I doubt if I would have taken the time of the Chamber to take part in this debate had not the Home Secretary, in his much publicised "woolly liberal" speech last week, called in aid my action on the 1967 Criminal Justice Bill--a long time ago now--to bring in majority verdicts in criminal trials.
I suppose I should be flattered by the attempt of the Home Secretary to enlist me, because I thought that previously he had regarded me as the epitome of a woolly Hampstead liberal, even though I have never inhabited those salubrious heights and have never been particularly addicted to woolly clothing. However, I am proud to be a liberal, with both a small "l" and a capital "L".
I am, however, afraid that I cannot allow the Home Secretary to claim my endorsement for this ill-conceived little Bill, so directly contrary to everything that he and his spokesmen said in opposition.
The 1967 Act brought in the change to majority verdicts--to 11 to one or at least 10 to two--without removing anyone's right to trial by jury. It was designed to meet a specific evil for which convincing evidence was accumulating. That evidence showed that in major criminal trials--in particular, but not exclusively, in London--a practice was building up of successfully either corrupting or intimidating one or occasionally two of the most vulnerable or amenable jurors. That resulted in a number of notorious frustrations of justice.
Nor, if I may say so, does this fit in with my general approach to crime during my two periods as Home Secretary. That approach was, and still is, that a strong likelihood of detection and conviction is a better deterrent than the theoretical piling up of horrific punishments.
Even then I did not propose the change without a good deal of careful consultation with those whom I thought had both keen liberal consciences and a closer knowledge of the functioning of the courts than I had myself. I had the firm support of one of the most liberal Lord Chancellors who has ever sat upon the Woolsack, Lord Gardiner. I also consulted my noble friend Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, not then a Member of your Lordships' House, but strongly emerging as the leading defence lawyer in the country. I also tested out the proposition on Mr Michael Foot--to get another angle, as it were. My noble friend Lord Hutchinson was, on balance, in favour. Mr Foot took no strong objection. Perhaps as a result of that careful presentation of the case and those consultations, when the proposal came to be voted upon in your Lordships' House, no more than eight Peers voted against.
The Home Secretary cannot, alas, now consult Lord Gardiner. Indeed, Mr Michael Foot has had other sad preoccupations recently. But if he were able to convert my noble friend Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, if he were able to achieve a position--let us not set it at eight or even 18--where only 80 Members of your Lordships' House were disposed to vote against him, I might consider giving him the benefit of the doubt; but until then, not.
I utterly reject the view that this proposal is in any way the equivalent of my majority verdicts proposal. There is another difference. The Home Secretary called in aid, in a way that I think was intended to be friendly, my willingness to risk for majority verdicts a mounting liberal reputation, as it was put, as Home Secretary. I must say to the Home Secretary, I hope with equal friendliness, that I do not think he is in equal danger. He has not as yet much of a liberal reputation to lose. But there must always be hope for the future. If he will accept the defeat of this measure--if that is the wish of your Lordships--with a good grace, if he will be less grudging on freedom of information, and if he will take less of a knee-jerk Daily Mail attitude to the whole complex question of crime and punishment, then maybe, by the end of this Parliament, his reputation for humane sagacity might begin to gleam a little more brightly.