Michael Havers – 1970 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made in the House of Commons by Michael Havers, the then Conservative MP for Wimbledon, on 16 July 1970.

I observe with pleasure the conventions of a maiden speech. I should like to speak briefly of my constituency, famous as the home of one of the greatest sports enjoyed by so many and host to so many of the finest tennis players in the world. It is also one of the most beautiful boroughs in London, where even the smallest garden is attractively kept. It is a friendly and hospitable constituency which has made available some of its loveliest land to neighbouring councils for old people’s homes. I am proud to be its representative here.

The second convention which I observe with pleasure is to refer to my predecessor, Sir Cyril Black. Sir Cyril will always be remembered in the House for his qualities of courage and total integrity. He was always prepared fearlessly to support minority views, and the yardstick of his reputation and character may be demonstrated by the fact that he numbered among his many friends those who opposed many of his campaigns. I feel a sense of inadequacy as his successor, but I shall always be grateful for the kindness and support which he has given to me since I was chosen to replace him. He was, I am told, a good House of Commons man, and his retirement will be a great loss to the House, and we wish him well for the future.

In a maiden speech, I should not spend a great deal of time on the Bill, but there are two Clauses which as a matter of principle I do not like in their present form. Clause 28 shifts the burden of proof in certain cases. There seems to be no reason why the rule which has existed for so many centuries should be changed. It is a good rule. It is a rule of which every jury is reminded—”He who brings the charge must prove it”. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to reconsider whether this change should be maintained.

My principal objection to the Bill concerns Clause 25 where one finds yet again the provision that no prosecution shall be taken before quarter sessions or assizes except at the election of the defendant, or if the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions has been obtained. I do not know why that provision is included. With practically every ordinary criminal offence carrying sufficient sentence if necessary to justify the matter going to a higher court, the prosecution has the right to elect to ask for the case to be tried by a higher court. As the Bill stands, a case may go to a higher court only at the election of the defendant.

That means that a man may be charged with a number of serious criminal offences under the Bill carrying as much as 14 years apiece and yet only by his choice can he be put at risk for them. Otherwise, he remains in the magistrates’ court where the total maximum sentence which may be imposed is 12 months. Even if in the course of the hearing, as may happen in a number of cases, the magistrates take the view that it is more serious than they had originally understood it to be and ought to go to assizes or quarter sessions, they will have no power to order it to do so.

The ordinary rule should apply. Over the past few years too much of the discretion of magistrates has been taken from them as to the way in which they conduct their courts and the sentences they give. This begins to be yet another example of that and I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will reconsider this matter when the Bill goes into Committee.

I thank the House for its indulgence.