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Lords Chamber

Volume 589: debated on Wednesday 6 May 1998

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House Of Lords

Wednesday, 6th May 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are still committed to a 20 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gases from the 1990 levels by 2010 and, if so, what specific contribution the Chancellor of the Exchequer made to the implementation of this objective in his recent Budget.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
(Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, the Government aim to reduce emissions to 20 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2010. Our first priority must be to ensure that we meet our share of the EU's legally binding emission reduction target agreed at Kyoto. In his Budget, the Chancellor raised road fuel duties, announced changes to company car fuel taxation, vehicle excise duty. VAT on energy saving products and a review of economic instruments to improve industrial energy use. We aim to consult this summer on all the options for our new climate change programme.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but does she not agree that the reduction of VAT on insulation materials applies only to work carried out under a grant-supported scheme, and that if people who are not supported by a grant wish to insulate their homes they still have to pay the full 17.5 per cent. VAT on both materials and labour? How does that contribute to the Government's objective, particularly as Belgium has reduced VAT on all insulation materials to 6 per cent.? In advance of the Budget, the Chancellor promised a "Green Budget Statement". There has been no such statement, so how can we know to what extent the benefits brought about by the Budget—there have been some—are or are not outweighed by the growth in the economic prosperity of the country?

My Lords, on the first point raised by the noble Baroness, the Chancellor cut VAT to 5 per cent. on energy-saving products which are installed with funding under certain government grant schemes. The noble Baroness is correct that it does not have universal coverage. However, that is as far as the Government believed that they could go under current EC rules on VAT, but we are exploring with our European partners the possibility of wider relief for energy-saving materials. We are taking that work forward.

In terms of achievements resulting from announcements in the Chancellor's Budget, by increasing from 5 per cent. to 6 per cent. the previous government's commitment to raise annually the duty on road fuel, we shall save an additional 2.5 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year in 2010. That is a significant contribution to the 36 million tonnes of carbon which need to be saved if we are to achieve our aim of a 20 per cent. reduction. As I said, it is important that we have a wide-ranging programme to meet those targets and that is what we shall be consulting about in the summer.

My Lords, could my noble friend explain to the House to what extent this commitment will affect the future of coal-burning power stations and consequently adversely affect the future of the coal-mining industry?

My Lords, as my noble friend will be aware, the Government are currently undertaking a comprehensive review of energy sources for power generation. We have deferred decisions on power station consents until that review is completed later this year. The deferral of the decisions will not affect the UK meeting its target of returning greenhouse gas emissions to their 1990 levels by 2000. The review of energy sources is looking at all the issues, especially those relating to carbon dioxide emissions and the interrelationship with the health of the coal industry. I know that there has been a great deal of speculation about that, but I am afraid that my noble friend will have to await the outcome of the review.

My Lords, although the measures taken in the Budget are wholly desirable, does the noble Baroness agree that many more measures are required before the Government's objective can be achieved? Is she aware of the communication on the subject recently issued by the European Commission? Do the Government fully support it? When will the Government come out with their own measures to achieve that very important objective?

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's support for what has been done in the Budget. I think that I have made it clear that it was not a comprehensive programme and that we shall need to take action in a wide range of areas: improving energy efficiency in businesses and in the home; reducing emissions from transport; and increasing the proportion of electricity generated from renewables and from combined heat and power. We shall be consulting on that wide range of issues in the summer. The Commission is considering what it can do at the European level in terms of energy efficiency in relation to transport, combined heat and power and reducing and removing fossil fuel subsidies. There are a whole range of issues on which we can take action at EU level, as my right honourable friend Mr. Meacher has been discussing with EU colleagues, most recently at Chester.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that when she repeated a Statement on the Kyoto conference which dealt with the subject of this Question, greenhouse gas emissions, she made two important points: first, that at Kyoto the European Union had insisted on the development of clear rules for the provisions in the Kyoto protocol, and that they should be developed over the next two years; and, secondly, that the United Kingdom was to assume the European Union presidency at a crucial time and that over the next six months we had to agree how to share out the 8 per cent. reduction between the EU member states? What progress has been made on these issues over the past five months and what agreements have been made?

My Lords, the United Kingdom is continuing to lead international efforts to tackle climate change. As an early signal of our commitment the Deputy Prime Minister and Mr. Michael Meacher signed the Kyoto protocol in New York last week on behalf of both the United Kingdom and the European Union. We are working hard with our European partners to resolve important details such as the rules for emissions trading, and the involvement of developing countries in order to secure early ratification and implementation of the protocol. Under our presidency of the European Union we are discussing with our partners how to share between member states the EU's legally binding Kyoto target of an 8 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gases by 2008 to 2012. We hope to reach agreement in June on the UK and other member states' shares of the target. I hope the House will agree that that represents progress at an international and EU level.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the basic objective is to try to protect the environment, and probably one of the best ways to do that is to improve public transport? Bearing in mind the huge sums of money that the Chancellor is collecting from road users, is this issue not becoming more urgent and affordable?

My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend that it is very important that we give people a real choice as to how they travel since transport is the fastest-growing source of emissions at the moment. That means that we need a clean, reliable, safe and secure public transport system. That is why we have been working very hard to produce an integrated transport White Paper, which is due to be published next month. Issues relating to the funding of public transport have been the ones most commented upon in the consultation process.

Sixteenth Century Acts: Prosecutions

2.45 p.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the last prosecution was brought under—
  • (a) Section I of the Treason Act (Ireland) 1537;
  • (b) Section ii of the crown of ireland act 1542; and
  • (c) Section XII of the Act of Supremacy (Ireland) 1560;
  • and what were the penalties imposed.

    My Lords, the three Acts to which the noble Earl refers apply only in Northern Ireland. I have been unable to trace any records of prosecutions brought under these Acts or of the punishments imposed. No prosecution for treason has taken place in Northern Ireland since 1972. The last prosecution for treason in Northern Ireland of which I am aware was in 1966 for an offence under the Treason Act 1842.

    My Lords, I am not in the slightest surprised by the Answer provided by the noble and learned Lord. My reason for tabling the Question is as follows. Bearing in mind that Gladstone disestablished the Church of Ireland and there has not been a prosecution under the Treason Act (Ireland) for a very long time—the Government of Ireland Act changed all of that—is it sensible, even with Cool Britannia and New Labour, to retain on the statute book Acts that carry very serious penalties? Does that not bring the whole of the law into disrepute?

    My Lords, whether or not it is sensible I do not believe that it causes any real problem. As I indicated in my response, there has not been a single identifiable prosecution in any of the records over the years. If anyone thought that he could bring such a prosecution he would first have to convince a magistrate to issue a summons. Following that, the Director of Public Prosecutions of Northern Ireland could take over the prosecution and, if he saw fit, discontinue it. Although it may not be sensible, I do not believe that it causes any real problem.

    My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that if the only reason for the noble Earl tabling this Question is to point out that the Acts are out of date he could have raised the matter in the past 20-odd years?

    My Lords, I see the force of the point just made by my noble friend.

    My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that it was only as a result of the activities of one of his Front Bench colleagues to remove the death penalty for such offences that I raised this matter? It cannot be sensible, however the noble and learned Lord may dress it up, to have on the statute book outdated laws that carry heavy penalties and may be open to misuse.

    My Lords, it was, I believe, my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell, who is not in his place today, who discovered this. Perhaps the fact that it was only that which drew it to the attention of the noble Earl indicates how small the problem is in practice.

    My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that unrepealed statutes like unexploded mines cause no trouble until they are trodden on? Will he take the advice of the Law Commission on the matter?

    My Lords, as to the first point raised by the noble Earl, at least 300 years have gone by without anyone treading on these particular mines. We have been in touch with the Law Commission. The commission considered these statutes and advised in relation to repeal, but it regards the contents of some of them as unsuitable for the commission to look at.

    Eu Directive: Television Without Frontiers

    2.49 p.m.

    asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will delegate to the Independent Television Commission the duty of monitoring the implementation by British broadcasters of the provisions of the European Union directive "Television Without Frontiers".

    My Lords, a revised broadcasting directive was adopted by the European Parliament and Council on 30th June 1997 and member states have until 30th December 1998 to implement its provisions. We are currently giving consideration to how best to implement the directive in the United Kingdom. The Independent Television Commission and other relevant bodies will be consulted on this matter and we will announce our intentions in due course.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for that informative and helpful Answer. Is he aware that Sky television, despite its financial success, depends more on American imports and makes fewer original programmes than its terrestrial competitors, the BBC and ITV? When the Government consider future arrangements under the revised directive, and given their sensitivity about Mr. Murdoch's media interests, would not the fairest way of dealing with the matter, and the best way of providing themselves with a little protection, be to hand over professional regulation to professional broadcasting regulators?

    My Lords, it is the case that the non-compliers tend to be the satellite channels and new start-up channels, particularly in specialist areas. Sky 1 in particular has increased its European content from 8.5 per cent. in 1993 to almost 40 per cent. in 1996. The general trend in this country, as in the whole of Europe, is towards compliance. Under those circumstances, too much concern about the ownership of Sky television would be looking backwards rather than forwards.

    My Lords, if the full additional powers are transferred to ITC will all sections of the industry, including BSkyB and other programme operators, be consulted?

    My Lords, I did not say that we were transferring control of these matters to the ITC. I said that we were considering how to implement the directive and that we would make our decisions in due course. I also said that we would consult the Independent Television Commission and other relevant bodies, including the bodies referred to by my noble friend.

    My Lords, is the Minister aware that that jewel in the crown of the European Broadcasting Union, the Eurovision Song Contest, will soon be upon us and that there are scandalous reports in the press that no Minister of sufficient rank is willing to attend the event? Given that the Prime Minister has had to ban Ministers attending the World Cup, is there not a deal to be made that any Minister who attends the Eurovision Song Contest can also attend the World Cup?

    My Lords, I must confess that the BBC invited me to the Eurovision Song Contest in Birmingham on Saturday, but unfortunately I have had to decline the invitation. However, my interest in the World Cup is such that even the promise of tickets to that event would not induce me to attend the Eurovision Song Contest.

    Development Education

    2.53 p.m.

    asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will promote greater awareness of world affairs through increased support for development education undertaken by Churches and non-governmental organisations.

    My Lords, we are committed to increasing the awareness of development issues within the UK. To this end we have doubled our annual budget for development education. We have also established a working group to advise the Department for International Development, chaired by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, George Foulkes, and this group includes representatives of Churches, NGOs, business, trade unions and the media.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, which is encouraging. I congratulate the Government on renewing their efforts towards development education. Does the noble Lord agree that the Global March Against Child Labour, which this morning handed in a petition to Downing Street on behalf of 250 million children working in perilous conditions, and the Global Jubilee 2000 campaign on world debt relief in countries such as Mozambique, show that there is a great deal more awareness, in particular among young people who want the Government to meet their responsibilities in world fora? Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will do their utmost to maintain global standards in fora such as the World Trade Organisation?

    My Lords, the noble Lord is correct in saying that there is an increasing awareness of these issues among sections of our society. However, it is also probably true that appreciation of the problems in world development education is not sufficiently widespread among the population as a whole. That is why we believe that we should increase the educational programme. I am aware of the petition on child labour to Downing Street today. My colleague, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, will meet that group later today. Child labour is of serious concern to Her Majesty's Government. Complex issues are involved, but I believe that in all fora we should pursue the standards which all Members of this House and British public opinion support.

    My Lords, I welcome the Minister's constructive Answer. Will he reconsider the grant from the Government to the Council for Education in World Citizenship which for a number of years has done sterling work, particularly among sixth formers and other schoolchildren? It would repay its modest grant many times over.

    My Lords, I shall certainly reconsider that. I am personally aware of the benefits of the Council for Education in World Citizenship. Within our education budget, we are looking at a number of grants for similar organisations. I shall take the noble Baroness's point on board.

    My Lords, against the background of the Government's plan to promote the information highway in all schools in Britain, is this not a unique opportunity for them to offer development education through that medium?

    My Lords, I understand that some development information will be available, although not in a separate compartmentalised area. It will relate to other subject areas covered by the information system.

    My Lords, is not the regrettable high cost of education in the UK for foreign students, combined with the essential need for development education, making it necessary to consider a mechanism whereby foreign students can be matched to UK companies for practical training? That would provide excellent two-way benefits.

    My Lords, there are a number of projects in that direction. The private sector has a role to play in particular in developing expertise in such countries. Trainees taken on board within Britain will be part of that.

    My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House how much is the budget for development education?

    My Lords, it was increased from £0.75 million to £1.5 million in this financial year.

    My Lords, does the Minister agree that the EU presidency project, which involves 200 NGOs and deals with a number of pressing development issues, has been a great success? Will he consider extending the life of some of the issues being considered under that project beyond the term of our presidency of the EU?

    My Lords, part of this Government's approach to the EU presidency has been the involvement of NGOs and representatives of civic society generally in European issues, including in particular development and environmental issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and I made a press announcement today on a people's summit bringing together some of those NGOs immediately before the Cardiff summit. We hope that that initiative will in some form be carried forward into subsequent presidencies.

    My Lords, apart from NGOs, can the Minister give encouragement to industries, particularly through the CBI, on such issues as the fair or ethical trading initiative?

    My Lords, yes. In respect of most Questions which my noble friend and I have answered on development issues, we have always stressed the important role of the private sector and private investment in the development strategy. Part of the financial flow of that is being covered by some of the ethical investment institutions.

    The Lord Chancellor: Leave Of Absence

    My Lords, before the commencement of business, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I am to make an official visit to Washington DC on Monday 11th May and Tuesday 12th May 1998. In addition, I will be hosting a luncheon on behalf of Her Majesty's Government for the Prime Minister of Jamaica on Thursday 14th May 1998. Accordingly, I trust that the House will grant me leave of absence on both those occasions.

    Northern Ireland (Elections) Bill

    3 p.m.

    My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

    Two weeks ago this House debated the referendum order which will enable the people of Northern Ireland to give their judgment on the multi-party agreement reached last month in the referendum to be held in another two weeks' time. I was grateful to your Lordships then for your generous support of the order and of the agreement.

    Everyone in the House that evening recognised the historic nature of the agreement which offers the people of Northern Ireland an opportunity they have not had in a generation to take responsibility for their own future and start to build a peaceful democracy based on consent.

    When I introduced the referendum order, I referred to the "triple lock" through which the consent of the Northern Ireland people to the agreement will be reached. The first part of the lock is the support of the parties, which is largely coming together. The second is the support of the people through the referendum, and the omens there are looking good. The third is the support of Parliament. This needs to be given in stages. It started with the referendum order and works through this elections Bill to the final main constitutional settlement.

    If the people of Northern Ireland show in the forthcoming referendum that they support the agreement, the next step for them is to elect the new assembly envisaged in the agreement. And that is what the Bill before your Lordships' House today is about. The Bill seeks to embody a small part of the multi-party agreement. It may be helpful if I remind your Lordships briefly what the Bill says in relation to the assembly.

    It provides for an assembly of 108 members elected on the single transferable vote system, with six members being returned for each of the constituencies which return MPs to Westminster. It stipulates that ultimately the assembly shall have full executive and legislative powers over devolved matters. It recognises however that the assembly will not be in a position to assume full powers straightaway. It therefore provides for an interim "shadow" period during which the assembly will—and I quote from paragraph 35 of Strand 1 of the agreement—
    "resolve its standing orders and working practices and make preparations for the effective functioning of the Assembly, the British-Irish Council and the North/South Ministerial Council and associated implementation bodies".
    The purpose of this Bill is to bring the shadow assembly into effective operation.

    In order to regulate and provide for it in its early days, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be taking powers to designate the first presiding officer, make standing orders and set salaries and allowances for members. These provisions are contained in the schedule to the Bill. They will come into effect without parliamentary scrutiny and I highlight them now because amendments have been put down which indicate some concern about the extent of the Secretary of State's power to direct the assembly's affairs.

    I want to touch briefly on these amendments, if your Lordships will permit me, but first I want to give a general reassurance. The Secretary of State's wide order-making powers are given because they are necessary. The assembly must have a basic framework within which to work from day one and this is the most practical way of providing it. The alternatives are either for the assembly to start work without any form of organisation or rules whatsoever, which I hope the House will agree would be something of a hindrance for members, or for Parliament to spend time scrutinising a set of temporary regulations which will shortly be replaced by another set over which it will have no authority because it will be determined by the new assembly. The Secretary of State will be consulting the Northern Ireland political parties and reaching agreement with them as far as possible before taking any decisions. So her directive powers will be exercised in the spirit of the agreement. They will also be shortlived. They will only have effect until the main settlement legislation comes into force and the assembly takes full control over its own internal arrangements.

    I said that I should like to touch on some amendments which have been tabled because I think they reflect a misunderstanding of the provisions contained in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, has tabled amendments to paragraph 1 of the schedule which would enable the assembly rather than the Secretary of State to direct the time and place of the assembly's sitting after its first meeting. But the only reason that the Bill provides that the Secretary of State should retain control over meeting times and places is that the shadow assembly, unlike the full assembly, will not have a permanent home and it will be for the Secretary of State to provide premises and staff. She cannot simply hand over responsibility for premises under her control to the assembly and cannot guarantee, in a period when a lot of reorganisation will be taking place, that the assembly can always meet at the same place. But she will discuss options with the political parties and do her best to ensure that accommodation satisfactory to everyone can be found and that the assembly can meet when it wishes.

    The noble Lord, Lord Cope, has also proposed amendments which would enable the assembly in effect to amend the standing orders which will be determined by the Secretary of State for the shadow period, as long as the amendments have cross-community support. Again, it may look as though the Bill gives the Secretary of State too much power here. Is it not reasonable, your Lordships may ask, for the assembly to decide its own standing orders at the earliest possible date? It is; and it will be one of the main tasks in the shadow period to do just that. But it will be a considerable task which will take time, and while it is debating its own future standing orders, it will do so under the Secretary of State's temporary standing orders, about which again the parties will have been consulted and which of course the Secretary of State will consider amending if there is a cross-community request that she should. There is nothing in the Bill as it stands to prevent her doing so.

    I repeat my assurances that the Secretary of State's wide powers in this Bill are temporary; will only be used after consultation; and will exist only to make life easier for the assembly in its early days. They have no other purpose. I hope that your Lordships will accept my assurances and not seek to unravel the schedule to the Bill.

    I turn now to the other main provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 is a straightforward embodiment of the agreement, providing for the establishment of an assembly with the number of seats—108—set out in the agreement.

    Clause 1 formally states the purpose of the assembly in the shadow phrase; that is,
    "taking part in preparations to give effect to",
    the multi-party agreement. The Secretary of State is given a power to refer specific matters to the assembly, in particular ones arising from the agreement. Those she might refer include the assembly's final standing orders, to be agreed on a cross-community basis; various aspects of the machinery of government under devolution, including the number and structure of departments; and, thirdly, the preparations envisaged under paragraphs 7 and 8 of the agreement for the British-Irish Council and for north-south activity. The shadow north/south council will have the task of identifying at least six implementation bodies which will be established by the time the full settlement legislation is enacted. Before referring matters, the Secretary of State would consult so far as possible before exercising her powers and seek always to act in the spirit of the agreement.

    Clause 2 provides for elections to be held on 25th June. But that will happen only if Clause 2(1) is brought into effect, and Clause 8 makes clear that the Secretary of State may set a date for that to happen only if there has been a positive result in the referendum. The election will be by single transferable vote, which has been used in Northern Ireland for many years and was specifically endorsed in the multi-party agreement. Six members will be returned from each of the 18 parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland. The franchise reflects that used in local elections. Again, these are specific provisions in the agreement.

    We shall be making detailed technical provision for the election in an order which will come before this House on 18th May. Disqualification from membership of the assembly is largely the same as that in the House of Commons. However, Peers and European Union citizens will also be allowed to sit, as will members of the Senate of the Republic of Ireland. Distinguished people from Northern Ireland have served in the Irish Senate and I believe that dual membership is a means by which understanding between the two parts of the island can be further developed.

    The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, seeks to end the disqualification provisions in relation to Clause 4 to enable a Lord Lieutenant or Lieutenant to represent the county or county borough for which he holds office. I am afraid that that is just not possible. The Lord Lieutenant is the representative of Her Majesty the Queen in his county or county borough and his duties specifically exclude him from holding a political post or engaging in political activities there. However, there is nothing to stop the Lord Lieutenant from standing for elections outside his county or county borough.

    Those are the main features of our Bill. I repeat that it is a short-term measure and that more detailed constitutional legislation to complete the implementation of the multi-party agreement will follow. This is just a beginning, but an essential one. I hope that your Lordships will support it without reservation.

    Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Dubs.)

    3.10 p.m.

    My Lords, I must apologise for missing the first minute of the Minister's speech. For reasons with which we are familiar, the Northern Ireland Act 1974 introduced direct rule over Northern Ireland from Westminster. In my opinion, for what it is worth, that was justified and necessary at the time. But those arrangements were intended only to be temporary in character, and for this reason: that they left Northern Ireland with less democratic responsibility and accountability than any other part of the United Kingdom.

    I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that it is a matter of deep regret that it has taken nearly a quarter of a century for agreement to be reached sufficient to enable government of that character—local accountability—to be established in Northern Ireland as, I am certain, we all hope that it will be. It is to be regretted because direct rule, as it were, set the whole tone for politics in Northern Ireland. I believe it is fair to say that there has been a thoroughly negative tone, for reasons which are readily understood. It has been unduly negative and pessimistic and damagingly so. I believe one can say that it has enhanced a certain propensity in some quarters of Northern Ireland to expect or to see the worst in the worst of all possible worlds. However, more importantly, I believe that it has discouraged—because it has denied them opportunity—those who might reasonably and normally wish to take on local democratic responsibilities. They have not been offered any prospect of achieving local democratic power. They have been offered no prospect of gaining that, save to the extent that is enjoyed and exercised in England at parish council level. Real power has been vested in the Secretary of State.

    All this is what led me on my first utterance as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, if I may be allowed to recall it briefly, to say that I wanted to get rid of most of my powers and to return them to the people; and that the government would, therefore, work to help the people of Northern Ireland find a fair and sustainable basis upon which that could be achieved. All the more welcome, therefore, are the provisions for a new Northern Ireland assembly in the agreement reached in the multi-party talks on 9th April, which the provisions of this Bill now seek to implement.

    The remit of the new assembly will cover all the responsibilities of the six government departments in Northern Ireland and the assembly will support an executive committee led by an elected First Minister.

    To reach an agreement on this after so long, together with agreement on the interlocking Strands 2 and 3, is, I believe, an achievement of the first order. I think that warm congratulations are deserved by my courageous successor and by the Prime Minister. Although the framework documents of February 1995 prepared by the two governments can be discerned in this agreement, as may also be the contingent agreement reached on Strand 1 in 1992, what is new is an overall accord across all three strands. I believe that Mr. Trimble is right to say that the Union is left the stronger by reason of this. I am glad of that for my own part. If I may say so, he, too, is to be congratulated on holding out for that and on judging courageously his own stance in the negotiations producing the agreement.

    With the exception of the provision for prisoners, which I believe is a matter for another day—at least I shall treat it as such—I see no danger in the terms of the agreement, provided that they are properly understood. However, I do see danger in how the Government may be tempted to interpret and apply it under pressure: and that danger relates to Sinn Fein. The parties represented in the assembly will nominate committee chairs and Ministers according to the strength of their own representation. It is readily foreseeable that Sinn Fein can be expected to take up one or more of those positions. It is here that I want to offer a warning to the Government.

    Paragraph 25 of the agreement rightly states in Strand 1 that those who hold office should use only democratic and non-violent means, and that those who do not should be excluded or removed from office. Sinn Fein is the political wing of the IRA, inextricably linked to it. Yet, last week, the IRA announced that it will do no decommissioning of its illegally held arms. The influence which illegal armaments can exert is surely not limited to firing or exploding them: it extends to the threat to fire or explode them, and that threat does not have to be explicit for it to do its work. What is its work? Surely the work in this context is to secure from constitutional parties, in or out of the executive committee, concessions which they might not otherwise have made. That is the purpose.

    It was one thing, albeit an uncomfortable one, to say that membership of the talks was compatible with some decommissioning taking place in parallel with those talks. It is surely quite another thing, and different in principle, to say that you may participate in the government of Northern Ireland—that is, the fruits of those talks which are now concluded—while refusing to give up the means of bringing illegal pressure to bear on your colleagues and fellow Ministers.

    I ask: can there be good reason for failing to draw the final line here? If the Government draw it here, then Sinn Fein will surely be seen to have excluded itself from an honourable role in the government of Northern Ireland. Its exclusion will be seen to have been its work. I give way to the noble Earl.

    My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord apply the same, obviously sensible, doctrine to the representatives of Protestant paramilitary bodies?

    Certainly, my Lords; I have never in five years made any distinction whatever in the evil of violence, or the threat of violence, exerted by anyone for whatever political purpose. But the position of the parties is not, alas, the same. However, I hope that it will become the same. I have also considered whether or not there is a point of principle which distinguishes what we are talking about here and participation in local councils. I believe that there is, albeit that it is a point of principle deriving from the greatly enhanced scale of the jurisdiction of the executive.

    If that final line is not drawn, I ask: can any of us be confident that the executive will be formed, or that this great opportunity afforded by this agreement will not perish? I hope that the Government will therefore be explicit in that regard. With that sole warning, and the reserve that I have mentioned about prisoners, I warmly endorse this Bill. I fervently hope that the whole talks package, and those who made it, will, on 22nd May, be rewarded with a resounding yes.

    3.20 p.m.

    My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. He was characteristically generous when he congratulated the Government on what he called an achievement of the first order. I am sure the whole House recognises that his painstaking contribution to that achievement was also of the first order. We thank him for it.

    This Bill received the unqualified support of these Benches. I hope that the Bill is passed with all due dispatch not only because it is necessary to ensure efficient assembly elections in June, but also as a signal to the citizens of Northern Ireland—wrestling with their momentous decision in the referendum—that both Chambers of Parliament are willing them towards a positive result and trying to facilitate the future democratic government of Northern Ireland. What we are engaged in over these months is a step-by-step process which can be negatively phrased as the "triple lock", but let us try to express it positively. The Good Friday settlement built on the work of previous British and Irish governments and of the parties in Northern Ireland which have contributed positively—not all of them have done so, but fortunately the majority have—to the settlement. We all have high hopes for the referendum to be held on 22nd May. It will be important to have a large majority in favour if it is to carry the moral conviction to say to those who for so many years have preferred violence that they no longer have any pretext of legitimacy whatsoever.

    Then there are the assembly elections for which we are discussing the mechanism this afternoon. The Government, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have repeatedly made the point—rightly in my view—that that is where the whole thing begins to move on from elections to a process of co-operative government. We cannot call it power sharing because that has unfortunate historical associations in Northern Ireland but we can, and should, call it responsibility sharing—sharing responsibility for the peaceful administration of Northern Ireland like any other part of the United Kingdom, instead of its being a place alone and a place of concern to its fellow citizens on the mainland.

    I was struck by the use of the word "responsibility" by the Minister when he introduced the Bill. That is the key to the matter. We must move on from a deal achieved through negotiation to governing in co-operation, with the six departments moving over. As one who for some years in this House has dealt with the minutiae of life in Northern Ireland in a succession of orders of breathtaking parochialism, I must say how refreshing it will be that in the future those matters will be dealt with by the people of Northern Ireland. That is where they should be dealt with. We need to hope for a move on from the culture of dependence—I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, implied that—and recrimination to one of shared responsibility for the future. We need less "pulpit" politics and more practical politics in Northern Ireland. We need less fire and brimstone and a little more bread and butter, day-to-day, pavement politics—the kind of routine that builds a civic culture, a sense of responsibility and a shared commitment to the future.

    As we approach the referendum I wonder whether I am alone in detecting some ambivalence—particularly on the part of the DUP and other notable "nay sayers" in Northern Ireland—on the referendum, the assembly that will follow and the process of government. Are they saying no to the elections? I think not; I think they will contest the elections. Are they saying no to possible ministerial jobs? I think not; indeed I hope not. Much as I deplore their negativism now, much as I hope they will be roundly defeated in the referendum, and much as I hope that all sensible Unionists will back Mr. Trimble, so I hope that the "nay sayers" will move on from the indulgence of protest to the responsibilities of power once the assembly comes into being.

    I shall say a few words about the election system. Noble Lords would perhaps expect these Benches to take particular pleasure in the fact that the elections comprise a system which is familiar in Northern Ireland; namely, the single transferable vote and multi-member constituencies of six. I doubt whether in such an enlightened House noble Lords hold the view that proportional representation is too complicated. However, over the years it does not seem to have presented the slightest problem to the people of Northern Ireland who are now well used to it and use it with great facility to achieve the ends they want. We now have a Scottish Bill, a Welsh Bill and a European elections Bill. We are now contemplating the use of the proportional representation system for London. That will bring pluralism and diversity into legislatures of one kind or another. That is greatly needed in Northern Ireland as the Northern Ireland parliament will need not simply the traditional representatives of the two communities but good representation for those who want to strike out on a different and totally non-sectarian path, such as the Alliance Party, of which my noble friend Lord Alderdice is the leader.

    I have one or two questions for the Government. What are the Government's intentions as regards the difficult matter of by-elections? Is it the Government's firm intention that any replacement will have to be nominated by the party whose member is deceased to enable the community balance to be maintained? The Bill seems to imply that that is an issue which has not yet been settled. I should be interested to know the Government's views on that. That matter cannot be long delayed as there may be by-elections shortly after the establishment of the shadow assembly. I was glad to hear the Minister's comments on the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I was rather sympathetic to the spirit of those amendments. Without the Minister's explanation I should have been inclined to support them. Much of his argument rested on the shadow assembly. When he replies to the debate I hope he will spell out the time, terms and conditions on which a shadow assembly ceases to be shadow and becomes substantive. That would be of value to the House.

    The Minister talked about temporary measures. We in Parliament should be cautious as regards those. I seem to remember that the Official Secrets Act was introduced during the First World War as a temporary measure. When we use the word "temporary" we should recognise that things often last a little longer than originally intended. My next question bears on the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. Will the Minister reiterate that no member of a party which is refusing to decommission and has not turned its back on violence—even if that person is elected a member of the assembly—can serve as a Minister? It would be useful for the House to hear his confirmation in terms that that is the Government's view.

    I believe that there will be three difficult months ahead. There will be parades, the referendum and the elections. There are those who not just by word—from whom we hear with tiresome regularity—hut by deed want to wreck the settlement. During that period, even if reforms are contemplated-I am glad to hear that Mr. Christopher Patten may assist in that—it is vital that the RUC, which is doing a difficult job in difficult circumstances, is seen to have the total confidence of Her Majesty's Government.

    3.28 p.m.

    My Lords, it is with much trepidation and not a little diffidence that I rise for the first time in your Lordships' House this afternoon. Since taking my seat some two months ago, I have been fortunate enough to attend on a number of occasions. Whilst this was mainly when Northern Ireland business was being conducted, I was also present for part of the Second Reading of the Government of Wales Bill and for the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, on the Strategic Defence Review of the reserve forces. On that last occasion it was a happy coincidence to be able to hear the maiden speeches of the noble Earl, Lord Stair, and the noble Lord, Lord Glanusk. On each occasion I have been struck by the depth of knowledge and sheer wealth of experience displayed in your Lordships' House. May I offer my thanks for all the help and guidance given to me by noble Lords, the Officers of the House and others.

    I must declare an interest in the business before us today. I was born in Belfast and am now involved in our fairly extensive farming operations in County Down. I have also run a significant tourism operation in County Fermanagh and carried out tourism related consultancy work for the National Trust and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and thus can fully appreciate the benefits of a peace dividend.

    However, for 20 years I lived and worked in England and believe that I can appreciate many of the views held on Northern Ireland by those living on this side of the water. As a firm believer in the Union, so long as that is the wish of the majority in Northern Ireland, at times I felt as if I was trying to defend the indefensible. Attempts by the United Kingdom Government to move the political process forward in Northern Ireland often resulted in legislation that was unpalatable for the Unionist community. In consequence, their reaction often appeared to be negative and I cannot begin to imagine the frustration and despair that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, must have experienced in his long and distinguished career in another place. On the other hand, I think it could be said that the Nationalist politicians were rather better at getting their PR act together and at gaining sympathy. Certainly, they were experts at "spin", long before it was adopted by New Labour.

    However, the situation is very different today, in that we have an agreement that has been discussed fully and which will, I am sure, have the support of the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland. Many tributes have already been paid to those who have been involved in this process. I would add just one, to David Trimble, for the courage and vision that he has shown. I hope that all members of the Ulster Unionist Party will rally behind him and campaign for a yes vote in the forthcoming referendum.

    Turning to today's Bill, I should like to thank the Minister for the clear and concise way that he has set out its objectives. I am mindful also of the exhortation that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, made during the Third Reading of the Northern Ireland Negotiations (Referendum) Order about a fortnight ago. At that time he urged that today's matters, and I quote,
    "may be scrutinised properly, but that they may not be obstructed any more than is appropriate or necessary".—[Official Report, 22/4/98; col. 1234.]
    I am wholly mindful of that but would like to raise three points, all relating to the conduct of the election itself on polling day, 25th June 1998. These can be summarised as the three I's—impersonation, intimidation and information.

    There has been a long tradition of impersonation and malpractice at elections in Northern Ireland. Indeed, I can remember that when I first voted in a Westminster election in County Fermanagh in 1970 the catchphrase was, "Vote early and vote often". Sadly, I do not believe that this problem has gone away. Certainly, there was much discussion in the Province about it after last May's general election. I have looked at the results from the 18 Westminster constituencies and would mention briefly the following. The average turnout across Northern Ireland was 67.5 per cent. but in West Belfast, which returned Gerry Adams, it was 74.3 per cent.; in West Tyrone, which had a strong Sinn Fein vote, it was 79.6 per cent. and in Mid-Ulster, which returned Martin McGuinness, it was a staggering 86 per cent. It may be that the electorate in these constituencies are very keen voters, but I find that somewhat hard to believe. This matter has been raised in another place but I hope that Her Majesty's Government will do all in their power to ensure a scrupulously fair election, to include the arrangements for postal votes, and to afford whatever protection and resources that are necessary to the officials manning the polling stations.

    I turn next to intimidation. My late father died on 3rd May last year so I was able to vote in the 1997 general election. At the time we lived near Bangor and our local polling station was at the Kilcooley primary school. When we arrived by car at approximately seven o'clock in the evening we found it almost impossible to drive into the school grounds, due to a crowd of a dozen or more men, purporting to represent one of the fringe Loyalist parties, being gathered outside the gates. I discussed this with the police officers on duty at the polling station, who regretted this situation but said that there was nothing they could do as the mob were outside the private school grounds and on the public highway. It is not hard to imagine the impact that these people would have had on voters struggling to get through on foot—certainly their presence had nothing to do with telling as is generally accepted.

    More recently I witnessed disgraceful scenes when the entrance to the Stormont Estate was blockaded by supporters of the Democratic Unionist Party on Maundy Thursday evening, after delegates from that party were refused admission to the talks at Castle Buildings. The bankruptcy of that party's policies can be illustrated by the fact that all the protesters could shout at journalists, delegates and others trying to get in was, "Go back to Dublin", leading to one Scandinavian journalist plaintively to cry, "Why should I want to go to Dublin; the talks are at Stormont". I hope that the Minister can provide reassurance that Her Majesty's Government will ensure that the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary has all the powers and support required to ensure that the electorate may vote without hindrance or intimidation.

    Finally, I should like to comment on information. Following on from what we all believe will be a resounding "Yes" vote in the referendum, it is to be hoped that the majority of voters will then wish to support candidates who are in favour of the agreement and thus be committed to the success of the new Northern Ireland Assembly at the elections on 25th June. However, this may well be confusing. The Northern Ireland electorate have long been used to ballot papers containing the names of a plethora of candidates, representing all sorts of parties and interests. On this occasion it is probable that some of the Ulster Unionist candidates will support the agreement whereas others may be against. The position of Sinn Fein and a number of other parties is still unclear. While the IRA is apparently now prepared to allow Sinn Fein members to take their seats in the assembly, their pronouncement upon decommissioning, or rather the lack of it, the car bomb in Lisburn that was thankfully defused and the mortar attack upon Grosvenor Road RUC station do not help. Therefore, I would ask whether the Minister could look into the possibility that all candidates' names on the ballot paper, as well as showing the party that they represent, might also indicate that they either support or reject the agreement.

    I am conscious that a maiden speech is not the occasion to raise matters that may be contentious. If I have done so, I crave your Lordships' indulgence, but my overriding desire is that this important forthcoming election is, and is seen to be, conducted with absolute integrity. While no one would argue that the future it promises will be perfect for anybody, the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland do not want a continuation of the horrors of the past 30 years and they fully appreciate that there is no other alternative.

    3.37 p.m.

    My Lords, it is a great pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, on his maiden speech. I know that I do so on behalf of noble Lords all around the House. It is healthy for the House to hear a voice from the green fields of County Down—the voice of someone speaking from the heart and very much committed to life in Northern Ireland.

    The noble Lord spoke of his interests in farming and tourism. I understand that his three children are all at school in Northern Ireland. He bears a Northern Irish title created in 1892. His family of Mulholland built successful businesses first in cotton mills and later in linen mills. The first Lord Dunleath was Conservative MP for Downpatrick. My own private research has discovered a little more—an enthusiasm for steam engines and (what could be more evidence of a well rounded life?) a member of the MCC. We congratulate the noble Lord warmly on his maiden speech and hope to hear often from him again.

    Speaking of maiden speeches, I know that there have been discussions of high protocol which have concluded that I am not expected to make a maiden speech, having done so 18 years ago. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, claims to have made no less than three maiden speeches. I have no wish to rival that, but I do want to take the opportunity of this first speech in a new role to thank noble Lords most warmly for the very generous welcome back that I have received from all sides.

    I join with others in saluting those who have persevered in the peace process: the Prime Minister of Britain; the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland; the Secretary of State; and not least the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. That salute goes especially to the leaders in Northern Ireland who are risking the loss of their base by putting their name to language like "parity of esteem" between two communities.

    We have often heard politicians blamed for the continuing divisions in Northern Ireland. Now politicians have put themselves on the line and those who have long expressed their desire for peace will have the chance to play their part. The single transferable vote makes it possible for minorities to be represented. But turning the agreement into active reconciliation will call for courage and perseverance at every level. This week's news that the Protestant co-leader of the Women's Coalition, Pearl Sagar, had to move house because of intimidation shows the cost that some have to pay for peace. The elections are an important step towards the people of Northern Ireland taking responsibility for their governance, and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, told us, getting rid of the negative approach.

    I wish to say something about the role of the Churches in Northern Ireland. Our critics have been inclined to ask whether religion is part of the answer or part of the problem. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Holme, mentioned, "pulpit politics" have sometimes been very destructive. We are not asking for Protestants or Catholics to be indifferent to their faith convictions. I rejoiced in the partnership I had with the late Derek Worlock, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool; but neither of us was indifferent to the strongly held beliefs we each possessed. There were important pieces of Christian doctrine and practice about which we disagreed. But we held the central truths of the faith in common. I suppose it would be right to say that we both accepted that there is such a thing as a "hierarchy of truths." Not all were worth going to the stake for, or to the barricades. Not all were of such importance that they should divide us.

    Derek Worlock and I visited Northern Ireland together on a number of public occasions. We were among those who formed a small group calling ourselves the NorthWest Triangle. It brought together Church leaders from Belfast, Glasgow and Liverpool. We believed that our cities had much in common; we valued greatly meeting with our opposite numbers from Roman Catholic, Reformed, Methodist, Baptist and Anglican traditions for 24 hours twice each year. I came to respect the Belfast Church leaders. I discovered that they knew each other much better than the public would have imagined; and I came to admire their courage on many occasions.

    At one of those meetings in Belfast, the home team led some reflections on the Troubles. Dr. John Dunlop, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, introduced the study. We were given copies of a publication entitled Sectarianism. It had been produced for the Irish Inter-Church Meeting. I have turned back to it on a number of occasions. I spoke a day or two ago to the noble Lord, Lord Eames, who greatly regrets not being able to be in your Lordships' House for this debate. He told me that the report still stands up. He turns to it frequently; so too, he says, does Cardinal Daly. The report moved me deeply as it spelled out the long, grinding process needed to change the attitudes which reinforce sectarianism. I quote from it words for all of us, for all of us find prejudices about the "others" lurking in our minds:
    "Are we prepared to exercise the utmost care and circumspection in the way we present our views of the 'other' to our children? Are we prepared to challenge our friends, neighbours, family when they express sectarian views in our company? Are we prepared to develop a relentless and courageous sensitivity to the God-created humanity of 'THE OTHER', whether he/she be Catholic or Protestant? This has to be the work of the sincere peacemaker. It starts with me. Bitter words build walls of hate. I am accountable for the bitter word said today, repeated tomorrow by my children".
    I have been challenged also by a book written by the Rector of Liverpool, Canon Nicholas Frayling, Pardon and Peace. He argues that we English are accountable too—for the contemptuous word that we perhaps speak when we suggest that all that is needed is to bang unreasonable Irish heads together. He shows how our forebears were responsible for introducing the Protestant community into the North of Ireland. When we see them struggling with fear that any change can only mean loss, we have an obligation to stand in their shoes and understand. It is a proper part of the agreement that the British Government give a clear undertaking that the Protestant community will not have to face its fears alone.

    Agreeing to "parity of esteem", to use the language of the Good Friday agreement, is not arguing for indifference to the truths and traditions Christians count dear. If we go right back to the Gospels and ask how we see Jesus treating the others, we see him repeatedly reaching out, for example, to Samaritans who were regarded as heretics by his own people. Indeed he earned the hostility of his own people because they thought he cared more for others than for his own. Once, indeed, they accused him of being a Samaritan. Peacemakers in Ireland know that sort of experience all too well. Community leaders are warned not to get too far ahead of the troops.

    That is a warning to take seriously. Yet sometimes risks have to be taken for the greater good. In January this year, the 30-year rule meant that papers were released about Liverpool's history showing that questions were asked in 1968 about a possible invitation to Royalty or to the Pope to come to Liverpool to be present at the consecration of the new Roman Catholic cathedral. We read that Harold Wilson, Prime Minister and a local MP, strongly argued that the risk of upsetting a fragile accommodation was too great and that neither Pope nor Royalty should he invited.

    Seeing that, I recalled my first months in Liverpool only seven years later. I asked advice in a number of quarters about pushing forward ecumenical co-operation. Each time the answer was, "Do be careful. Things have calmed down recently. Don't rock the boat." I thought hard about that advice, coming as it did from people I respected. But it seemed to me that the time had come for bolder steps and I decided to set aside the advice. Derek Worlock came as Roman Catholic Archbishop a few months later. Once we had started to work closely together, with increasingly strong support from the great majority in both communities, I discovered that he had been through an identical process and had also decided to set aside the advice.

    I salute those political leaders who have listened and worked through long nights, and especially those who risk receiving flak, and much worse, from within their own party. I pray that all those who have longed for peace will turn out to vote and then commit themselves to the long, exhausting slog of breaking down the barriers that separate them from the others.

    3.48 p.m.

    My Lords, I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, on a memorable, excellent speech made with remarkable, indeed enviable, confidence and sincerity.

    It is indeed a very pleasant experience to partake in this debate on the Northern Ireland (Elections) Bill against a background of cautious but realistic optimism. I should also like to be associated with the well earned tributes paid to those remarkable, resilient personalities who over a long period have edged Northern Ireland towards this historic agreement. Apart from the very real political courage and leadership displayed by the politicians involved in the talks, I am equally impressed by the genuine global concern for a peace settlement in Northern Ireland.

    However, we in Northern Ireland must realise and accept that the Province cannot be isolated from mainstream world opinion, and that Northern Ireland is now a global issue. This situation has, of course, both positive and negative potentials. I am convinced that if the agreement allowing this Bill to be implemented receives a majority verdict from the people of Northern Ireland on 22nd May and is made to work, then the peace dividend in employment creation, through inward investment in particular, will be very substantial.

    However, if we should decide to remain in our psychological trenches and allow this agreement to fail, the downside potential is equally immense, with an almost inevitable mood of, "a plague on all their houses". Northern Ireland could then be almost totally ignored and isolated from new investment. The political consequences could be equally severe.

    While the world awaits the verdict of Northern Ireland on this agreement, I believe that the people of the Province should examine and consider the agreement as a whole, and not just extract from the document, in isolation, that which inflames our emotions and traditions. Since many of the people of Northern Ireland were not prepared for a successful outcome to the negotiations resulting in this Bill, I strongly believe that the electorate, when judging the merits of the agreement, do not wish to be pressurised from outside, but left alone to make their own decision. To date, opponents of this Bill have failed to put forward any rational, viable or indeed acceptable alternative to these proposals, which I believe provide the chance of a generation to break away from the past.

    I welcome the proposal in the Bill to establish an assembly in Northern Ireland. Although direct rule has proved an effective necessity, the administrative problems are considerable, with Northern Ireland Ministers constantly crossing the Irish Sea, rather like human ping-pong balls, yet displaying remarkable endurance and no sign whatsoever of metal fatigue.

    Since 1972, every Northern Ireland Minister without exception has demonstrated deep concern and respect for the Province and, since departing from our shores, these expressions never diminish. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, definitely fulfils that role. Thankfully, he is certainly still onshore on the other side of the Irish Sea.

    However, direct rule has invariably resulted in a political vacuum in Northern Ireland, with our elected politicians having no opportunity to be directly involved with the administration of the Province. Again, local council powers are extremely limited. This situation has caused political apathy and a lack of focus on the crucial issues facing our daily lives—in other words, bread-and-butter issues. If we are to achieve peace, and that all-important political stability, then a Northern Ireland elected spokesman will be the most effective voice abroad in persuading mobile investment that we have at long last turned the corner.

    The real plague that has afflicted the Province ever since its foundation is undoubtedly insecurity, which is shared equally by both communities. The agreement, resulting in this Bill, has provided a workable foundation on which to build a thoroughly fair, peaceful and secure society, for the agreement has realistically addressed the insecurity felt, and indeed experienced, by the two communities.

    The Catholic community, through the proposed assembly and the British Irish Council, will have the transparent opportunity of fully belonging to and being an integral part of Northern Ireland society, for in order to achieve the type of society set out in the agreement, Catholic participation in opportunity and involvement is crucial and fundamentally important.

    I also believe that Senator Mitchell has fully addressed the genuine long-standing fears and suspicions of the Unionists with both reality and insight, for this agreement will strengthen the Union and create a far more durable union with Great Britain.

    If this agreement should be enacted in law, the people of Northern Ireland will, for the first time, be in control of their constitutional destiny and not be subjected to any pressure whatsoever from Washington, Westminster or indeed Dublin.

    I do hope and trust that in future Dublin can demonstrate a more mature approach towards Northern Ireland, which is indeed the common code of behaviour throughout the European Union, particularly following the amendment of Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution, for in the border areas where I come from, where undoubted genocide has taken place over the past 30 years, there is a distinct feeling that, at times of tension and tragedy, the situation has not been helped by Dublin.

    Living in a border area, I am only too aware of, and sensitive to, the 30 long years of accumulated hurt, pain and grievance within the Protestant community; for I have, over this long period of time, attended many, many tragic funerals of gallant policemen and soldiers. However, I do not believe that the Peace Agreement should indicate that their lives have been given in vain, since their remarkable courage, and that of their former colleagues, combined with the consistent, granite-like resilience of all decent people in Northern Ireland, have achieved this agreement.

    Although the first cease-fire brought great relief and an easing of appalling tension, combined with natural suspicion, it did not produce the change in realities of a new political environment or the almost total longing for peace, both of which are so apparent today. However, that invaluable "window of peace" demonstrated only too clearly—particularly to the younger generation—that in most parts of Northern Ireland the quality of life has been absent as enjoyed by the rest of the United Kingdom during the past 30 years.

    On an economic front, the violence has resulted in Northern Ireland becoming one of the poorest parts of the United Kingdom, with the largest numbers on benefit and the highest prevalence of low pay. Therefore, economic and industrial revival, providing all-important employment, must be prioritised with political reconstruction, both of which can be achieved only through permanent peace. For far too long Northern Ireland has been left out in the cold in achieving its fair share of inward investment. I am fully confident that this situation can, and will, be reversed.

    I fully share the widespread concern regarding the future of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the proposed independent commission, for there is no doubt whatsoever that, time and again, that most brave, committed and professional police force has alone maintained that wafer-thin line between democracy and anarchy. However, the most virulent and sustained propaganda war has in no way diminished or tarnished the Royal Ulster Constabulary's unique record of service to the community as a whole, which will surely stand the test of any commission scrutiny. Furthermore, I firmly believe that we, the people of Northern Ireland, have failed the men and women of the Royal Ulster Constabulary by not resolving our own divisions and finding an acceptable way forward, while this Bill at long last offers a realistic answer. The Bill offers Northern Ireland politicians the opportunity of taking on far more responsibility, thereby removing unwanted and uncalled-for pressure from the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

    Although there are obvious uncertainties and inevitable danger signals ahead, I believe that there is now a unique opportunity to break with the past. It would be a total tragedy for present and future generations were this opportunity to be squandered. I fully endorse the Bill.

    3.59 p.m.

    My Lords, the Bill does not deal with the powers of the proposed assembly. It was rumoured that the assembly was to have legislative powers. In my humble view, that would clearly be unwise for such a large, cumbersome body. If the Government adhere to the far too large membership of 108, they might consider restricting the powers to legislation at secondary level, not primary level where collective responsibility would be unworkable and perpetual instability would be forever with us.

    When this measure was proceeding through another place on a rather truncated timetable of one day, the point was made with considerable force that, although defects were then identified, there would be no proper provision for amendments to be moved or accepted. Your Lordships are in a much more fortunate position today and tomorrow. It may be that the Government accept that, although some Members of another place have had opportunities to debate issues in the agreement over the past two years, with a very few exceptions your Lordships were deprived of that inspiring experience.

    I know that the Minister is always prepared to listen and, within the constraints of his office, do his best to assist in remedying defects where they exist. I therefore trust that he will, as usual, respond favourably, perhaps at a convenient time in the Committee stage, to suggestions for improving the draft before us.

    I imagine that the Secretary of State probably regrets her exhortation to people to read the agreement, which was posted to every household. The disadvantage has been that, as the 65 pages were read, acquiescence has decreased on the same scale. That was perhaps not the fault of the Secretary of State but a result of the tortuous language employed by the bureaucrats. As the agreement is the parent of the Bill, we are debating the measure against a background of hostility and suspicion which was not so evident when the Bill was considered in another place some two weeks ago. It follows that there are serious doubts about the working of the assembly, and no one should deny that.

    One glaring defect is its sheer size. I understand that the Scottish parliament will have 129 members, the Welsh assembly will have 60 and Northern Ireland, with a much smaller population than Wales, will have 108. I can understand the Government's eagerness to enlist as many diverse and perverse elements as possible. I do not subscribe to the unworthy suggestion that the members will all be brought there to be bribed; I know that that would not be considered by Her Majesty's Government.

    A membership of 108 creates an enormous financial burden with regard to personal protection for many of the members. Only this morning the IRA announced that IRA members, using Sinn Fein as a cover name, may take their places in the assembly. As the IRA declared a few days ago that they had no intention of terminating their capacity to make war, we shall be confronted with the nightmare situation described by Mr. John Hume some months ago of sitting at a table side by side with terrorists with—to use his words—guns on the table, under the table or outside the door. I share his very serious reservations.

    This situation clearly establishes that the position has been transformed since the Bill passed through all its stages in another place. We shall therefore need to consider carefully in Committee the inclusion of effective measures to cope with the kind of situation which I have outlined and which Mr. Hume first mentioned some two or three months ago. I hope that we shall turn our minds to that, particularly having regard to the views expressed on that point from all parts of the House.

    Over recent years, under successive governments—and probably unknown to governments—a directive on the following lines was brought into being:
    "We cannot in the short term concede the demands of the IRA/Sinn Fein hut we will supply the mechanism to deliver them".
    I repeat that that formula was probably not known to governments, and may still not be known to governments, but adherence to the plan has produced results. That explains why the IRA does not accept the Belfast document as a settlement. For them it is a conveyor belt which must be kept moving. It increases their determination to retain their command structure and their weaponry, not for prestige purposes, not through some kind of pride or sentiment, but simply because it feels that it is necessary to retain its capacity to resort to violence at a time of its own choosing, or even, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, said, to threaten a resumption, which in times past has produced rich dividends. Depend upon it, my Lords, the IRA brigade commanders are poised and ready to provide the necessary lubrication to the conveyor belt if it should appear to be slowing up.

    Unless the authors of the Good Friday document are prepared to preside over the extermination of democracy, a start must be made on dismantling that monstrous conveyor belt, which was designed and intended to deliver concessions to violent and criminal organisations and which, unless it is put out of commission, would be disastrous to the interests of the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland: Protestant and Catholic, and of no faith at all, God help them.

    If, for one reason or another, the structures created in the Bill come unstuck, we should not despair, because we can grasp for that which is within our reach. I refer to the Wales Bill, which is not very far removed from the concept outlined by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, on which perhaps I claim the part of listener in his early days. I am sure that he shares my conviction that such a course, although modest in scale—and maybe all the more workable because it is modest—would have succeeded. Something like the Wales Bill began back in 1976. I was criticised for launching that initiative. It was endorsed by no fewer than 14 million United Kingdom electors in 1979, but it was then obscured by bureaucrats for nearly 20 years. It is now restored to former glory in the current Wales Bill. My final word is this: be of good cheer because, should it prove necessary, there is an alternative.

    4.8 p.m.

    My Lords, there are many Members of this Chamber whom one would not wish to follow, but, when it comes to Northern Ireland business, the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, must be top of the list. I am relieved to find that he shares many of my thoughts and concerns.

    Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord the Minister that very little of the discussion concerns the Bill that he has brought to the House. But I would remind him that this is Northern Ireland business!

    I should like to express delight that we have got to this stage and to praise all those involved in the process. There are times when depression must have hung over everyone, but they kept on going. It may be that they kept on too tightly at the end; perhaps, if there had been a little more time, some of the remaining question-marks might have been argued out. But that is not a criticism; it is done. I suspect that the feeling of the whole House is that the vote should be "Yes", because this is the opportunity to go forward.

    One of the good news stories coming out of Northern Ireland at the moment is that the councils appear to be voting "Yes". That may be more representative of the people than any of the national politicians' views. This is the first time that the people of Northern Ireland can express true feelings without putting their heads above the parapet. People have shown excessive courage in challenging some of the threats, but to be able to offer to people the chance to show what they really feel without putting their families at risk is a real achievement. I hope that they will be able to sort out the confusion of what they are voting "Yes" for. It is a document that was apparently agreed on Good Friday but argued over ever since with one party still having to declare its intention, though fortunately there can be optimism about that.

    Is decommissioning likely or unlikely? Unless one of the ways of decommissioning is to leave mortar tubes outside the RUC station that was under attack, I suspect not. That indicated a continuation of the violence. We are told that instructions were given to Sinn Fein from the IRA on taking their seats, yet those two organisations are reputed to have no links. We are told that there are to be no political prisoners, yet those being transferred to Port Laoise are not those who committed crimes of passion or fraud; nor are the two guardsmen, in prison in Northern Ireland for doing their job—with a tragic consequence—being transferred to Great Britain.

    Even with all that confusion, the election and a "Yes" vote are the only way forward. We must remember that violence continues and undoubtedly will continue. Am I alone in wondering why strong paramilitary organisations on both sides cannot control fringe units? I continue to find that strange. If they wished to do so, I believe that they would have the means, yet it is said. "Not ours". I doubt that.

    One area which has recently been made even more fraught with difficulty is the need for the Parades Commission to make decisions almost weekly on the ability of parades to go through. Did no one look at the calendar when the report was due? Was it not planned that it would come forward at the most critical time in Northern Ireland's future? With an instruction from the Prime Minister as to what it can and cannot do, it appears that it can no longer be called independent. There are serious problems ahead on that horizon.

    The noble Lord, Lord Holme, and I rarely share views on electoral procedure. But the inclusiveness of those at the talks for the past month has been part of the success of the negotiations and I hope that that inclusiveness will continue. I praise those organisations which are funding the campaign for the "Yes" vote. Without it there will be even less likelihood of getting all those who represent new communities to the table.

    One of the specific points in the Bill is the need for 125 more public servants. We have more public servants in Northern Ireland per capita than anywhere else. Why cannot some of them be transferred instead of creating 125 more new posts? I doubt that it comes under the welfare-to-work category.

    One of the difficulties in getting this far has, without doubt, been the number of leaks emanating from the Northern Ireland Office. They have been dangerous; they have been disruptive. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what action has been taken to prevent their recurrence. Will the Minister join me in expressing distaste at the article in the Sunday Times by a previously senior civil servant attacking the Secretary of State from privileged information. The only thing that cheers me is that he appears to have shot himself in the foot in a way that the paramilitaries might admire.

    The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, made a splendid maiden speech. He brought to the discussion one particularly important point. There is no doubt that the "Vote often and vote early" message has worked in the past in many areas. It is important that the proxies and overall identification are validated. One can go as 10 different people with correct documentation—they have been seen on mantlepieces, to be picked up when one gets back to the room. I was grateful to hear the noble Lord draw attention to that.

    The Bill has got us further than ever before. Whatever we say today the decision is now in the hands of the people of Northern Ireland. That is as it should be. One hopes that the people, given responsibility, will behave responsibly.

    4.15 p.m.

    My Lords, no one is more eager than I am to see peace in Northern Ireland. But in examining this or any other provision we must be careful to see that it produces the result that we wish to produce; in other words, peace.

    I am glad to see the removal of what has been called the "democratic deficit" in Northern Ireland. In the past few years it has been very much ruled by civil servants. I have nothing against civil servants, but they do not have the contacts with ordinary people in the way an elected Minister has. I refer not only to our own civil servants but to civil servants in the Irish Republic who have been imported into Northern Ireland.

    The local authorities have little power; most of it has been stripped from them, and a great deal of government is done by quangos. They consist of unelected people—people chosen by the Government to do what they want them to do. I feel therefore that we should proceed with extreme caution. I have no objection whatever to sharing power with law-abiding nationalists. We may have different ideas and different aims, but we are civilised people and can get on perfectly well together. However, when it comes to terrorists, that is a different matter.

    There has been a great deal of talk about decommissioning over the past few years. On every occasion when Sinn Fein rejected it the Government said, "All right, do not bother. We will see what happens in the future". They have not stood their ground and insisted on decommissioning. Unless they do that, it will be a bleak future.

    There has been talk of political prisoners. Maze men are vicious criminals and to debase the word "political" by applying it to them is ridiculous. I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Longford—he is not in his place to interrupt me as he usually does—whether I made any distinction between the three or four lots of terrorists. I do not. They are all terrorists to me, no matter what they believe they represent. In most cases they represent very few people. The idea that they should be released within two years is absurd. Taking this side of the Irish Sea, we are talking of people like the Brighton bombers, one of whom was described by a judge in England as a man of extreme cruelty and inhumanity. He is one of those—and there are many others like him—whom it is proposed to release on the public. Noble Lords can imagine the feelings of the wives and families of the victims of these men when they hear that such men are going to be released. If they say, "I shall not do it again", one simply has to take their word for it.

    Another matter that should be dealt with is election fraud. The Select Committee in the other place found that it existed in an extensive way in a recent election in Northern Ireland. There is little sense in having a plebescite or a referendum if something is not going to be done about fraud in the polling booth.

    Finally, perhaps I may join in the tributes paid to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The less they are tampered with the better. Of course, Sinn Fein and the IRA do not like the RUC because they are the people who have stopped many of the atrocities of the IRA and therefore they would like to see them done away with because they get in the way. But we need them to get in the way of the terrorists.

    With those reservations, I wish the Government well in their attempts to bring about peace in Northern Ireland.

    4.21 p.m.

    My Lords, I, too, would like to congratulate the Minister and all those who have been involved on bringing the Northern Ireland situation to its present state. Some time back I pressed the Minister to persuade the Government to continue to push and promote a yes vote in Northern Ireland. I am delighted that the Prime Minister and the right honourable Mr. Major are indeed doing that together. It is great to see spin and all the modern techniques being put to good, sound, positive use for a change. I am very much a yes voter. I believe very sincerely in such a vote, but I am not complacent or confident that we shall get the right sort of yes vote yet in Northern Ireland. There is a lot more promotion and work to be done. The Orange Order is meeting the Prime Minister today and I have not heard the outcome. But do not let us fool ourselves. They represent a pretty solid phalanx of the Orange and Unionist vote.

    I also wonder whether the opportunities created by these changes will all be good. Some certainly will, but there will be many difficulties. In campaigning for a yes vote, I hope that we shall really be able to take the opportunity once and for all to dump the negative rhetoric of the Reverend Ian, the leader of the DUP. That started over 30 years ago and some of the blame for our present situation might well be laid at the door of the negative rhetoric at the time of Terence O'Neill's premiership in Stormont.

    However, let us move forward to one or two other matters. I am delighted that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, made the point strongly about a return to democracy. The noble Lord, Lord Holme, spoke about temporary things. In 1974 direct rule was a temporary happening and, 20-odd years later, we still have it. But at last I believe we have an opportunity, if it is handled correctly, to see democracy creep back into Ulster politics. I do not believe that it will come with a big bang because there are too many inhibitions. The local authorities need more power to give it a firm base. They need more strength. They have been working together with Sinn Fein, the nationalists and unionists. They understand how to operate the democratic system within Northern Ireland. It has yet to be proven whether the new assembly will grasp that ability.

    Like many other noble Lords, I am concerned about a yes vote and the election that follows. Its outcome is seriously important. I do not believe that the electorate yet fully understand how the new assembly and all that is involved in the Bill and expected from it, will work. Do the electorate realise that the management and control of the power for running the country will depend totally not only on their vote, but on their understanding of working with other parties? Will the unionist groups understand that they really will have to work together? Do those groups and others understand the relationships between the SDLP and Sinn Fein? That is very important. Do we understand it? I am not sure that I do.

    Last, but by no means least, there is the great problem which most noble Lords have mentioned this afternoon; namely, decommissioning. I cannot see how democracy can work in a newly elected assembly while the balance of power—assuming that that is the way it goes—is held on the fringes by the gunmen. The situation could well turn out that way in the vote for the assembly, with the balance of power being held on the fringes by the smaller parties with the guns.

    I am not euphoric about this. I believe strongly in a yes vote and in the return of democracy. I sincerely hope that all those concerned in implementing it and taking responsibility within it, including Her Majesty's Government and the noble Lord, will be able to see us through onto a road which is considerably better than the road we are on now.

    Perhaps I may mention the RUC. Where will we be once the assembly is in place? As the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said, there will still be terrorists. We shall need a police force which is confident, capable and professional. We cannot begin rebuilding a police force at this juncture. Timing is important in so many things.

    Adding to the complication, we have murderers being released from prison. I know Ulstermen, as do many noble Lords in this House, and they can be very single-minded in revenge. I am sure that there are many prisoners in the Maze, in Dublin, and in prisons in England who will have one objective when they come out, and that is to get the man who put them in. I beg the noble Lord and the Government to pay due attention to that and not to do too much too soon. I have great faith in the right honourable Chris Patten who has been put in charge of the commission. I strongly support him. But we must beware of revenge as well. I strongly endorse this Bill and I wish all those concerned every success in the future.

    4.28 p.m.

    My Lords, in the last months of 1973, as the Member of Parliament for West Belfast, I took part in many debates at the other end of this building. They concluded in the setting up of a Northern Ireland assembly. I remember the euphoric atmosphere which persisted at that time in the creation of the assembly. But I also remember, five months later, the terrible despair that overtook Northern Ireland when that assembly was brought to an end. We had hoped then at the Sunningdale conference that we were bringing about an assembly that would be representative of the true traditions as they were then recognised in Northern Ireland. I can admit now that we did not take into account the fringe terrorist organisations, the loyalists, Sinn Fein and the IRA. They are now included and perhaps that may—I just say perhaps—lead to success in the assembly.

    When I read the debates and the press reports emanating from Northern Ireland, I see a whole new set of words now being brought to bear in connection with this election: "inclusivity", "proportionality" and "parity of esteem". They are words that are not normally used in elections on this side of the water but obviously they are of great importance in Northern Ireland. I again find myself in some agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, on the number of people to be elected to the assembly: 108. As I say, I had experience of the negotiations which led to Sunningdale. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, has first-hand experience of the negotiations which led to the adoption of this particular number.

    I should like to have been a fly on the wall and to have heard what was happening during those negotiations. I believe they have been justified on the ground of inclusivity, whatever that may mean; but where does inclusivity start and where does it end? How was the figure of 108 members arrived at? Would 118 members have included more? Would 128 members have included more? Would 148 members have included all the drunks in Royal Avenue—because they need some representation? In fact I think there are more drunks in Northern Ireland than there are terrorists. So where do you stop when you come to this "inclusivity"? I do not know, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, who took part in these negotiations, will be able to tell us how this figure was arrived at.

    As I say, there are 108 members and they will be elected. I think we can predict almost with certainty that there will be a great diversity of political opinion elected to that assembly. The same thing happened in 1973. On this occasion we will have representatives of loyalists, of Sinn Fein and of other parties. Will they be going into that assembly with the intention of trying to arrange political structures which will last longer than five months, which will last into the future and bring about stability in Northern Ireland politics?

    I recall the first five months of the 1974 assembly in Northern Ireland and there were some times when the floor of that assembly looked more like Madison Square Garden. There were people fighting; there were fist fights right across the table and there were elected members standing on the table in front of the Speaker—and they were people who had been elected. However, I think they had been elected with the intention, given the terms of their election literature, of bringing that assembly down—and they certainly succeeded.

    I would appeal to members who may be of that way of thinking now. That assembly was brought to an end in May 1974, and where have we been ever since? We have lived through all those years of despair, murder and political degradation, where Northern Ireland was not like any other part of the United Kingdom. Under direct rule, political figures in Northern Ireland were able to send over deputations to Westminster to campaign for an increase in money for health, welfare, housing and unemployment. They did not have to accept responsibility. They were able to point the finger at whatever government were in power at Westminster and to blame it all on them. I know from my own experience in 1974 that the people who constituted that executive—the Alliance, the SDLP and Brian Faulkner's Unionist Party—were prepared to accept those responsibilities.

    There was one issue which brought Sunningdale to an end, and I recognised it in fact at Sunningdale. That was the very contentious issue of cross-border relations. That assembly, I have said ever since, could have lasted and the unionist majority would have accepted power sharing because they realised that the old system had gone and no longer could Northern Ireland remain as a one-party state. However, it was the cross-border submissions in the Sunningdale agreement regarding that assembly which scared the living daylights out of the unionists. They felt that the concessions which were asked to be made led down a road to a united Ireland. They saw any interference by the South in the North as being a step towards joint rule and eventually to Irish unity. I saw that myself at the time but it was an integral part of the SDLP's negotiations that they must have it.

    In fact I have said in your Lordships' House so for many years that if these discussions which have been brought to a successful conclusion were to break down they would break down on the cross-border institutions. I am delighted to say that I have been proved wrong. They have settled cross-border institutions, but the big thing about it is that the Northern Ireland assembly will have the complete say as to whether or not they are made to work. Under Sunningdale they did not work like that and the assembly in Northern Ireland did not have that authority. So that is one great big obstacle out of the way.

    Again, like almost every speaker in your Lordships' House, Members in another place and the people on the streets of Northern Ireland, I have many reservations about this agreement. I find it very difficult personally to accept the fact that people who have carried out the most heinous crimes, including murder, in Northern Ireland have now been given a promise that they will be released. I personally find that very objectionable but I have to ask myself whether I cannot now put aside my objections for the better good of Northern Ireland. I am prepared to do that. Indeed, I am hoping and expecting the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, to tell the House of his experiences in the negotiations.

    Some of the people who took part in those negotiations were terrorists and I believe that some of them will never reform. But there are others who I believe have reformed, and from press and television reports I see that Mr. David Irvine of the Unionist Party speaks great common sense in the present Northern Ireland situation. I may have said before that my only regret is that he and others like him were not around in politics when we were trying to create cross-community politics in Northern Ireland earlier. Those people may bring sense to the deliberations which are going to take place in Northern Ireland.

    As to the RUC, I remember very well in my young days looking at them and seeing them as being the militant arm of Northern Ireland unionism, and there is no doubt that by some of their actions they proved that they were anti-minority and pro-majority. They were sectarian in their political approach but I say here without fear of contradiction that the RUC has changed dramatically from what it was in those days. I know many of its members, and indeed last week I felt very emotional when I looked at two pages of the Daily Telegraph, which had photographs of the 289 RUC men who had been brutally murdered by terrorist gangs. By the way, if you listen to the voice of unionism, everyone will say that they were killed by the IRA, but some of those RUC men were murdered by loyalist terrorists as well. There were 289 mentioned and I knew 43 of them. If it affected me like that, how must it have affected their relatives, the bereaved, the fathers, mothers, sons, brothers and sisters of those men who gave their all in an attempt to hold Northern Ireland together? I repeat what I said last week: had it not been for the RUC we would have been discussing in Northern Ireland total and absolute anarchy, with many many more people dead than there have been.

    At the moment there is great fear in the ranks of the RUC because they have been told from all kinds of conflicting sources that there is going to be a great reduction in their ranks. One can understand that. If there is peace in Northern Ireland, we will not need between 3,000 and 4,000 policemen to guard RUC stations against attacks by terrorists, so there are bound to be reductions in the force. In 1968–69, the Northern Ireland government were unable to hold the ring in the face of the civil rights marches because there were only 3,000 members of the RUC. There are now 13,000. It was necessary then to increase the number because had that force not been increased, Northern Ireland would have disappeared for ever from the political equation of these islands. So I urge the Minister to be very sensitive in any dealings that he may be having with the RUC.

    Although I live here in England, I visit Northern Ireland frequently. When I am not there, I run up a big telephone bill—at the expense of the House of Lords! Many people have spoken to me about the talks. During the final weeks leading up to the conclusion of the talks, the UDA and the UVF murdered three people and they were excluded from the talks for three weeks. Following that, Sinn Fein/IRA murdered two people and they were excluded from the talks for two weeks. To most people in Northern Ireland, that seemed an awful decision. It seemed that one death equalled one week's suspension. None of the murderers has yet been convicted, and the relatives of the victims are calling out to high heaven for justice; and I support them.

    Those are my reservations. However, like everyone else who has spoken so far, I wish the assembly well. I know that there will be great difficulties in making it work as a political institution. Perhaps I may refer to my experience in 1974 in the five months of that executive. I was able to speak to unionists, people diametrically opposed to every political concept that I have ever held. We were all able to see what was meant by "taking responsibility". We recognised that we could all act in the interests of our own constituencies and thereby in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland.

    This morning I spoke to a trade unionist from Northern Ireland, my noble friend Lord Blease who cannot be here today because he is not very well. He said, "When you are speaking in the debate, tell them to forget about nationalism and unionism and about Catholicism and Protestantism. Tell them that the big thing that we need in Northern Ireland is for people to take responsibility for housing, unemployment, jobs and all the things that are necessary to bring about a decent standard of life in Northern Ireland". My noble friend did not have to make that telephone call to me this morning; we have known each other through the trade union movement for many years. However, those are the facts of life now facing people in Northern Ireland.

    I realise that the referendum will be tremendously difficult. Incidentally, I remember David Trimble wrecking Sunningdale. When he was a member of the Vanguard Party, he was a protester at Sunningdale and brought the process there to an end. I am delighted that he has seen sense since those days and that he took the courageous step of engaging in the talks. I believe that in the referendum that is about to take place it is imperative that the unionist voice is loudly heard. It has to be loudly heard because if the idea of an assembly is carried by 65 or 70 per cent. of the voters, most of whom are Sinn Fein and SDLP voters, that result will be quickly analysed in Northern Ireland—we in Northern Ireland are no fools when it comes to analysing election results—and it will then be found that only a minority of unionists voted for the referendum. That would seriously weaken David Trimble's voice and unionism. I believe that the vast majority of unionists should accord their "Yes" votes for the minority political parties in Northern Ireland.

    It is important that an overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland should stand back and look at the despair and tragedy of not only the past 30 years, but also of all the decades and centuries before, and recognise that the assembly could take us a step further towards a brighter future for Northern Ireland.

    4.44 p.m.

    My Lords, it is always impossible, alas, to come anywhere near to matching the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. As usual, I agree with a great deal of what he has said. First, I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for having missed his opening speech. A combination of container lorries and dustcarts does not exactly help the flow of London's traffic.

    Your Lordships will be glad to hear that a heavy cold and sore throat oblige me to concentrate mainly on this short Bill, but one general observation might be in order first. Chairman Mao famously declared,
    "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun".
    The truth of that maxim has been amply demonstrated over the past years, and in particular over past months. Power grows out of the barrel of a gun—and it grows even faster out of a stockpile of semtex. The cave-in over decommissioning, and the lavish attention given to Loyalist paramilitaries who represent a tiny part of the Unionist community demonstrate that, if nothing else does.

    I turn now to the Bill. Yesterday evening we debated the Fireworks Bill in Committee. Speaker after speaker—notably, noble and learned Lords on the Conservative Benches—castigated that Bill for its proliferation of Henry VIII clauses and subsections but, compared to this Bill, the Fireworks Bill is the very model of the supremacy of primary legislation. Clause 2(5)(b) permits the Secretary of State to "make provision about deposits". An assembly of some sort has surely been on the cards for several months. Even if its precise make-up was in the balance until a very late stage, it must have been obvious that candidates would need to put up a deposit, as candidates in United Kingdom elections always do. Why was not the precise amount stated on the face of the Bill?

    One then notices that paragraph 1 of the schedule states:
    "Meetings shall be held at such times and places as the Secretary of State directs".
    Is not that just a trifle colonialist?

    One of the most important features of the assembly or its successor does not appear on the face of the Bill. I refer to the requirement that no new legislation should pass unless it has the support of at least 40 per cent. of the representatives of each community, however one defines the word "community". That is seen as an important safeguard of the rights of each community. I have no objection to that safeguard. I think it is a very good safeguard: but no such safeguard exists under the agreement in connection with the most important decision of all, that on citizenship or nationhood. Whereas no law can come into force which provides, for example, for the introduction of cycle lanes on certain urban roads or for the improved teaching of mathematics in primary schools without the support of the representatives of at least 40 per cent. of each community, the Province could be detached from the United Kingdom and annexed to the Irish Republic against the wishes of every single Unionist, given a continuation of current demographic trends.

    Whenever I speak in private to those who are more expert on Northern Ireland than I, they say, "Yes, you are absolutely right in theory but, in practice, we can be pretty certain that when it comes to the crunch a number of Catholics will get cold feet about going into the Republic". However, I would argue first that past trends may not continue, particularly if the Republic becomes more prosperous, and secondly, and more importantly, that that is putting cynicism before principle. I contend that our laws should be based on morality in preference to realpolitik and that it would be immoral for the Republic to swallow up Northern Ireland without the consent of at least a substantial proportion of each community. For that reason, if I lived in Northern Ireland—I do not—I doubt very much whether I could vote for the agreement as it stands.

    4.49 p.m.

    My Lords, my main purpose is to urge that in the coming days any further confidence-building measures should be directed towards reassuring the ordinary people of Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant, rather than Sinn Fein/IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries. I do not distinguish between Sinn Fein/IRA and the so-called break-away groups because the latter, given their regular access to relatively sophisticated weapons and professional expertise, are almost certainly no more than a convenient disavowable device. My chief concerns are in the areas of security and the future role of the Armed Forces and the RUC and whether there is to be real reciprocity of action by the Irish Government in that area.

    How do we reconcile the commitment under "Prisoners" that,
    "Prisoners affiliated to organisations which have not established or are not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire will not benefit from the arrangements",
    with the Dublin Government's recent release of a number of IRA prisoners, two only yesterday? It will be said that the IRA has not broken its ceasefire, but its so-called break-away groups have done so recently and quite often; and the IRA's unequivocal refusal made before the talks and maintained after the agreement to consider decommissioning must surely be regarded as relevant. I hope that Her Majesty's Government link the release of prisoners with decommissioning. I do not believe that the Irish Government's action, even if it is probably part of a campaign to obtain a "yes" in their referendum very properly, is consonant with the section of the agreement dealing with prisoners that I have quoted.

    Another issue of great and mutual concern to the people of Northern Ireland is the policy on the future of the RUC and policing generally. We must await the outcome of the review of the commission—I welcome the fact that Mr. Chris Patten is to head it—on the future of the RUC, but there are aspects of the agreement that are disturbing. The RUC has been in the front line of an unrelenting war for a long time. The reason why thus far Catholics have been so under-represented on the force is the systematic threats and intimidation by the IRA. That has been the lot of any Catholics who have dared to join. Their families have suffered the same threats. This is not the fault of the force. Nor is it the fault of the RUC that there are large no-go areas where it may not operate. It would have been difficult for it to establish good community relations in those areas.

    Finally, the RUC is armed because, unlike the police in the rest of the UK, it is operating daily in a war created by the paramilitaries. Until the threat goes and the nationalist attitude to the police changes, references in the agreement under paragraph 2 of "Policing and Justice" to "a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole … routinely unarmed" and, in Annexe A, to the police operating "within a clear framework of accountability to the law and the community they serve" and "arrangements enabling local people, and their political representatives … to establish publicly policing priorities and influence policing policies", all imply that the RUC could and should have achieved that position. But the fact is that the IRA and the paramilitaries together call the tune. The IRA has said many times that it wants a people's police and meanwhile arrogates quasi-police powers to itself, such as the recent knee-capping of a 79 year-old pensioner, who proved to be the wrong man but who will nevertheless spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. That is the IRA's version of maintaining law and order.

    If it is true that HMG are preparing a package to enable RUC officers, regardless of length of service, to retire early on favourable terms and with enhanced pensions, that is obviously good planning, but it must not be taken as an indication that they are about to be required to make such decisions very soon. The situation is not such that they can properly do so. I hope that HMG are intent on recognising and reinforcing the standing of the forces of law and order, not diminishing it, as the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, has said.

    Incidentally, does the reference to,
    "structured co-operation between the criminal justice agencies in both parts of the island",
    include a real commitment to extradition by the Dublin Government? I believe that HMG must be very cautious about the degree to which they appear to recognise and promote the Irish Government's power to be consulted about non-devolved aspects of government. That sends very disturbing messages to many in Northern Ireland. It is difficult to reconcile the duty of the Westminster Parliament under strand one of the agreement to legislate for non-devolved issues, of which security is one, with, first, paragraph 5 of strand three that,
    "In recognition of the Irish Government's special interest in Northern Ireland … there will be regular … meetings of the [intergovernmental] Conference concerned with non-devolved [NI] matters, on which the Irish Government may put forward … proposals".
    These matters concern in particular,
    "Rights, justice, prisons and policing in Northern Ireland (unless and until responsibility is devolved to a Northern Ireland administration)".
    I recognise that many of the changes that may be expected to emerge from the various reviews and commissions are good. It is absolutely right that the Catholic population should be able to relate to, trust and work within the police force, but it is the IRA that has been and perhaps will continue to be the obstacle. It is also sensible to promote a great deal of cross-border activity, but I urge the Government to direct far more of their efforts towards reassuring the general public in Northern Ireland, first that if they vote "yes" they will be treated as full members of the United Kingdom, not as an embarrassing appendage, and next that there will not be a politicised police force and, although its assembly will have real powers, security will remain the responsibility of Westminster.

    Meanwhile, the test of our own commitment to fair dealing is likely to be the enforcement of the required commitment to non-violence, including decommissioning, for all members of the assembly, difficult though I recognise that to be. As the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, has pointed out, Sinn Fein can no longer get away with claiming that it has nothing to do with the IRA while resting its claim to be a serious political factor precisely on its relationship with that body. The IRA itself has apparently declared today that members of Sinn Fein who are also members of the IRA will be allowed to stand for election to the assembly. It is very difficult to see how it will work with the Sinn Fein half of a delegate committing himself to a peaceful and democratic approach while his IRA half must refuse to give up any arms now or in the future. That will be a real dilemma for everybody, including the people concerned. Fortunately, I hope that there will be many Catholics in that assembly who have no such affiliations and will make it work.

    Like all noble Lords I believe that this agreement must be made to work with or without Sinn Fein. It is the best hope for the future. But, if it is to stick, the just anxieties of the ordinary people, Catholic and Protestant, especially on the issue of law and order, must be given greater weight in the coming days than the insatiable demands of the IRA and the Irish Government, who have their own agenda.

    4.57 p.m.

    My Lords, only a few weeks ago I did not believe that this Bill would come before us today because I felt that there was little prospect that agreement would be reached in the talks which had the deadline of 9th April. The fact that an agreement was reached is much to the credit of all concerned, from the contributions of the Prime Ministers, which were very significant, to the efforts made by the members of the negotiating team. That remarkable effort should be applauded.

    The agreement points the way forward to the restoration of local democracy in Northern Ireland, which is desperately needed. It makes clear beyond all doubt that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom so long as the people of Northern Ireland wish it. Although I have reservations about some elements of the agreement, I accept it as a whole and wish it Godspeed. I sincerely hope that in the referendum to be held on 22nd May it will be passed by a substantial majority of each section of the community. It is important that it should be passed by each section of the community.

    Many excellent points have been made by noble Lords who have spoken today. I wholeheartedly agree with most of them. I was struck in particular by the maiden speech from the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, in which he pointed to the problems which he called the "three I's"; that is, when voting in Northern Ireland, information, intimidation and impersonation. It is most important that there is none of that in the forthcoming election.

    The Bill before us makes no mention of procedure for nomination or reference to any other election for which the method of nomination would be similar. Will a deposit be required? Will a candidate have to make reference to his party? Much confusion and faulty voting can arise if there is a long list of candidates in a constituency and no mention of party.

    Clause 4 of the Bill specifies a number of somewhat technical reasons for disqualification. As it stands, there will be no objection to a member of the IRA or UVF standing for the assembly. I also note with concern that individual members of the assembly are not required to subscribe to the Mitchell principles. Surely a declaration to this effect should be included with each candidate's nomination paper.

    It would not be surprising perhaps if elementary matters such as this were omitted from the agreement, which was put together by able people but suffering from serious loss of sleep. This House would never agree to pass all stages of a complex Bill in a continuous sitting of 30 hours or more, for very good reason.

    I do note that in the agreement (Clause 36) there is provision for a review of arrangements, including details of electoral arrangements and of the assembly's procedures. Could the signatories to the agreement, if they are to deal with it, be called together now to consider the electoral arrangements and to consider the defects which I have described? This leads me on to what may well be an even greater problem. The agreement assumes that cease-fires will be complete and unequivocal. Unfortunately, that is not so. Terrorist violence still continues and the IRA has declared that it will not surrender arms.

    If Sinn Fein should put forward candidates for the assembly it is quite possible that by the d'Hondt system we may have a member of Sinn Fein as a shadow Minister of a department a few days later. Will this be acceptable to the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland and democratic members of the assembly? It may be difficult to remove a Minister from office in accordance with the not very specific Clause 25 of the agreement.

    Can the Minister give assurance that my concerns are unnecessary? My reading of the agreement suggests that no changes can be made to any matter covered in the agreement by this Parliament, but only by reconvening the signatories to the agreement. Is this correct?

    There are other matters which are the responsibility of government. Government have insisted for several years that there must be decommissioning, which is now more necessary than ever. What is to be done about it in view of the IRA statement? It must be faced up to and resolved, not just fudged.

    Premature release of prisoners in the Republic of Ireland during the past few days has caused dismay. According to the agreement, accelerated release of prisoners cannot start until cease-fires are complete and unequivocal. There must be no fudging of that requirement.

    The assembly can and I hope will serve Northern Ireland well by bringing democracy to the Province's affairs, but this will only happen when members of the assembly begin to trust each other and work together. It will be a great pity if the matters I have outlined should prevent that happening.

    The agreement is only the first step in a long process towards what I hope will be thriving local democracy and an end to sectarianism. The Bill is a small but necessary step and I support it.

    5.4 p.m.

    My Lords, I am happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh, who speaks with great authority on these matters, as have other speakers. Everyone will have their favourites, but for me the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Fitt and Lord Sheppard, will stay longest in my memory. Perhaps I am a little biased because they are personal friends. However, no one can accuse me of sectarian bias because they represent denominations of all kinds.

    I wish to speak differently from the way in which I have spoken on recent occasions. I am afraid that I have found it my painful duty to make sharp comments about the Government's penal record, which causes so much distress for all those who care about the issue. However, I am happy to say that today I have become an unequivocal loyal supporter of the Government. I can see relief passing across the face of the Minister. With all my heart, I congratulate all those concerned, the Prime Minister, the Irish Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam and everyone else. I am happy that Mr. David Trimble and Mr. John Hume have been nominated for the Nobel prize and I hope that they will get it. It is delightful for me to be on the right side—or the Left side—for once.

    There are many noble Lords from various parts of Northern Ireland in this House. They have one thing in common: I hope that they will all call themselves Irish. Long before the present Prime Minister and most of those present were born—I am not sure about the Minister—in the 1930s when I was writing a book, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, James Craig, who I interviewed, offered me a glass of whiskey. He insisted, "It is Irish whiskey. Remember that it is Irish whiskey". I do not know whether the Craigs were connected with whiskey, but it was indubitably Irish whiskey. I am sure that all Irishmen, north and south, call themselves Irish. If anyone doubts that, let them go to Landsdowne Road when Ireland is playing Scotland, Wales or England and they will have no doubt about the truth of what I have said.

    I wrote a book entitled Peace by Ordeal; the story of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. I persuade myself that it is still a standard text. It was a remarkable event. It was signed in the small hours in the morning in a hectic atmosphere. I believe that the parallel will not be seen.

    Many good things followed from that event. Today, southern Ireland is a prosperous state. When I was a boy in County Westmeath the Catholic children came to school in bare feet and rags. The Protestant children were better off. I suppose that few people will remember those days. Later when I was chairman of the National Bank, which operated in England and in the north and south of Ireland, the standard of living in southern Ireland was considered to be half that of England. Now the standard of life in southern Ireland is said to be up to that of England. That is a remarkable development. Therefore, one must agree that the treaty which set up the so-called Free State was a success. It was also a tragic success. Inevitably, it seems, there was civil war, which lasted for many years. However, I do not believe that that will happen on this occasion.

    I wish to emphasise that in my experience Protestant and Catholic communities are fiercely suspicious of each other and terrible things happen as a result. But in my lifetime there have been innumerable friendships between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, and much inter-marriage.

    Perhaps 30 years ago I founded a centre for homeless young people in London. The first two social workers were a Protestant girl and a Catholic girl, both from Queen's. They became great friends. When the Protestant girl went back to Lurgan in Northern Ireland, the Catholic girl was her sole bridesmaid in Lurgan, a town divided between Protestants and Catholics. I went along as chairman of the centre. The father of the bride gave me this Irish Rugby Union tie. He was an Irish Protestant farmer. I have worn the tie ever since.

    It is no good saying that friendships cannot exist. Nobody who knows Northern Ireland, as so many noble Lords do here, would say that for a moment. One can look beyond that too. At about the same time, I undertook research into the history and circumstances in Northern Ireland. I had a very gifted young research assistant, the Catholic daughter of a doctor in Lurgan. She went on to marry Mr. Cook, who became Lord Mayor of Belfast. She became the Catholic Lady Mayoress of Belfast. These things happened then and will go on happening. But the suspicions remain.

    Nevertheless, I believe that this agreement will do much to undermine those suspicions in the long run. Why do I believe that this agreement will work better and produce less tragedy than that of 1921? There is one simple reason for that. The treaty of 1921 was signed by Irish delegates in London without reference back to Dublin, without reference back to their own Cabinet or Mr. de Valera. I am afraid that that led inevitably to civil war. This time, to his great credit, Mr. Trimble has agreed to the new agreement and has secured a large majority among the Unionists. That is a much more hopeful sign.

    I turn to the Sunningdale Agreement, which in my eyes will always be associated with the late Mr. Faulkner but also with our much admired friend, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. That could have worked. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, gave his own explanation, but in my eyes it was undermined by the Ulster Unionist workers strike. I am afraid that that was due to the fact that Mr. Faulkner had not secured the full support of the Unionists to that agreement. This time, Mr. Trimble has secured the support of the Ulster Unionists, so I am much more hopeful. I am more hopeful about the situation in Northern Ireland today than I have been since 1974.

    We look to the immediate future. My noble friend Lord Callaghan said something painfully true some time ago when he visited Northern Ireland as Home Secretary. People asked him to sum up the situation and he said, "Too many guns". Of course, there are too many guns there now. There are still half-a-dozen military bodies. People in England cannot imagine the idea of having paramilitary bodies at all in a civilised country. There are too many guns, but the guns are not all on one side, very much not. People in England today think of the IRA as the enemy, but they would not think that if they were Irish Catholics, who may not be favourable towards the IRA as such but they fear the Protestants, who have far more arms than they have. At least two Protestant paramilitary bodies have not yet assented to the agreement.

    Years ago—and this may surprise noble Lords—I spent a night as a guest of the leader of the UVF (the Ulster Volunteer Force). I came to have a great respect for him. Later he was assassinated in front of his delightful wife, which was utterly tragic. But he was involved with a body which was itself very much involved with assassination. Therefore, I am afraid that this is not a one-way issue.

    When I stayed with that man, I remember that he showed me a picture of Carson, who, after all, took a lead in bringing the guns into Ireland before the first war. He hoped that I knew Carson. He and his friends—and I saw a number of them that night—still worshipped Carson, the man who brought the guns into Ireland. Therefore, the problem is two-sided. Do not let us treat it as a one-sided affair.

    I am extremely hopeful, although this settlement will not solve all the problems. On the one hand, we have people like Mr. Trimble who look forward to supporting and strengthening the Union, as has been suggested by more than one noble Lord. On the other hand, there are those who hope that it will lead to a united Ireland—Mr. John Hume, Mr. Adams and myself. But that is politics. You cannot expect Members of Parliament to agree, whether they be Tories, Liberal or Labour, about what is their vision. There will be different visions. But through working together and power-sharing, there will be a spirit of fellowship. Whatever the future holds, this Government in particular and the Irish Government, and all those concerned, and perhaps most of all the Prime Minister, deserve the utmost credit for making it possible for that new spirit of fellowship to arise and for a new dawn to emerge in Northern Ireland.

    5.15 p.m.

    My Lords, it is always a privilege to follow the noble Earl, Lord Longford. It is a privilege also for us to hear from someone who—if I have done my arithmetic right—was a young adult at the time when the 1921 treaty was signed. Let us hope that this agreement will provide a better future than did the 1921 treaty. I suggest that the whiskey that James Craig offered to the noble Earl must have been Old Bushmills, distilled in Northern Ireland. I also add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, on his splendid maiden speech.

    Like most people who live in Northern Ireland, I welcome a further step introduced by this Bill towards a return to normal political life, an opportunity for locally-elected people again to be involved in the administration of the Province. Over a period of 10 years to 1996, I was chairman of two government bodies in Northern Ireland involved with tourism and airports. I was reporting to and responsible to Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office, who usually represented remote constituencies in Great Britain, or noble Lords who sat in this House. Some, although perhaps not all, were of the highest quality and I would put the noble Lord, Lord Cope, when he was in the other place, in that category. From what I hear, the Minister is also as highly regarded.

    But after nearly 25 years, this Bill at last fills our democratic deficit and will give local politicians the opportunity to hold ministerial positions in a new Northern Ireland administration. I believe that the responsibilities that go with that will have a positive effect on local politics.

    This Bill is the first step in creating a shadow assembly before the major constitutional Bill which will be needed to transfer the administrative powers to a full assembly. But neither of those assemblies will thrive unless the agreement receives a resounding endorsement in the referendum on 22nd May. A majority of more than 50 or 60 per cent. will not be enough in my view. To make this process of a return to democratic politics succeed, we need a majority of more than 70 per cent. I hope and pray that the electorate in Northern Ireland will seize this last chance and will cast what will be the most important vote which they will probably ever cast in their lives in a positive way.

    Those who consider a "No" vote are hopelessly blinkered to the opportunities that the agreement opens up for the next generation. A "No" vote will mean "no" to new inward investment; "no" to new jobs; "no" to a potential boom in tourism; "no" to all the new economic opportunities which will present themselves; "no" to all the economic and fiscal packages which may result from a resounding "Yes" vote.

    Northern Ireland is not very high on the current economic matrix of these islands; in fact, it is probably to be found at the bottom. Noble Lords who are familiar with Scotland, or with any region in England, would be surprised at how far our infrastructure has fallen behind, especially in the border areas. Terrorism has fed off economic disadvantage and high levels of unemployment. With a return to economic normality, the new investment and the new jobs which are within our grasp will be the cement of a new peace.

    I believe that the agreement will also strengthen the Union at the same time. The principle of consent to the people of Northern Ireland to decide our future is at last unquestioned by the overwhelming majority and all parties involved. The Anglo-Irish Agreement and its Dublin-staffed secretariat in Belfast will go, so will the claim on Northern Ireland in Articles 2 and 3 of the constitution of the Republic.

    However, the agreement also has some very green passages in it which have, unfortunately, raised emotions, prejudices and fears. I know people who have never before been politically awake who have become incensed about the prisoner issue; concerned about the future of the RUC and the absence of any clear plans for decommissioning; and infuriated about the possibility that those who may still be involved at some level with terrorist activities may hold office in the new full assembly. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a further reassurance today that that cannot and will not happen.

    These serious issues will and must be challenged at later stages in this legislative process. In the meantime, I hope that the Minister and his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office will not lose any opportunity during the next two weeks to reassure those who have doubts and to get on the front foot and be positive about the economic advantages. I support the Bill as a further step on the long path back towards a new political future.

    5.21 p.m.

    My Lords, it has often been said that politics is not an exact science—and of course that is true—and that prediction in politics is a particularly hazardous occupation. Therefore, although I would commit myself with others in Northern Ireland to do our best to make the agreement work, I hesitate to say much more than that about the future. However, if one looks back through history, that is not only a much more accurate occupation but it is also a much more appealing one for people from Ireland as a whole.

    If noble Lords will permit me, I should like to make one or two references to what we might learn from our previous experiences in trying to address problems in the whole of Ireland. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, mentioned the attempt in 1921. His experience and knowledge of such matters are quite unsurpassed. However, the comment that I should like to make about that particular effort is that perhaps the difficulties that it faced as time went on were to be found not so much in the agreement itself but in the fact that many aspects of it were not followed through. For example, the proportional form of electoral system, which would have guaranteed minorities a better and greater involvement in the old Stormont Parliament, were set aside. Education, which was to have been undertaken on an integrated basis, was increasingly done through religious division. Moreover, the council of Ireland, which was going to ensure that there would be co-operation between north and south, never actually came into being.

    In fact, north and south moved further and further apart as the south increasingly sought not only for independence but also, when it came to the 1937 constitution, to remove itself from other sorts of relations with the north and with the rest of these islands by removing itself from the Commonwealth and by actually placing a jurisdictional claim through Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution. It seems to me that these and many other matters helped to ensure that the efforts made in 1921 were not able to be successful.

    From those events we can surely take it that the package as a whole is critically important when one comes to an agreement. What we are considering today is only one very small part of the package; indeed, it is not even the package which refers to the assembly. It is merely an enabling Bill designed to ensure that the elections to a new assembly can come quickly after a referendum and before what those in your Lordships' House, and more particularly those at home, have come to refer to as the "marching season". That is never a particularly good time for bringing people together or for focusing their minds in a calm way on how they might vote with the best interests of the future at heart.

    We have before us an enabling Bill and I shall seek to refer to that fact. But let us remember that the package as a whole is important. If the effort in 1921 failed, it did so, at least in part, because the package as a whole was not able to be sustained. It is also the case that 1921 failed because the people in the north and in the south grew apart from each other, rather than maintaining, building and developing their relations. In this package as a whole, noble Lords will be familiar with the fact that we have found a way—contrary to all expectations, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said—to address the north/south relationship in such a fashion that everyone feels that his rights are protected. Indeed, economic, social, environmental and cultural development can take place in the interests of all the people of Ireland, both north and south.

    It was said only a few weeks ago in your Lordships' House that it would be hard to believe that agreement could be fashioned so as to bring such matters together. Those who felt that way in this House were not alone; indeed, according to an opinion poll taken barely two months ago, 87 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland said that they hoped there would be an agreement but that no agreement would be reached. However, an agreement has been reached and it has addressed a number of elements. I have referred to some of them, but there are more.

    Perhaps I may move on to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who has much experience in such matters, especially in the later years—and I speak in terms of your Lordships' House in that respect—around the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s. The noble Lord referred to the problems of Sunningdale. There were of course a number of problems there. There was the question of power-sharing in the north/south dimension. However, there was another matter; namely, whether the people as a whole had had their chance to have their say. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, also referred to that, especially in relation to the people of Ireland and, indeed, the people of the Republic. We have learnt from that.

    This time, before legislation becomes operative, before there is an assembly, before elections are held and before north/south bodies are established, the people will have their say; that is, all the people of Ireland, both north and south. They will do so separately, but under the same package and on the same day. I believe that that will make it difficult for those who purport to represent the interests of the people of Ireland as a whole to gainsay the word of the people of Ireland. This is not way back in 1918: it is now in 1998. Indeed, those who often purport to represent the views of the people of Ulster—or, more properly, the people of Northern Ireland—will surely have to recognise that when the people of the Province speak clearly, as I believe they will, we must all accept it and work it to the best of our ability as democrats.

    There are also other lessons that we have learnt from 1974, and from the next effort in 1985. Indeed, let us remember that attempt to bring people together. I think it was felt by the British and Irish Governments that those of us who lived in Northern Ireland were such a troublesome crowd that the only way that an agreement could possibly be reached was to shut us all out and have the sane and civilised representatives of the two governments reaching an agreement—which they did. But to what effect? It did not resolve the problem. It is true to say that we may be prickly, difficult and truculent. I can say that, but perhaps noble Lords could not possibly comment. We know it to be the truth. But, if we are not there, it simply will not work.

    This time all the parties were able to be represented. The fact that some of them chose to leave the table when the going got rough and leave their people unrepresented says more for their lack of courage and commitment to the process than for any lack in the process itself. All of us have reached this agreement, not just the two governments. We seek now to put some of it into operation in this enabling Bill.

    I shall not refer to some of the difficult and contentious issues such as prisoners, policing and other such matters. I do not do so because I do not deem them contentious; they are. They are extremely difficult matters, but there will be other times when it will be appropriate to address those matters. I shall try to restrict myself to the Bill itself. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, tempts me into anecdotes about the talks process. No doubt there will be opportunities to talk about that in another place and at another time. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, made reference to numbers and why there should be so many representatives in an assembly. There is the matter of inclusivity and so on, but I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, for whom I have enormous affection, that I am afraid he bears some considerable responsibility for this matter.

    The reason there will be 108 members is that there will be six members for each of the 18 Northern Ireland Westminster constituencies. One of the noble Lord's greatest achievements in another place was to increase the number of Northern Ireland constituency MPs. That was a tremendous achievement. If I recall correctly, he increased the figure from 11 or 12 to 17. Since then, of course, it has been increased to 18 because of population changes. We were left with no option but to follow the lead of the noble Lord and stick with that number of constituencies—unwieldy though it may be—and have six members for each. Indeed the initial proposal was for five from the Ulster Unionist, SDLP and Alliance, but we were prevailed upon to be a little more broad minded and flexible. That is why the calculation had to be five times 18 or six times 18; it could not be anything else. The figure had to be either 90 or 108.

    The noble Baroness, Lady Denton of Wakefield, expressed concern about 125 new public servants. However, none of the many bodies that we have such as health and social services boards, education and library boards and so on need continue if we have an assembly of duly elected representatives who can take on these responsibilities directly. I hope that over a period of time we can slim down the number of public representatives when we have an assembly that takes responsibility for such matters. I must declare an interest at this point because noble Lords are aware that Peers may stand for a Northern Ireland assembly. Despite the many attractions of working in your Lordships' House, a compulsion has come upon me to divide my time and to seek election to a Northern Ireland assembly.

    At this point I refer to the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. It is a great delight to all of us in Northern Ireland that a Dunleath voice is again to be heard in your Lordships' House. His voice is articulate, anti-sectarian, robust in its delivery and intelligent in its content. Those are entirely the things we have come to associate with the House of Dunleath. The noble Lord's predecessor was a good friend to many of us. It is a great delight to see the noble Lord in this House. We all look forward to hearing further contributions from him. I cannot say whether the noble Lord will follow his predecessor, who also sought election in Northern Ireland and was the deputy speaker of the last assembly between 1982 and 1986. The noble Lord shakes his head. I understand his reservations in these matters. Nevertheless his maiden speech was a triumph and we appreciate it greatly.

    Your Lordships' House has Members who are resident outside the United Kingdom. Indeed, some are resident in the Republic of Ireland. This Bill makes it clear that representatives elected to a Northern Ireland assembly will not, as in previous times, be denied the possibility of serving in Seanad Eire Ann. This agreement is not merely concerned with resolving the problems within Northern Ireland. It is not solely concerned with repairing the damage that partition did to relationships between north and south. It is concerned with beginning to repair many of the damaged relationships throughout these islands which resulted from the events of 1920 and 1921. People may be able to come together as parliamentarians with differing and diverse responsibilities but they may also be able to come together as people whose relationships were never completely severed. Over the next few years—God be pleased$—those relationships may begin to be repaired and built upon for the betterment of all of us. I shall say more about that when we discuss some of the other proposals in the agreement.

    I wish to make one or two further brief comments. First, I refer to the decision of the Secretary of State on the presiding officer. I seek some reassurance from the Minister that when the Secretary of State considers such an appointment—as she will properly do—and the appointment of a deputy, that will be carried out on the basis of consultation with the parties. It may be difficult to make changes once such a person is appointed because of the agreement and the level of consensus that will be required. We already have experience of this in the Northern Ireland Forum. I cast no aspersions on the individual who was presiding officer there. I seek assurance that any such appointments and any such decisions—which necessarily lie in the hands of the Secretary of State until the substantive assembly is in place—will be carried out with full consultation with the parties.

    As regards the referendum, I said at the beginning of my speech that it was dangerous to make predictions and that that was a hazardous occupation in politics. That is the case but I am galvanised to reassure your Lordships that there will be a positive result in this election. I do not say that because of opinion polls, although they are positive, and not merely because of the many people who approach one in the street and point out that this process with all its difficulties is one that they want to succeed. I say this because local government, council after council, are saying yes to the agreement. Belfast City Council has said no since 1985, but only last night it said yes to the agreement. Ballymeena Council, the heart of conservative Unionism, said yes last night, as have Carrickfergus Council, Larne Council, Strabane, Omagh, Ards and Lisburn. Many of these places are represented by Unionist MPs in the other place who are taking a somewhat divergent view from those closest to the people at local government level.

    I am encouraged enormously by that situation, but we need more than a majority not only to reassure all areas of the community but also because that will tell the men of violence north and south of the border, from whatever community they come, "Your time is past; your input is finished; your contribution was malign, but it is over". In the words of another gentleman who knows more about these things than I, we want to be able to say, "They have gone away, you know, and they are not coming back". I beg noble Lords to support the Bill.

    5.37 p.m.

    My Lords, this has been a most thoughtful debate and, on balance, a hopeful one too. It has been enlightened particularly by the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and by the speech—which was not a maiden speech—of the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard of Liverpool, who is now temporal. The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, spoke of the deep knowledge which he has found in this House. That has been well displayed this afternoon. It was also clear from what he said that he will add to our collective store of knowledge. I hope that he will long be able to contribute to debates in your Lordships' House even though he is an hereditary Peer.

    This Bill is, of course, the start of the implementation of the agreement arrived at with such difficulty over a long period by the people to whom tribute has rightly been paid. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, was one of them. He has told us that he will stand for the assembly. There seemed to be some doubt as to whether he could also contribute to debates here. However, given the strength of his contribution to debates in this House while struggling night and day, on occasion, to reach this agreement, I do not think that his input into this House will he diminished even if he were to be elected to the assembly, as I hope he will be. I have rather lost track of whether the agreement is now officially described as the Belfast Agreement—as it was in the White Paper—the Stormont Agreement, or the Good Friday Agreement. But either way this agreement is, as it were, the architect's plans of a new constitutional structure for Northern Ireland.

    This is the first of several Bills. It provides for the selection of the people to start the building. The two later Bills we are promised, on prisons and on the constitution, will put the new edifice into position. These two later Bills are the important ones which will require careful consideration in Parliament, for once the structure is complete, the people of Northern Ireland will have to live in it. We, the Parliament of the United Kingdom, have the ultimate responsibility to consider those Bills in due course. Today we have to deal with this preliminary legislation, but we have also to see it in its context, as the debate has done this afternoon.

    The Bill is contingent on a majority of yes votes being cast in the referendum. Without such a vote neither the Bill nor the agreement will come into force. This referendum is important because it involves the people and because success in this whole enterprise will depend not only on the actual structure that is set in place, but on the willingness of sufficient people in Northern Ireland to make it work. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, drew our attention to the fact that that aspect is of the first importance and contrasts with 1921 which he so memorably chronicled in Peace by Ordeal, as well as Sunningdale and 1985.

    At this stage it is useless to speculate on the result of that vote, but we can hope for a solid yes vote. Like other people, I do not like some of the features of the agreement. I hate the idea of releasing early those who have been convicted of terrible crimes, whether in pursuit of Republican or Loyalist views. I hate the symbolism of it even more than I fear its practical security consequences to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, drew our attention.

    I therefore sympathise particularly with the emotions of the victims which the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, mentioned. I have found two differing emotions among victims. One is, as I said the other day in your Lordships' House, that the prisoners should rot in hell for as long as possible; but the other is that no one else should have to suffer as those victims have done with the loss of their loved ones. Therefore, it is important that peace should come about.

    Much as I hate what is proposed for the prisoners, I recognise that if we are to make progress there needs to be a deal, which, of its nature, probably will not be entirely acceptable to anybody. But after so much talking and negotiating I think this has to be the best deal that is likely to be available.

    I also firmly believe that direct rule has gone on for too long for the health of democracy in the Province. Everyone there has for decades been in permanent opposition, in permanently negative mode, as my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew expressed it at the start of the debate.

    I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, for his remarks about those of us who served there. I think it is and has been a benevolent dictatorship, an excellent form of government for a period. But, as we all know, the difficulty with benevolent dictatorship is the re-entry problem, and that is what we now face.

    There is no doubt that Northern Ireland's political and civic life has been horribly damaged, as has its economic life and its standard of living. My noble friend the Duke of Abercorn reminded us of that in a notable speech, and it was reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan. And all that, of course, is on top of the loss of life. I never forget that during my time in the other place as an MP, four MPs were murdered by terrorists. Two of them were particular friends of mine. So I hope for a yes vote.

    I hope that the politicians of the Province can start, through this assembly, to play a constructive part in governing the people of the Province. But those who do play such a part must clearly do so as democrats. If they or their friends still have their weapons ready, democracy will not work. That is the link between decommissioning and seats on the executive. We all know that even if there is substantial decommissioning many weapons will still exist or can be bought. No one can decommission fertiliser. So that will not be the end of the problem.

    No one who belongs to an armed conspiracy to subvert the state has any place in a democratic government or, to put it in Northern Ireland terms, no one who belongs to a political movement linked to still armed terrorists can join the executive. If the PIRA does not give up its weapons, provisional Sinn Fein should not sit on the executive. Exactly the same applies to the Loyalist paramilitaries at the other end. Both the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and my noble friend Baroness Park drew attention to the IRA's statement this morning which emphasises that point. I therefore agree strongly with my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew, who put this point more eloquently than I can. I realise that it is argued that the sections of the agreement dealing with decommissioning and prisoner release are in separate parts of the agreement. But the Government and everyone else connected with it have stressed that the agreement can only be accepted or rejected in full.

    There is also an inextricable link between decommissioning of weapons and the release of prisoners. If the organisations to which the prisoners belong stand ready and equipped to rearm them, terrorist prisoners should not receive early release, even on licence. It takes a great deal of dangerous work and skilled effort to convict someone of terrorist crimes in Northern Ireland because of the intimidation and the genuine fear of jurors, potential witnesses and informants, as well as the carefully taught and fiercely policed resistance of terrorist suspects to police interviews and the systematically drilled destruction of forensic evidence.

    The early release of prisoners is an issue of the highest emotional and political significance to me and many others, just as the issue of decommissioning of weapons is to Sinn Fein/IRA. If both sides can get over their particular stumbling block, perhaps progress towards peace can be made. But, as I said earlier, it will not be total peace. The RUC—the finest counter-terrorist police force anywhere—will still be required.

    I welcome the appointment of Chris Patten to chair the police commission. I do not mind the Government making use of Conservatives in this way. It seems to me wise to use the best and most experienced talents. I did not serve with Mr. Patten in the Northern Ireland Office, but I did in other capacities. I have the highest respect for his ability and integrity; and I believe that the RUC deserves the best. Many noble Lords this afternoon have paid tribute to the RUC and none more powerfully than the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I support all those tributes. It, above all others, has made it possible for democracy to get this far and it has more of the same to do yet, for we all know that not all the terrorists will give up at either end of the spectrum. Even if all the terrorists gave up pursuing by terror their political ends, they will not easily give up the rackets which provide their comforts. So the RUC must remain an effective force.

    I spoke of the Bill following the terms of the Good Friday agreement but in some small respects it does not exactly do so. One variation is something that I think we should expect from this Government as a more or less knee-jerk presentational reaction. According to the Bill, the assembly is to be called the New Northern Ireland Assembly. My assumption is that that was inserted as a default when the draft was passed through the government spin doctor's computer. So far as I can see, the word "new" does not appear in the agreement in relation to the title of the assembly.

    However, another change is more significant. In view of the short timescale between Second Reading and the remaining stages of the Bill, the Minister mentioned the amendments which I tabled in an attempt to bring the Bill back into line with the agreement. The agreement provides for the assembly to decide where and when it should meet, and to settle its own standing orders. I do not think that that is surprising; it is quite right. But what is odd is that the Bill provides for the Secretary of State to be the sole decider of these matters as long as the Bill remains in force—which is indefinite in the Bill, although it is expected to be only a year or so. I therefore suggested amendments to give the Secretary of State power to fix these issues for the first meeting so as to get the assembly going—I think that that is sensible—but thereafter I would expect the assembly to be in charge of its own meeting arrangements and standing orders.

    The Minister quoted paragraph 35 on page 9 of the agreement under the heading Transitional Arrangements. It states:
    "The Assembly will meet first for the purpose of organisation, without legislative or executive powers to resolve its standing orders and working practices and make preparations",
    and so on. The agreement is precise about the standing orders. I do not know what "working practices" mean if they do not include the time and place of meeting. But the assurances that the Minister gave at the start of the debate—that the powers are only temporary and will be used in full consultation—are obviously important. I shall consider them overnight and look again at the amendments, if I may.

    The main purpose of the Bill is to provide for elections by what is loosely described as proportional representation. I wish finally to say a few words on that. The Bill proposes one version of so-called proportional representation. It is not truly proportional. A fully proportional system is used in Northern Ireland for the European Parliament. But I know of only one country where full proportional representation is used for the national parliament, and that is Israel. I believe that it has been very damaging there and never more so than now. Last weekend, The Sunday Times, like other papers, had an article looking back over Israel's 50-year history. Its man had interviewed, among others, the former Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, one of the men who came closest to reconciling Israel and its neighbours. The article contained an interesting passage about its fully proportional representation which I think is worth quoting. Shimon Peres said:
    "The electoral system is the greatest mistake we ever committed. Ben-Gurion wanted to change it. He was much impressed by the British system of 2 or 3 parties. But we had a party system before we had a state, and some of those parties had their own armed forces. We had to get rid of the military splinter groups, but the cost will be terrible. It's a democratic catastrophe. It's not a functioning system. They will have to change it sooner or later".

    My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord; I am grateful to him for giving way. I do not wish to distract him from the Middle East, but I am sure he is aware that the voting system used in Northern Ireland for the European elections is the same as the one proposed for the new assembly elections. That is, the single transferable vote in a multi-member constituency.

    My Lords, I do not wish to continue too long about the Middle East. However, the point about the European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland is that it is one single constituency for the whole of the Province.

    The system in the Bill has been chosen because it is thought likely to produce the result that we all want: that which the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, described as having diverse and perverse representation. I thought that that was a good description. But it is what we all want. The agreement provides for the electoral system to be reviewed after what is described as a specified period. The period is not specified anywhere in the Bill, or, as far as I can see, in the agreement. But the electoral system in the Bill is a different system from that chosen for Scotland or Wales. It is different again from the system chosen in Great Britain for the European Parliament. Perhaps in due course the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, will recommend one of those systems, or perhaps another one altogether, for another place.

    There is no principle underlying all this, only the hope in each case that the electoral result will be what the architects of the system desire. However, I accept the need for diverse and perverse representation to be provided in the Northern Ireland assembly; and, given that the system has some familiarity, I think it is right that that system should be used today. However, no one should interpret that as support for the use of the various so-called proportional systems elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

    But this is not the end of the matter. The assembly—if it comes about, as we hope—will have an incredibly difficult time. I suspect that we shall have a difficult time in trying to set it on its course in later Bills. However, there is no doubt that this Bill is right; and we wish the assembly and the Bill well.

    5.56 p.m.

    My Lords, the debate this afternoon has understandably ranged widely. The agreement reached in Belfast last month, and the government legislation which arises out of it, are inevitably compromises which by their nature cannot give everything to everyone. We understand the concerns that people have about aspects of the Bill. But we had to move rapidly and this is an important step on the way to achieving the aims that we all wish to achieve for Northern Ireland.

    I think that the House today has been tolerant and understanding of the situation. I am grateful for the support that the Bill has received from all sides of the House. I believe that the support was unanimous. Everyone who spoke gave support, albeit with some qualifications, for what the Government seek to do. I hope that we can take the Committee stage in a similarly constructive manner and put the Bill onto the statute book within the next couple of days.

    Many detailed points have been raised. However, they are points of considerable importance, and I may be a little longer in responding to the debate earlier than I would have wished to be. I hope that noble Lords will bear with me on that because the issues are crucially important to the future of Northern Ireland and indeed to the future of the whole of the United Kingdom.

    Two main issues were referred to by many noble Lords. One was decommissioning. The other was the RUC. Of course many noble Lords also referred to matters which we shall be able to consider in more detail when we deal with later legislation; namely, prisoners, and the large constitutional or settlement Bill which will put in place the new arrangements. Therefore I do not wish to spend too much time on the longer-term issues which will come again before the House because we shall have ample time to consider them in detail. But I believe that the decommissioning issue is crucial and, given that almost every noble Lord referred to it, it is proper that I should spend a little time responding to the points made.

    Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that the parties to the Belfast agreement reaffirmed their commitment, as one of the Mitchell principles, to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. They confirmed their intention to continue to work constructively and in good faith with the independent commission and to use any influence they may have to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years of the agreement being endorsed in referendums north and south. Those commitments are welcome and worth while, and we expect them to be honoured. Any party committing itself to support the agreement must be deemed to take on those commitments as well.

    More generally, the agreement is a package. It represents a finely struck balance between conflicting viewpoints. None of the parties to the agreement is entirely happy with every aspect of it, but all must accept that the only way forward is to implement the whole package. Unless every aspect of the deal is followed through, the political consensus which the agreement was able to establish could fall apart, leaving everyone worse off.

    The decommissioning of illegal weapons, even the modest beginning of such a process, would be an enormously significant and positive confidence building measure. Ordinary decent people on both sides of the community need to be relieved of the burden of fear and intimidation which Loyalist and Republican paramilitary organisations have imposed on them; and will feel more comfortable about moving forward to accept and implement the agreement if there is real evidence of commitment to exclusively peaceful means. I appeal to all those in possession of such weapons to make the necessary move and help build that wider public confidence.

    An initial, highly desirable step would be the nomination of a representative from each paramilitary organisation to enter into discussions with the independent commission. One paramilitary organisation associated with a party to the negotiations has nominated such a representative: the others should follow suit. Any other paramilitary organisation wishing to consider decommissioning should also be encouraged to nominate a representative.

    As to the holding of ministerial office in the assembly, it is a key part of the agreement that such posts should be shared out on a proportional basis. Equally, there is a requirement on those taking shadow office when the assembly first meets to affirm their commitment to non-violence and to exclusively peaceful and democratic means and their opposition to any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose; and to work in good faith to bring the new arrangements into being.

    The agreement also provides a mechanism, set out in paragraph 25 on pages 7 and 8 of Command Paper 3883, through which those who do not use only democratic, non-violent means can be excluded or removed from office by a cross-community vote in the assembly. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has given an assurance that if, during the course of the first six months of the shadow assembly or the assembly itself, these provisions are shown to be ineffective, the Government will support changes to those provisions to enable them to be made properly effective. I am happy to reaffirm that commitment.

    It would be a travesty of democracy if representatives of a party associated with a paramilitary organisation were members of the assembly executive committee at a time when it had become clear that any cease-fire by that paramilitary organisation had been a purely tactical manoeuvre and that organisation continued to engage in or to threaten terrorism.

    The key point is that political parties associated with paramilitary organisations should be able to inspire in the other parties sufficient confidence to enable them to work constructively together. The decommissioning of illegal weapons held by associated paramilitary organisations would be the natural and obvious way to build confidence in such parties' commitment to democratic and exclusively peaceful means of pursuing political objectives. But circumstances can change; other ways of demonstrating that commitment or at least reducing the suspicion and concern of other political parties may be found. At the end of the day the various parties will either have sufficient confidence in each other to work this agreement or they will not; it stands the best chance of working if all the elements of the agreement are implemented in full; and history will judge harshly those who provided the obstacle to a peaceful and settled future for Northern Ireland.

    I now turn to the other broad theme running through the contributions to this debate. It concerns the RUC. I say without hesitation that Northern Ireland has for many years owed a great debt to the RUC, and so indeed has the whole of the United Kingdom. We have come to depend heavily on the RUC. I believe that your Lordships would agree. The sacrifices made by the RUC are recognised in the agreement. It is important that in the terms of the agreement we have a police service which can enjoy widespread support and be seen to be an integral part of the community as a whole. Pointing the way towards that is a challenging task of the Independent Commission on Policing. I very much welcome the support from many noble Lords, which is extremely useful, for its prospective chairman. The RUC will remain a very important contributor to the society in Northern Ireland. It has nothing to fear from the work of the independent commission. I give your Lordships total assurance on that point.

    Perhaps I may now deal with a number of specific points made during the debate. First, I wish to pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. He was generous in recognising the part played by others. However, it has to be placed on record that he played an important part in the proceedings and events in Northern Ireland which led to the outcome on Good Friday in Belfast. The noble and learned Lord's part should be recognised for its importance—as I believe it is recognised in this House—in Northern Ireland, and indeed in the whole of the United Kingdom.

    Of course we agree entirely that direct rule diminished the capabilities of local politicians in Northern Ireland to exercise democratic power. It is a gap that we want to fill. That is why we are moving quickly with this measure, which will be the first stage in handing power back to local politicians.

    The noble Lord, Lord Holme, asked a number of questions. He asked in particular about by-elections and how replacements would be made. We have not yet held the elections for the assembly; we are still consulting the political parties in Northern Ireland on that matter, and different models are being proposed. We hope to be able to announce the outcome of those consultations shortly.

    The noble Lord also asked when the shadow assembly would become substantial. It will of course require the settlement Bill, which will be placed before this House later this year, to make the shadow assembly into a substantial assembly. I hope that the shadow assembly will cease to exist and be replaced by the assembly early next year. I do not want to be more specific, because the legislation to achieve that end will be quite substantial. I cannot fully predict how quickly noble Lords and Members of the other place will respond to the extra burden placed upon them. However, I can give the noble Lord complete assurance that "temporary" in this case is "temporary". We intend to move forward very quickly. Assuming that the referendum decision is a clear "Yes", we shall tend to move forward very quickly with other measures to put the new arrangements in place. I give the noble Lord complete assurance that "temporary" is certainly "temporary".

    I now pay tribute to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. It was a pleasure to hear. It was informed, clear and interesting, and made a positive contribution to the debate. Along with other Members of the House, I look forward to further contributions from the noble Lord. He speaks with a knowledge and authority that will help in our deliberations.

    The noble Lord asked a number of questions. He asked first about personation. Clearly, that has been a problem in Northern Ireland for some time, and the Government are determined to act on the matter. We have already taken steps for the referendum—for example, increasing the scrutiny period for absent voting applications to 14 days, so as to give the chief electoral officer more time in which to stamp out abuse. The elections order under this Bill will apply that longer scrutiny period. It will also tighten up arrangements for absent voting on medical grounds, which has been one of the alleged abuses in the system in Northern Ireland. The Government's election review is due to report later in the summer. It will point the way to further steps for ensuring that elections are fair and democratic.

    I am grateful for the points made by the noble Lord as regards intimidation. It is a serious offence under electoral law. I am sure that the police will have everyone's support in any action they take to prevent examples of this type of unlawful activity. The eyes of the world will be on the election in Northern Ireland. I hope that anyone seeking to intimidate voters will be seen to do their cause far more harm than good.

    The noble Lord also asked whether ballot papers could indicate whether the member of the party concerned supported or opposed the agreement. I think he was referring to individual candidates and not the party as a whole. That would be a significant departure from usual practice. We leave it to the parties and the candidates to describe themselves and present their policies at election time. It would be very difficult to depart from that arrangement in Northern Ireland. Most parties make it clear where they stand, and I am sure they will do so. I am sure that individual candidates will also make their position clear. Indeed, to judge by the Northern Ireland newspapers recently, they are making their position abundantly clear. I do not believe that voters in Northern Ireland will be in any doubt as to where an individual candidate stands as regards his or her support for or opposition to the agreement.

    The noble Baroness, Lady Denton, asked a number of questions. She asked about the Parades Commission. I am sure that noble Lords will realise that the commission has recently faced extremely difficult tasks. The North Report recommended that the commission should issue a non-binding initial view on a series of contested parades. That recommendation attracted considerable support, both here and in another place. The commission recognised the political sensitivities to which such an initial view might give rise, particularly at the present time. It postponed issuing its view once to prevent an adverse impact on the Stormont talks. The Prime Minister wrote to the chairman of the Parades Commission suggesting that an initial view could sensibly be postponed, given the political circumstances, but the chairman of the commission, Alistair Graham, was free to accept or reject that advice. He is entirely independent in his role as chairman of the commission. That he chose to accept the advice in this instance is to be welcomed. I believe that everyone in the House appreciates the difficulties that the parades issue raises in Northern Ireland and the very difficult tasks that the Parades Commission has in exercising its role in an independent fashion. I am sure that the commission will have widespread support.

    The noble Baroness also referred to the 125 extra public servants. These are the extra posts which are necessary for the new assembly. It may well be that other posts will disappear in the process. If we can make savings by releasing other people, of course we shall do so.

    The noble Lord, Lord Monson, referred to election regulations. It is standard practice for such details to be set out in secondary legislation rather than cluttering up primary legislation with them. The elections order, which will follow shortly, will contain provisions on such matters as deposits. Your Lordships will have an opportunity to debate these matters in detail.

    My noble and right reverend friend Lord Sheppard made an interesting contribution on the role of the Churches. He set a very optimistic and helpful tone for the way in which Northern Ireland is moving forward. I hope that people in Northern Ireland will follow it. It was helpful for him to put on record the views that he expressed.

    The noble Duke, the Duke of Abercorn, also made a helpful contribution. I am grateful to him for his positive comments, including those relating to the economic boom that will follow in Northern Ireland once there is a prolonged period of peace. He spoke about the need to look at the agreement as a whole, and I very much welcome that. I hope I have given him some assurance as regards his comments about the RUC. I made my comments earlier because I believe what he said was important in relation to the need for widespread confidence in the RUC and any changes that may take place.

    I now turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. He suggested that the assembly should have lesser powers. That may be his view, but we are talking about the agreement as a whole, and we have to abide by the decision made by the parties to the agreement. He suggested that the assembly might be too large. I think we had the answer to that from the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, who blamed the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, for the size of the assembly. I do not wish to become involved in the argument, except to say that we have an assembly of a certain size and I believe that the people of Northern Ireland will want to make it work. It was again a compromise between different views and pressures. It will ensure that minority views in the community may have the chance to have a political voice.

    I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for having to leave the Chamber for a time when he spoke, but I was given the gist of his comments. He felt that civil servants were too powerful, and he was concerned about the role of quangos, a concern which I share. We shall have to see how the new assembly will deal with a number of quangos. In my experience, civil servants in Northern Ireland have behaved in an excellent and supportive manner. I have no quarrel with the broad generality of civil servants.

    The noble Lord was also concerned about the use of the word "political". We say that criminals are criminals. Paramilitary organisations may have political motives, but that does not make them political in any way. I do not like the way in which the word "political" is used by some people to justify their actions. People with political motives who behave in a criminal way are criminals; that is the be-all and end-all of it.

    The noble Lord also referred to electoral fraud, on which I have already commented.

    The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, was helpful and supportive in urging a "Yes" vote. I believe that I have dealt with the other points he made.

    The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, made a very important point when he said that he had put aside his reservations about prisoners for the greater good of Northern Ireland. I believe that that probably characterises the views of many noble Lords. Whatever reservations we have, we have put them aside for the greater good of Northern Ireland in order to have a proper outcome.

    I take the point made by the noble Lord about the appallingly large number of members of the RUC who have given their lives over the past 30 years. I note his comment about the photographs which appeared recently in the Daily Telegraph.

    The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked whether the agreement could be changed only by reconvening the participants. The key features of the agreement must come before your Lordships and the other place for consideration, and further legislation will follow. But I believe that we must respect the fact that this agreement has achieved support across communities in Northern Ireland, as I hope will be evidenced by the result of the referendum to be held shortly.

    The noble Baroness, Lady Park, said that it was important that we should reassure ordinary people. Yes, that is absolutely vital. We must give assurance to the ordinary people in Northern Ireland that they will have a better and more secure future, free from threats of violence. The Government and, I hope, all the political parties in Northern Ireland will seek to give that reassurance.

    I reject the idea that there are no-go areas for the RUC. There may be areas that are more difficult than others to police, but I do not believe that there are any no-go areas. The RUC is responsible for law and order throughout all parts of Northern Ireland. We certainly do not want a political police force. That would be anathema to people here and in Northern Ireland.

    The noble Baroness asked about the difficulties that have existed in the past in relation to extradition from the Irish Republic. I recognise that that has been a problem, but the situation has been transformed in recent years. I can assure noble Lords that there will be the utmost co-operation in defeating those forces which seek to use terrorism to achieve political ends in Northern Ireland. In that context, I am sure that noble Lords will welcome the splendid work of the Garda in recent weeks in foiling a series of potentially deadly terrorist attacks. They have been particularly successful in recent weeks and many lives have been saved as a result.

    The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, asked about qualifications for members of the assembly or whether any members would be disqualified. Those connected with serving a sentence of more than one year are disqualified, though sometimes the problem is obtaining the evidence to secure a conviction. Membership of the IRA and the LVF is illegal and therefore that would be another element leading to disqualification.

    I welcome the contribution from my noble friend Lord Longford. He speaks with a history of many years' knowledge of Northern Ireland and, indeed, I believe he has been there more than any of us. I welcome his support for the Government's proposals in this respect.

    I return to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, in relation to why we are calling it the "new" assembly. It was not New Labour, spin doctors or anything like that; it is a much more prosaic explanation. There is already statutory provision for an assembly—the one set up in 1973. That provision must remain until this assembly assumes full powers because the 1973 legislation underpins the directorial powers. The name therefore came from officials rather than from any of the Labour Party's spin doctors. To make a distinction between the former assembly and the new one, we simply added the word "new".

    I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, that a "No" vote would have appalling consequences for Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, speaks from the experience of being in the talks and having spent many hours and days—it probably seems like years—in helping to achieve the agreement that was obtained. I welcome his positive contributions, not only today but on other occasions. If I can avoid being partisan, I am sure that the voters of Northern Ireland will see to it that his merits are rewarded in the elections that follow—though perhaps I have gone a bit further than I should have done.

    The noble Lord, Lord Cope, said that he would sleep on the point in relation to the amendments he tabled as to whether he wants to move them. I hope that he sleeps well. I hear what he says about the single transferable vote and the system of PR. But that system has been agreed in Northern Ireland; it is what the parties to the agreement wanted and we must accept their wishes. However, in one phrase he summed up the debate and the Government's view: whatever its defects, this is the best deal that is available; and therefore I commend it to the House.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way and also for his comprehensive reply to a full debate. However, will he comment on my question as to what action has been taken to prevent any more disruptive leaks from the Northern Ireland Office?

    My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness. I missed that point when I was going through the various comments.

    It is difficult to identify people who make leaks and there have been a number of damaging leaks over the years—some recently—from the Northern Ireland Office which seem to be calculated to undermine the very process that we have been discussing today. It is hard to identify people. Measures have been taken to seek to identify the sources of the leaks and to prevent their recurrence in the future. We have tightened up. However, it is impossible to run a system without a number of officials having access to papers. If one of them chooses to be so disloyal as to leak information, it cannot always be prevented. However, we are doing our best in that direction.

    On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

    Blood Alcohol Levels For Drivers: Ecc Report

    6.25 p.m.

    rose to move, That this House take note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on Blood Alcohol Levels for Drivers (16th Report, HL Paper 82).

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, before getting into the substance of our report, I should like to express my thanks to a number of people. First, I thank our specialist adviser, Dr. Andrew Clayton of the British Institute of Traffic Education Research. He brought to our deliberations enormous expertise and guided us subtly through them. My thanks also go to our secretary, Jane Sanders, who worked tirelessly on any number of redrafts.

    My particular thanks go to our Clerk, Kate Ball, whose first inquiry this was. She joined the committee office only in October of last year. I will not say that this was a baptism by fire; she certainly learnt an enormous amount, not least about the idiosyncrasies of her chairman's grammar. Finally, I thank all members of Sub-committee B who were most tolerant of their chairman. I am delighted that six out of the nine—excluding myself—are speaking this evening, though I am not entirely certain whether their motive is only interest in the subject matter or whether they also want to ensure that their chairman does his job properly. Time will tell!

    The committee's inquiry was probably one of the most interesting ones in which I have ever participated. It was prompted by interviews given by the European Commissioner for Transport—Neil Kinnock—in the media proposing the revival of a directive which has been gathering dust since 1988. The proposal was to harmonise the permitted blood alcohol level for drivers at 50mg/100ml. The present limit in the United Kingdom, as I am sure all noble Lords are aware, is 80mg/100ml. Currently, nine of the 15 member states have a 50mg limit with two further member states currently introducing legislation to that effect—the details of that are on footnote 6 on page 10 of our report.

    During the inquiry the Government announced a consultation on the document Combating Drink Driving: Next Steps. That paper invited comment on a number of issues that the committee was considering in the course of its inquiry into the European Commission's proposal. The Government's consultation period ends in two days' time on 8th May and I express my thanks to the usual channels for the timing of this debate.

    Our committee took evidence from 23 witnesses of whom 12 gave oral evidence. The duration of our inquiry was four months, though that included the Christmas Recess.

    Each year around 540 people are killed in the United Kingdom because of drink driving. Interestingly and infuriatingly that number has stuck at 540 or very close to it since 1993. Equally, the figure of 540 represents only 14 per cent. of the total of fatal road accidents, which leaves 86 per cent. which have other causes.

    Sadly, comparable figures across the European Union are not available. Estimates from other member states varied from 1 per cent. of road accident fatalities in Italy to 40 per cent. in France. Frankly, we do not believe either. However, the committee was concerned—this is spelt out in paragraph 88 of the report—that the emphasis of pursuing the 14 per cent. may well be out of proportion to looking at the causes of the 86 per cent.

    The committee found that the actual permitted blood-alcohol level was only one of a number of ways in which to tackle drink driving. As our report states in paragraph 85,
    "A package of measures, rather than any single [measure] would be the most effective way to [tackle drink driving.]"
    The committee looked at a four-way matrix of countermeasures involving penalties, enforcement, publicity and education, and the legal limit. Of these four, penalties and enforcement were, in our opinion, by far the most important.

    Penalties for drink driving vary widely across the European Union. In Britain the minimum is 12 months' disqualification for the first drink driving offence and three years' disqualification for any subsequent offence within 10 years of the first. This compares with Sweden where drink driving with a blood-alcohol content over 100mg/100ml carries a maximum prison sentence, or electronic surveillance, of two years. At the other extreme, in Belgium an offence between 50 and 80 milligrams carries a suspension from driving for three hours—a sort of "sin bin" approach. The committee recommended that the minimum 12-month penalty should stay, even at a lower limit. This penalty has, in our opinion, done an enormous amount to keep the numbers of fatal drink-drive accidents at a level which is one of the best in the European Union.

    There are two main identifiable groups of drink drivers. The first are young, inexperienced drivers who account for nearly 30 per cent. of drink-drive accidents. In our opinion, specific education is needed in schools on the dangers of combining drinking and driving. We do not, however, recommend different limits or penalties for the reasons that we spelt out in our report, not least that it would give an incorrect message. For instance, if the penalties were greater for the younger driver up to, say, age 24, then at the age of 25 the same person would say, "Good, I can now drink more". We were concerned at the thought process of having tiered penalties for young drivers.

    The second of the two main identifiable groups are those who drive well over—and I emphasise "well over"—the legal limit. These drivers are known by different terms in different countries. But in our experience they were known as high risk offenders; the HROs. They account for over half of drink-driving accidents. At any one time that group, according to the evidence we received, represents about 85,000 disqualified drivers in Great Britain and nearly 30,000 of those are recidivist drink drivers—repeat offenders. The committee recommended that in the United Kingdom the blood-alcohol content at which a drink driver becomes a high risk offender should be reduced from the present 200mg/100ml to 150mg/100ml. In addition, at that limit of 150mg, we recommended that stiffer minimum penalties should apply.

    The committee took evidence from experts in Germany and Sweden on how they deal with high risk offenders. In Germany the high risk offender, at the end of the disqualification period, has to undergo a medical-psychological assessment which involves an assessment by both a doctor and a psychologist before being given back his or her licence. In Sweden HROs are required to undertake an assessment for alcohol dependency lasting between three and six months.

    The committee recommends most strongly that the HRO assessment in the United Kingdom should incorporate some of these features, particularly a more rigorous examination over a period of time involving psychological as well as medical assessment.

    Police powers of enforcement vary across the EU. In some member states, including the United Kingdom and Germany, the police require "reasonable suspicion" before a breath test. Other member states—for example, France—use road blocks. Outside the European Union random breath testing is used in some Australian states. The committee were not in favour of either road blocks or random breath testing. However, we favoured targeted enforcement. By that we mean pinpointing large groups of people; for instance, large sporting occasions or rock concerts where it is known that alcohol is consumed. We could see every justification why the police should be able to target those specific points.

    We also favoured evidential road-side testing. That is a somewhat more controversial aspect, but we were of the opinion, from the evidence that we received, that the technology of evidential road-side testing was now sufficient that it could be relied on in court. We believe that the introduction of evidential road-side testing would release a lot of police time in having to take someone who is initially over the limit, according to the initial breath test, to a police station where two or three more police are involved.

    We believe—again, this is perhaps a controversial opinion—that road policing should be made a core objective of police policy. We believe that that would reduce the number of accidents, raise the profile of road policing and stimulate increased police activity in enforcing road safety legislation.

    We also favoured the introduction of—my apologies for this rather large expression—the breath alcohol ignition interlock devices. That is quite a mouthful. In lay terms that is equipment fitted into a car into which a driver has to blow or breathe. The car will not start if the content of that breath is at a level in excess of the level set on the machine.

    We also favoured—interestingly, police evidence was against this—the use of home breathalyser kits. It was put to us that this could be dangerous because such kits would not be sufficiently checked or calibrated and could give wrong evidence to the driver. Nevertheless, we took the view that it would be a helpful aid to drivers so that they could get some idea of whether they were over the limit.

    We very much favoured the Government's latest campaign slogan, "None for the road". We thought that that was more effective than the old message, "Don't drink and drive", which has been around for a long time. We thought that "None for the road" was a good, catchy expression and should be repeated. However, we strongly did not favour any attempt to define how many drinks one could have in order to get to whatever the limit may be. At that stage we were not talking about 80 or 50 milligrams. The reason is that it varies enormously with the individual and literally depends on the size and metabolism of the individual. It could well be that a rather slight anorexic lady—I do not wish to be sexist on this—might well be over the top, whatever the limit might be, on one-and-a-half glasses of wine, but a second row England rugby player may well be able to have four pints. One simply cannot say that a limit equals so many glasses because each individual is different.

    We looked only peripherally at the subject of drugs and driving. We found that the data was very sparse. The committee recommended more research into the effects of drugs on driving performance. We recognised, however, that there were problems in measuring impairment. The committee found no evidence of clear benefits of action at Community level. We rejected the idea of harmonisation across the European Union. I am using here my own words and not those of the committee. It appears a nonsense to try to harmonise the limit across the European Union and still leave hugely differing penalties and enforcement. It just does not make any sense.

    Finally, and perhaps of the least importance in our deliberations, we came to the one that the media likes best or gets most excited about; namely, the actual limit itself. We came to the conclusion that reducing the legal limit would make only a marginal difference to the number of accidents. The majority, however, did come to the conclusion that it would have an important psychological effect, as part of a package of measures, as I have already outlined. The report therefore recommended that on balance the drink-drive limit in the United Kingdom should be reduced to 50mg/100ml. That is spelt out in some detail in paragraphs 111 to 114 of our report.

    We then tried to find what that might mean in terms of the saving of life, and here we ran into quite wide differences in estimates. The Government's consultation paper, which is an extremely impressive document, worked through in a logical sequence and came to the opinion that reducing the figure from 80mg to 50mg would probably save 50 lives per year. However, in the same document and indeed in other evidence we received the figures indicated that that reduction from 80mg to 50mg would equal somewhere between 2 per cent. and 3 per cent. That, in purely arithmetic terms, works out at 16 lives.

    I am not at all saying that any lives saved are not well worth while, but I think it is important that the House should understand the perspective of this and the numbers we are talking about. According to our evidence, it is somewhere between 16 and 50.

    I would ask Members of the House, either now or perhaps after this debate, to look carefully at Annex I on page 34 of our report. This extremely interesting graph shows where the impairment bites. You will see three curves there: one for young drivers; one, if you like, for average drivers; and one for the heavy-risk offenders. They break at different points. For the young driver it is approximately 50mg; for the average driver it is somewhere around 80mg; and for the heavy-risk offender it is well up, probably about 150mg, when the graph really starts to go vertical.

    I am sure your Lordships will have observed that at sub-committee level there was disagreement. That is spelt out in annex 2 of our report. Those who are very observant may have seen that the chairman of Sub-Committee B—namely, myself—abstained. I did that because I favoured the minority view in fact, but I thought it incorrect, as chairman of the committee, to support the minority view and at the same time still try to put forward the committee's report: namely, the majority view.

    I held that view very strongly at the Select Committee, where, as will be observed from Appendix 3, there was again a difference of opinion and again I state quite clearly that I abstained. I abstained at that stage because I thought it was totally incorrect for the Select Committee to try to reverse the findings of a sub-committee whose members had spent four months looking into this subject. I felt that the Select Committee should not try to do it simply on a reading of the report. So my motives for abstention were actually quite different on the two occasions.

    I declare my hand. I am actually in favour of a reduction in the limit for drink driving but I do not personally consider that it is worth going from 80mg to 50mg. To use slightly lay terms, I would regard that as "tinkering" with the system. If the limit is to be lowered—and I repeat that I personally believe it should be—then I think it should be lowered to an effective zero, which, according to the Swedish evidence—and they probably know more about this subject than anyone else in the European Union—is 10mg/100ml. At the moment Sweden has 20mg, and Dr. Laurell, who gave us the evidence, said that he thought it was too high to be an effective zero. I can assure your Lordships that you can never get to an actual zero because there is alcohol in all sorts of things like mouthwash, toothpaste and so on—in fact it is amazing how alcohol comes into everyday use, which one does not appreciate.

    I have deliberately ended on a personal note because I wanted the House to be clear that I reported, I hope faithfully, the committee's view but on that one—and I emphasise that we thought it was the least important of the four-way matrix—I took a different view from the majority of the committee. Having said that, I very much honour the majority of the committee, and I put that view forward at Select Committee level. It goes without saying, therefore, that I and, I am sure, all speakers this evening, look forward with some anticipation to what the Government are going to say in response to this debate and in particular on this specific issue. I say no more at this stage. I beg to move.

    Moved, That this House take note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on Blood Alcohol Levels for Drivers (16th Report, HL Paper 82).—(Lord Geddes.)

    6.45 p.m.

    My Lords, as a member of Sub-Committee B, I congratulate, in conjunction with the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, our Clerk, Kate Ball, and our special adviser, Dr. Clayton, who gave us fantastic advice and guidance. We have heard the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, summarise the report and then give his personal views. It is very much my pleasure to congratulate him on a very balanced chairmanship and on keeping his personal views private, although they did come out sometimes. It was an excellent piece of chairmanship and he did not try to influence the committee in any way. I congratulate him.

    I, like him, found this a fascinating inquiry, with wide-ranging evidence. I might perhaps mention a little personal involvement as I had the experience some 25 years ago of someone running into me who had so much alcohol in him that he could not stand up; but he did not seem to get convicted or even get his licence taken away. That may colour one's thinking a little. However, I fully support the conclusion of the report.

    My support starts from the basis that there is very solid scientific evidence, as noble Lords can see when they read the report. First of all, the methods and accuracy of measuring the levels of blood alcohol, either directly or by breathalyser equipment, are very well proven world wide.

    Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, has just summarised, there is a relationship between the level of blood alcohol and the risk of involvement in an accident. I think the link is already well proven and I shall come to that later. I do not think it is subject to debate. Looking at the statistics—and I am sure many speakers will be quoting them tonight—my right honourable friend Dr. Strang, the Minister for Transport, quoted the figure of 90,000 drink-driving convictions in a year for being over the limit, and 50 per cent. of them for being virtually twice over the limit: that is 45,000 or so.

    As the committee has stated in its report, there are two main types of offender: the younger age group of 20–24 and the high-risk offenders. The Minister went on to remind us that 540 people were killed in drink-related accidents. We can argue whether drink caused the accident or whether they just happened to be drunk in charge of a car when somebody ran into them—somebody who was cold sober—but we can go on arguing about that for ever. Drink played a part, and I think everybody would accept that.

    It is difficult to deny that drink-related driving offences are a serious problem. It says something for the road safety work done in this country over the years that our record here is rather better than many other EU countries. Perhaps we should be a little proud of what has been done, but it does not mean to say that we cannot do a little better. That is what all this report is about.

    I want to concentrate this evening on two matters: the high-risk offenders and the alcohol limit itself. On high-risk offenders, as the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, said, 90,000 people are convicted each year of drink-related driving offences. I was interested in the evidence given by Dr. Major of the DVLA in Swansea about what happens to high-risk offenders who want their licences back. I refer to the bottom of page 48 of the report. Of the 90,000 drivers who lost their licences, over 29,000 applied to have their licences reinstated while 976 were refused their application. I calculate that that represents 4 per cent. In Dr. Major's evidence, summarised at paragraph 44 of our report, she said that the DVLA, when considering applications for the restoration of licences, needs to have a
    "very robust level of diagnosis",
    which will stand up to examination in court. That means that applicants can challenge the DVLA if they think that they have had their application for the restoration of their licence rejected unfairly. Dr. Major said:
    "We are fairly sure that we are missing a lot of people".
    I felt sorry for Dr. Major, who was obviously trying hard with a couple of hands tied behind her back, as it were.

    Two things struck me when comparing Dr. Major's evidence with that of Mr. Hans Laurell from Sweden and that of Dr. Wolf Nickel from Germany. First, in Sweden, serious drink-drive offenders who are sent to gaol can serve their custodial sentence at home, provided they have a telephone with a machine that is capable of recording by smell whether they have been drinking. Those convicted must not drink at home. Effectively, they are off the drink, but they are not costing the state a lot of money by being kept in gaol. Offenders can be checked at any time to ensure that they are not drinking at home. That seems a sensible and comparatively cheap way of punishing people.

    Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, explained the medical and psychological assessments which offenders have to undergo in Germany. On my calculation, keeping it simple, 30 per cent. of applicants in Germany failed to get their licences back. That compares with 4 per cent. in this country. I support the committee's recommendation and I hope that the Government will seriously consider the procedures followed in Sweden and Germany because there seems to be a lot that we can learn from them.

    I turn now to the question of the alcohol limit and whether it should be reduced from 80 milligrams to 50 milligrams. I refer to the graph on page 34 and to the relationship between the risk of accident involvement and the alcohol content, to which the noble Lord referred. One line relates to older and heavier drinkers. Extrapolating the bottom line (alcohol content) to 150mg/100ml, one sees that even for the oldest and heaviest drinkers—the repeat offenders—the risk of accident involvement is five times that if they are not drinking. That seems significant. Whether or not the limit is reduced from 80 milligrams to 50 milligrams is completely irrelevant to them because they will exceed the limit in any event. I repeat that I find the fact that they are five times more likely to have an accident to be significant.

    The graph also shows the risk of accident involvement for young drivers and infrequent drinkers. Reducing the limit from 80 milligrams to 50 milligrams would reduce their risk of accident involvement from six times what it would be if they did not drink to about 2.5 times. That is not as good as the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, would like, but it is a good deal better than nothing. If one adds to that the fact that young drivers are also inexperienced, there is a major argument to be made in favour of reducing the limit to 50 milligrams.

    One can discuss the errors in the measurement, but I am not persuaded by the evidence from the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, which basically said that if the limit were reduced, it would threaten the jobs created directly or indirectly in the community and would have adverse consequences for government revenue from taxation on alcohol. People are being killed by drunken drivers and the fact that government revenue may be reduced or pubs may lose business is sad, but surely society as a whole can learn to do what many of us have been doing for many years. If one is going out for dinner, one person in the party will not drink alcohol. It is not difficult; that person could drink soft drinks.

    If we are talking about targeting people, by all means let us target pop concerts and other such events, but let us also target Ascot, Henley and so on because people there drink just as much and, in my view, they should not be on the road. One person should not drink—

    My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for asking a question at this stage, but he seems to have forgotten that many single people in rural areas depend entirely on a car for their social arrangements. When making judgments, the noble Lord should take such people into account. Their social life and freedom of activity is an important part of the equation which I fear the noble Lord has left out.

    My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention. I hope that I have taken that point into account. Of course, the social life of those living on their own in the country and who have a car is important, but I believe that 30 per cent. of those who live in the countryside do not have access to cars. They will go to the pub on foot or on a bicycle, down a road which probably does not have a pavement. They have a right to protection from drunken drivers. After all, a car is a lethal weapon whereas a bicycle is not, on the whole. One has to strike a balance. I am sorry but my answer is that if somebody who lives in the country wants to get drunk, he will have to do it at home, or find somebody to drive him, or use public transport if there is any. What about the 30 per cent. who do not have cars? I am sorry, but a balance must be struck.

    In conclusion, I support the content of the report. We are all in grave danger of concentrating on the alcohol limit to the exclusion of everything else. However, as the report says, there must be a package of measures, combining penalties, enforcement and education. Together, they will send out the right signals that the Government are serious about the problems of drink-driving which kills 540 people per year. If those people had been killed as a result of a rail or air crash, there would be a major public inquiry. But if those people are killed by drunken drivers, on the whole, nobody cares. That is desperately sad. I fully support the report and I look forward to hearing the response of my noble friend the Minister.

    6.56 p.m.

    My Lords, I have read the report with great interest and I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, with great interest, although I do not entirely agree with him about the countryside. He said that 30 per cent. of people living in the countryside do not have cars. I do not know any such people. Frankly, in my part of the world, everybody has a car or access to one. It would be very difficult to find anyone without access to a car. I am talking purely for myself here because the official spokesman for the Liberal Democrats is my noble friend Lord Methuen and I should like to concentrate on the countryside and on a part that I know well, the County of Angus in the east of Scotland.

    We have come an awfully long way in 50 years with regard to drink-driving and our general attitude to alcohol. Fifty years ago, I was the chairman of the annual Kirriemuir and District Agricultural Association dinner. It was a very jolly affair, and we had a form of drink-driving control which was absolutely ideal. Our admirable local sergeant, Sergeant Kippen, knew all the difficult families and understood their problems. At about 12.30 a.m., he would come into the room, and stand by the piano. He might even have a dram and, as the happy farmers trotted out, he would say, "Good night, Willie. If I was you, Tom, I would take a taxi". That form of control certainly worked, but I do not say that it can be applied throughout the country. However, it is most important that we consider what is happening in the countryside.

    I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was being a trifle sexist when he said that when a couple go out, one of them should not drink alcohol. There is an appalling sexist arrangement in our part of the world. It seems to work like this: the husband drives to the dinner and the wife drives home. That appears most unfair. It is ridiculous that in that context he or she cannot have two glasses of wine.

    The whole report indicates that the problem lies with two groups of people: the young, who cause the majority of accidents, and the drunks. That is certainly so in my part of the world. The number of difficulties and accidents caused by the ordinary citizen is absolutely nil with the exception of two or three drunks whom I know. But the young, with or without drink, are constantly crashing cars. It is absolutely right that the report should highlight the fact that they are the people who must be dealt with.

    The campaign has been enormously successful in reducing the number of accidents and has saved many lives. It has produced a new attitude in a good number of people. I believe the report to be excellent. I shall come to the point of disagreement in a moment.

    I noted one or two extremely interesting matters in the report. On page 11 it is reported that the British Medical Association suggest that,
    "because alcohol impairs driving functions, it is safe to assume that any accident-involved driver with an illegal BAC contributed to the cause of that accident".
    The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, may or may not remember that some years ago a judge was proceeding home from his club. He stopped at a red light quite legally but a sober idiot ran into the back of him. That judge was breathalysed and lost his licence. As a result, his career was gravely damaged. It is not always the driver with alcohol in his blood who is involved in accidents; often such people do not cause accidents.

    Further, the British Medical Association stated that there was,
    "considerable evidence that people who have been drinking lose certain social inhibitions resulting in, for example, the drinking driver being more likely to speed".
    The opposite is more likely to be true of mature people who live in the country. If people have been drinking moderately, they are inclined to take care. The expression, "No more, I'm driving", is very common all over the country.

    The report also highlights on page 21 the two main groups of people who cause the most damage. Enough has been said about that. The answer appears to be the imposition of stringent penalties. If a man or woman is to lose his or her licence, he or she will take care. If these individuals are liable to be caught because there are checks in places—I agree that they should be targeted, not random tests—more and more people will take care that they remain within a reasonable, safe limit.

    I absolutely agree with the conclusions of the report, save for the last sentence which states,
    "On balance, therefore, the Committee considers that the permitted BAC level for drivers … should be reduced".
    I believe that on balance that conclusion is wrong and that an intensification of the efforts that are already being made and have been proven to be right, particularly in relation to the young and the habitual drunk, is the way forward.

    7.4 p.m.

    My Lords, when our very able chairman suggested that we examine the new draft directive on drink driving legislation, I was less than enthusiastic. The arguments are well known. Convictions for drink driving have long since ceased to be a subject to boast about, as at one stage they probably were. As the inquiry progressed under the skilful and tolerant direction of the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, it became increasingly interesting, to the point where members of the committee found themselves in fundamental disagreement. I find myself in a minority, together with the chairman and a number of colleagues, on the recommendations of the report.

    With some thought, and at risk of pressing on the borders of good taste, I should like to make my position quite clear and declare a personal interest. Some years ago I was, with a close friend, involved in a particularly gruesome road accident in which both our wives were killed. It was caused by bad driving and had no relationship to alcohol whatsoever. I make that point, and quickly leave it, because I do not want my inability to accept the main findings of the report to give anyone the impression that I take issues involving road safety lightly.

    There is no doubt that the legislation relating to seatbelts and drink and driving introduced in the mid-1960s has saved many tens of thousands of lives. Our drink and drive laws are among the most effectively enforced in Europe. In turn, that has provided us with one of the best, if not the best, records of accident prevention in this field in Europe. We are however faced with a considerable decline in the rate of accident reduction, and that is what triggers the argument underlying this particular report. That has been used to support the case for a further reduction in permitted alcohol levels. I believe that that view is a profound mistake with very serious implications.

    As the inquiry progressed—I do not have the faintest interest in the welfare of brewers or anyone else on this issue—two key statistics began to dominate the entire debate. Fourteen per cent. of all road accidents involve alcohol. Of that 14 per cent., about 5 per cent. involve the high risk offenders to whom reference has already been made. Broadly speaking, they are drivers with a very serious drink problem and a record of repeated offences. Put another way, about 10 per cent. of accidents are caused by people who have had too much to drink. There is no argument about that. Five per cent. of accidents are caused by people who have an abnormally serious drink problem and should not be allowed anywhere near a motor vehicle until that is dealt with one way or another. But 85 per cent. of accidents have no connection with alcohol whatsoever. I do not argue that the 15 per cent. are unimportant. Having been there and done that, they are very important. However, 85 per cent. of the accidents are not subject to this report. Most of the traffic safety publicity is not connected with the 85 per cent. Common sense suggests that we are beginning to get our priorities seriously wrong, if we have not already done so.

    The Police Drivers Handbook produced by the National Police Driving Schools Conference contains some very interesting statistics. The vast majority of road accidents fall under three headings. About one-third of all accidents are rear-end shunts, which was exactly what happened in my particular case. A vehicle crashes into the back of another. A quarter of all accidents are caused by one vehicle driving across another vehicle's priority. Around one-sixth of all accidents involve a loss of directional control. That is a concentration of accidents which one would not expect to find if the root cause in all of them was alcohol. The incidence would be more random.

    Who are the drivers at risk? Even after taking account of age, sex, annual mileage and driving experience, some drivers are consistently more at risk than others. The police handbook states:
    "If you have had an accident in one three-year period you are twice as likely to have another accident in the next three years. If you have had an accident for which you could be held at least partly responsible, you are four times more likely to have a similar accident in the next year. Drivers also tend to repeat the types of accident they have".
    I repeat that alcohol is involved in 14 per cent. of all road accidents and that should be controlled as much as possible. However, it is beyond argument that a high proportion of the other 86 per cent. have a single cause; that is, plainly and simply, bad driving. I believe that over the years we have focused on drinking and driving to the detriment of the far larger problem. I refer to the drivers one sees every day whose bad driving habits make them every bit as dangerous as the idiot with three or four pints under his belt.

    The introduction of seat belts produced major benefits in terms of road safety. The drink-driving legislation has reformed social attitudes to a point where I suspect that the reason for the slow-down in the reduction is that we have arrived at a plateau beyond which it is unlikely we will make serious progress and where a further reduction in the limits would at best yield little improvement and at worst prove counter-productive.

    I believe that it is time for another new initiative in the field of road safety; a complete re-examination of the problems of bad driving and what can be done about that. I believe that the existing driving test is completely inadequate for today's speeds and traffic volumes. A number of bodies provide advanced driving instruction with tests far more challenging than the MoT test. The Institute of Advanced Motoring, of which I am a member—it does not agree with my argument—provides a test which takes almost an hour and involves everything from driving on motorways to driving in town centres, council estates and on narrow country lanes. Similar tuition is offered by other organisations. I see no reason why anyone found guilty of a serious driving offence, for example, should not, at his or her expense, be required to undertake a specific programme of tuition followed by a far more demanding test than that currently required. Driving around the back streets at 20 miles per hour is not a very serious test. My car has the potential to travel at 150 miles an hour. I travel at around 70, sometimes a little more, and I am passed by vehicles as though I were going backwards. That is not an unusual experience for anyone who drives on motorways. A great deal can be done in the enforcement of better driving standards, but there is not time to deal with that now.

    My experience as a member of the committee examining the matter leads me to believe that it is high time to face the fact that 85 per cent. of road accidents require a greater degree of attention than is currently the case. I repeat that I do not in any way decry the importance of drinking and driving as a source of road accidents, which in turn is a source of great misery to the many people involved. However, we must face the need for the department and Ministers to look at the matter again. The two previous initiatives yielded good results, but I do not believe that we can just sit back, concentrate on the 14 per cent. and virtually ignore the 86 per cent.

    7.14 p.m.

    My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Geddes for his summary of the report and his introduction of the problems faced by the committee. Furthermore, I thank all noble Lords and others who approach the task so assiduously. It is opportune that the report is published and that the debate is taking place tonight on the eve of the close of the consultation period on the document of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. The Government's response remains to be seen. I hope that we shall not wait too long for that response.

    The vast majority of motor vehicle drivers happily conform with the 1967 laws introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, on alcohol limits for drivers. It is admitted that the level then set of 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood was perhaps more of a political decision on what the motoring public would accept. It was also a pragmatic decision which, to the noble Baroness's credit, has stood the test of time extraordinarily well. Most people stick within those limits.

    I accept that we cannot be complacent, particularly as the evidence suggests that the reduction in the number of road deaths caused by alcohol has flattened out. I do not believe that that reduction is consistent with the efforts that have been made, but perhaps it emphasises that further and greater efforts should be made to make an impact.

    The difficulty which the DETR and your Lordships' committee share is that of conflicting evidence—or the lack of evidence—in comparison with other countries where driving attitudes, conditions and enforcement are widely different. I suggest that they are so different that comparisons will be almost meaningless. My noble friend Lord Geddes referred to that matter, albeit in a different context.

    The so-called statistical evidence is of mixed quality and I am somewhat sceptical about it. It is so mixed that a number of assumptions have had to be made in the report and in the consultation document. At page 19, paragraph 35 states:
    "In counties like the UK, which have a legal limit set at 80 milligrams, there is a scarcity of information about accidents involving drivers with significant but lower alcohol levels, except in the case of fatalities".
    Without reliable evidence and information, it was not reasonable to make some of the decisions which were made.

    I share the minority view of the Select Committee, expressed as point 6 of its opinion, and note that it reached that conclusion on balance. It is worth repeating that the committee, in considering the draft report, was also not unanimous in its decision. Of course, I make no quarrel about that. However, it is worth making the point which the DETR document suggests at paragraph 15, when it states:
    "A package of measures dealing with enforcement, the system of offences and penalties and education, publicity and information to ensure that the right groups are targeted is the right way forward".
    Those three points are contained in the sub-committee's general conclusions at paragraph 115, in which it concludes that the four-way matrix of counter-measures should be adopted, the fourth measure being the alcohol blood limit to which I have already alluded.

    I do not wish to be frivolous when I say that at the end of last month, the Parliamentary Beer Club hosted a meeting. I hasten to assure your Lordships that that meeting was concerned only with drink-drive issues. One of a number of speakers was Mr. Peter Joslin, who is the chief constable of Warwickshire and formerly chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' road safety committee. I believe that not only is he the longest serving chief constable in England but he is also the longest serving police officer, with considerable experience.

    In his remarks, Mr. Joslin suggested that lowering the alcohol-blood level to 50 milligrams might be seen as a quick fix—almost the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh—engaging more of the scarce police resources without greatly reducing the accident death rate. He questioned the effect on motorist/police relations and added that there may well be a detrimental effect on the social life of rural communities. Incidentally, I was sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, dismissed that point somewhat shortly. I believe that he did less than credit to those living in rural communities.

    Mr. Joslin wondered also whether we are nearing a point of no return except in relation to the two groups which have already been identified: the young male driver and the high risk offender, the hard core driver.

    Another speaker at that meeting was Dr. Herb Simpson. He is the president and chief executive officer of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Ottawa. He has some 20 years' experience of research into road accidents, deaths and injuries related to alcohol. He broadly supported Mr. Joslin's comments. He suggested that his research led him to believe that it was the hard core who caused the most damage. In support, he said that it was the 1 per cent. of night drivers who were drink drivers who caused 65 per cent. of accidents. He expressed the matter in another way by saying that 80 to 90 per cent. of drink drivers equate to about 10 per cent. only of drivers as a whole.

    From what I have heard and read over quite a long time, I have reached the conclusion that lowering the permitted level of alcohol from the present 80 milligrams to 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood would achieve very little improvement at some considerable cost—not in monetary terms; perhaps I should say usage—of limited resources, with some potential loss of respect for the law and its enforcement agencies.

    I reject the sub-committee's opinion 15,
    "that road policing should be made a core policing priority in Great Britain",
    because I believe that, most policing is intelligence-led and it is best left to chief constables to determine their local priorities as and when a particular situation demands.

    I believe also that, were that prioritisation to be adopted, ultimately it would lead to a demand for a separate road or traffic police force. That would be quite disastrous. I tend towards the acceptance, in broad terms, of the three points of the sub-committee's four-point matrix, much in line with the Government's suggested solution set out in the consultation document to which I have referred.

    7.24 p.m.

    My Lords, as a member of the Select Committee on this subject, I fully endorse the conclusions and recommendations in the committee's report. I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, for being such a fair chairman. It is only now that I fully realise that he did not foist on us his view that the level should be below 50. He was very fair. I am also extremely grateful to our Clerk, Kate Ball, and our special adviser, who I note are listening intently to the debate.

    I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that we should put the score card right inasmuch as of the nine people on the Select Committee, seven were in favour of reducing the limit from 80 to 50. Only two dissented; namely, the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who has already spoken, and the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford.

    There are two points which I wish to make. First, what is proposed is a comprehensive package of enforcement, with appropriate penalties—a point which has been picked up by noble Lords—for first-time offenders, different penalties for repeat offenders, with yet different penalties for reckless offenders; that is, those well in excess of any limit which may be laid down.

    The second point is in relation to a reduction in the permitted level of alcohol in the bloodstream from 80 to 50mg/100mls. That is part of the package. It is the part which will be picked up by the media and understood best by everybody. We would rather that people do not offend so that the police do not have to enforce those penalties. It is the promotional and psychological part of the package. It underlines the legend, none for the road, because we should not drink and drive.

    The BMA advises that drivers with between 80 and 50mg of alcohol in their blood are two-and-a-half times more likely to be involved in an accident. Let us compare that statistic with a comment from the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, which I notice was also present at the parliamentary beer club. It commented that the risk between 50 and 80 is very small. Why should that be? Setting aside the vested interests of the brewers, why should the BMA bring that to our attention?

    With between 50 and 80mg most people do not feel drunk. They are not remotely staggering drunk. They are often perfectly lucid. The reason is simple. If, as is often the case, something unexpected, difficult or dangerous happens on the road in front of him, the driver with between 50 and 80mg has his driving ability seriously impaired. There will be that vital fraction of a second—and we are talking about only a nanosecond, not a full second—of delayed reaction, by which time it will be too late and the accident, sometimes fatal for both guilty and innocent alike, occurs. The driver with drink in his blood may not have been the primary cause of the accident but his impairment ensures that the accident happens. That is the important point which we gathered from the expert evidence.

    Exposure to that evidence and accompanying graphs has certainly changed my personal habits, and I have no difficulty in admitting that, although I do live in a rural area. Since I received that knowledge, I have noticed that the custom and practice in rural areas, especially among the young, have changed and are changing. Noble Lords would see for themselves if they observed the situation. They find a driver who will not be drinking at all or they collectively pay for hired transport in order to use their favourite watering hole. It is, as I observe—and perhaps my rural village is the exception to the rule—the more elderly and the more selfish who are reluctant to change their habits of a lifetime. I recommend the report of the Select Committee to the House.

    7.30 p.m.

    My Lords, the United Kingdom has one of the best drink and drive accident records in Europe. While the actual number of deaths on the road may have stabilised, vehicle usage continues to increase, so that the number of deaths per vehicle miles travelled continues to fall. Per 10,000 vehicles, only Norway and Sweden have very marginally better records but, by population, we are top of the league. They have BAC levels of 20 and 50 to our 80, with virtually the same record. However, France and Belgium, with a limit of 50, have nearly the highest rate of road deaths. When it comes to deaths to distance travelled, the UK is the safest, followed by Finland and the Netherlands, both with a 50 milligram limit. Only then comes Sweden with its 20 BAC limit.

    BAC is clearly not the determining factor and has little effect on the actual level of deaths. The public perception is that other countries are safer, and that alcohol accounts for most accidents. We should not allow misinformed sentiment to outweigh the facts. Strangely, the risk of being killed on the roads is only one in 16,000. That compares with one in 200 for those smoking 10 cigarettes a day. If the Government are so keen to protect people from themselves, they should heed that figure and ban smoking. That would save 80 people for every one saved by the BAC limit being reduced to 50 milligrams.

    Nevertheless, the introduction of BAC levels in 1967 has been an unqualified success in changing the public perception of driving. No one condones drunk driving, and the efforts to reduce it have full public support. The old slogan, "One for the road", is no longer even considered a joke. The attitude to driving with drink and the enforcement and acceptance of the legal requirements are the key to safety on the roads. Public acceptance is crucial.

    Unlike someone caught for speeding who is considered unlucky, the drink driver carries a social stigma and is condemned. This positive respect for the law has resulted in reducing drink-related deaths from 1,650 in 1969 to 540 in 1996. To reduce the BAC limit to 50 milligrams would put a strain on that support, as some of those caught would know that their judgment was not impaired and would feel aggrieved and unjustly treated. Public respect would be jeopardised. It was for that reason that the US Congress decided in 1992 not to reduce the limit below 80 milligrams.

    No improvement could be guaranteed by a reduction to 50 milligrams in the UK, and there is a real possibility that the change could be for the worst. In other countries, the lowering of the BAC limit to 50 had small effect on accidents. There is no evidence to show that a reduction here, with our good record, would have any effect at all. It is suggested that the 12-month period of disqualification should be the same for a new BAC limit of 50. That would be penal and counterproductive, inviting public antipathy. If the 50 limit were to be imposed, the penalty should not be severe unless accompanied by bad driving. To be caught at all would be a severe shock to most people, who would take greater care in future. Once the 50 limit comes in, the one-pint man may well find himself over the top; and this is a new ball game. It will cause resentment, and lose the support of the public. Many a moderate drinker will say that, having had one glass of beer and being over the limit, he has little to lose by having another, on the basis that he might as well be caught for a sheep as a lamb.

    The report suggests that the risk of an accident is doubled for someone with an over-50 BAC. If that is true, and it may not be, it is double such a small base figure as to make it statistically insignificant. French and Belgian experience was that reduction from 80 to 50 milligrams reduced fatal casualties by 10 per cent., but, at the same time, indications suggested that the lower limit had not in fact resulted in either lower BACs for drivers or a reduction in alcohol-related accidents. So it is probable that the reductions were for other causes.

    As the number of drink-drive deaths becomes smaller, so the rate of improvement will inevitably reduce. Thus the review of the milligram limit should be taken in the light of reinforcing continuing success. One chief constable has suggested that lowering the limit, particularly with a high penalty, would increase the number of hit-and-run cases. The high risk offender will disregard whatever limit may be imposed. It makes no difference to his attitude what happens at the lower end of the scale. He is dangerous to himself, and to others, and must suffer the penalty of the law with the support of the public. But it is unfair to penalise the moderate and careful drinker to punish the high-risk offender.

    Those people who drink over the limit now are hardly likely to drink less when the limit is lower. The key is not to make more people guilty, but to enforce the law as it stands. Harrying the careful drinker will do no good. It will just antagonise the innocent and the careful who would otherwise support the 80 BAC limit. There seems to be a modern trend in government that, if someone blatantly disregards the law, everyone else must suffer. The withdrawal of pistols from perfectly innocent people was an example.

    However the role of drink-driving should not be overstated. The Select Committee made it clear that only 14 per cent. of fatalities were drink related and that efforts should more effectively be put into reducing accidents for the 86 per cent.—this point has been made many times this evening—but that the reduction of the limit would reduce accidents by between 5 per cent. and 40 per cent. I fail to see how this can be when 86 per cent. of accidents are not drink related. Further, it is surely those well over the limit who cause most accidents. Therefore, it is the enforcement of the 80 milligram limit that needs addressing.

    The Institute of Alcohol Studies said that a low limit inadequately enforced would be less likely to reduce casualties than the higher limit properly enforced, and that that is where the police effort should be targeted. The lower limit would strain police time, strain police relations with drivers, and clog up the courts. There are few enough police around now when one wants one, without tying them up with catching everyone who has had a pint of beer.

    The Swedish National Road Administration stated that, with regard to accidents, alcohol is still by far the worst problem. Does this really accord with the fact that 86 per cent. are not alcohol related, or is it because the limit is so low that almost anyone in Sweden is over it? There, 100 milligrams represents gross drunk driving, a level that is only just above our allowable limit. To my mind, Belgium has a much more realistic approach with short suspensions for the less serious cases. Further, where one party in an accident is near or over the limit, it is assumed that he is to blame—and he may be. However, as one noble Lord said, that assumption may well not be correct on a number of occasions.

    There are many causes of accidents. The influence of drugs comes to mind immediately, as do mobile telephones, tinkering with the wireless; and, of course, tiredness notoriously kills. The moderate drinker should not have to pay the penalty for them. Considering the number of people who appear to be on drugs, perhaps that is the direction that should be pursued with drug testing, as much as drink.

    Subsidiarity should apply in these matters, and should remain so as much depends on drinking habits. Always leaving apart the heavy drinkers, every country has different styles, with different results. For example, in Finland with the low limit, the form used to be to drive to the licensed outlet, buy a bottle of whisky and drink it in one. On recovering, they would drive home and wait for their next month's ration. Luckily, without rationing, that is not what we do or need to do as a nation. Once the BAC limit became 50, who knows what some people would resort to. Certainly the general effect on social life would be far reaching and a great many law abiding citizens, who were sensible drinkers, would find themselves criminalised. A couple of drinks in the day, at the office before the train home, and the drive from the station would become criminal.

    In the country, as opposed to the towns, people go out for dinner or a drink, and most are meticulous in restricting their intake of alcohol to ensure that they can drive back home under the limit of 80 milligrams. It is all very well for those who live in towns to wish for a lower limit, but countrymen may well drive for 20 miles when going out to dinner, or when going to a pub for a drink. However careful they may be, other than having nothing to drink at all, they will be over the new limit. I believe there would be a public backlash, particularly in the country, if the lower limit were introduced. Meanwhile, country pubs, already under strain, would be hard hit and many would close.

    As regards roadside testing, this occurs already. I see no reason why roadside testing should not be undertaken from time to time. It would always alert drivers to the possibility of being stopped for no reason, particularly at night at times when people are returning from parties. But, again, to penalise people for having just a couple of drinks will antagonise everyone and achieve little to reduce the 14 per cent. of drink related offences. Half the 90,000 people convicted annually had a BAC of over 159mg/ml. That is way above the present 80, let alone the proposed 50. If half were over 150, surely an even greater proportion would have been over 100—still clear of the 80.

    In Germany there are various assessment schemes which have to be taken by an HRO before he regains his licence. I think these may be worth considering. I like the idea of the ignition interlock device. Often drivers with no intention of driving sleep in their cars, even in a car park and are then prosecuted for being drunk in charge. The BAIID would help them to avoid that fate. It is a good idea to test HROs for drink dependency before the reissue of their licences, perhaps with just six hours' warning.

    As with all legislation, it really must be acceptable to the public. Where a law starts to become harassment—as a 50 limit would be—it must be expected that it will be disregarded as a risk that people will take, just as they do with speed limits. That does nothing for the law. It is only reasonable legislation that will earn respect and compliance by the public. The US experience has shown that a low limit inadequately enforced is less effective in reducing casualties than a higher limit properly enforced. The committee acknowledges that lowering the limit would have no effect on those driving with significantly higher BACs. The committee accepts that reducing the limit would have only a marginal effect on the number of road accidents. Its conclusion to recommend the reduction was taken only on balance and by no means conclusively.

    7.41 p.m.

    My Lords, my main purpose in joining the debate on this important issue, despite not being a member of the Select Committee, is to present the views of my professional organisation, the British Medical Association. In fact the BMA gave both written and oral evidence through Professor Vivienne Nathanson, who is Head of Science, Ethics and Health Policy at the BMA. The evidence is published in full in the report. Most of the recommendations of the Select Committee are compatible with BMA policy on the issue, and of course I therefore congratulate the committee on its good judgment.

    The lowering of the limit to 50mg/100ml makes sense in its own right, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, has said, and not merely because it will go with the grain of changes in the law in other European Union countries, or conform with Mr. Kinnock's revived draft directive—even though the committee believes in subsidiarity. On reading the report I was interested to note evidence of the split in opinion—which has been described so fully by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh—as regards the wisdom of the reduction to 50mg. The amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Marsh and Lord Howell of Guildford, stated that,
    "any gain would in our opinion only be secured at a disproportionate cost in terms of diversion of police resources".
    The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, developed that theme more fully in his speech. However, that opinion was not shared by a clear majority of the committee.

    As my noble friend has pointed out, the figure was seven members out of 10, the chairman abstaining. In fact there is a strong body of opinion in the country which goes further and believes that a zero limit would be appropriate. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, has hinted perhaps that he is one of those and that that is the proper way to give a message of "none for the road". As the noble Lord said, this would mean adopting the Swedish level of 20—perhaps even 10 now—which is virtually a zero limit but which allows for those low and harmless alcohol levels which are caused by diabetes and the products that he mentioned such as mouthwashes and gargles which contain alcohol.

    The committee and the British Medical Association felt that this restriction down to 20 or 10—effectively zero—would move ahead of public opinion to such an extent that it may be counterproductive. The figure of 50mg allows "one for the road" provided that is strictly one, for example a half pint of beer, a glass of wine or one nip of spirits.

    Other noble Lords have mentioned my next point. At the risk of being repetitive, 50mg is the level above which the accident rate starts to rise steeply, particularly among younger people who are not so aware of the impairment of their judgment caused by drinking alcohol. My noble friend described that process well. They have not developed the compensatory caution which many of us of more advanced age acquire. I remember as a student riding a new (second-hand) motor bike and feeling enormously exhilarated by its acceleration. I did not feel in the least bit drunk after a pint of beer. Those were the days before crash helmets and therefore I am lucky to have come through that phase unscathed.

    But to concentrate on blood alcohol levels alone as a means of reducing road accidents would be to misreport the recommendations of the committee, as many speakers have shown. The report sees the lowering of the BAC as only part—and not the most important part—of a package of measures. I refer to the four-way matrix described by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, and others. They feel that penalties and enforcement are much the most important sanctions. That, again, is largely in accord with BMA policy which states that,
    "factors such as enforcement, visibility of policing, cultural attitudes to alcohol itself and to drink driving, the impact of public education campaigns, the availability of other methods of transportation and patterns of drinking, will all contribute to the level of drink driving within a country in addition to the legal BAC".
    The committee has been cautious not to be too Draconian in its recommendations and not to be over-influenced by the European aspects of the proposed lowering of the BAC. It feels that subsidiarity should apply and that legislation should proceed at a rate which is appropriate for each country, as customs and behaviour differ, and should not be over-influenced, for example, by the problems of crossing borders into countries with different laws. However, I feel that is quite an important problem. I differ from the committee here and suggest that this is a public health concern which affects all EU countries. It is proper for Mr. Kinnock to seek a minimum European Union-wide standard of legislation through the draft directive.

    My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but is he aware that in the United States and Australia every state has the right to make its own drink driving laws? Why should this not apply in Europe too?

    My Lords, I am suggesting that that makes for muddle and confusion if one passes through a border, particularly in a federal country such as the United States or Australia. Perhaps it is slightly easier in Europe to realise when one crosses a frontier. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that there should be a common upper limit.

    The committee also came down against random testing as being too intrusive and not cost-effective. As many noble Lords have said, the committee preferred a tightening of enforcement through existing methods of "due cause" testing. I suggest that random testing need not be too costly. It could probably pay for itself through the increased number of fines that would be levied. The occasional but unpredictable possibility of a roadside check would have a strong deterrent effect. I am sure all noble Lords will have noticed that where speed cameras are installed, traffic is compliant with speed limits even though the cameras function only for part of the time.

    I would also point out that the Australian Capital Territory findings, which are mentioned in the BMA's written evidence, showed that, when coupled with a reduction in the legal blood alcohol limit from 80 to 50mg/100m1, random breath tests of drivers not only showed a 90 per cent. reduction in BAC levels between 50 and 80mg but also a fall of 41 per cent. for drivers with levels of over 150mg—the drivers who are likely to have the most serious accidents and probably comprise most of those HROs we have been hearing about.

    In my opinion the expanded use of "targeted enforcement" or "evidential roadside testing" by the police, which is recommended in the report, would not have such a deterrent effect as random testing. To target a driver requires the police to notice the behaviour of a particular driver which raises their suspicion or contravenes some traffic regulation, whereas the constant possibility of random testing will have an effect on all drivers, even those who can in normal circumstances compensate for quite high blood alcohol levels and appear to be driving quite normally but who may become involved in a serious accident because of their impaired reaction time.

    With regard to the high risk offenders, I hope that my noble friend will be able to make a comment on the policy that the report mentions in Sweden and Germany about periodic supervision and testing and possibly encouragement to have some help with the alcohol problem that those countries have.

    I apologise to committee members if I have sounded a little critical. The report is full of information, clearly and incisively expressed, for which I thank all members of the committee, particularly its very able chairman and its clerk and adviser, as well as those who gave evidence.

    It could be that I have been a little selective in my reading of the evidence. But I do not think so. If I had been a member of the committee I might have understood their cautious approach a little better. But I am delighted that they grasped the nettle of reducing the legal limit from 80 to 50mg. I fully endorse their emphasis on the whole package of measures needed to reduce drink driving. I am just a little sorry that they did not grasp the nettle of random testing or support the draft EU directive which would harmonise drink-driving limits at 50mg or less right across the European Union.

    My Lords, parts of this debate have reminded me that at school I was known as "Back-to-basics-Bootle". I would remind the House that this inquiry was about a draft directive which purely and simply concerned reducing the permitted blood alcohol level for drivers from 80mg to 50mg across the EU. It was not about reducing accidents generally. One cannot therefore criticise the report on that basis.

    That said, there is no doubt that the United Kingdom has made excellent progress since the 1960s in encouraging major changes in public behaviour in respect of drinking and driving. Those are not my words, nor those of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie—although they might have been if I paraphrased something that he said earlier—but those of Mr. David Rogers from RoSPA. They are words with which anyone on either side of the argument can agree. I say "argument" deliberately because there is no doubt that this is a contentious subject. Indeed, both the speeches we have heard today and the rumours we hear from time to time about the views of various Ministers from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions support that hypothesis.

    Before the committee, so impartially chaired by my noble friend Lord Geddes, launched itself into this subject, my view was that drinking and driving as a problem was slowly reducing and there was no need for additional measures. It was but a short time into the inquiry that I found, to my surprise, the ground shifting slowly but decisively under my feet. I discovered that about 14 per cent. of all accidents were alcohol-related. At least one Member of the committee—and indeed we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Marsh—felt that it was more important to do something about the other 86 per cent. The problem there, of course, is what? Recommendation 15 is the only one which covers this. But, as I said just now, we were not considering all accidents; we were looking at blood alcohol levels.

    We already know that in other jurisdictions where the blood alcohol limit has been reduced there has been a significant reduction in the number of alcohol-related accidents. The Queensland Study has already been mentioned in that connection. The report shows, however, that closer to home, in France, for example, there has been a reduction due to lowering the limit from 80mg to 50mg aided by increased enforcement. In Belgium, on the other hand, it seems there has been little, if any, reduction, due, as I think we all felt, to the very low level of penalties. Taking people off the road for three hours and then sending them on their way is not something we would for a moment think of for this country. In West Germany the problem has diminished gradually since 1985 while in the former East Germany, in spite of raising the permitted level from zero to 80mg when the two countries amalgamated, the problem increased significantly. That was because of mammothly increased enforcement, we were told by Dr. Wolf Nickel, so there was a hidden problem there.

    That is not the problem in the United Kingdom. Over the past five or so years the death rate has plateaued out, as we have heard, at about 540 a year. That is in spite of a gentle decrease in the number of drivers found over the limit. Although not strictly part of the evidence to our inquiry, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will, I am sure, remember answering a Starred Question from my noble friend Lord Geddes on 21st January this year. At col. 1505 she said that
    "in December 1993 105,800 motorists were breathalysed [in England and Wales] and 8,500 were positive or refused to provide a sample".
    That is 8 per cent.
    "In 1994 the figures were 129,100 and 8,700"
    respectively, or 7.7 per cent. More tests were conducted in the same month in 1995 and 6.29 per cent were found in this category. The figures for 1996 were 6.57 per cent. We still have not heard the figures for 1997. Perhaps the noble Baroness will be able to enlighten us this evening.

    Putting these pieces of information together, the plateau and the figures I have just referred to show that something, to say the least, is wrong. Before I am interrupted I should say that it is my feeling—I put it no higher than that—that education is affecting the number who drink and drive but that it is not having any effect on the level of alcohol-derived accidents. What would? Mr. Manning of the Association of Chief Police Officers believed on page 15 of the report that the lowering of the limit would result in 12 to 13 per cent. fewer accidents on the roads. That was tellingly backed up by two further pieces of evidence. On page 34 of the report there is a graph, which has been referred to several times this evening, of risk and blood alcohol levels. That shows that for all drivers the risk of accidents starts to increase dramatically over a limit of 65mg and for the young and inexperienced driver at even lower levels. I, for one, had not appreciated that. That was drummed into me by Professor Nathanson on page 25 who, in answer to question 99, stated,
    "you can say that the curve showing the increased risk is a very low, gradual incline until the 50 mg point at which it starts to rise extremely rapidly and moves into an even sharper curve above 90 mg, but there certainly seems to be a significant change at around the 50 mg/100ml level".
    A reduction to 65mg is not on offer, either from the Commission or from the Government's White Paper, so a reduction to 50mg is good enough for me. Incidentally, Professor Nathanson also answered a point that was made by my noble friend Lord Gisborough. The new law, if any, must be acceptable to the public. We find the professor's evidence on page 28 of the report. We know that the public support a reduction in the level of blood alcohol concentration. When we first started being vocal about this subject nearly two years ago, there was much media interest. From every television programme, radio phone-in or correspondence column of national newspapers the only criticism we received from the public was to ask why we did not go for a limit lower than 50 milligrams.

    In this morning's post I received a brief from the Automobile Association. Perhaps I may quote from a tiny part of it. It states:
    "There is overwhelming support from motorists generally for reducing the limit—79 per cent are in favour".
    But on its own, reducing blood alcohol limits will not do the job. The report brings that out clearly. Elsewhere we had evidence on police powers. We learnt that they were adequate but erratically used in the various police authorities up and down the country. We heard that roadside evidential breath-testing kits were almost available. However, legislation would need to be introduced before those kits could be used. They might save police time and resources at the police station itself. As my noble friend Lord Geddes, said, such tests could release police from having to drive suspects to police stations.

    We heard a lot about high risk offenders, to which much reference has been made today. We came to the conclusion that only a basket of measures would suffice, and that basically the rigorous sanctions we already have at the 80mg level should be maintained at the 50mg level, with the exception of high risk offenders for whom the scheme should be more rigorous than it is. The level should not be set at 200mg but should be reduced to 150mg in line with the reduction in the legal limit; and that above that there should be an enhanced risk offender scheme using the German model.

    I could not have gone along with any of those suggestions had I not been convinced to start with by the medical evidence. That is why I have laid so much weight on it in my speech. John Donne wrote all those years ago,
    "Any man's death diminishes me".
    Would not an avoidable alcohol-related motoring death have completely flattened him?

    My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may put one question to him. Does he agree that the claim that 14 per cent. of accidents are caused by alcohol is probably exaggerated? If a driver who is slightly over the limit is pulled up at traffic lights with his handbrake on, and a coach comes along with 50 passengers driven by a teetotaller who has had only four hours sleep the previous night and a collision occurs, and all 52 people involved are killed, that would be classified as 52 drink-related deaths. But demonstrably the accident was not caused in any way by alcohol.

    My Lords, obviously that is true, but of course it is the exception which proves the rule.

    8.2 p.m.

    My Lords, this is an excellent report and I should like to congratulate the committee on their diligence on producing it at such an opportune time. It is opportune because drivers have become somewhat blasé and certain sections of the driving population are flouting current legislation. It is opportune also because attitudes towards drivers who consume alcohol have changed dramatically since Sections 1 and 2 of the Road Safety Act 1967 came into force.

    However, I wonder whether your Lordships are aware of a couple of reports on drink driving attitudes in the United States, contained in recent editions of Auto Express. In an attempt to keep persistent offenders off the roads and out of gaol, a Cincinnati judge ordered Dennis Cayse to move house to be within walking distance of the liquor store. A drink-drive suspect, Robert Hobbs, who stood on his head to prove that he was not tipsy, impressed the Californian police so much that they let him go. We are different.

    Before I proceed any further, I should declare that I am a former examiner of advanced motorists in Australia, that I am a civilian holder of the police Class I driving certificate, and that periodically I go on traffic patrol with the police in the knowledge that very senior police officers have given their approval.

    I agree with the current system of stringent penalties for drink drivers and with the proposals to address the problems posed by high risk offenders and the new young drivers who exceed blood alcohol levels. Some people air their views that the BAC limit should not be lowered to 50 milligrams because it would result only in a saving of about 50 to 100 lives a year, according to my information, whereas concentrating on high risk offenders would save more lives. But, if the BAC level was 10 milligrams, then 250 lives per annum would be saved.

    My Lords, this was information given to me by someone I consulted.

    Those people also say that public opinion is against lowering the limit. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said, the Automobile Association commissioned MORI to seek people's views on various matters. One of the findings is that 79 per cent. of motorists are in favour of reducing the limit. If lowering the limit results in saving only one life, then it should be lowered. The high risk offender will continue to drive and offend until caught whereas the responsible motorist will make use of public transport, taxis or friends to get home after drinking. The pub trade will not suffer. I am in full agreement with the committee's statement that any future measures should be introduced en bloc rather than singly over an extended period. People would feel far less aggrieved if all matters were addressed simultaneously.

    The Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association suggests that a 12-month period of disqualification for a BAC of between 51 milligrams and 80 milligrams is inappropriate because that level of alcohol concentration can only be regarded as a minor offence. I submit that that opinion is wrong. It has been recognised for many years that any alcohol adversely affects driving ability. The Canadian study of about 40 years ago bears this out. The BLRA has also produced graphs, one of which shows total fatalities per billion vehicle kilometres since 1967 and alcohol related fatalities since 1979. The two lines are converging, which to me indicates that the percentage of alcohol related fatalities compared with non-alcohol related fatalities is in fact increasing. So any and all measures to reduce death on the roads should be taken.

    The AA poll further indicates that 60 per cent. of motorists support giving police full discretion to stop a vehicle, which they are entitled to do now, and to require the driver to give a breath test, which currently they can do only when reasonable suspicion exists.

    I am delighted with the committee's opinion that road policing should be made a core policing priority but feel it necessary to disagree strongly with the conclusion of paragraph 88. I have yet to be on patrol with a police crew which has been specifically instructed to target drink drivers. Officers stop a vehicle for a specific reason. For example, it might be a defective light, speeding, driving erratically, or, occasionally, when drink driving is suspected. It is only when speaking with a driver that in general drink driving is investigated.

    I give noble Lords one specific example. Just before Christmas I was with a crew. At four o'clock in the morning on a deserted motorway a vehicle was stopped. It was being driven apparently perfectly safely with its high intensity rear lights showing. The sole reason for stopping the vehicle was to have the high intensity rear lights extinguished. It transpired that the driver's level was double the legal limit.

    We are all aware of the Christmas and summer campaigns against drink driving. But it is interesting to note that the number of drivers breathalysed during those well advertised periods barely exceeds those breathalysed at other periods. Incidentally, I understand that there is to be an EU-wide campaign against drink driving this year, lasting all of one day. But it has to be acknowledged that, following the 1967 Act, this country has one of the best records of road safety in the world, which underlines the effectiveness of police officers in enforcing all relevant legislation and motorists complying with it.

    It might be worthwhile drawing attention to the fact that police officers do not deal solely with traffic offences. After all, the majority of criminals travel to and from the scene of their crimes by motor vehicle. Yet road policing in the Metropolitan Police District receives only 7.2 per cent. of police budget. Presumably, other forces devote similarly small amounts to their traffic departments.

    It has been recommended that more research should be undertaken into the effect of drugs on driving. I hope that I am not being too simplistic nor trying to point out the obvious, but any testing should be over an extended period. There is always the possibility of a driver being adversely affected some weeks after an initial investigation has been undertaken—particularly after taking drugs such as LSD, where flashbacks are not uncommon weeks after ingestion of the drug.

    I believe that most people have a rough idea of how much alcohol can be consumed before the BAC limit is reached. If those limits are to be changed, I hope that consideration will be given not only to providing approximate information regarding the amended equivalent units, but also to the fact that alcohol concentration reduces by one unit per hour. Any measures that reduce the number of deaths and injuries on the roads are to be encouraged. For that reason I look forward to the committee's recommendations being enacted as soon as possible.

    Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, will be interested to learn that in our family we have a very sexist arrangement when we go out. I drive both ways: I do not drink.

    8.11 p.m.

    My Lords, perhaps I may first add to the tributes paid to our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Geddes. It has been remarkable the way the noble Lord has suppressed his real feelings throughout the investigation. We have to pay tribute to him for being so immaculate in the way he has handled it.

    I am a member of the majority of Sub-Committee B. I fully support the outcome of our deliberations, with one exception; namely, I feel that we are being over-sensitive on the subsidiarity issue. Recognising that an ever-increasing number of our fellow citizens will be driving cars and lorries long distances—I stress "long" distances—across the European Union, and that the number will probably double or treble in the next decade, we should be just as concerned for their safety on the Continent as when they are driving in the UK.

    I believe, therefore, that not only the legal limit but also penalties should be viewed clearly as cross-border problems and should be harmonised. The other two issues of enforcement and publicity/education which we highlighted fall more naturally within national jurisdictions, so as best to reflect the different cultures. As we have heard, Neil Kinnock, the EU Transport Commissioner, recently suggested that the legal limit should be harmonised at the 50 mg level. That has been opposed. However, limits across the European Community have been moving naturally in that direction. Assuming that we in the UK adopt that lower level, then probably only Italy, Ireland and Luxembourg will retain the higher levels. I do not find that surprising in the case of Italy and Ireland; but for Luxembourg it seems rather odd.

    We in the UK are rightly proud of the fact that our track record in reducing the number of casualties caused annually by drink driving is the best in Europe; but it is primarily due to the very stringent penalties that we impose. In the UK there is an automatic disqualification ban of 12 months for exceeding the limit. However, in Germany, a driving licence is revoked for only one month, or for three months if the offence is repeated. In Belgium, the penalty is suspension from driving for three hours—rather like a "sin bin" penalty in ice hockey!

    The situation is further complicated by the fact that a foreigner who is banned for a serious offence in the UK gets his licence back when he leaves, as does a British subject disqualified overseas. Under new proposals being considered in Brussels, if a driver were to be banned abroad, the country responsible for issuing his driving licence would be informed. But then the problem arises: should he suffer disqualification for the same period as applies in the country where the offence was committed, or have a ban imposed that he would have received had the offence been committed at home? No wonder this EU-wide disqualification scheme has been under negotiation for more than seven years. Surely all this cries out for drink-driving penalties to be harmonised. On past experience and achievement, we should be in a strong position to advocate that these should be based on the existing UK criteria.

    To sum up, if we have the safety of our fellow citizens at heart when they are driving not only in the UK but also on the Continent, I believe that we should accept the need to harmonise across the European Community both the legal limit and, even more importantly, the penalties for drink-driving offences. I believe, therefore, that we should bring pressure to bear on Mr. Kinnock and the Commission to bring about this harmonisation, rather than bury our heads in the sands of subsidiarity.

    8.15 p.m.

    My Lords, I, too, wish to join in the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, for his very able chairmanship of our committee and for the production of the report, together with our specialist adviser, Dr. Clayton, and our Clerk, Kate Ball. I have personally found it to be one of the most interesting inquiries that we have undertaken. I would comment particularly on the excellence of the witnesses. They were remarkably good.

    The report was instigated by Commissioner Kinnock's revival of the draft directive on the harmonisation of blood alcohol levels across Europe. The harmonisation point is particularly important for those who live on mainland Europe, where to cross the border can form part of a normal outing. I know people who work in Holland and live in Belgium. People are constantly driving backwards and forwards across borders. I have an Austrian wife and we not infrequently make such trips. Harmonisation would mean that people will know precisely where they stand in each country. This matter is also tied up with the harmonisation of penalties and their application from one country to another, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Haslam.

    The drink-driving statistics indicate that the UK, in spite of its 80mg limit, has considerably better accident statistics than other countries with lower limits. That is markedly so. It is undoubtedly due to our better enforcement and much stiffer penalties, as already mentioned, and hence any measures taken can have only a limited scope compared to most other countries in the EU with records considerably worse than ours.

    I would emphasise that drink-driving accidents account for only 14 per cent. of casualties. One needs to take account of the remaining 86 per cent. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who made this point most emphatically. It is absolutely vital that that should be remembered. That remaining percentage is due to tiredness, speed, inattention, and, in my case, frustration with another driver, which led me to an extremely serious accident for which I was totally responsible—and I was totally sober. There is also the matter of driving under the influence of prescribed or illegal drugs, which accounts for some 15 per cent. of the total figure. The latter is a growing problem area in all countries, and breathalysers capable of testing for drugs are now starting to come out of the laboratory—I believe that they are undergoing initial tests by police forces. There are problems with the persistence of drugs over days, as mentioned by previous speakers.

    It is obvious from the evidence of various witnesses that the statistics in Europe do not give an adequate picture from which realistic accident comparisons can he made across the various member states of the EU. Even in the United Kingdom, our statistics leave something to be desired and a pilot project is being run by the police to gather the primary and secondary causes of accidents. That will give a much better indication to everybody of what is happening.

    Another point is the vast cultural differences which apply to alcohol consumption across the EU. We have our pub culture; the French treat wine as food; in southern Europe wine is drunk on every occasion; and in Sweden it is not acceptable to drink and drive, and your spouse may inform the police if you do, as was brought out by our Swedish witness. Many people in this country think that lowering the BAC level will spell the end of the country pub, as was said by my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie. However, I have been surprised by how much support there is for a reduction of the limit to the nominal zero or 20mg/100m1—that is, that one should not drink and drive. However, I support the report's finding for a 50mg limit and emphasise that this should be but one of a package of measures, as was mentioned by speakers and is outlined in our report.

    I believe that better enforcement is essential. The perceived risk of being caught and losing one's driving licence must for most people be the best deterrent. But, as our report says, the two groups at which attention should be targeted are the younger drink-drivers and the older, hardened drinkers, the high risk offenders. Both those groups are unlikely to pay much attention to the amount they drink, whatever the BAC limit. Hence special attention should be given to those groups by targeted publicity and enforcement.

    It was obvious from the evidence we received that the high risk offender scheme needs a considerable overhaul to bring it more in line with similar schemes in Germany and Sweden. Dr. Heather Major was emphatic on that point. It should also form part of a rehabilitation scheme for the people involved.

    The use of the interlock device which prevents the car being driven if an in-built breath tester detects an excess of alcohol has been mentioned. There is also the possibility of confiscating the car in cases of extreme excess levels. This was referred to during the parliamentary beer festival which was mentioned by a previous speaker. Obviously the ownership of the car has to be considered, but I believe that that would be an important deterrent.

    Targeted enforcement should not be at the expense of other police duties. However, in our meeting with Commissioner Kinnock, he said that the Commission reckoned the cost of each fatal accident at about 1 million ecu, which is equivalent to £800,000, in administrative and medical costs, loss of earnings, and so on. It should be noted that this is for some 45,000 traffic deaths per annum throughout the European Union. That is a colossal sum of money which could be used for better police enforcement, except that it does not, of course, come out of the same pocket.

    A new generation of evidential breath testers is becoming available which could avoid the need for the offender to be taken to the police station for a blood test and so further reduce the administrative burden in processing these cases. This, together with targeted enforcement based on police intelligence on high risk offenders, could lead the way forward and is preferable to random testing.

    My final comment on enforcement is that there needs to be better clarification of police powers, but not at the expense of other police activities, as was stated by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. Penalties should continue as now, but with a much improved HRO scheme.

    Education and publicity should be targeted particularly at the younger driver. There should be emphasis on the morning-after effect and the length of time it takes to get the alcohol out of one's system. Campaigns should be year-round and not just at Christmas and during the summer. The limit is the least important point, but a reduction to 50mg emphasises the points that the report makes. I welcome the Government's consultative document.

    My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he care to rephrase his expression "parliamentary beer festival"? Although I did not attend it, I think it was anything but that.

    My Lords, I wonder whether I can help the noble Lord and the House. It was in fact a meeting of the Parliamentary Beer Club, which heard from three different witnesses—I use the word advisedly—purely, as my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth said, on the subject of drink-driving. It was certainly not a festival.

    My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his correction. The club seems to have had very good speakers at that meeting and I was disappointed not to be able to attend. The notification arrived on the morning of the meeting. I believe that the club was lucky to have those speakers. It was interesting that the Canadian speaker said that two excellent documents were currently available: one was the Government's consultative paper and the other the report which we are debating.

    8.26 p.m.

    My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the Select Committee on producing a most interesting report and my noble friend Lord Geddes on his comprehensive and thorough introduction to it.

    The report and today's debate are most timely because responses to the Government's consultation paper, Combating Drink Driving: next steps, published in February, are due this Friday. My speech will attempt to cover both the committee's report and the Government's consultation paper.

    There is no doubt that the drink drive campaign over the past 30 years or so has been a major success story, and along with seat belts and, among other things, better roads and better cars, has resulted in a reduction in the number of deaths on our roads to record low levels. In 1949 there were 4,773 deaths and 4.1 million vehicles on the roads. In 1996 there were 3,598 deaths—fewer than in 1949—but an increase in vehicles to 26 million. The United Kingdom, with 6.4 deaths per 100,000 population, has the best record in Europe, Australia or the United States.

    I believe that the main factor in the reduction in drink drive casualties has been the change in people's attitudes. That has taken many years, much publicity and much effort by successive Ministers and others involved in the issue. There is no doubt that drinking and driving was an activity that was considered perfectly acceptable by many people 30 years ago but is now thought socially unacceptable by the vast majority. In considering any possible reduction in the blood alcohol limit, one first needs to look at whether such a reduction will help with public support against drinking and driving or will damage that support, particularly from people who consider themselves perfectly capable of driving safely at up to the present limit. There is also the very important question of the relationship between the motorist and the police.

    Secondly, as we have heard, only 14 per cent. of fatal accidents involve drivers with illegal levels of alcohol. I believe that that figure is itself rather crude. My understanding is that it takes no account of whether alcohol played any part in the accident or whether the accident would have happened anyway. After all, 86 per cent. of accidents do not involve alcohol. To give an extreme example, if a driver is stationary at a red traffic light and is hit from behind by a motor-cyclist, with fatal consequences, and if the driver of the stationary car tests positive, as I understand it, that accident is recorded as an alcohol-related accident. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, who I am sorry to see is not in his place, made reference to that point. Paragraph 31 of the report quotes the British Medical Association as saying that it is safe to assume that any accident-involved driver with an illegal BAC contributed to the cause of that accident. I do not believe that to be a true assumption.

    In speaking in this debate. I find myself involved with no fewer than three of the organisations that gave evidence to the committee. I am a member of the public policy committee of the RAC, a trustee of the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention and a director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. Those three organisations did not have the same opinions on all the matters of report, particularly on the main issue of lowering the limit, but it is not my role necessarily to agree with what was said by them. Both the RAC and the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention oppose a reduction, while PACTS supports one. Nevertheless all three make some very good points in their evidence.

    As both the report and the Government's consultation paper point out, there are two critical target groups: those who drive well in excess of the limit and new, younger drivers, usually men in their twenties. I agree with the conclusion of the report that efforts should be targeted particularly at these two groups.

    Enforcement is an issue that rightly comes up again and again, particularly random breath testing, a phrase that means different things to different people. My understanding is that the police have all the powers they need to stop a driver on suspicion of being over the limit. If, as the report suggests, the police need better training in the powers available to them, I support that. I am not in favour of setting up roadblocks and testing everyone who comes by. As well as being a waste of precious police resources that would be better employed targeting high-risk offenders, they infuriate the innocent motorist and do nothing to help with the all important public-police relationship.

    The Medical Commission on Accident Prevention makes the point that lowering the limit would divert police enforcement towards lower risk cases with an above average risk of two-and-a-half times and away from the over 50 per cent. of presently convicted drink drivers that have over 15 times the risk of accident involvement. After a motorist is stopped and tested positive he or she has to be taken to the police station and retested, a great deal of paper work has to be done and one way or another that particular police patrol car is off the circuit for a long time. Peter Joslin, Chief Constable of Warwickshire, to whom my noble friend Lord Lucas referred, suggested that lowering the limit might increase the number of hit-and-run cases. More motorists, even those not at fault, might be reluctant to stop and fear the risk of being breathalysed. In addition, if I read the figures from annex 1 to the Government's consultation paper correctly, over the three years 1993 to 1995 only around 2 per cent. of drivers and 3 per cent. of motor-cyclists who were killed in road accidents had blood alcohol levels above 50 but under 80.

    Both the committee and PACTS agree that making road policing a core policy objective would be helpful and could help reduce accidents, not just those involving alcohol. The committee, too, was concerned that emphasis put on reducing the 14 per cent. of fatalities involving drink driving is out of proportion to the other 86 per cent. of fatal accidents.

    Like the committee, I can see no clear benefits for the Community in harmonising limits at 50. I very much agree that setting the level is a matter for member state governments. In any case, the limit is only one factor. Penalties are just as important, and they seem, from the evidence that I have seen, to vary from one country to another almost as widely as it is possible to imagine. Nor is there evidence that in countries where the limit is lower there are fewer fatalities; quite the contrary. Portugal, for example, with a limit of 50, has a fatality rate over double those of countries with an 80 limit.

    To conclude, I do not agree with the majority of the committee that the limit should be lowered to 50, but, excluding that, I very much agree that a package of measures would be the most effective way, particularly targeting the two groups most at risk. But above all I agree that more emphasis should be given to reducing the 86 per cent. of fatal accidents not involving drink driving.

    The Government are naturally keen to develop a strategy to reduce road casualties. They have a difficult task, and we must wish them well. I note that on page 11 of the consultation paper they compare the 3,598 road fatalities in Great Britain in 1996 with the 850 homicides in the UK that year. Murder has always been an offence with well-known and severe penalties, and yet there are still 850 a year. I do not know whether that trend is up or down. I very much hope the trend in road casualties continues downwards, but it is clearly unrealistic to suppose that they can be eliminated altogether. I fear, like some noble Lords, that we may be nearing a plateau.

    I look forward to hearing the Minister's response on the particular aspect of road safety we have been debating this evening. However, I urge her to concentrate most of her efforts on the vast majority of accidents not involving alcohol, and the many ways, including fairly low-costs road safety schemes and restoring the bypass programme, that can help reduce casualties far more than tinkering with the levels.

    8.34 p.m.

    My Lords, I am grateful, as is the whole House, to the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, and his committee for the work that they have undertaken on this subject. It was clear from the contributions made today that it was not an easy task to chair this committee. The noble Lord obviously achieved it with great skill and the congratulations offered to him were heartfelt.

    I too offer heartfelt congratulations and thanks to the committee on the timing of its deliberations and recommendations. As was pointed out by many speakers, it coincided with the Government's consultation on a range of measures to combat drink driving. I hope that noble Lords will not think it diminishes the work of the committee if I say that, from my perspective, it is an enormously well-researched and well-thought out contribution to the consultation process that we are currently undertaking. I suspect that some noble Lords will not be as happy as I am because, with the consultation process not finishing until the end of this week, I shall not be able to give as definite an answer to some of the recommendations as I would be able to in other circumstances.

    We will shortly be letting the committee have the Government's formal response to the recommendations. Many of the conclusions are in line with our policy proposals and it is reassuring to know that we have the Select Committee's support in so many areas. However, I hope that noble Lords will understand that I shall need to reserve the Government's position on certain points until we have had time to take account of the responses to the consultation exercise.

    As is only right and proper, the debate tonight showed how wide the views can be on this issue. Many noble Lords referred to the importance of compliance, acceptability and understanding of the measures being put forward. That is why it is a real consultation process in which we wish to hear people's views. I was slightly disappointed in the majority of the responses to the consultation document in that they focused only on the issue of the blood alcohol level. We tried in that consultation document to make clear that we were considering a range of measures and that the Government accept wholeheartedly what is the thesis of the Select Committee; that is, that there is no single quick fix in this area; that if we look to other jurisdictions and to our experience in this country, we need a package of measures that is a balanced one. I am glad therefore that the committee did the opposite of what some of the respondents to the consultation document did and went slightly wider than its original brief, which was to look only at the terms of the draft directive. It very properly commented on a whole range of issues in relation to drink driving.

    It has been an excellent debate this evening. I was delighted that many noble Lords shared with me a somewhat surprised attitude at how fascinating the subject has been. For many road safety did not, on the surface, look to be an issue that was both intellectually challenging and of desperate importance to individuals. It is only when, for some reason—either through personal experience or through working in the field—we actually come into contact with the issues that we realise that it is both of those things and many others as well. It is an interesting political, rather than party political, issue with which to be involved.

    The contributions tonight were excellent. I also received a kind message from my noble friend Lady Castle. She would have liked to be here this evening but it is a little late for her. I join with earlier speakers in paying tribute to her courage and foresight—a debt that all of us in this country owe to her—in introducing the original drink drive and breath-test legislation into the Road Safety Act 1967. She helped this country turn the corner in casualty reduction. Many noble Lords referred to our achievements and our comparative record in relation to other countries. My noble friend played a great part in that and it is important that we recognise the seminal events that helped us to achieve that record. It is interesting to talk to her occasionally and to learn that some of the debates and the passions that we are experiencing now were also rehearsed before the 1967 Act, just as in other jurisdictions they are being rehearsed at present. These are important issues and there are balances to be struck.

    The Select Committee obviously looked at this issue because, by definition, it was in its terms of reference examining a draft directive. It sees the situation from a European perspective. That is not the perspective from which the Government are looking at these issues. That was not the genesis of our consultation document which came from a longstanding commitment to consult about the blood alcohol level. More importantly, it comes from the document that we put out last year looking at a road safety strategy and targets for the year 2000 and beyond. We see any proposals about drink drive in that context.

    Just as the committee believes that we need a package of measures on drink drive, the Government believe that that package has in turn to be part of a wider range of measures that contribute to a road safety strategy. I did bridle a little at paragraph 88 of the Select Committee's report. When one invites witnesses and, as the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, pointed out, one sets up an inquiry into drink drive and blood alcohol limits, it is difficult then to criticise people for commenting only in that area.

    I am very aware that there are many other issues in road safety that we need to tackle. That is why the Government are consulting on and implementing a strategy on a whole range of measures. I share the passion of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that we should not be exclusive about this. I do not believe that we are exclusive or disproportionate when I look at the work of the department at the moment and what I am doing as the Minister responsible for road safety in the month of May. The reason why I am dealing with drink drive issues is the need to answer correspondence on the consultation document. We are re-launching the radio advertising campaign on "Kill Your Speed". That campaign will take £3.5 million of departmental resources this year compared with £2 million of advertising on drink drive.

    My Lords, before the noble Baroness leaves this point, I hope that when she reads the Official Report tomorrow or whenever she gets round to doing so, she will see that what I said was exactly the opposite. What is not fair in criticism of this report is to say that it has not gone wide enough and carried the other 86 per cent. of road accidents with it.

    My Lords, I obviously expressed myself badly. I believe that the noble Lord and I are at one on this. There is no criticism of the report not going wider in this area, but I do not think it right to criticise the Government for giving disproportionate attention to this area. There is a whole range of issues where we look at everything from the seat belt wearing campaign that we are planning, the strategy on safe routes to school in order to allow children to cycle and walk more safely, and the policies of the local authorities to introduce 20 mile per hour speed limits. There is also what we are going to do over the next range of issues which is at the European level. These include EuroNcap crash testing, the safety of vehicles and the training and testing of drivers. Together with the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, I take that very seriously as an issue on which we need to improve standards.

    But we shall not attack the 3,598 deaths in one single measure. We shall make inroads only if we are willing to take a comprehensive approach and take measures across a whole range of areas. It is something of a sterile debate to say that only one in seven accidents relates to drink drive. It is sterile because it is important that we recognise that only 1 per cent. of drivers are involved in 14 per cent. of fatal accidents. If we can make an impact on that 1 per cent. we can make a substantial impact on road fatalities.

    Drink drive accidents are avoidable. They can be avoided by conscious decisions not to drink before driving. We have heard a lot about immutable and ingrained social habits. But enormous progress and change have been made in the United Kingdom since 1967 which many doubted would be possible. There is the experience of other countries such as Australia. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is not here to give us her antipodean experience; but I suggest that drinking is as much part of the Australian culture as it is of this country's, yet Australian states all now have a 50mg limit and most have intensive enforcement. That has not been the end of civilisation or social life as they know it in Australia.

    At the other end of the scale, in this country there has been something of a counsel of despair about what we can do concerning the high risk offender. One of the things that encourages me is that the drink drive rehabilitation courses are influencing the behaviour even of hardened drink drivers who have offended more than once. So I do not believe that we need to be fatalistic about this. It is not going to be easy to make inroads into the casualty figures, but we can do so. Noble Lords have referred to the fact that it is necessary to do so given that we seem to be bouncing along at the bottom of the reductions that were so obvious in drink driving casualties.

    The Government have not taken a final view on the issues on which we consulted. We are aiming to produce a coherent package of measures that will reduce drink drive across the board. The questions of which measures we take and which will provide the highest benefits are matters of judgment. I reiterate that no country which has successfully reduced drink driving has relied on a single measure. That was one of the main thrusts of the committee's report. It is certainly a thesis with which the Government agree wholeheartedly.

    Where I differ from some noble Lords who have spoken, and with some of the correspondence on the subject, is to suggest that we can categorise this as, "You should not deal with this because the real problem is that". There is a range of problems in this area. There is also a range of problems from the high risk persistent offender to the young offender who, even at low levels because he is an inexperienced driver, is particularly susceptible. We have to recognise the problem of the impairment that occurs to people at levels below 80mg. Evidence about that has been referred to. They are at greater risk of both engendering an accident themselves and not being able to respond in such a way as to avoid an accident because of the behaviour of others on the road or when other dangerous circumstances occur.

    It would be irresponsible of any government not to look at the impairment of drivers between the present limit and a reduced limit, given the evidence of increased risk. We have to take into account the whole range of issues that noble Lords have raised today as to whether reducing the limit would in fact alienate public opinion and detract from the effectiveness of measures that are already in place. I have not seen the AA briefing, but I am interested in the figures that it has suggested of the number of people who support reducing the limit. However, I understood from the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that the figure was 79 per cent. The latest tracking figures from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions gave us 77 per cent. of people who supported reducing the limit—although among those there is a division between those who believe we should go down to 50 and those who share the view expressed personally by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, that we should go down to in effect a zero limit.

    Certainly there is consistent evidence that there is widespread public support for this measure and so, while I take seriously the issue raised by the noble Lords, Lord Gisborough and Lord Mackie of Benshie, about the feelings in some areas that this would be a great inhibition on social life, there are also many people who feel that the reduction of risk on the road is something that they would wish to see. They feel that because this is not only an issue relating to personal safety and personal behaviour; it is an issue for other road users, particularly those who are vulnerable—the pedestrians and the cyclists. The people who are injured in drink drive accidents are not only drink drivers. The Government therefore have to look very seriously at this matter when there are potential benefits to be gained in terms of lives saved.

    Reference has been made to the number of lives that would actually be saved and what number would be acceptable as justifying the measures involved in terms of curbs on individual freedom and the effect that there might be on populations. In a way, one is forced to be hard-headed about cost-benefit analysis when you have to make choices about resources, whether they are police enforcement resources, financial resources or anything else. It is more difficult to be that hard-headed about the number of lives it is justified to save when you see the correspondence from individual people and families who have been bereaved. It is also harder to see the other side of the coin. But it is important that these matters are debated in a broad and open forum, and I welcome the contributions that have been made tonight, which very much mirror the debate going on in the country at the moment and also of course beyond our shores.

    I take seriously the work of the committee. Several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Berkeley, referred to the high-risk offenders and what lessons might be learnt from the Swedish and German examples and schemes in that respect. Our consultation document acknowledged the need for improvement in this area. This is another aspect where it has been extremely helpful for the committee to have taken such detailed evidence. It gives us a basis on which to assess what we need to do.

    We also need to look particularly at the young driver concerning a whole variety of issues. Again, the committee's views, particularly on the impracticability of differential rates and differential penalties or levels of alcohol for young drivers and newly qualified drivers, are extremely helpful. I think we are making progress in terms of social attitudes. I should like to pay tribute to the difference of the younger generation from my generation in their attitudes towards responsibility in this area. There is a spill-over in attitudes to driving in relation to drink in terms of responsible attitudes to driving on issues like speeding.

    Again, we are part of a continuum and we need to do the educational work. For example, the Driving Standards Agency is becoming very interested in the area of pre-driver education in talking to young people, before they become drivers, about their attitudes. Often the driving test can measure whether someone can manoeuvre a car competently. Some of the young men who are best at doing manoeuvres during a driving test are also those whose attitude towards driving is the least responsible and therefore they have the most accidents. Anything we can do to change that kind of attitude is important.

    On the issue of drugs and driving, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, and by my noble friend Lord Simon—and indeed also in the report—far less is known about this in any country than about the effects of drink, but we are trying to catch up. A three-year research study was set up in 1996 to study the influence of drugs among people who were killed in road accidents—drivers, passengers or pedestrians. It covers both illicit and prescribed drugs likely to impair road behaviour. Figures released in February indicate that the incidence of illicit drug use among road fatalities has increased considerably during the last decade. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, who I think quoted figures about this, that the incidence of illicit drug use does not show us how far the presence of drugs was a major cause or factor in these accidents. However, with more research both here and abroad we are slowly building up a better understanding of that relationship.

    Another current project is a trial of roadside drug testing equipment, looking mainly at the practical and operational issues surrounding its use for drug screening. It is important that we look at the potential problem and try now to put in train the measures that could help us before this becomes a major problem. The committee considered the question of subsidiarity. This was something to which the noble Lord, Lord Haslam, referred: whether it is right for a drink drive limit to be set at Community level rather than by individual member states. It is a question that lies at the heart of the Select Committee's expertise and interest. I would not like to enter the fray on this issue with members of the committee. It is clear enough that the Community has competence to legislate in this area but it does not have exclusive competence. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, as far as road safety is concerned that is not to us the central issue.

    Even if the Community were to adopt a common limit, that would not remove the need for us to build round it a suitable programme of enforcement, publicity and education and to ensure that appropriate penalties were available. These are matters which lie largely outside the jurisdiction of the Community, but they are central to the package approach that we envisage. Drink driving is a worldwide problem and the subject of heated debate in many countries. I have mentioned Australia, but in the United States a debate is going on similar to that in Britain. A main difference there is that the federal government are trying by economic means and incentives to persuade the majority of states with a 100 mg limit to lower it to 80. They are having in parallel many of the same debates about the costs, the benefits and the relative priorities of doing that as we are having here.

    I welcome the fact that tonight, despite the differing views that have been expressed about the issue of the blood alcohol level itself and the differing views about what profile, if you like, or the amount of resources that the Government ought to put into drink drive as against the other 85 per cent. of accidents which are not drink related, no one has suggested that it is not a serious road safety issue. The reason, if I may go back to why we are having the debate in the first place—the debate nationally rather than this debate—is that, although we have achieved a tremendous amount for many years, the sad fact is—it has been referred to by other speakers tonight—that there has been little change in casualty figures since 1993.

    As a government, we do not believe that we can simply tread water in this area any more than we can in other areas of casualty reduction. We have done extremely well, but we should not be complacent and just because we have had some of the "easy wins" on a variety of road safety measures, that does not mean that we should not tackle some of the more "difficult wins" which will nevertheless make an enormous difference to the risk on our roads and to the lives of the families of the victims which can be blighted as a result of road accidents.

    New measures are needed if casualties are further to be reduced. The points made by the Select Committee will be extremely valuable in helping us to draw up a suitable package which will also take account of all the responses that we have received to the consultation exercise. I am extremely grateful to the Select Committee for its contribution to the debate. I am sorry that I cannot be more forthcoming with precise responses to some of its recommendations. I assure members of the committee that it will not be too long before we can, I hope, say something about a national strategy for reducing road casualties, in which a policy to reduce drink driving accidents will play a major but not an overwhelming part.

    9.1 p.m.

    My Lords, it is traditional when winding up on such occasions that the Peer doing the winding up comments on the speeches made. The evening is far from young and, if I may be forgiven, I shall resist that temptation, perhaps to the relief of your Lordships.

    Perhaps I may be allowed to put the record straight on a personal front. I reiterate my own view that if the blood alcohol level is to be reduced, it should not be tinkered with to 50 milligrams, but should be reduced to an effective zero. In my opening remarks, I failed to add that I do not think that this country is yet ready for that. When it will be ready for that, if ever, I know not. My point was, "Don't tinker to 50 milligrams; either leave the limit where it is or reduce it to an effective zero, but not yet".

    I am most grateful to the Minister—and I mean that most sincerely. She always responds with great care and attention to debates such as this and that is greatly appreciated, certainly from the Select Committee's point of view. I am not surprised that the noble Baroness cannot give us a definitive answer because the consultation period still has two days to go. However, I hope that our report will have provided a major part of the consultative exercise and that the Government will take it seriously.

    I should like to pick up on only two of the Minister's points. Like her—I had not realised this until she said it—I am greatly concerned that the replies to the consultative document have concentrated on the BAC limit. As we said in our report, that seemed to us to be the least important element, not the most important. As I said in my opening remarks, however, it is the one that attracts all the attention. That is a pity, but it is nevertheless a fact.

    Secondly, perhaps I may reassure the Minister because I think that she is being over-sensitive to our comments at paragraph 88 of the report. I certainly did not view the drafting of that paragraph as in any way a direct criticism of the Government, by which I mean "the present Government". If there was a criticism, it was of government in general over many years. One should pay just as much attention to the 86 per cent. as to the 16 per cent. Perhaps the Minister can now reduce her sensitivity on that point.

    It is again traditional to say, "This has been an extremely interesting and fascinating debate". I believe that it has been an interesting and fascinating debate. It has been a very valuable debate, as I hope the Government agree. This is a subject on which there are more walking experts than on any other subject of which I know. Everybody has a definitive opinion and everybody knows that their opinion is correct. What has been interesting is that in the microcosm or micro-poll of this debate, we have had 13 speakers (excluding the Minister), of whom six have been against reducing the blood alcohol level with seven in favour. That is a classic example of being split down the middle. Those are the opinions, and everybody holds their own opinion very strongly.

    I most sincerely thank all those who have spoken, the six members of the committee and the six non-committee members. In particular, I thank the Minister for her contribution and I commend the report to the House.

    On Question, Motion agreed to.

    Animal Health (Amendment) Bill

    9.4 p.m.

    My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

    Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Baroness Nicol.)

    On Question, Motion agreed to.

    Euthanasia

    9.5 p.m.

    rose to ask Her Majesty's Government how they view the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands.

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity of discussing the current practice of euthanasia whereby Dutch doctors are allowed to end a patient's life intentionally if the patient agrees.

    My first experience of the Dutch euthanasia law occurred when I visited the Netherlands as a member of the Select Committee on Medical Ethics, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. The Dutch doctors told us:
    "We agonised over our first case of euthanasia all day, but the second case was much easier and the third was a piece of cake".
    We found that rather chilling.

    Further interest in the Dutch situation was fuelled by the BBC television programme, "Death on Request", which showed a Dutch doctor giving a lethal injection to a patient with motor neurone disease. The programme caused considerable public outrage, with over 100 Members in another place tabling a Motion criticising the BBC for screening it.

    My own particular criticism of the programme was the rather puzzling statement by the Dutch doctor that his patient was likely to die from suffocation, but Dr. Nigel Sykes of St. Christopher's Hospice in Sydenham has cared for some 300 patients with motor neurone disease and not a single one has died from suffocation.

    The television programme was hailed by the media and others as providing a strong case for legalising euthanasia, but in fact the programme was really an indictment of the poor hospice provision in the Netherlands. At the time of our visit to the Netherlands, there seemed to be only one hospice for the whole of that country.

    The debate about the Dutch situation goes on. But I should like to draw the attention of the House to two points this evening. First, when the Dutch Parliament agreed to voluntary euthanasia for the incurably ill it failed to provide an adequate framework to prevent the slide towards non-voluntary euthanasia in spite of the dangers discovered two years before by the Dutch authorities. In 1991 the Dutch Government under Justice Remmelink established a committee of inquiry to find out the extent of the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands. The committee was established by two government departments and consisted of three lawyers and three physicians under the auspices of Supreme Court Judge Remmelink.

    The committee published its report in 1991. It showed that euthanasia had been practised on more than 3,000 people in 1990 and that in 1,030 cases there had been no specific request by the patient for euthanasia. Despite that report in 1991 which revealed that non-voluntary euthanasia was being widely practised, the Dutch Parliament ignored the facts and gave the green light to euthanasia.

    The position has continued to deteriorate. Further evidence came to light in 1994 which revealed that not only was non-voluntary euthanasia being practised without prosecution in the Netherlands but that it was being practised on those who were not dying or incurably ill. In 1994 the Dutch Supreme Court heard that Dr. Chabot had assisted the death of a patient who had been suffering from depression. She had suffered a number of family tragedies and, not surprisingly, was in considerable mental distress. Contrary to the law, Dr. Chabot had assisted her to die and yet the Dutch Supreme Court upheld his decision. Indeed, the legal advisers to the Dutch Medical Association welcomed the clarification and Dr. Chabot himself stated that what was needed was a test case involving people who were elderly or who had AIDS and wished to be killed even though they were currently healthy. Therefore, the slippery slope continued.

    There is empirical evidence to show that the current practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands is out of control. Further academic confirmation of this is to be found in a book by Professor John Griffiths of the University of Groningen entitled Euthanasia and the Law in the Netherlands. He states that the system of regulation is not working. Doctors are not reporting cases of euthanasia that they are practising and this is confirmed by the conclusions of the Remmelink Commission which found that the number of reported cases of euthanasia was as low as 18 per cent. The interesting point about Professor Griffiths' findings is that he himself is in favour of euthanasia. He believes that it is now the time to legalise euthanasia, to have total decriminalisation and to see it as a form of medical treatment with doctors regulating themselves.

    The full effect of the current situation was brought home to me following a meeting last week with a Dutch lady now living in the United Kingdom. She has a large number of elderly relatives in the Netherlands and members of the family are medical practitioners. She is informed and well educated about medical practice in the Netherlands. Last week she told me that her elderly relatives felt threatened by the current practice of euthanasia and worried that their lives would be ended without their consent. They felt betrayed by the Dutch Government for not protecting them.

    My second point concerns the lessons that can be learned from current euthanasia practice in the Netherlands. There are those in this country who advocate that we embrace a similar statutory framework as that used in Holland. The current general secretary of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, John Oliver, said in a recent magazine interview that he doubted that politicians would have the courage to change it themselves and they were
    "too frightened of broad ethical debates and of pro-life groups accusing them of Nazi-style eugenics. Instead, change will probably come in the form of judicial review with the law being reshaped in the courts exactly as it was in Holland".
    The current statutory framework in the Netherlands developed as a result of a number of legal cases brought before the Dutch courts in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result of a number of lenient judgments, accepted medical practice in the Netherlands changed and, with the sanction of the Royal Dutch Medical Profession, the practice became acceptable. By the time parliament considered the matter in 1993, it was a case of attempting to shut the stable door after the horse had bolted.

    Attempts are already underway to mirror the Dutch experience in this country. Indeed, the recent Lindsell case, which your Lordships debated in November, was a striking example of the pro-euthanasia lobby at work. The Voluntary Euthanasia Society financed the case in which counsel, first, mistakenly claimed that there was a lack of clarity as to the criminal law and good medical practice in the palliative treatment of the terminally ill. Secondly, counsel suggested that the hospice movement was inadequate in treating motor neurone disease. Thirdly, counsel stated that conscientious doctors seeking to act in the best interest of the patients were left in a state of uncertainty and anxiety and were worried about being taken to court over their care of the terminally ill.

    These claims are without foundation and simply confirm that the real purpose behind the Annie Lindsell case was to try to obtain permission—as set out in the first affidavit—to give an unlimited and unspecified dose of heroin, which could have resulted in her immediate death and would then have been hailed as the first legal case of euthanasia in this country.

    Having discussed the case with a number of court sources, I remain concerned that the costs were not awarded against the Annie Lindsell team, despite a request to that effect from the Official Solicitor. In the debate last November, the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, stated that the judge rejected this cost order because he was so satisfied that the case was properly founded. My Lords, that simply is not true. Costs were not awarded against the Lindsell team because of her frail state and the possibility of a public outcry—

    My Lords, would the noble Lord say where the evidence is for that statement?

    My Lords, the evidence for that statement can be found through consultation with the President of the Family Division of the High Court.

    My Lords, perhaps the public might have thought differently had they known that the taxpayers were going to pay the expenses for a case that was completely unnecessary and had collapsed, as it was nothing more or less than a public relations exercise.

    Anyone who earlier this year saw the ITV programme "Fighting for Dignity" could have been forgiven for experiencing a sense of déjà vu. It is apparent to me that the pro-euthanasia lobby has found its natural successor to Annie Lindsell; namely, Jane McDonald, who featured in the programme. It can only be a matter of time before a further challenge either through Miss McDonald or other cases intensifies pressure on the courts.

    In conclusion, I have found the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, very helpful on this subject in the past. I look forward to hearing the Government's views on the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands and whether its practice is not a contravention of the spirit of the European Convention on Human Rights. How can we be sure that what happens in Holland today will not happen in this country tomorrow?

    9.17 p.m.

    My Lords, I had doubts about whether the debate was appropriate. My fears have been renewed by the repetition of statements made on various occasions in recent years by the noble Lord, Lord McColl. The statements have been answered by various Dutch organisations. They have been gathered together and one can read them. I propose to present to my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn a copy of some of the refutations—there is a vast quantity—and I shall provide the noble Lord, Lord McColl, with a copy, too. I shall also place a copy in the Library so that noble Lords can read for themselves and make up their minds about whether this blanket condemnation of the entire Dutch system, which on the whole bears good comparison with our own National Health Service, is justified on this point.

    I believe that the practice of voluntary euthanasia will develop and spread and will become accepted as anaesthesia is accepted today. In fact, we might improve its chances by calling it "permanent anaesthesia".

    I have been presented with a distressing tale about the alleged scene in Holland, as have all your Lordships. My information, which I have reason to believe is reliable, is that the strong resemblance that this output has to that of the small Dutch group hostile to voluntary euthanasia is no accident. I would detail the reply, but there is no time for that to be done. As I say, I shall provide copies of it.

    However, I shall mention one matter. I am not sure whether the noble Lord spoke of it this evening but I do not believe that he will disown it. This is a statement that in Holland, old people are frightened for their lives. The noble Lord will be familiar with that statement. There is absolutely no proof that that is true. That myth seems to have come partly from a survey carried out by the Dutch physicians league, a small association of only several hundred doctors who are against euthanasia. Only its own members were surveyed.

    There is also no evidence to show that residents of nursing homes are terrified of being killed against their will. In fact, a report of the Dutch voluntary euthanasia society showed that euthanasia hardly ever takes place in residential homes. Every year, out of 55,000 patients in residential homes, about 300 ask for euthanasia. Of those, only 25 requests are granted. We shall hear later in the debate why that tremendous reduction takes place and why so many requests are refused. There is in fact obviously no reason for fears to exist.

    I do not wish to defend everything in the Dutch garden and to say that it is all lovely. In this respect, the Dutch are pioneers and pioneers sometimes make mistakes. They often get into trouble. I look at the coming millennium with some trepidation. However, in that respect, I believe that permanent anaesthesia provides a way of removing some of the terrors of life in this frightening nuclear age of ours.

    As I have said, I warmly welcome the debate because it has given me an opportunity to say once again that this is something which is beneficial to mankind and which will grow and spread. Over a period of time—and it will take a period of time—we shall succeed in overcoming the fears which I have no doubt the noble Lord, Lord McColl, holds sincerely but most of which, on examination, proved to be illusory. I believe that my time is almost up, but before I sit down I must thank the noble Lord for introducing the debate.

    9.23 p.m.

    My Lords, I believe that the test of the quality of our civilisation is the degree to which we value human life. That means that we should be concerned with the value of lives to individuals and of life to individuals, not some abstract principle.

    It is claimed and argued by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, that the Dutch do not in effect show proper respect for the value of life because they allow euthanasia if a patient consents to it. If the Dutch had abandoned or modified their respect for human life, it would be extremely uncharacteristic of them and would very much go against the admirable record which they have built up over centuries of respecting human rights. The Dutch have mostly been found to be at the forefront of progress towards more respect for human rights.

    If one goes back to the 17th century, as has been recorded in that magnificent book by Simon Schama, Embarrassment of Riches, the Dutch at that stage were by far the most civilised nation in Europe. Indeed, they were the most tolerant of dissent; they provided a home and asylum for the Jews; they were far ahead in the recognition of women's rights; they believed in the rehabilitation of criminals, although by rather crude and primitive methods; they had the lowest degree of poverty and no malnutrition; and they even had democracy on their "men of war", their warships, instead of enforcing discipline by the lash.

    Today, again generally, I am sure it would be agreed that the Dutch are noted as one of the most civilised of the European nations. They are noted for their low level of poverty; they have one of the best healthcare systems in the European Union; they have a high respect for law and civil liberty; they have a high degree of concern for the environment; and they perform a role as very responsible international citizens. I am not saying that they are unique among countries in that respect, but they are certainly one of the leading civilised nations.

    It is argued that suddenly the Dutch have abandoned that enlightened attitude—these enlightened principles—because they have embraced euthanasia. I submit that the reverse is the case and that the Dutch have again shown the way which civilised society should follow and that, in practice, they show the highest regard for the value of human life because they give consideration to the individual and put it before abstract principle.

    As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, pointed out, it is not true that anyone who requests to die can do so under the Dutch system; indeed, the majority of requests are turned down. I believe that the noble Lord gave us figures regarding people in residential homes. The reason for that is that there are 10 very strict rules which apply. Those rules are accepted by the courts and have been accepted by the Parliament in that country. I should like to refer to eight of those 10 strict rules—the most important ones.

    The first rule is that there must be a physical or mental suffering which a sufferer finds unbearable; secondly, the suffering and the desire to die must be lasting and not temporary; thirdly, the decision to die must be patient's own decision; and, fourthly, the patient must have a correct and clear understanding of his or her condition and the prognosis. The fifth rule states that there must be no other solution that is acceptable to the patient. The sixth rules states that the time and the way that the patient dies must not cause unavoidable misery to others—for example, the next of kin. The seventh rules states that the decision to help a patient die must be made by more than one person and that the doctor involved has to consult another professional. The eighth rule states that a medical doctor must be involved in the decision and in prescribing the correct drugs.

    The noble Lord, Lord McColl, suggested that, having started on the process of voluntary euthanasia, the Dutch are now sliding down a slippery slope and that there is an increase in number of patients whose lives are ended without their consent. Of course, that is quite untrue. As I said, the matter has been examined by the parliament and the courts in the Netherlands and, after examination, they have thoroughly recommended the system, which has widespread support throughout the country. It is perfectly true that the Remmelink report in 1990 found, among a thousand cases, that in something like 0.8 per cent. of the total number of deaths euthanasia had taken place without the patient's explicit consent at the time. Incidentally, it also found that all these were cases where the matter had been discussed between the doctor and the patient, or where the patient had previously expressed the wish that life should be ended in those particular circumstances. When the matter was considered again some five years later, it was found that, far from this doctrine of the slippery slope, the actual number of cases in that category had actually declined; it had declined from 0.8 per cent. to 0.7 per cent. Compared with Holland (where voluntary euthanasia is strictly controlled and, therefore, accepted), it is worth noting that in Australia, where euthanasia is illegal, the proportion of deaths without consent under similar circumstances was not 0.7 per cent. but 3.5 per cent.

    The Dutch system is open. It may well be that not all doctors report cases, although according to the study which I believe the noble Lord, Lord McColl, quoted, the number is rising and has more than doubled over the past few years. However, the same is true of the United Kingdom. We do not know what is happening in the United Kingdom. A British Medical Journal study reported in 1994 that one in 10 doctors interviewed said that they had actively hastened patients' deaths.

    Of course this is a difficult and most delicate question. I have the greatest admiration for the work which is done in hospices. There can be no question of encouraging the terminally ill to consent to euthanasia, but, on the other hand, in a civilised society one should respect the wishes of those who want to avoid horrible suffering at the end of their lives and who want to die in dignity and do not wish to go on living. I know of several cases where life has been considered quite intolerable and people end their days in total misery begging for someone to help them to die.

    In my view the Dutch have shown how society can become more, not less, compassionate. In their approach to, and rules on, voluntary euthanasia they have shown a greater, and not a lesser, respect for the value of human life.

    9.30 p.m.

    My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for introducing a debate on this important subject. First, I want to raise the question of human autonomy. According to the Dutch definition, in use since 1985, euthanasia refers to intentional acts that are deliberately taken to end the life of a person, at his own request, by someone else. In short, the emphasis is upon a person's own choice, decision and request.

    However, according to Christian thinking, human autonomy can never be absolute. As the joint submission from the Church of England House of Bishops and the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales to the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics put it,
    "Neither of our Churches insists that a dying or seriously ill person should be kept alive by all possible means for as long as possible. On the other hand we do not believe that the right to personal autonomy is absolute. It is valid only when it recognises other moral values, especially the respect due to human life as such, whether someone else's or one's own".
    I also wish to focus on the increase in the number of requests for euthanasia, whether or not all of these are granted. The number of explicit requests for euthanasia to be performed without long delay in 1995 was 9,700—an increase of 9 per cent. on 1990. In addition there were 34,500 requests for euthanasia at some point in the future, when the appropriate time arrived—an increase of 37 per cent. compared with 1990. What worries me about these figures is the creation of a culture in which the whole focus is on the request for euthanasia, and when the time might be right for it. It seems to me that this must inevitably distract attention from where our efforts should be directed; namely, to the increased quality of palliative care.

    If a teenager is obsessed by ideas of suicide, we do not collude with him in debating whether it may or may not be right for him to end his life. We want to get him out of that state of mind altogether. We recognise that there is something fundamentally wrong that needs to be changed. It may be that he is depressed and will need anti-depressants, or he may need help in finding a fulfilling job or in forming relationships. But when the conditions and circumstances of that person's life are changed, it is likely that he will no longer wish to kill himself. Of course the parallel with the person seriously ill at the end of his life, facing a painful or undignified future, is not exact. A teenager has a life ahead of him; someone who is seriously ill does not. Nevertheless there is one important point of comparison; namely, that if the person's circumstances are changed, he may well get out of a state where he focuses on whether or not to ask for euthanasia. In short, if the pain can be brought under control; if the person is in a community in which he feels valued and cared for; if there is a spiritual environment in which the ending of a life is seen as part of our preparation for a movement into a larger life, the desire to end it all will be much rarer, if indeed it is present at all.

    As we all know, palliative care has improved enormously in recent decades, not least due to the hospice movement, with its Christian inspiration. It is widely recognised that most pain can now be controlled and that the environment in which a person is cared for makes all the difference. My concern is that encouraging people to focus on the request for euthanasia—whether and when they should ask for it—distracts society from where our efforts should be channelled; namely, to ensuring really good palliative care throughout the country.

    It is interesting that the alleviation of physical pain is the actual reason for asking for euthanasia in only 30 per cent. of cases in the Netherlands. More is involved than physical pain—there is the emotional and spiritual side. People just feel valueless and hopeless, a burden to themselves and others. Here, I believe that Christian and other forms of humanism have a crucial contribution to make. We are of value in ourselves, for ourselves, whatever our circumstances or condition, whether we are healthy or sick, young or dying, able-bodied or struggling with some disability. Christian theology emphasises the fact that we do not have to achieve in order to be of worth; we do not have to prove ourselves nor to strive to be accounted of value. We simply are of worth, in our own person, for ourselves. It is this philosophy which under-girds and suffuses the best palliative care.

    Then there is the whole question of becoming increasingly dependent on others. I think we need to question the modern assumption that only the active, dynamic, initiative-taking life is valuable. There is a proper place in human existence for letting things take their course, for allowing oneself to be passive, for accepting dependence on others, if that is the way things are. Shakespeare reminded us that the seventh and last stage of human existence is to be "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything". This decline is likely to bring about an increasing dependence on other people, even when we are not suffering from a terrible disease, and I certainly do not want in any way to underplay the potential indignity of this process. But the fact is that we are dependent upon one another. That is one of the fundamental features of what it is to be a human being. The fact is that as we get older we are increasingly in the grip of what Teilhard de Chardin called "the forces of diminishment". He was able to see these forces, as others have, as apparently cruel but truly beneficent in the long run. To be able to let go, to let things take their course, to allow oneself to be dependent, to be cared for by others, is to reflect a wisdom inherent in creation. It is this wisdom to which we should be sensitive rather than looking for legal ways of putting that final decision into our own hands.

    I respect the fact that in the Netherlands the approach to euthanasia has been conscientious and responsible. Nevertheless, it is fundamentally misconceived, a wrong turning which history will, I hope, quickly judge to be a cul-de-sac. I believe that in allowing people, in increasing numbers, to focus on the question of when and under what conditions they might ask for euthanasia, distracts society from its proper concern, which is how to improve palliative care and how to bring good palliative care to everybody in society. The request to die indicates that something is wrong. Let us concentrate on identifying what is wrong and doing all we can to make it right. If it is physical pain, let us improve our pain-controlling drugs; if it is the fear of indignity or the thought of becoming useless and a burden, let us create a caring context in which such feelings can be expressed and talked through. For, as I have already quoted, the figures indicate that 63 per cent. of the requests to die have nothing to do with physical pain at all.

    The issues have to do with human relationships and caring communities. Underlying what is wrong, of course, is our mortality, the fact that we peter out with the loss of so much of what we once enjoyed and valued. Here we have to oppose the idea that it is only if we are the great hero, taking control of our lives at every point, that we are of value. To live a human life includes dependency as well as activity, being passive as well as active, letting go as well as taking charge. And, if this wisdom is reflected in society as a whole, a society encouraged by networks of relationships and communities that pay attention to the emotional and spiritual needs of the sick and dying as well as their physical ones, the requests to be put out of misery will stop. So, looking at what the Dutch do, however conscientiously, let us decide to go down another road altogether.

    9.40 p.m.

    My Lords, I am very glad to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. I congratulate him warmly on the clear, unequivocal statements made on behalf of the Church, and for giving us his views about the wrong-headedness of the turn that the Dutch have taken. It is good to hear such unequivocal voices coming from the Bench of Bishops.

    A trip down memory lane will enable me to explain to your Lordships' House my own attitude in another place over the 18 years between 1979 and 1997. I voted on every occasion I could against abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia. It may not be very cool and modern, but that is what I have done over the past 18 years in another place.

    Another trip down memory lane will enable me to tell your Lordships of a trip to Holland in the mid-1980s. I went there as a junior Minister in the Home Office—which is a right, fit and proper calling, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, on the Front Bench, will agree. In particular, I visited Amsterdam to look at the endemic and state-enhanced drugs culture that exists there. I returned thinking, "That will never happen here. There will never be pressure for that kind of thing in the United Kingdom".

    Yet since the mid-1980s we have seen a growing surge of public pressure to relax our drugs laws, all the time turning towards the Dutch example. We have seen this increasingly on the pages of broadsheet newspapers, by learned columnists—most of them late middle-aged baby boomers trying to recreate the 1960s that never happened. But it is not now restricted only to the broadsheet papers. One ex-editress of a broadsheet has gone to the Daily Express to assume the editorial chair. We may well find that the campaign she has run to legalise cannabis and other soft drugs—finding its fountainhead in the Dutch example—will now occur in the tabloid newspapers.

    What seemed impossible 10 or 12 years ago when I went on that trip as a junior Minister now seems all too possible in the minds of many commentators. As did the right reverend Prelate, I fear that the same pressure may come on this side of the water.

    I wish to make only two points. First, one cannot have a little bit of euthanasia. Once one has a bit of euthanasia, one will get a lot more. One will find the slippery slope all too easy to travel down. What may start with a few painstakingly examined and argued about distressing cases of a medical kind will lead little by little to an easing of law and public attitudes towards euthanasia. I can well see that if, next year, we made that sort of thing possible, within a decade we would find pressures growing, in particular on the elderly, to consider euthanasia for social reasons. I believe that that happens in some jurisdictions around the world.

    I can imagine people whose lives have been happily prolonged much beyond the three score years and ten they might have expected into, let us say, their 80s or 90s—years for which they have not provided—feeling that they are a burden on their families. For the most noble of sentiments, they may decide that perhaps a bit of euthanasia is the way to ease the problems that their families face.

    It is a dangerous slope indeed; and it is one I am fearful that some of the learned judges, through the process of judicial review, may try to introduce into the law of this land. To borrow the headline from that newspaper people sometimes try to sell me in the streets outside Westminster Cathedral, the "big issue" in the new millennium will be how to curb the hunger of the judiciary to ever extend its powers of judicial review. The judiciary is, I say with respect, as bad as a pack of politicians in wishing to extend its unelected powers. I am fearful of the possibility of the judiciary undermining the intentions of Parliament.

    I congratulate warmly the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary on the stand he has taken against any further changes to laws on drug taking. I hope that my support will not alarm him, but I support him warmly in what he has done there. I hope that the Government will now take a similarly robust attitude towards the preservation of life.

    My second and final point relates to fear. I believe that there are now a few elderly people in this country who, because they read about the euthanasia debate and see television programmes about it, are somehow fearful that the doctors and the medical world who are their best friends might present a threat in future years. Many subjects in this country willingly and freely carry in their wallets, purses and handbags donor cards stating that if unfortunately they should die, their organs—their kidneys, eyes or whatever else—should be used for medical purposes. I do not see it as too far-fetched, if the pressure for euthanasia continues, that people will wish to carry in their wallets and handbags a "right to life" card, which they could have as a legally binding document, stating that they wish to have their life preserved.

    I wish to hear one thing only from the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who will reply—that is, a clear and unequivocal statement on behalf of the Government that they support the right to life among our citizens.

    9.45 p.m.

    My Lords, in the 18 years during which the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and I were in the other place, it was always a great pleasure to be in what he described as the "neither cool nor modern lobbies" when we voted on these issues. It is a pleasure to follow him again this evening.

    Perhaps I may congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, on introducing this debate, and alerting us to the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands. I wish to divide my remarks into three parts—first, a word about the origins of eugenic practices such as euthanasia; secondly, some remarks about the Dutch experience; and lastly, a word about the alternatives.

    Although euthanasia is practised in Holland with legal sanction—and it is the only country in the world to have that unenviable and invidious distinction—euthanasia had its origins in the medical establishment of pre-war Germany.

    In 1998 we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. It is no coincidence that after the eugenics and genocide of the pre-war era, Article 3 of that declaration promulgated the very right to life itself—not, as the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, put it, "an abstract principle".

    Europe's crimes against the Jews remind us of what happens when the inviolability of life is systematically eroded and institutions once bound by a common code of ethics are corrupted. No people have better cause to understand the consequences of the collapse of responsible citizenship, and what happens when society loses the concepts of right and wrong, than do the Jews. But even before the Holocaust, mentally and physically ill people had been sterilised, experimented upon and done away with. The film, "J'Accuse", was used to soften up German public opinion, and school textbooks even set mathematic problems asking children to work out the difference between caring for a disabled person or building new homes. Today, we use chat-show ethics and arguments about personal autonomy to accomplish the same ends.

    The pre-war slide into eugenics did not happen all at once. Moments of monstrous inhumanity rarely do—and here are lessons for us today. Our contemporary anti-life culture has gradually been evolving, and, as the Dutch experience reveals, old mistakes can easily be dressed up in the new clothes of progress.

    As the noble Lord, Lord McColl, has told us, in 1991, the Remmelink Committee, named after the Dutch Attorney General, revealed that in that year more than 3,000 people had died through euthanasia in Holland and that in 1,030 cases it was not voluntary.

    A 1995 study recorded that in that year there were 900 deaths from euthanasia with "no specific request from the patient". The British Medical Journal reported in December 1996 that most Dutch doctors do not fulfil the legal obligation to report euthanasia—so the number of such deaths may be even higher. The Dutch experience, then, is that the inevitable corollary of allowing personal autonomy—as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford put it so eloquently—to trump the inviolability and sacredness of human life is involuntary euthanasia.

    The Dutch experience is pertinent in two other respects. Public and political opinion was carefully conditioned by a series of high profile court cases. We heard earlier about the Chabot case in 1994. That case concerned a woman who was a depressive, not someone who was terminally ill or who was dying. The old juridical adage that hard cases make bad law, of which the noble Lord, Lord Patten, reminded us this evening, is amply demonstrated in Holland. But it is also self-evident in Britain, where 30 years ago legal abortion was to be practised in exceptional cases. Five million abortions later, and British laws which since 1991 have permitted destructive experiments on human embryos—more than 500,000, according to a report in last Sunday's Sunday Times—and abortion up to and even during birth of a disabled baby, show where calls to clarify the law can so easily lead: they lead to the overriding of ethical consideration. Choice and autonomy inevitably lead to tragedy.

    In Britain we are now in the throes of considering the Law Commission's Bill on mental incapacity and the Government Green Paper, Who Decides? The Lord Chancellor states that neither publication contains recommendations on euthanasia. But that is a Trojan horse. The deliberate starving to death of a patient is being presented as something other than euthanasia. No one will be persuaded by this argument. It is not an issue for ambiguity or fudge.

    The reason why the Voluntary Euthanasia Society supports that Bill is that they see it as a critical step towards establishing intentional killing as a routine part of medical practice. Once that fearsome breach has been made and the freedom of the doctor to act in the best interests of an incapacitated patient has been removed, it will not be long before Dutch practices become normative in Britain too. The Law Commission's proposals are euthanasia by default.

    Criminal law has traditionally held that the value of human life transcends the value of individual autonomy. We would be foolish indeed to allow the law to be changed in any way which changes that position. In Holland the medical profession has been corrupted by euthanasia. Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, said tonight, many elderly and infirm people are inevitably frightened to approach doctors who first practise murder on request and then kill their own patients without consent. The Hippocratic oath wisely held that, if you cannot help, you do not harm. It will be difficult to trust any doctor who resiles from that most basic code of ethics.

    That is my third and final point. There is much we can do to help. The hospice movement is virtually non-existent in Holland. You do not need hospices, good palliative care or relief from suffering or pain if you kill the patient instead. Britain can be justly proud of a movement pioneered by that illustrious Englishwoman, Dame Cicely Saunders, in 1967 and which today boasts 200 flourishing hospices. They provide a radical alternative to the defeatism of euthanasia. Hospices do not confuse words like "care" and "kill". Through good palliative care, they can offer love and hope—what we used to call "a good death". It is impossible to imagine how Dutch practices, or those advocated by many here, would be conducive to the continued flourishing of the hospice movement. The origins of euthanasia, the Dutch experience and the alternatives are cogent and persuasive arguments against euthanasia. In November last a Bill was considered in the other place, grimly entitled the Doctor Assisted Dying Bill. Eighty-nine Members of Parliament voted for that Bill. Incidentally, 77 of those who voted for euthanasia voted against foxhunting. That is a bad case of political correctness and convoluted values. Tonight's timely and welcome debate reminds us of the importance of great vigilance in the months which lie ahead.

    9.53 p.m.

    My Lords, I join with others in thanking my noble friend Lord McColl, who has brought this important matter before your Lordships this evening. It is a matter of considerable interest, especially to those who at different stages of their lives are faced with the question of what might happen to them if they have a terminal illness and whether they have what is called by many the "right to die". In the end, as we know, although no one evades the final ending of physical life, no doctor is entitled to act in such a way that may in consequence bring a patient's life to an end nor must he permit that consequence by not taking action. That is the law in this country at the moment, and long may it remain so. However, in the Netherlands, although euthanasia is said to be illegal under the criminal law, there are acknowledged to be situations in which a doctor may terminate the life of a patient and not be deemed guilty of committing a criminal act.

    One report on the Dutch situation was instituted by an American psychologist, Herbert Henkin. It was referred to in the New York Times in July 1996 and set out certain disturbing features. It said,
    "The Netherlands has moved from assisted suicide to euthanasia; from euthanasia for people who are terminally ill to euthanasia for those who are chronically ill, from euthanasia for physical illness to euthanasia for psychological distress, from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia".
    In each case it is one step removed from the next.

    The current state of Dutch law was referred to by many noble Lords this evening. A report on euthanasia was set out by the Foreign Information Department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs by way of 20 questions and answers setting out the main issues. I shall refer to just one or two of those because many points have already been touched on by other noble Lords. The document said that euthanasia was defined as,
    "the termination of life by a doctor at the express request of a patient provided that the request is explicit, carefully considered and voluntary; and the patient's suffering is unbearable and there is no prospect of improvement".
    Also, although illegal in practice, doctors may be exempt from criminal proceedings under certain conditions. For instance, if acting under force majeure on the patient who has made voluntary, well considered, persistent and explicit requests for euthanasia.

    There is therefore clear evidence of euthanasia being practised and condoned, if not legally permitted. Not only voluntary euthanasia is being practised, but also involuntary euthanasia where a person has not requested to die. Cases have occurred where a doctor decided that his patient's bed was needed and he considered the patient's life no longer worth while. In that situation, a patient's life is exchanged for a bed.

    Those tragic cases are difficult to estimate, as has already been said. Figures have been given to show that persons have died in accordance with their own wishes. They were estimated at around 1,000 in 1990 and a similar figure in 1995. But since then it has not always been considered necessary for a doctor to report such a case to the Department of Public Prosecutions. It is considered therefore that that number is much exceeded. Estimates vary from 3,000 up to a high of 10,000, or 8 per cent. of all deaths in one year. Those are only estimates and cannot be proven. But that is the kind of figure that has been circulating. I do not suggest that it is accurate.

    It is profoundly to be hoped that, as palliative care is developed in the United Kingdom—whether in the 279 specialist hospices, as we were informed in November 1997 by my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk, whose wife played such a magnificent role in helping to develop them, or by care teams working throughout the country in patients' homes, which means that it is not always necessary for the patient to have the benefit of dying in the atmosphere of a hospice; they can die peacefully at home—such practices will develop also in the Netherlands. They now have four hospices compared with our 279. We hope that such practices may also develop to stem the number of both voluntary and involuntary cases which have shocked so many of us in your Lordships' House tonight.

    9.59 p.m.

    My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to my noble friend Lord McColl for introducing this subject this evening. My noble friend Lord Patten went down memory lane in considering it. I found my imagination running rife into the future. In my mind's eye I saw myself addressing your Lordships' House moving a Motion with enormous power and verve, tremendously heartfelt, and with great eloquence. I then found that your Lordships rejected my Motion out of hand, which is not something to which I am unaccustomed. Then I found myself going home feeling very depressed by this and very sorry at what had happened. I told my family and party that I was feeling very depressed and very sorry about it all. Then a kindly doctor said, "Dear, dear, poor Crispin, how very sad that you feel so depressed about this. Let me help you". He kindly gives me a lethal injection so that the next morning I wake up not in my comfortable bed, but in the next life without feeling that that was entirely what I had planned, envisaged or wanted, nor, probably, what the Almighty had planned for me.

    That was my imagination and not historical fact. When I read about the 1994 Dutch Supreme Court decision which has been mentioned several times and which upheld Dr. Chabot's decision to administer a fatal injection to a woman suffering only from depression and not terminally ill, I can see the scope for euthanasia proceeding further and further. It is normal practice, when people become accustomed to something, that the next step provides the next challenge. It certainly appears that in Holland the scope of euthanasia is expanding to those who are currently healthy and to those who have not made "explicit and persistent requests" for euthanasia. I see that position providing a very dangerous precedent for us and other countries as well.

    The legalisation of euthanasia in this country would prove to be a fundamental change in the basis of law introducing intentional killing. It would seem to me very odd if we were—we are not—to consider introducing intentional killing at the same time as we are busy removing further legal possibilities of capital punishment through a Bill at present going through Parliament. The two things are quite contradictory.

    We are all protected by the prohibition on intentional killing. Without it, as the Dutch have proved, it is impossible to police it. After all, as in a murder trial, the best witness is no longer available to testify. Like all other noble Lords, I am sure, I am a strong believer in palliative care in hospices. On Friday this week I shall be visiting a new hospice in the Weald at Tunbridge Wells, where superb healthcare is given. It does not seem to be the case that the same quality of healthcare is available in Holland. Other healthcare may be good, but I do not believe from what I have read and heard that this aspect of healthcare is available in Holland in the way it is here. The quality of care for the dying is now such that euthanasia is quite unnecessary in this country or in other countries. I do not believe that it should be permitted here.

    10.4 p.m.

    My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for giving us the opportunity of debating this important issue this evening. Along with many in this House, I admire the work that he and others did in producing the excellent Select Committee report on medical ethics a few years ago.

    I am a long-standing supporter of the hospice movement, and have discussed the current Dutch practice with colleagues in the palliative care field. Indeed, it seems to me that one of the key problems with the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands is the almost total lack of hospice care. There are only four hospices in the Netherlands and knowledge of palliative care is not widespread. I understand there is an excellent network of old people's homes, but these are not built on the hospice principle of symptom management, involving the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of care. This point was most cogently argued by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford.

    While knowledge of palliative care is improving, I cannot see how further developments can take place when euthanasia remains an option. This is because the Dutch appear to have embraced a euthanasia mentality. Perhaps this is best illustrated by a case from the Netherlands reported in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1996. An old man was dying of lung cancer. His symptoms were controlled and he asked if he could die at home. When his children were told about his wish they would not agree to take care of him. Even after repeated discussion, they refused. Instead, they pointed to their father's suffering and the need to finish things quickly in the name of humanity. When the doctor refused, they threatened to sue him. As the patient insisted on going home, a social worker went to investigate. She discovered that the patient's house was empty and every piece of furniture had been stripped out by the family.

    It is easy to slip into critical rhetoric when analysing the Dutch situation but that would be wrong, so perhaps I may finish by drawing the attention of your Lordships to a paper written by Leo Alexander, an eminent psychiatrist, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1947. He outlines how the Dutch medical profession unanimously disobeyed the orders of the Third Reich commissars for the occupied Netherlands to concentrate their efforts on the rehabilitation of the sick for useful labour. When threatened with the revocation of their licences, they returned them, while seeing their own patients secretly. When 100 physicians were arrested and sent to death camps, their colleagues took care of their widows and orphans. As Dr. Alexander states:
    "Not a single euthanasia or non-therapeutic sterilisation was recommended or participated in by any Dutch physician".
    When one hears of the Remmelink report, the Chabot case and the 1,030 reported cases of euthanasia in 1990 without any request and one reflects on Leo Alexander's paper, one is struck by the irony of the current situation. It is my sincere hope that, rather than seeing themselves as leading the way, the Dutch will embrace fully hospice principles and repeal their current euthanasia legislation. I also trust that Sir Stephen Brown, President of the Family Division, will take note of events in the Netherlands and resist a similar slide towards euthanasia in this country.

    10.8 p.m.

    My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, and not least of course the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, for returning to this important topic.

    I do not think it would be appropriate for Her Majesty's Government to criticise the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands. However, I assure your Lordships that we have no intention of following the Dutch example. The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, said that there was widespread support in the Netherlands for the regime which they have, which I shall come to in a moment. That may well be so: I do not know. I have not myself detected widespread support for the Dutch regime in this country.

    When we last debated this matter in November of last year, again the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, spoke and I do not think I could have been plainer than I was then in the statement which I made of the Government's stance. On that occasion, the noble Lord did raise concerns about the Dutch practice. I made it perfectly plain that we do not intend to legalise euthanasia in the United Kingdom, and I hope that statement is sufficiently unambiguous to satisfy the noble Lord who asked me to make it.

    In a sense, this debate covers some ground that we have traversed in the past. It is sometimes said that euthanasia has been legalised in the Netherlands. That is not strictly correct. It is still a criminal offence, as is assistance with suicide. It is open to the courts to try such cases but, as the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, and others have pointed out, there is a system of statutory guidelines which in effect means that if doctors comply with them, prosecutions do not occur. All acts of euthanasia or assistance with suicide must be notified to the Public Prosecution Department, which considers whether the criteria and guidelines were applied in that particular case. The department then has the discretion not to prosecute.

    We have no intention of going down that road. We are, of course, interested in the experience of the Netherlands and elsewhere. Some jurisdictions in Australia have been mentioned, as has one in the United States of America. Obviously, we pay attention to what happens elsewhere, but our duty as a government is to come to our own conclusion in the context of our own jurisdiction.

    Some have the view, which I accept is conscientiously held—indeed, I think all views on this are conscientiously held, which is perhaps why there can be no reconciliation between them—that they would not be happy with euthanasia for all; some advocate physician-assisted suicide. As I said in November—I do not mean this offensively—sometimes fancy labels are used as tools of utility when we should perhaps concentrate on what we actually mean. We do not believe that there is any essential difference between physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. Both are deliberate acts to end the life of another human being. The deliberate act of killing another human being is unlawful in this country and can result in a charge of murder or manslaughter. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that colleagues in his profession have been so charged and, indeed, convicted on occasions, certainly of attempted murder.

    There is always the danger of being morally certain that requests for euthanasia are really voluntary and without coercion—sometimes the rather subtle coercion of circumstances, of family pressure unspoken or of financial worries. The principle upon which we stand firm is that the law is there in significant part to protect the weak and to deter the malefactor even when the malefactor acts on what he thinks conscientiously to be right.

    We have been considering the Dutch experience. I have recently read a report of a study—admittedly, of a small number of cases—conducted by a medical director of a Dutch hospice. His published views showed that most of the terminally ill patients who entered his hospice, having previously expressed a desire for euthanasia, changed their minds when good palliative care was made available to them and, in some cases, when they had the opportunity to discuss the issues fully with their doctor and with members of their family. It was the first time that the family mind had felt itself able to have an open discussion of the issue.

    Palliative care is important. We have a good record in this country, better than that of many other countries. Of course, it is true—I sympathise with this—that people in great pain and distress—the sort of pain and distress which we cannot imagine or guess at if we have not suffered it—may want a quick release from suffering. However—I do not split hairs on this—it is the suffering of which they wish to be free, not life itself. As the noble Lord said—his expertise is infinitely greater than mine—there is the possibility that distressing symptoms, both physical and mental, can be controlled and dealt with decently and caringly, as the hospice service—that is what it is—demonstrates.

    We also stand firm on this principle: terminally ill patients have the same rights to healthcare as any other group of patients. We regard it as wrong to legalise certain forms of killing, even for those who ask for it. It is true—we dealt with this matter at great length in November—that the double effect may sometimes be a consideration, so that legitimately offered and delivered medical treatment by way of particular medication may limit a patient's already shortened life expectancy. I do not believe that doctors shy away from that. But we believe that that is fundamentally different in principle from simply killing someone because he requests to be killed or helping that individual to kill himself. Symptom relief can be achieved by excellent palliative care, but not always. One does not suggest that as the easy way out of this dilemma.

    Mention was made of the Green Paper, which is subject to consultation. The consultation period closed on 31st March. Of course, it is the law in this country that if I as an individual do not wish to receive medical care for good reasons, bad reasons, religious reasons or no reason at all, as a human being I am entitled to decline it. As I understand medical ethics and the law, the doctor is obliged to attend to my wishes and follow them. In a sense, advance statements and directives—one may choose whatever phrase one wishes—are only an expansion of that. But based on what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has already said, plainly that kind of advance directive needs to be approached with great care and caution because circumstances change. People change their mind. I imagine that most noble Lords have at one time or another forgotten to change their wills—even if they have remembered to make them in the first place. Medical techniques and advances are beyond our present contemplation, and they are taking place extremely rapidly.

    I do not believe that I can say any more. There is only one thing to be said; namely, that we understand that different people in other countries have different views. They do things differently there but we do not propose to follow their purported example.

    Magistrates' Courts (Procedure) Bill Hl

    Returned from the Commons agreed to with amendments; the amendments ordered to be printed.

    House adjourned at seventeen minutes past ten o'clock.