There was an extensive debate in the other place on that clause. I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and to my noble friend Lord Renton that I thought that the point was adequately dealt with in that debate. Perhaps I may quote the words of the Labour Member of Parliament, Vera Baird. She went into all the reasons why the opt-out should not be allowed. She then remarked that if her right honourable friend the Home Secretary was concerned about safeguarding the principle of jury trial,
"he cannot allow it to become optional. Once it becomes optional, the reasons why the option is exercised will bring the principle into disrepute. That is the slippery slope on which we are starting today with clause 41".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/03; col. 674.]
I hope he will accept that I thought the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, made a very persuasive series of comments on that issue.
I should like to spend time dealing with other points, but I think that we are willing to proceed to a decision. All I would say in conclusion is that I believe Mr Blunkett has under-estimated the reasons why we feel so strongly that these clauses should not form part of the Bill. They should in fact have been in another Bill—a mode of trial Bill. That has always been our case. We then could have had the proper research into the jury system that we should have before we start restricting the principle.
I close by quoting Lord Devlin, who said that trial by jury is,
"the lamp that shows freedom lives".
In this House that means a great deal. I wish to test the opinion of the House.