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House of Lords Hansard
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Lords Chamber
24 January 2001
Volume 621

House Of Lords

Wednesday, 24th January 2001.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

Ncos' Parade Ground Orders

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether non-commissioned officers have been told to reduce their decibel levels when instructing recruits on the parade ground.

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My Lords, no, they have not.

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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on giving what I believe is the shortest reply she has ever given. Were the newspaper reports that said that the Army had issued red and yellow cards to new recruits true? They reported that if a recruit thought that the non-commissioned officer was speaking too loudly, he could put up a yellow card, and if he thought that the officer was speaking terribly loudly, he could put up a red card, in which case the officer would have to report to his senior officer. If that is correct, it would be interesting to know whether health and safety regulations would be relevant.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Earl. My reply may have been short, but it was as accurate as always.

On the question of red and yellow cards, reports of which appeared in the newspapers, it is true that recruits were issued with temporary identity cards—I stress that they were ID cards—while they were waiting for permanent documentation at two Army training centres, one of which was at Glencorse in Scotland and the other at Lichfield. The cards were indeed red and yellow, but they were for the purposes of aiding staff in the NAAFI. The cards made it clear who could and who could not be sold alcohol. For your Lordships' further elucidation, I add that in Glencorse the over-18s were issued with yellow cards and the under-18s with red cards. Your Lordships will not be surprised to learn that in Lichfield the exact opposite pertained—the over-18s had red cards and the under-18s had yellow cards.

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My Lords, I should begin by declaring an interest, which I may share with other Members of the House. Is the noble Baroness aware that, as a former officer cadet, I was under the training of Regimental Sergeant-Major Brittan?

If, as I am sure is the case, the Minister's reply was correct, I express regret at the fact that the potential for opera singers in Britain may be severely damaged.

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My Lords, this matter raises an important point about industrial deafness. Work is currently under way studying soldiers who may suffer from deafness following battlefield exercises. That is important, because obviously any impediment to hearing in the armed services could be very serious.

I take the points that the noble Lord made about his sergeant-major and about opera singers. He may be interested to know that the loudest shout ever recorded in this country reached 121.7 decibels. The shout came from a lady called Anna Lisa Ray. Her shout was recorded in Northern Ireland in April 1994, and she was shouting the word, "Quiet"!

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My Lords, have there been any cases of pensions being applied for or awarded for impairment of hearing arising from the impact of parade ground orders?

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My Lords, the noble Lord raises another serious aspect to this question. I have made inquiries on exactly that point. I understand that during the past three years there has been one attributable pension because of deafness of an individual leaving the Army.

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My Lords, in view of the noble Baroness's encouraging Answer to the Question, and her response to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, is she aware of the power of the voice of Regimental Sergeant-Major Brittan? When I was a boy at Wellington, he drilled me, as an officer cadet, to line the route at the funeral of the late King George VI. I measured the commands of Regimental Sergeant-Major Brittan and found that they were audible from a distance of more than 1,000 metres or—to use a measurement that meant more to me in those days—five furlongs. That was, roughly, the distance between Admiralty Arch and Buckingham Palace. That is considerably in excess of what is required to be an opera singer.

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My Lords, if it would help the noble Viscount, I have in my possession a very interesting chart that shows the decibel levels of just about everything, from whispering in a public library through to the take off of a jet aircraft. I do not know whether Sergeant-Major Brittan was able to rival a jet aircraft; I rather doubt it. Nonetheless, long may our officers be able to make themselves clearly heard and understood.

Again, an important point is raised. Those who are sent into battle have to hear clearly the instructions that are given to them. If instructions were not clearly heard, the most appalling incidents might result. Although the noble Viscount made his supplementary in a light-hearted vein, he raised a serious issue about hearing in the Armed Forces. I am sure that none of your Lordships would wish that to be forgotten.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that the most likely cause of deafness is from groups at discos rather than regimental sergeant-majors?

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My Lords, unfortunately, the chart that was provided to me by the Ministry of Defence does not contain the decibel level in discotheques. I could have told your Lordships about the decibel levels of pneumatic drills or riveting machines but, unfortunately, I cannot do so for the typical disco.

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My Lords, does the noble Baroness have a recording of the decibel level of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers?

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My Lords, as always, the noble Earl is the model of clarity.

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My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell me—and I know that it is slightly unfair because I am sure that it is not on her list—what would be the decibel level for people standing on tanks, instructing tank gunners in AP shell-firing on ranges? That is chiefly what I suffered from at the end of the war, after I had been wounded.

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My Lords, as luck would have it, I can say something about the decibel level in a Challenger 2 tank. The level outside a Challenger 2 tank is 176 decibels and inside the Challenger 2 tank it is 142 decibels. For those of your Lordships who are interested in the SA80, a point which very often concerns your Lordships in this House, that rifle fires at 160 decibels.

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My Lords, as a result of those questions, can I take it that all non-commissioned officers, sergeant-majors and so on, are to be able to shout in the way that they always have done and are not going to be restricted by any health and safety regulations?

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Yes, my Lords, the noble Earl may.

Railtrack: Licence Obligations

2.43 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether Railtrack is in breach of its licence obligations to operate a reliable rail infrastructure.

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My Lords, licence compliance is a matter for the rail regulator. The rail regulator made a provisional order under Section 55 of the Railways Act 1993 requiring Railtrack to produce, by 18th January, recovery plans for individual train operators. I understand that Railtrack supplied these plans on time and that the regulator is now considering them.

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My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. Is my noble friend aware that, while all this was going on, Leeds station and Willesden station on the West Coast Main Line have been closed for two weeks longer than was planned due, I am told, to mismanagement of the work? But the chief executive of Railtrack is quoted as saying:

"We have had a very successful Christmas/New Year period".
Is this not a case for what Sir Alastair Morton calls the "nuclear" option, and he asks:
"Should they continue to have this monopoly licence to operate the infrastructure"?

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My Lords, while there were delays in regard to both Leeds and Willesden, I am delighted to report that those have now been sorted out. But I am even more pleased to report that by next week 85 per cent of the normal daily total of 18,500 passenger services should be running normally.

I should make it clear that we have no plans to revoke Railtrack's licence. We want Railtrack to succeed most immediately in delivering the rail recovery programme.

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My Lords, will the Minister please inform the House which authority is responsible for specifying the quality of steel to be laid on a particular section of track?

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My Lords, ultimately, the Health and Safety Commission looks at matters to do with safety. Indeed, we have just had a report from Professor Smith and his group which looked at the causes of gauge corner cracking. On the basis of what they know to date—and investigations continue—they have decided that metallurgical reasons were probably not at the root of the problems found on the railway following Hatfield.

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My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that the most frightening aspect of the present situation is that four months after the accident Railtrack is not able to establish who was responsible for a situation where trains were running at 117 miles per hour when, in fact, they should have been confined to 20 miles per hour? Does he not agree that there is a strong case for looking at the management structure of the present system, given that such a situation could not have arisen under the functional structure of the previous British Railways Board?

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My Lords, as your Lordships will know, questions of what went wrong at Hatfield are under active consideration by the Health and Safety Executive and, indeed, by the British Transport Police. However, I assure your Lordships that the lessons are being learnt by the industry and by Railtrack in particular. I believe that the approach to the management of maintenance contracts will change. We believe that that is a question of management but the Government will strive to do whatever they can, through their Rail Recovery Action Group, to help co-operation and co-ordination inside the industry.

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My Lords, following on the previous question, is it not the case that prima facie there is very serious reason to suppose that the technological and engineering management of Railtrack is well below the standards which existed during the British Rail period, even in its last and almost least admirable phase?

Who can interfere and who can play a part in ensuring that that lack can be made right? For example, is it a matter for the rail regulator? Does the Competition Commission have a role? How can the Government stimulate any or either of those bodies to do their duty, if indeed it is their duty? And if it is not their duty, whose duty is it?

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My Lords, the rail regulator does have a duty in that regard. He has a legal duty to enable Railtrack to finance its activities. But he also has a duty to ensure that Railtrack maintains standards across the network. We believe that we have introduced a regulatory regime which is more rigorous than that which existed in the past. Lord Cullen's inquiry is in progress at the moment and we believe that we shall eventually end up with an extremely thorough evaluation of the problems of safety on the network. And in this House and another place we have pledged to implement the recommendations of Lord Cullen.

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My Lords, will the Minister say whether those defective rails met the necessary specifications and, if so, is it not suggested, as a result of Hatfield, that those specifications in themselves were inadequate?

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My Lords, the inquiry into the events at Hatfield goes on. It is being conducted by the Health and Safety Executive, which issued an interim report earlier this week in which your Lordships will have seen the remarkable and, I believe, unprecedented condition of the broken rail at Hatfield. Why the rail came to be in that state is, as I said earlier, a matter for the HSE's further inquiry and for the British Transport Police to establish. It would not be right for me to try to anticipate the findings of those two bodies.

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My Lords, can the Minister tell us what the Rail Recovery Action Group has achieved so far and for how long he believes that it will be in existence?

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My Lords, the Rail Recovery Action Group has been remarkably effective in encouraging co-operation among the various parties on the railways. Included in that group is not only Railtrack but also the train operating companies, including the freight companies, the Health and Safety Executive, the Strategic Rail Authority and the representatives of the passengers. As well as encouraging co-operation and co-ordination across the industry in this time of crisis, we believe that it will also help to increase self-confidence, which was clearly badly shaken by the events of Hatfield, following as they did the events at Paddington. I believe that the group has been effective. It has met twice a week and I anticipate, with the progress that has been made, that we shall be able to reduce that to once a week and close the group before Easter.

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My Lords, does the Minister look forward, like me, to the day when the number of rail engineers in the higher echelons of Railtrack outnumber the accountants or, to put it another way, when the wheel-tappers have taken over from the number-crunchers?

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My Lords, the wheel-tappers and number-crunchers' club! I am delighted to report that in recent weeks in Railtrack there have been significant moves to promote engineers inside the hierarchy and to board level. The new chief executive, Mr Steve Marshall, has made it clear that he feels that that is an area of the company's activities that must be strengthened, and action has already been taken.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

2.52 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for promoting the treatment of, and research into, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and for the further provision of services to those afflicted with this disease.

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My Lords, the Government, through the Medical Research Council, are funding several major research projects into macular degeneration. Those include a £1.5 million grant to look at genetic susceptibility to age-related macular degeneration, which is due to commence soon. We are also collaborating with the voluntary sector to develop low vision services for people who have lost vision as a result of eye disease, including macular degeneration.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. Before pressing him further I must declare an interest as I am afflicted by this condition, although happily for many years it has been stabilised. With regard to the alleviation of sufferers today, an increasing number of devices are available that in terms of the normal costs of the National Health Service are relatively modest in price, yet many sufferers cannot afford them. I believe that recently there was an announcement that additional funding is to be made available for community equipment services. Will the Minister ensure that an adequate proportion of that amount will be available to assist those who cannot afford to buy such devices?

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My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to the aids that may be used by low-vision sufferers. This afternoon I cannot give him the complete assurance that he seeks, but I am aware of the issue and I intend to meet the RNIB soon to discuss it.

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My Lords, can the Minister give the House assurance about the research that is taking place? I am a fellow sufferer and I was told by my ophthamologist that current research is not much use. Is there a variety of research taking place in different places?

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My Lords, it is worth informing the House that it is estimated that 1 million people suffer from this condition to varying degrees of severity, but at the moment little is known about the causes of the disease and effectively treatment is only available for about 10 per cent of those who suffer from wet AMD. Clearly, we need a research effort to discover both the causes and the treatment effects. I am happy to place in the Library a copy of the research projects that we know are being undertaken. A large number are taking place, including research projects that are directly funded from the Department of Health and through the Medical Research Council.

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My Lords, the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Roll, referred to treating the symptoms. Am I correct in believing that at the moment there is no actual treatment, except for the rare type of condition to which he referred? Is the research that is taking place to try to discover a treatment?

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Yes, my Lords, and it is seeking to discover the causes as well. The only treatment that is thought to be effective is laser treatment. That is thought useful for about 10 per cent of people who have wet degeneration and who reported their symptoms early. It is clear that this is a major problem for many people in our community and we simply do not yet know enough about the causes and the treatment.

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My Lords, two years ago the Government made the over 60s eligible for free eye tests. It is important that they should take place so that AMD can be detected and alleviated at an early stage and, if possible, treated. Can the Minister tell the House what resources are devoted to publicising that such eye tests are available? How many people over 60 have had such an eye test?

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Yes, my Lords. The figures for the NHS sight tests have shown a considerable increase since the decision was taken to make eye tests free for people aged 60 or over. In 1998–99, 8,174,000 eye tests were undertaken under the NHS. In the year 1999–2000 that number increased to 10,880,000. As to publicity, I am aware that the RNIB believes that not only should we do more to encourage those over 60 to take advantage of the free eye tests, but also that we should encourage people of 50 and over to have regular eye tests. It is a matter that I am hoping to discuss with the institute shortly to see what further action we can take.

Anti-Ballistic Missile Shield

2.57 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

What communication they have had with President George W. Bush about United Kingdom co-operation with work to put in place an anti-ballistic missile shield.

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My Lords, we have had no communication with President George W. Bush about national missile defence, but we look forward to discussing this and other issues with the new Administration over the coming months.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, which is slightly disappointing. I express the hope that her colleague is not freezing in her tent in Antarctica, which is presumably colder than Scotland. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government will take the initiative to persuade our European allies to support the American initiative in the anti-ballistic missile shield?

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My Lords, I am not sure why the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, is disappointed. I remind him that the Bush Administration has not yet been in office for a week. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear last week in another place, we entirely understand America's reasons for wishing to develop a national missile defence system, but the new Administration has made it clear that it has no firm views on a specific system. It is not for us to say how they should deal with a perceived threat.

President Bush, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Powell have all made clear the need to consult with allies and with Russia as they determine how to tackle the threat posed by missile proliferation. As I said yesterday to the House in answer to another Question, we welcome that. Of course, we want to see strategic stability preserved and we are sympathetic to the concerns of the United States.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that there can be nothing more foolish than to commit ourselves in advance to an untested and unknown system before there has been consultation with allies and without regard to the outcome of such consultation? Does she also agree that the emphasis that was placed on the possibility of space-based or sea-based national missile defence systems would suggest, in particular, a considerable concern for China in view of its geographical placement?

Finally, does she agree that it is vital to have the widest possible consultation with NATO allies and with other countries similar to that to which the Secretary of State in the new Administration has clearly indicated he is committed?

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My Lords, as I indicated in my Answer, the new Administration has not made clear any firm views on a specific system. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, rightly said, in addition to Colin Powell, of the Secretary of State, President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld have made clear the need to consult with allies and with Russia as they determine to tackle the threat proposed by missile proliferation.

In the present situation, no one knows whether a request will be made. If a request is made, no one knows what it will be and no one knows what the global, political and military context will be if such a request is made. Therefore, forming replies now would seem to be a pointless exercise.

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My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that it remains Her Majesty's Government's policy to get rid of nuclear weapons altogether and that ABM is in direct conflict with that aim?

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My Lords, as I assured my noble friend Lord Jenkins yesterday, our ultimate aim is to have global nuclear disarmament.

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My Lords, the Minister is right in saying that it is early days for the new American Administration. However, with Iraq again working on longer range missiles and with the horrific warheads it plans to put on them, and with Iran testing a missile with a range of more than 1,000 miles, are we not moving to the point where considerable new dangers threaten the entire European continent and our region? Should we not be doing a little more than merely waiting for a request? Should we not be taking an active initiative with American technologists and defence chiefs in seeing how we can prevent these increasing dangers from threatening the security of everyone in the European region?

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My Lords, we understand the concerns of the United States. We, too, are concerned about missile proliferation. Currently, we see no significant threat to the United Kingdom but we continue to assess the range of threats and the best means to overcome them, including the case for ballistic missile defence. Our present research work is focused on the threat to UK-deployed forces. It is also the focus of the feasibility study that we and our allies commissioned in NATO last year. I can assure the House that we will continue to assess the range of threats and the best means to overcome them, including the case for a ballistic missile defence. It is certainly not the case that we are doing nothing.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the arguments which is frequently put forward against assisting the United States in this endeavour is the ABM treaty? If so, will she make clear to the House that the ABM treaty was an agreement between the then Soviet Union and America not to deploy missile defences so that their populations were vulnerable to each other's missiles? That was the concept known as "mutual assured destruction" or, perhaps more appropriately, MAD?

Does the Minister further agree that it is somewhat strange that the people who are so outraged by the principle of mutual assured destruction are the very same people who are complaining about measures being taken to defend their populations against it?

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My Lords, I am in broad agreement with the thrust of what the noble Lord says. Of course he is right that the ABM treaty is important and we would not like to see it damaged. But neither would the Americans. The previous and new Administrations have made clear that they see the importance of consulting both with allies and Russia.

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My Lords, when last year President Clinton proposed the installation of a national missile defence, was not the reaction of President Putin to a renegotiation of the anti-ballistic missile treaty not wholly hostile? If the Americans decide to install an anti-ballistic missile system, would not such a renegotiation between at least those two parties be a useful course of action?

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My Lords, renegotiations will not be easy and the noble Lord is right in saying that the initial reaction from Russia was hostile. But that is the point of negotiation. Talks continued and I am sure that the new Administration, as it has said, will ensure that it will consult with Russia as well as with its allies.

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My Lords, will my noble friend assure the House that the subject of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will be on the agenda for discussions with the new Administration, when they take place?

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My Lords, there is great interest in that subject. We can say only that we have noted that Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in his statement at his confirmation hearing, said that the new Administration would not ask the Senate to reconsider. However, he also said that the US would not resume testing as there was no need to do so in the foreseeable future. He further said that he would consider a report prepared for President Clinton by General Shalikashvili which argued in favour of US ratification. So we shall certainly examine ways of encouraging the entry into force of the CTBT.


3.6 p.m.

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My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House to know that following the successful experiment last year we shall try to find time for a short half-term break this February. Subject, as always, to the progress of business, the House will sit at 11 a.m. on Wednesday 21st February and rise at the end of business that day. The House will not sit on Thursday 22nd or Friday 23rd February. The House will return at the usual time of 2.30 p.m. on Monday 26th February.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip for making that announcement and for doing so early. I have only two points to make. First, the noble Lord is kindly offering us a one-day break but I understand that another place is rising for a whole week. Will the noble Lord explain why another place can have a whole week off but we have only one day?

Secondly, will he give us an assurance that no pressure will later be put on us to cut corners in our examination of legislation as it proceeds through the House and that we shall be able to perform our function in the usual manner?

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My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord's first question, we work harder. It is as simple as that. The answer to his second question is that the chance of your Lordships cutting any corners is very slim indeed.

Colchester Borough Council Bill Hl

3.7 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 2 [ Interpretation]:

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moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 3, line 22, leave out ("(51(46.12'N, 01(02.07'E)") and insert ("(51(46.1'N,01(02.7'E)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 2. Both amendments have been proposed by the promoters and are available in the Printed Paper Office in the usual way.

The first amendment is needed to correct an inaccuracy in one of the sets of co-ordinates describing the seaward limits of the harbour and to achieve consistency in the expression of each of the co-ordinates to the first decimal place.

The second amendment clarifies the terms of agreement arrived at between the council and one of the petitioners. It was agreed that the council should keep the power to maintain the footways as well as the riverbanks and the word "footways" was accidentally omitted from the amended Bill. This amendment corrects that omission. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2 [ Enactments repealed]:

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moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 14, line 5 in column 2, after ("any") insert ("footways and any").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

Business Of The House: Debates This Day

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My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debates on the Motions in the names of the Lord Simon of Glaisdale and the Lord Northbourne set down for today shall each be limited to two-and-a-half hours.—(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Parliament Acts And The Salisbury Convention

3.10 p.m.

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rose to call attention to the Parliament Acts and the Salisbury convention in the light of recent constitutional developments; and to move for Papers.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move this Motion, I record my gratitude to my noble friends on the Cross Benches who chose it for debate and for their encouragement to me to move it. We believe that we are vindicated when we look at the list of distinguished speakers today.

I take as my point of departure matters which I believe are in general agreement throughout political society here: first, that we value our parliamentary democracy and wish to further it; secondly, that we agree that there should be a two-chamber Parliament; and, thirdly, that the essence of our constitution is not a separation but balance of powers, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor frequently made clear during debates in the previous Session. Since it is a question of a balance of power, one immediately calls to mind the observation of Lord Acton that power tends to corrupt. More often than not, the first sign of corruption is a desire for greater power which immediately causes a dislocation in the balance.

In favouring parliamentary democracy we do not mean that it is an ideal system of government; indeed, there is no such thing, because all systems of government have to make do with the crooked timber of humanity. Nor is parliamentary democracy the only way to promote democracy. On the contrary, the biggest revolution in recent years has been the vindication of the market economy which is now accepted by all except a small minority. In effect, it means that each shopping day is a general election; every purchase is a cross made on the counter in favour of one of the candidates paraded for approval.

Obviously, Parliament cannot constitute an executive because it is unwieldy for the purpose. However, it grants great power to an executive, both political and civil service. But if parliamentary government means anything—the tercentenary of the glorious revolution just over a decade ago was widely celebrated in Parliament and throughout the country—it means that Parliament can effectively call the executive to account. I emphasise the word "effectively" because often it is merely a nominal calling to account.

I emphasise that once an individual is elected to Parliament he becomes a member of an elite. That arises because it is now widely—perhaps universally—accepted that Burke was right when he said:
"Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion".
That means that Parliament quite often claims to know better than the electorate to which it owes its being. That was perhaps vindicated by Parliament's insistence on the abolition of capital punishment when every poll appeared to show that that was not the general opinion of the country.

I said that a two-chamber Parliament had been widely accepted in all the constitutional debates on parliamentary reform. But that means that whenever there are two chambers differences between them are apt to arise. If they are to be complementary and not merely duplicatory, those differences are bound to arise and methods must be found to resolve disagreements. I refer to only two of several methods: first, the Parliament Acts which were passed partly because of an impasse over the Budget. The famous Budget of Lloyd George contained proposals which went far beyond mere fiscal matters. Goaded by that, the opposition threw out the Budget and so withheld supply from the Government, which for centuries had been accepted as the exclusive role of the House of Commons.

What the Parliament Act did was, first, to make fiscal matters the exclusive concern of the other place. The necessity of that was emphasised in the row in Australia between Gough Whitlam and Mr Knox where the Senate, having power over supply, forced the government which enjoyed the support of the lower chamber to go to the country. I believe your Lordships accept that the vouchsafing of fiscal authority to the other place is a necessary conclusion. Secondly, the Act imposed powers of delay. Thirdly, ultimately it gave power to the other place to override decisions of your Lordships. I say "ultimately" because it could not be done as a matter of routine. If it was done as a matter of routine it would mean that in effect we would have unicameral legislation, which nobody now advocates.

Further, the Parliament Acts do not touch secondary legislation which in our time is of increasing importance, or at any rate increasing scope. The Wakeham report recommended that a difference of opinion should be dealt with by a three-month delay. However, the justification for secondary legislation, apart from dealing only with minor details which do not need delay, is the urgency that it calls into question. If it is urgent it does not appear that a three-month delay is advisable.

The next matter of resolution is the Salisbury doctrine. When that was enunciated there was a large Labour majority in the other place and a large inbuilt Conservative majority in your Lordships' House. There was no doubt that the main Labour proposals of nationalisation had been firmly before the electorate in the preceding general election.

For decades Clause 4 has been part of the constitution of the Labour Party. So it seems entirely reasonable that the Salisbury doctrine should be enunciated in the terms that it was. There was always something unreal about it in its reference to a manifesto, because a manifesto does not contain just a list of proposals which are committed for approval to the electorate. One can have an election of that kind. Many American states do. But a manifesto in this country is certainly not a list for which the approval of the electorate is asked individually.

However, the great thing about the Salisbury convention is that it works. Generally, that is enough in this country. I think it is quite enough. The last comment to make about it is that it is a constitutional convention and not constitutional law. In other words, it is binding only politically and morally but not legally, and only so long as it is convenient.

The first constitutional development to which I want to refer is that there is no longer an inbuilt Conservative majority in your Lordships' House. The second is the increasing domination of the other place by the executive. That is not new but is fast increasing. The third matter was one referred to forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Shore, last Friday; namely, the acceptance of the referendum as part of our constitutional system.

There is a story which has come down from the days before 1914 of Lloyd George goading Asquith and saying, "The Tories are disliked. They have recommended a referendum as a resolution of differences between the Houses". Asquith merely said with a show of a foreign accent "referendum?" and Lord Lloyd-George went happily away. Perhaps that still subsists because where referendums were referred to in the previous Session, the plural used was the English "referendums" and not the Latin of "referenda". Nevertheless, it is fairly accepted now.

The question arises, do we still need the Parliament Acts? It would be a major task, a major proposal, to repeal them. One could, of course, rely on the admitted common privilege so far as concerns fiscal matters, but the mere fact that the Parliament Acts have been used promiscuously more by this government than ever before does not mean that they may not be necessary in certain respects.

The abuse of the Parliament Acts can be rectified by a self-denying order by, in particular, the Prime Minister. It is only if he needs to have his own way in everything that we need it.

As the Salisbury convention is a convention only, it would be advantageous to leave it for its residual use when it might turn out to be necessary. I beg to move.

3.26 p.m.

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My Lords, I am deeply honoured to be the first speaker after the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I congratulate him both on the excellent topic he has chosen for us today and on the admirable way in which he introduced it. When I first arrived in your Lordships' House some 14 years ago he was a great figure. He confirms today what a major contribution he makes to our deliberations. He is always intellectually stimulating and, unusually for those of us who try to be that, says much of great practical value.

Perhaps I may also follow him on two general themes. On the question of parliamentary democracy, I have always taken the view that Winston Churchill got the matter about right; namely, any analysis of parliamentary democracy would show how imperfect a system it is and any analysis of any other system would show how much worse that system is. Therefore, we all regard ourselves committed to parliamentary democracy.

One minor word on economics. I do not want to talk about the market economy per se, but we need to recognise—as it is not recognised, I fear, chiefly by people in the other place rather than in your Lordships' House—the enormous power of global economic forces. In the other place, particularly, they delude themselves about the power of governments, let alone Back-Benchers. It is about time this country faced up to the world in which we live. We should not continue to make trivial remarks about sovereignty, the power we can exercise and so on.

I am not an expert on these constitutional matters. I look forward to hearing what the experts say. The first principle from which we start is rather ahead of the Salisbury convention and the Parliament Acts: a government, in broad terms, are entitled to get their business through Parliament. Therefore, the so-called Salisbury/Addison rules have a role to play because the Government have been elected on the basis of—whether one calls it a manifesto or some broad set of propositions—what they propose to do. It is entirely reasonable in a parliamentary democracy that within those broad terms that is what the Government should at least be given a chance to do.

Logically, whether we have these or some other Parliament Acts, we need some kind of legislation which helps towards that end. We had an excellent debate, although I was only a listener, last Friday when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, introduced some material on the Parliament Acts. He has nothing to offer me so I can say this with ease: I thought that my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General dealt with the question of the Parliament Acts in an entirely satisfactory way in explaining why they did not interfere fundamentally with what we should do. That is about the only nice remark that I think I shall make for the rest of the afternoon.

The real point we are guided to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, is how this is connected with the role of your Lordships' House. It seems to me that if we are to have a revising Chamber—in other words, if we are not to be unicameral—the revising Chamber has to revise. That seems to follow perfectly logically. If the other place, either via the Salisbury/Addison convention or the Parliament Acts, simply said, "You have had your say, but forget it. We are still going to do what we intend to do", the easiest thing would be to get rid of us, which would also save a certain amount of public money. That is not the same as saying that we must always get our own way, but we must certainly be listened to. A test of whether we have any value is that something must quite frequently change as a result of our contribution.

Therefore, neither the Salisbury/Addison rules nor the Parliament Acts should be used in ways that end up, de facto, with our making no contribution. If that is its view, the other place really ought to bite the bullet and say, "Thank you very much for several hundred years of history, but goodbye". That seems to me perfectly obvious, given our present composition. We are all nominated. Some of us are distinguished. Others of us, as I always emphasise, are party hacks, and I have never minded being a party hack. The fact is that we are not elected. We have privileges and a role to play, but on our side we expect to be listened to and hope that things will change. However, if in the end we have been listened to sympathetically and occasionally do get our own way, we also have to get used to the idea that sometimes we do not. That is enormously important.

I have referred to the present composition of your Lordships' House. I turn to consider what would be the position if we were to move to a hybrid House. As your Lordships may be aware, I am extremely doubtful about the value of a small elected element. I can see little point to it. The more I try to analyse the consequences of an elected element, the more absurd it seems. I do not believe that having a small elected element in your Lordships' House would change anything that I have just said. It seems to me that a small elected element does not make us very much more legitimate and does not give the other place any reason to take us any more seriously.

There is another matter that particularly troubles me about a small elected element. One of the admirable features of your Lordships' House is that we are all Peers and all equal. It is one of the aspects that I most like about this place. I am very troubled that, if we get stuck with a small elected element, someone will somehow invent the doctrine that their votes count for more than the rest of our votes. If that happened—and if I were alive to see it happen—I would vigorously oppose it.

I therefore again emphasise that the revising role should be given great weight. However, I do not think that we need to wait for the next stage of whatever the Government put forward in order for the other place to take more seriously what we do. There is a responsibility on both Houses to take the other seriously. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, referred to balance. I believe that balance is very important here, although ultimately we defer to the other place.

If this House were 100 per cent elected, which is another matter, the whole world would change. In that case, the Parliament Acts would have to disappear, because they would have no meaning, neither would the Salisbury/Addison doctrines. In my judgment, if this were a 100 per cent elected Chamber, it would have to be equal to the other Chamber. It would be as legitimate as the other Chamber, and if it were elected according to certain alternative rules, I would regard it as even more legitimate than the other Chamber. However, I do not believe that that is what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, is guiding us towards today. My judgment is that, in terms of the doctrines we are considering, we can set aside the question of what would happen if we had a 100 per cent elected Chamber. But certainly it would follow that, in those circumstances, all these doctrines would have to go.

We have 10 minutes. I, happily, hope to conclude inside nine. I have one final remark. Whenever these topics have been debated in the past year or so, I have felt obliged to speak. Every time I speak, nothing happens and I say to myself, "Surely you have better things to do". I felt that it was my duty to speak today. However, I ask myself, "Am I wasting my time yet again?" For once, I hope that that is not true.

3.35 p.m.

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My Lords, it is always a very great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Peston.

As so often happens in debates covering subjects of this kind, I find myself very substantially in agreement with the burden of what he has said, though I suspect that there are, as always, differences of emphasis.

I start by underlining how much I agree with the noble Lord's remarks about the logic of this House having a function and, therefore, needing to have some sort of power to convince people that that function is useful. Without power, we will be ignored. If I may be impertinent enough to say so, I believe that the noble Lord is entirely right about that.

I should also like to say that, not for the first time, we are greatly in the debt of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon. His Motion has been creeping up the Order Paper for some time now. With his usual good judgment, he has introduced it, timed to perfection. This Motion is concerned with the balance of power between this House and another place, as has been emphasised in both speeches made so far during the course of the debate. We all know that reform of this place is unfinished business. Many people do not believe me when I say so, but it was the reason behind the infamous deal that I concluded with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor some years ago. It is clear that all the political parties are split over what powers we should confer on a fully reformed House, and therefore what composition should flow from that reform.

I find the Government's silence rather ominous, as I suspect does the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for the same reasons that he gave in his concluding remarks. I fear that the Government, for all their fine words, intend to stuff into their manifesto what in the trade has come to be known as "Wakeham B" and ram it through under the Salisbury convention, should they win in May. With great respect to my noble friend Lord Wakeham, I confess that I do not find that "Wakeham B" remotely begins to answer the urgent need—and I believe that the noble and learned Lord is right in saying this—to rebalance the relationship between the two Houses, which is what I think should inform any attempt at an effective reform of this place.

If successful, such a rebalancing would, in my view, greatly contribute to restoring Parliament's effectiveness as a whole and, paradoxically, by making this place more powerful, increase the power and standing of another place as we ensure that it does its job a great deal better. I believe that this reason is now very nearly universally acknowledged by anyone genuinely interested in these matters, apart perhaps from the members of the present Government. I certainly acknowledged that—before an obvious rejoinder comes from the noble Lord, Lord Barnett—before as well as after the last election.

The reason is very clear. It has already been stated by the noble and learned Lord. It is that another place is, to all intents and purposes, the agent of the government of the day. It is true that a small majority, a great issue that divides the governing party, or growing unpopularity in the country as a whole, diminish that dominance. But, in the absence of a general election, even the weakest government, as we have found, can get most of their business through. Furthermore, another place, and the inhibiting factors that I have just listed, have no beneficial influence whatever on the quality of legislation passed by such a government, which is also a test of the quality of the work of another place.

I therefore believe that the central purpose of a properly reformed upper House should be to deter governments from getting away with it. Knowing that we were vigilant and effective here would, I suppose, not only make governments more careful about how they behave but would, curiously enough, encourage more independence in another place. The fact that we were prepared to use our powers—and I return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston—would be an incentive to resolving disagreements by negotiation rather than by constant confrontation, which was another matter alluded to by the noble and learned Lord. As such, our day-to-day role as a House of influence rather than a House of power would, desirably so, be confirmed rather than undermined.

I hope that your Lordships have followed my argument so far, paradoxical though it may be. In order to perform the role which I have ventured to describe, I believe that this place will need to develop more teeth. We are beginning to do so already. I am, for instance, full of admiration for the way in which this Government have generally followed our example and accepted the strictures of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation, under the chairmanship of my noble friend. We are perhaps well on the way to developing a new convention which acknowledges that governments are obliged to do just that.

I am equally sure that the House was right to follow the advice of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde—this point may be a little more controversial in the view of the Government—of the noble and learned Lord who initiated the debate, and of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, to overturn the more recent convention, dating from 1968, that we do not vote against secondary legislation. I need not add any more to what the noble and learned Lord said in that respect. I found myself greatly in agreement with him.

There is one other matter which this House would do well not to forget. I believe, as I have tried to make clear in debates held at the instigation of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and of my noble friends Lord Dean of Harptree and Lord Campbell of Alloway, that this House should have the right to insist upon a post-legislative referendum before an Act is brought into force. A well-reformed House would have the authority to exercise its judgment as to what issue was important enough in character, and effectively so irreversible in its nature, as to warrant an increasingly well-educated and aware electorate giving its approval specifically to what was proposed.

An upper House of the character I imagine would exist to exercise its judgment, a matter emphasised by the noble and learned Lord, a quality which is by its nature indefinable. If that House were to perform these functions adequately, its membership would need independence and authority in equal measure. We certainly had the independence in the previous, unculled House; we lacked the authority. I suspect that we may have a little more authority now, but, semi-reformed as we still are, we still lack the authority that we need.

Would the authority of a fully reformed House be enhanced by the suspension of the Salisbury convention? I listened to the noble and learned Lord with great care, as I always do, in view of the deep respect in which we all hold him. I was not quite sure whether he implied that we should abolish the Salisbury convention. I do not think that he did. If that is true, I again find myself in agreement with him, and not merely for reasons of grandfilial piety.

As the noble and learned Lord said, the Salisbury convention did not begin as a convention at all but rather as an agreement between my grandfather and the then Leader of the House, Lord Addison. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, was quite right to refer to it as the Salisbury/Addison convention rather than merely the Salisbury convention. It was designed for exactly the same reasons as the noble and learned Lord gave, and, as he said, it worked. But since then this temporary agreement has been transmogrified into a convention.

When I first became Leader of the House in 1994, it seemed to me, on inquiry, that it was not entirely clear what the convention said. I was given a number of different definitions, including one from my noble friend Lord Carrington, which was, predictably, infinitely the most satisfactory one. So, in a rather lengthy and boring speech and in exchanges before and after the 1997 election débâcle, I rather impertinently tried to define what it said. As no one actually disagreed with my efforts at definition, I came to the conclusion that I was not too far out. The convention says that the House will not vote at Second Reading against a manifesto Bill or pass a wrecking amendment during the remaining stages. After consultation with the learned Clerks, I understand that, in the final analysis, it is for this House to determine what constitutes a wrecking amendment.

Although, rather like the noble and learned Lord, I am sceptical about the doctrine of the manifesto, I find it difficult to see that it would be wise for this House, reformed or not, to oppose a specific commitment which formed part of the election platform of a new government. Equally, in purely practical terms, I think it is a little silly for us to vote at Second Reading against a Bill which we wish to delay. After all, it sets the Parliament Act clock ticking rather earlier than would otherwise be the case.

My time is well up. As far as concerns the Parliament Act, I hope that the Government will look again at the speech last Friday of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson—the noble and learned Lord had some extremely sensible things to say—if only to clarify the workings and the legality of the Act. I am very pleased to see that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General is to answer the debate. He may want to add a little more to what he said last Friday.

It is an important debate. I hope that it will be the first of many and that it will inform those who should develop proposals for a full stage two. On that subject, I hope that the Government and both the main opposition parties can co-operate in a public rather than a private forum—perhaps the proposed Joint Committee of both Houses—to try to build consensus for a full reform at stage two rather than indulging in a cosmetic exercise. Such consensus will, I hope, produce something a good deal better than the "Wakeham B" element, with which I fear we may be landed.

3.46 p.m.

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My Lords, we most certainly owe a debt of gratitude to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for giving us the opportunity to discuss the powers of your Lordships' House at a time when, although there is no immediate proposal before us, manifestos, I suspect, are being drafted.

This debate has given me the opportunity to read a great deal of recent, and not-so-recent, literature on the subject. I wish that I had the time to read more of the fruits of that exercise to the House. I shall, however, refer to an article in The Times by one of my favourite columnists, Simon Jenkins, with whom I often strongly agree and sometimes, like today, strongly disagree. Our debate last Monday, in my view, showed your Lordships' House at its best, precisely because of the combination of scientists, "ethicists", lawyers and thoughtful lay people. Mr Jenkins did not like that. He wrote:
"On Monday night, British stem cell research was left in the hands of a group of people with no democratic, professional or territorial legitimacy".
He added:
"On the whole I prefer to be ruled by those for whom I vote. I did not vote for any of this lot".
I would be surprised if he voted for any of the other lot, at least its majority, and I am surprised that he did not notice that we were actually letting the other place have its way. But it gives me a welcome opportunity to say a few words about the vexing issue of legitimacy, notably in relation to the Salisbury convention and the primacy of the House of Commons.

I shall begin with the Salisbury convention and add one or two points to the important statements made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. Its thrust is, in the words of the noble Viscount's ancestor in 1945, that,
"it would be constitutionally wrong when the country has expressed its view, for this House to oppose proposals which have been definitely put before the electorate".
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, a former Leader of the House, whom I am delighted to see in his place, repeated in similar terms more than 40 years later that this House should not,
"wreck any measure which the Government had made plain at a General Election they proposed to introduce",
"the country had, by implication, given its verdict".
Fifteen years later, the Wakeham report went even further, saying that,
"where the electorate has chosen a party to form a Government, the elements of that party's general election manifesto should be respected by the Second chamber".
Most of the time, this view is taken almost as a constitutional dogma. Even the Constitution Unit, in its research paper on reform of the House of Lords, states:
"Although the Convention rests on the debatable assumption that measures included in a Government's general election manifesto are de facto approved by the public at large, its force remains".
Does it, though? I suggest that there is quite a progression of completeness in the "debatable assumption" moving from the notion of "proposals which definitely have been put before the electorate" through measures on which "the country had, by implication, given its verdict", to "elements of the general election manifesto" which, in practice, means the text of a manifesto, lock, stock and barrel.

One must be allowed, in following this line, to raise a few obvious questions. What is the exact status of such manifestos? Who has prepared them? How democratic is their base? What role do manifestos play in election campaigns? To what extent can it be assumed that voters are in fact familiar with them, or even with their elements? What do we know about voter motivation? How can it be shown that the implication that voters have given a verdict on manifestos is actually correct? To say nothing of the most complex question: in these fast-moving times, how should we constitutionally deal with changing priorities and preferences on the part of the electorate? Would it not be more democratic and legitimate at times to set aside the manifesto and start again?

Earlier authors were perhaps less precise but also more plausible on this score. To quote Bagehot on this point:
"I answer that the House of Lords must yield whenever the opinion of the Commons is also the opinion of the nation, and when it is clear that the nation has made up its mind. Whether or not the nation has made up its mind is a question to be decided by all the circumstances of the case, and in the common way in which practical questions are decided".
Admittedly, this "common way" begs a number of questions, but I would argue quite strongly that neither snapshots of public opinion nor elections for five-year terms provide all the answers. To be sure,
"the people are the only legitimate fountain of power".
But James Madison, who coined the phrase, starts his argument from this point and does not end it there. In his view it follows that the different powers, admittedly in the American case and therefore separate—legislative, executive and judicial—have to derive their legitimacy from the people by different channels. General elections are but one such channel and one that is, for example, inappropriate for the judiciary.

It is most certainly not my intention to devalue elections, but there is a kind of fallacy of misplaced concreteness in the uncritical identification of the will of the country with a party manifesto, and in that of legitimacy with majorities constituted by, say, 43 per cent in general elections. If we go back to the sources of the modern constitution of Britain, we encounter less mechanical and hence more plausible views which remain relevant.

What conclusions should we draw from such reflections? I suggest, not very dramatic ones. However, it seems to me that we must not turn the Salisbury convention into the dogma of sacred party manifestos nor should we doubt the right of your Lordships' House, as constituted today, to scrutinise, amend and, from time to time, reject legislation. The plurality of talent and experience assembled in this House, the patent independence of many of its Members, the way we conduct our business and the restraint we exercise in our relations with the other place are themselves sources of a legitimacy which transcends the simplistic concepts sometimes used even in distinguished newspapers.

3.56 p.m.

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My Lords, I welcome the debate and congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, on initiating it. So far this has been an excellent debate, which is another way of saying that I agree with virtually every word that has been spoken. I agree wholly with both the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and with the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. The only qualification I have is in relation to the speech of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, who knows that my views on referendums are not quite the same as his. Otherwise, I found myself in complete agreement with the points that have been made. In my comments I wish merely to reinforce those points.

The Parliament Acts have to be considered in the context of our constitutional arrangements. I believe that the constitution that evolved in the last half of the 19th century—what is often termed the Westminster model—has served us well. It may not be perfect, but it has proved preferable to the alternatives. It has delivered a number of attributes that cannot be delivered by other systems on offer. It delivers, among other things, accountability, coherence, flexibility and effectiveness.

It is the element of accountability that I wish to emphasise. This is a core, a fundamental, attribute of our political system. Our system ensures that one body—the party in government—is responsible for public policy. Electors can choose between parties based on their electoral programmes. If electors disapprove of the policy adopted by the party in government, they can sweep it out at the next election. There is no dispute as regards who is responsible for public policy. The party in government may be powerful between elections, but come election time, it knows that the ultimate power rests in the hands of the electors. There can be no buck passing, no hope of staying in office, in the face of electoral rejection.

Our constitutional arrangements deliver that accountability. The electoral system facilitates accountability. So, too, does the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament. The second Chamber is complementary to the first. This House fulfils a number of functions and, in my judgment, it fulfils them well. It fulfils them in a way that is qualitatively distinctive. As such, it adds value to the political process. The relationship is, I believe, fundamentally sound, allowing accountability to reside in the elected first Chamber. The second Chamber can question, but can neither block nor override the first Chamber if the first Chamber insists on getting its way. We can ask the other place to think again; we can offer amendments to legislation; we can force government to justify what they are doing and we can raise issues that otherwise might be neglected. As a House of experience and expertise, we can fulfil those tasks in a way that complements a Chamber of elected, full-time and, increasingly, career politicians.

The Westminster model has been challenged in recent years. It has been challenged by the changes made to the constitution. These, to some extent, have undermined the Westminster model but have not destroyed it. In part, this may be because the Government, though intent on change, have no coherent alternative model to offer. Constitutional changes have been disparate and viewed essentially as discrete reforms. The Government knew on entering office what they wanted to do, but had no idea as to where they thought they were going.

The second challenge has come from attacks on the remaining relationships within our constitutional arrangements. One of these challenges has been to the role of this House and its relationship with the other place. As we have heard, that relationship is governed largely by the Parliament Acts and by the principles on which those Acts rest.

I believe that the relationship between the two Houses, governed by the Parliament Acts—I shall come to the Salisbury convention in due course—is about right. We can, if we choose, vote against a measure, forcing the other place to think again. If the other place, the elected House, decides that it wishes to proceed with a measure, it is entitled to do so. I believe that is right. I believe that it is fundamentally democratic in a way that two elected Chambers would not be—I very much follow the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston—and I believe that the present arrangement serves the nation well. It retains the fundamental attribute of accountability while injecting into the process a body of expertise and experience, something that is not on offer in other systems. I believe that is a very real plus to the political process.

For those reasons, I am keen to retain the present relationship. I believe that those who challenge the position of the Parliament Acts are doing this House—and, more especially, our political system—no favours. I am appalled when Ministers or Members of the other place say, in advance of any discussion in this House, that a particular measure must not be rejected by your Lordships. This House is perfectly entitled to exercise its powers. Some people may disagree with the judgment made by your Lordships, but that is no reason for challenging the power exercised by this House. It is, rather, a case for saying that those who disagree should engage in a reasoned debate on the substance of the issue.

Similarly, I would caution against condemning the other place for deciding to exercise its powers under the Parliament Acts. I agree that it should do so on a discriminating basis, but it is entitled to do so if, after reflection, it decides that it wishes to insist on its original measure. It is the elected House; it has the legitimacy to exercise that power.

There is no qualification contained in the Parliament Acts as to when the other place may or may not exercise its powers under the Acts. We may disagree with the decisions of the other House—we may regard its decisions as outrageous—but that is not the same as saying that its actions are constitutionally outrageous. Its reasons for exercising the power may be outrageous, but the exercise of the power itself is not constitutionally illegitimate. The distinction is an important one to draw.

Given that the relationship is, in my opinion, about right, what then flows from that in terms of where we go from here? I am opposed to fundamental change. I see no reason for an elected second Chamber. I see even less reason for a part-elected/part-appointed Chamber. That would be a purposeless institution, the worst of both worlds. I have argued that case before. I do not want to digress on it today.

My focus here is the Parliament Acts. I see no convincing case for any reduction in the powers of this House. Hence, I do not believe that the capacity to delay legislation for a Session should be reduced. The other place needs time to think again. Indeed, I think this House needs the leverage of a one-Session delay if it is to ensure that the other place pays attention to what it says.

Conversely, I can see the objection to extending the powers of this House. I believe that the Royal Commission, chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham, got it about right in arguing that the provisions of the Parliament Acts should be left as they are. The only qualification made by the Royal Commission, that the Parliament Acts themselves should be protected from amendment by the Parliament Acts, is eminently sensible and I agree with it. The conclusion reached by the Royal Commission applied to the reformed Chamber, but it applies equally well to the Chamber as presently constituted.

Perhaps I may turn now to the Salisbury doctrine—although, following the point of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, at the time it was not a convention. Indeed, it was not even produced by the then Lord Salisbury; it was of course produced by, as he was at the time, Lord Cranborne. So, rather than the Salisbury convention, what we really had was the Cranborne doctrine, which was enunciated in 1945.

There have been significant developments since its enunciation. The Parliament Act 1949 was subsequent to the enunciation of the doctrine. Since then, of course, there have been the Life Peerages Act and the House of Lords Act. This House is now predominantly a body of life Peers. No one party has an overall majority and it is constrained by the provisions of the 1949 Act.

Given that the Parliament Acts, on my argument, get it about right, I ask the same question as others: do we still need the Salisbury doctrine? On balance, I think, yes—but in modified form. The Government are elected; we should normally defer to the other place. But we should not offer a blank cheque. I am not persuaded that we should ever have done so, But now I think that we are in a position where the new constitutional arrangements provide a peg on which we can reflect on what the position should be. In my view, the Salisbury doctrine should constitute what I would describe as a second-order, or a soft, convention of the constitution.

There are exceptional circumstances in which we should be prepared to divide on Second Reading and, if the House so decides, to refuse a Second Reading. I agree with the argument advanced by the Royal Commission. We need to review the doctrine and, in effect, generate criteria—or, if you like, guidelines—as to the circumstances in which that might occur. The Royal Commission, I think correctly, said that no concrete dividing line can be drawn between when it would be acceptable and when it would not. But we need some criteria, some reference point. Indeed, I refer back to the debate in your Lordships' House in 1993, initiated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, when he identified two criteria that might be employed. We should build on those.

In doing that, it does no harm to the constitution. The Parliament Acts are in place; this House can bring to bear its experience and expertise. If absolutely convinced that there is a case for rejecting a measure—if there is a solid intellectual case and there is evidence that supporters of the Government in the other place share the misgivings of this House—we should not be afraid to use those powers under the constitution to ask the other House to think again. I put it in general terms. We need to refine it further.

The effectiveness of the relationship between the two Chambers, if it really works well, would be shown by the fact that we do not need to refer to the Parliament Acts and the Salisbury convention. But they do need to be in place.

I have overrun my time. I shall conclude with one final observation. The debate on the reform of this House has demonstrated that generally there has been an absence of a capacity to engage in constitutional discourse. We used to have that capacity in this country; we lost it in post-war decades and we have never really regained it. We talk about changes to the constitution but really do not have the capacity to talk about the constitution as a constitution. We need to regain it if we are to discuss the role of this House in the serious manner that it deserves.

4.8 p.m.

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My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, in introducing the debate, said that we did not have a separation of powers; we had a balance of powers. I should like to argue that the balance of power has now been disturbed. We can no longer be satisfied that our current arrangements are ideal. They are not. We should think hard about all these various problems—and this is a good occasion on which to do so.

The 1911 Act was passed at a time when the franchise was limited. Much has happened to the franchise, even since the 1949 Act. The development in party political structures, in voting patterns and so on has meant that, more than ever before, the danger of the excessive power of the executive is today the major problem of the British constitution. It is not that the other place should not be sovereign; that we concede. But that does not mean that the executive should get away with as much as they do get away with. That is a problem that we have failed to address in the past 50 years or so.

The "Cranborne doctrine", as it is called, was very helpful in 1945. I say that because, as the noble and learned Lord said, the 1945 Labour Party came into power determined to change fundamentally the nature of property ownership in this country. That actually challenged a very basic part of the constitution. It had to be accommodated because it had won the people's support. I see the Cranborne doctrine as saying that this House, which, in the imagination of the people and in fact, represented the property classes more than any other place, will not stand in the way of a popular government who mean to attack property.

However, we no longer have a party that will attack property—sadly, or happily, as the case may be. So we are no longer in that situation. But I also believe that the Cranborne doctrine 2 has made the Cranborne doctrine 1 somewhat irrelevant. The reform of your Lordships' House has meant that we shall never again have a situation in which one party with an inbuilt majority has the ability to frustrate legislation time and again in a kind of wanton fashion.

We must ask ourselves whether the Salisbury doctrine 1 is now of any relevance. As everyone else has said that it is, I shall say that it is not. I do not say so perversely, but once you move away from a fundamental difference—namely, what the 1945 Labour Party represented in terms of the notion of property ownership—the Salisbury doctrine I becomes a further limitation on the powers of this House; in other words, it is not part of 1911 nor part of 1945. It is a further restriction; in other words, that this House will not do certain things, which it perfectly legitimately can do. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Norton, say that, in a sense, Salisbury or no Salisbury, we must exercise our powers, limited though they are, to the full.

By and large, this House has been shy in exercising its full powers. I have been in this place for only 10 years, but I have many times heard people say, "We cannot actually go against the other place. They are the elected Chamber, so we really ought to concede. If they have rejected our amendments, we should not insist upon them". We have done so because we have that additional doubt about our legitimacy. Again, the reform of your Lordships' House has at least diminished our illegitimacy. We are slightly less illegitimate than we used to be, but I do not know whether or not we are more legitimate. My own preferred solution would be a fully-elected Chamber, but that will never happen so we may as well not worry about it.

We must decide upon the precise nature of our function. Although we are supposed to be a revising Chamber, and so on, I gather from what my noble friend Lord Peston said that there is a mild air of, as it were, ineffectualness hanging over us—we do various things but no one takes a blind bit of notice. If, occasionally, we do something that is important, people like Simon Jenkins criticise us for being effective. The problem is that our powers and abilities are not used efficiently under the current arrangements.

One of the matters that one should raise in a legitimate and open way and which should be reconsidered is the restriction in the 1911 Act on the Finance Bill. If we are not able to amend it, we should at least be allowed to discuss it. There is no reason why this House should not be able to discuss the Finance Bill in great detail. We know that we cannot amend it, but we are not even allowed to discuss it. I believe that to be a great waste of the talents that we have in the House. If we are to have no power to change any legislation and we are going to be allowed to exist, I believe—I have argued this point before—that we may as well become a committee of the other place; that is to say, we would discuss all the Bills and, as it were, amend them, but our amendments would have no force until they were agreed by the other place. That would be a much better use of our time. Any Bill from there would come to us after Second Reading. We would then discuss it thoroughly, much better than those in the other place could do, and then we would send it back to them in an improved fashion. We would not need to engage in this legislative fight all the time.

Either this House has powers that it exercises and is taken seriously, or we have no powers. At present, our powers are limited by one or other convention, or some bullying, and we may as well not bother. There is a kind of constitutional confrontation to be had here. We ought to forget or rescind the Salisbury doctrine. We should have slightly more edge in our debates.

I do not believe that manifestos are serious documents. I have spent much time during many elections at polling stations and knocking on doors on behalf of my party, but I cannot say that I have read any of the manifestos since 1970. I doubt that anyone else has done so, not even Members of Parliament. They are not serious documents. Indeed, the doctrine of the Labour Party when I was, as it were, in the rank and file was that, basically, every Labour Government flouted the manifesto upon which they were elected. There is a great belief in that respect in the conference; indeed, the conference derives its moral energy from knowing that a government are about to betray their manifesto. Therefore, I do not believe that we can take manifestos seriously, unless, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said, they consist of propositions that the government in question intend to embody in law and put to the people either by way of referendums or in clearly demarcated pieces of legislation.

On many occasions during the debate on the reform of this Chamber mention was made of the fact that, when people were asked, only 2 per cent of them had noticed that the reform of this House was part of the Labour Party manifesto. But, to me, that was neither here nor there. Whether or not people read the manifesto is not the problem: in our constitution the party in power gets its way. The only question is whether it should get its way arbitrarily, wantonly and without caring to listen to us. If the government are to be made to listen to us, we should have fewer, rather than more, restrictions on how effectively we can exercise our powers. The more that we can push our right to make them think to the limit, the better the constitution will be. Therefore, I believe that the Salisbury convention has had its day; it should be retired.

4.18 p.m.

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My Lords, it is always fascinating to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Desai. If I may say so, he talks an enormous amount of common sense and it is always fun to listen to him. I enjoyed his mea culpa, in which he said that he had not read any party manifestos since 1970. Of course, if I were unkind, I might suggest that, had he done so, he might not be sitting where he is today. However, I shall not say that.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for introducing this debate because it is on a fascinating subject, as well as being topical. There is no one in this House—or, indeed, very few other people—who could surpass the noble and learned Lord in knowledge of the constitution. I do not wish to consider what the composition of this House should be or what might happen in the future. Those matters are for another day. But I believe that my noble friend Lord Cranborne was right when he differentiated between the powers of the House and the authority of the House. They are two totally different issues. Of course, if you want power, it must be an elected Chamber. But I personally would be wildly against that because, although it may be democratic and all that jazz, we would take on a major confrontation with another place, which would be perfectly disastrous.

I was interested in the Salisbury convention to which the noble and learned Lord's Motion refers—or the Salisbury/Addison convention, as we are now told it should be called. This has been passed down like a royal diadem from generation to generation, even though it started only in about 1940.

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My Lords, I beg my noble friend's pardon. If he had just kept quiet a little longer, I would have said that, but I do so on his prompting.

The Salisbury convention has always been treated with respect and dignity and great efforts have been made—with success—to ensure that it is not infringed or tampered with. As your Lordships know, it was introduced first by the grandfather of my noble friend Lord Cranborne when the House of Lords was a very different place from that which it now is. Your Lordships' House then consisted mostly of hereditary Peers, the sons of their fathers, most of whom, but not all, were Conservatives. Some new Labour hereditary Peers were created, but for some extraordinary reason their sons usually became Conservatives. In those days there were no life Peers and no women Peers. So, however hard the powers that be tried to tip the balance of the House away from being predominantly Conservative, like a gonk it always came back upright again. That caused complications.

It was in that scenario that the late Lord Salisbury, with the late Lord Addison, devised the Salisbury/ Addison convention, which states that if a Bill is introduced by a government which has been foreshadowed in the manifesto, the government are deemed to have a mandate for the Bill and the House of Lords should not oppose a Second Reading, nor put down wrecking amendments. That has, as we all know, worked exceedingly well. But the question which the noble and learned Lord's Motion suggests is: should that principle still continue? After all, in the days of the inception of the Salisbury/Addison convention, the House of Lords was a largely hereditary House, largely Conservative, with some Bishops and some Law Lords. We now have life Peeresses or life Peers and women Peers. The majority of the hereditary Peers have been vaporised.

The composition of the House of Lords is—and let us not forget it—a composition which is exactly what the Government wanted. They said that they wanted all hereditary Peers to go—"It is in the manifesto", they said. All was set to get rid of all hereditary Peers. Then the Government changed their mind and said, "No, we want to retain 100". So the engines were put into reverse and 100 hereditary Peers were retained. The House of Lords is, therefore, now a House the composition of which is exactly what the Government wanted and what the Government chose.

Someone said to me yesterday, after we had the debate on the possibility of changing the Wednesday debate to a Thursday, "Of course, you would be against any change". I was rather miffed by that remark, particularly as I voted with the majority. I replied, "I am not against change, I am in favour of good change". Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, I question whether now is not the time for change.

All the speakers in the debate, other than the noble Lord, Lord Desai, have, I think, inferred that the Salisbury convention is good and should be kept. I could see the antennae of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General bristling against such reaction. I am fascinated by that. I shall look forward to the noble and learned Lord agreeing with me when he replies to the debate. He is a great moderniser. He would change anything, whether it moved or did not move, provided that it constituted a change and provided also that it did not involve taking on the parliamentary draftsmen on anything so fundamental as changing an "a" to an "an". I came across that on the House of Lords Bill when I tabled an amendment to refer to an hereditary Peer rather than to a hereditary Peer. All the powers of the noble and learned Lord came to the fore. He said that my amendment was completely wrong because the parliamentary draftsmen had said so. Therefore, one can alter anything other than matters on which the parliamentary draftsmen have made a pronouncement, even when that is a matter of adding an "n". I do not think that that amendment was too much for the noble and learned Lord's intellectual powers but I think that it may have been too much for his gladiatorial powers.

I am therefore excited at the prospect of having the noble and learned Lord on my side and on the side also of the noble Lord, Lord Desai. I can assure him that that is more comfortable than having him against us. The real and simple point is that if the House has changed so much, is it right now to keep the regulations and practices which were appropriate for a bygone era when the House and its composition were totally different? If the House is now—to use that awful phrase which the noble Baroness the Leader of the House used—more legitimate and more authoritative, do the government of the day need to be protected from the forces which are no longer here?

I can see the argument. I shall wait with fascination to hear it trip off the tongue of the noble and learned Lord; namely, that if a government had just been elected it would be a bore to see the House of Lords throw out a Bill which had been in the manifesto. I can understand that but I doubt that it would happen all that often.

But if the House of Lords is to be, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House told us, a check on the executive, should it not be given the freedom to do that? It is, of course, a democratic fallacy—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, on this—that anyone who votes for a candidate of a political party accepts, holus-bolus, everything that is in the manifesto of that party, which almost certainly is never read.

There is an argument that the Salisbury convention has served the House and the Parliament well, so let us leave it alone. The noble and learned Lord might think that that is a good old Conservative argument. But I am beginning to think that there is a greater argument; namely, that times have changed, conditions have changed, the composition of the House has changed and the time has come for that particular convention to change too.

4.27 p.m.

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My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Cross Benches and, indeed, to the noble and learned Lord for having introduced this timely debate. Surely the question is whether the recommendation of the Royal Commission that some new consensual arrangement should be devised to re-establish practical working relationships between the two Houses without amendment of the Parliament Acts should be adopted, or whether some statutory provision is to be imposed to debilitate the delaying power of your Lordships' House.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said, abuse of the Parliament Acts can be redressed by a self-denying ordinance. Albeit that we debate under the long shadow cast by stage two, as heralded by the White Paper, the electorate is surely entitled to know the answer of each political party to the question that has been put either in the manifesto or in a perfectly clear statement of policy in the election campaign.

I only intend to refer to two recent developments: achievement of parity voting potential and the routine resort, or threat of resort, to secure Royal Assent of government Bills under the Parliament Acts (whether mandated or not) which has generated a form of resistance in this House not only in the manner of speeches but also in a new dimension of insistence which has to be addressed by the spirit of the doctrine—the approach of Lord Cranborne—not by the convention as such.

The achievement of parity voting potential constitutes a fundamental change of circumstances which deprives the Cranborne convention as such of any justification today. The routine resort to the Parliament Acts is said to have arisen on account of a single example—the War Crimes Act—on a non-mandated Bill. But the fact of the matter is that the Cranborne convention, which related only to mandated Bills, was observed from 1911 until the advent of this Administration. In any event I believe that this Administration would have extended it to non-mandated Bills. It is just unfortunate that the single example should have been used as a convenient precedent.

The purpose and substance of the Cranborne convention no longer exists, but the spirit of the doctrine was no more than a self-denying ordinance. As Lord Shackleton said in the bench-mark debate of 19th May 1993,
"Lord Salisbury produced a solution that made it possible for this House to function … as well as it could under difficult circumstances …it … is not recorded officially anywhere".—[Official Report, 19/5/93; col. 1786.]
The convention has always been implemented by a series of ad hoc arrangements on government mandated Bills. The Royal Commission's recommendation 4.21/4.35 favours an updated version of the Cranborne convention—it calls it the Salisbury convention—which would represent a new balance of political authority as between the two Houses and reconsideration of the mandate doctrine. As was pointed out by Lord Rippon of Hexham in the bench-mark debate, manifestos are long, turgid and rarely read by the electorate; and the manifesto doctrine should apply to policy which has been made perfectly clear at a general election.

What kind of new arrangement can be devised by consensus in the interests of the orderly conduct of the practical working of this House and the retaining of comity as between the two Houses? It is by convention, not by codified and defined amendments to the Parliament Acts which would import inflexibility and denigrate the ethos of independence. Is it not the approach of the Cranborne doctrine (in other difficult circumstances) which is of commanding fundamental importance? Is it not the only approach compatible with our largely unwritten constitution for bicameral government under the Queen in Parliament?

Perhaps the acknowledged function in a new form of convention for the House to delay Bills by rejection or amendment where the nation is substantially divided should be expressly reaffirmed. Perhaps on Bills which substantially affect the constitution—here I have to declare an interest—it should be for Parliament and not the government to decide whether there should be a referendum. Perhaps the sovereignty of each House over its own rules and procedures should be firmly entrenched—in so far as one can entrench anything under our constitution. Perhaps there should be some reappraisal of the exercise of our right to insist. Perhaps some accommodation could be had enabling the government, save in exceptional circumstances, to have their business irrespective of any mandate at a general election. I take on board much of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in that regard. But I also take on board the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, concerning the mandate. With respect to the House, what he said seems entirely right.

4.35 p.m.

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My Lords, I begin by adding my congratulations to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, on introducing such an important debate. There would obviously have been many more Members present if the debate had taken place on a Thursday. We shall hear from all the parliamentary leaders in this House. I hope, therefore, that we shall have some answers. When I refer to "leaders" I include potential leaders.

There has been little constitutional change; I am sure that some hereditary Peers may not agree. We had what might be called the Cranborne deal—a deal between the noble Viscount and the Lord Chancellor. The noble Viscount did very well to get that deal. He did so well that he was sacked by the leader of his party.

We are assured that it is a slightly more legitimate House—but only slightly. There is still not real reform. I am delighted to note the agreement of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. The assumption is that we shall have real reform. I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, agrees. I await his speech with great interest.

I speak briefly as I have spoken often on this issue. I turn to the two main issues: composition and powers. On composition, I understand that what the Government have in mind—as I am sure we shall be told—will be based largely on Wakeham but with perhaps an even smaller number of elected Peers. I want to make this clear, as have other noble Lords. I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Norton. I should be utterly opposed to any smaller number of elected Peers in your Lordships' House. A hybrid House would not be helpful to anyone. I hope and believe—the Government should be so aware—that if such legislation were brought before us it would be opposed strongly from all sides of your Lordships' House

One has only to consider the matter to realise that it is something of a nonsense. My noble friend Lord Peston referred to this. How would this small number of Peers be elected? How would it be done? Would they represent constituencies or regions? Would election be by the PR system? Would they be independent Peers; and, if so, how? Would they stop political parties putting up candidates?

Another important factor is the size of your Lordships' House. As at 15th January this year there were 691 Members of your Lordships' House. Under the deal agreed by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, there could be another 32 Labour Peers. That would take the figure to well over 700. There will be a few new independent Peers. We already have more than 160 Cross-Bench Peers. We shall have some elected Peers. So we may have nearly 800 Members of your Lordships' House. I hope that your Lordships will agree with me that to proceed along those lines would be raving mad. Perhaps we could have some voluntary retirement as The Times suggested. I am not sure how to describe what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, implies by his action: that for Members to retire voluntarily could be well paid! We are assured by the Leader of the House that it is not true.

Perhaps there could be not voluntary but compulsory retirement. Rarely do anywhere near 700 Members of your Lordships' House vote. In the major and very good debate on Monday just over 300 voted. I know that there will have been some genuine abstentions, but we very rarely have more than 400 voting. Perhaps we should have some voluntary or compulsory retirement. I am not sure whether 75 is an appropriate age—perhaps it should even be a little younger. That would mean losing some important Members of your Lordships' House. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Roll of Ipsden, earlier, and there would be many others. I certainly would not want to lose the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. The real issue of composition has not been considered seriously.

I reiterate what a number of noble Lords have said about powers. It is vital that real powers are given to a second Chamber, if only to provide a check on what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, described as the elected dictatorship. We have that now in another place, with a government majority of more than 170. The noble Lord, Lord Pym, was sacked for daring to suggest such a thing to the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher.

Although an elected government will have their way in the main—and so they should—surely we must all accept the right of a second Chamber to revise and, if necessary, seriously work to delay legislation introduced by a government with a substantial majority in another place and to ask the other place to think again—or, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said, to deter a government from getting away with it.

Reference has been made to the Salisbury/Addison convention. That was a deal. The noble Viscount's ancestors seem to have been good at striking deals. They struck one with Lord Addison and stopped him calling it the Addison convention. The problem is that it is based on manifestos. My noble friend Lord Desai said that he had not often read the manifesto. In many years of canvassing on the doorsteps, I have not yet found anyone who had read a manifesto of any political party, yet the Salisbury convention is primarily based on a manifesto that nobody has read. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, likes what he calls the "flexibility" of the convention, although he conceded in a debate on 7th February last year that there were,
"some doubts as to what comprises its detail".—[Official Report, 7/2/00; col. 394.]
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said in a Politeia lecture that the convention needed redefining. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said in his report that the new House should pragmatically consider changes that might be needed, with a new convention. Even some real experts such as Dicey, Jennings or some of the experts in your Lordships' House cannot agree precisely on what the Salisbury convention means. Even the grandson does not really know what it means.

The convention is very uncertain. I prefer statutory certainty. I thought that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, agreed with me on that, although I doubt it. I do not want to provoke him, but he certainly seems to be in favour of some change. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will tell us that the Government's position is that in a future House, reformed under a new Labour Government, we shall have certainty.

In conclusion, I have some questions for the leaders who are to reply to the debate. Do they agree with the Wakeham commission that there should be a small number of elected Peers in a reformed House, which presumably would number nearly 800 in total? Will existing Peers have the right to voluntary retirement, as has been suggested? Will there be any reduction in the real powers of a second Chamber? I hope not. As has been said, a government with a majority in another place should have the right to get their business through generally, but that does not mean that we should not have powers to say and do something about it. Will all that be in a manifesto, so that we can base any new Salisbury convention on what is said in that manifesto?

I accept the need for a second Chamber and its vital role of providing checks and balances on the elected dictatorship in another place. I hope that we shall always have such a Chamber.

4.45 p.m.

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My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, who introduced the debate with impeccable timing one week after the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, enabled us to debate the Parliament Acts. Today we have concentrated more on what we must learn to call the Salisbury/Addison convention. I am sorry that time did not permit the noble Viscount, the present Lord Cranborne, to tell us a little more about the development of the thinking of his distinguished ancestor, the Prime Minister, on the issue in the 19th century and about the precise circumstances in which the convention was negotiated between his grandfather and Lord Addison. Perhaps it should more properly be called a pragmatic understanding that has stood the test of time. Given how long it has endured and its tacit, if not explicit, acceptance by all concerned, it has achieved the patina of a convention. There is some merit in its perpetuation, provided that it is recognised that, at least at the margins, it must adjust to changing circumstances. In extreme situations, it may need to be set aside. That cannot be done with legislation.

The convention, or understanding, rests on one or more fictions. The first is that the manifesto of the majority party in the other place must be treated as having received in its entirety the imprimatur of the electorate. The second is that, throughout its period in office, the majority party, presumably by its continued communion with the electorate, has achieved a legitimacy denied to other participants in the legislative process. A moment's reflection will show that neither proposition can be accepted without massive qualification. I see no reason why a second Chamber, as an institution, should not be accorded a measure of legitimacy acquired by time and the successful discharge of its functions. I like to think that the current House might qualify on that basis.

Be that as it may, the real question that the Salisbury/Addison convention endeavoured to address, with considerable success over many years, concerns the proper balance between the elected and the non-elected Chamber. We have been told by members of the Government in this Parliament that we are a subordinate House—sometimes they flinch from putting it quite so baldly to us, at least in this Chamber—and that we are a revising House. The House can provide a critically important constitutional role.

Majorities in the other place come and go, sometimes rather rapidly. This House, however composed, continues. We have a special duty to maintain the constitution and safeguard its working. The Salisbury/Addison convention does not deal adequately with that.

It may, for example, be our duty to give the electorate a chance to express a view on measures of deep constitutional significance emanating from the other place. In a sense, that thinking underlies some of the provisions of the Parliament Act 1911. I believe that the respectable argument which should be put forward from the Conservative Benches is that the electorate should be given greater opportunity to reflect on the constitutional implications.

I turn next to our revising role, which has been acknowledged—if in a rather patronising way, I am bound to say—by the Government. I acknowledge that the detail of legislation which is conceded to us may be important and that all too often neither the government in the other place nor the other place as a whole have much time to reflect on detail. An absurd position arose during the passage of one Bill when the Government tabled more amendments than the Opposition.

There has been a considerable increase in the number of guillotine Motions, by convention in the past resorted to sparingly, so that consideration of parts—perhaps important parts—of a Bill often have not been scrutinised before being received in this House.

Then there is the unattractive spectacle of Divisions taking place some days after the debates to which they relate. Of course, the procedures of the other place are not for us to debate. However, the revising role, which is ours, must take some account of the effectiveness of the scrutiny to which measures have been subject before they reach us. In that regard, we should give more attention to, for example, the details of finance Bills. I believe that that point was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. I entirely agree, recognising of course that governments must be permitted to get their finance Bills in due time.

I hope that all those points will suggest that there is a busy and important role for us in this House and that anything less will weaken the control that the legislature—both Houses—should have over the Executive and, ultimately, the bicameral basis on which our constitution depends.

4.52 p.m.

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My Lords, first, I add my thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, not only for initiating the debate but for choosing such an opportune moment for it. My perceptions have been sharpened by the debate, which is welcome; but I must admit that it has also weakened my certainties, which is always uncomfortable. I would almost prefer to go away and think about what has been said than to contribute anything of my own.

Given all the global factors today, I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about the exaggerated belief by governments in their power. I am worried by what the noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Norton, said about a partially elected House possibly being the worst of all worlds. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, about the need to rebalance the relations between this House and the other place, and I shall say a word or two further about that. And I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf and the noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Barnett, among others, about the doctrine of the mandate and, in particular, the role of manifestos, about which I shall also say a few words.

Indeed, I suppose that I am most worried—in that I am trembling on the brink of a loss of faith—about what the next stage of reform should be and when it should come about. However, I take it that on these occasions I do not have to speak with the authority of my party behind me but, rather, I can listen to what is said and judge it on its merits. My view is that we should wait for a while before further reform to see how the House settles down under its current arrangements. And I believe that we should spend much more time—this point is aimed at the Government—in seeking a consensus. When reform comes, it is more likely to be wise reform if it takes place in the second Session of the new Parliament and not in the first.

Meanwhile, I want to make some remarks about the question of the balance between the Lords and the Commons and also about the doctrine of the mandate. Initially, I believed that these would be mildly heretical remarks, tested against the conventional wisdom of the day. However, the conventional wisdom has been turned on its head, and now I find myself very much in support of—although, in some cases, perhaps a little beyond—views which have already been expressed.

I believe that in this House we all accept the description of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, that the Commons is the pre-eminent Chamber of Parliament. We refer in commonplace language to its primacy. However, primacy for the Commons arises from its evolution as a result of the extension of the franchise in 1832, 1867, 1884 and since. Its role, status and primacy stem from its elected and representative character, which earns it legitimacy, authority and respect.

The paradox which has been widely expressed is that much of the discussion about the future of the Salisbury doctrine before today stems from the fact that this House, as it now is, is, in the words of the Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, more legitimate, more authoritative and more worthy of respect. In other words, the House of Commons has earned its primacy through change and through the advance of democracy, ultimately resulting in legitimacy. However, the argument now is that, because we are more legitimate, we should exercise less power. I do not believe that that is logical and I do not believe that we should accept it.

Indeed, I do not consider that the argument is about legitimacy at all; it is about the dominance of the House of Commons and about the fear of competition from this House. It is a conservative rather than a radical argument because, the more legitimate this House becomes, it is about either maintaining the status quo or redressing the balance. My fear is that the instinct behind this leans towards a unicameral system, with this House merely as an appendage of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, suggested.

The existing balance is not the only formula for constitutional peace in a democracy with a universal franchise. We all know that the United States has found a different method. That is a different system altogether and I would not argue in favour of its balance of power. However, the United States has an elected House of Representatives and Senate, and it is an effective parliamentary democracy by any standard.

Therefore, it should not be axiomatic that, as this House becomes more legitimate or representative, in whatever way, its powers or the use of them should be in any way diminished. Indeed, I argue that they should be more often heeded and this House more often trusted.

I turn to the question of the doctrine of the mandate. That has always seemed to me to be deeply flawed, and I believe that there is a need to approach it with the greatest caution. It is flawed because it is constructed in circumstances which do not enable the government of the day—particularly a new government succeeding one of a different political character—to know what they will find. All governments coming into power for a first time open the books and find something different to what they expected. In those circumstances, it is wholly flawed to pursue a course which may now be the wrong one.

It is also the case that all governments are thrown off course by war or disaster or, for that matter, by changes in world oil prices. There again, it would be quite wrong for a government to pursue a course which was no longer relevant because circumstances were different. The duty of every government is to do what is best for the country.

Standing against what is best for the country, the manifesto is a relatively small thing. Indeed, essentially the manifesto is a convenience for political parties. It is helpful to party management because the leadership of the party is able to make its policies at a time when the leadership's views are most likely to be accepted. It enables the leadership to go its own way in its manifesto if it chooses, or to find a way to reconcile factions. That is the essential purpose of a manifesto, and it is irrelevant to the government of a country.

For all governments, the motto is, "Heads I win, tails you lose". "Heads I win" is true if a government implement their manifesto, and "Tails you lose" is true because a government can choose to depart from it, for a reason that they claim is good and sufficient.

There is no basis for a doctrine such as the Salisbury convention to rest on the doctrine of the mandate. No election has been fought and won on the basis of a manifesto—elections are fought and won according to the state of the country, the opposition and the leadership of the parties. Elections are often won despite a party's manifesto. The Labour Party won despite the unpopularity of nationalisation; the Conservatives won despite the fact that no one trusted them with the National Health Service; and the Liberal Democrats often get support from those who are not as committed as that party is to adopting a strong view on Britain's role in Europe.

It is not possible to claim that manifesto promises, especially those at the bottom of the pile, receive any meaningful approval. They may not have concerned the majority of voters at all. A referendum is not a referendum on each item contained in a party's policies.

The helpful Library Notes referred to the remarks that Lord Salisbury made in 1964. He referred to the Salisbury doctrine as a "broad guiding role". That is exactly what it should be, and how we should approach it. We should do so in the light of the deeply flawed doctrine of the mandate, and exercise our own judgment about when it is, and when it is not, appropriate to carry out the letter of what it suggests.

My current fear is that the Government, after inadequate consultation, will put into their manifesto detailed proposals for the next stage of reform, including proposals as to the number of elected Members, and that they will leave only the nuts and bolts of parliamentary procedure to the cross-party committee of both Houses, which has been promised. They will claim that the doctrine of the mandate gives them the opportunity to carry out what they have put into that manifesto. I hope that my fear will not prove to be justified.

5.3 p.m.

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My Lords, we are rightly indebted to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for introducing this debate. He is an example to us all for having brought the matter to our attention. He has always been a zealous defender of the rights of this House. Indeed, he is one of the most formidable parliamentarians of modern times.

The noble and learned Lord may be the last Member of this House to hold senior Treasury office and later to become a Law Lord. His is a unique constitutional voice.I hope that he will grace us with his presence for many years to come and is not lured into early retirement—we read about this in the press—by the bounty offered by the noble Baroness the Leader of House.

This debate is the second movement of a duet, of which the first part was played—very persuasively, I thought—by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, last Friday. When two distinguished former Law Lords touch on the same issues, I sit up and listen. Indeed, as a junior Minister, whenever I saw the noble and learned Lord even stirring, I knew that I had better sit up and listen; otherwise, I would be in trouble. I shall be interested to hear the reply of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General.

I hope today that the noble and learned Lord will be less dogmatic—he is at his least attractive when he is being dogmatic—than when he swatted away the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington. He declared then:
"There is no ambiguity in the Parliament Acts which needs to be corrected".—[Official Report. 19/1/01; col. 1328.]
No, it was the former Master of the Rolls who needed to be corrected.

If only I could be as sure of anything as the Government have been on the constitution. Some might say that they have been too clever by half. New Labour has asserted that our well-tested constitution has no place in a modern Britain and that hereditary Peers are indefensible. The Human Rights Act 1998 is treated as the Holy Grail and closed lists for European elections are unchallengeable. Even if the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General is so sure about those matters, will he accept that the most radical change in this House for 350 years casts at least some doubt on the relationship between this House and another place? That is the proposition that lies behind this debate, and I agree with it.

I shall not repeat what I said last Friday about the Parliament Acts. Suffice it to say that, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, I think that there is room for doubt about the validity of the Parliament Act 1949. The Government, by their ready resort to the use, and the threatened use, of the Parliament Acts, have moved those Acts on to a new plane. They have used them in relation to details that were not in a manifesto—they did so with closed lists. They also used the Parliament Acts on a moral issue to stop your Lordships' amendments being discussed in another place. They now threaten to use the Parliament Acts in relation to hunting and trial by jury. That unhealthy enthusiasm to press the constitutional nuclear button itself justifies this debate.

I turn to the Salisbury convention. It was born in the old Britain that New Labour set out to sweep away and in an entirely hereditary House which was wholly dominated by the Conservatives. It was a gentleman's agreement but it served us well. Indeed, it became, as my noble friend Lord Cranborne declared in 1996—he has been unduly modest about his role in this regard—a settled part of the old constitution. My noble friend was right—it was a long speech, but it was not a boring speech. That declaration ensured that major government business that was set before the people at a general election was not wilfully wrecked by this House. It was never intended to stop this House from improving legislation. It never envisaged that this House must bow down, like Pavlov's dogs—or, dare I say, like poodles—before another place on matters outside the manifesto, on details of legislation or on great moral issues, which should always be subject to a free vote.

However, by passing the House of Lords Act 1999 the Government tore up the old rules and deliberately altered the terms of trade between the two Houses. It is hard to argue that one must do away with the old House but keep the old conventions. The conventions that the Government seek to sweep away are those that act as checks and balances on executive power. The conventions that they want to keep are those that suit their purposes. However, in November 1999, New Labour brought into being a new House, backed by overwhelming majorities in both Houses. As the Jay doctrine put it, they created a House that would be "more legitimate", that would "carry more weight" and that would keep the "executive better held to account".

It has not always felt like that. When the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General sums up, I hope that he will answer two specific questions. First, does he agree that on subjects such as NATS and trial by jury, in relation to which the Government tried to do what they pledged they would not do before the election, this House has an unfettered right to throw out the relevant legislation? Does he agree that no government should use the Parliament Acts in such circumstances?

Secondly, does the noble and learned Lord accept that using the Parliament Acts across two Parliaments, although allowed by Clause 2 of the 1911 Act, would break all constitutional practice since 1911? Every government at the end of every Parliament have dropped unfinished business and left it to the next Parliament to decide its course. Until the threats over hunting, I thought that that had become, by usage, an established part of our constitution.

Perhaps the Government thought that the 1999 Act would change nothing other than the names on the pegs downstairs. In a speech in the autumn of 1999, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, I warned that that simply could not be the case because the Government were changing the constitutional ground. They could not expect change not to follow. The old certainties had gone and we cannot know where things will end. All the relevant factors—the powers, composition and functions of this H ouse—are inextricably involved in the settlement that will evolve. That is why we have consistently argued that the Joint Committee of both Houses must look at composition as well. It would be extremely helpful if the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General could tell us when that Joint Committee will be set up, because if he can do so, then the prediction made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that we are all wasting our time might, on this occasion, not be correct.

I do not believe that even this new House has the right to challenge the other place on Second Reading or by tabling wrecking amendments to core manifesto items of legislation. In a modern world, only an elected House could do that. But given the new composition of this House, the Salisbury convention deserves to be reviewed and this debate is part of that process.

The upper Chamber is no longer as it was in 1945 and the pace of politics itself has changed. Today, the global economy moves much faster than politicians imagine. It is difficult to reconcile an absolutist approach of total compliance by this House over five years with the modern world.

And I totally agreed with the noble Lords, Lord Dahrendorf and Lord Desai, and, in fact, almost every other noble Lord who spoke on this subject, when they referred to the status of manifestos. Election promises can be vague and easily manipulated by governments, who reserve the right to jettison manifesto promises if things change. If governments can have the right, why cannot Parliaments too have a say on circumstances as they change?

While the case for giving manifesto promises a relatively easy ride in the first few Sessions of a government's life is largely unassailable, subject only to Parliament's overriding duty to safeguard the constitution, it does not mean that that should automatically extend to the whole five years.

In the view of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General, are there no limits to a manifesto promise or, indeed, non-manifesto proposals that this House can be made to accept? Does the noble and learned Lord think that the 1999 Act changed anything? Will New Labour observe the Salisbury convention as it understands it, exactly as agreed in the 1940s, when they come back into Opposition; or is its view that a new doctrine now applies, perhaps the one explained by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on "Question Time" last week? On cloning, she implied that this House must not challenge the vote of the elected House. The noble Baroness then weakened her case by stating that she would vote differently from another place on hunting. Perhaps the doctrine applies to Members of the House but not to the Leader.

But be that as it may, what is the position as the noble and learned Lord now understands it? Do the Government believe that this House must invariably defer to a vote in the elected House? If that is the case, then Mr Blair expects far more of this House than Mr Attlee or Mr Wilson expected of the hereditary peerage. It shows less legitimacy, freedom and respect for the distinguished people who have been put in this place than was owed to the despised ranks of noble Dukes, Marquesses and Earls.

Surely the Government cannot seriously claim that the votes of this House must echo the votes of another place on every issue, under threat of the Parliament Acts. That way unicameralism lies. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. He too has spotted the dangers of that or, even possibly, the New Labour plot. Lurking behind unicameralism is a threat of a new presidentialism, with no effective containing power. That cannot be the way for Parliament.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for initiating this important debate and I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General will make it crystal clear that that is not the view of this Government, whatever the impression that has been given in the past.

5.14 p.m.

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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part, but in particular I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who, on this occasion and on these matters, has been our mentor, as so often in the past.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that 1945 was a different world. It was. It was a land of grinding poverty, gross inequality, no protection for women or minorities, inadequate education, no National Health Service, no Human Rights Act and vicious legal pursuit of those who had different sexual preferences from the alleged majority. So I am glad that we have moved on, and not all the work has been completed.

Quite a number of specific questions have been put to me and I shall do my very best to answer them in the 20 minutes only that I have.

The constitutional arrangements that we have in our country, as I see them, depend on a respectful balance between the powers of both Houses and that adjective I contend to be of great importance. However, it is not, and cannot be, contended to be an equal balance. It is a balance, as has been recognised by all of your Lordships who have spoken, in which this House must ultimately defer to the Commons.

One of the specific questions that I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is whether this House has the unfettered right to overturn, for example, measures in relation to NATS or jury trials. The answer to that is to be found in the Parliament Acts and the answer is plainly: no. That is what the law of our constitution provides. Therefore, this House has, literally, the inability continually to foil the determined, settled will of the Commons. That is what the 1911 and 1949 Acts provide, and they are quite independent, in that connection, of the Salisbury convention.

Therefore, it is not a question of convention alone; it is enshrined in two statutes. The noble Lord and others referred to our debate on Friday on the Bill introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington. The purpose and entire consequence of the first part of the Bill—irony of all ironies to be savoured, bearing in mind what has been urged this evening—would have been to entrench absolutely the 1949 Parliament Act. My modest suggestion was that it was not needed because there is no ambiguity about the 1911 and 1949 Acts taken together. Whether or not I am right, the consequence of the Bill of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, would simply have been to entrench absolutely, without any question of doubt, the power of the other place.

I am most grateful for the scrupulous, civil analysis of our constitutional arrangements which was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Norton. The basis of the balance is the self-evident proposition that the Commons must be supreme because, as he said, of its periodic accountability to the electorate at an interval of not more than five years. I do not believe that any noble Lords addressed that simple proposition as he put it. I cannot think why that may have been.

It cannot be and it should not be an absolutist supremacy. Nevertheless, it is a supremacy that we need to recognise and in my case, for the reasons absolutely and clearly adumbrated by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, I applaud it. After all, the supremacy of the Commons must ultimately depend on the reflected virtue of their popular election. If your Lordships take a different view, let us hear it unambiguously because I have not heard it.

The basis of the Salisbury convention, therefore, does not change by virtue of any alteration in the composition of this House. That is the further question with which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked me to deal.

Some of the descriptions of our arrangements which were put from various quarters did not, I think, recognise the true British nature of our constitution. I referred to the respectful balance but that balance does change subtly and sometimes quite imperceptibly according to time, according to occasion, according to topic.

I shall give one or two recent examples. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, referred to the matter. On Monday we had a most extraordinary debate. Whatever one's private views or whichever way one voted, it was a classic. I was forced to agree with someone in the lobby who said that the Commons could not have matched it. Casting my mind further, I do not believe that there is another legislature in the world—I am sorry to be unduly chauvinistic—that could match it.

The point about the quality of the debate and the fact that plainly some votes were altered by debate, and not by preconceived settled prejudice, is that we had it in our hands to destroy the regulatory scheme. The Minister made the position plain. No one was unaware of the seriousness of our power, but on that occasion we decided that, although we had the power and the authority, we would not exercise it because we considered the issues on the merits.

That is why I have tried to say to the House—I hope respectfully—that I despise no duke, I despise no marquess and at least one earl is my very good friend. That is also why these rather bald descriptions of what may or may not be done do not meet the spirit or practice of this House as it is at present or as it will become.

I turn to an alternative example, which came from the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, that demonstrates the opposite. He spoke of the deep respect that we give to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee and its reports. Your Lordships will remember that recently on sentencing powers the committee strongly urged the House not to accept the form of a Bill that I was introducing, in part, concerned with sentencing provisions. I shall not go into the details as your Lordships know them. On that occasion, I said that I would pay particular attention to what your Lordships thought and, as is known, we went away and reconstructed the Bill. It was a government amendment, but it was a government amendment with virtue.

That is an example not of the power of this House, but of the authority of the argument and of the quality of that committee. However, we all know perfectly well that that committee is of recent origin. It has developed its own authority and not its own power; it has its own influence on the minds of your Lordships and on the way in which debates are carried out. I draw on those two examples only to suggest that some of the descriptions in absolute terms have been mistaken because they do not go to the living heart of this place.

I turn to another proposition from the noble Viscount with which I disagree. He urged the extension of post-legislative referendums. I believe that if one thinks that through one will consider that the consequence would be bad for both Houses because it would take away from the authority of Parliament. I believe that to be wrong.

I do not believe that the Salisbury convention has fallen into disuse. What is it? It is a doctrine that has become accepted in constitutional circles so much so that it has come to be known as the "Salisbury convention". It has been raised in the language of politics to become a constitutional convention. That means that it is definitely part of our constitution. I certainly regard it as such and so does my party. In my view, it follows that it would be, in the words of a grandfather, "constitutionally wrong for any party or individual to suggest that, whatever the outcome of a general election, this convention would not hold".

Of course, that was not my grandfather but the grandfather of the noble Viscount. That is a quotation from the most interesting lecture that the noble Viscount delivered in 1996 in full expectation, first, of a general election and, secondly, it may have been—I have been reading John Major's excellent autobiography over Christmas—in the full knowledge of the likelihood of a Labour victory.

I turn to what was said about the manifesto. It seems that your Lordships despise manifestos and the doctrine of what I suppose I could call "implied acquiescence". The noble Lords, Lord Desai, Lord Barnett, Lord Rodgers. Lord Strathclyde and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, all seemed to be a little on the sniffy side in relation to manifestos. It reminded me of Mr Mervyn Griffith-Jones in the case of Lady Chatterley's Lover at the Old Bailey when he asked the jury whether that was the sort of material that they would want their servants or even their wives to read.

It may be that not everyone believes every dot and comma of every manifesto and it may be that I am the only person in your Lordships' House who can say with any shred of believability that I have indeed read the Labour Party manifesto. Of course, the election engages the public mind on perfectly known propositions. I suggest that whether people read manifestos or not is not really the point.

I turn to the sad state of the nation as exemplified by an hereditary Peer and an historian, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. He now seems to have taken to the revisionist and militant tendency. I believe I heard fall from his lips the fact that he actually wanted a change. I fell back in horror. Had I not been seated I would have fallen further.

The noble Earl and I have a good deal of regard for each other and fundamentally I do not believe that we disagree. I believe that we should maintain the Parliament Acts. If we have to look at the edges and the margins of the Salisbury convention let us do so. I do not believe in the unicameral system. The ability that we have, unsparingly exercised, is a powerful part of our constitution. But there are others.

If I may say so, generally it is foolish to overlook the other constituents of our constitution. We have a thriving free press that I am told sometimes brings about political consequences! We have the greatest Act of devolution of power from the central executive—namely, the Human Rights Act—that has occurred for the past 100 years. It is idle, because it is wrong and superficial, to say that we have a centralising Government. Devolution to Scotland, to Wales, and if our hopes are fulfilled, to Northern Ireland, under the overarch of the Human Rights Act, is the greatest constitutional agenda that we have been able to contemplate for 100 years. That is not tinkering with the constitution. That is willingly putting on the executive the yoke of scrutiny by the courts.

That reinforces my proposition that this is an organic constitution because we do things differently here. I am aware of the constitutional arrangements in the United States and I do not find them as perfect because there has to be an election every two years and a rolling Senate which means that no one does anything apart from fund raise and stand for election. With great respect I believe that our arrangements are better.

There were a few specific questions about retirement age. The only retirement age that could possibly be contemplated is one five years beyond any period at which I presently found myself! The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde asked whether there can be voluntary retirement. It is available at the moment in the form of leave of absence. It is not enormously popular but it is there. Will there be a small number of elected Peers? Time and again the Leader has said that the Government accept the broad thrust of the recommendations of the Royal Commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham.

Essentially nothing has changed that requires any modification of the Parliament Acts. I shall be deeply unpopular for, as I have said on earlier occasions, allowing fact to intrude, but a curious point is how sparingly that power has been used. It has been used very rarely indeed: sometimes because tempers cool; sometimes because compromise is available; and sometimes because an election intervenes. It is constitutionally available and under the Parliament Acts therefore constitutionally proper for carry-overs to occur. Whether they do or not is not for me to speculate.

It is sometimes a pity that speeches of criticism in this House—and even some areas of this institution are capable of improvement; for instance, having debates on Thursdays—do not recognise what is brought about in this country. Even the raising of issues, quite vigorously and often with a good deal of expertise, changes the course of public debate. I am told that our colleagues at the other end pay attention to public debate, particularly during periods such as this. The fact that we do not win every vote does not mean that we do not have influence. Some of the comments about the future were unduly doom-laden and reminded me of some of the gloomier passages in The Pilgrim's Progress. But cheer up, my Lords, the pilgrims succeeded.

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My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord concludes, perhaps I may ask a question. As one who has won 10 general elections, I wonder whether he is aware that the majority of voters pay far more attention to the candidate's election addresses than they do to the party manifestos.

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My Lords, some do and some do not, but I believe that in most organised political parties the candidates' addresses have something to do with the party manifestos.

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My Lords, before my noble and learned friend sits down, perhaps I may ask about his reference to the future composition of your Lordships' House. He did not take note of my point that, unless major changes are made, there are likely to be 800 Members in the future. Would the Government be happy with that?

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My Lords, I have said that government policy is, by and large, to accept the general thrust of the Wakeham commission. That commission pointed to what it thought was an optimum figure. I did not want to intrude into private grief by suggesting compulsory retirement—even paid compulsory retirement—but, plainly, we need to address that matter. That gross figure is exactly that. Before the great reform of 1999 we had a notional attendance of well over 1,500. The interesting thing was that no one was sure of the number because some had not answered their Writs. Among the best jokes made was that by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who said that this is the only legislature in the world which can function only on the basis that a good majority of its Members do not turn up.

5.32 p.m.

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My Lords, it falls to me now to make two comments. First, I thank those noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I do so most heartily. With respect, the quality of the speeches abundantly justified the choice of my noble friends on the Cross Benches in choosing this subject for debate.

Secondly, I note that my Motion as it appears on the Order Paper calls for Papers. Your Lordships are inundated with papers—perhaps almost as much on the constitution as on stem cells. But my noble friend Lord Northbourne is also asking for Papers and I would not wish to deprive him of that or indeed anything else. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Boys And Fatherhood

5.34 p.m.

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rose to call attention to the problems experienced by boys growing up without the care of a father and to the case for more resources to be devoted to preparing boys to become responsible citizens and fathers; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, first, I want to pay tribute to the Government for identifying and addressing the problem of social exclusion. Recently they accepted that many of the problems of social exclusion have their origins in the problems of men and boys. The purpose of this debate is to draw attention to the failures and frustrations of some men and boys in our society; to look at the causes; and to explore some solutions.

It is in no sense intended as a criticism of single mothers. I see single mothers as one of the groups who are the victims of the changes which have taken place in our society in the past two decades. I fully recognise that women and girls have problems, too, but today I want to focus your Lordships' attention on men and boys.

Most men and boys in our society today are coping well with the seismic economic and social changes which have taken place in the past few decades. But a significant minority of boys are growing up uneducated, unsocialised and convinced that they have no future in the legitimate economy or as parents. In a recent survey conducted by Adrienne Katz of 1,400 boys, 13 per cent were found to have low self-esteem, low motivation and low confidence. Boys in that group said that they were uncertain about their responsibilities and depressed about their future. Twenty per cent of that group had been in trouble with the police; 11 per cent were deeply depressed or suicidal. I should point out that today three out of four suicides in our country are males. One of the group said, "There is no position in society for us to grow into". Those are significant words.

This is an underclass of young men, often detached from the socialising influences of the family, often believing that they are unfairly excluded from the opportunities of the consumer society. If we want to reduce crime, substance abuse and domestic violence and to strengthen families, we must give these young men back hope and self-confidence. To do so should be an essential plank in the Government's policy of "Opportunities for All".

Many of these disillusioned and depressed young men are growing up in unstable or non-functional families. Many have been abandoned by their father. About 750,000 boys today have no contact with their father. Others have a poor relationship with their father, who may be violent or take little interest in them. Yet other fathers are working such long hours that they cannot give their sons the time they need. Those phenomena have been neatly described as the "Dad Deficit".

In the previous generation the number of people marrying halved; the number divorcing trebled; and the number of children born outside marriage quadrupled. What are the causes of all those changes? I suggest, first and foremost, changes in the nature of work due to technological change and globalisation. In the past 50 years, 2.8 million traditional full-time men's jobs have been lost, many of those in the past 10 years. The Armed Services have been decimated, the mines have been closed and there is little demand for strength and physical courage. A strong but uneducated young man can no longer count on being able to support his family. Some families in our country have had no man in work for three generations. It is hard to come back from that.

There has been a reaction against Victorian moral values and shared responsibilities towards the pursuit of personal lifestyle. There has also been a shift in social attitudes which has tended to make women's and men's roles in the family interchangeable rather than complementary. Some men feel that they no longer have a role in their family of which they can be proud.

We should not seek to place blame for those changes; indeed, change can and should be healthy and good. But we must blame ourselves for the fact that we have lamentably failed to manage this change. We have failed to recognise the damaging effect that the change has had on some groups. Perhaps I may give your Lordships some statistics from the General Household Survey in order to put the picture in proportion. Today 66 per cent of families are headed by a married couple; 9 per cent are headed by a cohabiting couple; and 25 per cent are headed by a lone parent, of whom nine-tenths are mothers. There are 1.7 million single mothers, who often struggle against the odds to bring up a child, and 1.5 million boys who live in families without a resident father. Children need the security, predictability and commitment of two parents who love them. Boys need fathers. Harriet Harman recently said to fathers:

"Your children need not just your money—they need you".

Why do fathers matter? There is overwhelming statistical evidence that boys with a poor or non-existent relationship with their fathers are more likely to be violent, to do less well in school and to be bullies or to be bullied, and they are three times more likely to be involved in serious or persistent crime. It is known that the single most effective way to help boys is to encourage their involvement with their fathers. But there are other factors. Families without a father tend to be poorer. Sixty-five per cent of single-parent families grow up in poverty and are statistically more prone to stress, accidents, illness and abuse. Boys who are abandoned or abused by their fathers have a deep psychological wound which I have come across again and again. They feel that they have been rejected by the person who should matter most in their lives. Boys also need male role models to socialise them, show them how to be decent men and how to treat women and teach them to cope with their instincts and emotions. A father's interest can motivate a boy to work in school.

I interject here that the reason for socialising boys is not that they are so awful but that they have so much to offer. Some birth fathers will fail and set their boys a bad example. When that happens it may be better for a boy to have a surrogate or substitute father who can provide many, if not all, of the things that a birth father can offer. But from where are all these surrogate fathers to come? Only a limited number of suitable men are prepared to give other men's sons the love, time and interest that they need. Mentors, male school teachers and youth leaders can help, and I shall refer to them a little later.

What is the price of inaction? Any society that fails to nurture and socialise its children and pass on to the next generation accumulated knowledge, skills and experience burns up its social capital. The prognosis for such a society is not good, and it is a slippery slope. A boy who has not known loving care in the family will himself find it difficult to form a stable family or become a good father to his own children. The golden chain is broken. I believe that we need to look urgently at the way in which our society educates and socialises boys, especially those who are not lucky enough to have a caring father.

I turn briefly to the ways in which society can help, under three headings: helping fathers, helping good relationships within the family and helping boys themselves. As to fathers, there is a need for a fundamental change of heart and recognition that, however significant may be the role of the mother, for a boy the father's role is also very important. The first person who needs to accept that is the father himself. Until he is convinced of the importance of his role, he will not prepare and train for it, perform it properly or make the sacrifices involved. But mothers, teachers, social workers, employers and government also need to recognise the importance of a committed father's role.

To be a good father a man needs self-confidence, which primarily comes from being able to support his family, at least as we perceive the family today. It is difficult to see what other role a father can have. Fathers need a real job, not just a "MacJob". I suggest that to build self-esteem in fathers is an essential building block in socialising boys. Government should support caring fathers, especially those who are prepared to make a long-term commitment of some kind. Employers should recognise that fathers as well as mothers need time for their children.

I turn to relationships and family structures. Research shows that the outcomes for children depend to a great extent on relationships within the family. But it is also true that good relationships need the support of good family structures. Put another way, good relationships are much more difficult without good family structures. Relationships between parents are likely to thrive best if they are set in a long-term, committed partnership. At present, marriage appears to be the only formula devised by society to formalise and celebrate a long-term commitment. I think back to the debate last week. It is possible that there are better structures but we have not thought of them yet. Those who resist the support of marriage often talk of it as a kind of ball and chain, and to some no doubt it is. However, recent research in the United States shows that marriage can produce substantial benefits for both parents:

"On average married people have better health, longer life, more and better sex, greater wealth and better outcomes for their children".

Perhaps we need to look at the image of marriage and develop alternatives for those who are put off by the baggage which marriage has accumulated, or its cost.

I turn finally to support for boys as they grow up. A boy's failure in school can condemn him to failure for life. Boys need motivation to learn. The encouragement and interest of a father, or another man whom the boy admires, can be, and is, a powerful motivation for boys. There is an urgent need for more young men of integrity as teachers in our schools, especially at primary level, and as youth workers and mentors. Boys need adult male role models from whom they can learn how to behave and develop their masculinity in constructive rather than anti-social ways so that as they grow up they find legitimate outlets for qualities like courage, loyalty, the competitive instinct and love of adventure.

As boys and girls grow up they both need opportunities gradually to grow away from the family towards independence. Essentially, they need somewhere to go and something to do outside the home, because hanging about the street corner is for most boys an almost certain precursor to juvenile crime and substance abuse. Boys need opportunities to develop self-confidence, social skills, friends, companionship and a sense of belonging. All boys particularly need support when they come to the transition from school to training or work, and from living at home to living independently.

It is a scandal that so many local authorities have been allowed to decimate their youth provision. In this context many of the better local authorities spend over £300 per young person per year. The figure for Brent is £18, and I am aware of others which are not dissimilar. It is a scandal that successive governments have allowed local authorities to sell off playing fields. As in France, every community should have access to playing fields, walks, cycle tracks, sports facilities and good youth services, both statutory and voluntary. There is a huge job of work to do in rebuilding facilities for young people.

The Government's Connections programme is an excellent initiative, but it is no good having such a programme if there is nothing with which to connect. The Connections programme must have the necessary services and opportunities for young people. There is a need for activities which boys and their fathers can share. Youth provision should not be an optional extra.

As an alternative to education, training or work there should be an option for every 16 and 17 year-old boy to spend six to 12 months in an environmental and community service corps. That would be voluntary, residential—away from home—and modestly paid. It would train young men in personal health, fitness and basic life skills and develop self-esteem and the ability to work in a team through adventure, endurance and calculated risk. Also, by giving back service to the community, it would be a stepping stone to independent living and enhance a young man's confidence and social skills and therefore his subsequent employability. A regular routine, feeling valued, friends and a sense of purpose would reduce exclusion and depression and enhance future prospects for a young person. The scheme would cost money. But so does building prisons. Surely it is better to spend money building up people than building prisons.

Finally, there is the new citizenship and PSHE curriculum. That offers a powerful motive for changing attitudes and developing skills. I believe that every child before he leaves school should learn about the parenting needs of children and the consequential responsibilities of parenthood; the need to prepare for parenthood; that in the age of effective contraception, to conceive an unwanted child is a form of child abuse on the part of both parties; the importance of considering and respecting other people's needs; and how to communicate with others, and so on.

Some of the changes which I have suggested may seem difficult and some may seem impossible. But, on the analogy of global warming, if the outcomes of past and present policy are leading us to disaster, the sooner we start to address the impossible the better. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am sure that, with the support of the whole House, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in introducing the debate has used any time flexibility. I hope that other noble Lords will ensure that they keep to their allotted times.

5.52 p.m.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for instigating the debate and for introducing it with such vigour and commitment. His concerns for young people are well known. He has covered much ground today already. His timing of the debate is, whether by chance or foresight, excellent, preceding, as it does, a conference tomorrow at the National Children's Bureau entitled "From Lads to Dads" which will explore issues relevant to the role of fathers. As a mother of two sons I am particularly interested in issues related to the development of boys. I, too, believe that they should and have much to offer.

Today I shall examine three questions. First, who are disadvantaged boys? Secondly, what may be the impact of that disadvantage? Thirdly, what are the implications for national and local policy and practice? The area is extremely complex and worthy of much research and discussion. I look forward very much to the contributions in the debate today.

Your Lordships will know that there is a vast literature on the emotional lives of children, suggesting that in many cases boys are not encouraged to talk about or show emotion, or to communicate with empathy. That is a real potential problem between fathers and their children, and surely even more so if other disadvantages are present.

So what is disadvantage? This is not necessarily material, although it may be; the materially well-off may be emotionally disadvantaged. Disadvantage is when circumstances so impinge on a person that his self-esteem becomes damaged which may lead to destructive behaviour. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, vividly described that. Boys are subject to unrealistic media portrayals of masculinity and manliness, expectations of being tough, male unemployment, families without fathers or positive male role models, bullying and discrimination of many kinds. It is little wonder that so many boys perform badly at school in their early years at least, and that mental health problems and suicide rates are high among young men. A boy growing up without a father figure may be more dependent on other role models. He may not have role models such as teachers at school. He may be vulnerable to distorted impressions of what masculinity is. Women are often charged with the affective, caring parts of schooling and of rearing children.

When I was involved in child development courses in schools I knew only one male teacher of child development. I knew only one boy who ever took the course. We cannot afford to exclude boys and men like that. They need positive encouragement to think of themselves as jointly responsible for parenting. That is increasing.

What is the impact of disadvantage? I believe that there may be confusion with identity and the lowering of self-esteem. If people do not feel good about themselves, they are less likely to care about others. They may turn to risk-taking and unsociable, even violent, behaviour.

We are concerned in this country with teenage pregnancy rates. The Government have set up a special unit to investigate the issue. In my experience girls do not get themselves pregnant. Do we know enough about the fathers? Are they disadvantaged? What is going on here? It is sad to be an unintentional parent; it is difficult to be an immature one. Boys can of course walk away. Many do. Surely, we need more research and interventions for young men, as well as young women, in relation to teenage pregnancy and more education about relationships, including parenting for both boys and girls.

I believe that young people are mainly responsible and care and that they deserve a voice. They worry about making good relationships. Recent research into young people's health concerns by the Institute of Education stated that,
"the most striking finding was an abiding concern amongst young people about the effects of relationships with family and friends on their sense of well-being"
and a need for more emotional support.

Research by the National Children's Bureau on pregnancy and parenthood showed that boys in public care wanted to get married and have children early, whereas boys in school wanted to delay marriage and parenthood. The boys in care wanted the love and the fathering they had not had. Sadly there was little evidence that they knew how to go about it or how to handle complex relationships. Work among young fathers in prisons by the Trust for the Study of Adolescence—I declare an interest as a trustee—showed a desire to be a good father and a view that life skills education in prison was of more use than many other activities there.

These pieces of research incline me to think that we need to listen more to what young people say they need and to base our responses on actual needs.

What can be done to help? Programmes such as Sure Start may well make a contribution to helping disadvantaged children. Sex and relationships and citizenship education in schools encourages young people to discuss together their hopes and expectations about relationships. The national healthy schools standard encourages incentives for inclusive education and the creation of a positive ethos in schools where good relationships are emphasised and encouraged. There are examples in communities which help boys to explore issues relating to masculinity and fathering, such as the Active Fathers project run by the Community Education Development Centre in Coventry. Such initiatives should be encouraged and, very importantly, evaluated so that we learn what is working. As a basis for action, more research should be carried out into the relationship between disadvantage and parenting.

We have touched on a key issue of parenting for society. Parenting is a difficult job in the best of circumstances. We need to support and encourage men and women to do the job well and to develop incentives, in particular for disadvantaged youth.

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My Lords, I wonder if I might draw to the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, the fact that we have now gained three minutes.

6 p.m.

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My Lords, this debate is an extension of the debate that we had last Wednesday on marriage and the family, initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. We are greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for giving us this further opportunity to debate a subject of very great interest and importance for the future of our nation. However, this debate is rather more specific. It concentrates on the importance of fathers in families as role models for preparing boys to become good fathers, and thereafter good citizens.

As the Member of Parliament for Croydon North East, I recollect attending a function in my constituency, when I said to a young man aged about 11, "What are you going to do when you grow up?", to which he replied, "I want to be like my Dad". There your Lordships have the answer. There can be no doubt that the influence and example of our parents shapes our future attitudes and our success in life—sometimes, sadly, our failures—and, in addition, of course, the future success or perhaps failure of our nation. Of course, it is true that for the first few years of a child's life the influence of a mother is paramount. Your Lordships may recall the words of James Barrie:
"The God to whom small boys say their prayers has a face very like their mothers'".
But later in a child's life, at about the age of seven, the father becomes the role model for boys.

In last weeks' debate, and again today, it has been pointed out that some 25 per cent of our country's children live in one-parent families—about 22 per cent of them with their mothers rather than with their fathers. We may not like it, but it is a fact of life. It is therefore essential that we seek to fill this gap. That is the importance of today's debate.

In my village of Brasted, Kent, is the headquarters of RPS Rainer, of which I am a vice-president. The Royal Philanthropic Society is one of our country's oldest charities, founded in 1788 to overcome and to assist the increasing number of homeless children then infesting the metropolis. So the subject that we are debating today is not exactly new. I believe that Samuel Johnson said that all men—he probably meant women, too—need to be reminded more than they need to be informed. This is not a new problem.

For some 200 years, RPS Rainer has been working with disaffected young people through 45 projects across the United Kingdom. Because this debate is time limited, I mention only three with a direct bearing on the topic of the debate this evening. The first is the Breaking the Cycle project, which targets the most disaffected and excluded young people in order to help them to develop their potential and to progress to become fully integrated members of society. The second is the Fresh Start programme, which works with socially excluded young men, many of them in prison, some 65 per cent of them fathers themselves, with responsibility for caring for their young babies and children. The third is the Simply Dads initiative— a parenting project for young fathers.

Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is absolutely right when he says that children need the security, predictability and commitment of two loving parents. A comment was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in last week's debate that it may be that by the year 2020 the number of married couples in this country will be in a minority. The noble Baroness said that if that materialised, we should become one of the first countries in history in which marriage is not the basis of society—a worrying thought. Given those comments and the statistics, we have to find some way of giving boys a role model to guide them in their path to maturity. Of course, partners can do this, but many boys will be living with their mothers and will not have that advantage—hence the importance of the initiatives of the kind that I have mentioned and the programmes that have a track record of success.

Time does not allow me to carry forward this debate from fatherhood to good citizenship, which is, of course, a natural progression. But, fortunately, the next speaker will be my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury. He and I have a joint interest in citizenship initiatives—he as chairman of the Citizenship Foundation, I as the founder president of the Institute for Citizenship. I make only one point. Good citizenship is not a matter of chance. It needs to be taught. Thankfully, it is, at long last, now part of the national curriculum.

It is equally true, of course, that today's boys are tomorrow's good citizens. In youth, they also need to be taught. I suggest that they need to be taught the five Rs, which, I remind your Lordships, are reading, writing, arithmetic, right and wrong. At best, those subjects probably can be taught, by example, only by mothers and fathers. Where there are no fathers, substitute fathers are important. The kind of mentoring programmes, run with such success over the years by RPS Rainer, and by other bodies such as local authorities and churches, are to be encouraged and applauded, as we this evening rightly applaud the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for enabling us to again debate this very important subject.

6.8 p.m.

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My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for this debate. I should also like to say how very much indebted we are to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for the work that he has done, ever since his days as Speaker, in the field of citizenship education. He has given a wonderful lead. If I may be permitted to disagree with him about one thing, it is in relation to his quotation from Johnson. I believe that it was the fact that we needed to be not so much informed as reminded. The problem is that many of those who are the subject of our debate this evening, the disadvantaged boys and young men in 2001, are in a position in which they need to be informed, and where there is too little to be reminded of.

The first point that I want to make to the House is that I do not see this Motion, which urges us to give more support to disadvantaged boys and young men, as directed to the Government. It is far too easy to look to the Government in these days. In many respects, the Government try to do too much and are expected to achieve too much. We need to throw back the ball of responsibility to the population at large—individuals, businesses, groups, churches, NGOs, charities, anybody and everyone. Too many think, "That is not for me". In saying that, I refer particularly to the business, commercial and professional world.

If one wanted to be simplistic, one would say that all of us are made up of two broad streams of attributes—heart, feelings, emotions and intuitions on the one hand; head, mind, intelligence and reason on the other. Those disadvantaged in terms of their rational faculties—I suggest that the group we are concerned about are certainly in that camp—are almost inevitably trapped, too, in their emotional ones. They often feel beleaguered, besieged and outcast, and hence suffer exaggerated fears and phobias, unmitigated by the intelligent analysis which is so important in balancing our emotions; and this in a world increasingly dominated by rational, materialist factors.

Those who fail intellectually are often emotionally illiterate. Abundant research has shown that that is so. Tragically, and again predictably, many of those we are concerned about merely exhibit the disadvantages of their parents. There is a terrible continuum of disadvantage which is so difficult to break. In the marriage debate in the House last week a good deal was said about that.

I should like to turn to a more difficult general issue. I refer to the context in which disadvantage occurs. The causes lie very deep and sometimes we make life easy for ourselves by not facing them. We live in an ever more competitive and aggressive world. Those two things go together in today's entrepreneurial society. It is an ever more insatiable society, because the modern market economy seems ignorant of the concept of sufficiency. It is a society ever more starkly materialist. The notion of vocation is becoming all but redundant. It is a society ever more self-centred, with the ideals of public service and the common good dying in our time. I exaggerate, of course, but not by much; and not at all if looked at from the ranks of the disadvantaged. The Social Exclusion Unit has produced a bumper edition entitled A New Commitment to Neighbourhood Renewal. It makes sober reading and I recommend that those who do not have it should get it and read it. It shows how deeply we are in the mire.

It is important that we look these contextual realities in the eye because they have a profound cultural influence on those boys and young men, often delinquent, that we are talking about. We must also face the fact that the effect of the aggressive, insatiable, selfish ideology which now dominates not only this country but the western world begets in the disadvantaged an equal and opposite response—aggressive, selfish, often ruthless and often anti-social. It is no good our saying, "Theirs is unlawful and wicked conduct". From their vantage point, so much of what passes for success in our world has the characteristics of amorality, if not immorality. I refer to excessive greed and total selfishness. I am afraid that the society of which we are part finds it almost impossible to do much about that.

These young men and boys come from broken, dispirited homes—often no homes. They have no hope. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, they have no self-esteem. They have no good role models, no respect and no self-respect. They have no sense of moral worth and no belief in the relevance or use to them of conventional morals. They have little guidance. They have no moral identity or autonomy and therefore have no ability or wish to analyse and reason morally. It is a crippling combination. With the emotional illiteracy goes that siege mentality which is cousin to alienation.

I should like to say a few words about penal policy. Maltreated dogs bite; so do maltreated humans. Dogs are shot; humans are locked up. What is the effect? What do we do to boys in detention and young men in our prisons? Frankly, it is a farce; a tragic pathetic farce; a self-defeating, ludicrous farce. If the great British public realised that we spend more on boys and young men in our penal institutions than we would if we sent them to Eton, perhaps they would sit up and take a little intelligent notice. But we as politicians must.

There is too much political name calling. The days when women and blacks were the subject of crass generalisation have, thank goodness, gone. But how often do we resort to "yobs" and "hooligans'', with no distinction between those to whom we are referring and no realisation of who they are, where they come from or what they do. I could wax eloquent about the Football (Disorder) Act, but I shall not. For much of the time we do not take them seriously.

I am deeply grateful to David Blunkett for the leadership he has shown in getting citizenship education onto the curriculum from Autumn 2002. We must not expect the schools to do that huge task for us, but how crucial it is that 5 per cent of the curriculum time will be devoted to a range of topics and to an enlargement of faculties that are crucial to the underpinning of citizenship. A sense of moral autonomy and of the ability to contribute to society are hallmarks of a good society.

Finally, I should like to refer to a programme being run by the Citizenship Foundation which may give the House a practical example of what can be done. It is designed to inculcate moral reasoning and to get young offenders to "flip" their attitudes towards law, society and authority by getting under their skin and putting them in the way of moral dilemmas which will engage them in thinking about the moral consequences of their conduct. One example is of a bail hostel located in an affluent area where most of the locals object. The young offenders are asked to put themselves in the shoes of the objecting locals, particularly where some of them have been the subject of burglary and violent crime. Funding of the project by the Youth Justice Board has led to some startlingly good results.

One of the areas in which we are backward in this country is in the development of moral reasoning and moral autonomy and getting young people suddenly to become excitedly aware of the fact that they can reason morally, that they are morally autonomous, that they can have an agenda of their own and that they are human beings.

6.18 p.m.

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My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for giving your Lordships the opportunity to discuss this important subject. No one has been more tenacious in drawing to the attention of your Lordships the need to support the family. It is somewhat daunting to follow such valuable and informed contributions.

We are living through a period of great social change. It is not something we can resist. For example, we can celebrate that in our society more and more people are living to an advanced age. In many families there are now four generations alive and in contact with each other. On the other hand, the birth rate has fallen and the size of the family unit continues to reach new low levels. In addition, geographic mobility, which is important in reacting to changing patterns of employment, means that far fewer people now live their lives in the area of their birth surrounded by a network of relatives and longstanding friends. And yet the means of keeping in touch with relatives and friends have never been easier.

However, as has already been referred to, not just the size of the family has changed but the structure of family units is now so much more varied than in the past. Yet we should acknowledge that the concept of the perfect family is probably more a theoretical notion than a practical reality. Although it is understandable that concerns are expressed about the facts, helpfully made clear by my noble friend Lord Northbourne—namely, that more couples prefer to live together rather than marry, that more marriages end in divorce, that more divorcees remarry and that more children are born out of wedlock—that need not necessarily present a picture of woe or despair.

I hope that noble Lords will allow me a personal reflection. When I began work as a probation officer, in some courts I attended we were faced with a stream of women living wretched lives because they were socially and economically locked into marriages in which the father of their children spent most of the family income on his own interests at the expense of the well-being of the family. These women were trapped in marriages that did not support them or their children and they had access to no other funding. Even if the court made an attachment-of-earnings order, the men often changed their employment. However, what was even worse and more striking for me was the prevailing attitude that this was the women's lot in life.

These experiences and others led me, as a mere man, to be an advocate of the rights of women: for them to have equal status with men, to have equal choice in their lives and to have equal freedom. Since those days, I think that we should acknowledge that some progress has been made. Perhaps it is not yet enough, but sufficient progress has been achieved for some men to have found it extremely difficult to adapt to the changed power of women in our society. As has already been pointed out, many men have found it easier simply to walk away.

However, the inability of some men to operate as partners in adult relationships by sharing responsibilities both inside and outside the home is not a reason to question the social and economic benefits of pursuing policies which are intended to enable about 51 per cent of the population to fulfil their potential and to contribute to the wealth and health of our society.

The task before us is to help more men understand the need to change and to help them develop new attitudes and skills. In many instances, more men are now able to claim that they represent "the new man", supporting the family unit, however that is constructed, and playing a much fuller role in parenting. However, we should not underestimate the change this entails. In the past, even the most conscientious fathers rarely changed nappies or felt inclined to cross the line they perceived to be the province of the mother. For that reason we need to acknowledge that full participation in the parenting of children is something that few men would claim to have had a role model for in their own fathers or that their mothers prepared them for it. In general, men do not have a great body of experience of a shared commitment to parenting. That is something which needs to change. It is for that reason that we should not become too discouraged if progress towards such a high ideal is slower than we would wish or that some men simply prefer to go absent.

I suggest that the challenge before us is threefold. First, we must be clear in all we say and emphasise in all our policies that becoming a parent is not only a huge responsibility but that it is also a lifetime commitment. Parenthood is not something to be tried to see whether it is enjoyable. It is not an experiment. It is something from which there is definitely no escape clause. Some modern marriages might have clauses of that kind but parenthood is for the long haul. Whatever the age, the social circumstances or the family structure, parenthood is the activity in life which should endure. It involves putting first and always the needs of the child, however inconvenient that may be. Parents might seek freedom to please themselves but dependent children cannot. Children have a right to look to their parents not only for physical care and nurturing but also for love, constancy, security and optimism about the future. Too often, children have to accommodate to the needs of the adults in their lives. They deserve better than that.

Secondly, it follows that every child should be a wanted child. It should be wanted as a cause for joy and celebration. Never before have both men and women had available access to contraception. Probably never before has sex been so openly discussed. Pregnancy should not occur as the result of ignorance. Adults are free to choose their lifestyles but we must emphasise that this should not be at the expense of defenceless children.

Thirdly, we should highlight the positive changes and celebrate good progress. For example, more men now attend ante-natal classes; more men are involved in childbirth; and more are willing to offer support to mothers. More men are willing to adjust their patterns of work in support of their wives and partners. More men are comfortable with celebrating the achievements of the women in their lives and take pleasure in their successes. More men enjoy playing a full part in all aspects of family life, which is something that we should promote, celebrate and encourage.

We are all agreed that the family is at the heart of society. In supporting the family, we need to be positive about encouraging and enabling men to be full partners in this great responsibility. It is for that reason that debates of this kind are so welcome.

6.26 p.m.

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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Northbourne for providing us with this opportunity. I should like to take advantage of it and pay tribute to his consistent and determined efforts on behalf of disadvantaged young men over many years.

Some weeks ago, I observed a scene of young men likely to have been without the care of a father. A 17 year-old was telling a group of other young men and two young women of his recent mugging. The narrator was bare-chested and only around 5 feet 5 inches, but of a very athletic build. His mobile phone had been stolen by a gang and he felt lucky to have escaped so lightly. His audience was enthralled by his account. Afterwards, the young people spoke of the "bloods" in London. A "blood" was originally a term used to describe a youth gang in Los Angeles. Playing loudly in the background was music which featured the strong language which the boy had used, including references to women as "prostitutes" as well as other pejorative terms.

Young men who lack a good, consistent male role model may confuse masculinity with brutishness. This is why mentoring is so important. The most vivid example of mentoring for boys I have seen was featured several years ago in a broadcast of the BBC "Panorama" programme. An Afro-Caribbean professional male was shown helping an Afro-Caribbean boy with his reading and writing at school. We were told that the man would regularly help the young boy in this way. The climax to the mentoring scheme was a visit made by the boy to the man's place of work. The Afro-Caribbean New Yorker, who was the originator of this work, came to London. The response here was mixed. An obstacle came in the shape of the leader of a London authority who could not understand why the mentor had to be a man rather than a woman. Several years on, mentoring is now the bread and butter of well-recognised groups such as the Divert Trust, the Prince's Trust, the Depaul Trust and RPS Rainer, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Weatherill.

Last week I visited the Westminster Youth Offending Team. It was with great pleasure that I listened to their way of working with young people, often boys with absent or uninvolved fathers. They used mentoring together with restorative justice and close partnerships with others from different disciplines to try to crack the nut of offending behaviour. I admired the experienced staff and their dedication to their work. It seemed to me that their approach, based on good principles, deserves to meet with success.

Perhaps I should sound an optimistic note in response to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who made some realistic but rather sad observations on the current penal system for young people. Some good work is being undertaken out there. The staff in the team are grateful for the resources generously made available for their work by the Government. However, my main concern remains that too much will be expected of them; namely, that public frustration at growing youth crime will put an end to this model, which promises good results with many young people. One has constantly to emphasise the great challenge these teams face.

The youth offending team ran an anger management group for young offenders, led by a female probation officer and a male police officer. Youth organisations will often try to pair up men and women as group leaders. This allows young people—our boys, for instance, or young men without the care of a father—to experience an example of a man and woman working closely, co-operatively and constructively together. It is a widely-held concern among psychologists that young men who see parental couples only arguing—if a couple they see at all—will not know how to sustain a relationship with a woman. My noble friend Lord Northbourne alluded to this when he described the "golden chain", his example of couples working together for their own good and the good of their family.

I suggest that this area of good practice needs to be given special priority. It is vital that boys can engage with a good adult of their gender, ethnicity and social background; it is equally vital that boys can engage with a mixed gender couple of their own ethnicity and background—such as the house master and his wife that my father had affection for when he was at public school.

To conclude, over the past 20 years the British family has been undermined on many fronts, as we have heard, one of the most important being the lack of investment in housing, health and education. Investment then may have helped families to deal with the other great social changes they have experienced. We now need to resource measures such as mentoring, which can mitigate the dread effects of this decline. We need to invest in and repair our faltering public services to prevent further deterioration. That the Government are beginning to address these two closely associated issues is most welcome.

6.32 p.m.

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My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for calling attention to the problems experienced by boys growing up without the care of a father, and for his call for resources. I shall speak specifically of Caribbean/ British boys.

This issue has exercised my mind considerably, having worked with unsupported mothers in the Deptford area over some years. I ask myself the question: what can be done? How will resources resolve the question of preparing boys to become responsible citizens? Each time I am left with a further question: when does a boy become a man? We have the equation: man/woman, boy/girl. We know that a girl becomes a woman when she reaches puberty. Can we say the same about boys—or do we say that only about white boys?

I pose this question because I often hear from fellow Peers and people outside how well they were looked after by their "boys" in the colonies. "Hearts of gold" was often the expression used by some. I had the temerity to ask how old were these boys. Imagine my surprise to learn from some that they were often as young as 18 and certainly as old as 70. My predicament is whether there is a magic moment when black boys become men—or do white boys become men before black boys? I leave it to those with wisdom to enlighten me because I am miles away from a solution.

What then is the reality of the situation with which we must deal? Let me try to create a little setting. I ask noble Lords to reflect, if you will, on your first visit to this House. Try to recall how awed you were with the splendour and greatness of this building, its contributors and their contributions. I suspect that, like me, you felt rather proud to be part of this great nation. Imagine the similar impact that this experience has had on the billions of tourists who have viewed this Palace. I ask noble Lords to think back: did you see anyone who looks like me? Did you receive any impression that black people were part of the tapestry of this nation?

There is one place where a black person can be seen; that is in the painting of the Battle of Trafalgar, where a negro is depicted as a snitch. I wonder whether noble Lords realise what impression that has on a young black person.

I ask noble Lords to imagine how the attitudes of those around us are formed. Interestingly, I know that it is from buildings such as these and from museums that our textbooks are developed. One is forced to believe that it is not by accident that one group of people have, throughout history, been treated less favourably than their white counterparts. We need now in this country greater resources to facilitate the unlearning that is required to change the attitudes of those who have been so treated and to establish a pride of belonging.

Much has been done, but much more needs to be undertaken if we are to find a solution. We must, first, recognise that the re-education of black children is everyone's responsibility. We need school booster groups: organisations of those who have survived this crisis and who are committed to the survival of their brothers and sisters. Such people are around and must be utilised. An effort must be made to restore the school as the nerve centre of the community by forming consortiums of various organisations and institutional representatives of the community, including even the street academics. The Teenage Kings is an organisation of young people who are determined that they want to improve their community as part of the whole, who respect and understand the National Anthem.

The future of Britain could well be determined by what this debate puts on the table today. If only half of it is taken on board and put into action, I believe that we can build a society of good citizens—but we must be aware that it is not going to be the same as the one that was there some years before.

I hear much talk about role models. I understand that there is not one Chair in any university in this country that is occupied by a black person. I can assure the House that over the years we have produced worthies, who can be role models to the up and coming generation. There is not one theatre owned or managed by a black person or group. If we examine the eminences in the Church, we can count on one hand those who have managed to break through the glass ceiling.

Every individual needs to feel valued and acknowledged to promote dignity and self-sufficiency. We should all enjoy, regardless of class, colour or creed, all that society has to offer. A two-parent family is desirable but not always possible; but a supporting community, leading to a supportive society, builds individuals, encourages growth and gives a wholeness to the creation of good citizens. As the poet said:
"It ain't the rap, it's the map.
It ain't the man, it's the plan".

6.40 p.m.

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My Lords, I, too, begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for giving us this opportunity to debate what is often an overlooked aspect of a much wider concern and provision for the young—a need which few, if we are honest, know how to address and which, therefore, many agencies both statutory and voluntary simply allow to go by default.

It seems to me that this is a debate about responsibility—duty. It is about our responsibility to society for a group of disadvantaged younger people, distinguished on this occasion in a quite politically incorrect way by their gender. It is also vitally concerned with providing appropriate support and resources in education, training and mentoring so that those disadvantaged young men may become citizens and fathers with a sense of responsibility themselves which both these states of life demand in a civilised society.

Of course, as has been said, in an ideal society the responsibility for the nurture into becoming a responsible adult would belong to the family—to the young man's parents and grandparents. But in our present society, where people now speak openly of the dysfunction of families and of single mothers who sometimes struggle to raise their teenage children—indeed, I suspect that we all struggle at times to raise teenage children—role models for male citizenship and for fatherhood may be lacking.

It is not for nothing that I believe a responsible government have been concerned to make citizenship and personal social education part of the national curriculum. I believe that this is an attempt to address real need. However, as I have said on previous occasions in your Lordships' House, we must not expect too much of what even the most gifted teachers can achieve in the nurture process. That is made particularly difficult these days in the personal relationships that are required between teachers and their students, or pupils, in order to develop the kind of models about which we are talking. In this age, when people go to litigation so easily for matters that would not have been dreamed about in a former time, this aspect of the teaching profession is made extremely difficult. I also wish that we could engage more in those extra-curricular activities, both sporting and cultural, that were such a feature of education and which did so much to fashion so many of us in an earlier generation.

Of course, as we have heard, the reasons for young males being disadvantaged are complex. In some areas it is the changing nature of employment where macho-type jobs in heavy industry, which, quite frankly, exhausted those who worked in them, have been replaced by work opportunities which in that particular culture seem more appropriate to young women. Mining and shipbuilding come quickly to mind. However, we must not forget that this is now increasingly true in agriculture. It is not simply an urban problem; it is also a rural problem.

As has already been said, it is, above all, the changing roles and expectations between male and female brought about during the last century that: have led to young males feeling a lack of identity and of self-worth. It can sometimes appear to them that society is only—or mainly—concerned with women's rights and needs, proper as those campaigns and that development have been, in my opinion. But if you are a disadvantaged male, it appears rather different than if you are an advantaged person. We hear much of teenage mothers, but hardly anything about young fathers and their needs and responsibilities, or their part in parenting.

If we are to address the situation outlined in the noble Lord's Motion, we need, above all, to motivate those disadvantaged young men. We need to motivate them to see the point and purpose of their lives. I am aware that many adult men often find it difficult—indeed, have traditionally found it so—to accept the responsibility of parenthood. That is why, when the note comes from the head teacher requiring the parents to visit the school, it is more often than not the mother who attends. That has been a traditional part of our culture. We must not overplay how important fathers have been in that process. Nevertheless, the situation is much more difficult today.

It is relatively easy in this House to identify the problem, but I suggest that it is very much harder to motivate those young men about whom we are speaking to engage in certain activities. If noble Lords do not believe me, they have only to look at the average response to those activities in our young society that address life, growing up and relationships, be they activities in schools, colleges or in the youth organisations. It is very difficult to engage in clubbable activities that did so much in an earlier generation to achieve what we are looking for today. I suspect—here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne—that local authorities have allowed their resourcing to run down. They have got away with it because they have had one model and that model is no longer seen as being applicable to many of the people about whom we are speaking.

We must hope that the new Learning and Skills Council will not only be concerned with employment—important though that is in this context—but that it will also address these wider issues about life and living. I agree absolutely with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. This Motion challenges not only government and statutory bodies; it also challenges voluntary agencies, Churches, faith communities and charities. They must all try to address this need in an imaginative way with appropriate human and financial resources, which are not always easily available.

I am optimistic up to a point about the attempt that is being made. As I prepared for this debate, I was made aware of projects like the one recently set up by the Children's Society in Brighton. I have also been made aware of the YMCA's "Dads and Lads" programme, and of some recent work undertaken by the Diocese of Truro in Cornwall. I believe that we need to monitor the results of this work and, above all, to share good practice where it is available. That may be one of the positive outcomes of this debate in your Lordships' House tonight.

However, perhaps the first task is to get behind the specific future roles of fathers and citizenship and to begin working with the young people simply as regards what it means to be a young man who will become a man. We must work through the issues and tackle apathy—the sense of worthlessness—where it exists, and which is so destructive to a vibrant, civilised society. But I believe that it depends on the age of the boys or the young men whether one should best try to do that through, as it were, an "own gender" approach, or whether it is better accomplished at times with young women being present who might motivate some young men to take an interest and participate in training programmes.

I must confess to having no clear answers about the subject that we are debating this evening. However, on behalf of the Churches, I should like to express the hope that we may be one group in the community that will help to address this issue. In Judaeo-Christian theology and tradition, it seems to me that both the notion of fatherhood and of human responsibility for the creation of a good society are extremely important.

6.48 p.m.

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My Lords, along with the other noble Lords who have spoken, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for the opportunity that this debate gives us to address an ever-deepening problem. I am grateful, too, for the position paper that the noble Lord wrote during the run-up to Christmas.

There are apparently inherent disadvantages in being a human male. You are—to a statistically significant degree—more likely than females to suffer slings and arrows of varying severity from red-green colour blindness, like me, to autism, even to suicide. And you are 25 times more likely to get a prison sentence before you are 30.

This last fate is especially relevant to the condition specified in the terms of this debate of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne:
"boys growing up without the care of a father".
For it turns out that boys—a further limiting characteristic of the male—seem much more dependent than are girls on a happy, two-parent environment. Without it, they are far more likely than girls to get involved in street gangs, in truancy, in exclusion from school and in other dark alleys that lead to Portland, Feltham, or even Pentonville.

There is a depressingly voluminous literature on the relation between home background and delinquency, but if I might draw attention to just one recent and conveniently brief item, it would be the Home Office Research Study, number 209, the Youth Lifestyles

Survey, published just a few months ago. For example, the table 3.1 measures the relation between various parameters of parental care and its relative absence on the one hand, and on the other the occurrence of serious offences at various ages. Without parental care, boys of 17 and below are twice as likely to get into trouble. Girls in this age band offend significantly less but the dependence on parental care is just as strong. Over 17, however, the position is strikingly different. Not only does female offending drop down far more sharply than male offending, but the dependence of the young women on parental care almost entirely disappears, whereas for the young men this dependency remains as strong as ever. In other words, the legacy of parental neglect continues to blight male lives throughout their twenties and beyond.

This difference between the sexes is brought out sharply in a histogram on page 33 of the Home Office survey. It shows that where a boy is brought up by a lone parent he is 40 per cent more likely to become a serious offender than a boy who is brought up with his two natural parents. Girls, however, have exactly the same rather low offender rate irrespective of this particular difference in family structure. As a parenthesis I might add that in stepfamilies the male offending rate is about the same as in one-parent families whereas for girls the offending rate in stepfamilies doubles from either of the other family structures.

Let me cite one other set of data from this Home Office survey. Table 3.2 relates offending to school performance and shows that if you detest school, or if you do worse at school than your peers, or if you leave school without qualifications, you are—in each case—two or three times more liable to become an offender, whether you are a boy or a girl. So the school experience is vitally important for girls and boys alike. But if you are a boy, the table goes on to show, you are a further two or three times more liable to commit offences—and these are especially violent offences.

In the musical version of Shaw's Pygmalion, the question arises, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" There are times when the converse question must surely have occurred to teachers, to social workers, to police and perhaps even to parents. Indeed, we are told that in the United States there is a movement to promote the idea of bringing up boys as though they were girls, with a view to making them gentler and less laddish.

But rather than attempts at social engineering to achieve psychological emasculation, we should be seeking ways to channel all that is valuable in a boy's masculinity into positive directions that will help him to take up his complementary and constructive role in a two sex society. And if this channelling cannot be conducted in a two parent home, the main responsibility falls on the educational services, on a civilising curriculum, on the wisdom of teachers and on the preparation of all children for a productive life. So, of course, if, through truancy or school exclusion, a youngster ends up in Feltham or some other Young Offender Institution, we must be far more insistent than we have so far been to ensure that the opportunity is seized to supply, belatedly and within the institutions, some of the civilising and career envisaging and self-respect enhancing influence that education can exercise.

This is not the occasion to reiterate my complaints about the low quality and minute quantity of educational provision in YOIs and prisons—the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has already referred to this issue—nor to repeat criticisms by Sir David Ramsbotham in numerous reports or by a former Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, or by the present Attorney-General himself, for example, on 15th December 1998 in this House, at col. 1229 of the Official Report. But the offenders and prisoners concerned are in disproportionately large measure a product of the conditions that are the subject of this debate.

6.56 p.m.

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My Lords, it is always instructive to follow the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. On this occasion he has placed before us a number of crucial statistics on juvenile delinquency. I say in all humility that they fit in with my experience of such matters.

My main purpose is to give total support to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I am afraid that I shall not add any practical suggestions to the many that have been put forward with so much wisdom today. However, I want to strengthen the case for the kind of approach of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I speak as an old-fashioned father. New-fashioned fathers, I gather, spend a lot of time changing nappies. I do not know how many noble Lords spend their time changing nappies. I would not know a nappy if I saw one—I do not know how many other noble Lords would. As I say, I am an old-fashioned father. I can only plead that I did at least spend 15 years visiting four sons at Ampleforth. If any noble Lords know where Ampleforth is, they will know that it is not next door to London.

I plead the case for fatherhood in general. I do not think that it is easy to establish a direct connection between the way that any father treats his son and the way the son turns out. I have recently lost my godson, Auberon Waugh, of whom I was very fond. A great deal of attention was paid to him in the press. He was described by a fellow journalist of distinction as the most brilliant journalist of his time. Auberon Waugh, according to what we read, was badly treated by his father who was my old, close friend whom I knew much better than I ever knew Bron. It seems that, in spite of the treatment he received from his father, he loved him. He spent his time writing about him and praising him. He waged a positive vendetta against anyone who seemed to be his father's enemy. So one cannot be sure how things will turn out.

Nevertheless, if I had to think of good men of my generation—of course, there are plenty that I did not know and plenty that I did know but cannot men tion—I think of three: Aidan Crawley, best known as a cricketer but famous for many other reasons, John

Redcliffe-Maud and Jack Donaldson, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. All three of us are the children of clergymen, as distinguished in their way as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. Of those, one was the son of a bishop. Talking of bishops, I think of the broadcaster, Jon Snow. I do not know what his religious views are at the moment. I have known him for many years; he is my youngest friend. He is the son of a bishop. Every time I listen to him interrogating his eminent victims I think that his father would have been proud of him. That kind of religious influence is a good influence.

On the other hand, we have the other extreme. The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, and others have said how terrible it is for young people not to have had such treatment. If one has visited prisons for as long as I have, one finds that in a high proportion of cases home life has been very unsatisfactory. I think in particular of two men. Both have committed terrible crimes. One is now in a secure hospital. I think of Ian Brady and Dennis Nilsen. I call them my friends; I am not sure what they would say about me. I have known them both for a long time. I have known Ian Brady for 30 years. They were both illegitimate. What effect did that have on them? No one can deny that it has a damaging effect.

When I appear before St Peter, he may well say, like Abraham said to Dives, "You've had a good time in your lifetime and he has had a terrible time", so perhaps there will be a levelling up. I do not make any forecasts.

I had a wonderful father. He was killed leading his brigade at Gallipoli when I was eight. He was a wonderful example. The brother of Sir Stafford Cripps told me afterwards that when my father was leading his brigade to certain death in Gallipoli—they were under a hail of Turkish bullets—he said to Cripps, "We should stop ducking, Fred. The men don't like it. We don't do any good". My father was killed soon afterwards. His was a wonderful example. The role model of a father which comes to an end when you are eight is somewhat different from the role model of a father who looks after you throughout childhood and adolescence.

I come back to a remark of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. He quoted my dear wife's niece, Harriet Harman: that what we need is a father, not the money. When I was at Eton a missionary used to come each year to give a sermon, appealing for money. He would say, "It's not your money I want, though God knows I need it; it is you, my dear fellows, you". That is the message from the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, today.

7.3 p.m.

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My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Northbourne for introducing this debate today.

I should like to say something about the issue from a criminal justice perspective and in so doing should declare an interest as a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police where I am a commander with responsibility for the force's training. Most of my career, however, has been in operational roles—in Lambeth, Southwark, Peckham and Rotherhithe. I served for five years as the superintendent for Slough. Those communities manifested many of the symptoms of disadvantage to which my noble friend refers, with young boys having to negotiate a set of risks which were largely unknown to their parents, irrespective of social background or gender.

The average age at which offending begins for boys is 13½ and while there is little difference in the proportion of girls and boys offending at the age of 12 or 13, after that the difference becomes marked. The peak age of offending for girls is 14 while the proportion of male offenders starts to decline only after the age of 21. These findings from the 1998 Youth Lifestyles survey, to which my noble friend Lord Quirk referred, support those of a previous study in 1992 and show that girls "grow out of crime" at an earlier age than boys.

For boys aged 12 to 17 the factors most strongly associated with serious or persistent offending were the use of drugs, disaffection from school, persistent truancy or exclusion and weak family attachments. Many risk factors coincide or are interrelated. These findings validate earlier work for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which examined the background, circumstances and attitudes of offenders. That study identified social and economic deprivation as important predictors of anti-social behaviour. It showed that the risks of becoming criminally involved were higher for boys raised in disorganised inner city areas, characterised by physical deterioration and overcrowded households. Comparatively small proportions of the population—about 5 per cent of males—were found to be chronic offenders who accounted for about half of all known offending. Young boys who committed crime from an early age were especially likely to become persistent offenders with long criminal careers.

A lot is now known about what works in reducing such risk factors, including the importance of young boys having trusting relationships with adult role models. But it is, I believe, important to recognise individuality, to listen to young people, and not to perceive them as some homogeneous and problematic entity.

A study of young people moving into adulthood in a disadvantaged neighbourhood in north-east England illustrates the point. It discovered that, despite sharing very similar backgrounds and coming from the same place, young people's experiences during youth and early adulthood differed widely. The only exception in fact was in their criminal careers where typically these young boys—they were predominantly boys—had participated with their peers in street drinking, drug use and petty crime from an early age and had later progressed to more serious crime and drug use. The study found a strong relationship between boys becoming involved in regular truancy, exclusion from school and the likelihood that they would become involved in delinquency and crime.

I know from my own experience how easy it is for a relatively small group of young men to create an estate culture in which crime and anti-social behaviour become tolerated as inevitable and low expectations become universal. Very soon a set of deviant norms develop and strong pressure is exerted on other boys to conform to them.

Reinforcing the support systems which exist in families and communities is, therefore, important and I understand that the new Connections programme, to which my noble friend Lord Northbourne, referred will seek out those most at risk of disadvantage. Reaching such young people, winning their confidence and developing long-term relationships with them will demand patience and skill, and we have reason to be grateful to all those involved in such work. That includes police officers who throughout the country are involved in strategies to support boys effectively through adolescence, identifying risks and developing ways of reducing these. This often means shifting resources into prevention and helping children and parents to deal with problems before they become acute.

In Thames Valley, for example, we work closely with schools and families using the principles of restorative justice, to which my noble friend Lord Listowel also referred, to address bullying, which was placing those involved at risk of exclusion. Such work is relevant to our debate today since 83 per cent of excluded pupils are boys and research has shown that those same boys generally experience considerable associated disadvantage with high levels of family stress, unemployment and low income.

Police officers are also supporting the work of young offending teams, working with others to help young people address offending behaviour. The recent evaluation from the national pilot schemes has demonstrated the benefits of such partnership approaches. Officers are also supporting the work of youth inclusion programmes on some of the most highly deprived estates in England and Wales, giving young people between 13 and 16, who may be at risk of offending, access to education, training, mentoring and addiction support.

They are also partners in the "on track" initiative being piloted in areas with high levels of crime or disadvantage. Here preventive schemes are being developed for children aged between four and 12 and their families. The scheme aims to identify children at risk of offending and to provide them and their families with consistent support throughout the period of the child's development. The initiative places a clear strategic focus on crime prevention.

Officers also support the summer holiday schemes targeted at young people at risk of becoming involved in crime, which have had some impact on reducing youth crime levels. The service also seeks to promote among young people greater awareness of their social and moral responsibilities. For example, the Metropolitan Police volunteer cadet scheme promotes good citizenship by involving young people in community crime prevention initiatives and helping special constables at community events. The cadets have the chance to develop their personal qualities and skills. Last year they assisted the force with over 5,500 hours of duty. Such schemes have the potential to complement other national initiatives that promote citizenship in schools and to stimulate the interest of young people who may be considering a career in the police service.

Giving support to boys and young men in a situation of disadvantage is a desirable objective, as it will allow them to realise their potential and achieve all that they can in their lives. More than that, it may prevent offending now and in the future. There is substantial research to show that if family members engage in crime, children are likely to copy their behaviour. There is still much to be done. I am confident that the police service will continue to play its part in this important work.

7.11 p.m.

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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, whose front-line experience is most relevant. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for giving us a chance to focus again on the current plight of boys in our society, which I believe and hope is only a temporary situation. The noble Lord has been much complimented for his tenacious pursuit of the issue. May he keep going at it.

Today we have focused on boys without fathers—a particular sub-group of the young male population. I shall concentrate on four aspects of the debate so far. Several noble Lords referred to the poor use that is made of time spent in prison. As a former prison social worker, I entirely agree. The noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, told us about the extra difficulties that young black boys have when growing up. I normally spend my time wondering how young Scots are getting on. I realise that young Scots are doing very well in a comparatively easy task.

The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to the "be like my dad" syndrome. That is a two-edged sword. The outcome can be admirable or disastrous. The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, pointed out that boys are more dependent for success in life on a happy family background. That point had eluded me in the past.

There is no doubt that today's boys are growing up in a changing culture where the position of girls has rightly improved. That has led to the displacement of boys into a bit of a vacuum. That social and cultural readjustment is interesting to social scientists and perplexing for those trying to grow up at the moment.

So far, I have referred to all boys. The debate relates to boys without fathers. As a sub-culture, children without fathers must be presumed to have always been at a disadvantage. We should grasp the presumption that, in most cases, regular contact with both parents is beneficial. There is some pussyfooting around on the issue at the moment. I doubt that there is a substantive case for promoting single parenthood as a first choice. We should reinforce the merit of boys and girls having regular contact with both their parents if that is practical.

But then I need to remind myself that I have been a step-parent for the past 26 years. Whereas I start by arguing that a boy needs to grow up with both his parents to understand his genetic make-up—an admittedly esoteric subject for any child—and to be able to respond to the role model offered by those two parents, I have to accept that there may be a fundamental complexity in the step-child/step-parent relationship. In a nutshell, it is a struggle between nature and nurture. Put another way, the child is being offered a role model by someone whose nature they do not share. That is the special task of the step-parent. I support the availability of any long-term, ongoing relationship between a child and an adult in the parental role.

A word about the role of the extended family is necessary. Literature and experience give us the impression that the extended family used to play a significant part in the upbringing of children. I suspect that the situation was not always rosy, but smaller families and greater mobility may well have taken their toll. Extended families are fewer in number and close relatives do not always live just round the corner.

The plain fact is that some men are cut out for fatherhood and others are not. It is perverse that some separated fathers have a better relationship with their children on alternate Saturdays than they would have had if they had remained at home.

Boys need to be given positive experiences that build on their propensity to single-mindedness. Some of those opportunities should be physical, to run off excess energy, and others should be of a social, cultural, environmental or recreational nature. Experience in social work with offenders reminds me that many minor offences have occurred when the young person has gone out of the house with no particular aim. The probation supervisor's classic advice is to stay in the house unless you are going somewhere definite.

It is not for society to prescribe how children should be brought up, but it is reasonable to identify the pitfalls and the possible remedies. That means that the mother of a boy disconnected from his father and any other long-term father figure needs to work hard to fulfil both female and male roles. That means encouraging men in the extended family to play a part and finding activity groups for the boys that include men in their leadership.

At this point we run into more of society's current problems, which have already been referred to: the non-availability, even in a new form, of what was once known generally as the youth service; and the new litigious nature of society, which brings the dreaded issue of liability. The non-availability of youth work resources needs to be reversed. It will cost money, but I argue the case on the grounds of collective responsibility. Where does it get us if boys grow up believing that success is for others? Such desperation is rarely motivating. It usually leads to a feeling of exclusion and disaffection.

The Government and others—definitely others—must re-engage with youth work and so demonstrate social responsibility and community involvement.

7.19 p.m.

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My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for initiating the debate and bringing to it all the experience for which he has such a reputation in your Lordships' House. He has rightly drawn attention to the problems that we have inherited, including the decline in heavy engineering, mining and the Armed Forces, the decline of Victorian values and the increased career prospects for women. That inheritance is nobody's fault, but we must emphatically not be complacent. The debate has shown that there is no danger of that.

We are discussing the role of fathers, or, as in so many cases, the absence of fathers. In this day and age, it is possible to say that it has ever been thus. The role of the father is more difficult to define, if only because, by contrast, the role of the mother in physiological terms is so clear. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, drew attention to J M Barrie's remark that the Almighty in appearance bore a remarkable resemblance to the child's mother.

The noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, gave some interesting figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Another statistic possibly puts this problem into perspective: despite all that is said on the subject, seven out of 10 families consist of dependent children living with their birth parents, and 70 per cent of non-resident fathers have contact with their children. However, in each case there is a significant minority with which, of course, this debate is concerned.

British men work the longest hours in Europe. That, in itself, must be a serious handicap to effective fatherhood. As many noble Lords have said, despite the hands-on reality of fathering for many men, the cultural stereotype of fathers as breadwinners and providers continues to exert a strong influence over men's, women's and children's attitudes to parenthood. Lest it be thought that bad fatherhood is peculiar to the lower end of the social spectrum, it may come as some surprise that a survey by the National Child Development Study showed that among parents with graduate qualifications only 35 per cent said that they took an equal share of childcare, while among men with few or no qualifications, the figure was 58 per cent.

But whatever section of society the boys come from—this has been referred to by several noble Lords—a feeling of inadequacy and loss of self-esteem follows if the fathers, for whatever reason, are not in a position to fulfil that role. That, in turn, leads to their failure to play a proper part in the care of the children.

This debate has two agendas: how to make better fathers and how to help boys who have no fathers at all. Perhaps I may quote from a finding of the National Fatherhood Initiative—an American organisation—which expresses the matter so well:
"We have simply changed our minds about the importance of fathers to the well-being of children and families. We have so truncated the role of fathers to where we now say a good father is someone who provides money … It's far more than just economic. In fact, the non-economic contributions are more important, things like being a good nurturer, a good disciplinarian, a teacher, a moral instructor. These are things we used to look to fathers to contribute to the well-being of their children".
It is all too easy to see the temptation for fatherless boys to seek their male outlet by becoming part of a gang, with all the potentially adverse consequences of drifting into crime to which that can lead. It would be impertinent for me to try to add to what the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, spoke about from his own personal experience.

What are the possibilities of, as it were, deflecting that and offering an acceptable father substitute? The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, mentioned the need for more male teachers. He, together with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and the noble Earl, referred to the need for good leaders in the youth service to help with youth clubs, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, the scout movement and the many other organisations mentioned.

Here, I must mention the ball and chain with which we in this country are shackling ourselves—that is, the politically correct culture. How many good young leaders are inhibited or, indeed, discouraged altogether from entering voluntary youth service, where quite innocent physical contact or perhaps simply a well-meant remark can lead to litigation being brought for alleged sexual abuse? That point was referred to obliquely by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. That problem must be faced, but it must not deter either government or the voluntary sector from endeavouring to fill in a constructive way the void left by the totally absent father.

In the United States the "Big Brother, Big Sister" initiative, where the aim is to introduce an older brother or sister as a role model, has had widespread success. Like many successful American initiatives of that kind, the idiom may not be entirely appropriate to the United Kingdom but the concept will well repay study.

The recent proposal put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in relation to the increased role of the voluntary sector will, I hope, embrace initiatives in connection with youth work. In particular, I should be interested to hear from the Minister whether mentoring embraces such work. That, surely, presents the great opportunity to reach out in particular to the fatherless boys who are so in need of that old-fashioned word "leadership", or guidance, role model or whatever one chooses to call it.

I am quite sure that the problem of father/son relationships is not new to this generation. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred to the decline of Victorian values. But how many Victorian sons were in terror of their father and probably passed on that terror to their own sons? It may have made for a stable marriage but some people would have been very unhappy.

At present, matters are certainly different. We live in an age in which greater resources are available and communication and the ability to discuss these issues is so much more developed. This debate has provided a good forum to discuss the subject. We must be very grateful to the noble Lord.

7.26 p.m.

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My Lords, together with other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for providing us with the opportunity to discuss these important issues. I express particular gratitude for the way in which he introduced the debate and identified with great accuracy the nature of the problem. I believed that he had covered the issues so well that there would be little for others to add in the development of the debate. Of course, I was immediately proved wrong on that score, and I shall read with particular interest in Hansard the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. He added depth to the nature of the problems which we all face and which, I must confess, I considered were in any case profound enough.

We all know that over the past few decades family structures have seen considerable changes: the divorce rate has risen substantially; fewer people are choosing to marry; and those who marry do so in later life. An increasing number of children are born to parents who are unmarried and more children than ever before are growing up in step-families and single-parent families. Of course, we need to recognise that those changes are the result of choices that people have made about the way that they want to live. It would be inappropriate for any government to try to tell people how they should live or how they should structure their families. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, indicated, even if we tried we would be singularly unsuccessful and doomed to fail.

Therefore, the role of a responsible government is to provide all families with advice and support and to help them to give their children the best possible start in life. I was grateful to my noble friend Lady Howells, who provided some breadth as to the nature of our society and the reasons why we need to develop an understanding of the needs of our fellow citizens in all their diversity.

Of course, the Government fully recognise the important role that most fathers play in raising their children. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, for identifying the percentage of our fellow citizens who fulfil their role in terms of parenthood. The debate has illustrated clearly how important it is that we get right this area of work. The Government are working hard to support fathers in carrying out their responsibilities. This debate assists in identifying fruitful paths which we can follow in that respect.

The Government recognise that the role of fathers needs to be given greater prominence. In the past, the importance of the father's role in shaping the lives of children has been underestimated. We know it has been clearly demonstrated by the contributions to this debate—that strong links exist between the role of fathers in the family and the life outcomes of boys and young men.

A number of obstacles prevents many fathers from playing a full role in the lives of their children. Those obstacles have been identified in this debate. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, reminded us that British men—and women too—work some of the longest hours in Europe. One in five men works more than 50 hours per week, and most of the men who are employed to that extent are fathers with dependent children. Many fathers feel that they should be able to provide and care for their family without having to seek help. They feel that a man's role is to be strong and they regard it as a failure to have to ask for help.

Many services have therefore been targeted at women or, by being gender neutral, have attracted only women. We must ensure that services aimed at parents do not implicitly or actively exclude fathers or affect the role that men need to play and their contribution. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for discussing the need for men to get more involved in such services. We also need to recognise the cultural change that is required in relation to the way in which parenthood is fulfilled by men. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Laming, for his contribution and for raising that point. We have the extensive job of educating men in then role as fathers in contemporary society.

What are the Government doing? We want to change the culture involving parenting support. We want parents, especially fathers, who can find this particularly difficult, to regard asking for help and support as a positive step in the role that they play caring for their children. That step is taken by a responsible parent for the good of the family, and it is not regarded as a sign of weakness or an admission of failure. One or two noble Lords discussed that. We have all felt a sense of failure, if not on occasion desperation, at some stage in our lives as parents. Even the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn discussed that moment of doubt that we have all felt as parents.

The Government alone cannot change that culture, but we are making a start through key initiatives such as Sure Start, the Children's Fund and the family support grants. Those initiatives are already making a difference to the quality and availability of support for all parents, including fathers. Sure Start is targeted particularly at fathers in disadvantaged sections of our community.

It is also important to understand that if we want to help young fathers to take an active interest in and responsibility for their children, we must first help them to raise their self-esteem. The significance of government initiatives such as the New Deal is clear in that context. One of the best ways for the unemployed to do that is to obtain work and to acquire a significant bread-winning role in the family.

Since 1997, the Government's New Deal has been a considerable success. More than 81,000 employers have signed employer agreements. Between 1997 and the spring of 2000, the number of children living in families claiming out-of-work benefits fell by 300,000. By the end of September last year, the Government had met their manifesto pledge to move 250,000 young people off benefit and into work through the New Deal for young people.

My right honourable friend in another place announced only today another initiative involving status and opportunity which is particularly relevant to young males. He emphasised the need to tackle drop-out rates from school. That problem was also identified by the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, and he related it to the problem of criminal activity. The truanting of young people may occur because they are not sufficiently engaged at school; that may be why they fall into bad ways. My right honourable friend in another place today emphasised the need to broaden the curriculum and to provide opportunities through vocational educational schemes. That will help those students who previously felt that the provision of education for the under-16s was too limited and that they were failing. They will see a closer relationship between the studies they engage in and the opportunity to earn their living directly.

The Government are determined that young people who want a career that is based on vocational and technical skills should be able to choose predominantly vocational programmes of study from the age of 14, and that that will include progression to an apprenticeship at the age of 16. That will, I am sure, begin to tackle a matter to which the Government have paid a great deal of attention; namely, the need to reduce the number of young people who are excluded from school or who exclude themselves through truancy.

The development of the concept of citizenship in the curriculum is an important dimension. That change was referred to by several noble Lords, two of whom, the noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Phillips, have played a distinguished role in that context. We cannot over-emphasise the contribution that such a change will make, although it will be a marginal part of the curriculum. Nevertheless, it will provide a framework in which young people should be able to understand in more detail their role, their rights and their responsibilities in the development of our society. I hope that that work, which is being carried out with good intentions in schools, will extend into further education for those over 16.

The Government are concerned about providing financial support for families. The issue of poverty has underwritten many of the problems that have been identified in this debate. The tax and benefits system needs to support all children and to recognise the extra costs and responsibilities that parents face and the importance of our children to our future. When all the measures that will be introduced during this Parliament have come into effect, the tax burden on a family with a single earner on average earnings with two children will be the lowest since 1972.

The Government are also committed to working with employers to enable fathers to find a better balance between their work and their family life. That relates to the long hours that many fathers work. The Government are providing £2.5 million over two years for the new work-life balance challenge fund, which will provide free advice to employers to develop work-life balance policies. We are getting a good response to that initiative.

The Government have also established the Family Support Grant to develop and promote family support. About £7 million will be given over three years to organisations that provide support for families. Each year, a portion of the grant is awarded to themed applications. That relates to the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who said that it was important to have effective targeting in the distribution of such resources. I assure him that that is the Government's intention. The theme for the 1999–2000 period was boys, young men and fathers, which is directly relevant to this debate. During that period we awarded 14 voluntary organisations with funding totalling £432,000 to develop and trial a variety of approaches to working with fathers. The noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Northbourne, have close associations with several of those organisations.

Fathers Direct is working to change the culture surrounding fatherhood, emphasising fathers' caring, involved role as a parent. The Government are funding that scheme, which will provide information to fathers, highlight fathers' issues in public life and bring together organisations in that field to exchange experiences and to influence policy developments.

Parentline Plus is a freephone telephone helpline offering support and information to anyone in a parenting role. It receives government funding of £1 million over three years. It is developing a communication campaign to target specific groups of parents, including fathers and parents on low incomes. Parentline Plus is working with Fathers Direct to break down the barriers that fathers feel prevent them using the helpline and is tackling that cultural problem to which so many noble Lords have referred, which was also an important part of the contribution by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench.

The National Family and Parenting Institute is an independent charity which receives guaranteed strategic government funding of £2 million over three years. It provides advice to government and others on issues relating to family policy, parenting and adult relationships and the needs of children. It analyses and disseminates research findings, raises public awareness of the importance of parenting and the needs of children and promotes parenting issues in the media.

Of course, several noble Lords raised the very important issue of mentoring. My noble friend Lord Longford and the noble Earls, Lord Listowel and Lord Rosslyn, all referred to the question of mentoring and role models. So often in the media role models seem to be portrayed by significant figures whose fame is often transient and they have strikingly little relevance to the real needs of the people who are meant to identify them as role models. Only a certain number of people from even the most talented in society can aspire to be strikers for Manchester United.

We need to be more concerned, of course, about what has been reflected in this debate; namely, role models relating much more directly to the needs of young people in terms of fatherhood. We are establishing pilot schemes at the present time. There is one in Kensington and Chelsea, another in Birmingham and another in Salford. They will test different models of co-ordinating, recruiting and supporting mentors which are rather more directly related to the needs of young people. That will help to establish minimum quality standards and spread good practice in mentoring. That is a process which many will welcome in this House.

I wish to emphasise also that local authority support for youth services is a very important dimension. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was perhaps rather disparaging about certain aspects of that work. I assure him that we recognise, of course, that the Youth Service varies across the country. There is a need for bringing up standards in some authorities. It is because of that that the Government and the Secretary of State have asked Ofsted to inspect for the first time local authority youth services and national voluntary youth organisations so that we can improve standards in that respect.

In recognition of the valuable role played by the national voluntary youth organisations, we have provided them with £12 million of funding. Many local youth organisations also receive funding from their local authority.

I turn to a particular dimension with regard to the development of services for young people. The noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, was perhaps more positive than others about the role of the Connexions Service. I should like to associate myself with his positive and optimistic remarks. The new Connexions Service will provide advice, guidance and support to all 13 to 19 year-olds who need help. The Connexions Service intends to provide a personal adviser for every 13 to 19 year-old in order to broker access for specialist support where that is needed.

The amount to be spent on the Connexions Service one year from now will be double the amount spent on the present Career Service. So that is an earnest of the Government's very real intention to tackle the issue of how people see the relevance between the development of their educational work at quite a young age and the opportunities which they will seek as they move into more mature adulthood.

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My Lords, will my noble friend emphasise the role of the churches in trying to raise the moral standards of the country?

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My Lords, of course I am happy to associate the Government with that suggestion in so far as it is quite clear that we shall need every possible contribution from those who, in a voluntary and professional capacity, have the ability to raise the standards of morality in the country as a whole. I take it that my noble friend will agree with me that where there is need, there is the necessity for a social, community or national response to that need. But that cannot be provided only by government and, in fact, in my opening remarks I referred to the limitations of government in that regard. It requires the wider community as a whole to respond to the needs which we have identified.

It is clear that there is a great deal of work to do in this area and the debate has identified how much we need to advance. Strengthening the roles and responsibilities of fathers cannot be achieved by the Government alone and nor can it be achieved overnight. However, it is clear that the Government have made a significant start in addressing those issues and will continue to ensure that supporting fathers and, indeed, all families remains a key priority of Her Majesty's Government.

7.47 p.m.

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My Lords, it has been a fascinating debate—so much experience, so much knowledge, so much wisdom. I was particularly pleased to hear what the Minister said about the funding of the Connexions Service because, for some time, that was in the air.

We are all agreed that the cultural legacy of the father as provider is a thing of the past and will have to be a thing of the past for many families. The difficulty is that we have not really identified what role replaces it. My noble friend Lord Laming referred to the changing of nappies. In that particular context, he gave me one encouraging thought; namely, that while technological advance may now make it much more difficult for men to be the provider for the family, it makes it a lot easier to change nappies!

This is a difficult time for young people to grow up in. Your Lordships have all made extremely important and useful contributions to the debate. I hope that many people will read it. I thank most warmly all noble Lords who took part in the debate. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


7.48 p.m.

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rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will modernise the working practices of H M Coroner Service to meet the needs of a multi-faith Britain.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I thank the Government Chief Whip for allocating time for this debate and the Minister for taking time to participate in it. I also thank my noble friend Lady Whitaker and noble Lords opposite for giving their precious time to be here. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford had indicated that he would take part in the debate but due to a prior commitment, he is unable to be here this evening.

Her Majesty's Coroner Service dates back to 1194 when a council held by Hubert Walter, Archbishop of Canterbury, led to the promulgation of the Articles of Eyre. Article 20 provided that in every county there should be elected three knights and one clerk (a clergyman) as keepers of the pleas of the Crown. Those powerful landed men were below the ranks of Lords spiritual and temporal. They were the first coroners. They were elected by the freeholders of the county. Soon the need for the coroners to be knights or clergymen was abandoned. However, the requirement of elections by freeholders continued until the Local Government Act of 1888, which substituted such elections for elections by county councils.

The office of Coroner was an honorary one so there was no pay. In 1487 a statute was enacted by Henry VII that provided that a coroner should receive a fee of 13 shillings and 4 pence for any inquest held upon the view of the slain body. In 1751 another statute, enacted by George II, raised the fee to 20 shillings per inquest, together with travelling expenses of 9 pence per mile. Those fees were to be paid out of the county rates and were to be in addition to, not in substitution of, 13 shillings and 4 pence required by the statute of Henry VII.

In 1860 the County Coroners Act provided for salaries for county coroners and coroners sitting in boroughs or liberties and franchise coroners who were paid on a differing basis. Most of the substantive law relating to coroners was in the common law until the Coroners Act 1887 which consolidated much of the legislation relating to coroners. The common law is still of some importance, not least in relation to coroners' powers as to contempt.

Since the early 19th century most coroners were lawyers or doctors, but the Coroners Act 1926 required that coroners be either barristers, solicitors or legally qualified medical practitioners; that is, doctors on the medical register. The principal legislation in relation to coroners is the Coroners Act 1988, which consolidated (with amendments) the Acts of 1887 and 1926 and which has itself since been amended.

Section 8(1) of the Coroners Act 1988 provides that if the deceased:

"(a) has died a violent or unnatural death;
(b) has died a sudden death of which the cause is unknown; or
(c) has died in prison or in such a place or in such circumstances as to require an inquest under any other Act",
then, whether the cause of death arose within his district or not, the coroner shall as soon as practicable hold an inquest into the death of the deceased either with or, subject to subsection (3) … without a jury".

In that context "violent" means death by any application of force; death in a road traffic accident or even death by falling down stairs is deemed "violent" for the purposes of the Act.

The 1926 statute provided that if it seemed to the coroner that the post mortem examination may show the sudden death was natural (so that an inquest may be unnecessary) he could request or order a post mortem. That provision is now set out in Section 19 of the 1988 Act and is used in over half of the cases of sudden deaths reported to coroners and obviates the need for inquests. Over a third of deaths reported to coroners are dealt with via the pink form "A" where the coroner, after making investigations and inquiries of the deceased's medical attendant, is able to say that there is no need for an inquest without there being a post mortem examination.

In 1997 Her Majesty's Coroner Service reported 201,191 deaths, of which 105,168 were dealt with by post mortem examinations (Section 19); 72,073 were dealt with by the pink form "A"; and 24,050 out of 200,000 deaths required an inquest.

The greatest concern among the Muslim and Jewish communities in particular is the possible delay in holding a post mortem examination, as the burial should take place as soon as possible. Regrettably, post mortem examinations cannot be avoided in a great number of cases—about 66 per cent in 1997. Perhaps post mortem examinations could be undertaken by a pathologist nominated by the local community outside normal hours. Of course, that service would need to be paid for by local communities.

There is also a disparity in the service provided by the Coroner Service in different regions of the country. The service provided by my local coroner, Mr Stanley Hooper, in South Yorkshire, is of an excellent standard, as is the service in Leicestershire. In recent months the service has improved in Bradford. However, in other parts of the United Kingdom the service is unacceptable, including in Birmingham, some parts of London and elsewhere.

Coroners Rules provide that no inquest be held on a Sunday, Christmas day, Good Friday or a bank holiday, unless they consider that one should be held on such a day. They also provide that a coroner, his deputy or his assistant deputy, shall at all times be ready to undertake any duties in connection with inquests and post mortem examinations. The phrase "at all times" excludes Sundays, Christmas day, Good Friday and bank holidays. Coroners are required to make themselves available at all times in connection with post mortem examinations and it is not unusual to be called at any hour, particularly when serious crime is suspected.

As I said earlier, Muslim and Jewish religious requirements are that burials should take place as soon as possible. I propose that, in order to make some coroners in England and Wales more amenable to dealing with applications to remove a body outside normal hours, a fee of £50 to £100 be paid. I suggest that Her Majesty's Coroner Service could delegate to deputies or assistant deputies out of normal hours. The police coroner officers could also be involved, as they are on call for 24 hours a day. Payment of fees as per the Act of 1487 induced coroners to perform their duties with regard to inquests more diligently.

The Muslim and Jewish communities are fully aware that a body cannot be released immediately in cases where there is some suspicion about the cause of death. That is completely understandable. However, where the cause of death has been established and a doctor's certificate has been issued, the coroner or his officer should be available to release the body.

Delays in funeral arrangements cause enormous problems for the families and for the communities. Relatives from other towns gather together at the deceased's house which can cause traffic problems and tension with neighbours. There can also be a detrimental effect upon health as so many people are stuck together in the same place until a funeral takes place. Also families overseas can experience the burden of waiting for the release of bodies as many are taken for burial abroad and some medical visitors may die in the United Kingdom while undergoing treatment.

At present, there are over 312 coroners; 26 coroners are full time and the rest work part time. Most part-time coroners are solicitors who are or who were in private practice and some are medical practitioners.

The composition of Her Majesty's Coroner Service should reflect the multi-ethnic and multi-faith nature of modern Britain and it should reflect its sensitivity to the religious requirements and practices vis-à-vis the different faiths and cultures in the United Kingdom. That should be the case especially in those regions where there is a high concentration of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or other communities.

The service should also encourage more people from ethnic minority backgrounds to enter its ranks, which would bring great benefits in that those individuals could advise with regard to and draw attention to the needs of a diverse Britain.

Perhaps I may ask my noble friend the Minister what percentage of those working within HM Coroner Service are from ethnic minority backgrounds and also what percentage of those people are from the Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Hindu communities. Furthermore, what type of training is given to coroners in relation to the religious needs of communities?

I remember one coroner saying in a meeting that when one is in England one should live by English laws. Perhaps I may respectfully suggest that we should change those laws or rules which do not reflect the needs of our communities. Britain is now a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and diverse society and our services to the citizens should reflect the needs of the people.

8.1 p.m.

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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Ahmed for initiating the debate and I support him, not least because so few others seem to have taken an interest in a pretty clear example of how our avowedly multi-cultural society does not take into account the needs of different faith communities.

I want to make a brief contribution. I am not expert in the relative practices of different faiths. Indeed, as many of your Lordships may be, I was unaware of these issues until I had the honour to chair a session of a conference on religious discrimination organised by the Council of Europe's Commission on Racism and Intolerance and the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. There I heard several examples of distress caused by the insensitive handling of the requirements of different faiths on the death of a family member. All could have been alleviated by simple, practical and inexpensive steps.

There is not only the question of more rapid post-mortems, where these are necessary, as they are in the majority of cases, as my noble friend says, and the strange fact that few, if any, coroners are from minority backgrounds, even in areas where they predominate.

There is also the important underlying question of the ordinary services of the state being performed in such a way as to make separate groups of our fellow citizens feel excluded. In particular, members of our Muslim communities are already likely to be marginalised, much more likely to be unemployed, more likely to have below average health, in some cases less appropriate healthcare, and very much more likely to experience racial and religious harassment. Should they also be made to feel excluded from the custom and practice of the services which may accompany the sad circumstance of a violent death in the family?

Some kinds of exclusion in employment or racial harassment are complex and difficult to put right and may take time, and in any case are not wholly within the power of the state. But arrangements for coroners' work are wholly within the power of the state. It is a state system. I hope that the Government can assure us that it is their intention to adapt the Coroner Service and to modernise it.

8.3 p.m.

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My Lords, in my working career I have on a number of occasions attended inquests and post-mortems and I have been involved in discussions with a number of coroners on many occasions. I am therefore delighted to have the opportunity to debate the working practices of HM Coroner Service. The matters relating to our multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious communities have been adequately expressed and I fully endorse what has been said.

Religions and religious beliefs are at the centre of the lives of our ethnic minority communities. Any variation from that process causes a great deal of distress. It is important that there are some problems which are within our scope to put right; others may require further thought.

Before contributing to the debate, perhaps I may clarify an anomaly. When debating the Coroner Service we should remember that the same service does not apply to Scotland. A different situation exists in Scotland; there are no coroners there. Whenever an unusual death occurs the matter is referred to the procurator fiscal. After investigation, the need for a fatal accident and sudden death inquiry is decided. The inquiry is held in the local sheriff court before the sheriff.

Will the Minister draw the debate to the attention of his counterpart in the Scotland Office? Our diverse communities are also settled in many parts of Scotland and it is right that they are not isolated from the good practices that we recommend here.

It has taken me some time to discover when your Lordships' House previously debated the Coroner Service. It may surprise your Lordships to learn that I was advised by the Library that it was during the passage of the Coroners Bill 1988. Obviously, I cannot hold the Minister responsible because neither he nor I were then Members of this place. However, I suspect that since the establishment of the coroners' courts in 1194 there have been very few attempts to examine the relevance of their functions today. I confirmed that the coroners courts date back to 1194. My source was not the Library; it was the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I am also told that it may be that the courts date back even before then.

Some fundamental appraisals of training needs in the criminal justice system have been identified by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed. We find that great strides have been made in training and building sensitivity of people working in that system. Looking at the police service, the probation service, prosecutors and the Prison Service one notes that the building of race sensitivity has been an important part of their training curriculum.

I am delighted that even judges and the noble and learned Lords the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor have participated in such training. Indeed, the noble Lord the Minister is no exception. It brings great credit to those professions and helps to build the confidence of minorities in the services which are provided.

My point in raising this matter is that I have not been made aware of what training coroners receive about our diverse communities. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten me with that information. It would also be helpful to have an ethnic breakdown of the service. Ethnic minorities are the major provider of services in the field of medicine. Much of our National Health Service depends on them. Many have excelled in this field. Do we encourage them to apply to be coroners? If not, why not? How many coroners are from ethnic minority communities?

I want to move away from faith and diversity issues and concentrate on the main function of coroners; that is, inquests. The proceedings and evidence given at an inquest are directed solely to ascertaining who the deceased was; how he died; when he died; and when or where he died. The historic role of inquests to ascertain who should be charged with murder, manslaughter or infanticide has been taken over by the Crown Prosecution Service. In summing up when all the evidence has been heard, a coroner will instruct the jury along the lines that an inquest is a fact-finding investigation to discover how a person died; it is not a matter of apportioning blame. Those words are often used in the coroners' courts.

I raise this matter because, according to records in the Library, as early as November 1971 the Brodrick report, entitled Death Certification and Coroners, was published. That report recommended reforms which to this day have not been implemented. For the Minister's assistance, those included recommendation 54 in paragraph 16.34 that,
"the term 'verdict' should be abandoned and replaced by 'findings??.
Recommendation 57 was that the,
"right to attach a rider to the findings of a coroners court should be abolished. The coroner should confine his inquiry to ascertaining and recording the facts both medical and circumstantial which caused or led up to the death and where he thinks action should be considered to prevent recurrence of the fatality. He should have a right to refer the matter to the appropriate expert or public authority, and he should announce that he is doing so".
The form to be used by coroners recommended by Brodrick clearly states that it should avoid the issue of blame. When can we expect progress on the implementation of those recommendations? Surely, 30 years is a very long time to wait for action.

I was a member of the Police Complaints Authority from 1994 to 1997. The PCA each year produces information about two or three deaths in police custody, or deaths involving police officers, which result in verdicts at inquests of unlawful killing but no prosecution by the CPS and possibly no disciplinary action recommended by the Police Complaints Authority. There may be innocent explanations for such cases. The inquest may conclude that CS spray, a baton strike or police officer's restraint contributed to the death. The inquest jury may conclude that the deceased had therefore been unlawfully killed. The use of CS spray or a baton might, however, have represented "reasonable force in all the circumstances" within Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act and no officer would then be charged.

It might not be possible to ascertain which officer had inflicted the injury, and no officer would then be charged. An officer might have been following the training that he had been given. There are very important lessons to be learnt from the case for the training of officers, but again no officers will be charged. The actions of officers may not have been unreasonable under case law which is unknown to the coroner or jury but well known to the CPS. Again, no officer will be charged. It is also possible that the CPS may decide not to charge officers when others may conclude from the evidence that the case should be placed before a court. I back that up by referring to the case of Richard O'Brien, which was investigated by the PCA. Mr O'Brien was arrested for being drunk and disorderly outside the English Martyrs Hall in London SE17. He was taken in a police van to Walworth police station where he was found not to be breathing. He was pronounced dead in hospital. The cause of death was positional asphyxia following a struggle. The inquiry included copies of extracts from the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology dealing with positional asphyxia during law enforcement.

In January 1995 the CPS decided not to bring criminal charges. In November 1995 the inquest decided that Mr O'Brien had been unlawfully killed. In October 1996 there was a second decision by the CPA not to prosecute. In February 1997 the Police Complaints Authority decided that two officers should face charges of neglect of duty. In July 1997 the High Court quashed the decision not to bring criminal charges. In February 1998 three police officers were charged with manslaughter. In July 1999 the officers were found not guilty.

Two other examples have been highlighted in the reports published by the Police Complaints Authority. Without going into details, I ask the Minister to study the case of Brian Douglas who was detained in Kennington police station and later escorted to St Thomas' Hospital, where he died. There is also the case of Wayne Douglas, who died in HM Prison Brixton in December 1995. I cite those cases because of the apparent contradictory conclusions of an inquest jury and the CPS which bring the criminal justice system into disrepute. That contradiction also causes great distress to bereaved relatives who hear the jury say that a member of their family has been unlawfully killed and yet nothing is done and the officers continue to serve in the police service.

I should like to place on record a number of initiative taken by the Police Complaints Authority in dealing with cases of death in custody. I urge the Minister to study the good practices outlined by the PCA. Will he ensure that those practices are implemented in all coroners' courts? In particular, I draw to the attention of the Minister the PCA's last annual report on openness which states:
"We have argued for several years that bereaved families should not have to wait until the inquest before they receive any information about how a member of their family died. We warmly welcome guidance issued by the Home Office and hope that all parties will comply fully with it".
It is worth spelling out that guidance: that all material which is supplied to HM Coroner Service should normally be made available to those whom the coroner considers to be interested parties; that disclosure should not include material which would result in genuine risk of prejudice to any subsequent proceedings, which could cause concern or distress to the family or which would disclose personal information about third parties; and that disclosure should normally be at least 28 days before the inquest proceedings.

The Inquest Lawyers Group has also done some valuable work. In an article about inquests and deaths in custody published in January 1998 it states:
"Families are in an appalling position of disadvantage compared with the institutions or corporate bodies involved in the case. In the absence of legal aid for representation, families can be confronted at the inquest by teams of lawyers, paid from unlimited public funds, or professional associations, many of whom will have intimate knowledge of all the available evidence. The inequality of access to legal representation and information is unacceptable and severely inhibits the fairness and proper function of the process.
"If bereaved families attend the inquest without legal representation, it is very rare for coroners to conduct the same searching questions of witnesses that occurs when families are represented. Coroners organise the presentation of evidence, decide which witnesses to call and the scope of questioning to be conducted by the legal representatives. They alone sum up the evidence, address the jury and decide the acceptable verdicts that the jury can consider. Jurors are no longer allowed to add riders to their verdict and are, effectively, prevented from making comments about the evidence that they have heard".
The following matters cry out for reform of the inquest system: access to quality legal preparation; advance disclosure of information and witness statements; the right to call witnesses; the right to argue a case as well as to ask questions; and the restoration of the right of the jury to make recommendations to avert future deaths. Simple changes are required to ensure that bereaved families are informed of their rights and given information and access to proper advice and support.

We are dealing with an archaic system which cries out for reform. There is a need to make a fundamental review of the role and function of coroners and the services that their courts provide. We need a high level inquiry into the inquest system, possibly undertaken by a judge or other person of integrity and objectivity. That inquiry is not to criticise those who deal with this difficult work but to draw up proposals to take into account difficulties that coroners face and how good practices can assist them. We have waited for over 30 years since the Brodrick report, and now is the time to make the service more relevant to the present day.

8.19 p.m.

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My Lords, noble Lords will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, for raising this matter this evening. Over the centuries this country has followed the custom of accepting and absorbing the cultures of those communities which have come to settle here, and I suggest that this multi-faith and multi-cultural society is the richer for it. There is an interesting contrast with France, where Muslim girls are not permitted to attend school wearing the veil: French culture is imposed.

I do not know the result of the fight by the Sikh community over motor cyclists wearing hard hats, but it certainly provided a lively debate in this country.

There are many people who are unaware that dietary customs, particularly, originated from communities which came from hot countries before the days of refrigeration. Notwithstanding that we have refrigeration, the customs have passed into the culture of the people in this country. The requirement to bury a body, if possible, within 48 hours—a particular requirement of the Muslim and Jewish faiths—derives from the same issue of hygiene.

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, has a reasonable point. It is significant that he does not require the coroner to short-circuit any of the forensic requirements of his work. He simply requires the removal of bodies for transportation overseas. He referred to the custom under Muslim law of families being required to remain in their houses, both in this country and the destination country, until the body is received.

I cannot think of a more unnecessary way to create civic unrest. It causes problems in communities. The noble Lord referred to the problems of parking and the question of hygiene. This creates unnecessary tension.

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, requested that the Minister consider under any reform of coroners' practices, which the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, outlined with such professional detail, that there should be common practice among all coroners; that the practice in some communities where the role is delegated to the police should be made more universal; and that there should be a requirement, particularly in the case of removal of bodies overseas, that there should be the minimum of delay.

Those are simple requests. We also support the encouragement of members of ethnic communities to enter the Coroner Service. In that way the career will become more popular and the best men will be recruited. Those are simple suggestions to the Minister. I shall be very interested to hear his reply.

8.23 p.m.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, for putting the Question before your Lordships' House this evening. He and others, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, have made a very compelling case for the modernisation of practices of Her Majesty's Coroner Service.

It is beholden on government to ensure that services like the Coroner Service are as inclusive, as it were, for those who are deceased as we are attempting to make all other public services for those of us who are living. We must ensure throughout our consideration of these matters that we do everything we possibly can to reflect the multi-faith and multicultural nature of our country. That should inform our thinking as we look to the Coroner Service.

I shall spend some time looking at the history of the service. Two noble Lords have done that expertly. These matters bear some reflection. As has been said, coroners have been a feature of legal processes of this country for more than 800 years. Their duties have evolved considerably over that time. To the credit of the Coroner Service, they have moved with the time. Only since the nineteenth century have coroners consistently performed their current duties: the investigation of violent and unnatural deaths, deaths of unknown cause, and treasure trove.

Coroners have a long history of adapting to the needs of the state and to the needs of society. History shows that criticisms of inflexibility or resistance to change cannot be sustained. They have a difficult job. They must investigate the facts surrounding a death reported to them, but they are expressly required not to determine any question of criminal responsibility on the part of a named person or civil liability. We need to remember that.

Their duty is to investigate deaths, fully, fairly and fearlessly, not on behalf of relatives but on behalf of society at large. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, reflected that issue very well in his comments. Nor do all the members of the family involved with a death have the same interest as the legitimate interests expressed by close relatives. Coroners must pick their way through a maze of conflicting interests and disputed facts, acting fairly and openly and seeking to arrive at the objective truth of the cause and circumstances of the death.

That is for four main reasons: first, to reassure the public that any untoward or uncertain death will be investigated impartially by an independent judicial officer; secondly, to enable any rumour or suspicion surrounding the death to be fully dispelled; thirdly, to maintain and enhance the integrity of our mortality data in the interests of public health; and, fourthly, to underpin arrangements to detect and deter crime. That last point is very important. Coroners may also report cases so that others can take action to prevent deaths in similar circumstances. I am sure we can all recall cases like that.

The Coroner Service is a service which is held in tripartite responsibility between the Home Office for law and practice, the Lord Chancellor's Department for rules and discipline and the local authority for pay, rations, appointments and facilities. The cost to local authorities is about £50 million each year. We receive very good value for that investment. There are just over 140 coroners in England and Wales. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, there is a very different system for Scotland. I undertake to ensure that our Scottish colleagues have their attention drawn to the issues of concern raised during the debate.

Each of those coroners has a deputy and an assistant to stand in for him when required. Interestingly, only about 25 coroners are full-time appointments. The others work either as doctors or solicitors in private practice. About one-third of all deaths are reported to coroners-200,000—but only 24,000 cases result in an inquest; 125,000 post-mortem examinations are ordered. Most of these enable the cause of death to be confirmed and the death registered without the need for an inquest. The inquest verdict summarises the circumstances in which the deceased died. Nearly half, some 9,600, are accidents; and sadly one has to reflect that nearly one in five, 3,700 annually, are suicides. Most inquests are completed within six months and just under half are completed within three months or less. So the performance of the Coroner Service can be described as very satisfactory.

It is crucial that coroners should act, and be seen to act, independently of government. But the Government have a legitimate interest in how coroners discharge their duties. That matter goes to the heart of our discussions and the debate this evening. Coroners should be efficient, expeditious and courteous. Unlike many other services, coroners have to deal with the public at a time when they have suffered personal distress and are feeling most vulnerable. The bereaved must be treated with the utmost care and consideration. Many will be sustained by their religious beliefs and will attach considerable importance to the observance of their religious customs and practices. This debate has reinforced the importance of that point.

We believe that more can be done to assist the bereaved of all religious beliefs, or of none. It is important that the practices and priorities of minority religious communities, such as the Jews, Muslims and Sikhs and many others are properly understood and respected. It is also important for the leaders and members of those communities to understand the legal constraints under which coroners perform their duties, and the wider social needs that they are seeking to serve. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, for his acknowledgement of that point.

Although it has a long tradition, the Coroner Service is not immune to modernisation. There have been a number of modernisation measures, though perhaps not as many as some of us would like. We have encouraged coroners to provide, in advance of formal inquest hearings, more information about deaths and the circumstances in which they occur. This helps families to understand what is happening and to get more out of the inquest process. We have revised our standard information leaflet about the inquest system to make it clearer and more understandable for the bereaved. There is one deficiency in this respect, which we shall obviously need to address, namely, that there is a need to ensure that information about the Coroner Service is posted in a range of ethnic minority languages. That is a matter to which we shall have to give careful consideration.

We have introduced a model coroners' court charter. Coroners and their local authorities have been asked to develop their own charters, setting out local information and making clear what sort of advice can be expected. In particular, information should be given about how long it will take for an inquest to be held. New procedures have been introduced aimed at reducing delays in releasing the body in cases where the deceased has been murdered. We recognise the importance of that. So far, the results have been encouraging.

I now want to reflect on some of the main concerns for the religious minorities. It seems to us that the religious minorities of this country are aware of the particular problems that they face, including invasive post-mortem examinations and delays to funerals in this country or abroad.

No one can be comfortable about post-mortem examinations. The prospect of the violation of the body of a relative or friend is distasteful and distressing to all of us. Such examinations present a particular dilemma for those whose religious beliefs and teachings are opposed to them. Coroners are not required to hold post-mortem examinations. However, if they decide that they are necessary, the consent of the family is not required. We believe that that is right. Otherwise, the coroner could be prevented from achieving his primary purpose, which is to determine the cause of death.

Can medical science provide an alternative to the traditional invasive post-mortem examination? A possible alternative is magnetic resonance imaging. We have listened carefully to proponents of this technique. We have recently asked the Chief Medical Officer to consider whether more work can he undertaken on this technique. The best medical advice at the moment is that MRI does not offer an adequate substitute for traditional procedures. Therefore, we cannot recommend that at present this technique should be adopted.

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, made a number of proposals on which I wish to reflect very carefully. One was to take account of the issue of delay to extend out-of-hours services. I was interested in his suggestion with regard to nominated pathologists appointed by the local community. That is a matter to which we can give careful consideration but about which I can make no promises. The noble Lord also made the point, which was supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, about the need to have a service which reflects the multi-faith, multi-ethnic basis of our society. Quite understandably, the question was asked, "How many of our coroners come from ethnic minority backgrounds?" Information on this question is not robust. I can tell your Lordships that, to our knowledge, of the 25 full-time coroners, there are two who come from an ethnic minority background. We shall need to give further consideration to monitoring. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, raised the important point, which was supported by others, about training and encouragement in this important area of policy. We shall take further account of that point, which this debate has very usefully and valuably highlighted.

I briefly address the reasons for delay. They need to be understood. Delays arise because of the need to investigate the cause of death. Each case will vary. Only 12 per cent (24,000) of deaths referred to coroners in 1999 needed to be the subject of an inquest. In 40 per cent of cases, coroners were able to release the body without a post-mortem examination. In nearly all cases, the body can be released for the funeral within a week, if no inquest is needed. In almost 90 per cent of cases, release can be authorised in a week, even if an inquest must be held at a later date. Even a delay of a few days can present real difficulties for some religious communities. It is, of course, a matter for individual coroners to decide whether they can give priority to deaths in particular sections of the community. We have to recognise that priority for one bereaved family can mean a delay for others.

What more can be done in this regard? Why are coroners not available at weekends and Bank Holidays? Coroners and their deputies are already required, under the Coroners Rules, to be available at all times for duties in connection with inquests and post-mortem examinations. Coroners are always ready to respond to urgent cases arising outside normal office hours. A regular out-of-hours service would increase the cost of the Coroner Service. It would also require an out-of-hours service to be provided by all those on whom coroners depend—pathologists, doctors of deceased persons, appropriate laboratory facilities, the police and perhaps other experts. The costs and practicality of making provision for these other services would fall to the local authority. We have to ask whether this would be a proper use of public funds. That is an important question. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, mentioned improvements to certain coroner services, particularly in Leicester, Bradford and elsewhere. It is clear that changes to practice are being made. We should give further consideration to those changes, so that we can establish the best practice.

If a body is to be taken abroad (in accordance with the custom and practice of some communities) the permission of the coroner is required. That is necessary, of course, whatever the cause of death. If an early funeral is required, the pressures on the Coroner Service can become acute. Coroners are sympathetic and will do what they can to help, but any volume demands for this service would be beyond the responsibility of individual coroners. We must not forget that the purpose of the checks is to ensure that evidence of suspicious deaths is not put beyond the reach of the police and the prosecution services.

The appalling and dreadful case of Harold Shipman has demonstrated that existing procedures are not infallible. We have carried out a review of death certification arrangements. Changes must make procedures more effective, without those procedures becoming intolerable, especially for the minority religious communities. We have received valuable views from a wide range of professional and lay sources, including representatives of the Muslim, Jewish and other communities. Following our review, we hope to reach conclusions in the next few weeks. In that process, the concerns of the minority religious communities will certainly be given proper and due weight. If significant change is required, it may be that this review will best address many of the problems to which noble Lords have averred this evening.

Coroners' practices and procedures are being modernised, but we are not complacent and we shall continue to keep them under review. We have a close working relationship with the Coroners' Society of England and Wales. That society is aware of ethnic minority concerns and issues, which are regularly drawn to its attention by our officials. I must place on record the fact that much has been achieved with its assistance and support. Coroners are fully seized and aware of the importance of the family in the investigation of deaths and appreciate the special sensitivities for certain sections of the community. We shall certainly draw their attention to the important points raised in this debate.

In conclusion, more work is required to achieve the right balance between the wider needs of society and the rights of individuals. We are anxious to ensure that all bereaved persons are treated considerately and with respect. We have very carefully listened, and shall continue to do so, to suggestions for easing the distress of families at a time of great difficulty for them and for their communities.

This has been an extremely valuable debate. I am fully seized of the need for further modernisation of the service. Although, strictly speaking, it does not fall within my range of ministerial responsibilities, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the Brodrick report, which was published 30 years ago, being in need of further appraisal was a telling one. I shall reflect further on that and on all the other important matters raised during what has been an enlightening debate on what is sometimes viewed as a quiet backwater of the practices of government and state services.

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My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he will consider a practical suggestion. This issue particularly affects minority communities. As there are matters which need to be reviewed and considered and as there is now doubt that the co-operation of the minorities is available to the Home Office—they co-operated, for example, on the issue of forced marriages—I ask whether the Home Office could not instigate the type of conference at which minority communities, Crown prosecutors, coroners, the Police Complaints Authority and organisations such as Inquest could come together to produce some practical ideas which the Home Office could take forward as a basis for improving the service. I am not asking for an answer today. I am asking the Minister to reflect on that point.

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My Lords, I give a commitment to reflect on it. It is an important point to which I shall give very careful consideration; and I shall share the fruits of my consideration not only with the noble Lord but with all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate.

House adjourned at eighteen minutes before nine o'clock.