Clause 1 — Commencement of section 43 of the criminal justice act 2003

Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 25th January 2007.

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Votes in this debate

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 4:15 pm, 25th January 2007

I beg to move amendment No. 14, page 1, line 1, leave out clause 1.

As we are coming to the conclusion of the time for debate on this stage of the Bill, I shall be brief. The purpose of the amendment is to delete clause 1 and, in effect, to retain the affirmative resolution procedure as the basis for implementation of the Bill's provisions. I justify that position on two grounds: principle and compliance with assurances given to the House. I begin with the latter point.

I have looked once again at the assurances given by the then Home Secretary on 20 November 2003, which are recorded in Hansard, columns 1027 to 1031. I shall not read them out because they are available to Members. My clear interpretation of the assurances then given to the House was that the measure in the Bill would be subject to affirmative resolution and that it would not be introduced at any stage without the approval of both Houses. That is my understanding of what was said, and it reflected a deal. Anything that departs from that is a departure from assurances given.

My second point is different. What we are doing today is laying the foundations for a Parliament Act procedure, because it is extremely unlikely that the other place will pass the Bill in its present form. The Government are laying the basis for such a procedure, and I find that deeply offensive for two reasons, although I am basically against the Parliament Act, but that is by the way.

First, we should recognise that there are in the other place skills and experience highly relevant to the Bill. In the debates in the other place, a great deal of expertise and authority have been shown. We are disregarding that in a way that does us no credit at all. I hope that the House will forgive me if say that this debate is notable for being marked by the absence of the hon. Members who will vote against my amendment. With one or two notable exceptions, such as Mr. Marshall-Andrews, Labour Members have hardly attended but, in effect, they are going to vote down the House of Lords. I find that very unattractive indeed.

I shall touch on my second point briefly, because I want to remain in order. When we look at what we are doing, we must consider its constitutional propriety. The Bill is going to be pushed through on the back of Members who represent Scottish constituencies, but the Bill does not touch on Scotland. If the Parliament Act is invoked, that will be even more offensive because it will be invoked using Members representing Scottish constituencies when this very Bill does not have any impact on their constituencies. It will be extraordinary if almost the first act of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on becoming Prime Minister—I assume that he will—is to use the Parliament Act to impose on this country measures that have no application at all to the constituents whom he represents. I find that constitutionally offensive. It is a matter for a wider debate and it will have to be resolved, but it is not right that Scottish Members should have a decisive say on English-only business.

Therefore, for the general reason and the particular reason, I hope very much that the House will approve the amendment.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General 4:45 pm, 25th January 2007

I shall be brief, as I am conscious that others wish to speak and that the Bill's Report stage is coming to an end.

I entirely support the amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg. It is wholly desirable that there should be a further opportunity for the House to use the affirmative procedure before this dreadful Bill is brought into effect. Losing the protection of the affirmative procedure is wholly undesirable. As a matter of principle and in view of my attitude towards the Bill generally, it would be a very good thing if the House were to support the amendment.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

We entirely support the amendment on two grounds: one pragmatic, and one principled. The pragmatic reason is that I will do absolutely anything that might frustrate the Government's intentions. This is yet another opportunity to do so. The reason for the pragmatic approach of wishing to frustrate the Government by any means possible is the principle of the retention of jury trial. That principle is not only right but is accepted widely in the country at large.

Another principled reason for supporting the amendment relates to precisely what Mr. Hogg said: there would be no Criminal Justice Act 2003 were it not for the existence of section 330(5)(b), on commencement. It was solely on the basis of that agreement—reached in the room just behind the Speaker's Chair, by me and my hon. Friend Simon Hughes, Mr. Grieve and his colleagues, and the then Home Secretary—that there was any possibility of the Criminal Justice Bill, as it then was, reaching the statute book. To rip up, in effect, that agreement in order to facilitate the passage of this appalling little Bill seems not only wrong in principle but an abnegation of that agreement. That is why the section should be retained. We should retain the opportunity to vote against this squalid process on every possible future occasion.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Government have always signalled that they intended to move forward with the implementation of provisions for juryless trials in serious and complex fraud cases. It was never intended that the inclusion of a requirement for an affirmative resolution would act as a permanent obstacle to the implementation of section 43; rather, that was intended as a guarantee of good faith. I want to come to the issue of good faith.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

May I just make this point? The Government have kept faith with all the commitments that they made. Throughout the debate, we have heard mention of consultation and seminars. There has been a large amount of consultation over many years. Over decades, there have been repeated opportunities for broad consultation on the Auld report, the Roskill report and so on. As I said, this has been going on for decades. Professionals and the public have had ample opportunity to express their views over many years. Hon. Members were invited to a seminar by the Attorney-General, as they were promised they would be. We discussed the matter at great length in Committee. As my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General said in Committee, it beggars belief that hon. Members who attended that seminar had no idea of what was going on. We have had legislation and, as I said, we have had long and detailed debates on these issues. Members are invited to a seminar by the Attorney-General on the very issue that they have been involved in legislating on—and they do not know what they are doing there? I do not think that that is the case.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

The Minister must not misrepresent the situation, and I am sure that she is not doing so intentionally. The Library research paper, which tells the story of the events in which some of us participated in November 2003, states that Mr. Blunkett

"added that the Government was prepared to agree that it would not implement what is now section 43 while it sought alternative solutions that did not rely on a single judge sitting alone."

The provision was to be conditional until there was agreement about another, non-single-judge alternative. We have never reached that agreement. The undertaking was that that arrangement would continue. That is why the amendment should be supported.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Let me just correct the hon. Gentleman. Exactly the same points were made in Committee, as he knows. In defence of my right hon. Friend Mr. Blunkett, what he actually said is:

"I am prepared to give that undertaking. It is part of the agreement that we will retain the clause, but move forward towards looking"— as was said in Committee, the important word is "looking"—

"at the alternative solutions that I have mentioned".—[ Hansard, 20 November 2003; Vol. 413, c. 1028.]

We did indeed look long and hard at those solutions, as the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey knows, but it was clear that no consensus was forthcoming. An order came before the House, which was supported by a significant majority. It was quite clear that members of the Opposition in the other place would not support it, so my noble Friend the Attorney-General made it absolutely clear that we would move on to introduce fresh legislation.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

The Minister is kind to give way. She really cannot escape the fact that, in the stand-alone Bill before us, she is asking the House to implement section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, having made the most minor tweak to it. The Government are implementing it without the promised consultation ever having taken place, and, moreover, without having made any real attempt to explore the alternatives. Every time I have offered the Government an alternative, as I did a mere 15 or 20 minutes ago, however poor an alternative it may have been, we have not even moved towards having a sensible discussion, particularly not on special juries.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman; I think that we have had a great deal of discussion, and as I said, it has taken place over many decades. In particular, we have had much discussion in recent months, and I think that it has been sensible discussion. Although there is disagreement, there have been some valid and thoughtful contributions. However, clearly there is no agreement between the parties, and we hold to a position with which the Opposition do not agree.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Given that there have been so many discussions over such a long time, why has the Minister not convinced a single person from any party other than her own that she is right? Surely that shows that the Government's argument does not have much force, and that the Bill is merely being pushed through by her party's majority—and not one of those people who will push it through happens to be sitting in the Chamber today.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The point has just been made to me that the right hon. Gentleman has only just come into the Chamber himself, so he cannot speak much about his commitment to the subject, one way or another. There have been a number of Divisions this afternoon, and there were Divisions on Second Reading and throughout Committee. In addition, the order came before the House some time ago, so the measure has come before the House on numerous occasions, and it has been absolutely clear at every single point and turn that Labour Members fully support it.

I heard hon. Members mention the Parliament Acts. We fully expect to win the argument in the other place, and to see our Bill become an Act. It is not for hon. Members, or anyone else, to anticipate the use of the Parliament Acts. Despite the Opposition's protestations to the contrary, the Government undertook a process of consultation, in an attempt to find a way forward. We greatly regretted that no consensus was forthcoming. As I said, in March last year, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General announced in the other place that the Government would seek to bring forward primary legislation.

The purpose of the Bill is not to introduce new measures but to implement existing statutory provisions. Clause 1 is important, as hon. Members, including Mr. Hogg, who tabled the amendment, are aware. The clause removes the obligation for affirmative resolution before commencement and paves the way for the implementation of section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, so I urge hon. Members to resist the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 185, Noes 283.

Division number 34 Orders of the Day — Clause 1 — Commencement of section 43 of the criminal justice act 2003

Aye: 185 MPs

No: 283 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly negatived.

It being after Five o'clock, Madam Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to order [29 November 2006].