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Criminal Justice

Volume 684: debated on Monday 3 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will transfer responsibility for criminal justice from the Home Office to the Department for Constitutional Affairs, so as to create a department for justice.

My Lords, over recent weeks the Home Office has shown that it is totally incapable of handling the multifarious responsibilities that it now has, and it is plain that those responsibilities should be reduced. In particular, would it not be both logical and sensible to transfer responsibilities for the criminal justice system to the Department for Constitutional Affairs, leaving the Home Office with the police, the prisons and immigration? As criminal and civil justice overlap in many respects and are administered in the same courts by the same judges, should they not be under one department, a department for justice?

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord that the Home Office is capable of managing its current portfolio, and noble Lords know that we are undertaking a review. However, let me remind the House that at the moment the criminal justice system is managed on a tripartite basis between the Lord Chancellor in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, the Home Secretary at the Home Office and, indeed, my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General. Together we are making significant improvements to the criminal justice system which many outside the House have had the courage to applaud.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us when the Government first became aware that the Home Office was not fit for purpose?

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that that is not what my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said about the Home Office. He said that one part—the processes related to the IND—was not fit for purpose, but it does not apply to the Home Office as a whole. I am sure that the noble Lord knows that perfectly well.

My Lords, two and a half years spent in the Home Office 30 years ago convinced me that it was wholly irrational, if not worse, to split responsibility for criminal law from responsibility for civil law between different government departments. Can the Minister tell the House which other country in Europe or the Commonwealth has adopted that solution? What is the principal justification for splitting responsibility between not two but three departments instead of having a department for justice, as is the case in almost the whole of the rest of the civilised world?

My Lords, I should perhaps remind the noble Lord that no other democracy has a House of Lords, yet we still manage perfectly well. It is not irrational. The noble Lord will be very familiar with the report by Lord Justice Auld, who advocated bringing together the three parts of the criminal justice system. That is what we have done with the National Criminal Justice Board, where the component parts work very well in unison. The board has a meeting every month, and all parties are able to come to consensual agreement on how best to manage criminal justice—and that has inured to the advantage of our country.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. Does the Minister feel that it would be an improvement to have the department that is primarily responsible for the independence of the judiciary—namely, that which continues to be led by the Lord Chancellor—also responsible for prosecutions?

My Lords, we certainly do not feel that that is necessary. The noble and learned Lord will know that the prosecution department is currently brilliantly headed by my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General. It is a situation with which we are absolutely content. Working in unison, however, has been greatly beneficial, and we intend to continue along that line.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that her department has produced more than 40 pieces of law and order legislation since 1997? That is one for every 80 days since taking office. When will the department start to get right what it is supposed to be doing?

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will agree that each of those pieces of legislation was necessary. The measures in the anti-social behaviour legislation and the work that we have done with the Criminal Justice Act have all proven necessary. I do not know whether noble Lords opposite think that perhaps we should rescind those measures.

My Lords, if a Conservative Government legislated to effect what is proposed in the Question and they had their way on the constitutional issue in relation to Scottish MPs, Scottish MPs could not vote on the changes proposed. Perhaps my noble friend can help me: could I, as a Scottish Peer, vote?

My Lords, that is a matter for Members opposite. I notice that a number of them are shaking their head, so I can only take it that they would deny my noble friend that opportunity.

My Lords, further to the Minister’s answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, does she agree that it would be wise for the Home Office, if it is to retain these responsibilities, to make much more effort to implement the laws that exist? At the same time, would she not concede that the record of this Government in creating new criminal offences since they came to power has been unique and, in many ways, counterproductive?

My Lords, I regret to tell the noble Lord that I cannot agree with him: it has been neither unique nor counterproductive. I assure him that every effort will be made to ensure that the implementation of legislation is rigorously pursued.

My Lords, is it not the case that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, was introduced into this House as a Peer of the United Kingdom? He might be a Scot, but he is a Peer of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I absolutely agree, but I think that the import of my noble friend’s question was that noble Lords opposite, as a result of their new policy—I appreciate that these policies come thick and fast—would deny my noble friend.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, following the example of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, four years as an official in the Home Office—two of them as Permanent Secretary—lead me to admire the content of her first Answer as much as I admire the brevity of it?