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Lords Chamber

Volume 622: debated on Thursday 15 February 2001

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House Of Lords

Thursday, 15th February 2001.

The House met at three of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

Parliamentary Answers: Electronic System

When it will be possible for Lords who so wish to receive the Answers to written Questions electronically.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, first raised the issue of electronic Answers to written Questions in 1997. I am not proud of what has happened—or rather, what has not happened—since then and I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, to the Library and Computers Sub-Committee and to the House. I gave answers in good faith that have not turned out to be true. I apologise for that.

Having said that, a test Question has been successfully transmitted from officials of your Lordships' House to officials of the Cabinet Office via the Government's secure intranet and a digitally signed Answer has been returned and the signature verified. We are currently conducting tests to ensure that the software used does not conflict with other software used in the Cabinet Office. Assuming `that any such conflict can be resolved, I hope to invite the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, to address a Question to me in March, which I shall respond to by e-mail. We shall then commence the roll-out of the system to other departments. I should emphasise that the new electronic system will run in parallel with the existing paper-based procedure.

My Lords, I am very grateful for the Minister's apology. I exempt him from any blame, but it is extraordinary that it has taken the Government three and a half years to do what I and a parliamentary Clerk could have put together in an afternoon, with a couple of extra weeks to agree what we had done with our relevant computer departments. The issue is immensely simple. Can the Government confirm that all departments of state are committed to implementing the new procedure when it has been tested by the Cabinet Office?

No, my Lords, I am afraid that I cannot. That is a matter for departments. We shall write to them in the next few days to explain the procedures that will become available and we shall write to the Leader of the House and, for information, to the Leader of the House of Commons. How Ministers choose to answer the parliamentary Questions that they are asked is a matter for them. It cannot be dictated.

My Lords, I listened with admiration to the Minister's Answer. Will he confirm that the new procedure will not interfere with the Government's publication of Answers in Hansard, when appropriate, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, promised me in answer to my Question on Monday?

On the contrary, my Lords, not only will the new procedure not interfere with the publication in Hansard, it should make that faster and more error-free because the same electronic text will be available to Hansard as to the noble Lord who asked the Question.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the very relevant Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has even wider implications? The technology now exists in your Lordships' House to install a broadband wireless connectivity that would permit noble Lords to have access to the Internet from any location in the House without the requirement for wires or cables. Does the Minister agree that that would make life much easier for many noble Lords and would help your Lordships' House to establish itself in the forefront of the information age?

My Lords, that is a matter for the House authorities. I would applaud any measure they could take to establish the House in the forefront of the information age. A wireless network could encourage your Lordships to work in any convenient area of the building. We should examine the many steps taken by the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales to use IT in support of their work.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has given a full apology to the House for the delay in the answering of parliamentary Questions by e-mail. But will he explain what has led to that delay? It is extraordinarily simple to dispatch e-mails to Members of your Lordships' House. Indeed, it happens the whole time. If the issue is just security, the technology for authenticating signatures has been around for a long time. What hope is there for much more complex computer systems such as that used to process asylum seekers when the Government cannot work out how to send e-mails?

My Lords, I am afraid that it is not as simple as that. There are reasons which, given hindsight, were avoidable. We gave the contract to a private firm that did not perform, changed its name, lost the people who knew about the project and eventually carried out only an early part of the work. That wasted far too much time.

It is not true that encryption and digital signatures have been readily available for as long as the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, suggests. The most likely system was released for export from the United States only in December 1999. I shall gladly talk to the noble Viscount in private about some of the other complications, but I think it would bore the House were I to go on about them.

My Lords, how soon will it be possible for Questions to be sent electronically to the printers so that they can eliminate typographical errors? If departments are not going to go on to the system for a while, there will be a problem.

My Lords, the plan that the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency has drawn up, which I think has been discussed with the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, runs from now until the end of March. The supply of the electronic text to Hansard can take place at the same time. Indeed, in the early stages, that will produce the most significant benefit because we do not yet know how many noble Lords will wish to receive their Answers to Written Questions electronically.

My Lords, will the Minister encourage the e-commerce envoy and his 60 or so employees to think "House of Lords" when developing e-government?

Yes, my Lords. We have been in close contact with the office of the e-envoy about that matter and its staff have been very supportive, particularly over the past few days. They are certainly aware of the needs of the House of Lords.

Disposable Surgical Instruments

3.13 p.m.

What delays there now are in carrying out operations because hospitals are waiting for the disposable surgical instruments required to avoid the risks associated with variant CJD.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health
(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath)

My Lords, on 4th January the Government announced the introduction of single-use instruments for tonsil surgery during 2001. Supplies of those instruments are expected to come on-stream during the late spring and summer. In the meantime, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer has advised that surgeons should review individual cases to ensure that no serious conditions are missed. Guidance has also been issued to the NHS to ensure that, so far as possible, other ear, nose and throat procedures are substituted for cancelled tonsil operations.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his Answer. Have hospitals in England and Wales yet caught up with their programmes of non-urgent operations following the delays arising from the instruction that only disposable instruments should be used? Are sufficient disposable instruments now available to meet all the hospitals' requirements?

My Lords, approximately 74,000 operations are carried out in the UK each year. So far as concerns the question of supply, an initial order has been placed for 3,000 sets of instruments, which will be delivered in February and March. The remainder of the available instruments will be delivered over the next few months. There will be a delay for some patients who are waiting for a tonsil operation. However, I believe that, under the precautionary principle, that outcome is probably inevitable. With regard to waiting lists, I can confirm that the number of patients on those lists is currently 124,000 below the number that we inherited.

My Lords, the Minister's recent announcement referred to tonsillectomies and instruments used in those operations. However, the acting chairman of SEAC was recently quoted as saying:

"If there is a risk of transmission of vCJD through tonsillectomy instruments, I think it is likely that there is risk through other surgical procedures—particularly those involving the brain and central nervous system".
Can the Minister say whether the Government's recent risk assessment report, which is still unpublished, confirms that view, and what are the Government's plans in that respect?

My Lords, the risk assessment report will be published soon. Noble Lords will be glad to know that it will also be available on the Department of Health's website. The noble Lord is right to say that at its meeting last November SEAC welcomed the overall risk reduction strategy. Indeed, it also welcomed the advances that are being made with regard to decontamination, which plays an important part in the way in which we deal with these issues. It endorsed the concept of using tonsils in a pilot scheme to see how single instrument use would work in practice. However, the noble Lord is right. There are other procedures, particularly in relation to brain and posterior eye surgery, where single instrument use may need to be considered. We are committed to working with and talking to the profession about the practicalities of that.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of any evidence which shows that disposable instruments are better than or preferable to instruments which are properly cleaned and denuded of all protein during the cleaning process before sterilisation?

My Lords, the risk assessment programme carried out by SEAC certainly made the point that the first line of attack must be to ensure that proper decontamination processes are in place. The issue of single instrument use must be considered as a second line of attack. It is important that hospital decontamination procedures are right. That is why the Government have authorised expenditure of £200 million over two years and why we are putting into place a strong performance management approach to decontamination. That is where we need to focus many of our efforts.

My Lords, is the Minister able to confirm the figures published in a paper which says that civil servants have calculated the cost of introducing disposable instruments at £630 million a year? If abdominal surgery were to be included, that figure would reach over £2 billion£that is, 4 per cent of the national health budget. Therefore, does the Minister agree that it is particularly important to move ahead with the halted programme of research into whether instruments can transfer infection? Will he confirm that £30 million has been set aside by the Government for that research, which was agreed two years ago but then halted? When will that programme of research start?

My Lords, with regard to the research programme, we are funding a portfolio of research projects in relation to the decontamination of surgical instruments. That funding totals more than £3 million. The programme is being overseen by a Department of Health steering group. Of course, I agree with the noble Baroness that it is important that the research is developed as speedily as possible. So far as concerns the overall costs suggested by the noble Baroness, the cost of single-use instruments for tonsils is estimated at £25 million per year. If we were to consider back-of-the-eye procedures, the cost would be between approximately £450 million and £500 million.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that CJD is particularly difficult to deal with because it is a prion, which makes it impossible to disinfect surgical instruments?

My Lords, yes. SEAC concluded that tonsillectomies should be chosen for specific attention because prions have been found in the tonsil tissue of people who died of variant CJD. Moreover, most tonsil surgery is carried out on children, who have their lives ahead of them. It was on the basis of the SEAC risk assessment that the decision was made to phase in single-use instruments in relation to tonsils.

My Lords, the Minister's answer seems to indicate that instruments are not being properly cleaned or sterilised in some hospitals, which could lead to the passing on of diseases other than CJD. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that all surgical instruments are properly cleaned and sterilised?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right—concerns have been expressed about the standards of decontamination procedures in our hospitals. That is why the Government announced a £200 million programme to modernise decontamination and sterilisation procedures. We have issued a circular to the NHS emphasising the importance of its urgently reviewing its management arrangements and the need to carry out a health and safety audit. We have appointed a high-level support team to go into individual trusts to help them to get right their decontamination procedures. We want new training programmes to be established to reinforce those points. We take this matter very seriously.

Prison Sentences

3.22 p.m.

What is their response to the recent lecture by the Lord Chief Justice to the Prison Reform Trust on ways to reduce the number of people sent to prison.

My Lords, the Lord Chief Justice put the case for reduced reliance on short-term prison sentences and for increased use of community penalties. The Government believe that, although many offenders can be effectively punished in the community, prison is the right response for serious and dangerous offenders. In the case of persistent offenders, short-term prison sentences may be appropriate where community sentences have been shown to be ineffective.

My Lords, although I thank the Minister for that Answer, does he appreciate that that is an inadequate way to deal with a lecture by this country's foremost criminal judge, who has particular knowledge of prison conditions following his Strangeways inquiry 10 years ago? Is the Minister inviting a considered and careful response from the Home Secretary? Is it not important to do so from the public's point of view? The Minister will know from yesterday's Question Time of the bad conditions in prisons. They are caused by too many prisoners being sent to prison and by the fact that accommodation is not available. Everyone is adversely affected, including prison staff and prisoners. The whole outlook of this country is gradually being changed by the constant demand in the media for longer prison sentences. What is the Government's response to that?

My Lords, I have the greatest respect for the Lord Chief Justice, as does my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. We obviously believe that prisons are an appropriate place to send those who are sentenced when the offences are serious and persistent and, in particular, when violent or sexual offences are involved. That is how we use prisons; our policies are clear and firm.

On the noble Lord's general comments on prisons, of course there are bad examples of bad prisons. In the main, however, we are confident that the Prison Service is doing a first-rate job, and it should be supported in that regard. For every negative report on prisons and the Prison Service, there are many positive reports.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the noble and learned Lord said in his lecture:

"There should be a Board responsible for women in the criminal justice system. Its responsibilities in relation to women should be similar to that of the Youth Justice Board. It should regard its primary responsibility to be to contain the growth of the women prison population"?
Does my noble friend agree that that is a very important proposal? What action will the Government take in that regard?

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that thoughtful question. The Lord Chief Justice's suggestion is very helpful and it reflects well on the work of the Youth Justice Board. We shall obviously consider the matter in the most positive light and give it very careful consideration.

My Lords, I have two questions for the Minister. First, do the Government accept that the single most corrosive element in the Prison Service is that of overcrowding? That means that the programmes that are designed to reduce the reconviction rate and to prevent re-offending are neglected. Secondly, do the Government agree with the observation that was made by the Lord Chief Justice towards the end of his lecture? He said:

"What would have a greater effect on overcrowding than anything that I can propose would be an announcement by the Government that it fully accepts the damaging effects of prison overcrowding and that it attaches highest priority to eliminating this problem".
Are the Government prepared to follow the Lord Chief Justice in that regard and make such an announcement?

My Lords, I certainly agree that overcrowding is undesirable. The Government's policy is directed towards reducing it as much as possible. The situation that persisted in the early 1990s, in which many prisoners occupied cells that contained three prisoners, no longer obtains. We no longer have trebling but, sadly, we do have doubling. I inform your Lordships' House that, as of November last year, some 10,000 prisoners were held two to a cell in cells that were designed for one. We have brought the figures down, and our building programme is designed to tackle overcrowding. We no longer have the 30 per cent overcrowding that persisted in 1990–91. Investment in the Prison Service and in expanding the prison estate has begun to tackle that problem. Overcrowding is a government priority, and we are determined to tackle the problem.

My Lords, is it not clearly obvious that the pressure on prison space is inexorably increasing because of the volume of crime in society? Is it not becoming glaringly obvious that the way to stop that is to get to people before they become criminals and avoid spending all of the money on those people after they have become criminals? Are not the Government in the position of someone who is so busy baling that he does not have time to stop the hole in the boat?

My Lords, the noble Lord is being somewhat simplistic in his response to a very complex problem. The Government have a policy of being tough on crime—we have made that plain from the outset and we have been tough on crime. We are putting more resources in place to ensure that criminals are detected. We are of course investing in education, for example, to ensure that people do not slip into a world of criminal activity because they do not have the training, education or resources to make a better life for themselves. We are dealing with all of those problems all the way through. We should be a poor government if we were to neglect—I am afraid to say that previous governments have done so—investment in the prison estate to make the best possible use of that estate.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that there is much confusion among the public as a result of the comments of the Lord Chief Justice and the Home Secretary? Is there not a strong case for a further discussion between the Home Secretary and the Lord Chief Justice without delay? It is no good for my noble friend to state that he regards the Lord Chief Justice and the Home Secretary with respect. There is a great deal of confusion among the public, including the informed public.

My Lords, it would not be right for us to hold back on an important debate on the use of prisons, the future of the Prison Service and the way in which the prison estate should develop. There are good relations between my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and the Lord Chief Justice. They have the friendliest of exchanges on such matters. It is important, and in society's best interests, that we have a wide-ranging debate about the use of prisons and the future of prisons. It would be a sad day indeed if we hid away from that debate. Too often in the past, prisons have been unthought of and uncared for. We need to think more about what we are doing with prisons.

Asylum Seekers Arriving From France

3.30 p.m.

What response President Chirac made at the summit meeting with the Prime Minister to the Government's reported intention to send asylum seekers arriving from France back to France.

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister had a full discussion at the summit on asylum and illegal immigration with his opposite number, Lionel Jospin. They agreed that a solution to the responsibility for considering asylum claims could best be found at EU level. The United Kingdom and France have worked closely to achieve that. Detailed discussions on those topics were also held between my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and the French Minister of the Interior, M Vaillant. They reached agreement on the introduction in June of juxtaposed controls on Eurostar services, whatever the destination of the passenger, and on further co-operative action to combat drugs and people-smuggling from the Balkans.

In reporting the outcome of the summit, President Chirac concluded that positive outcomes had been reached to further enhance UK/French co-operation on asylum and immigration issues. Current arrangements for returning asylum seekers to France and other EU countries are made under the Dublin convention agreed by the previous administration in 1990. The previous administration also agreed that the existing more effective gentleman's agreement between the UK and France should be terminated for the return of asylum seekers.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether illegal asylum seekers, when returned from this country to France, simply remain in, for instance, Calais, where they can have another go, or does France return them to their country of origin? I am not at all sure that the Minister has explained the policy of France as regards asylum seekers.

My Lords, what happens to illegal immigrants when they return to France is a matter for the French authorities. We are trying to establish and develop clear and effective communications with our French colleagues to ensure that such problems are dealt with between our two countries on a bilateral basis, and across the EU as a whole. It is only by having effective EU relations on such matters that we can tackle the problem together in the most effective and co-operative way.

My Lords, perhaps I may thank the "mighty Baroness Trumpington" for raising this matter and allowing me to comment on it. I do so seriously, as the grandson of four people who today would be regarded as asylum seekers. Perhaps I may ask my noble friend and the Government to deal with asylum seekers with fairness, and with strictness in appropriate cases, but also with compassion, decency and respect.

My Lords, I hope that I always deal with such matters with compassion, decency and integrity. Perhaps I may add that yesterday's debate on asylum seekers was a credit to your Lordships' House because it was conducted in exactly those terms. I wish that debates could be conducted in such terms more frequently.

My Lords, during yesterday's debate, the Minister boasted about the Government investing to create a modern and efficient system to handle immigration cases. A few hours later we read in the newspapers that they have just stopped the investment altogether. Did not the Minister know about that or did something else happen?

My Lords, I hope that I am not a boastful Minister in your Lordships' House. Yes, I am aware of the problem to which the noble Lord alludes. It should be put on record that the computer system in Croydon, to which I believe the noble Lord refers, has helped us to achieve a great deal. It was a major contributory factor to over 110,000 asylum decisions being made last year. The system may have shortcomings, but it has demonstrated considerable flexibility. That was how it was originally designed to be and what was intended when the contract was set, back in 1996.

My Lords, I should declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. Is my noble friend aware of the proposal to fine UK rail freight operators, rather than SNCF, for importing illegal immigrants when preventive measures are unable to be taken in France, and that that will probably cause the rail freight services through the tunnel to close? Is not that contradictory to the policy of the DETR; that is, to encourage, through the SRA, the promotion of cross-channel rail services?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for declaring his interest in the matter. It is important that we encourage the transportation of goods by rail. I cannot believe that measures which we have put in place, and which are designed to be effective in tackling the problem of illegal immigrants, will act as a disincentive to rail freight. As regards the longer-term nature of enforcement, if the noble Lord and the interests that he represents continue to have concerns, I shall be ready to facilitate any meetings necessary to deal with some of the problems.

Barclays Group Reorganisation Bill Hl

Read a second time, and referred to the Examiners.

National Australia Group Europe Bill Hl

Read a second time, and referred to the Examiners.

Political Parties, Elections And Referendums Act 2000 (Disapplication Of Part Iv For Northern Ireland Parties, Etc)Order 2001

3.37 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th January be approved [5th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this order exempts political parties in Northern Ireland from registering the source of their donations and from the specified list of permissible donors contained in the Act. The exemption will last for four years. It can, of course, be revoked earlier if it is no longer required. If it is thought to be needed after four years the Government may seek further exemptions from the House.

I know that this section of the Act was debated at length in your Lordships' House and in another place. The Government are well aware of the continued concerns about the principle of the order and I hope to explain to your Lordships today why we believe it is necessary. The order is based on certain recommendations produced in the 5th Report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen. The noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Shore of Stepney, also served on that committee. All three spoke in the Second Reading debate in your Lordships House. They did not draft this order, but it is based on the best possible interpretations of the two specific recommendations in respect of Northern Ireland.

Following evidence given to the committee when it visited Belfast, the first of those recommendations acknowledged that there were real possibilities of intimidation of those who made donations to political parties there. As a consequence, the Neill Report suggested that a short term and reviewable exemption from the reporting requirements in respect of donations should be made for political parties in Northern Ireland.

The second recommendation acknowledged the importance of the Good Friday agreement and our relations with the Republic of Ireland. This prompted the committee to suggest that a definition of a permissible source should include a citizen of the Republic of Ireland in residence in the Republic, subject to compliance with the Republic's Electoral Law Act 1997.

The Government accepted that recommendation, as they had accepted the first. Unfortunately, as the House is now aware, it did not prove possible to draft the clause in respect of the Republic of Ireland in quite the way suggested. This is because the Electoral Commission, as a UK-based organisation, would not be able to verify whether those in the Republic of Ireland who make donations are in fact in compliance with the laws of that country.

Your Lordships will know that it was not the intention of the clause to permit overseas donations for the Northern Ireland parties. Nor was it the intention that this clause should benefit one particular section of Northern Ireland life or one particular party.

The need for anonymity has been acknowledged by most of the parties in Northern Ireland. Even those which would prefer to see a list of donors' names being given, in confidence, to the commission recognised that the very existence of such a list might constitute a threat for some people.

It is an unfortunate consequence of the second recommendation, which suggested that donations should be permitted from the Republic of Ireland, that we cannot, in reality, police the source of that money and ascertain without doubt that it did not come from some other international source.

I would, however, stress to your Lordships that the other parts of this Act do extend to the Northern Ireland parties. That means that all the Northern Ireland parties must register with the Electoral Commission; that they will have a duty to keep full and detailed accounting records as directed by the commission; and that their campaign and other expenditure will be controlled.

These exemptions are being put before your Lordships' House because of very genuine fears for the safety of those who are named as donors. Equally, we all recognise the role of the Republic of Ireland in Northern Ireland's political life. This is entirely consistent with the Good Friday agreement.

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, George Howarth, has had two rounds of consultations with the Northern Ireland parties about these exemptions. While a number of concerns were expressed by the parties, there was an acknowledgement of the possibility of intimidation and the impossibility of policing donations which came from another country.

As the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State mentioned in a debate in another place, the Government of the Republic of Ireland have already given some indication that they are considering introducing legislation similar to that contained in this Act. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on or to prejudge the matter, but as my honourable friend in another place acknowledged, if there is a change in the law in the Republic of Ireland it may well have implications for these exemptions.

I can confirm to your Lordships that the Government would be happy to review the need for these exemptions or for any particular part of them if they were able to do so in the light of any changes in the law of the Republic of Ireland. They would also consider revocation or amendment if there were any material change of circumstance.

The order has a life span of four years. If it can be revoked before that time, the Government will be happy to do so. Alternatively, if after four years we believe that the situation calls for a renewal of the exemptions we will come again to the House with an affirmative order.

In the meantime, I suggest that while these exemptions have a regrettable side they are in the short-term very necessary if the democratic parties in Northern Ireland are to prosper and thrive. I therefore ask your Lordships approve the order today. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th January be approved [ 5th Report from the Joint Committee].—( Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

3.45 p.m.

rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert "but that this House regrets that the draft order allows political parties in Northern Ireland to receive funds from foreign donors; dispenses with the requirement for political parties in Northern Ireland to keep records of donations and to report them to the Electoral Commission; and allows foreign funding to be used by Northern Ireland political parties when participating in future United Kingdom referendums and in any future referendum on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope that the terms of the amendment make clear the three aspects of the order about which we have reservations. The first is that it allows Northern Ireland parties to accept foreign donations not only from the Republic of Ireland but also from elsewhere in the world. As the noble and learned Lord acknowledged, that is against the spirit of the legislation and the recommendations of the Neill committee.

Secondly, the order means that no records will be kept of donations which can allow foreign donations to be understood. The third aspect concerns the effect on referendums, to which the noble and learned Lord did not refer.

As regards overseas funding, all parties in the United Kingdom agreed with the Neill committee on the proposed ending of foreign donations to our political parties. The Conservative Party implemented that measure before it was recommended by the Neill committee and continues to support it.

However, there has been wide recognition of the special position of Northern Ireland parties. The noble and learned Lord said that the changes that will be implemented by the order are based on the recommendations of the Neill committee, but they go much further. The Neill committee recommended that Northern Ireland parties should continue to be able to receive donations from the Republic of Ireland. That is discriminatory in favour of those parties whose views are likely to be more acceptable in the Republic of Ireland. In any event, the order goes further in allowing donations from anywhere in the world.

The noble and learned Lord again said that the problem is that the measure cannot be policed. He indicated that because of the difficulty in investigating matters in the Republic of Ireland to the satisfaction of the commission, we cannot police "without doubt" that donations do not come from outside the Republic of Ireland. That is not a strong reason for saying that we cannot do so at all; that we cannot state that it is illegal to receive donations from outside the Republic, even though the exemption cannot be policed satisfactorily all the time. We understand that in some cases there might be an element of doubt—that it cannot be "without doubt"—but that is not a strong enough reason for taking no steps at all.

We all know that for many years donations have been collected in the United States ostensibly for humanitarian or political reasons but have then been diverted to terrorist purposes. Therefore, in the Northern Ireland context, it is especially dangerous to allow the fig leaf of political donations to continue because the money can flow into terrorist hands. Although the United States is often mentioned in this context, terrorists have received support of all kinds from countries such as Libya. Such support is not confined to the United States.

I have for a long time believed that the extraordinary momentum behind Irish terrorism is not connected only with politics but to some extent with finance. We know that that was the case with, for instance, the Mafia, which began as a political organisation and then turned to rackets. They are now primarily financial organisations. In my opinion, that has happened to some extent to Northern Ireland terrorism. That is why, when I was a Minister in the Province, I did as much as I could to fight the rackets that were taking place. Sadly, neither I nor others in both governments have been very successful and those rackets remain a series of problems. But there is a danger that money will come to Northern Ireland from overseas to parties that are connected with terrorists. Similarly, we do not want money from rackets to go into politics, but that is more difficult to control particularly if there is no reporting of donations.

That brings me to my second point: reporting. Obviously, I recognise the problem. To play any part in Northern Ireland politics can be very dangerous. Those of us who were in another place for some years will remember our colleague the Rev Robert Bradford and the numerous attacks on others over the years. We sympathise with the need for restrictions on publicity, but that should not rule out reporting in confidence to the Electoral Commission. I believe that it shows lack of confidence in the commission and the way that it conducts itself to suggest otherwise. We entirely sympathise with restrictions on publication, but that is quite different from sympathising with what the order does in this respect; namely, to eliminate all requirements for records of donations.

My third point concerns referendums which are of particular importance within Northern Ireland but also have repercussions in the rest of the United Kingdom. The first general point is whether foreign money should be spent in referendums. Obviously, we agree that it should not be spent in support of one side or another in future referendums, but that is not what the order achieves; indeed, it opens up loopholes. The order also confers on registered political parties in Northern Ireland benefits over other groups, because a cross-community group that may be set up to campaign in a referendum but is not registered as a political party—it should not need to be—will suffer all the restrictions in the Bill which have been criticised and accepted as far as concerns Northern Ireland. Therefore, the order is defective in not allowing some people the freedom that others will have in a Northern Ireland referendum. In that context one is always conscious of the fact that, as on a number of occasions in the past, there may be referendums on the future government of Northern Ireland and so on.

During the debates on the Bill the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, conceded the point and said:

"I do not pretend that the position is ideal".—[Official Report, 21/11/00; col. 768.]

That is "Bassamspeak" for saying that it is not very good but the Government do not intend to do anything about it. That is what has happened. The order means that the position has not been corrected.

The other aspect of the matter is the loophole that the order creates for UK-wide referendums. There has been recent discussion on the timing of a possible referendum on the euro should the Labour Party, unfortunately, be re-elected, but I do not want to become involved in that this afternoon. It will be possible for money from all over the world to come via existing or new Northern Ireland parties to fund campaigns for a UK-wide referendum on one side or another of the question in the referendum. All of that seems to us to be potentially deeply unfair to one side or other in the referendum. It is not a loophole which respectable parties like those represented in this House would follow, but we all know that there are less reputable—or more disreputable—people who are capable of using loopholes which are created. This order creates a loophole which allows foreign money to flow into one or other, or both, sides of any UK as well as Northern Ireland referendum.

For those three reasons we do not regard the order and the policies which it represents to be satisfactory. We did not at the time when the Act was as a Bill, and we do not today. I beg to move.

Moved, That, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert "but that this House regrets that the draft order allows political parties in Northern Ireland to receive funds from foreign donors; dispenses with the requirement for political parties in Northern Ireland to keep records of donations and to report them to the Electoral Commission; and allows foreign funding to be used by Northern Ireland political parties when participating in future United Kingdom referendums and in any future referendum on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland".—( Lord Cope of Berkeley.)

My Lords, during the course of the passage of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill through your Lordships' House it became clear that one of its main purposes, as we knew it would be, was to impose a general rule that no one from abroad should contribute to political parties in the United Kingdom. I shall not comment on the general effects of the legislation, except to say that this order appears to be yet another example of what that Act will do to the political culture in this country by institutionalising and bureaucratising political parties and effectively rigging the system in favour of Whitehall and whatever government happen to be in power at the time.

As I understand it, two main exceptions to that general rule were imposed by the Government. The first was that companies with headquarters in other European Union countries could contribute to British political parties. I understand that the exception to that rule lay, above all, in EU law and regulation. If I correctly understood my then noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, he pointed out that the first exception—the second is the subject of this order today—made the general rule meaningless, since anyone could establish a company in, say, Amsterdam or anywhere else in the European Union, and pour money into it which could then be disbursed to the coffers of United Kingdom parties unhindered. If my then noble friend was right, he demonstrated clearly that that made a nonsense of the whole thing. On the other hand, if he was wrong, clearly it would also enable European Union nationals, or corporate nationals, to influence our internal politics in a way that no other foreign nationals could.

The second exception is the subject of this order. Quite apart from anything else, that exception is as objectionable as the first, partly on the same grounds. It gives non-United Kingdom entities, but also individuals, an opportunity to influence the politics of a part of the United Kingdom. But what makes the second exception infinitely worse than the first is that basically it licenses terrorist organisations to finance their terrorist political fronts in Northern Ireland at a particularly delicate time when it is clear that the process of peace, for which the Province in particular but also the rest of the United Kingdom are so grateful, teeters on a knife-edge. Not only does it license such donations from abroad, particularly to terrorist organisations and parties which are their political front, but it does so by providing that such donations should be kept secret. We went through that issue at various stages during the passage of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. I do not propose to weary your Lordships with my arguments again. I merely observe that, as your Lordships well know, terrorism flourishes on secrecy and fear. Secrecy and fear go together. I am sorry to have to say this to the noble and learned Lord, but it is a pity that the Government are proposing a measure which does an enormous amount to encourage that plight.

By way of mitigation and in anticipation that this point would be made not only by my noble friend Lord Cope but also by others during the course of our discussions today, the noble and learned Lord said that parties should keep accounts and that those accounts would be subject to audit. I am sure that they will. If the noble and learned Lord believes—to take one example—that Sinn Fein or the Protestant parties affiliated to Protestant terrorist organisations are so lacking in ruthlessness or, indeed, in guile, that they are not able to hide those donations from the attentions of auditors for fear that those donations and their sources might not make them look very good in public, then I am afraid he is more naive than the House has understood him to be during the course of his distinguished tenure of a seat on that Front Bench.

For that reason alone we would be very foolish not to look carefully at every aspect of the order before we go any further and approve it.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to comment on this next point, because, if it is not true, it needs denying. I understand that there is a rumour current in Northern Ireland and that that rumour has actually been articulated by government Ministers in trying to persuade people in the Province to accept the need for this provision. The rumour is that the main beneficial effect of the order will not be to support Sinn Fein, but will be to provide a much needed source of funds for the moribund SDLP, which could not expect to find any support from elsewhere. I hope the Government realise that that is disingenuous—to put it mildly—if that is indeed being said.

Your Lordships will be well aware that one of the tragedies of the politics of the Province in the past few years, and particularly in the past few months, has been the decline in the political support enjoyed by the parties of the centre—basically the SDLP and the official Ulster Unionist Party. We all know that the present Government's policy, and particularly the previous government's policy, has been designed, above all, to help to support the moderate centre on both sides of the sectarian divide. I fear that what has happened is that the policy has had exactly the opposite effect. Instead of supporting the moderate parties of the centre, the effect has been to weaken them. If your Lordships doubt what I say, I have to remind you only of the results of the recent South Antrim by-election.

Therefore, this policy has achieved diametrically the opposite effect of what it was designed to achieve. The way that it has been implemented has pandered to the extremes on both sides, thereby weakening the centre, because no one is really prepared to go to the stake for it. The terrorists and their representatives are therefore enormously strengthened.

So what we are seeing in the Province now is the progressive destruction of the SDLP and the united Ulster Unionists. I am afraid that that destruction has been the direct result of policies pursued by governments of both complexions. If this order is designed to give a financial lifeline to the SDLP, I fear that that will not work. The SDLP can be revived only by a robust defence of the ballot box against the Armalite, and an understanding that the British Government will always go to the stake for that principle, rather than honour it more in the breach than the observance.

Whether or not the rumour that I described in the latter part of my remarks is true, this policy will continue a process that gives comfort to the terrorist and gives official protection to the darkness in which terrorism flourishes. On those grounds alone noble Lords should oppose the order.

4 p.m.

My Lords, I rise early in the debate to support the amendment. I rise early to give my opinion to this House of what I really believe is happening in Northern Ireland in advance of any member of the Unionist party speaking, so that it will not be reported in newspapers in Ireland tomorrow morning that I was speaking in support of what the unionists may contribute.

I have just returned from Belfast. I was there over a week ago. I spoke to many people about the order and its implications. I can only say with great honesty and certainty that the order does not have the support of democrats in Northern Ireland. If we are ever to reinstate democracy in Northern Ireland, it will not be done by making further concessions to anti-democrats. That is exactly what the order is doing.

Let us analyse the issue in language that we will all understand. It is about political parties. Political parties exist because they want to get candidates elected to whatever the political forum may be. In this case it is to the House of Commons, to the Northern Ireland Assembly and to Europe. The parties say that they need financial support to have their candidates elected. All the political parties say that. I can say this afternoon which candidates are likely to be returned to the parliamentary seats in the forthcoming election. One can say with a great deal of accuracy who those candidates may be and which parties they may represent. There may be one or two seats in question that one cannot predict. Yet I would not be very far off if I were to make a prediction as I stand here today.

The political parties in Northern Ireland are not, as they say in Northern Ireland, "exactly on their uppers". I fought 22 elections in Northern Ireland. In all the elections that I fought I had to go outside and get my own financial backing to fight them. It did not take thousands and thousands of pounds to win seats in Northern Ireland. At the moment, one of the main political parties in Northern Ireland is Sinn Fein. It is reputed to be the richest political party in Europe because of the donations which it receives—for which it sometimes intimidates.

The candidates who will be fighting the next European election and the Assembly elections are already well known because many of them are "two-jobbing". Many of the SDLP candidates who will be defending their seats in the forthcoming election to this country's Parliament are already there, and in the Assembly. The UUP candidates will be defending their seats, and they are already sitting in the Assembly also. They are in receipt of a ministerial salary and a salary from this Parliament. The candidates who will be fighting the next election are already in receipt of over £100,000 a year. One might think that with that sort of income they might be able to make provision for a rainy day, and they might be able to save something to finance the forthcoming elections. It is not the case that the political parties are in such a penurious state that they have to obtain money from either the Republic, Socialist International or America.

Sinn Fein will not abide by any restrictions placed on it by the withdrawal of this legislation. Sinn Fein will get its money wherever it gets its money. There have been many involuntary donations to the Sinn Fein election kitty over the past 30 years, mostly from banks and post offices in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein will get its money and nothing will stop that.

The SDLP has an annual collection hosted by the political parties in the Republic of Ireland. I think that I attended two of them during my term as leader of the SDLP. It was well known who were the personnel making these donations to the SDLP, and no one killed them. We are now being told that we have to introduce exclusion to prevent subscribers to political parties in Northern Ireland being murdered. What a convenient way this is for all the political parties in Northern Ireland to hide their finances.

I am not sure where the Official Unionist Party obtains its finances. I have no doubt it receives some subscriptions from Orange Lodges in Canada and elsewhere. The SDLP receives subscriptions from political parties in the Republic and from Socialist International. How Socialist International can recognise the SDLP as being a socialist party is far beyond me. Paddy Devlin and myself were responsible for having the SDLP admitted into Socialist International. That was a big undertaking. Since Paddy Devlin died and I left the SDLP, there are very little remnants of socialism left in that party.

The DUP has Ministers in the Executive in Northern Ireland and it has seats over here. Many of those politicians are in receipt of two salaries, one from the Assembly and one from here, and one of them has a ministerial salary. They are in receipt of over £100,000 a year. If they cannot finance their own election, what are they going to do with this money? Dr Paisley's party has three seats—one each at the Assembly, Westminster and Europe. We all read in our newspapers about the fiddles that go on with expenses in Europe. Dr Paisley should have enough to finance his candidates in the forthcoming elections—not forgetting the bucket collection he has every Sunday in the Martyrs Memorial church. There is no shortage of money.

Some people say that they are frightened that people who would make donations to the Women's Coalition are in danger of being intimidated or killed. Who would kill anyone making donations to the Women's Coalition Party in Northern Ireland? Who will carry out these assasinations and intimidations? Will it be the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA and all the other IRAs which assasinate persons making contributions to the Unionist parties? Will it be the UVF or the UDA which will kill persons making donations to the SDLP? The whole thing is ridiculous. It reminds me of some people from this House and some from another place who have spent time in Northern Ireland. Some of those people have spent lunchtime there and they believe that that entitles them to bodyguards and free transport for the rest of their lives. I do not believe that any political party will cease to exist if people refrain from making donations because they are in danger of being killed.

The reason for the exclusion of Northern Ireland does not bear scrutiny. Any political party can say that people who give it money are in danger of being killed. It is a very convenient way of hiding financial support.

The money from America may not be an issue at the moment; but it is liable to be an issue in the future. The money that has come to Sinn Fein and the SDLP—mostly from Democratic sources—may be called into question. The Bush Administration are intent on discrediting ex-President Clinton and some of the financial upheavals that took place then. Some of that money was going to Sinn Fein, and from Sinn Fein to the IRA. We may not have heard the last of that matter.

The Minister said that the order will be looked at again in four years. In Northern Ireland we know that there is nothing more permanent than that which is temporary. We have seen border polls and we were told that they were going to be brought back. We have seen the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. The emergency provisions were supposed to last for two or three weeks. Here we are now, 20 years later.

If the order is passed as it stands, it will be seen as a total surrender to those who would deny democracy and threaten those who are trying to bring about democracy in Northern Ireland.

I heard what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. Representations are being made far and wide—particularly to me as a founder member of the SDLP—not to do anything that may prevent the SDLP receiving financial support from abroad. If I had a violin, I would play it. There are only 17 seats in Northern Ireland. There is enough slush-fund money coming from America to finance all of those seats. This order violates the democratic principle of elections as it applies to the United Kingdom. I do not think that it is necessary. I do not think that anyone will be intimidated, assasinated or harassed by making a donation to any of the democratic parties in Northern Ireland. Saying that is a total exaggeration of the situation. Many people have used the emergency situation in Northern Ireland to make their lifestyles very comfortable. To whoever spent lunchtime in Northern Ireland and now has transport for the rest of his life, I repeat that what is proposed is a total and absolute waste of taxpayers' money, which should not be misused to such an extent.

I support the amendment. I do so because I believe that it is unnecessary to exclude Northern Ireland from all the provisions of the Act that apply to other parts of the United Kingdom.

4.15 p.m.

My Lords, it is perfectly plain from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that, on the merits, there is no justification for the order. Putting it very briefly, if one or two seats—that is all—are in question, this is really nothing more than to legitimise a channel for foreign funds to reach Sinn Fein for the purposes to which we know they are put.

I shall say no more about the merits but look at the powers. The order is produced under Section 70(1)(b) of the Act, which states:
"The Secretary of State may by order make provision … for disapplying"—
that is the word—
"any specified provisions of this Part, for such period as is specified, in relation to a Northern Ireland party".
This is not strictly a disapplication. What it does is to remove something contrary to the general intendment of the provisions of the Act, which is designed to control foreign donors. I am far from certain what the High Court would say about the legality of this proposal. I am not sure whether it is within the vires conferred by the Act. That is apart from the merits, of which there are none.

My Lords, I rise to speak in favour of the order. I shall comment in a moment on what was said by the noble Lord. Lord Fitt, but I want first to register an interest. I am one of the founder members of the Women's Coalition, to which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, referred. While I was listening to the noble Lord, I thought that we might appoint him treasurer because he said that getting money is no problem. I can tell him that, from the point of view of the Women's Coalition, it is a big problem.

When we set up the Women's Coalition, we tried to bring together a cross-community group of men and women, believe it or not, to look at setting up a political party that would present an agreed agenda. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said that he was in Northern Ireland last week and another noble Lord said that he had also been over. I live in Northern Ireland. I live in Belfast. I live in the Shankhill Road in Belfast, and Y can tell the House that intimidation is rife. You would be intimidated for a lot less than getting a donation from a foreign donor. I can be intimidated for getting down to my car at the wrong time of the day.

What are the facts of life in Northern Ireland? For a long time, politics has not been at the centre of thinking for ordinary people. People decided that they wanted to do something about it. It was not the easiest of projects to put together. You are putting together a group of people from both sides of the community in order to organise themselves into a political party. It was not the easiest of projects, but it has been achieved by the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition and by the Alliance Party. It is possible.

However, as noble Lords will know, putting together any kind of project takes funding. It takes funding to have full-time staff, to equip offices, to hold meetings and to deal with correspondence. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I am sure that in the early days the SDLP had that problem. The party would have looked for someone to support it. When a small party like the Women's Coalition decides to get going, where does it get the means to do it? Where does it get the funds to do it? Various methods of funding have to be looked at. Funding has to be sought. I say right now that such means of funding should be transparent. The Women's Coalition believes that funding should be transparent to all and that a proper audit trail should be in place for public scrutiny. We have never done any differently.

A small party like the Women's Coalition does not have access to funding from trade union members or to funding from private business. Many businesses would shy away from giving support to a political party within Northern Ireland. Noble Lords who have served in Northern Ireland know that to be a fact of life. Even if such funding were possible, it has to be remembered that Northern Ireland is a very small place. We have a plethora of political parties seeking funding. Therefore, we have to find ways of getting funding through other channels.

I have to say at this point that the Women's Coalition owes a debt of gratitude to the people of the Republic of Ireland. They funded us very generously to help us to get started. If the order were to fall today, where would such funding come from? I understand that noble Lords have been talking about the large parties. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, referred to the Official Unionist Party and the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, referred to the SDLP. They are large parties. They have a great deal of money and can fund themselves. But I am talking about small groups of people who want to change the political way forward in Northern Ireland. They are tired of confrontational and megaphone diplomacy and want to get away from that. They want to fight elections. How do we do that? Do we go along to the SDLP or the Official Unionists and say, "We hear you have a load of money. Give us some"? We would not get it.

I find myself in a bind. I am not opposed to the amendment. I understand what the amendment seeks and would not disagree with it. I have already said that any funding for political parties in Northern Ireland should be scrutinised. But if the order were to fall today, small groups like the Women's Coalition would find it hard to survive, let alone grow. That is what we are after. We are trying to make the organisation grow.

I listened carefully to what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and other noble Lords. I understand that those who support the amendment seek in some way to starve funds from the like of Sinn Fein. Noble Lords need to reflect carefully on whether that would be achieved. I have to tell the House that it would not be so. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has already said that these people would find another way of bringing in the money. If the order is not passed, the Women's Coalition and parties like it will suffer the most. That would do immense damage to a great many people in Northern Ireland who are seeking to get away from confrontational politics. I ask noble Lords to think very deeply about this matter and I urge the House to support the order.

My Lords, we have just hear a powerful speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Blood. It is a great pleasure to speak after her in the debate.

In reluctantly accepting the need for this order to be passed unamended, we are acknowledging the reality that Northern Ireland's political system has not yet reached the point where all desirable legislative provisions can apply. This is regrettable but it is a fact.

The noble and learned Lord the Minister has already presented the case for why Northern Ireland should be exempted from the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act in two main respects: that the names of donors to political parties need not be disclosed, and that the Northern Ireland political parties may receive funds from overseas.

The first exemption is required because of the need for anonymity where intimidation or worse are still ever present. Until the political life of Northern Ireland becomes more peaceful, the rules applying in Britain should not be enforced in Northern Ireland. Moreover, there is the additional fact that the professional classes have all but forsaken participation in political life and the prospect of the public disclosure of donations to political parties would be a further disincentive to any political involvement on their part. That would be regrettable; there is more than enough alienation from politics as it is.

As to allowing foreign donations, again, this is to accept the reality of the situation. As the Minister has pointed out, Sinn Fein operates as a political party both in Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to prevent it from moving its funds across the border between the two jurisdictions. I should declare an interest at this point as a board member of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. During the elections to the assembly, we gave donations to all the parties described by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, as the "centre parties". I can tell noble Lords from experience—I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that I did not go over simply for lunch; I stayed for eight years in another capacity and I did not enjoy free transport or any other such benefits—that the political parties in Northern Ireland are chronically underfunded in comparison with their British counterparts. To that end, I endorse entirely what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Blood. If ever there was a case for the state funding of political parties, surely it is Northern Ireland. But that discussion is for another day.

Along with all Members of this House, we on these Benches would like to see political parties in Northern Ireland regulated in precisely the same way as political parties in Britain—as the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, seeks to achieve. But it is premature to attempt to do that now, which is why we shall oppose the amendment. However, no one would wish to see this disapplication order enforced if circumstances change for the better and it could be cancelled ahead of the time period of four years within which it is set to operate in the first instance. To that end, I was pleased to hear the noble and learned Lord say that if conditions were to become favourable, the Government would review the operation of the order with a view to rescinding it before four years had passed. Would he be willing to say that he would go further and undertake formally to look at the continuing need for the order after it has been in operation for two years? If such an assurance could be given, we on these Benches would support even more strongly the approval of this order.

4.30 p.m.

My Lords, I greatly respect all that was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, and I understand her problems. Unfortunately, however, the party that is likely to gain the most from this will be Sinn Fein/IRA. It has the biggest sums coming in and, sadly, the most desperate plans to fund. It is the political wing of an armed paramilitary organisation.

What has been its record since the Belfast agreement? We have released all the IRA prisoners, reduced Army numbers and virtually destroyed the RUC, the police force which has saved countless lives and lost many of its own. What has Sinn Fein/IRA done, except to ask for more? We were told that the restructuring of the police as the result of the Patten report was to open the door to Catholics so as to achieve fair representation in the police force and thus gain the confidence of the Republican community. Everyone but those serving on the Patten commission knew that the reason why so few Catholics served in the RUC was that their lives and those of their families were at risk from Sinn Fein/IRA if they joined.

Once the Bill was passed and a 50 per cent quota was assured, we asked the Minister a question. Would Sinn Fein/IRA and, indeed, the SDLP and the Church tell Catholics that they could now join without fear? The Government maintained a touching faith that this would happen. We knew that it would not. Sinn Fein/IRA and, I am sorry to say, the SDLP are now demanding more powers for the police board, the abolition of the Special Branch—incidentally, our chief protection against bombs on the mainland—and the inclusion of paramilitaries released from prison in the district policing partnerships. Once again, we would be putting the Kray brothers in to police the criminals.

Sinn Fein/IRA promised to divulge the whereabouts of nine of the disappeared, whom they had murdered. Only three bodies were produced, but the IRA secured splendid media coverage for its caring attitude. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have refused to encourage those who have come forward as witnesses to the Omagh bombing because they do not recognise British justice. Why then, are they causing us to spend upwards of £30 million so far on the Bloody Sunday inquiry?

I am weary of telling the House about the beatings and the exiles that Sinn Fein/IRA, as well as the Loyalists, continue to carry out on their own people. It was described only recently as "paramilitary domestic housekeeping". If this were happening in England, would it be tolerated? Of course not. In the Belfast agreement, and over and over again since, the Government have ignored the IRA when it told the truth—i.e. that it would never decommission its arms—and believed it when it spoke with a forked tongue.

How many times have we explained in this House that when the IRA says that it will "consider how to put arms and explosives beyond use in the context of the removal of the causes of conflict", what it really means is the total removal of British forces and the destruction of the RUC as preconditions for something which it never intends to do? It has said again and again that it will never decommission. The ridiculous so-called "confidence-building measure" of allowing two middle-aged politicians—not soldiers and certainly not General de Chastelain—to take a look in the dead of night at arms which they will be wholly unable to identify, is another indication of the contempt in which it holds us and mirrors how deeply Mitchel McLaughlin holds us in contempt. Only yesterday he told the Bloody Sunday inquiry that he had absolutely no idea whether Mr McGuinness was a member of the IRA.

Whenever the Prime Minister and the Irish Prime Minister go to Northern Ireland, we know that more concessions will be made, but never by the IRA. General de Chastelain's report published in December 2000 states clearly that the IRA representative has not gone near the commission. For that reason, it is difficult to understand, other than perhaps through thought transference, how the IRA could say, on 5th December, that it has not broken contact with the commission. It has not been seen near the commission.

The commission believes it to be crucial to secure substantial engagement with representatives from the IRA—as it has had with the Loyalists—as soon as possible if it is to meet the June 2001 deadline. That will never happen. I can tell noble Lords that Her Majesty's Government will make more concessions, but the IRA will do absolutely nothing but ask for even more. In the meantime, it is achieving all of its objectives.

According to the Irish Times of 13th February, by this summer, the RUC will have lost one-half of its senior management. Some 51 of those officers are taking early redundancy and, indeed, have already left. One-half of the detective branch will have left by the summer. This is affecting not only the RUC; senior Garda officers are now alarmed at the reduction of strength and effectiveness of policing in Northern Ireland. Morale is collapsing. The Garda has stated that there will be a major deficit of policing in the North. The Irish people and the Dublin Government should be worrying about that as well, but of course we are not worrying about it.

All this is the work of Sinn Fein/IRA. It cannot be right, on top of everything else that it has received, to give it the ability to raise limitless foreign funds without control. I fully accept that it is difficult to police, but we have done it on other occasions. Why cannot we do it now? I do not know of any other political party which conducts its canvassing by breaking the limbs of young boys and girls with iron bars. If this order goes through, it will send a terrible message of appeasement and sheer stupidity.

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will have been interested to hear the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Park. I should like to put a brief question to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. Even if one rejects the powerful and well-informed argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt—although I would never do so—and continued to insist on the need for anonymity for donors resident in Northern Ireland, what is the justification for exempting Northern Ireland parties from having to declare the total sum received by way of donations from abroad in any given period, without having to identify individual donors? It is difficult to see how such an exemption can be justified.

My Lords, when the Government introduced the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, they did so on the grounds that it was to restore confidence in UK public life and thereby encourage a greater degree of public participation. Both were worthy objectives.

They sought to do this through two principles: first, the principle of transparency; and, secondly, the principle of independent supervision. Transparency was to be achieved by disclosure, and independent supervision was to be achieved by the creation of an independent electoral commission. This order drives a stake through the heart of both principles.

I listened when the Minister spoke about the need to avoid transparency and the disclosure of donations in Northern Ireland. Having heard the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, speak on this issue, it seems to me that "fig-leaf" is an inadequate description of what the Minister said.

I am more concerned about the impact that this order will have on the reputation of the Electoral Commission. The Act is half the size of a telephone directory, and it is difficult to see how an Act of that size will encourage public participation. With all its sanctions, some of which are of a criminal nature, it is likely to achieve the reverse. If the Act is to achieve many of the objectives we hoped for, it will be because the Electoral Commission is independent and above reproach.

Today, the Minister has said that the Electoral Commission is not to be trusted with information about donations and it is not to be trusted to keep an audit trail, albeit on an entirely private and confidential basis. If the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act is to be effective, the Electoral Commission must be effective. For that reason, I strongly support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Cope.

4.45 p.m.

My Lords, the greater number of people in Northern Ireland—by that, I do not mean the unionist or Protestant majority, but the sensible, law-abiding people of all religions and of none—take the view that they do not wish this order to be imposed. As a democrat, I therefore have to support the amendment.

The order will permit "Northern Ireland parties" to receive global foreign funding but will place no obligation on them to keep records of donations received or to disclose the value or source of donations. I join other noble Lords and plead with the Minister to place his trust—and to encourage others to place their trust—in the Electoral Commission. During my time in active politics, I have always found that electoral officers, who conduct elections at all levels, are people of absolute integrity. I have the greatest confidence in the commissioner and his commission in this regard. While a reluctance to publish names is understandable—that case has been made—I hope that the Government, even at this late stage, will decide that no one should try to oppose records of donations being submitted in strict confidence to the Electoral Commissioner and his commission.

I do not believe that parties in Northern Ireland should be treated differently from those in other parts of the United Kingdom. If foreign funding is banned in mainland Britain and transparency is deemed necessary, the same should apply to Northern Ireland.

As your Lordships are aware, the legislation to which this order is to apply, or, in this case, to disapply—I refer to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000—was founded on the fifth report of the Neill committee. In that report, Recommendation 24 states:
"Political parties should in principle be banned from receiving foreign donations".
It has been pointed out already that there was a slightly different, or amending, recommendation in that report. Paragraph 29 stated:
"In relation … to political parties in Northern Ireland, the definition of a permissible source should also include a citizen of the Republic of Ireland resident in the Republic subject to compliance with the Republic's Electoral Act".
But the fifth report did not recommend that Northern Ireland parties should be able to receive unrestricted global funding. It provided for a limited exception, a limited extension, to permit funding from the Republic of Ireland. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, that that funding is not a major issue.

For your Lordships' information, the Republic's Electoral Act does not prohibit foreign funding at this time. However, as has been pointed out, the Republic's Prime Minister strongly indicated in the dying months of last year that such a prohibition will be introduced. Concrete proposals have not yet been made available, but I have good reason to believe that legislation will be introduced in the current parliamentary session.

It is not surprising that the Republic is to introduce a package of funding reforms similar to those suggested in the Neill report when two recent investigatory tribunals have found scandal and corruption to be rife. However, it may be more of an influence that parties in the South fear, as we do, the immense wealth that Sinn Fein is amassing. The Irish Parliament has two good reasons for bringing its law into line with that which currently applies in Great Britain, but not in Northern Ireland.

Men such as Martin Galvin use a romanticised image of Irish republicanism to prey on the purses of people in America who have not witnessed—as we in various parts of the United Kingdom have witnessed—the misery and sheer brutality of the Provisional IRA and its so-called dissidents, who are in fact its allies, in its campaign in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom over 30 years. His malevolent skills are now being deployed for the benefit of the so-called dissident elements of the IRA. As they are a happy band of brothers, I do not think that they will be too worried about the niceties of accountancy.

It was reported in the Irish Times on 9th December last year that the Friends of Sinn Fein organisation has raised 4.5 million US dollars for the IRA's political wing. An amazing 500,000 US dollars were raised at one annual fund-raising dinner at the Sheraton Hotel in New York in November last year, only three months ago. I wonder how many cocktail parties it held over Christmas.

Those figures were discovered because the Friends of Sinn Fein in America—there is a lesson here for us—as an agency raising funds in the United States for a foreign organisation, must make annual returns to the American Department of Justice. So all has been revealed. In the six months to the end of October 1999, Friends of Sinn Fein raised 396,000 US dollars; in the same period, according to the department, Friends of Fianna Fail raised 116,000 US dollars in the United States. Sinn Fein also raised substantial funds in Australia through Friends of Sinn Fein Australia.

I should prefer to see a complete ban on foreign funding for Northern Ireland parties. But if an exception must be made, it should be limited to the Republic of Ireland, in the hope—now the expectation, based on the declaration of the Irish Prime Minister—that it, too, will eventually prohibit foreign funding. Indeed, it is to be hoped that that will happen in the not-too-distant future; it needs to be in the present parliamentary Session. It is appropriate at this point to remember that nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales could have benefited from foreign funding, but none has been made available to them.

Transparency in the funding of Northern Ireland political parties will simply not exist if the order is approved unamended. If a Northern Ireland party cannot identify the source of a donation, there will be no issue. Anonymous donations will continue to be permitted in Northern Ireland. No improperly obtained funds will be subject to forfeiture, as there will be no concept in Northern Ireland of "improperly obtained funds". Sources need not be voluntary, as is implicit in the term "donor"; racketeering will continue to be a form of funding for paramilitary-linked parties in Northern Ireland—indeed it will be made legitimate by this order.

Acceptance of the order will mean that the words,
"evasion of restrictions constituting an offence",
will not apply to Northern Ireland. As there will be no restrictions, there will be no restrictions to evade. Northern Ireland parties will not need to concern themselves with reporting on donations, weekly, quarterly or otherwise, during an election period or at other times.

In giving evidence to the Neill Committee, Unionists expressed concerns that public disclosure of donors might provide security problems, but those concerns did not preclude transparency and accountability by having records scrutinised by the electoral commission. For the life of me, I cannot see the objection to that clear-cut, straightforward way out.

The consequences of Sinn Fein dictating this piece of legislation in this Parliament, as it did with the Disqualifications Act, appear to be even more far-reaching than the Government anticipated. The order provides for political parties in Northern Ireland potentially to receive foreign funding generally, and to use the funding resource generally. This raises the issue of referenda already referred to.

The reference in the Belfast agreement,
"within the concept of the principle of consent",
provides for the possibility of a referendum on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, although such a referendum may never take place. It is of concern to all that if a referendum on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland were to take place, disproportionate funding would then be available to the different sides in a referendum campaign on the status of Northern Ireland.

Lavish campaigning by republicans and nationalists in any future referendum on Northern Ireland's constitutional position would not persuade Unionists to be anything other than unionist. However, disproportionate funding could affect the turn-out in any such campaign. The lack of foresight in regard to this exemption to suit Sinn Fein will result in organisations being specifically set up to campaign in any such referendum—unlike political parties, which will not be permitted to receive foreign funding.

This lack of foresight becomes even more apparent when considering the issue of UK-wide referenda. A British mainland party banned from receiving foreign donations could use a Northern Ireland party to receive foreign funding and to campaign on its behalf. There is no restriction on where Northern Ireland parties spend the resources obtained from foreign funding: the provision also works that way round. Surely this, too, must be regulated. Indeed, the party in government has a sister party in Northern Ireland; however, it is more likely that Sinn Fein would help the government who have been so helpful in legislating on its behalf.

It is apparent that the order does no service to Northern Ireland or to its electorate. They gain no transparency, and they risk their politics being heavily influenced by foreign countries. Politics in Northern Ireland will be aided only by the removal of the contamination that is implicit in foreign funding. The transition from fascism to democracy that we all hope certain individuals in Northern Ireland will make, can only be slowed by their organisations being allowed the leeway to continue their economic dependency on extortion, drug dealing, robberies and foreign funding. Northern Ireland can only benefit from firm regulation of such contributions to political parties in line with the rest of the United Kingdom; and that can only assist in the restoration of stability and normality for which we are all striving.

My Lords, this has been a good debate on an important order. I think all of us would agree that the principles of openness, transparency and accountability in the funding of political parties are principles for which we would all strive—none more so than the members of the Neill committee, who, in the course of taking evidence for their reports on the funding of political parties, went to Belfast and took evidence on the issue from a large number of people who wished to give it. The evidence that they received led them to propose the exception that forms the first basis of the exemption in the proposals before the House; namely, that sources within Northern Ireland would not need to be revealed.

The form and substance of that evidence was perhaps best summarised in a speech that was made in another place by the Member for South Down. He said:
"We have resisted violence over the years and have tried to create a normal political society. We have been tested in every possible way by sectarianism and violence. Now, every morning in news bulletins, we hear about pipe bombing. That is where we are at. In that context, we asked the Neill committee and the Government to exempt Northern Ireland parties for a trial period of four years to ascertain whether we could achieve some normality and subsequently be covered by the whole Act".—[Official Report, Commons, 6/2/01; col. 885.]
It was not the Government in any concession to Sinn Fein who decided to accept that evidence; it was the Neill committee, in relation to the first exemption. The Government decided to act in relation to that.

Noble Lords opposite have suggested that this exemption is some kind of concession to Sinn Fein. This is not a provision for which Sinn Fein is asking. The democratic constitutional parties are asking for it. As to whether it will benefit Sinn Fein, perhaps it is worthwhile to quote again the words of the Member for South Down, who went on to say:
"Hon. Members may be worried about the wrongdoers doing wrong, but they will continue to do wrong anyway. They will have the advantage of doing wrong and not being caught. If a paramilitary organisation wants to get funds from Timbuktu, it will get funds from Timbuktu irrespective of any legislation passed by this House. However, the democratic political parties, which form a bulwark against such activities, must be given the ability to sustain themselves until the day arrives when we have normal politics in Northern Ireland".—[Col. 886.]
So the democratic constitutional parties do not agree with the proposition that has been put by noble Lords opposite. The parties believe that this order helps them, and that it makes little difference to what happens to the paramilitary parties. I note that that view is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, and the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, who spent eight years in the Province. We believe that the proposition has considerable force. We do not want there to be exceptions for Northern Ireland, but we recognise the reality.

Perhaps I may deal with the points raised. In effect, they fall into four categories. First, the noble Lords, Lord Hodgson and Lord Cope, together with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, asked, "Why don't you record, if not publish, the donations that have been received?" With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, I must point out that this is not a provision which in any way seeks to criticise the Electoral Commission; rather, it simply recognises that people are more wary of giving donations if they are recorded, irrespective of the fact that promises of confidentiality are given.

The honourable Member for South Down quoted from a letter received by the SDLP from the Ulster Unionist Party, which says:
"As you know, business people and individuals are already wary of making donations to political parties and are likely to be even more sensitive if their donations are to be recorded".
I stress the word "recorded", not publicised. The letter continues:
"I am afraid that reassuring people and organisations that their donations will be recorded but not published will make no difference".
One can understand. It is a point about perception, not a point about the reliability, or otherwise, of the Electoral Commission. No one would seek for a moment to suggest that the commission was unreliable.

Secondly, it is said that there is no need for an exemption in respect of all foreign donations and that surely it would be enough to deal with the Republic of Ireland alone. The problem in relation to the Republic of Ireland, is that, as the Neill committee recommended, such a provision would almost certainly be unenforceable for two reasons. First, the Electoral Commission has no power in the Republic of Ireland to require information that would be necessary to enforce such a ban; and, secondly, if one accepts the principle that there should be no recording of donations, there would be no basis whatever for seeking to enforce it because one would not have the basic information. Therefore, once one accepts the principle that the Republic of Ireland should be an exception, there would be no meaningful way to give effect to that without there being some sort of worldwide exemption.

The third point related to the referendum. This would allow political parties to obtain funding in relation to referendum campaigns. As long as the money is given to a political party, it is true to say that those referendum campaigns could both be in respect of a Northern Ireland-only issue and in relation to a United Kingdom issue. But, as noble Lords will know, the Act makes provision for the fact that there should be a limit on expenditure in referendum campaigns. So there will be restrictions on the amount that can be obtained from abroad. That limit will apply right across the United Kingdom in the event of a UK campaign, and it will apply in Northern Ireland if it is a Northern Ireland campaign.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, asked whether the Government would be willing to undertake to review the working of the order after a two-year period. I can tell the noble Lord that we most certainly would be willing to do so. I hereby give that undertaking to the noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked why we should not record the total amount that would be obtained from abroad. We do not believe that that would be a wise provision because such a declaration could not be validated in any meaningful way: there would neither be the recording of individual donations, nor the recording of their source. Therefore, political parties would be able to say anything they liked in that respect. It would not be appropriate to have a provision that allowed such a situation when there could be no real validation of it. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked whether there was vires for such an order. Yes, there is. It is to be found under Section 70(1)(b) of the Act.

I earnestly ask noble Lords to consider the evidence given to the Neill commission in Northern Ireland, and the views of the Northern Irish parties. This is not an order designed to help the paramilitaries, or those parties associated with them. It is an exemption order designed to help the constitutional and democratic parties in Northern Ireland upon which the future depends. I commend the order to the House.

My Lords, I shall not add to the debate at this stage. I wish simply to press my amendment and test the opinion of the House.

5.5 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 112; Not-Contents, 154.

Division No. 1


Alexander of Weedon, L.Boardman, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.Bowness, L.
Ampthill, L.Brabazon of Tara, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B.Bridgeman, V.
Arran, E.Brittan of Spennithorne, L.
Astor, V.Brougham and Vaux, L.
Astor of Hever, L.Burnham, L.[Teller]
Attlee, E.Buscombe, B.
Baker of Dorking, L.Caithness, E.
Barber, L.Campbell of Alloway, L.
Biffen, L.Campbell of Croy, L.
Blaker, L.Carnegy of Lour, B.
Blatch, B.Colwyn, L.

Cope of Berkeley, L.Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Courtown, E.Miller of Hendon, B.
Cox, B.Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Craig of Radky, L.Monson, L.
Craigavon, V.Montrose, D.
Cranborne, V.Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Crickhowell, L.Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Eden of Winton, L.Naseby, L.
Elles, B.Noakes, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.Northesk, E.
Elton, L.Norton of Louth, L.
Erroll, E.Oxfuird, V.
Feldman, L.Palmer, L.
Fitt, L.Palumbo, L.
Flather, B.Park of Monmouth, B.
Gardner of Parkes, B.Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Geddes, L.Platt of Writtle, B.
Goschen, V.Plumb, L.
Hanham, B.Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Harris of Peckham, L.Rawlings, B.
Hayhoe, L.Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Henley, L. [Teller]Reay, L.
Higgins, L.Rees, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.Renton, L.
Hogg, B.Roberts of Conwy, L.
Hooper, B.Rotherwick, L.
Howe, E.Ryder of Wensum, L.
Howe of Aberavon, L.St John of Fawsley, L.
Hurd of Westwell, L.Sandwich, E.
Hylton, L.Seccombe, B.
Jellicoe, E.Stevens of Ludgate, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.Stewartby, L.
Kelvedon, L.Strange, B.
Kingsland, L.Swinfen, L.
Laird, L.Tenby, V.
Lamont of Lerwick, L.Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Lawson of Blaby, L.Trumpington, B.
Listowel, E.Vivian, L.
Lucas, L.Waddington, L.
Lyell, L.Walker of Worcester, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.Wilcox, B.
Mackay of Clashfern, L.Williamson of Horton, L.
Marsh, L.Wolfson, L.


Acton, L.Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Addington, L.Crawley, B.
Ahmed, L.Currie of Marylebone, L.
Alli, L.Darcy de Knayth, B.
Amos, B.David, B.
Andrews, B.Davies of Coity, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L.Davies of Oldham, L.
Avebury, L.Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Bach, L.Dholakia, L.
Barker, B.Donoughue, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.Dubs, L.
Berkeley, L.Eatwell, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.Elder, L.
Billingham, B.Evans of Watford, L.
Blackstone, B.Ezra, L.
Blood, B.Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Boothroyd, B.Falkland, V.
Borrie, L.Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Bradshaw, L.Filkin, L.
Bragg, L.Gale, B.
Brennan, L.Geraint, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Brookman, L.Gladwin of Clee, L.
Burlison, L.Goldsmith, L.
Carter, L. [Teller]Goodhart, L.
Chandos, V.Goudie, B.
Christopher, L.Gould of Potternewton, B.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.Graham of Edmonton, L.
Clement-Jones, L.Greaves, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.Grenfell, L.

Hardy of Wath, L.Puttnam, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L.Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Harrison, L.Randall of St. Budeaux, L
Haskel, L.Razzall, L.
Hayman, B.Rea, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.Redesdale, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.Rendell of Babergh, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B.Rennard, L.
Howie of Troon, L.Richard, L.
Hoyle, L.Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.Rogers of Riverside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.Roper, L.
Jacobs, L.Russell, E.
Janner of Braunstone, L.Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord Privy Seal)Sandberg, L.
Sawyer, L.
Jeger, B.Scotland of Asthal, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L.Scott of Needham Market, B.
Judd, L.Serota, B.
King of West Bromwich, L.Sharman, L.
Kirkhill, L.Sharp of Guildford, B.
Layard, L.Shepherd, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.Shutt of Greetland, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.Simon, V.
Levy, L.Smith of Clifton, L.
Lincoln, Bp.Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Lipsey, L.Southwark, Bp.
Lockwood, B.Stone of Blackheath, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.Taverne, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.Thomas of Walliswood, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.Thornton, B.
McNally, L.Tomlinson, L.
Maddock, B.Turner of Camden, B.
Massey of Darwen, B.Uddin, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L.Warner, L.
Mishcon, L.Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Mitchell, L.Wedderburn of Charlton, L
Molloy, L.Whitaker, B.
Morris of Manchester, L.Whitty, L.
Newby, L.Wigoder, L.
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.Wilkins, B.
Paul, L.Williams of Elvel, L.
Peston, L.Williams of Mostyn, L.
Plant of Highfield, L.Winston, L.
Prys-Davies, L.Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly

On question, Motion agreed to

Vehicles (Crime) Bill

5.15 p.m.

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

Vehicle crime is a serious problem and one which people are concerned about. Nearly 400,000 cars are stolen each year and over 120,000 of these are never recovered. Vehicle crime accounts for nearly a fifth of all recorded crime accounts for nearly a fifth of all recorded.crime and costs over £3 billion a year. It causes distress and inconvenience to victims and ties up the resources of the criminal justice system.

We are publicly committed to reduce vehicle crime by 30 per cent in the five years from April 1999 and we have made progress. Effective targeting by the police working in partnership with manufacturers and the community has helped us to reduce vehicle crime by over 20 per cent since we took office. But we are never complacent in these matters: more can and should be done.

This Bill has the potential to make a significant impact. It will make vehicle crime less attractive by reducing opportunities for professional car thieves to profit and could prevent up to 39,000 car thefts and 6,000 fraudulent insurance "theft claims" per year, and it has been thought through. The original proposals come from the Vehicle Crime Reduction Team whose members comprised a cross-section of people from motor manufacturers and dealers, insurers, Home Office, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), the police and, importantly, motorists. And, of course, it has been thoroughly test driven, as it were, and scrutinised by the other place.

Part I of the Bill introduces regulation of motor salvage operators. Most salvage businesses operate to high standards and fully within the law. But we have received strong representations from the police to suggest significant criminality within the industry. Over a third of stolen cars are never recovered. The motor salvage industry offers opportunities for stolen cars to have their identities disguised or for them to be broken up and resold as parts. There is also a link with insurance fraud. Some cars which are reported stolen are sold to motor salvage dealers and broken up for their parts. We need to flush out the criminal element from this industry and support honest dealers.

So Clauses 1 to 6 require motor salvage operators to register with their local authority and to renew their registration at three-yearly intervals. The local authority would not register an applicant unless it was satisfied that the person was fit and proper to run a motor salvage business. An applicant refused registration or a person whose registration was cancelled by the local authority would have the right to make representations and appeal against that decision.

Clauses 7 to 12 will allow us to make sure that registered operators keep appropriate records, including a note of the destruction of vehicles, and notify the registration authority of any changes to their details, and they empower the police to enter and inspect registered premises. The effect would be to make it difficult to dispose of stolen vehicles, and people contemplating insurance fraud would be deterred by having to give their details to a motor salvage operator on selling their vehicle and by the prospect of committing a further offence under Clause 12 if they give false details.

The second part of the Bill focuses on number plate suppliers. Noble Lords will perhaps be as surprised as I was to learn that there is currently no control over the issue of number plates. So criminals can easily buy new plates to disguise a car they have stolen. We are not just talking about vehicle crime. Burglars may use false number plates to cover their traces when making a getaway. Terrorists may use false number plates and others may use them to deceive speed cameras. We believe that we need to block that loophole.

Clauses 17 to 23 require number plate suppliers to register with the Secretary of State; in practice the DVLA. Number plate suppliers will have to allow the police to enter and inspect their records without a warrant. It will be an offence to supply an unregistered supplier and to sell false plates.

The prospect that details of the transaction will be recorded should deter prospective purchasers of number plates who require them for criminal purposes. Record keeping will provide the police with the means to trace the source of plates used in criminal activities.

There would be a power under Clause 34 to make regulations prescribing additional information to be held on number plates and the way in which it should be contained or displayed. The information on the number plate will be linked to the vehicle for which it is intended. This will make it difficult to swap vehicle identities. The clause has been drafted to allow us to make full use of new technology—for example, putting bar codes with relevant details on number plates—as it develops.

Part 3 of the Bill deals with a range of additional measures to combat vehicle crime. The present law allows written-off vehicles to return to the road without being checked. This allows people who have tampered with a vehicle illegally to get away with it. The Bill will allow an identity check to be carried out on a vehicle before a new registration document can be issued and the vehicle legitimately returned to the road.

Clause 36 contains our proposal for tackling uninsured driving—an offence that frequently goes undetected. The motor insurance industry has offered the police bulk access to their new database. We want the police to take advantage of this offer which will mean that they can search out and take appropriate action against those who drive uninsured. This will make people think again before taking to the roads without insurance and will save money for the insurance industry, and ultimately all policyholders, who have to cover the costs of accidents caused by uninsured drivers.

Clause 37 extends the time limit for prosecuting unauthorised vehicle taking. So-called "joyriders" can be involved in accidents and cause deep distress to their victims; and often their offences are the gateway to more serious crime.

Some escape justice because they cannot be charged within the six-month time limit the law allows. Recent advances in DNA and fingerprinting mean that evidence often comes to light after the time limit has expired. This clause will extend the time limit to three years and enable proceedings for taking a vehicle without authority to be brought at any time within six months from the date when sufficient knowledge came to the attention of the prosecuting authorities. We want to signal that this is not an offence to be treated lightly. Joyriding often goes hand in hand with speeding. Rolling out safety cameras nationally is a vital part of our road safety strategy.

Clause 38 enables the Secretary of State to fund public bodies such as the police, highway authorities and courts in connection with their work in enforcing speed limits and red traffic signals. This will enable some of the revenue from fixed penalties to be recycled to fund and maintain more safety cameras. That will help the prevention and detection of speeding and red light running offences and, more importantly, it has a direct road safety benefit. More than 3,000 people die on our roads each year. Excessive speed is a major factor contributing to those tragedies. While there are other methods available for addressing inappropriate speed, we know that camera enforcement is very effective in dealing with it.

We want to build on this Government's excellent record of fighting car crime by tackling the root causes. Essentially, this means reducing the market for stolen cars. We will do this by regulating the motor salvage trade and the supply of number plates. Vehicle identity checks and new requirements for documentation by the DVLA will reinforce this system of regulation.

The Bill has three ancillary purposes. The first is to extend the time limit for prosecuting joyriders. The second is to make it easier for the police to detect uninsured driving. The third is to provide funding for safety cameras. This is a comprehensive set of proposals designed to tackle vehicle crime. For all those reasons, I commend the Bill to your Lordships' House.

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

5.24 p.m.

My Lords, this is another regulatory Bill introducing a series of new regulatory regimes. I confess that I approach the Bill with a longstanding prejudice against extending new regulations too much. We should recognise that it is another set of new burdens on businesses, including some businesses which will not realise initially that they are likely to be covered by the regulations. Another set of duties is being imposed on local authorities, trading standards officers and so on. They have much to do already and have difficulty in paying for enough staff. It involves also a new set of duties on the police.

Having said that, I think that the case for the Bill has been made out. It has been discussed for some time; and I accept the Bill. We shall not oppose it but we want to go through the Bill in some detail in Committee and later stages. The Minister made it clear that the Bill focuses on the theft of vehicles. Most of what is described as "vehicle crime" relates to theft of goods from within the vehicle—the radio and so on—as opposed to the theft of the vehicle. However, I do not complain that the Bill does not cover that aspect. It is difficult to cover every aspect of a subject in a Bill.

It is important to remember that the Bill relates not only to the theft of cars but also to the theft of motor cycles and commercial vehicles. As the Minister explained, Part 1 deals with the regulation of salvage dealers. We understand that there are about 3,000 companies which will need to register under the provision. About three-quarters of those in the salvage business, and probably about 10 per cent in the dismantling business, are in trade associations operating codes of practice already with the DVLA. The Bill extends the provisions statutorily to everyone operating in this field.

Enforcement will be left to a considerable degree with the police force. In the Explanatory Notes, the cost to the police is given as £110,000 a year. I found that figure a little difficult. If it involves full-time policemen, that figure would cover enforcement by four policemen in the whole of England and Wales. That does not imply that it will be given a high priority. I realise that such enforcement will involve a policeman undertaking the work as part of his duty. At the same time, it is not a large sum.

I like the provision which provides for an appeal against decisions to the magistrates' court. When discussing recently the Private Security Industry Bill we pressed the Government for such a provision without success, although we may return to the issue on that Bill.

There will be a cost in taking a car to a salvage dealer, particularly when he now has to carry out extra procedures. There are extra complications. He has to be registered and so on. Will it lead to more cars being dumped in lay-bys and elsewhere? That is a problem already. For some days, it is difficult to know whether a car has been dumped. Then things start to disappear from it and after a while it becomes obvious that it has been dumped. However, by that time it is difficult to move it because it has no wheels left. Not long after that, somebody sets fire to it. That is potentially exceptionally dangerous, because there may well be some fuel left in the vehicle. I do not intend my point to be destructive of the Bill. Even if the Bill leads to more cars being dumped, that does not necessarily destroy its point, but it is worth drawing attention to that issue.

In Committee we shall also want to consider the powers of entry. There appear to be stronger powers to enter registered premises than to enter unregistered premises, yet inspectors are more likely to want to look at the unregistered ones to see whether they should be registered. At least a warrant will be required from a Justice of the Peace, which is more than can be said for the provisions of the Private Security Industry Bill, under which official inspectors will be able to enter any premises at any time without a warrant. The powers in Clause 9 are restricted to business premises, not domestic ones. That appears to be another contrast with the other Bill. Clause 26 provides similar powers of entry that apply to the police and to "an authorised person", which presumably means the local authority staff responsible for that part of the Bill.

I had some difficulty deciding what Clause 26(1) meant. No doubt we can pursue that later. The second half of that subsection appears to restrict the right of entry to business premises. I hope that that is what is intended. The clause relates to selling registration plates. A lot of garages sell number plates in addition to their other activities, but they are not necessarily prepared and sold in one specific place. They may be made in one small area of the garage, but they are sold wherever the car is collected or sold. The place within the business where that is done cannot be inspected separately.

This may be a misunderstanding, but there also seems to be a problem with the registration of destroyed vehicles. The DVLA must send out a form even for a vehicle that it believes to have been destroyed. In future, it will be supposed to know if the vehicle has been broken up. Instead of reporting to the police when they suspect that, as they currently do, I hope that DVLA officers will be able to refuse to send out a relicensing form to prevent the relicensing of a destroyed vehicle, except for those that have been totally rebuilt, which can be dealt with.

Part 2 deals with number plates and regulates their suppliers. Even after the Minister's comments, I am not sure about the intended effect on the appearance of number plates. What will be on the number plate? Clearly there will be numbers. I am not sure whether the plates with fancy writing and italics that have started to appear will remain legal, even if they are legal now. I suspect that they are not, but they seem to be growing in number.

There is also a proliferation of number plates with "GB" built into them instead of the old-fashioned "GB" plate, which I prefer. I am not sure what the Government's intention is. Are we all going to have number plates with a "GB" symbol at the end?

I am alarmed by some people's comments about the possibility of compulsory flags on plates. I take that view not only about Euro flags, but also about Union Jacks or even the flag of St George. I declare an interest of a sort as a vice-president of the Royal Society of St George, which encourages the use of the flag of St George on appropriate occasions, but number plates are not an appropriate place for a flag, whether it is the Euro flag or the flag of St George.

In addition, there is talk about being able to identify the car from the plate. The Minister mentioned that just now, but we shall need to be told more about the idea, because it is not clear from the Bill what is intended.

I also hope that there will be no restriction on the number of number plates allowed. Many people with trailers, caravans or horse boxes require another number plate or two. Those number plates tend to fall off sometimes and need replacing. In addition, the trailers of articulated lorries have temporary number plates that can be changed daily, or even more than once a day, as different tractors are used to haul the trailer. Some lorries change the tractor half-way through a journey, in a suitable car park or motorway service station. They need to be able to move their number plates. Those number plates will be attached to the trailer or caravan rather than to the vehicle, so it is difficult to know how an identification plate will work in those circumstances.

Part 2 applies only to England and Wales. My comments about flags and other issues relate to Clause 33, which also applies to Scotland and Northern Ireland. The provisions for regulations will not apply in Scotland. I do not know what the Scottish Parliament will make of all that. Presumably it is responsible. I suppose that those who live near the Border will have a choice of getting their number plates in England or across the Border. I see no provision that requires someone who lives south of the border to buy their number plate from a registered supplier in England rather from than an unregistered one in Scotland.

Part 3 deals with a variety of matters, including the total loss of a vehicle. I realise that insurance applies to most vehicles but not necessarily to all. If a person disposes of a vehicle which is not insured, will he be covered by the system? I know that in many respects—although I am not sure about vehicles—the Government do not believe in insurance. They are self-insured. They do not bother to insure their buildings on the grounds that they have so many that, if one burns down, that will be all right. The fact that the Government have so many buildings acts as a form of insurance, and they do not believe in giving the profit to an insurance company. That is not a party-political point; governments of all parties have taken that view for a long time. However, I am not sure how matters stand in relation to vehicles and the final disposal of vehicles.

I believe that the Minister said that Clause 37 allows money raised, for example, from safety cameras to go to other organisations, such as police forces, local authorities and others. However, Clause 37 seems to me to allow only the funding of magistrates' court costs. Therefore, I must have misunderstood the Minister. However, presumably another provision exists which provides for money to fund the use of further safety cameras.

Although in some respects the Bill will bring about a considerable increase in the burdens on business and others, I believe that overall it will have a beneficial effect in tackling the theft of vehicles. The previous Conservative government managed to achieve a massive fall—27 per cent, I believe—in the level of vehicle crime in their last few years in office. I believe that it is important to continue that work.

In a sense, it is difficult for the Government to carry on that work because police numbers have dropped and car thieves are being let out under the early release scheme. No doubt that is partly why the reduction in vehicle crime which occurred at the time of the previous government has slowed down a great deal. However, at least the Government will be able to say, "Well, we legislated and we introduced regulations", even if fewer people are available to enforce them. But the Government's objective of reducing the theft of vehicles is obviously desirable and that is why we shall not oppose the Bill. We shall, however, discuss it in some detail when we reach its later stages.

5.43 p.m.

My Lords, I am pleased to offer support from these Benches for the principles of the Bill. As individuals, we are probably more likely to be the victims of vehicle crime than of any other crime. According to the European Secure Vehicle Alliance, one in eight of us can expect to be the victim of a vehicle crime in any one year. Given that a car is usually one of the most expensive purchases that we make, it is a high-value crime. Even if the vehicle is relatively inexpensive, the inconvenience and the sense of vulnerability engendered can be significant.

My own rather ancient and venerable vehicle was stolen from a residential part of Norwich some years ago—in fact, from the constituency of the Minister who is taking the Bill through the other place. I do not hold Mr Clarke personally responsible for the theft of my car, although I was fairly annoyed at the time, particularly when the vehicle turned up a few days later. I found it rather repugnant to be back inside the vehicle, and had the inconvenience of dealing with the insurance company, the DVLA, and so on.

The thieves had ransacked the car and I lost my mobile phone, all the documents and a collection of music cassettes. But the thieves clearly drew the line at a cassette by Barry Manilow, which they left ostentatiously on the seat. I believe that that shows that their taste in music is better than mine.

There is a rather sordid and sinister side to vehicle crime. Vehicles are often stolen as part of a wider net of criminality and subsequently used in other criminal acts. In some cases, personal safety can be compromised by vehicles which have been patched together or repaired with spare parts of dubious provenance. A member of my family once bought a car and was horrified to be approached by the police some months later when they found that the vehicle had been stolen and its identity changed.

The fact that in this country the level of vehicle crime is so much worse than in other comparative countries is due at least in part to our extraordinarily slack system of registration and documentation. Although we on these Benches are generally concerned about over-zealous regulation, in this case we believe that the risks to the health and safety of individuals, and the extent to which vehicle crime acts as a gateway to other crime, justify the introduction of a new regulatory regime.

There is always a balance to be struck between protection and regulation. However, with an estimated £1 billion worth of organised vehicle crime every year, in this case we believe that the balance falls on the side of regulation. In any event, at present many vehicle dismantlers must be registered under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act; they must keep records in order to comply with environmental protection legislation; and, shortly, they will have to comply with the European Union End of Life Vehicle Directive, when it comes into force.

However, I believe that we must be cautious not to over-exaggerate the contribution that the Bill will make to the overall reduction of crime. It is not easy for a Bill of this type to deal with the growing incidence of theft from vehicles; nor does it deal in any way with the problem of joyriding, which was the motive behind the loss of my own vehicle. But I must say that if the thieves got any joy out of my car, it was more than I have ever done!

That type of problem—the opportunistic theft from vehicles and joyriding—is part of a wider problem of criminality and does not respond readily to legislative solutions. There is a limit to the extent to which legislation, and even zealous deterrence, can tackle the deeper societal problems.

However, we are not bereft of solutions, and we can learn much from a bottom-up approach in which an emphasis is placed on local solutions developed by local people. Area community safety strategies can make a huge difference when the effort is focused on particular areas of crime which matter to the communities. Perhaps I may give one example. Over a six-month period last year, vehicle crime in Milton Keynes fell by 34 per cent; during the same period, it increased in Slough—in the same police authority area—by 16 per cent.

That type of community approach can be helpful in tackling another hardy annual in the garden of vehicle problems—the abandoned car. Some local authorities now undertake to remove abandoned cars within 24 hours of their being reported. But that is contrary to legislation, which states that vehicles must be left in situ for seven days after a notice is posted. I wonder whether the Minister will consider changing the law, given the high level of complaints in relation to this issue. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that an unwelcome side-effect of the regulatory regime may well be an increase in the number of abandoned cars.

Car parks present a particular problem. It always strikes me as odd that the owners of car parks are quite prepared to accept payment from motorists but offer little protection in return and do not accept liability. Multi-storey car parks are threatening places for individuals and their vehicles. My local authority in Suffolk has been awarded "secure car park" status for the two park and ride sites outside Ipswich. That means that they must provide good lighting; security officers patrol the site; and great care is taken in the design and maintenance of the sites to ensure that they are safe for vehicles and people.

I believe that we can do much more to encourage the people who look after one our most valuable assets to offer that type of quality assurance. In 1998 the Association of Chief Police Officers asked the Government to set a target of 2,000 secure car parks by the year 2000. Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether that target was met. Imaginative campaigns, such as "We don't buy crime", seek to reduce the market for property stolen from vehicles, and they have also been successful. However, like the rest of us, criminals are highly mobile, and there is a need for a national dimension to those local campaigns.

Motor manufacturers are to be congratulated on the part that they have played in reducing vehicle theft. That is reflected in the lower theft rate for newer vehicles. However, it takes time for the age profile of the vehicle fleet to change and for features such as laminated side windows to become universal. Given the value of our vehicles, it is ironic that much vehicle theft comes about as a result of carelessness. People leave keys in the ignition when they pop into the newsagent or pay for petrol.

That demonstrates that the education of vehicle owners still has a role to play. I wonder whether a useful addition to the Highway Code and the written part of the driving test would be a section on protecting oneself against vehicle crime. Young people are frequently the victims as well as the perpetrators, especially because they often have cheaper and less well protected cars.

On behalf of my noble friend Lord Falkland, who cannot be with us, I also want to mention briefly the omission from the Bill of any mention of two-wheeled vehicles. The British Motorcyclists Federation tells me that only 15 per cent of stolen motor cycles are ever recovered, compared with 60 per cent of cars.

I also want to mention briefly the question of police resources, which I believe is something of a red herring in this context. I have spoken to the police about it. The police believe that a modest length of time will be required to introduce the Bill, and that that time will be worth while in terms of the time that will be saved through the benefits that the legislation will bring. In terms of wider community safety, which I mentioned earlier, police numbers are at the heart of any strategy. We on these Benches also deplore the fall in police numbers over the past four years. However, we also remember rather further back when, during the last Major administration, police numbers fell by 469 officers.

We should also look ahead. The police are developing a system called "Airwaves", in which every officer will have portable IT equipment that can link up with various data bases. We need to examine ways in which driving licences, vehicle registration documents, MOT certificates and the new registers that will be required by the Bill will link together to provide the police with the most comprehensive information as quickly as possible. The police will be able to access that information while they are out and about. That will enable them to do what the public want; namely, to be on the streets, where their presence provides a deterrent to criminals and a sense of security to the law abiding.

In view of the fact that vehicle crime, like everything else, is becoming globalised, I wonder whether the Minister can give me any assurances about measures to deal with the increasing problem of illicit vehicle imports and exports? I hope that I will not raise the blood pressure of too many noble Lords by venturing to suggest that we need to work closely with our European partners in that regard.

Finally, I turn to those parts of the Bill that relate to the use of cameras to enforce speed limits. As a county councillor in Suffolk, I was heavily involved in an extensive rural road safety campaign, which resulted in a reduction in the number of deaths and injuries on Suffolk roads. That scheme has since become nationally recognised and is a bench-mark for other local authorities. I mention that to demonstrate my credentials on road safety in general and on speed in particular.

Cameras have a useful role to play in enforcing speed limits. The results of pilot schemes have been very encouraging and graphically demonstrate how effective such schemes can be in reducing speed and the number of accidents. There is overwhelming evidence of a link between inappropriate speed and the rate and severity of accidents. The hypothecation of speeding fines back to the authorities for re-use will stop the farce of having cameras without film and police who are unable to find the time to process fixed penalties. However, we need to emphasise that the main effort involves casualty reduction, not revenue raising. I am not sure whether such recycling of money—Liberal Democrats are generally in favour of recycling—is sustainable in the long run. I hope that money will also be available for casualty reduction schemes, such as junction realignment, safe crossings, traffic calming and educative campaigns. I should be grateful if the noble Lord the Minister would clarify whether Clause 38(1)(a), which refers to the "prevention" of such offences, includes highway authority expenditure on such schemes. In any event, we should consider a three-year review to assess the impact of the scheme and the future use of the funds.

In conclusion, we are broadly in favour of the Bill, in terms of its intent and actuality, but there are areas in which clarification is needed, assurances are sought and improvements need to be made. In that regard, we have an advantage over our friends in another place, across the iron carpet, in that our debate cannot be guillotined.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord McNally for his advice and assistance and I look forward to the Bill's enactment.

5.53 p.m.

My Lords, I rise to welcome the Bill in general. Some of its early provisions, which are aimed at countering the practice of "ringing" and at related matters, tempt me to ask, not the present Government or the previous government but society in general, "What kept us so long?".

The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, identified one or two wrinkles and tempered a little the sense of euphoria that has greeted the Bill. Like other noble Lords, however, my main concerns lie with Clause 38 in Part III of the Bill. As one who in recent years has championed the cause of hypothecation in this area, I say, like the ranks of Tuscany, "I can scarce forbear to cheer". The Government deserve to be congratulated on an epoch-making breakthrough by getting the Treasury to release its tentacles from some of the revenue that is collected from speeding fines and related traffic signal offences.

As a result, we may expect more cameras and cameras that actually contain film. We also welcome the rapid introduction of the new state-of-the-art digital cameras. We must now have a concerted offensive in particular against those who drive excessively fast in sensitive and potentially dangerous areas. The immediate task is not the persecution and alienation of the vast majority of motorists, who, on the whole, drive responsibility, but to control the few who speed past schools, use rat runs as if they were race tracks and terrorise the inhabitants of sleepy villages, whose streets are more suitable for horse-drawn traffic than cars that are driven as if the drivers were on the Brands Hatch circuit.

The problem of speeding is enormous. The plain truth is that most drivers, if they think about it at all—at times, I rather doubt whether they do—regard speed limits as something to be ignored if they can get away with doing so. I hasten to disclaim any holier than thou attitude in this regard. To paraphrase St Augustine, "Keep me from speeding, but not just yet". I am afraid that that probably goes for a good many noble Lords who are here tonight.

Even the most senior and law-abiding citizens are guilty. As a former magistrate, I take more of an interest in this matter than the average person. Many a time I have driven behind a sweet old lady who is gaily howling along in a built-up area at 43 miles an hour. On leaving the speed-limit zone, her speed remains the same. In other words, there has been no discernible reaction whatever to the presence and requirements of the limit.

There is of course another side to the picture. Some limits are absurdly low in view of the areas in which they operate. Some police, alas, do not always use common sense and seek to prosecute some who exceed the speed limit on a deserted motorway at 4 a.m. I should also mention the recent, and in my view ill-advised, hectoring of chief constables by interest groups that are intent on enforcing zero tolerance with regard to speeding. All of those factors are counterproductive i n terms of the task that lies ahead.

What is needed in a responsible and caring society, such as we hope ours is, is a cultural change in our perception of the offence. Thirty years ago no one thought twice about driving after a party. Today, to drink excessively and to drive is socially unacceptable. A similar sea change is necessary so far as speeding is concerned. That will not be easy to realise and it will not happen overnight. There are only a limited number of ways to 'tackle the problem. Education through advertising and in schools would be helpful but is unlikely to catch the key target group of persistently fast and reckless drivers. They exist just as much as does the hard core of persistent drink-drivers. Humps and pinch points have their uses but are expensive and often provoke anger among motorists. The two sure ways of gaining the objective are through fear of detection and through the pockets of persistent offenders. The increase in the use of penalty points will also have a salutary effect.

Perhaps I may be permitted to add an important footnote at this point, which is not emphasised sufficiently when such matters are discussed; namely, the less-than-responsible attitude of the motor manufacturing industry which contributes to the problem. Two factors basically sell cars: not safety, reliability, longevity—heaven knows, not longevity—or environmental friendliness but simply sex and speed. Of course, manufacturers would not put it quite like that. Sex, they tell us, is about looks and styling. And speed? Well, manufacturers tell us that it is not speed but acceleration that people need to get out of trouble. There seems to be an awful lot of trouble in our road system. As something of a footnote in an advertisement, one may find it stated that the top speed for the advertised model is twice the permitted maximum on motorways in this country. Indeed, that speed can be legally attained in only one place in the world; namely, on a German autobahn.

There is no doubt that the presence of speed cameras, rather like patrol cars, makes drivers acutely conscious of their speed and aware of their responsibilities. Home Office research that was undertaken some years ago showed that there was a reduction of 28 per cent in injury crashes at speed camera sites. As we shall hear in the coming months, the results in the pilot areas have been encouraging.

The Bill stipulates that the Secretary of State may determine the whole or part of the sums so raised. Accordingly, I should like to ask the Minister the following questions. First, what proportion of funds collected will go to the appropriate authority? I realise that he may not be in a position to give precise figures tonight, but it would at least be helpful to have an indication, such as two-thirds or one-half. It seems terrible that having gained this important victory it is frittered away.

Secondly, can it be established beyond doubt that such sums will be ring-fenced and that chief constables and police authorities are obliged to spend it specifically and only on purchasing more cameras, film and anything else to do with speed limit enforcement rather than, say, creating more police jobs or bobbies on the beat through creative accounting.

Finally, bearing in mind the importance of this initiative, can the Minister confirm that the Government will undertake rigorous monitoring of the new arrangements? Does he agree that there should be clearly designated and regular evaluations and progress reports, and that those should be presented to Parliament?

In 1999, 3,243 of our citizens were killed as a result of road accidents and some 39,000 seriously injured. It would undoubtedly be erring on the side of caution and fairness to say that at least a third of those involved speeding as a major factor. It is not enough to claim, as some do, that we have one of the best safety records in Europe. Given the standard of driving in most parts of Europe, that is a pretty hollow claim.

We owe it to those who have suffered and to the generations to come to begin to change this antisocial attitude now. The Bill will at least give us the critical tool to enable us to start on what is a mammoth task.

6.2 p.m.

My Lords, before addressing the problems of inappropriate speeds on our roads, which will be my main contribution to this Second Reading today, I should like to mention a couple of other concerns in the Bill as it currently stands.

Your Lordships may not realise that there is a very profitable trade in trailers and that the component parts of some trailers are lucrative and expensive. Consequently, although a part of the Bill deals with the illegal acquisition and disposal of motor vehicles, perhaps trailers should also be included.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I should also like to draw attention to the fact that the Bill fails to deal with premises which, for whatever reason, are outside the regulatory system but are in the business of motor salvage. All premises that are suspected—I repeat the word "suspected"—of being used for motor salvage should be subject to scrutiny, and the right of entry should be conferred upon a police officer to visit such a site.

Most of us have been driving along a road only to be overtaken by somebody who is exceeding the posted speed limit and suddenly brakes because the driver has seen a Gatso speed camera. Maurice Gatsonides cannot have appreciated the benefits his invention was to confer on road users. He was, indeed, caught speeding by his own device some years ago.

Many people regard speed cameras as a hindrance to their progress. Their impatience seems to confer on them the right to overtake on the left or right and, if it was possible, over the top of a vehicle. But it is fair to say that since the inception of traffic cameras, the prime objective has been to reduce collisions, particularly those in which people are either killed or seriously injured. Across London, the current level of accident reduction in the vicinity of camera sites—both speed cameras and red lights—is approximately 11 per cent, but that figure can be improved upon. The aim is for a 15 per cent reduction over a two-year period; 25 per cent over five years and a target of 40 per cent by 2010. That will require a concerted effort by all agencies involved, including the police, courts and local authorities.

The Bill has many facets and seeks to address problems which have existed for some years. I am delighted that it is before us today. The Bill will allow police services, together with their working partners, to put forward business cases to "net off" fines attracted by camera enforcement and to put the money into clearly defined casualty reduction policing projects. All publicity is geared to changing driver behaviour by making it clear that the most successful safety cameras will be the ones that detect no driver because everyone is driving at or below the speed limit.

Some noble Lords will be familiar with the Victoria initiative whereby that Australian state followed the principles of education, engineering, enforcement and evaluation and focused on driving behaviour and attitudes in areas known to account for high numbers of casualties. My wife spent a few weeks in Australia last year visiting friends and relations and, on her return, remarked that in Victoria and New South Wales, where she visited, drivers rarely exceeded the speed limit even when miles away from habitation. The effect of that initiative has been to reduce deaths and serious injuries by a huge amount. The cost to the police, hospitals and society has also been reduced by a considerable amount. I am afraid that I disagree, to a certain extent, with the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, regarding zero tolerance.

There are eight pilot schemes in this country, of which Essex is one, in which additional cameras have been used since April last year. Because Essex was, at that date, operating all of its cameras at full capacity, there has been only a modest reduction in fatal crashes and ones in which serious injuries are received. In other areas the reduction has been as high as 22 per cent in personal injury accidents and 42 per cent in accidents in which people were killed or seriously injured. So, the projects are working. It is relevant to report that in a public opinion survey in all of the pilot areas, 82 per cent of people questioned felt that cameras are there to encourage drivers to keep to the speed limits and not to punish them. It is interesting to note that in Victoria all motorists accept zero tolerance as a fact of life and admit that the benefits far outweigh previously held prejudices against speed cameras and that they therefore approve of their intention.

Lancashire Constabulary has, for some time, been seeking Treasury funding to mirror the Victoria initiative as a road safety project. I feel confident that when it is adequately funded, the savings, both financial and personal, will be considerable. At the same time, when the press see the savings to the health service and the lives saved as a result of the initiative, even they will agree that what is, in effect, zero tolerance works and should spread throughout the country. A form of hypothecation as outlined in the Bill is a start to that end. There are some who might say that that is a means of raising money for the Exchequer. But the additional finances will be ploughed back into accident reduction measures. In Essex, for example, prior to the pilot scheme, 17,500 offenders were able to be dealt with per year. But the funding available from fine revenue has seen that figure increase dramatically to 70,000 in the first nine months of the pilot, and overall speeds have dropped by up to eight miles per hour in some locations which, in the 30 to 40 mph restricted areas where most injury accidents occur, is encouraging. Few people exceed speed limits in Essex and are now quite familiar with the mobile units, which can detect errant motorists where they least expect it.

Most people admit that it will be impossible to stop collisions but, if those collisions occur at a lower speed than before, the severity of injuries will reduce. In addition, if speeds are reduced, the rural roads will become safer for people to move about on foot, bicycle and horseback. I read in a newspaper of disapproval of the proposed disqualification of anybody going faster than 85 mph on a motorway. The RAC, on the same matter, correctly pointed out that motorways are the safest roads in this country and that cars are much safer than previously. I would suggest that the results of a crash at 85 mph are considerably worse than those of a crash at 70 mph. While cars may be safer, drivers have not evolved at the same rate as cars and, on a motorway, follow too close to the vehicle in front and do not look far enough ahead of their vehicle to be able to avoid collisions.

The RAC and some other motoring organisations believe that more effort should be put into advanced driver training. That is all well and good, but the wider use of speed cameras will reduce the opportunity for those drivers who wish to exceed the speed limits because they will be held up by more and more drivers obeying them. We should not forget, however, that speed limits are imposed for safety reasons and, while some may be due for investigation and alteration, with better enforcement the choice of the irresponsible motorist to drive dangerously will be removed.

I should like to quote a paragraph from an article in today's Daily Mail by Simon Heifer. He wrote:
"Despite our having the lowest rate of road traffic accidents in Europe, the Government wishes to cut it still further".
I wonder how many relations of people killed on our roads he has spoken to. I have attended two fatal accidents and spoken to the relations. Understandably, they are not happy people. I doubt whether they would question any government seeking to reduce the number of deaths and injuries on our roads. Perhaps he wants statistics to worsen so that he can then blame someone.

Because of the perceived importance of catching muggers and burglars, chief police officers have decided, in their wisdom, that traffic officers are unimportant and are not front-line police. But it is the traffic officers who have to deal with the consequences of crashes; who have to investigate those which cause deaths; and who, through their enforcement of the legislation can save lives. I have been on traffic patrol when a driver was stopped at 3.30 a.m. on a motorway. She was driving perfectly in lane one but was stopped because of the improper use of high intensity rear lights. The driver turned out to be almost two times over the drink-drive limit. Could she have caused a crash a mile or so further on? Could she have fallen asleep and killed herself? We will never know because she was stopped.

Speed enforcement cameras are here to stay and, with well chosen siting and the additional funding proposed, they will be a means of saving people from death and injury and will save the NHS the financial burden currently imposed by victims of road crashes.

Finally, I should like to recall the experience of a friend who lives on a bend in a small village embracing a 30 mph limit. She saw someone driving well in excess of that limit, and so extended three fingers to indicate the 30 mph limit. The driver then extended two fingers. I wonder whether it was to do with the proposed 20 mph limit.

6.12 p.m.

My Lords, the Ministers who are opening and closing the debate and other noble Lords will not be surprsed to learn that I support the main proposals in the Bill. In recent years, I have spoken in several debates on car crime and it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge that the Government are doing what I have been advocating.

I introduced a debate when I was successful in a ballot on 31st March 1999. In order to crystallise my views, which I expressed then and which continue now, I can do no better than quote from what I said
"Another approach to reducing thefts exists in the scrap metal and vehicle salvage trades. Here I ask the Government to do more, as legislation will probably be needed. Of course, crooks remove identity marks, such as engine and chassis numbers, if it suits them. Vehicles are twinned by them or cloned with legitimate vehicles. Older vehicles near the end of their lives are welcome prey to crooks who can cannibalise them and use parts to construct supposed second-hand vehicles for sale, which are often extremely unsafe on the roads".—[Official Report, 31/3/99; col. 444.)
I referred to safety because I regard it, besides the reduction of fraud, as an important factor. That the Government are now legislating on the motor salvage and scrap metal industries, and legislating to tighten up procedures on registration plates is good news, especially for me, as that quotation from 1999 makes extremely clear.

There might be criticism that the Bill will lead to more regulation and paperwork. When as regards other issues complaints are made that there is too much regulation, I usually agree. But the salvage trades have for too long been tempting targets to crooks and unscrupulous dealers and it is high time that regulation made it much more difficult for them to operate.

The Bill also recognises the need for keeping records, in particular on the destruction of vehicles. I am confining my remarks to that part of the Bill which is concerned with trafficking in motor vehicles and I am doing so in the interests of brevity. In my debate in March 1999, besides theft of vehicles I drew attention to theft from vehicles, including breaking in and causing damage. I made the same remarks in my previous debate on 9th February 1998.

There is nothing in the Bill about theft from vehicles. It is confined to theft connected with the trafficking in vehicles or vehicle parts. I am sorry that theft from vehicles is not covered because the United Kingdom has one of the worst, if not the worst, record in Europe for theft from cars. Do the Government consider that the present situation and law are adequate? Unfortunately, as the police have pointed out from time to time, young offenders go through the courts because they are too young to be punished. In fact, the police have described some courtroom doors as "the rotating doors" used by young offenders who cannot resist stealing from cars. The thefts are usually of personal possessions and normally involve breaking locks and smashing windows. Are the Government planning separate legislation to deal with that form of crime?

The provisions relating to registration plates will need careful examination, no doubt in Committee. They may need strengthening in order to reduce the possibilities of fraud. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux is speaking in the debate because he is still chairman of an organisation called European Secure Vehicle Alliance. Its membership included British police and in recent years it has put forward good suggestions in line with those on motor salvage, which appear in the Bill.

An important factor is the safety of the public. Crooked operators can, for example, invisibly join the undamaged halves of two cars and so create an apparently "fresh" vehicle without blemish. When sold on the second-hand market, such a car could become a death trap. For example, it is unlikely to be capable of withstanding minor accidents or even normal use on bumpy roads. We must hope that the Bill will reduce fraud and at the same time improve safety on the roads.

6.19 p.m.

My Lords, first, I declare an interest in the Bill. As my noble friend said, I have served as chairman of European Secure Vehicle Alliance, which is an associate parliamentary group and a non-profit-making company limited by guarantee since its formation in 1992. There is no one single "magic bullet" which will bring about a sustained reduction in vehicle crime. There is a requirement for both "top down" contributions from government as well as "bottom up" approaches from local community safety partnerships, while also recognising the contributions made by vehicle manufacturers, insurers and the security industry.

The Bill is widely welcomed by all those who share an interest in vehicle crime reduction and reflects a great deal of effort by government, police and their partners over much of the past decade to highlight several of the most obvious shortcomings in our legislation. However, it will be valuable to explore whether the Bill can be further strengthened as a result of our examination. I should like to highlight a few issues for further consideration. The terms of reference and monitoring of vehicle salvage focus primarily on written-off vehicles that have been comprehensively insured. Self-insured vehicles—for example, often those owned by major fleets and vehicle rental companies—and also third-party only insured vehicles will not automatically fall within the proposed management and control procedures. What progress can we make in addressing that matter?

As we begin to target more effectively the illegal motor salvage dealers and repairers, what steps can we take to reduce the likelihood that they simply transfer their operations offshore, for example to Ireland, and take advantage of our relatively lax import and export regulatory systems?

As to the proposals to deal with vehicle registration plate manufacture and distribution in Part 2 of the Bill, we shall need to consider amendments which recognise offences associated with deception by the purchaser and possible collusion by the vendor as regards an unlawful transaction over a set of number plates. The purchaser of plates will be expected to produce documents such as the vehicle's registration details and a driving licence, which of course should be genuine.

The Explanatory Notes accompanying the Bill refer to a potential 10 per cent reduction in the number of motor vehicle thefts, which, if achieved, will still be equivalent to less than a 2 per cent decrease in overall vehicle crime. While that is undoubtedly most welcome, I should like to focus the remainder of my remarks on approaches that could deliver even more significant results. Vehicle crime is very much a "young person's crime". Two-thirds of offenders are under 21 years of age. ESVA is determined to find ways positively to channel young people's interest in and enthusiasm for becoming road users on both two and four wheels.

I am delighted to report that tomorrow the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and I will accompany my noble friend Lord Howe who, in his capacity as patron, has invited us to visit the SKIDZ motor project in High Wycombe. That serves as a fine example of a community-based project that aims to reduce vehicle crime, road accidents and social exclusion. The project also aims, during school hours, to serve as a bridging point between schools, FE colleges and employment in the vehicle trade for key stage 4 pupils aged 15 and 16 years who seek a more vocationally-based curriculum. In the evenings, weekends and during school holidays the project also runs programmes which are open to all community members who are interested in learning more about vehicles both in practical and safe riding contexts.

Clearly, this type of project is capable of tackling the roots of educational disaffection and failure which can lead to crime and other antisocial behaviour. I understand that we shall also receive a copy of some independent research carried out by the local Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, generously funded by Thames Valley Police Community Safety Trust, which offers a positive endorsement of this work.

ESVA has now developed a strong network of motor projects. It has applied for National Lottery Charities Board funding to establish a national network of starter motor projects. The aim is to help establish such projects in all 370 community safety partnerships in England and Wales. I also recommend that we support a more strategic approach to vehicle crime at both national and community level which examines the broad context within which vehicle crime and burglary—often referred to together as volume crime—are tackled.

Volume crime involves theft of property and has two key characteristics which in themselves offer an insight into its reduction. First, there needs to be a market for the stolen property, be it vehicles, components or items stolen from vehicles and houses, which generates cash for the thief. Therefore, we must aim to identify and remove the handlers who are prepared to buy such stolen property and highlight to all members of the general public the inevitable consequence of purchasing a "too good to be true" bargain; namely, that it fuels volume crime. Such strategies are being developed by Kent and West Mercia Police and warrant our support.

Secondly, the nature of volume crime is unsurprisingly typical in that it follows the 80:20 rule, by which I mean that prolific offenders account for a disproportionately high level of offences. Often such offenders are also addicted to drugs. We shall have a greater impact on all-volume crime if we can both identify the prolific offenders and find effective ways to reduce their offending behaviour.

While there are some technical, almost esoteric, measures that can play a part in reducing vehicle crime, as detailed in this Bill, we must also continue to recognise and tackle some of the more pervasive problems within our society which manifest themselves in vehicle crime as well as many other categories of crime. I wish the Bill all success.

6.27 p.m.

My Lords, I very much welcome the Bill and congratulate the Government on bringing it forward. I particularly welcome Clause 38 which is concerned with speed cameras. My noble friend Lord Simon quoted some statistics from one trial in Essex. I should like to quote a similar trial in Northamptonshire. I understand that the number of people killed in road accidents reduced from 76 in 1999 to 55 in the following year, and the average speed of motorists fell by 13 per cent. Overall, there was a 40 per cent fall in deaths and serious injuries. I appreciate that that was a trial conducted in only eight different locations. However, that must be a major step towards achieving the Government's road casualty targets by 2010: a 40 per cent reduction in deaths and serious injury; a 50 per cent reduction in the number of children killed and seriously injured; and a 10 per cent reduction in the number of people slightly injured. I am pleased that this legislation is likely to mean that that can be mirrored all over the country.

The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, referred to the need to ensure that speed limits are observed. I welcome the review of penalties that is currently taking place. However, I do not regard those penalties as being any different from those imposed on people who cause pollution, shoplift and commit fraud. One must balance the views of the victims and society.

About a century ago W S Gilbert said that one should let the punishment fit the crime. I believe that zero tolerance comes into it. Although they are strong words, I believe they mean that the equipment used to measure speed, or the amount of alcohol in an individual's breath, has become steadily more accurate over the years. Many motoring organisations and some parts of the press appear to believe that because accuracy has increased the tolerance should remain to reflect the reduced accuracy; in other words, to drive at 85 miles an hour in an area subject to a speed limit of 70 miles an hour is all right because 20 years ago one could not measure speed to within 15 miles an hour and there was some doubt about it. Now it is quite clear that you can measure 30 miles per hour, so why should not 30 miles per hour be like that? If you are over 31 miles per hour, the answer is to drive at 29, or whatever.

In welcoming the Bill I have a few questions for the Minister, on which I am sure he will have some interesting comments. First, as the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, said, how much of the fines from the speed cameras will be payable to public authorities? It is terribly important that the authorities, be they local authorities or police, get the money necessary to do the work, rather than being told by the Treasury, "Well, yes, we will give you some of it, but you have got to pay the other half yourself". That will not spread the system over the country in the way that it should be. The provision should cover the protection and detection, as the Bill states, as well as the enforcement. The authorities need to welcome this legislation with open arms and get on and do it. The Treasury has been generous in this matter—I cannot say for a change because it is the first time—and that is very welcome.

Secondly, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, asked whether some of the payments made in relation to driver crime and speeding could be used for educational purposes? It would be very good if some of it could be allocated to that.

My second group of questions relate to the list of offences in Clause 38(2). They join the general family of speeding and going through red lights. This is an excellent list but I wonder whether it would be possible to add one or two more items—for example, an (f), (g), (h), and (i)—which would cover yellow box offences. As noble Lords have heard, and spoken about many times in your Lordships' House especially in the previous Transport Act, yellow box offences cause serious irritation to drivers who comply with them, and, it could be argued, there is the consequent risk of bad driving. But they also delay buses in bus lanes. So my second category of additions to the Bill would be what one might call "bus lane offences", including parking in them and driving in them if one is not driving a bus.

The Government's 10-year transport plan encourages the use of buses. As the Government admit, if buses do not provide a superior service to sitting in one's air-conditioned car, not many people will use them. Therefore, it is very important that, if possible, the list of offences which can be caught by these speed cameras should include both yellow boxes and bus lane offences.

Finally, in that subsection there are five offences listed. I have probably suggested more than two, but whatever it is, I hope that, as experience in the implementation of the clause is gained, the Government will find and feel that other offences can be added to the list of offences which justify some hypothecation. So I should like to propose to the Minister that there is a catch-all at the end of the clause which allows the Government to introduce by regulation, without the need of primary legislation, any other good ideas that come up in the course of the initial years of the operation of the Bill. With those few questions I warmly support the Bill and wish it well.

6.34 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for introducing the Bill and explaining its purpose. I support the Government's efforts to deal with the problem of vehicle crime. I intend to make some general observations and then articulate particular concerns with regard to the effectiveness of Part 2.

On the general points, there are various ways to reduce vehicle crime. Immobilising a vehicle is an obvious one. Modern security systems for vehicles work on the engine's electronic brain. That is very effective and I believe it will become mandatory in due course. But I am cautious about a compulsory retrofit because a retrofit is far more easily overcome, can be unreliable and is expensive. I believe we should move rapidly to compulsory original fit of immobilisers for all new vehicles.

I turn to the problem of stolen vehicles being exported. I understand we already have the capability to X-ray commercial vehicle containers and trailers. We have managed to discover smuggled cigarettes. So I can see no reason why we cannot detect vehicles being illegally exported. Perhaps we need an amendment to make it compulsory to note the details on the manifest of vehicles being exported.

The changes in the Bill will impact upon the work of the DVLA and, in particular, its employment levels. The registration of number plate suppliers will undoubtedly provide a welcome increase in work for the DVLA.

I should like to refer to a progress report on the electronic delivery of government services, and particularly the contribution from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. It states:
"Registration and licensing of vehicles will be available via the telephones (and online). A pilot available for licensing business vehicles aged less than three years old".
That is not very encouraging. The problem will come in about three years' time when the DVLA, if it is not working completely electronically online for those that have the facilities, will be in a very embarrassing position because it will effectively be in the Stone Age compared to the rest of industry.

The DVLA has a major part to play. Information is obviously the key to enforcement. In due course I expect to see the granting of MoT certificates and insurance certificates notified to the DVLA electronically. The Bill goes some way towards doing that. But, if we gave the DVLA our bank details together with suitable instructions, we could get our tax discs sent to us in the post automatically without the problem of us accidentally forgetting to tax our vehicles.

I also believe that the MoT station should notify the DVLA electronically the moment it grants a certificate to a vehicle. The customer's bill should show that the vehicle has been granted a certificate; but the actual certificate should be issued by the DVLA to the registered keeper. That could have some benefit.

During the passage of the Transport Act, I moved an amendment for MoT discs to be on the windscreen next to the tax disc to make it easier to see whether a vehicle was properly tested. I shall be pursuing that issue again.

One advantage of having MoT discs and certificates issued by the DVLA is that the DVLA could rapidly change the design to deal with any problems of counterfeit certificates.

Noble Lords will be aware of the ability to have automatic number plate reading—ANPR. It is a little "big brother", but it has yielded spectacular security results in the City. Noble Lords have already spoken about the problem of illegal fonts and misleading spacing. That will obviously create difficulties for ANPR.

Part 2 of the Bill, on the regulation of registration plate suppliers, will not help much. I shall explain why in greater detail later. However, I believe that inspection of the number plate should be included in the MoT test. The Minister could easily alter the MoT regulations to make that part of the test.

In his opening comments the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, mentioned commercial vehicle trailers. I was worried that the noble Viscount would make my speech for me. There is a problem with commercial vehicle trailers. Currently, they are not registered on the computer at the DVLA. They are extremely expensive pieces of equipment, some of which can cost more than £50,000. They are registered on the operator's licence and on the Vehicle Inspectorate database.

My noble friend Lord Cope referred to the problem of number plates on the back of a caravan. I am not suggesting that the trailer display a separate number plate on the rear. I suggest that we have a vehicle registration number plate mounted next to the plate on the goods vehicle that indicates the capacity. It should be possible to have the same prefix for a fleet of vehicles. That would have some attractions for the operator.

I welcome Part 1 of the Bill. It is necessary to destroy redundant or unusable vehicle identities as soon as possible. The Statutory Off Road Notification system—SORN—has been in operation for some time. I assume that it has been successful. What consideration is the Minister giving to closing down the registration numbers that are no longer in current use, for which he has no SORN and no recorded vehicle activity? Apart from the fact that it removes some possibility of fraud, is there a possibility that the more attractive number plates could be sold?

I have some concern regarding the end-of-life vehicles directive from the EU. It may adversely affect the ability of private people to cannibalise and to preserve vehicles. It may be that in 20 years we shall no longer appreciate the heritage we have now in terms of our older vehicles.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, talked about the distress of finding that one's car has been stolen. In these cases often the car has to be returned to its original owner. I do not believe that Part 2 will have the desired effect. I think that its effect will be purely cosmetic because the controls can be easily circumvented. I understand the problem: at a high level, it is terrorism, armed robberies and selling stolen vehicles either by means of cloning or ringing. At a low level, it is temporarily fitting a false number plate in order to steal petrol from a garage, or some other relatively minor criminal activity. At a high level, there is much financial gain for the criminals. At a low level, it is largely a commercial problem: one cannot stop the kids from making a false plate that does not have to stand detailed police scrutiny. Can the Minister say whether a private person will still be allowed to manufacture his own number plates or will it be necessary to buy them from a registered dealer?

I have concern regarding the vehicle identity number on the number plates. The difficulty at the moment for an unsophisticated cloner is that he does not know the vehicle identity number of the vehicle to be cloned. When his vehicle is investigated by the police, it is easy to see that the VIN and registration number do not match. It is possible to find the VIN from hire purchase investigations. Perhaps we should consider whether HPI would tell you only if you had the correct VIN but not what the VIN should be for that particular registration number.

I turn to practical difficulties. Presumably, when a customer wants a number plate manufactured, he will need the logbook to prove his entitlement to it. The logbook ideally should be kept at home; it should not be kept in the car. If the car is stolen complete with the logbook, it is very easy to sell.,

How will the registration of suppliers of number plates stop plates going astray? What will happen if the young shop assistant takes a few plates and the necessary numbers home? Perhaps the Minister will go for serial numbers for each plate. That will not be a problem because all one need do to account for that serial number is to fill in the register with details of a customer who came in six months previously. The materials used for making number plates are not unusual—a sheet of perspex and a little piece of plastic. The really bad guys will simply steal a number plate from another vehicle, perhaps from an airport, and replace the stolen plate with another one. I pity the motorist who will report his number plate stolen—as he should as an honest citizen—because be will be regularly stopped by the police.

It is not clear how keeping records at thousands of outlets will help. The criminal could buy the number plate a long distance from where he intends to use it. Will the DVLA be notified of every number plate manufactured? My estimation is that about 15,000 number plates are made every day. I cannot see how these proposals will be effective. There are some other solutions. In Sweden, one central location is used for manufacturing number plates. The only difficulty is that that would be an expensive system. It would still be possible to steal the plates. If enough financial reward or incentive exists for the criminal, the plates can still be forged. Many countries include the tax with the number plates. Can the Minister assure the House that there is no intention behind these changes to move to a situation where the tax is included with the number plate? Does the Bill give the Minister power to do that?

We could become very hi-tech and have "smart" plates that interface with the vehicle's immobiliser system. The snag is that that would be extremely expensive and that serious criminals could overcome it. There is also the problem of accidental damage.

I have a serious concern about the 28-day limit for lack of trading by the number plate supplier. It would not be a problem if one was a number plate manufacturer in Barnet, but what about the motor spares shop in the Western Isles where it may be two months before a number plate is sold, and in the mean time that shop loses its registration?

Would noble Lords care to wager as to whether I could obtain a number plate for one of their vehicles once the Bill has come into operation? To stay within the law, I would make sure it was a number plate that was defaced in some way. Currently, crooks in the motor trade—and there are a few—are no doubt stocking up with all the materials to make false number plates to last them for the next 10 or 15 years.

I apologise to the Minister and to the House for being so sceptical about the proposal for registering suppliers of number plates. I believe that it is a nice idea, but I do not think that it will work. Other provisions in the Bill are very welcome and will attract some helpful amendments.

6.50 p.m.

My Lords, this has been an extremely well-informed debate. Ministers who put forward a Bill with such a general Title as "Vehicles (Crime) Bill" can expect Members, particularly those in this House, to see it as an opportunity to be constructive and imaginative in their amendments. We have had fair warning today that when we come to the Committee stage noble Lords will seek to broaden the terms of the Bill and will put forward some positive ideas of their own about vehicle crime.

In the main, the Bill has been welcomed. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said that his approach was not to be churlish about the fact that some of the ideas in the Bill had been raised by him a year or two ago.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. It just so happened that in that debate almost two years ago I was proposing almost exactly what is now in the Bill concerning car salvage and the scrap metal industry. So I had to say that it would be churlish of me to object.

My Lords, the noble Lord never gives up on good ideas. We are most grateful.

My Lords, originality is of course the ability to forget the source.

Even the noble Lord, Lord Cope, who although not churlish was tilted towards grudging, was reasonably constructive about the Bill while managing to try to land a few ideological blows. But I cannot really see the Bill as being yet another burden on business.

A number of points deserve a ministerial response. In its briefing the Local Government Association said that it did not want in this Bill specific legislation on abandoned vehicles but wanted to continue discussions with the police on the subject. If that is the way we go, I hope that there will be some urgency to those discussions. The abandonment of vehicles is a real problem. It puzzles me how, if one leaves one's car for half an hour, someone tows it away. Yet abandoned vehicles seem to be left for ever, with no one bothering about them, and if one rings the local authority it seems reluctant to take action. There is a serious side to the issue because abandoned vehicles then become subject to vandalism and a danger to children. I hope that the problem of abandoned vehicles is treated with urgency.

I hope that we do not become too frivolous about number plates. With the new fonts and with the making of names out of numbers, there is a danger of losing sight of the purpose of number plates. We need a more robust attitude to them. I was tempted to put down an amendment suggesting that all number plates should incorporate the European blue stars—just to guarantee the attendance of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, at the Committee stage.

My very good friends and colleagues, the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, are not present for the debate. However, as the House will know, they are the champions of the two-wheeled motor vehicle—the leather brigade. There are problems associated with two-wheeled vehicles. It would be reassuring to them when they read Hansard if the Minister were to indicate concern about two-wheel vehicle crime as well as car theft.

My only association with vehicle crime was when I was a student living in a hall of residence at University College, London. One of the lads in the hall of residence lost his very elderly Lambretta. He received a quite handsome sum from his insurance company for the lost Lambretta. But he drew the curtains one morning and looked out and there was the Lambretta, outside the hall of residence. I have to tell the House that that Lambretta is now in the foundations of one of the newer buildings of University College, London. I do not know what happened to him. He is probably a High Court judge now.

More seriously, I thoroughly agreed with what the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, had to say about the anti-social nature of speeding. There is too much association of macho, manly virtues with speeding and not enough realisation that when one is driving a car one is in charge of a lethal weapon and that it should be handled with commensurate responsibility. But it is also fair to congratulate the Government on the fall in road fatalities. It has come about through a combination of efforts—legislative measures, education and the response of manufacturers. Manufacturers have acted responsibly in making vehicles less prone to theft.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, made some good points. She suggested that the Highway Code should encourage drivers to be aware of anti-theft measures. She also suggested that there should be more IT support for the police so that they can react more rapidly. The point made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, about the export of stolen cars also bears examination. We are told that in some foreign parts one can almost custom order highly priced cars from countries such as Britain and have them delivered. There must be measures, including European cooperation, to counteract such crime.

The point made about hypothecation needs to be clarified. Whenever the Treasury appears to be generous, those not on the Government Benches will want to examine the small print very carefully indeed. The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, that hypothecation should include using the money for wider purposes than just speed cameras was a valid one. Furthermore, we on these Benches will certainly associate ourselves with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on amendments to include yellow boxes in bus lanes.

The Minister may recall that some months ago I told him that I had been to an electronics exhibition which was demonstrating devices that could be put in cars to warn about speed cameras and speed traps. In his reply to me he said that the Home Office was looking at the legality of such devices—looking with a hostile eye in that respect. Has there been any progress in the matter?

Perhaps I may return to the issue of speed. I see that the Conservatives are discussing increasing the speed limit on motorways to 85 miles an hour. I hope that the speed limit does not become a party political issue. It is more important to aim the enforcement of speed limits in areas where exceeding them can be highly dangerous. Most Members agree that very few drivers—with the exception of my father-in-law, who sticks to 41 miles per hour regardless of where he is driving—have never driven over the speed limit at some time. Indeed, even my father-in-law may have exceeded the limit in a 30 mile-per-hour zone. Nevertheless, politicians should be careful of implying that speed is not a factor in road accidents. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, pointed out that even on the safest of motorways, drivers are dangerous when they drive at very high speeds.

What has emerged most strongly from this debate is how constructive are Members from all sides of the House in their approach. For that reason, I believe that the Committee stage should prove to be both interesting and productive. I hope that we shall also be able to explore the points made by my noble friend Lady Scott. In her peroration she paid tribute to my wise advice—I was particularly taken by that—and, along with the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, pointed out that, if we are to make this strategy work well, along with legislation, we need to foster education and community involvement.

As I have said, we look forward to a constructive Committee stage on the basis of what has proved to be an extremely constructive Second Reading debate.

7.2 p.m.

My Lords, along with other noble Lords, I give the Bill a general welcome. I shall undertake two tasks this evening: first, I thank the Government for introducing this measure; secondly—and perhaps more important—I wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy on giving the Government the idea for it in the first place. He deserves credit for that and I hope, when the Minister winds up the debate, that he, too, will pay tribute to my noble friend.

Not unreasonably, the Government want us all to drive carefully, to keep to the speed limits and to obey the rules. However, I have to say that it is a pity that neither the Prime Minister nor the Home Secretary have set a good example in this respect. The Prime Minister was driven along the bus lane of the M4 when he was late for a meeting. On another occasion, the Home Secretary was happy to be driven at over 100 miles an hour—again because he was late for a meeting. If the Government wish the public to stick to the law, they must ensure that they encourage their drivers to do the same.

As I have said, we welcome the Bill and we shall examine its detail closely when we come to the Committee stage. However, I was somewhat depressed when I read through Clause 1. I thought, "Oh God, more garbage in the drafting". In that clause we find that subsection (2)(b) states:
"wholly or mainly in the purchase of written-off vehicles".
Paragraph (c) states,
"wholly or mainly in the sale or purchase of motor vehicles".
We then reach paragraph (d), which states,
"wholly or mainly in activities falling within paragraphs (b) and (c)".
Yet again, we have a Bill which appears to have been drafted in the most verbose manner, containing too many clauses and excessively complicated language. As always, we shall have to spend time trying to arrange the Bill so that it makes sense and says what it intends to say.

We agree that registration will be important. However, we cannot gloss lightly over the fact that costs will attach to this new form of regulation. I am concerned not so much with the larger groups, but with smaller garages and one-man bands. Plenty of people around the country work as mechanics; they work alone and sometimes operate out of the back of a van rather than from a premises. If they are "wholly or mainly" concerned with written-off vehicles or are wholly or partly involved in the recovery, re-use or sale of salvageable parts, they will need to register. It is extremely important that such operatives do register and thus are brought into the system, because the system will not work if people seek to avoid becoming involved in it on grounds of cost. We shall wish to probe the Government on the exact costs involved. How will local authorities enforce this measure? It will work only if it is generally accepted and those involved in the industry appreciate the point of being registered. We want them to want to be registered, for the benefit of their business.

As my noble friend Lord Cope pointed out, we are concerned also about the powers of entry. It seems rather bizarre that greater powers of entry are available for registered businesses than is the case for unregistered businesses.

The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, expressed concerns about hypothecation. We, too, have reservations about this. The Explanatory Notes to Clause 38 explain that the Secretary of State will be able,
"to fund the expenditure of public authorities relating to specific offences in connection with speeding and traffic signals. In particular the clause is intended to enable the Secretary of State to use receipts from fines imposed by criminal courts …and other sums paid to magistrates' courts, to fund particular schemes such as the installation and operation of speed cameras".
The point has already been made in the course of the debate that safety schemes should also be funded.

When the Bill was considered in the other place, the Minister, Mr Keith Hill, when questioned on hypothecation, was asked whether the Government would spend all the receipts. The Minister was not able to answer the question. He said:
"I am not in a position to say that there will be precise equality between revenue and expenditure at the end of a five-year period".
When he was asked why, he responded by saying:
"However, that would be a desirable outcome to which the Government are certainly working".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/01/01; col. 232.]
It would be most helpful if, in the course of his response this evening, the Minister could tell the House what further calculations the Government have completed since the debate in the other place. Do they still agree with the statement made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in another place; namely, that it would be "a desirable outcome"?.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, spoke of how the punishment should fit the crime. We agree entirely with that sentiment. However, there is a considerable variation in the punishments dealt by magistrates' courts. One is often surprised, when reading the newspapers, to see that quite serious offences are sometimes treated rather lightly, while other offences which appear less serious attract far higher fines or heavier penalties. If the law is to work properly, it has to be applied more consistently. I shall be interested to know what the Government are doing as regards the advice being passed to magistrates on consistency when dealing with motoring offences.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, referred to several matters in her interesting speech. In particular she mentioned car parks. This is an important point. As someone who uses a railway station car park, I have to tell the House that they can be some of the worst car parks in this country. In the area where I live, to park one's car overnight in a railway station car park is almost to guarantee that it will be broken into. The car will not be stolen, but it will be broken into, the radio will be stolen and the car may be trashed. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, observed, when one's car is stolen, only one thing is worse than the fact of the theft; that is, when a kind person returns the car a month later after it has been thoroughly trashed. That is truly awful.

If the Government are serious about their transport policy, which seeks to encourage us to use trains, then railway station car parks must be examined. I know for a fact that, if I use the train to come to London, I cannot leave my car overnight in the railway station car park because the odds are that it will be broken into.

Much has been made of the use of speed cameras. The system has worked well and has been extremely successful in encouraging drivers to drive within the law. However, as a result of speaking to various people who have been photographed while speeding, I have discovered that it is almost impossible to secure a copy of the picture. If you say to the police, "I do not know if I was driving down that road on that day. I cannot remember. Can you send me a photograph?", one is told, "No, that is not possible. It is too expensive and too inconvenient". There should be a mechanism whereby people who receive a summons asking whether they were driving on a particular day—because sometimes a summons arrives four months later—can have access to the photograph.

Many noble Lords were concerned about abandoned vehicles. This is a big problem, particularly in the countryside. I have noticed them most when I have been driving around a corner in a country lane and suddenly there is an abandoned vehicle. It is extremely important that the Government continue their discussions with local authorities on this issue. I hope that the Minister will tell us what progress is being made in this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that he was not going to bring forward an amendment about the EU symbol on number plates. From looking at the House of Commons Hansard, it would appear that the Government plan that there will be an EU symbol on all new number plates from September this year. Perhaps the Minister will confirm whether or not that is the case.

The question of police numbers raised concern. The Bill will place an extra burden on the police and it is disappointing that police numbers have fallen over the past two years.

Turning to the issue of number plates, my noble friend Lord Attlee made an extremely important point about commercial trailers, ordinary trailers, caravans and so on. He gave a figure of 15,000 number plates being made each day, which poses the question of whether the system will work. It is a huge number of number plates. We shall have the expertise of my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux at Committee stage. I was somewhat alarmed when my noble friend Lord Attlee spoke about the cloning of cars. I have only recently understood the concept of Dolly the sheep and now it seems that I have to move on to Dolly the car.

We are all moving on. If, 20 years ago, Steptoe and Son had ever thought that they would be called "motor vehicle dismantlers", they would probably have retired then and there.

7.12 p.m.

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

My Lords, I find myself in a rather infrequent position—responding to a debate in which there has been universal approval for at least the main principles of the Bill. Most complaints have been about what is not in the Bill rather than what is. I appreciate the support of the House and the indications of commitment to the objectives of the Bill. Whether they have been expressed with the pride of paternity, as by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, or with a certain twinge of cynicism, as by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, I regard them as all positive and supportive.

I shall divide my remarks between the three main areas—salvage, number plates, and safety and speed cameras. Generally, noble Lords on the Front Benches opposite raised the question of regulation and cost. These propositions have been based on full consultation, not only with business in general, but specifically with the Federation of Small Businesses, the salvage trade associations, the police and the local authorities. We believe that they are sensible and proportionate regulations. In terms of cost, we do not believe that the estimates in the Explanatory Notes will be exceeded.

I do not need to deal with the principles of the Bill because they were broadly supported. I shall therefore attempt to deal with the detail. As to salvage, the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Campbell of Croy, raised the question of vehicle identities and suggested that vehicles which were not insured would not receive an identity check. All vehicles which have been previously written off would be required to be submitted for a vehicle identity check should someone apply for new registration documents. That would apply also to those vehicles which were self-insured and to fleet cars.

As to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, as to why VIC does not cover self-insured cars, such vehicles will be included by introducing a requirement for the registration documents to be surrendered together with a declaration that the vehicle has been sold as scrap.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, raised the question of the regulation of the salvage industry and its relationship to the voluntary code applied by salvage companies which are members of trade associations—he is right, they form a relatively small proportion of the industry—and those which are not. The trade associations very strongly support the regulations as do many outside the trade associations. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, pointed out, there are some dodgy operators in this field. Although there is a highly respectable element in the salvage trade, there are some dodgy operators who are unscrupulous and who, in effect, deal with cars which could be a threat to life and limb. They are the ones who operate ringing and cut-and-shut operations without proper safety precautions; they are the ones we are trying to catch. By and large, the regulations are accepted and supported by the majority in the trade.

The noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, also asked about the involvement of insurance companies. I think I have largely answered that question. Representations to us suggest that this industry is questioning whether the regulations will push companies abroad. We have generally assessed the economic position of this trade as insufficient to generate the kind of legal profits which would lead to people going abroad—or to Scotland or Northern Ireland, where these regulations will not apply. In the long run, the end-of-life vehicle directive will require identification of all authorities which have the right to break and end the life of vehicles. Eventually, there will be identification across the whole of the European Union.

As to the question of the effectiveness of these registrations in terms of the right of inspection and the right of entry, this probably relates more to the issue of number plates than to the issue of salvage operators.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, and my noble friend Lord Simon, both raised the issue of whether there was an inconsistency between the inspection of registered and unregistered number plate suppliers. The Bill will permit searches of unregistered premises only with a warrant, as would be the case in any other situation where a crime was suspected. Unregistered premises in which it is suspected that criminal activity is taking place, in that they are being used to operate in areas for which they should be registered, are covered by the general provisions. Registered operators will, in effect, have signed up to being inspected without a warrant when they register. That is why we need these provisions in the Bill.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, showed a suspiciously detailed knowledge of all the tricks of the trade in relation to number plates. He raised a number of points which even my detailed brief does not cover. Nevertheless, he rightly identified that there are a number of problems. He indicated that the system would, of itself, put further responsibilities on DVLA staff and the registration system. However, I take issue with him when he says that the progress towards electronic provisions via the DVLA are somewhat backward. In reality, progress towards electronic options for the DVLA is moving forward fairly rapidly and will be complete within the next few years. A major project on electronic relicensing plus the computerisation of the MoT scheme will make major contributions to the effectiveness of operations on both number plate and licence checks by the DVLA.

The noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, raised the question of what exactly are the offences when a number plate is erroneously handed over. He suggested that an additional offence might be created. The supplier will have a statutory duty to obtain information from the purchaser so as to verify that he is entitled to buy the number plates. If the supplier colludes with the purchaser, he commits an offence himself. A separate offence of effectively counterfeiting is not necessarily appropriate in this case. If the purchaser produces false documents, again, offences are created.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, and others asked what information we eventually intend to see or number plates. Clause 34 allows for additional information to be included on number plates. The precise information to be included will be prescribed by regulations after further consultation. It is envisaged at this stage that it could include, for example, a manufacturer's serial number, so as to combat illegal copying. This could be dealt with in the future by a bar code or microchip in the number plate. We shall return to the matter when we deal with the regulations under Clause 34.

Mischievously, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, referred to aspects of the regulations regarding the nature of number plates. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that the present manipulations and the use of obscure fonts are contrary to good enforcement. Therefore, we have brought forward regulations to make sure that people work to a standard font. There is also to be a bigger change in the nature of number plates: we have run out of numbers on the old system and, from September, there will be an entirely new system.

The allegation, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, gave credence, that the regulations will include provision for a compulsory EU sign, is erroneous. They will include the ability voluntarily to include the EU sign with the stars and the GB plate. However, it will not be mandatory and there is no such intention on the part of Her Majesty's Government to make it mandatory—whatever the noble Lord,:Lord McNally, may wish in his heart of hearts.

Perhaps I may move on to aspects that are not included in that part of the Bill, but which noble Lords may feel should be included. A recurring theme was that of abandoned cars. We recognise that they present a problem. Although they are not covered by the Bill, there are provisions for co-operation between the various authorities. We have attempted to ensure that the existing regulations in regard to abandoned and unlicensed vehicles bring together all the authorities so that we can tackle what is undoubtedly a growing problem in many of our towns and villages.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, on behalf of her leather-clad colleagues, raised the issue of motorcycles. An extension to the Bill's provision is not required; motorcycles are covered. They will be regulated in relation to the salvage industry, the number plates provisions and so forth, just as other vehicles will be. As regards parking, we included further provisions on motorcycle parking in the Transport Bill. I accept the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, on the general need for more secure car parks, which have been shown to have a beneficial effect.

I am very pleased to receive the support of the House for the provisions on safety cameras, referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and others. The pilot schemes that we are running on the funding of safety cameras have not yet been completed. However, as was indicated in statements by ACPO last week, the results so far are very encouraging. They indicate a substantial improvement as regards the number of fatalities and serious injuries. They show a major improvement in Strathclyde, of over 40 per cent; an improvement of over 30 per cent in Nottinghamshire; and an improvement of over 25 per cent in Lincolnshire. For some reason, the improvement in Essex is somewhat less. However, only one or two of the indicators are in single figures; all the others reveal an improvement of over 20 per cent. There is a clear indication that, with proper resources, speed cameras not only reduce speed but also reduce accidents and deaths.

Before the Minister makes any jokes about Essex, I remind him that there are some delicate marginals there.

My Lords, I was not aware that the Liberal Democrats were quite so worried.

As regards the early part of the Bill, a number of speakers asked for additional provisions relating to cameras. There was general praise for the Treasury's generosity and flexibility as regards hypothecation, which I very much share in these days before the Budget. I applaud the Chancellor's generosity in that respect. One has to recognise that it is not entirely elastic, and that there are restrictions on the degree of hypothecation. Some of the areas to which the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, suggested the money should be applied would be outwith the arrangements on hypothecation for the pilot schemes and the Bill's provisions. It would cover aspects of prevention, as well as of detection and enforcement; however, it would probably not cover the broader aspects, such as road safety education and so forth, to which the noble Baroness, the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and others referred.

There are those who would like to add additional offences to this part of the Bill. I have some sympathy with my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, as regards bus lanes and box junctions. We included further provision on bus lanes in the Transport Bill a few months ago. But this Bill deals with vehicle crime and with safety and does not presently cover traffic management issues. However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Berkeley that, once bedded down, this system could in future be considered in terms of opportunities to expand the funding system to other areas such as those that have been identified.

There is wide support for the Bill throughout the House. The recognition that there are other aspects of road safety and of vehicle crime that the Government need to address—not necessarily in a legislative context—is shared by the Government. We have had a good Second Reading debate. I am sure that some of these matters will be followed up in Committee. My noble friend Lord Bassam and I will do our best to deal with suggestions from noble Lords. I commend the Bill to the House.

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

Health And Social Care Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission (Procedure) Rules 2001

7.29 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft rules laid before the House on 13th December 2000 be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee.]

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House will remember well the Terrorism Act 2000, which received Royal Assent on 20th July last year. My noble friend Lord Bassam confirmed in a Written Answer earlier today that the Act will be brought into force next Monday, 19th February, replacing the current separate and temporary legislation on terrorism for Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The new Terrorism Act will deliver permanent United Kingdom-wide legislation, which the Government believe will be effective and proportionate to the threat that the United Kingdom faces—and may face—from all forms of terrorism.

Part II of the Act gives the Secretary of State power to proscribe organisations "concerned in terrorism" and it includes some specific offences related to the activities of a proscribed organisation. The proscription regime to be established by the new Act differs from the provision in existing legislation. In particular, the Act will apply throughout the whole of the United Kingdom rather than be limited to Northern Ireland or Great Britain. In addition, the Act provides for the proscription of organisations concerned in international or domestic terrorism, rather than just those concerned in terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland.

For the first time, the Act will enable a proscribed organisation, or any person affected by the proscription of an organisation, to make application to the Secretary of State for deproscription—at any time. If that application is refused, the Act provides for an appeal to a new independent tribunal; namely, the proscribed organisations appeal commission. By virtue of Section 5(3) of the Act, the commission will consider any refusals to deproscribe in the light of judicial review principles. The Act also provides for further appeal from a decision of the commission on a question of law.

The Government are confident that these arrangements are sufficient to ensure an effective remedy is available to those concerned. Schedule 3 to the Act provides for the establishment of the commission. This will comprise members, including a chairman, appointed by the Lord Chancellor. Each sitting of the commission will comprise three members, one of whom must hold, or have held, high judicial office.

The draft rules governing the commission procedures are the subject of our debate this evening. Perhaps I may briefly draw noble Lords' attention to the following provisions. First, under Rule 7, organisations or individuals will have 42 days within which to serve notice of an appeal on the commission. This deadline takes account of the fact that a proscribed organisation may be based overseas. However, in special circumstances, the commission may accept a notice of appeal after the due date.

Secondly, under Rule 9, the commission shall designate a person to conduct proceedings on behalf of an organisation making the appeal. Thirdly, where the commission considers it necessary, appeals may be heard in the absence of the appellant and his representative (Rule 21). That will be necessary mainly where the Secretary of State has objected to disclosure of certain material to the appellant. In such cases, the Attorney-General will, under Rule 10, appoint a "special advocate" to represent the interests of the appellant. This is in order to protect the rights of the appellant, without compromising any sensitive information that might form part of the Secretary of State's opposition to the appeal.

The special advocate represents the interests of the appellant by making submissions to the commission in any proceedings from which the appellant or his representative are excluded; cross-examining witnesses in any such proceedings; making submissions to the commission in any part of the proceedings from which the appellant and his representative are not excluded at the invitation of the commission; and making written submissions to the commission.

Under Rule 14, the commission will have the power to consolidate or hear together two or more appeals where the same questions of law or fact arise or it is otherwise desirable. This is to prevent the possibility of a number of separate but essentially similar appeals being mounted at the same time by persons affected by the proscription of an organisation.

In my view these rules are compatible with the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and I commend them to the House.

Moved, That the draft rules laid before the House on 13th December 2000 be approved [ 2nd Report from the Joint Committee].—( Lord Bach.)

My Lords, these Benches give support to the draft rules now before us, especially because their application is UK-wide. We have long believed that the partitioning of anti-terrorism measures between various parties of the United Kingdom is unhealthy. It is only right that our citizens should be treated by a common law. It is also right that we build protection into our law, even for those who would appear to be seeking to destroy or damage our society. Indeed, that is a mark of a civilised society. We discussed various guarantees last week for those accused of terrorism. I should have thought that a man from Mars might be amazed that Parliament should take such meticulous care in protecting the rights of the accused, especially when that person could be part of an organisation that is actually trying to bring down the state. As I said, it is a mark of a free and democratic society that we put such provisions into our law.

I have but one concern with these measures. In dealing with wider international proscriptions it is important to get the balance right. Such powers should not be used simply because organisations or individuals in this country are doing things that regimes abroad do not like if those activities are perfectly legal in terms of the United Kingdom. For example, there are countries where the saying of rude things about the head of state or the head of government is a punishable offence, whereas that is not so in this country. There is a danger that we may become over-zealous in trying to curb organisations. However, we would not want the United Kingdom to become a safe haven for terrorists attacking countries abroad. I appreciate that there is a balance to be struck in the use of such powers; but we need to have that balance.

In Committee in another place, I noticed that questions were raised about the commission and its composition; indeed, questions that remain to be answered. Can the Minister say how soon this commission will be appointed and tell us when we shall know names? Further, can he explain the procedure whereby 10 of the members of the commission will be appointed by open competition and will not necessarily be legally qualified? Perhaps the noble Lord can expand a little on how the commission will be established, and tell us what kind of time-scale is involved.

My Lords, we also support these draft rules. I can only echo the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about the setting up of the commission.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Viscount for their support. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, emphasised how important it is for a free society to ensure that elements of it who are perhaps the most unpopular—sometimes for good reason—are protected, as is everyone else by the rule of law. That is what we have sought to do both in the Act and by way of these draft rules. We have tried to maintain the appropriate balance between protecting society and protecting the rights of even the most evil people.

As regards when the commission's membership will be announced, I am afraid that I shall have to resort to the words that noble Lords will have heard many times from this Dispatch Box and, I suspect, from many governments: the names of those sitting on the commission will be announced in due course. However—and more importantly for the moment—the way that the composition of the commission will be established in any given case is as follows. One member of a three-person tribunal (such tribunals will consist of three people) must either hold, or have held, high judicial office. That is the only requirement as far as concerns the three members.

It is the intention that there will also be one other legally-qualified person and one "specialist" member present at each hearing. As for the question of who would qualify as that specialist member—people are now applying to become members of the commission—I can tell noble Lords that the advertisement for such applications specifies that that person should have extensive experience in one or more of the following areas: first, political or social sciences or other relevant areas of legal academic study; secondly, the Armed Forces, police or national security services; and, thirdly, the Diplomatic or Home Civil Service. Of course, legally qualified applicants must be barristers or solicitors with at least seven years' standing on 1st November last year. I hope that those comments are helpful. I beg to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Companies (Eu Political Expenditure) Exemption Order 2001

7.40 p.m.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 17th January be approved. [4th Report from the Joint Committee.]

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the draft order seeks to exclude activities such as the publication of newspapers from the definition of "political expenditure" under Part IX of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, while, at the same time, ensuring that the principles of accountability and transparency are properly applied in relation to political donations and expenditure by companies.

I should like briefly to remind noble Lords of the background to this draft order. The Neill committee's report on the funding of UK political parties recommended that any company intending to make a donation to a political party or organisation should be required to have the prior authority of its shareholders. The Government accepted this recommendation, and—with the blessing of the Neill committee—proposed both that the requirement should be extended to cover political expenditure by companies and that the disclosure requirements under the Companies Act 1985 should be amended to reflect the committee's recommendations.

At the same time, we are conscious that some companies carry on business activities which may, by their very nature, involve the publication or dissemination of material which seeks to influence the views of members of the public; journalism is an obvious example. It was, of course, not our intention that the carrying on of activities such as the publication of newspapers should be considered as incurring "political expenditure"; for that reason, the Government tabled an amendment at Third Reading to create an order-making power under Part IX of the Act to allow Parliament to exempt such activities from the requirement for shareholder authorisation.

May I emphasise that the order-making power under Part IX of the Political Parties Act does not extend to donations to political parties and organisations. Companies which may enjoy the benefits of the exemption will therefore remain subject to the full requirements of the Act in relation to such donations. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 17th January be approved. [ 4th Report from the Joint Committee.]—( Lord Sainsbury of Turville.)

My Lords, we welcome the order just in time for the Prime Minister to announce the next general election. The main reason we welcome the order is that it will allow companies that own newspapers to be exempted from any possibility of having to apply for shareholder authorisation for those newspapers to state that they think that a particular party should win the next general election. As we consider that most newspapers are likely to state that the Conservative Party should win the next general election, we certainly welcome the order. Although the Minister was not involved in the legislation we are discussing, I am sure that he will have heard that the Government cherry-picked the Neill recommendations. Therefore we look forward to the Chancellor in the forthcoming budget—the Government having dodged the issue when the legislation went through this House—giving us tax relief on political donations.

My Lords, as even the Guardian is usually "iffy" and wishy-washy about whether it should vote Liberal Democrat at general elections, we welcome the measure with absolute neutrality.

My Lords, I congratulate the House on its extremely fast and, I think, proportionate scrutiny of the order. The draft order reflects two equally important principles in our public and political life: the importance of transparency and proper accountability in relation to the funding of political parties and election and referendum campaigns, and the freedom of the press. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree with me that both principles should be properly applied in this country. That is the purpose of the draft order; for that reason, I commend it to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at sixteen minutes before eight o'clock.