House of Lords
Thursday, 23 November 2006.
The House met at eleven of the clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.
Lord Rogers of Riverside—made the solemn affirmation.
Conventional Weapons Convention
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Elton, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Government the following Question:
Why at the recent review conference of the states parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons currently in Geneva they opposed a negotiating mandate on cluster munitions.
My Lords, we met our objective at the recent CCW review conference of achieving consensus among all the main producers and users of cluster munitions on urgently addressing the humanitarian impact of those weapons. That is an essential preliminary step before embarking on any negotiation of a new legally binding protocol. The demand for immediate negotiations at the review conference did not secure agreement. Launching an external process as a reflex response to such a disagreement carries some risk. By leaving out key producers and users, such a process could end up delivering fewer humanitarian benefits.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. Obviously any progress on this front has to be multilateral, and we cannot do anything that would put our own military forces at any disadvantage. Nevertheless, does he accept that there is a very strong feeling among nations that there should be progress, that 30 nations want to carry forward the progress of the rather disappointing meeting he described in Geneva, and that the Norwegians have taken an interesting initiative? The Minister says that it might put certain developments at risk, but does he accept the strength of feeling and the need to go forward? Will he reassure us that the United Kingdom Government will do everything possible to make progress on this front and to give support to the kind of process the Norwegians are trying to get going?
My Lords, I entirely agree that it has to be multinational. I give the assurance that we will use the detailed discussion to achieve the outcome. I make this observation without any disparagement of the Norwegians or those who are co-operating in their exercise—those nations have never used these kinds of weapons, and they do not have any forces, certainly infantry forces, facing armour anywhere in the world. They have not had that, and they are extremely unlikely to have that. The people who have difficulty are those who face the military options that this country currently faces.
My Lords, given the call by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross for an immediate freeze on the use of cluster munitions, can my noble friend assure the House that the Government will, first, attend the conference in Oslo in February and also negotiate there, in good faith, to protect citizens from cluster munitions, thus setting an example that France, the Netherlands and Italy would be likely to follow?
My Lords, the Secretary-General has quite rightly urged progress on this. I quote his precise words, as they are of significance:
“I urge States Parties to the CCW to make full use of this framework to devise effective norms that will reduce and ultimately eliminate the horrendous humanitarian and development impact of these weapons”.
That is the channel through which we are trying to pursue it. The invitations to Oslo, as far as I know, have not yet been made, but I give an undertaking that we will take them very seriously. We will do all that we can to make progress on the phasing out of dumb cluster munitions and make sure that the major users and producers sign up to this process, because that is what will count. I fear that nothing else will count.
My Lords, from these Benches, we also urge the Government to support the Norwegian initiative, which is important. The Minister used the phrase that the UK ambassador used at the negotiations, about a ban on “dumb cluster weapons”. There is not general agreement about the definition of that term. If a weapon is not a dumb cluster munition, what is the acceptable level of unexploded munitions that are left after it is dropped? What are the current British cluster munitions? Are they dumb or smart?
My Lords, one reason for having a period of intense discussion is to get to a precise definition. I will make a brief attempt to say what I understand the distinction to be, because that may be the most helpful answer. The dumb munition is not directed at a specific target and, if it fails, whatever the failure rate, it remains live—it is not automatically turned off. Where you have multiple weapons of that kind, you can see the nature of the problem. The opposite set of characteristics would produce a more sophisticated system, and that is what people are working on. Weapons of this kind are at present principally, as I have broadly defined them, dumb. That is what we must get beyond.
My Lords, I can answer for this Government rather than the Israeli Government, and tell noble Lords that DfID has provided £1.5 million to clear up unexploded munitions of this kind in Lebanon, and we are encouraging many others to make their contribution, through the EU and other arrangements. There has been a considerable effort following the former Balkan conflicts to get rid of the remaining weapons; that remains an ongoing task with which DfID is also concerned to ensure the funding.
My Lords, I think that it is our turn. I understand the humanitarian concern to be that some of these weapons have not exploded. The Minister has made it clear—as has his neighbour, sitting next to him, in reply to such questions—that we consider that our forces may need the weapons. Surely it is not beyond the wit of people to design a mechanism to identify where they remain in the ground. It is a different situation from the landmines, which were put there so that people would not know they were there. In this case, there is no intention that people should not find them; the intention is that the weapons should explode at the time. With new technology, surely something could be built in to make it clear where the unexploded devices are, to simplify situations such as Kosovo.
My Lords, I have tried to describe some of the changes that we are trying to achieve through research in such weaponry, but I assure the noble Baroness that this possibility is also being pursued. It obviously has considerable merit, in exactly the way she described.
Iraq and Afghanistan: UK Forces
My Lords, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan is there to do three things—support the Government of Afghanistan, facilitate development and reconstruction, and improve security. The multinational force in Iraq is there to assist the Government of Iraq in maintaining security, to train and mentor the Iraqi security forces, and to facilitate work aimed at development, reconstruction and economic regeneration.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. In the light of the Foreign Secretary’s recent announcement that British forces are shortly to begin leaving Iraq in some numbers, can we assume that the objectives in Iraq at least are now complete?
My Lords, it is important for us to be absolutely clear about what the Foreign Secretary said. It was not that British forces would shortly be leaving Iraq, but that we hope that the situation on the ground, particularly in Basra, develops to the point where our forces could change their posture to one of operational overwatch. They would still have to be in the region—in the country—but they would be performing the role of supporting the Iraqi forces themselves doing the patrolling. We hope that that position could be achieved by the spring. It is important for us to recognise that the process of handover does not necessarily mean that our troops will immediately be able to come home. That requires us to get to the point of strategic overwatch.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the planned handover of the ISAF headquarters function from the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps will take place in February 2007? Will he also confirm that that will mean that some 900 UK troops can be removed from theatre at that time?
My Lords, I can confirm that it is expected that the ARRC will change at the point mentioned by the noble Lord. We are looking at the force posture that we have at that time for the next roulement around the spring of next year. That is being reviewed; it is going through the planning process at the moment, and no decisions have yet been taken.
My Lords, I was concerned to hear the Minister say, in answer to the supplementary question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that there was no question of withdrawing forces from Iraq next spring. The Minister has already acknowledged that we are overstretched and committed well beyond defence planning assumptions. How long can the British Armed Forces continue in this overextended posture?
My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord is right to raise the issue of the pressure that is placed on our Armed Forces in our continued operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. We, together with the chiefs, monitor the situation very closely indeed. I want to make it absolutely clear to the House—because it is important for people to understand—that we see grounds for optimism in Iraq in areas that we have talked about, such as the handover and transition of provinces. As we have heard, we expect to transition one province at the end of this year and we hope that we will be able to hand over Basra in the sense of patrolling in the spring of next year. But that depends on the conditions and it does not necessarily equate with our forces being able to come home. We must recognise that this long process by which our forces are having to stay in these operations puts us under pressure. We have to manage this very carefully and we are doing so.
My Lords, will the Minister answer the question that I put to his colleague on Monday but which the Foreign Office Minister did not have time in his wind-up to answer? Does the final decision on keeping British troops in Iraq rest with the Iraqi Government or with Her Majesty's Government?
My Lords, let me be absolutely clear about this—I believe that I have answered this question before. The final decision rests with Her Majesty's Government. They are our troops; it is our decision. We have stated our policy clearly, which is to support the Iraqi Government in the progress that they are trying to make. Our troops are fundamental to that. We have said that we will not cut and run, or let the Iraqi people down. That is our policy and we are seeing progress. But the final decision is down to Her Majesty's Government based on the conditions on the ground that I have described previously.
My Lords, pending their recall as soon as possible, dependent on circumstances, is the Minister now confident that our forces, who are a precious asset to this nation, have the right ammunition, the right protective equipment, the right armour, the right vehicles and the right helicopters in Iraq?
My Lords, one thing that I am absolutely confident about is that we are doing everything that we can to ensure that our forces have what they need to do the job. But we do not live in a perfect world and it would be unrealistic for me to give a cast-iron guarantee that everyone has everything all the time. I know that the House recognises that, but I say most sincerely that we are doing absolutely everything that we can to make sure, first, that we properly understand the way in which the threat is changing and evolving, that we respond to that in the type of equipment that we provide to our troops, and that we are adept and agile at doing so. I think that we are getting considerably better at that. Secondly, we must ensure that we have the resources to back up our troops to give them what they need. As the Prime Minister said again yesterday in the other place, we will make sure that our troops have what they need to do the job.
My Lords, will the Minister also answer the question that I asked in the debate and that it was not possible to answer at the time? The Prime Minister said in Pakistan that British troops had not been fighting properly, but that they now were and needed to do more. Could he explain what the Prime Minster meant by that?
My Lords, I saw that that was reported, but could not find where that comment came from. It makes no sense to me whatsoever. There is no question in anyone’s mind, certainly not the Prime Minister’s, that our troops have not been fighting properly. Frankly, I just put it down to the quality of the reporting. There is no doubt that our troops have done a superb job in both theatres. I know from conversations with Members of this House that all sides of the House absolutely appreciate that.
Government Departments: Judicial Review
My Lords, high standards of candour are expected of government departments faced with judicial review. The requirement is set out in guidance for all those in government involved in litigation and is reinforced in a number of ways, including training for government lawyers. Further, the Ministerial Code and Civil Service Code require individuals to act honestly and not to deceive or knowingly mislead.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that Answer. While I have no intention of going into the details of the recent judicial review application by Mrs Downes against the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I am sure the noble and learned Lord will acknowledge that it is quite exceptional for the judge in the case to call for a high-level inquiry into the conduct of the Secretary of State and his senior officials and then to publish a list of 67 questions that must be answered.
I have seen press reports that the Attorney-General intends to have an inquiry into the matter. Can he tell us anything about the progress in setting up the inquiry, how it will be conducted and when he expects to have its conclusions? Does he think it might be useful in the interim to circulate both of Mr Justice Girvan’s judgments to all Permanent Secretaries in the United Kingdom?
My Lords, it is absolutely right that the learned judge has raised a number of concerns and put them to me, not as a Minister but, as he rightly says, acting independently of the Government and in the interests of justice. I have therefore decided that I should inquire into the issues raised by the judge and have concluded that that is best done by appointing an independent person to carry out a review and report to me. This has not yet been finalised. I must identify the right person and see that they are available to do it. Once that is done, however, I will ensure that this House and the other place know of it.
The noble Lord asks whether the judgment should be circulated in the mean time. At my request and on my authority, the director-general of my department is writing to all heads of legal teams throughout Whitehall to draw this case and my review to their attention and to remind them of the importance of ensuring an awareness of the duty of candour both by lawyers and clients.
My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord assure us that if an inquiry is set up, the person appointed will have the power to summon witnesses and call for documents? As he knows, that is the only way in which an effective inquiry can be carried out, particularly when a judge has described the subject of the application as motivated by an improper political purpose.
My Lords, I have no doubt that the department in question and the lawyers involved will fully co-operate with the review. I have no doubt that that will take place. If, for any reason, the person appointed to carry out the review expresses concern, I will of course reconsider the situation.
My Lords, on the question of the duty of candour, what happens where a civil servant refuses to reveal material that might well be helpful during the course of these proceedings? Is there a disciplinary procedure and what is it? Have there been cases of complaints because of the refusal of civil servants to hand over information or documents? What has happened in those cases?
My Lords, I am not entirely sure whether my noble friend is referring to cases where civil servants in the course of official reviews or inquiries have failed to hand over information—I do not know of any situations of that sort—or whether he is referring to litigation in which there is an issue about handing over material. Generally speaking, it would be for the court to determine whether material ought to be handed over. I cannot think of any occasion on which an order has been made by the court to hand over information and that has not been complied with where the person holds the information as a civil servant or other government official.
My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General satisfied that there is a high level of knowledge among the Ministers of the Northern Ireland Office about how the High Court works in this country? I include in that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. If he is satisfied that there is a high level of understanding, will he explain how, when a judicial review earlier this week found against the Minister who is in charge of water services, costs were awarded against him and the judge said that he was sending a health warning with any legislation to do with water charges when that legislation comes back to this House, the Minister was then able to issue a press statement saying that the Government won the judicial review?
My Lords, I do not know any details of the case to which the noble Lord refers and it is therefore difficult for me to comment on it. On the basic question, as I said in answer to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, candour in judicial review proceedings is important. Significant training and other guidance is given to government officials and others about how they must respond to their responsibilities in judicial review and other litigation circumstances.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General said that the inquiry will take the form of an inquiry by an independent individual who he is in the process of choosing who will then report to him. Can he undertake to this House that the report that is made to him will be made public in its entirety?
My Lords, in principle, it is my intention that the report should be published. However, I have to recognise that issues may arise that might limit or delay that; for example, if for any reason it were to lead to disciplinary or other proceedings following from it.
Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy
My Lords, the Government have a published commitment to revise their alcohol strategy in 2007. This will take into account the progress that has been made since the publication of the current strategy in 2004 as well as the latest information on alcohol-related harm and changes in public opinion which have occurred since then. Since 2003, the number of alcohol-related deaths has slowed and flattened out. The Government are working with industry to reach a voluntary agreement to agree sensible drinking messages on containers of alcohol. In October, we launched a “Know Your Limits” TV and other media advertising campaign targeted at 16 to 24 year-olds.
My Lords, since the Government have refused to update the estimate of £20 billion of alcohol harm, what alternative yardstick do they suggest that Parliament and the public might use in assessing the success or failure of the strategy? If alcohol harm is directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed—as most people believe, and as was confirmed by a recent European Commission study on the subject—does it not show the need for an independent audit of the Government’s strategy? Will they now reconsider their decision not to use price and availability as a means of influencing consumption?
My Lords, the Government are not complacent. We are not saying that we are resting on our laurels of the 2004 strategy. We have publicly committed ourselves to reviewing that, including taking account of all developments and all the information available and working with all the people who are working in this area. We will publish that revision in the early part of 2007 and I think that the noble Lord will have to wait for that. But we have continued to act vigorously in this area to make people aware of the dangers of alcohol, and we will continue to do so.
My Lords, will the Minister accept that the reputation of my native city of Newcastle upon Tyne as one of the great fun cities of the world has been bought at considerable cost? Is he aware that a former colleague of mine— a distinguished Newcastle gastroenterologist, Dr Christopher Record—has reported an alarming incidence, with a 25 per cent increase in the past few years, of alcohol-related liver disease in young people and particularly in young women? What action will he and the Government take to apply pressure to the drinks industry to reduce the availability of cheap spirit-based alcoholic refreshment in the bars and restaurants of Tyneside and in similar locations across the country?
My Lords, I am not totally familiar with the experiences in Newcastle but, as I said in my earlier Answer, since 2003 the number of alcohol-related deaths has slowed and flattened out. It is true that a minority of young people continue to die at an unnecessarily early age because of the consumption of alcohol. There is no simple answer in this area, which is why we need a range of strategies. We are working with the drinks industry to ensure proper labelling on containers of alcohol warning people of the dangers of excessive consumption.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is an alarming increase in the number of underage children getting drunk? How many of them have died? Is he aware that it is putting great stress on A&E departments? Will he include children in the alcohol strategy?
My Lords, we are concerned about underage drinking and drinking by people in their early years of adulthood. We also know that there has been an increase in the number of both men and women who are dying between the ages of 35 and 54. Those are serious problems which are sometimes related in part to excessive and binge drinking. We will continue to work on this area, as I said, with a range of strategies.
My Lords, as a lifelong teetotaller except for five years when I was what was called a “wet” Methodist—I hasten to add that that was not in the political sense in which my noble friends opposite might take it—I have always found myself rather more tolerant about drinking than those who have been lifelong drinkers.
Yes, my Lords, I am coming to the question—thank you very much for your prompting. I rather support the Government’s strategy and think they are going about it the right way. So I congratulate my noble friend. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s strategy is right, and will he accept my congratulations?
My Lords, I am always pleased to hear from my noble friend, particularly when he is in such a large measure of agreement with what we are doing. It is important to bear in mind that the majority of people are sensible, hard-working adults who should be allowed to choose how and when they enjoy their leisure time. We do not believe that the minority who misuse alcohol should restrict the activities of the responsible majority.
My Lords, as a “dry” Methodist perhaps I may come in on this question. First, is the Government’s policy robust enough to tackle the problem that we face today? Alcohol consumption has doubled per head in the UK since 1950. Finally, the alcohol reduction strategy does not apply to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland but only to England. When will the other countries of the UK be included in the strategy to deal with this very serious problem?
My Lords, like a number of things, drinking and its consequences are devolved matters, and the noble Lord will have to go to the Welsh Assembly if he wishes to know more about what is going on in that area. However, UK-wide, we are negotiating with the industry on the issue of sensible messaging on containers of alcohol. Our strategy is robust. It is having an impact and we are seeing more responsible behaviour by the industry and within the hospitality industry.
My Lords, do the Government intend to pursue the idea suggested in June by the Minister's right honourable friend, the Home Secretary, of legislation to compel drinkers who commit crimes of violence to undergo rehabilitation and detoxification schemes?
My Lords, I am always willing to support the wisdom of my colleagues in the Home Office in many areas. What I would say is that the statistics on violent crime do not show a significant change between April and June 2006 compared with the same period in the previous year. That is not to say that there are not problems, but we must keep them in proportion.
Legal Services Bill [HL]
My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for the establishment of the Legal Services Board and in respect of its functions; to make provision for, and in connection with, the regulation of persons who carry on certain legal activities; to make provision for the establishment of the Office for Legal Complaints and for a scheme to consider and determine legal complaints; to make provision about claims management services and about immigration advice and immigration services; to make provision in respect of legal representation provided free of charge; to make provision about the application of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2006; to make provision about the Scottish legal services ombudsman; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.
Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill [HL]
My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for the control of cluster munitions; for the destruction of such munitions; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.
Interception of Communications (Admissibility of Evidence) Bill [HL]
My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to permit the introduction of intercept evidence and evidence of communications data in certain criminal proceedings; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.
Public Demonstrations (Repeals) Bill [HL]
My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend certain provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and other legislative restraints on public demonstrations; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.
Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee
Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee
My Lords, I beg to move the Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to supervise the general administration of the House and guide the work of the Management Board; to agree the annual Estimates, Supplementary Estimates and the three-year spending forecasts; to approve the House of Lords Annual Report; and to approve changes in employment policy;
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the committee:
B Amos (Lord President),
L Brabazon of Tara,
B Hayman (Lord Speaker) (Chairman),
L Hunt of Wirral,
L Lloyd of Berwick,
L Renfrew of Kaimsthorn,
L Williamson of Horton;
That the committee have leave to report from time to time;
That the reports of the Select Committee shall be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House.
Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee
Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the Merits of Statutory Instruments.
(1) The committee shall, subject to the exceptions in paragraph (2), consider—
(a) every instrument (whether or not a statutory instrument), or draft of an instrument, which is laid before each House of Parliament and upon which proceedings may be, or might have been, taken in either House of Parliament under an Act of Parliament;
(b) every proposal which is in the form of a draft of such an instrument and is laid before each House of Parliament under an Act of Parliament,
with a view to determining whether or not the special attention of the House should be drawn to it on any of the grounds specified in paragraph (3).
(2) The exceptions are—
(a) Orders in Council, and draft Orders in Council, under paragraph 1 of the Schedule to the Northern Ireland Act 2000;
(b) remedial orders, and draft remedial orders, under section 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998;
(c) draft orders (including draft subordinate provisions orders) under section 1 of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, subordinate provisions orders under that Act and proposals in the form of a draft order under that Act;
(d) Measures under the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919 and instruments made, and drafts of instruments to be made, under them.
(3) The grounds on which an instrument, draft or proposal may be drawn to the special attention of the House are—
(a) that it is politically or legally important or gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House;
(b) that it may be inappropriate in view of changed circumstances since the enactment of the parent Act;
(c) that it may inappropriately implement European Union legislation;
(d) that it may imperfectly achieve its policy objectives.
(4) The committee shall also consider such other general matters relating to the effective scrutiny of the merits of statutory instruments and arising from the performance of its functions under paragraphs (1) to (3) as the committee considers appropriate, except matters within the orders of reference of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the committee:
L Armstrong of Ilminster,
V Colville of Culross,
L Filkin (Chairman),
L James of Blackheath,
B Morgan of Drefelin,
B Thomas of Winchester,
That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;
That the committee have leave to report from time to time;
That the reports of the Select Committee shall be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House.
Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee
Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to report whether the provisions of any bill inappropriately delegate legislative power, or whether they subject the exercise of legislative power to an inappropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny; to report on documents and draft orders laid before Parliament under the Regulatory Reform Act 2001; and to perform, in respect of such documents and orders and subordinate provisions orders laid under that Act, the functions performed in respect of other instruments by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments;
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the committee:
L Armstrong of Ilminster,
L Goodhart (Chairman),
B Gardner of Parkes,
L McIntosh of Haringey,
B Scott of Needham Market,
L Shaw of Northstead;
That the committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;
That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers.
Moved, that a Select Committee be appointed to consider the regulatory process and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the committee:
L MacGregor of Pulham Market,
L McIntosh of Haringey (Chairman),
L Norton of Louth,
That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the committee have power to adjourn from place to place;
That the committee have power to report from time to time;
That the evidence taken by the committee shall, if the committee so wishes, be printed;
That the committee do meet on Tuesday 28 November at ten o'clock.—(The Chairman of Committees.)
On Question, Motions agreed to.
Compensation (Claims Management Services) Regulations 2006
Compensation (Specification of Benefits) Order 2006
Compensation (Regulated Claims Management Services) Order 2006
Association of Law Costs Draftsmen Order 2006
Representation of the People (Combination of Polls) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2006
Business of the House
My Lords, I beg to move that the following Motions be referred to a Grand Committee—
Baroness Byford to move that the Grand Committee do consider the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) (England) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/2362). 46th Report from the Merits Committee;
Baroness Byford to move that the Grand Committee do consider the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/2522). 46th Report from the Merits Committee.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Debate on the Address
Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday 15 November by the Lord Giddens—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I am delighted to be opening today’s debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech. Today, we discuss the Government’s proposals for legislative and other change in legal, home and constitutional affairs for this parliamentary Session. I am also delighted to be supported by my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal, who will wind up today.
I am also looking forward immensely, as I know the House is, to hearing the maiden speech of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, the first judge Archbishop in the House, and of the noble Lords, Lord Dear and Lord Luce. We look forward immensely to what they have to say in the debate today.
We will be debating some of the most important issues facing this or any Government. The threat to our citizens from terrorism, organised crime and anti-social behaviour is a challenge not simply for today but for years and generations to come. The primary concern for any Government is public protection. We must provide it effectively. If that means taking difficult decisions to do so, we will take them. The package of measures described in the gracious Speech is an opportunity for this Parliament to ensure that our country can be protected, be that threat from international terrorism, from organised crime or selfish anti-social behaviour on our doorsteps. Our police, our intelligence services and our local authorities must be equipped with the tools and powers that they require to provide this protection. We must be realistic that this may require legislation as well as improved resources, greater efficiency and greater delivery. Across the board, this is not legislation taken in isolation. But so, too, must we have a justice system that reflects the needs of the public, that matches the expectations of public services, and that has public confidence.
Our world is changing rapidly, which is a threat and an opportunity. We must have the flexibility to respond. It is in creating secure, confident communities in Britain that prosperity and opportunity can flourish. My noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal will be taking a number of Bills through the House, and will respond in detail on these Bills at the conclusion of the debate. They represent a package of measures that address some of the big issues that affect us now and that will continue to do so for generations to come.
The terrorist threat, so chillingly described by the Director-General of the Security Service and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in recent weeks, is complex and fluid. We have made significant investment in the police and security services, and the new powers under the Terrorism Act 2006 have helped us in the fight against terrorism. But we must constantly reappraise the situation to meet the developing terrorist tactics and techniques. If the current review conducted by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary reveals gaps in our capability that can be filled through legislation, we will bring forward the necessary measures.
The Organised Crime Bill will introduce measures to fight organised crime and to pursue those who profit from the damage that it does to communities. The Bill will establish a new serious crime prevention order to impose restrictions on those involved in organised crime. It will strengthen powers to recover criminal assets and will introduce new offences aimed at those who assist or encourage criminal activity but who currently incur no liability.
The Asylum and Immigration Bill will strengthen our ability to protect the public from foreign nationals who have abused our hospitality. It will give immigration officers new powers to improve enforcement, to provide for the automatic deportation of all non-EEA nationals convicted of a serious crime, and to simplify the appeals system to enable swifter deportation to take place.
We will continue to proceed with the development of identity cards.
The Criminal Justice Bill will toughen up trial processes when an offender fails to appear without good reason, will create new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour and violent behaviour, and will create a new offence to deal with violent pornography. It will also introduce a generic sentence for young offenders, make sentencing processes clearer, address imbalances in the process for overturning convictions and releasing offenders, and bring compensation for those wrongly convicted into line with that paid to victims of crime.
The Criminal Justice Bill is supported by an Offender Management Bill which will help break the cycle of crime and reoffending that is so corrosive to communities. This Bill will enable the Secretary of State to commission services from the best available provider, whether in the public, private or voluntary sector. The focus will be on what is required to reduce reoffending rates and to meet local needs. Those are our priorities.
Moving from the security Bills, the needs of modern citizens and consumers should be matched by modern legal services. Since the gracious Speech we have introduced the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill and the Legal Services Bill as part of a continued programme of reform of the justice system. Here I pay tribute to the work of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, on the prelegislative scrutiny phase of the Legal Services Bill.
Dealing first with the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill, I should say that tribunals are a significant part of making the justice system work. They deal with more than 500,000 cases a year, more than any other branch of the justice system and often cases which involve the most vulnerable in society. They concern those who have been victims of crime, persecution, discrimination, unfair treatment or disputes over benefit entitlement, tax, asylum or employment. Tribunals are one of the most visible parts of the justice system. Bringing tribunals into the fold of the Department for Constitutional Affairs through the creation of the Tribunals Service in April signalled the intention of the Government to have a system which would resolve disputes quickly, fairly and economically. They matter to the public, particularly to the vulnerable. Reform is long overdue and the Bill will provide the biggest changes to the system for 50 years. The tribunals Bill will also amend the eligibility requirements for judicial office in order to encourage a wider range of applicants. This will help to broaden the diversity of the judiciary and strengthen confidence in the justice system without diluting any merit requirement. The Bill will also enable creditors to enforce civil court judgments more effectively, helping to maintain respect for the decisions of the courts. At the same time this Bill will also protect those who have fallen into debt and have no immediate way out of it.
Reform of the Tribunals Service must be seen alongside the wide-ranging reforms to the delivery of justice. This includes reform to the provision of legal services. The problems with the current systems of legal service regulation were set out in the independent review carried out by Sir David Clementi: unnecessary regulatory proliferation, confusion and fragmentation; numerous rules within the legal profession that are unnecessarily restrictive and limit competition and a lack of independence in the handling of legal complaints as perceived by those who use legal services. It is right that the Government should now seek to address those problems and make the necessary changes.
The Legal Services Bill and the legal aid reform proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, which I shall be bringing forward shortly, are both designed to balance the needs of users, taxpayers and the legal profession. Reform needs to ensure that regulation works in the consumer’s interest and that the key to the successful delivery of services is flexibility. By encouraging innovation, driving quality and demanding efficiency, we are seeking to create an environment which encourages the better provision of legal services for those who use them. Those who rely on legal aid and those who ultimately pay for it deserve a system which focuses on quality of service, value for money and the needs of those who depend on it. Those who provide legal services will benefit from a system that allows them to ensure that the demands of modern consumers are being met.
I turn now to the constitutional aspects of the gracious Speech. The Government are awaiting the final report of Sir Hayden Phillips’s review of the funding of political parties. The Government are committed to giving a full and considered response, the format and timing of which are dependent on the detail of Sir Hayden’s recommendations. Once we have received these we will consult and make decisions in due course.
The gracious Speech stated:
“My Government will also continue their programme of reform to provide institutions that better serve a modern democracy. It will work to build a consensus on reform of the House of Lords and will bring forward proposals”.
I shall deal with three aspects of House of Lords reform: first, the work of the Joint Committee of both Houses which has looked at the conventions of this House; secondly, the efforts we have been making to reach consensus on the issue of Lords reform; and, thirdly, details of the process going forward.
First, I believe that the recent report of the Joint Committee examining the conventions of this House will hold its place among the best, most impressive and most significant works that such bodies have produced. I pay tribute to all those who were members of the committee and the officials who worked on it. I pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling, who did an excellent job in chairing it.
The report produced by the Joint Committee has rightly won widespread respect for the way in which it sets out so clearly and precisely the conventions which govern this House. It provides an account of those conventions which is at once clear and detailed. It sets out those conventions—and, from them, the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament—in a way which is likely to be seen as a central authority for years to come.
I shall refer to two points from the Joint Committee’s report. The first is that in its account of the complex conventions which govern the House the report states that it is neither appropriate nor possible to be too prescriptive, especially in terms of whether the conventions it describes could or should ever be codified into legislation. The second is the telling point that if firm proposals for compositional change are brought forward, the issues the Joint Committee has considered will need to be re-examined in the light of those compositional changes.
The Government intend to provide a considered response to the Joint Committee’s report as soon as is reasonably practicable. The Joint Committee report can and must be the subject of a full and considered debate in this House. We envisage that there will be a full debate on the report, as the Joint Committee proposed, to give effect to its analysis, conclusions and recommendations. In the debate about Lords reform, we have always made clear that a debate about powers needs to precede the debate about composition. The relationship between the two Houses which the Joint Committee describes is one which I believe would command respect and support even after any compositional changes.
Secondly, in line with the vital importance of consensus, we, as a Government, set out some time ago to see what degree of consensus, what centre of gravity, might be obtainable in relation to further reform. Though some were understandably sceptical, we established a genuinely cross-party group, which includes the Convenor of the Cross Benches and a representative of the Bishops, with the specific and explicit aim of seeing whether there was any degree of consensus and, if so, what. This does not mean that there is as yet any agreement on these complex and difficult issues. It means that the consensus group has been discussing the issues involved in considerable depth and detail, and, I am genuinely glad to say, in good humour and good order. We wait to see what emerges.
Finally, let me set out the way forward. It will assist your Lordships if I set out for the House the sequence we now envisage for these strands of reform. As I said, the Government will respond to the report of the Joint Committee of both Houses. I cannot at this point say when we shall make that response, but we will make it. We are working hard in government to make sure that there is no undue delay. After that, the next stage will be that this House will wish to debate the report of the Joint Committee. My right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons has referred to a White Paper. That White Paper will follow the Government’s separate response to the Joint Committee and the debates on the Joint Committee’s report. It will be informed both by those debates and by what emerges from the consensus group. The White Paper will, in turn, be the precursor of, as was referred to in our manifesto, a free vote in both Houses of Parliament on any reform proposal. Such free votes would give Members of both Houses the opportunities to make clear their views on a range of options.
Regardless of the path of reform, there are important matters in relation to the present membership of this House. As the votes only yesterday showed, Members of this House, of all parties and of none, are loyal and dedicated servants of Parliament. They attend, they stay, they vote—and they do so, day after day, night after night, very often little noticed by the other place or the wider public. But without those efforts, that consistency and that application, regardless of party affiliation, the legislative process in our Parliament would not and could not work. I know that for many Members of this House, their appointment to it for life under the terms of the legislation forms a serious and lifelong commitment, a commitment most regard with the utmost seriousness and which most are dedicated to discharging properly, fully and to its full extent. I recognise and understand that for many Members of this House, that commitment is lifelong. I believe that this view, resting as it does on a clear notion of service, dedication and commitment, is a view to which we must and will give proper respect. That, as many know, has been my longstanding view. I believe it is a view that will command widespread respect and one that many Members of this House and beyond will want to see fully and properly reflected in any transitional arrangements which may be required.
I conclude my remarks on the further reform of this House by returning to the point about consensus. The Government strongly believe that consensus on further such reform is not only critical but a requirement. As the gracious Speech said, that is what we will be working to achieve.
The legislative programme set out in the gracious Speech rightly focuses on the key concerns facing our country—security, crime, pensions and welfare. The Government will be concentrating on taking this programme forward, addressing global threats and more local issues, and providing security so that opportunity can flourish. In that, this House has a vital role to play. Of course the House will rightly be concerned about matters in which it has an expert and particular interest, including constitutional reform and especially reform of the House itself. But I am confident that it will concentrate on the range of wider issues involved here. That has always been its job, a job it always carries out exceptionally well. I know that the House will do so with this programme. I look forward to doing so in relation to these proposals, and I commend this programme to the House.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for setting out the Government’s case for this torrent of Home Office, DCA and constitutional reform Bills. Like the noble and learned Lord, I look forward to the maiden speeches of three Members of this House.
Yet again, the Government are suffering from legislative incontinence. We could be forgiven for believing that this was less the Queen’s Speech and more the Home Secretary’s speech. It makes one wonder whether he is setting out his stall ready to contest the leadership of the Labour Party. His energy in grabbing the headlines tries to mask the reality that the catalogue of Bills before us reflects the Government’s own failures over the past nine years. Far from cracking down on crime, it has been a case of the systems that they have created cracking up.
Session after Session, we have seen the same unwillingness to think through changes before forcing them through another place by guillotines and timetabling motions, with the Government then finding that they need to make more substantial changes in this House when the Bills are more thoroughly scrutinised.
Let us recall that significant sections of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 and the Criminal Justice Act 2003 are still not in force or have been repealed, some of them even before being implemented. Headline policies such as intermittent custody have been brought in and recently abandoned, while custody plus is still nowhere to be seen. What a mess.
I now turn to the torrent of work that awaits us during the next year. The noble and learned Lord referred to counterterrorism legislation and the possibility that further legislation may be needed. He was somewhat cautious in the way that he presented the Government’s views. The Leader in another place is less cautious. On his website, he lists, firmly, a counterterrorism Bill as part of government business for this Session. I was intrigued by the intervention last weekend of a briefing by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, whom I see in his place today. We await the results of the Government’s discussion on these matters.
There are pieces of legislation missing from this already overlong list. What has happened to the Bill that was expected to reform the coroner system? Is that waiting in the wings or has it been abandoned? Will the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, tell the House which Home Office Bills will start in this House?
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has outlined the Government’s plans with regard to changes to the membership and procedures of this House. It is right that any changes are made by consensus and we welcome that element of the gracious Speech. We also welcome the measured report of the Joint Committee of both Houses, chaired so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham. Like the noble and learned Lord, we pay tribute to the noble Lord and to the officials and the members of that committee for their diligence.
In the light of that report, will the Government confirm just one of the proposals? The noble and learned Lord tried to airbrush over that by saying that we must not talk about detail. He may question my use of the word “airbrush”, but certainly in their use of the media the Government are expert at airbrushing. Will the Government confirm that they have dropped the proposal that a limit of 60 days should be placed on this House’s right to scrutinise legislation? The noble and learned Lord nods; I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, will put that on the record later. That would have been the first guillotine in this House and we would have resisted it.
Noble Lords are aware that the right honourable Mr Straw is convening discussions about changes in composition. The noble and learned Lord’s Back-Bench friends have made their views on Mr Straw known with startling clarity in the past couple of weeks, and I would guess that Mr Straw is certainly not the flavour of the month with them. Of course, we shall have to await the outcome of those discussions. As the noble and learned Lord said, it is essential that we have a free vote on any principles put forward. I share the view of many that the House of Lords as it is now is working better than many people expected, and I make it clear that we on these Benches will not accept proposals that do not strengthen this House. I shall listen very carefully to the views expressed by noble Lords today. My noble friend Lord Kingsland may say more on this matter when he winds up the debate for the Opposition later tonight. He will also comment on the two DCA Bills.
As for the Home Office Bills, we have so far seen the text of just three: the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill, which is a carryover, Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill and the Offender Management Bill.
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill has already proceeded a long way through another place. We have already made our position clear on it during those debates. A great deal of what is proposed is already covered by the 1974 health and safety legislation. However, we will continue to consider how we can work with the Government to improve the Bill if that is possible. When the Bill reaches this House, which I understand will be before Christmas, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral will lead on it for us.
With the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill, the Government are yet again seeking to persuade Parliament to abolish jury trial in certain fraud cases. We remain opposed to the Government's proposals. By ending the automatic right to jury trial in fraud cases, the Government, who have already eroded so many of our liberties, are embarking on what could be a very dangerous and slippery slope in which the right to trial by jury could be called into question in a much wider range of cases. My noble friend Lord Kingsland will lead for us on that Bill and will have more to say about it later. I shall lead for the Opposition on the remaining Home Office Bills—what joy lies ahead!
The Offender Management Bill has already surfaced and died once at the hands of the Government. In its previous incarnation it started in this House before being abandoned. This time the Bill is starting in another place. Why is that?
We made our position on the Government's proposals clear in 2005. I have had a quick look at the Bill this morning, and nothing much seems to have changed. Merging the Probation Service and the Prison Service is a mammoth task. Handled well, it could be a great move forward for the justice system, but so far the Government have handled it badly. They have created uncertainty. It is not clear whether there will be sufficient funding to ensure the proper operation of those services—a system that will, after all, have to manage the sentence plans of more than one-third of a million offenders. It also appears that the system which the Government have decided to adopt would undermine rather than improve the management of offenders.
I recall that during the general election last year, doubt was cast on the Government's plans by the Home Office itself. Home Office documents appeared in the Observer, revealing that civil servants had reported that the likelihood of,
“inadequate supervision of cases leading the unmanageable policy making”,
was “high”. The report also repeatedly warned of a high likelihood that “loss of key skills” from front-line staff would result in,
“inadequate supervision of dangerous offenders”.
We will need to listen very carefully and more widely to the views of the Prison Service and the Probation Service when we come to judge the validity of the Government’s proposals.
The Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, is today briefing Members of both Houses on this Bill. I hope that noble Lords will excuse my absence for an hour or so later this afternoon: I thought that it was only courteous that I should at least attend his first briefing.
I turn to the border and immigration Bill; well, here we go again, my Lords—it is the fourth that I remember in a very short time. There has still been no consolidation, although that would have been sensible. We welcome measures to improve the deportation of non-EEA national prisoners. It is a shame that the Government have taken so long to take effective action and it is even more of a shame that they voted against my amendment on the selfsame issue earlier this year.
We will look carefully at the detail of the Organised Crime Bill. We expect to work very constructively with the Government to ensure that it effectively combats serious crime. It is curious that we need further legislation when the ink has scarcely dried on last year’s Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. We are promised yet another Criminal Justice Bill just two weeks after the previous criminal justice Bill received Royal Assent in this Chamber.
We welcome the commitment to tackle the imbalances in sentencing. However, those imbalances were mostly created by the Government in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. If the Government are committing themselves to keeping offenders in prison for longer, they must create adequate prison capacity. The current overcrowding in our prisons prevents the effective rehabilitation of offenders, and that cannot be right.
Measures in the Bill to tackle anti-social behaviour will be welcome only if they really are more than just initiatives to grab headlines in the redtops. The public expect active enforcement of anti-social behaviour laws that are already in place and not yet more legislation.
The noble and learned Lord rightly pointed out that Governments must protect their citizens. Every Government have, as a first duty, the protection of their citizens when they are, in certain circumstances, unable to protect themselves. The public are now very concerned about the current level of crime and insecurity. The public are not clamouring for the Government to pass yet more legislation to remove their individual liberty. They want something practical; they want to see more police on the beat and in their communities to prevent and to solve crimes. They want the police to have the time to respond swiftly to domestic burglaries, muggings and public disorder, as well as to the most serious offences—killings and rape. The public do not clamour to have the tyranny of the criminal replaced by a tyranny of government restrictions on their individual liberty.
The noble and learned Lord was absolutely right to say that Governments have to make difficult decisions; that is the nature of government. The important thing is that in making difficult decisions, one makes the right decisions for the right reasons. When the Government bring forward measures in this Session, we will want to ensure that they achieve the security of our citizens without an improper assault on civil liberties. We must ensure that the raft of new legislation that is now before us is both proportionate and effective in securing the safety of us all.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, indicated, today’s debate is about issues that are at the heart of the gracious Speech, which contains the measures that form the cornerstone of the Government’s approach to governance in the final months of the Blair era. A report by the Joseph Rowntree trust commented on that approach and said:
“This is an administration that finds it hard to stand up to populist pressures. The hostility to the judiciary is unfounded and constitutionally illiterate”.
In an article in today’s Guardian by Polly Toynbee—I thought I would mention Polly quickly, before one of the Conservatives did—she says,
“here is the opportunity for Labour to … say … that gross inequality is a … reason for so much [of our] social dysfunction”.
An editorial in last week’s New Statesman made a similar point about the gracious Speech and its approach to these matters. It said:
“Reid concedes the need to analyse why it is that Britain is such a violent country, and why it is that European states that adopt a more subtle approach to criminal justice seem to end up with fewer criminals. But he says such work will have to wait. One might have thought that this question should be asked urgently. Instead, Britain is being treated, in the tenth and final Queen’s Speech of Tony Blair’s rule, to yet more law and order bills—now branded Reid’s ‘serenity’ and ‘security’ agenda. Contrast this with the government in 1997: then the agenda promised freedom of information and strengthening human rights”.
Of course in 1997 the Government were not working to an agenda cobbled together by John Reid and the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, aided and abetted by the Daily Mail. They worked carefully to a programme that had been jointly worked out by Labour and the Liberal Democrats under the chairmanship of Robin Cook and Lord Maclennan of Rogart. I had the honour to serve on that Cook/Maclennan committee, and it remains one of the most satisfying exercises of my political life. The sure-footed and radical burst of constitutional reform that marked the first three years after 1997 had its origins in the work of Cook/Maclennan. It was only when constitutional reform was handed over to Mr Prescott and the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs that the pace of reform faltered, and expediency and short-term party advantage replaced well thought-out, broad-based measures.
There are many better qualified than I on our Benches today to speak about legal and Home Office matters. I look forward, however, to the maiden speech of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. He has already burst on to our public life like a 5 November rocket. I was going to say “like a Roman candle”, but I thought that might be misinterpreted. I look forward to his contribution today, and to those of the other maiden speakers, the noble Lords, Lord Luce and Lord Dear.
I shall concentrate my remarks on the constitutional reform agenda. It is worth reminding ourselves that at the heart of Cook/Maclennan was a shared analysis that governance at the end of the 20th century was badly in need of reform if we were to repair a dangerous disconnect between Government and people. In 1997, the Labour Party manifesto caught the mood very well when it said that its aim was,
“to renew our country's faith in the ability of its government and politics to deliver”.
I shall read a couple of other quotes from that manifesto, to give your Lordships the flavour. It says the party will reform party funding to “end sleaze”, and that:
“The Conservatives are afflicted by sleaze and prosper from secret funds … The Conservatives seem opposed to the very idea of democracy. They support hereditary peers, unaccountable quangos and secretive government”—
so unlike the home life of our own dear Queen.
It seems a long way from those days when things could only get better. Today 82 per cent of people asked in an opinion poll say that this Government are sleazier, or at least as sleazy, as their predecessor. The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs is reported today as planning to restrict and tighten the Freedom of Information Act, and press reports indicate that the Labour Party is opposed to a cap on individual donations. On top of that, the gracious Speech yet again omits the long-promised Civil Service Bill.
The sad truth is that having taken office committed to open government and ending the culture of secrecy in Whitehall, the Government see constitutional reform as, at best, a damage-limitation exercise. What is more, as I pointed out to the Cunningham committee when we discussed the powers of the Lords, whereas the great radical reforming Liberal and Labour Governments of 1906 and 1945 had to face a recalcitrant House of Lords when pressing for reform, here in the 21st century we have the paradox of a House of Lords being the bulwark of freedom and civil liberties against an increasingly authoritarian Government.
That brings me to the references to Lords reform in the gracious Speech. They are couched in such craven terms as almost to encourage the wreckers. I realise that there is no unity of purpose on any of our Benches on these matters, but we are all birds of passage. Noble Lords will have to consider whether they want to be able to say that on their watch they managed to delay and defer reform or that they participated in a settlement that strengthened Parliament in a way that connected us better with the people and gave us more accountable government and better legislation. My starting point is clear and unequivocal. I see no reason why, at the beginning of the 21st century, the voters cannot be entrusted to make the decision about the right kind of people to sit in a revisory and advisory House. I reject the idea that this can only be done safely by a mixture of patronage and appointment. I confess one change of heart—I was too quick to reject the Wakeham proposals, and I look forward to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, to today’s debate.
I welcome the efforts made by Jack Straw to find consensus, but when the Secretary of State says that consensus is a requirement, I worry. That is much the same thing as giving the refuseniks a veto. If we had had to wait for broad consensus, the Reform Act 1832 would never have been passed, and the Member for Old Sarum would probably still be sitting in the House of Commons. The trigger for reform must be a clear and settled view about Lords composition from the House of Commons. The Straw proposals and the Liberal Democrat contribution to discussion have much in common. Not least, we agree with the wisdom contained in Wakeham that there should be a longish glide path to full reform. I agree with the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs that we must fully protect the interests of existing Members and retain the status of this House as a place of experience and expertise.
I recognise that there are some legitimate doubts to be addressed. I know that there is real concern in the Commons that every measure that increases the legitimacy of the Lords directly challenges the authority of the Commons. However, there is a need to differentiate between challenges to the authority of the Commons and a willingness by this House to make the Government work harder for their business than is sometimes the case in the other place. If public respect for this House has increased in recent years—and it has—it is because we are seen to be doing our job in holding the Executive to account. I say to the other place, “Go thou and do likewise”.
I also appreciate the genuine concern in this House that we will, by reform, lose one of the great strengths of the Lords, which is the capacity to include in our number men and women of great professional distinction and expertise. That matter must be addressed, but it has to be done within a framework that recognises that the present system is irredeemably tainted by the cash for honours scandal. I am not seeking to be prescriptive in my remarks today; as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor indicated we will have the opportunity to discuss the Government’s response and the Cunningham committee report in the near future. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, for his masterful chairmanship of a very eclectic group. We also have plenty of time to discuss the forthcoming White Paper that is now being discussed by the committee under Jack Straw.
The House that could come forward could meet all the concerns. Such a House would not have a majority of any party; it would be revisory and advisory with no powers to make or unmake a Government or touch taxation and supply; and it would have a clear set of conventions and powers established in relation to the Commons. I do not want to see a second Chamber that will challenge the pre-eminence of the Commons. I want to see it continue to do well the things that it already does well. If there are to be extensions to its powers, my first priorities would be powers over secondary legislation, European legislation and the scrutiny of treaties and appointments. Both Houses of Parliament will be too big as devolution takes hold. In due course, I see no reason why both Houses should not have about 450 Members each.
I do not believe that increased legitimacy threatens the Commons or its supremacy. A different electoral cycle, a different system of elections, and long and single terms will all differentiate the power of a reformed Lords, and its powers will also be made clear by conventions and the existing limitations on the powers of the upper House. As the Cunningham committee has shown, it is possible for the two Houses to work out amicably a working concordat. Cunningham has ended the threat of wing-clipping contained in the Hunt report and the Labour manifesto. It makes clear that the Lords retains the right to say no, but it recognises the right of the other place to have a final say. It is simply scaremongering by those who oppose reform to suggest that a reformed Lords would not act under a similar concordat. What Cunningham revealed to me is that there is a desperate need for the other place to put its own house in order. We wish the Modernisation Committee well in that task. I also welcome the Law Commission’s proposals for joint post-legislative scrutiny.
If he really wants to, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs has a very full programme of radical reform in front of him. Democracy needs democrats to make it work, hence the need to re-engage our young people with our democratic institutions. We need to revitalise our democratic system and re-engage it with the people, but not at the price of the security and sanctity of the secret ballot. We need a parliamentary system that can check and make accountable the powers of the Executive, in both Whitehall and Brussels—hence the urgency of reform in both this House and the other place. We need a system that preserves national cohesion while pressing ahead with devolving powers from an over-powerful Whitehall to both local government and regions.
The reform of the House of Lords is only part, but an important part, of that process. In many ways, Lords reform would be talismanic in focusing the case for further radical change. There could and should be a majority in both Houses for a reforming programme that may not give everyone their ideal House of Lords, but would go a long way to completing the Liberals’ unfinished business from 1911 and Labour’s from 1998.
My Lords, on the feast of the conversion of St Paul, I was introduced as a new Member of your Lordships' House. The Annunciator screens listed the day’s order of business as, “2.30 pm: Introduction of the Archbishop of York. Terrorism Bill”. I was not even searched. That was 10 months ago. I sincerely hope that the length of time that it has taken me to make my maiden speech was not a major contributory factor to the rumours around the House of Commons that, in a reformed House of Lords, Bishops would not only have their numbers greatly reduced, but that a small Bench would have to work full-time for a fixed term of nine years; perish the thought. Is this the consensus on reform that Her Majesty's Government are looking for? Let the reader understand!
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech. At the heart of Her Majesty's Government’s programme is a commitment to measures that will strengthen our diverse communities. In the spirit of being non-controversial, and in critical solidarity with that commitment, my contribution is one of faith seeking understanding—fides quaerens intellectum—and seeking some elucidation in the gracious Speech about,
“further action to provide strong, secure and stable communities, and to address the threat of terrorism”.
The Speech called for “new powers”, “further powers”, “enhanced powers”. The words of Lord William Pitt, which he uttered in this House in January 1770, ought to give us pause for thought. He said:
“Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it”.
He would know; he was Prime Minister for two years. A century later, Lord Acton warned in a letter to the Bishop of London, Mandell Creighton:
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
Is not what we need from all our law-enforcing agencies, like from all good teachers, maximal authority and minimal power?
I am bound to ask whether there is an over-reliance by Her Majesty’s Government on the power of legislation and criminal sanctions rather than on partnership with institutions, groups of civil society and members of local communities to provide a strong, secure and stable United Kingdom. I know that a statute is a statement of public policy. But is it wise to use the “statute” as a means of giving confidence and assurance to fractious communities? By using the statute in this way, and as a means of curing all our ills, do we not run the danger of spinning a legal spider’s web from which institutions, groups of civil society and members of local communities stand little chance of ever escaping? After all,
“the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life”.
In my limited experience,
“strong, secure and stable communities”
cannot be engineered. The changes necessary for such a desired transformation require a complete turnaround of the ways that we think and behave. What we think and what we do depends largely on what we believe, the assumptions we make and what we value most. A turnaround of the mindset and motivation is the most important and most difficult task for all of us. That is what will provide strong, secure and stable communities. Is it not the case that magnanimity—meeting the other person half way—gives birth to magnanimity? Is not the golden chain by which society is bound together one of:
“In everything doing to others as we would have them do to us”?
As Winston Churchill said in Dundee on 10 October 1908:
“What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? How else can we put ourselves in harmonious relation with the great verities and consolations of the infinite and the eternal?”.
I said a little while ago that what we think and what we do depends largely on what we believe and what we value most, rather than on what powers and laws we evoke. We urgently need, as a United Kingdom, to reaffirm, fan into flame and live those values which we owe to Christian legacy. Without wishing to appear syncretistic or patronising, in my experience and friendships I have seen that these are values that are held dear also in the traditions of Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism and also among those who say that they have no faith in God but are people of good will. These are the values of trust, decency, good faith, keeping one’s word, compassion, care for one’s neighbour, liberty, justice and, indeed, allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. The question for me is not whether those values suit us, but whether we suit them. A sane person does not say, “The law of gravity does not suit me, so I can ignore it and walk over the edge of Beachy Head in security”. We reject these values at our peril.
Lord Denning was right when he said:
“If we seek truth and justice, we can’t find it by argument and debate, nor by reading and thinking, but only (as the Book of Common Prayer says) by the ‘maintenance of true religion and virtue’”.
Religion concerns the spirit in humanity, whereby we are able to recognise what is truth and what is justice, whereas law is only the application, often imperfectly, of truth and justice in our everyday affairs. The common law of England has been moulded for centuries by judges who have been brought up in the Christian faith. The precepts of religion, consciously or unconsciously, have been their guide in the administration of justice. If religion perishes in the land, truth and justice will also perish—so said the good noble Lord.
We need to find a way in which religion, morals and law are once again indistinguishably mixed together. The severance of law from morality and religion from law has unhelpfully gone too far. Seeing the enforcement of law as the main function of law is driving us to pass more and more laws in the hope of creating security in our communities. Would not the aim of doing justice through laws which are rooted in religion and morality be a surer way of delivering a strong, secure and stable United Kingdom? We must seek as a nation to create neighbourhoods that are flourishing, safe, clean and generous, as well as tackle anyone who wishes to maim and kill others by suicide bombing. We need to offer a vision of wholeness in a compelling and imaginative way that will integrate and include those who are excluded, and turn would-be bombers—self-excluding and deluded despisers of their fellow citizens—into belongers.
Relying on the security services alone will not do it. Trusting in tough laws alone will not do it. Revenge and the desire to banish them to another island will not do it. We need to create a climate where everyone is not just a guest or a tourist but a joint home-builder in this green and pleasant land; where every citizen is challenged and given an opportunity to build a safe, secure and strong community and where their contribution, however small, is indispensable. On our own we can’t get it together. Together we can get it.
My Lords, what a privilege and pleasure it is to follow the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. I had had a few jitters in my stomach about some of the contents of my speech but, when I first saw this morning that I was following him on the batting list, I thought, “With my God on my side, I cannot fail”.
The most reverend Primate has certainly made his mark in Yorkshire, and throughout the country, since he rose to his distinguished position. We welcome him in Yorkshire. He has never been afraid to speak his mind—let everybody be warned about that—and today has been no exception. As a member of his flock, I have watched his period of office closely. Nothing I have seen or heard has made me feel that the right choice was not made. I welcome him to this House. I enjoyed his speech very much, and hope to hear many more. I also look forward to the two maiden speeches to follow.
On 11 July last year, I spoke in an Unstarred Question debate to ask Her Majesty's Government for their assessment of the role of solicitors and the Law Society in the British Coal miners’ compensation litigation. On that occasion, I declared an interest, having been both a claimant and the author of an article that was published in the Times on 30 May 2006, for which I received payment; both these payments have been paid to the Prince of Wales Hospice, Pontefract. I make the same declaration today.
In that debate, I expressed my disgust at solicitors claiming fees from miners’ compensation when they had already received agreed fees from the Government of £2,100 per case. I said that I would use all my remaining time on this Earth to ensure that every last penny is paid back, with interest and compensation on top. I also demanded a full regulatory investigation to ensure that every offending solicitor is hauled up before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Our legal system must be judged by how it serves and protects the most vulnerable members of society. The Law Society, responsible for the regulation of solicitors, has ruled that the retired miners and their widows in the British Coal litigation are a client group of exceptional vulnerability. To their great credit, Her Majesty’s Government have provided uncapped funds to compensate elderly and infirm miners who have suffered from chest disease, vibration white finger and deafness.
While the actual delivery of that compensation has been an unmitigated disaster for many of the miners, it has created a state lottery for the solicitors where every ticket is both free and guaranteed a jackpot win. If verification is required, I need do no more than refer your Lordships to the last two dozen or so Written Answers provided by Her Majesty’s Government in response to my Written Questions.
In my speech of 11 July, I warned solicitors in the British Coal litigation that there would come a time when I would name and shame them. The conduct of these solicitors has earned them a place on the roll of dishonour. These solicitors, often working with claims farmers and so-called trade unions, have exploited the miners and their families with a ruthless greed, the like of which I have never before witnessed in my 81 years. I ask your Lordships to bear in mind that these firms of solicitors have already been paid tens of millions of pounds in fees by Her Majesty's Government. While I will provide examples of the way in which elderly miners and widows have been cheated, there are tens of thousands in this group of exceptional vulnerability who have suffered the same mistreatment.
The misconduct of the solicitors is only to be matched by the gross incompetence of their regulator, the Law Society. In making such a statement, I refer to all its components, including the compliance directorate, the consumer complaints service and the regulation board. Permit me to name and shame at least some of the solicitors concerned, and to deal with the abject failure of their regulator.
I will start with Beresfords Solicitors and Ollerenshaw Solicitors. Dennis Rimmer, a retired miner, sought to pursue an industrial deafness claim. He instructed Beresfords, which promptly sold his claim to one of its so-called panel of solicitors, Ollerenshaw, for £200. Beresfords charged £360 for non-existent case investigation work. Ollerenshaw signed up Mr Rimmer on a “no win, no fee” agreement and then received £200 commission which it kept for itself. It operated a Bank of Scotland loan account in Mr Rimmer’s name, with a deficit of £2,993.
Although Mr Rimmer’s deafness claim was settled by Her Majesty’s Government in December 2005 for £3,750, he has not received his compensation. He complained to the Law Society. After a sham investigation, without even looking at his file, the Law Society threw out Mr Rimmer’s complaint. Mr Rimmer's case was then referred to Zahida Manzoor, the Legal Services Ombudsman. In her ensuing report of 31 October 2006, she found that there were issues of professional misconduct and inadequate professional services which the Law Society had failed to investigate. The ombudsman recommended that the Law Society reopen and fully investigate the case. When the issue of British Coal deafness cases was raised in another place a few weeks ago, the Law Society declared that it had never received any complaints from miners in respect of industrial deafness. That statement was clearly untrue.
If I had time, I would tell your Lordships about the vibration white finger claim of another miner, Peter Hill. He approached Beresfords but soon found himself represented by another of their so-called panel solicitors, Bakewells. Mr Hill’s vibration white finger case evidenced the same financial transactions as Mr Rimmer's deafness claims. Again, Mr Hill has not received any compensation.
If I had time, I would go on to tell your Lordships about Beresfords’ shameful relationship with the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, Nottingham section, and the way in which clients were misled into paying the Vendside fee. As matters stand, the original partners of Beresfords are now very wealthy men and have Bentleys and country houses. However, many of their clients have been left to face a bleak Christmas. Before I go any further, I should point out that some of these solicitors, but not all of them, have already received about £100 million from Her Majesty’s Government for their services.
I next have the privilege of naming and shaming Watson Burton Solicitors from Newcastle. In the British Coal litigation, Watson Burton deducted £325,946 from the compensation paid to 240 of its clients and handed it over to claims farmers P R and Associates (Advisory Services) Ltd. On 27 February 2006, the adjudication panel of the Law Society found that certain named partners of Watson Burton were in breach of solicitors’ practice rules. What punishment did the Law Society impose on Watson Burton? Were the partners struck off the roll of solicitors? No. Were they suspended from practice? No. Were they fined? No. The partners were simply reprimanded. Is Watson Burton apologetic for the misconduct of its partners? The answer is no. Watson Burton had the arrogance to issue a statement last month saying that a reprimand was the lowest sanction and boasting that it had not been ordered to pay compensation. Watson Burton argued that parliamentary criticism of the firm was inaccurate. What has become of the 240 clients who lost some £326,000? They have, of course, been left to fend for themselves.
I next name and shame Oxley & Coward Solicitors of Rotherham. Working with Industrial Diseases Compensation Ltd., Oxley & Coward has effectively supported a claims-farming operation to the detriment of its clients. Consider the case of Thomas Foster, a retired miner. In connection with his VWF and chest disease claims, Mr Foster had to raise £1,600 to pay over to Oxley & Coward. On lodging a complaint, Mr Foster found himself having to fight the Law Society. He was subsequently represented by a Wakefield solicitor, acting pro bono, who forced the case through to adjudication, resisting all attempts by the Law Society to have it conciliated for a few hundred pounds. Eventually, on adjudication, Mr Foster was awarded £2,362. Subsequently, the case was referred to the ombudsman. She considered that there was real substance in the complaint that the Law Society had been anxious to conciliate Mr Foster’s complaint, regardless of whether that was in his best interests. The ombudsman was formally critical of the Law Society’s handling of the case and said that its actions were not those of an independent and neutral arbiter. The ombudsman recommended that the Law Society reopen the file and fully investigate the issues of professional conduct.
I have been told that I am not watching my watch, but I make it clear to this House that, although I fully appreciate and support its policies, for me and the miners out there, this case is so important that I am going to go through with it. I spent 20-odd years on these cases, and I am not going to duck down now for a few minutes in this Chamber.
I next name and shame Moss Solicitors. That firm handled a vast number of cases for the UDM. One such case involved Trevor Mather. The Law Society did its utmost to force Mr Mather to conciliate his complaint for £200. The sum of £200 seems to have been set as the standard tariff in a secret agreement reached between the Law Society and the offending solicitors. While there were serious conduct and service issues, it was evident that any complaint in the British Coal litigation could be bought off, with Law Society assistance, for a standard tariff of £200. Mr Mather secured the services of the same Wakefield solicitor, again acting pro bono. Against pressure for an enforced conciliation, the case was taken to adjudication and Mr Mather was awarded £600. Mr Mather’s case was then referred to the ombudsman. It was argued that the Law Society had misused its conciliation process to force through the wholesale dismissal of complaints from retired miners. In her report, the ombudsman found there to be real substance in the complaint that the Law Society was intent on securing a conciliated outcome, regardless of whether that was in the client’s best interests. The ombudsman was strongly and formally critical of the Law Society and went on to recommend that the issues of professional conduct be fully and properly investigated.
If I had time, I would go on to tell your Lordships about the appalling way in which Moss Solicitors represented Mrs Annie Robinson, a miner’s widow, now aged 93 years, but I shall resist.
I also name and shame—and I am fully aware of what I am doing—Raleys of Barnsley, Wake Smith of Sheffield, Lopian Wagner of Manchester, Ashton Morton Slack of Sheffield and Robinson King Solicitors. All those solicitors have earned their place on the roll of dishonour for their appalling conduct in the British Coal litigation.
I readily accept that these are complex and difficult issues. However, I will make available to your Lordships copies of all of the reports issued by Zahida Manzoor, the Legal Services Ombudsman, as well as the Law Society’s forensic investigation reports on Watson Burton. If, after reading all of that material, Peter Williamson, the chair of the regulation board, still maintains that the Law Society is doing a wonderful job, I will loan him my Davy lamp. Clearly, his need for illumination is greater than mine.
Finally, is there a way forward? The answer is yes. Is it to be through the Law Society? The answer is no. Will this matter be resolved by the new Solicitors Regulation Authority? The answer is again no. In respect of regulation, we need to take solicitors out of the equation and create a truly independent and competent regulator to tackle this awesome task. The solicitors have had 10 years to put their house in order and have failed dismally. Therefore, it is my intention to lodge a full report with Her Majesty’s Government in order that these matters may be subject to urgent review. That report will contain my findings and recommendations. I shall append to it the generic and individual reports issued by the Legal Services Ombudsman. I have every confidence that I will secure the required support from Her Majesty’s Government. I will also ensure that that report is made available to noble Lords. I make no criticism of Her Majesty's Government, who have made enormous funds available for payment to these unfortunate people. If noble Lords had been with me three weeks ago when I visited the wards of hospitals in my area, they would have seen these men, who need oxygen to continue to live. That people are taking the rightful compensation of these men is a disgrace, and I hope that regulations can be produced to put a stop to this terrible practice.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lofthouse. He made an important contribution, and I am sure that his words will be heeded. The fact that I do not follow him in his remarks does not mean that I underestimate their importance, and he will forgive me if I follow a different theme.
Once again, we have the opportunity to discuss, among other things, the composition of this place and how it might be changed and once again we are doing so without there having been a careful study of what the functions and powers of a reformed House should be. Least of all has there been any inquiry about whether our powers ought to change because of changes which have occurred in the other place.
The Labour Government in their first few years seemed bent on neutering the House of Commons. Through the announcement of policy in press briefings, through leaked statements of government policy to sympathetic journalists, through the Prime Minister's very infrequent visits to the place and his failure to treat the Commons as central to the nations affairs, through changes to working hours which were billed as family friendly but which in fact were changes that were friendly to the Government, and, most of all, through the curtailment of debate, the Commons became the Prime Minister’s poodle. Those words do not come from me, but from a former Labour Chief Whip, who I am sorry is no longer in his place, Derek Foster, now the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland.
Iraq and other governmental disasters have restored some life to the Commons, but nobody would seriously suggest that it is not a weaker place than it was. The question is whether, with the House of Commons shorn of the powers needed for it to be an effective check on the Executive, it makes any sense at all to think of weakening the powers of this place. Yet—and I have said this before—on April Fool’s Day this year, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor actually advanced what I described then, and would describe now, as the completely lunatic proposition that a House with greater legitimacy ought to have fewer powers. It is rather like the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor or the Lord Chief Justice deciding that High Court judges should sit in the magistrates' court to enhance the importance of magistrates’ courts, but then saying that they should not have power to imprison. It is as daft as that.
I get a bit exasperated when the Government and others who ought to know better constantly talk of the House of Lords as a revising Chamber, as though it is only a revising Chamber and has no other purpose. Of course it is a revising Chamber, but it is not just a revising Chamber, not least because the life of a Parliament cannot be extended beyond five years without the consent of the upper House. The House of Lords is in fact the ultimate guarantor of our liberty. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, made the point a little while ago, saying that the Chamber’s role was not only to scrutinise legislation but also to protect the fundamental liberties and rights of citizens. Those rights cannot be protected by this House if our role is simply to scrutinise and to amend legislation but then, if the House of Commons does not agree, give way. Yet that proposition has also come from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who again ought to know better.
This brings me to a fundamental point, which I am surprised has not been raised in any of our debates. I cannot see how the fundamental liberties and rights of citizens can be guaranteed if we continue to accept, as it was accepted in 1949, that the powers of the Parliament Act, an Act passed with the agreement of both Houses, can be used to amend that Act and reduce further the powers of this House without its consent. Let us be clear: if that is accepted it means that a Government determined to neuter the second Chamber could reduce our delaying powers to six months, three months, two months or seven days. Surely, therefore, our most urgent task is to see that the unfortunate precedent established in 1949 is not allowed to stand.
In 1949 nobody seems to have challenged the proposition that the Parliament Act could be amended without the consent of the upper House. Perhaps that was because everyone was too busy agonising about the then composition of the House of Lords, which no one thought could be defended. But now that the question of composition is being addressed, it is urgently necessary to create safeguards against further reduction in the delaying power. Perhaps here there really is a case for a new convention to be brought into existence by the simple mechanism of the Government agreeing with the Opposition that the Parliament Act should never again be amended without the consent of both Houses. I wish we really would concentrate on that because it is a matter of the utmost constitutional importance.
I say just a word about the Home Office. On Labour's watch it has been turned into a disaster area, with the Home Secretary saying that it or a large part of it—the Immigration and Nationality Directorate—has been rendered unfit for purpose. Let us be clear, it was not ever thus. The Home Office used to implement firm but fair immigration control, with the number of foreigners admitted for settlement in the years up to 1997 being in the region of 40,000 to 50,000. So great has been the increase in the number of entrants since then that a few months ago the Government predicted that the population of Britain—a country already four times more crowded than France—would grow by 6 million over the next 30 years with new immigrants and their offspring accounting for more than 5 million of that 6 million. That is enough to populate six cities the size of Birmingham. But the Government’s figures are a hopeless underestimate because they do not include, for a start, the eastern Europeans coming here. More than half a million have arrived as workers since May 2004—not, I remind the House, the 13,000 a year the Home Office predicted. That astonishing figure—almost 590 new entrants a day—does not include dependants, the self-employed or those who prefer to work in the black economy.
Forty days from now eastern Europeans already in the country will be joined by a new wave of migrants from Rumania and Bulgaria. The Government can put any limit they want on the number to be given permission to work; it will not stop people coming ostensibly as self-employed workers or students, because European law does not allow us to stop them.
Against this background, and bearing in mind the news in the papers yesterday that far from Mr Blair making progress with his promise to reduce the backlog of 400,000 failed asylum seekers still in the country, the number removed has actually fallen, the Government’s pledge to introduce a Bill to provide the Immigration Service with further powers to police our borders and their determination to proceed with the development of identity cards to counter illegal immigration look like two sick jokes. The immigration they have already allowed, the immigration they are going to continue to allow and the immigration they are going to allow legally will alter the face of Britain for ever, with vast new cities or their equivalent being required to accommodate the newcomers.
The collapse of immigration control has had a huge impact on another part of the Home Office: the Prison Service. One should not overlook the fact that the collapse of immigration control is responsible for the fact that one in eight of the prison population are foreigners, with all the different management problems that that brings about. It is not that foreigners are more wicked than the people of this country, it is just that if you have no control over immigration and more people coming in, you will have more foreigners in every part of society, including prisons. It is ridiculous that with all this travel the Home Office's political masters are calling for it to churn out more legislation.
Since 1997, there have been more than 50 major Home Office Bills: more Home Office Bills than in the whole of the last century. When those Bills receive, as we know they will receive, inadequate consideration in the other place, I cannot see that we will serve the interests of the community by putting them on the statute book. Nothing could do more to restore the battered morale of the Home Office than a decision by the Government to have no more Bills, but I suppose that that is hoping for too much. Of course, we must be armed to deal with the threat of terrorism, but only the other day legislation which we were told a few years ago was being passed to meet the threat was used by the police to search a nurse who said “Boo!” when Mr Blair drove by. I do not find that very encouraging when I contemplate the Bills listed for the coming Session.
My Lords, I start by adding my congratulations to those given to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York on his maiden contribution and say how much I am looking forward to the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, with whose work I have been associated for about 20 years. I greatly admire what he has been able to achieve.
I shall respond to those parts of the gracious Speech which relate to Home Office matters. We are told by the Home Secretary that legislation will be enacted to,
“place public protection at the heart of what we do”.
The reality is that we have created no fewer than 3,000 new criminal offences since 1997. Do I feel better protected? Do I feel safer? The answer to those questions must be definitely not.
Of course, in a changing world we cannot remain static, but we have to question why after nearly 10 years in office the Government are still not clear about their long term goals and why legislation has become a statutory addiction. The fact remains that much criminal justice legislation smacks of short-term political initiatives which have failed to establish a clear vision and the sense of direction we are expected to take.
Let me put on record that the language and sound-bites emanating from the Home Office do little to build public confidence in our criminal justice system. Confidence is shaped by the quality of legislation, not the quantity that we have come to expect over the past decade. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the latest report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which states that,
“in our view, public misunderstandings will continue so long as very senior Ministers make unfounded assertions about the Act, and use it as a scapegoat for administrative failings in their departments”.
The committee refers to the case of the Afghani hijackers, the deportation of foreign prisoners and the report on the Anthony Rice case, but I would argue that those comments also apply to other legislative measures contained in the gracious Speech.
Take the issue of foreign prisoners. The debacle of exposing civil servants to public ridicule for administrative incompetence is something that we have never seen before. No one seems to have questioned that successive Governments reduced the IND staff to a level where it was obvious that we were heading for backlogs and other disasters. The point I wish to stress is that the age-old distinction between ministerial and Civil Service accountability has changed. The Home Office needs to establish the confidence and trust of staff and of the public who deal with them.
There is another point that we need to look at. What are the values that guide the Home Office to produce legislation that questions rights and liberties we have cherished for so long? The argument often advanced is about rebalancing the criminal justice system. The focus is shifted from offenders to victims. Let us not forget that between those two extremes is the general public. People are not as punitive as the tabloids or the Government portray them.
I had hoped for legislative changes for the better. Instead, there is the same emphasis of greater and longer use of imprisonment and a singular lack of alternatives to custody, for which no adequate provision has been made. Do we know “what works”? Why are we obsessed with “outputs” instead of looking at how effective are the outcomes? Nowhere is that more important than in the effective management of offenders, but the ill-timed speech of the Home Secretary to prisoners at Wormwood Scrubs caused widespread consternation and resentment across the probation service.
“There is no ideological debate about who decides or should decide services because staff and probation boards are committed to pluralist provision. The debate on the forthcoming NOMS Bill will not be about the need for many offenders to come together to combat re-offending because that is accepted. It is about how such contributions can best be hastened and organised so as to provide a cohesive service to offenders in ways which avoid confusion and fragmentation”.
Those are not my words, they are the words of John Raine, chairman of the Probation Board. The past few years have seen utter confusion about the way the Government have handled prisons, the Probation Service and the National Offender Management Service.
In principle, we should not shy away from the establishment of NOMS as a way of bringing the prison and probation services together and improving their joint work with offenders in custody and in the community. One of the key aims of the legislation promised this Session is to enable regional offender managers to commission more services from voluntary and private sector organisations. Voluntary agencies have extensive experience and expertise in such areas as accommodation, education, employment, mentoring, mental health and addictions—all areas which are crucial to the reduction of reoffending.
As president of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, I am aware of their contribution in those fields. However, I stress the importance of ensuring that services are commissioned on a carefully planned basis which promotes genuine partnership between statutory services, voluntary organisations and the private sector, not on the basis of a competitive free-for-all. Let us hope that Home Office thinking has moved in this direction since the idea of “contestability” was first announced. I wish that I could say the same of many of the Government’s proposed new powers on sentencing and anti-social behaviour. For the most part, they seem to be a knee-jerk ragbag of measures produced to seek short-term headlines, when instead we need a well thought out and balanced strategy to reduce crime and reoffending.
I will express my detailed views on the various proposed pieces of legislation when they come before the House. Rather than itemising their defects now, I propose instead to set out measures which would have formed a preferable basis for a programme to improve law and order than the one set out in the Queen's Speech.
First, any sensible strategy to reduce reoffending must be built around the importance of resettling offenders. Ex-offenders who get and keep a job have their likelihood of reoffending cut by between one-third and one-half. Getting offenders into stable accommodation reduces their reoffending rate by at least one-fifth. One research study found that offenders who received basic skills education reoffended at only one-third the rate of similar offenders who did not receive such help. These effects are also inter-related. For example, it is harder to get and keep a job if you are homeless. The Government should now go further and set targets requiring that every prisoner and every offender supervised by the Probation Service receives appropriate help with accommodation, education and employment in the course of his or her sentence. NOMS should be required to report back to Ministers and Parliament annually against these targets.
Secondly, the Government should establish a specific resettlement service for short-term prisoners. Most of the offenders sent to prison each year receive sentences of less than 12 months. As half the sentence is normally served in custody, in practice most are released after a minimum of six months in prison. Prisoners serving short sentences do not receive supervision from the Probation Service, and their reconviction rates are higher than those of other prisoners. The Government have postponed indefinitely the introduction of custody plus, and it would be helpful if the Minister could say what plans they have to reintroduce this measure.
Thirdly, the Government should introduce legislation to reform the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act along the lines of the recommendation of the Home Office review group on this Act—a recommendation which the Government accepted in principle three years ago.
Fourthly, if the prison system is to stand a reasonable chance of rehabilitating prisoners, prisons must not be swamped by the pressure of numbers. The Government should revive their former commitment to setting a target to limit the size of our prison population and to introducing legislation requiring sentencing guidelines to take account of the capacity of our prison system.
Fifthly, if we want to see a more sparing use of prison and a greater use of well-structured community sentences, we will not be able to bring this about behind a smokescreen of tough political rhetoric, because the climate created by such rhetoric helps to bring about harsher sentences. Instead, the Home Secretary should adopt a sustained high-profile strategy to talk down the prison population.
Sixthly, we use custody for young offenders more extensively than do other western European countries. Yet 84 per cent of juveniles leaving prison custody are reconvicted within two years of release. Over a year ago, the Government produced a draft youth justice Bill. Will the Minister say what has happened to that?
Seventhly, the Government should take steps to ensure that community orders supervised by the Probation Service are not used for low-level offenders with little likelihood of re-offending. It is particularly depressing that in many ways the position of minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system is now worse than it was when the Stephen Lawrence inquiry reported. The disproportionate use of stop and search has become even more extreme, and the proportion of the prison population from minority groups is now significantly higher than it was in the late 1990s. In the past decade, the courts have responded to the growing mood of toughness by adopting a more punitive stance towards women offenders. We had an interesting debate in this House about setting up a women’s justice board, and I ask the Minister whether he has advanced his thinking on this.
We need a much greater emphasis on prevention than on punishment. Many of those engaged in crime and anti-social behaviour have a background of problems such as inadequate parental supervision, family conflict, parental neglect, abuse, school exclusion, unemployment, substance abuse and mental health problems. We need a strategy that would take into account political courage, particularly in educating the public on the need to reduce the use of imprisonment. In my view, such a strategy is far more likely to reduce crime and re-offending than crowd-pleasing measures designed to increase the harshness of penal policy.
Let me conclude. We do not simply need more legislation. We need analysis and evidence of why such legislation is necessary in formulating government strategies. This is what is lacking, and we shall question the assumptions at the appropriate time.
My Lords, this is my second shot at a maiden speech in Parliament, but at least I have the consolation that I cannot do worse than I did on the last occasion, in the other place, in the spring of 1971. During my speech, my late mother fell fast asleep and, on being woken by my wife to be told that her son was making a maiden speech, she said, “Oh, what a pity. I dreamt that I was in a railway carriage”. At least, I suppose, there was something to be said for British Rail, but certainly not for me on that occasion.
It is a great privilege to be a Member of this Chamber and, like so many other noble Lords who have made maiden speeches, I am most impressed by the friendliness of noble Lords and by the strong support of the staff here. I am in a most unusual position compared with most people in that I was introduced to this Chamber in October 2000 when I was made the Lord Chamberlain. The convention, as the House knows, is that the Lord Chamberlain cannot speak or vote, although of course he delivers messages from Her Majesty.
It has been an enormous honour to have served Her Majesty and to have been head of her Household, but now comes a chance for me to participate in the Chamber, although for me it has been like waiting for Godot. We now have yet again a renewed debate on the future of this Chamber. The gracious Speech refers to Her Majesty’s Government introducing further proposals on reform, and today the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has outlined in a little more detail what he has in mind in the coming months.
I hope that it will not be thought presumptuous of me as a new boy to give first impressions, having served in another place for 21 years and having observed procedures and proceedings a little here more recently. I start from an assumption—listening to this debate, I think that it may be a wrong one, but I hope that it is broadly right—that there is to be no overall major change in the contemplated relationship between this Chamber and the other place. That is to say that the elected Chamber has primacy and that relations are governed by Parliament Acts, by the position on financial privilege and by the various conventions. On that basis, I am unashamedly in favour of retaining appointed Members under the Life Peerages Act 1958, although I accept that there is plenty of scope to improve things further. I say that because I think that there is clear evidence that the role played by appointed Members has been very effective in enabling the House of Lords to fulfil its current tasks.
I am struck by a conversation that took place rather a long time ago—in fact, over 200 years ago—between Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Jefferson asked Washington why he thought it necessary to have a second chamber. Of course in the States, that was the Senate. Washington answered, “Why do you tip your coffee from the cup into the saucer?”. Jefferson replied, “To cool it”. Washington said, “We pour legislation into the Senate for that same reason”. Of course the United States Senate is an elected chamber, but I stress that, in our circumstances, 40 years of experience in the appointment of well over 1,000 appointed Members show how well that role can be fulfilled by this Chamber. It has been a typically British pragmatic evolution.
This age has something of a mania for change. Some is needed, but much is not justified. I do not, however, go as far as Lord Palmerston, who, when asked by Queen Victoria to consider some change, is supposed to have said, “Change, ma’am, change? But aren’t things bad enough already?”. We need to be much more rigorous in justifying proposals for change. It is said that a clergyman father was travelling with his Rhodes scholar son through Nebraska. His son said to him in the train, “You know, father, the whole of England could be fitted into a corner of Nebraska”. The father replied, “But to what end, young man?”. That is the question we should ask ourselves when change is being proposed. To what end, and what improvement will it actually bring about?
I would like to think that there is sufficient common ground—I hope that that is the case—to say that the role of this Chamber is to provide an independent counterbalance to the other place, with a revising, reflecting, deliberative task. It provides time for second thoughts in a Chamber that is freer from executive and partisan control, fortified by at least 20 per cent of its Members being totally independent. Against that background, what is most striking is to observe the astonishing range of expertise, experience and wisdom that emerges from this Chamber. One has only to observe the debate and discussion on the gracious Speech to see that. When discussing education we had former vice-chancellors, heads of college, academics and former Secretaries of State. In the debate last Monday on foreign affairs and defence, we had former Foreign and Defence Secretaries, service chiefs and ambassadors. Our debate on criminal justice today sees former Law Lords, Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, chief constables and Chief Inspectors of Prisons, as well as Bishops. Equally, I have observed in the revision of legislation how valuable the expertise of this Chamber is.
I am conscious that in a maiden speech one should be uncontroversial and I had hoped that my training in diplomacy as a former Foreign Office Minister would have helped, but I am not sure whether I am going to succeed, save simply to say that I remain to be convinced that the elected element, if it were to come about in this Chamber, would not radically alter the relationship between the two Houses. At the moment I am not clear how it will improve the current role of the House of Lords. Moreover, this is at a time when much work needs to be done to strengthen trust in the existing democratic elected bodies with their very many layers, which range from the other place, the European Parliament, Wales and Scotland, to the tiers of local government. The Lords can surely reinforce the democratic system by providing a highly effective and efficient scrutiny of the Government while accepting the primacy of the elected Chamber.
Of course, many interesting ideas have emerged over the past few years on how to strengthen the appointed system. As was said in Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard:
“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”.
I certainly retain a very open mind on the many proposals that have been put forward, not least from the commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. They range from putting an appointments commission on a statutory basis, thus making it more accountable and transparent and in this way perhaps overcoming the unfortunate perceptions arising from the cash for peerages problem, to limitations on numbers, defined terms for Members, improved cross-representation, which is already taking place, and many other ideas besides. There is plenty of scope to adjust the present system, which would be a more sensible way of tackling it in the future than radical overhaul. Above all, we would be wise to have sufficient confidence in ourselves to challenge those proposing major change to justify that and to answer the question: to what end and how would it improve our role?
My Lords, it is an honour and a pleasure to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Luce, to your Lordships’ House. However, I can hardly say “welcome” him, given our familiarity with him already and considering his distinguished service to Her Majesty as Lord Chamberlain of the Queen’s Household for the past six years. However, I can say what a delight it is to hear his own voice in the House and to welcome his maiden speech. I am sure that I am reflecting the view of noble Lords when I say how much we look forward to the contributions that he will now be able to make and how much the House will benefit from his wisdom and views from the Cross Benches. The noble Lord served in another place for many years and, as he remarked, was a Minister of State. He brings to us his huge experience of international affairs and the world of business, while his maiden speech today has also revealed that he is poised, in the next stage of his career, to distinguish himself on the Benches of your Lordships’ House.
Over the past six years, the noble Lord has fulfilled with grace and great effectiveness his duties as Lord Chamberlain. I have to say that when I realised the order in which I had drawn this debate, my first thought was, “Oh crumbs! This is the guy who has been writing to me for the past few years!” However, I found his letters to be a tribute to plain English and his office unfailingly helpful. I am sure that noble Lords will join me in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Luce. We look forward to the powerful contribution that he will make to your Lordships’ House.
It is always an enormous pleasure to welcome the contribution of erudition and learning from the Bishops’ Bench. That was more than amply demonstrated by the contribution of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. If I may be so bold, partly in response to the question raised by the most reverend Primate at the beginning of his speech about the position of Bishops in your Lordships’ House, I feel bound to say that notwithstanding their invaluable contribution—I have worked with many of them over the years and I think that they would all be here on their own merit—I believe that our discussions on reform have to include the position of the church being represented as of right in the second Chamber. However, right reverend Prelates might take some comfort from the fact that, when I raised the issue at my own party meeting, I received a somewhat dusty response from my right honourable friend the Leader of the House in another place.
I want to talk about the need to address reoffending. I will tell the story of a young man who was sent to prison for robbery. He received a four-year sentence, but today he is in the first year of a psychology degree course at Bristol University. While in prison, he was recruited by National Grid and completed his training in 2003. He was then employed by AMEC until March 2005. Subsequently, he did a year’s access course before applying to and being accepted at Bristol to take a degree. He intends to go into occupational therapy and has asked that his thanks should be recorded here and recognition given to National Grid and AMEC. He said that,
“their support gave me confidence … I couldn’t have got here without people believing in me”.
I welcome the Government’s intention to bring forward proposals for offender management and hope that the opportunity afforded by the discussions will add to the effectiveness of NOMS. However, it is my belief that a great deal can be achieved without legislation, but rather with imagination and good will, and with the Government embracing and fulfilling their enabling role and fighting the temptation in some parts of the Home Office towards command and control. I am hopeful that the leadership at NOMS of Helen Edwards, with her experience of the voluntary sector, heralds a new era, in which there will be some recognition that the work of the private sector and voluntary organisations can provide help and significantly support the reduction of reoffending.
Many noble Lords know about the successful and pioneering offender programme run by National Grid that started in HM Young Offender Institution and Remand Centre Reading in 1999. From modest beginnings and with diligent evaluation at every stage, the programme is now operating in adult prisons and, at the last count, involved over 500 offenders in more than 20 prisons for category C and D prisoners and young offenders. Over 80 different companies have provided jobs and training. The reoffending rate on the programme is remarkably low, at 7 per cent when last calculated, compared with a national reoffending rate for young offenders of over 80 per cent and 64 per cent for adult offenders. I am grateful to Dr Mary Harris, the director of the National Grid offender programme, and her team for providing me with a briefing and facts and figures about this programme, and I should like to place on the record my huge admiration for Sir John Parker and his company for their leadership of this programme across British industry.
I want to look closely at the programme because it points to opportunities and offers lessons on where the Government could improve their own practices in the more general context of reducing reoffending. At least 70 per cent of the offenders in the programme are in the jobs to which they were appointed two years ago. The programme costs £10,000 per offender, all of which has been met by industry without any funding or support from government. I estimate that this programme has saved the Government many millions of pounds in the reduction of reoffending.
Frankly, in my view and in the view of my honourable and right honourable friends in another place, Barry Sheerman MP, chair of the Education and Skills Select Committee, and John Denham MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee—both of whom are on record in the last year calling for the Government to find some way of ensuring a national rollout of this programme—the current position of total funding by private industry is not sustainable in the long run if the programme is to become larger, and particularly if it is to encompass and draw into its ambit small and medium-sized companies.
Over the past four or five years, the Government have spoken many warm words in support of this scheme but have seemed incapable of working across government to enable the rollout of this programme. I have no brief to speak for National Grid, but I know that what is being sought is not grant funding but a more imaginative use of the money that is available for skills and training—or, indeed, the funding that is available through Jobcentre Plus to incentivise those employers who are not large corporations with the infrastructure to sustain and absorb the risk of employing offenders.
My right honourable friend John Denham said a year ago in another place:
“The problems seem not just to be an absence of Government funding for the programme but a desire in the Prison Service to invent a different way of doing a similar thing, involving the learning and skills councils, Jobcentre Plus and the whole panoply of state institutions”.
He went on to say about the Select Committee report on the reduction of reoffending:
“Everybody we have spoken to from the Prison Service was positive about the initiative, but nothing seems to be happening. We need some central drive to make sure the model is spread”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/11/05; col. 308WH.].
Indeed, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his 2003 Budget Statement that the Home Secretary and the then Minister for Work were seeing how the programme could be rolled out nationwide. My understanding is that funding was discussed at that point, although it was three Home Secretaries ago. I expect that this commitment may have got lost somewhere in transition; to my knowledge, it has not materialised. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister might use her multiplicity of talents to find out what actually happened. It is a testament to the companies concerned that they went ahead and expanded the programme without government support anyway.
The programme finds employers who guarantee a job, which we know is often the key to preventing reoffending. The employers go through a recruitment process of finding suitable offenders for the position that they have to offer in the prison itself. Indeed, the training also takes place in the prison. One of the Minister’s former colleagues from another place suggested to me that the programme was “cherry picking” because of this process. I find that a remarkable notion. It is true that the programme seeks offenders who would be motivated and who would be most likely to succeed—clearly this will not be all offenders—but it is not aiming to be a panacea or a single answer. It seeks to make a contribution to solving a huge and expensive problem and surely it should be welcomed with open arms on that basis.
The programme manages and minimises the risks for both employer and prison because of the way in which it is run by industry. The way this happens is by ensuring that there is a close relationship on the ground between the local prison, its governor and staff, and the employer, whether it is National Grid or one of the other companies that are participating in the programme. In other words, it is not national diktat, or even regional administration, that ensures success for an individual offender and a prospective employer.
When we say it so simply, we know it to be true and obvious. The foreman of the gas fitting team, or whatever, needs to be confident that the prison will fulfil its side of the bargain by making the offender available, in a timely fashion, to go to work without the potential impediments or demands of living in a large institution; and the prison governor and his or her staff need to know that the offender is in safe hands and not at risk of reoffending. They both know that together they will be able to overcome obstacles and difficulties because they have a positive and very direct relationship. In my view, this local relationship makes the programme work very well. The challenge to the Home Office is how to replicate that aspect. I have met many prison governors, offenders on the programme and, indeed, people for whom the offenders work, who regard this as very important.
The Minister needs, I believe, to look at the effect that the proposals for offender management might have on such schemes. I have already seen evidence of the unintended consequences of the drive to reduce offender numbers. One prison governor said that the instruction to move prisoners to an open prison would mean that an offender who has recently and successfully been on this programme—who has been released and is at home, in a well paid job and showing signs of succeeding—would be moved to an open prison, would not have a seamless transfer and would lose that important transition. A large body of evidence and research suggests that it is this seamless transition between custody and the community that makes for the most effective resettlement, and that where it does not happen there is a far greater likelihood of reoffending.
Surely the invest-to-save commitment of the Government must acknowledge that programmes such as this can make a great contribution to reducing reoffending. My honourable friend in another place, the then Minister, Fiona Mactaggart, indicated during the debate to which I have referred that the Government were not inclined to seek ways of accessing financial support for this programme. I wish to raise that as an issue that I hope can be addressed. The Government established a corporate alliance a year ago—I was at the party at which it was launched—and it is a very important and admirable initiative. I should like to ask my noble friend how the alliance is progressing in its efforts to drive the reduction of reoffending.
I hope that my contribution will be seen for what it is. I have given this example to raise the broader issue of the importance of priority setting in the Home Office and the crucial importance of changing the culture of the way in which NOMS operates.
My Lords, the Chief Whip announced that if we wanted to meet our normal finishing time of 7 pm, Back-Bench speeches should be restricted to 10 minutes. Our two maiden speakers spoke wonderfully well and also kept within the time limit. Every other Back-Bencher has exceeded the 10-minute period. I just draw this matter to the attention of the House.
My Lords, I do not know whether I feel entirely comfortable in the cross-fire.
Many of the contributions to the debate on the gracious Speech, particularly in earlier days, were very sombre, reflecting upon the very difficult state the world is in, and it occurred to me that it might seem rather insular to talk about Lords reform on this occasion. But the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor put me right on that because he made a substantial contribution, as did my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, so I am bold enough to say a few words about it.
As has been pointed out, the gracious Speech was commendably short and clear: the Government will work to build a consensus on reform of the House of Lords. I am quite content with that. I recognise that in Jack Straw the Prime Minister has entrusted the task to the person best able to do the job. I wish him well. I was encouraged by the speeches of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord McNally. But let us not kid ourselves; the task will not be easy.
There are rumours that the kind of proposals the Government favour bear some resemblance to the report of the royal commission, which I had the honour to chair. Thus it might be instructive to look back to the aftermath of that report to see how we got on.
We produced a report which I always intended to be the basis for a consensus but, so far as I could judge, most people compared it with their own ideal solution. As a result, it was no surprise that most people found our report wanting. If there is a desire to make progress, it behoves everyone in both Houses not just to demand what they would ideally like but to ask themselves how far they can move to reach a consensus.
One can be fairly blunt about what a consensus will have to look like if it has any reasonable chance of success. It will certainly be a hybrid House; I suggest that there will be no additional powers but no diminution of them either. The conventions remain substantially unaltered, as the excellent and unanimous report of the Joint Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, made clear.
As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, the commitments given to recent newcomers to this House will have to be honoured. Bearing in mind that half of your Lordships have entered the House while the Prime Minister has been in office, the scope for additional new Members of this House by election or by any other means will be small if the House is not to become so big as to be unmanageable, certainly for a number of years. There will, in my view, be no consensus without an independent statutory appointments commission, and membership of this House and the peerage will be separated.
My report recommended an elected element, and I still think that that will have to be part of the solution. It is no secret that, when I started this exercise, I was not greatly attracted to that prospect, but I am now fully satisfied that there will not be a consensus without a significant elected element. However, we have to bear in mind two things: as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said, an elected element will make it much harder to get those essential compromises between the two Houses that are necessary at the end of each Session.
Secondly, when the royal commission was taking evidence, I was very struck by the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who is not in his place, that there is a danger that the only people who will stand for election to this House are the 4th XI. The 1st XI will naturally seek membership of the House of Commons, the 2nd XI will probably go to the European Parliament, and the 3rd XI will go to the regional Assemblies or Parliaments. As a result, if we do not prevent this happening, we will end up with a 4th XI. That is hardly a recipe for an effective revising Chamber that needs to be taken seriously by the House of Commons. All this can be taken into account, but it will not be easy.
Things have moved on since the days of the earlier legislation and the royal commission. I would proceed with caution; in my view, an essential element will be a long transitional period. My guess is that the 12 years I have seen mooted will not be long enough. The number of elected can grow only as the life Peers depart, and that will have to be on a voluntary basis.
Whatever elected element we have has to be for one election only. However, I would make those who have served their term as elected Members eligible for appointment for a further term. This would help to raise the standard of potential candidates and enable your Lordships to get the full value out of the experience.
From the rumours I have been able to pick up, I am fearful of the Cross Benchers’ position. The Bishops, I think, are safe, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, recognised. But part of the original proposal was that a number of other faiths in this country ought to be recognised and represented in this House. A full-time salaried House militates against those very valuable Peers who are able to bring up-to-date, relevant experience of the real world, and many of those are Cross Benchers. I am not against Peers being paid, but I do not think that all should be on a full-time salary. I also consider that if they are included in any percentages of appointed and elected Peers, it will result in a squeeze on them which will over time reduce their numbers. Their numbers should remain at about 20 per cent and they should be left out of the rest of the calculations.
All this is very difficult and needs a lot of thinking about. It is particularly difficult now because the present reformed House is working rather well and a good many Members of both Houses who would not normally be averse to further change do not think this is quite the time for further upheaval.
My advice to the Government is that they are right to try. Others must try to meet them. A consensus would be a great prize if we can achieve it, but I do not think that it will be easy.
My Lords, one of the consequences of a debate such as this, covering the whole of DCA and Home Affairs, is that it is somewhat disjointed. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, will forgive me if I do not follow him in discussing House of Lords reform, except to say that if you reserve a certain number of places for faith communities, as he appeared to suggest, why should not the same be done for, say, the professions, the trade unions or any other group of people who play a significant role in our society? I hope that when we discuss the reform of the House of Lords, we will take that into consideration.
I would like to speak about what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred to as the torrent of Home Office legislation coming down the track towards us, particularly the Home Office Bills dealing with crime and immigration at a time when the ink is not dry on the Acts that were passed earlier this year, to say nothing of the 50 Home Office Bills we have dealt with since 1997. When Mr Blair finally steps off on 26 July next year, he will have comfortably broken the record for the number of Bills passed, and if the criterion was the number of pages in the Bills, he would be miles ahead of all his predecessors put together.
What is the purpose of this immense ziggurat of paper? The number of people in prison, which was 60,000 when new Labour came into office, has zoomed up to 80,000 and counting today, with record rates of reconviction and a Probation Service which is staggering under the load of the numbers it is supervising. Prison and probation officers are never given a chance to catch their breath before another wave of customers hits them. There will be a loss of democratic accountability through the centralising tendency of NOMS—an acronym which means “nightmare on Marsham Street” to everybody in the penal system—while the dogmatic commitment to “contestability”, a piece of new Labour jargon I abhor, undermines morale and diverts attention from the real need to make existing services better. I was very impressed by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, who indicated that a great deal can be achieved without legislation, although probably not while the prisons are, as at present, crammed to bursting point.
We need to address the paradox that while in general crime is being reduced, more people are being sent to prison and are being given longer sentences in spite of the Carter report’s finding that:
“The increased use of prison and probation has only had a limited impact on crime … there is no convincing evidence that further increases in the use of custody would significantly reduce crime”.
Recently the Lord Chief Justice himself expressed concern about the increased length of sentences for serious offences—and then there was a predictable outcry from certain sections of the media. The pressure on the courts and the parole system created by the lurid accounts in these newspapers of a few crimes of violence committed by ex-offenders has such a harmful effect on sentencing practice. The only way of ensuring that no ex-prisoners go on to commit further serious crime after being released would be to lock them all up for the rest of their lives.
Twenty-five years ago, the Home Office found that a small proportion of violent offences were committed by persons who were classified as “dangerous” by reference to their previous history. Of those people, two-thirds had symptoms of mental disorder. Yet today we still find that the mentally ill or abnormal are clogging up the prisons when they should be in psychiatric institutions. I do not know whether the new definition in the Mental Health Bill that is coming before us will have any impact on that, but I hope that one feature of it—though others have been criticised—will be that that definition enables more prisoners who are suffering from mental illness or disorder to be treated in appropriate institutions and not kept in prisons where nothing can be done for them.
Substance abusers and people with speech, language and communications difficulties to whom the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred six years ago should also be elsewhere. It is no wonder that reoffending is such an intractable problem, because prisons and YOIs are the wrong institutions for the special needs of a large proportion of their inmates. The local education authorities and NHS trusts simply do not have the resources even to assess those needs, let alone to provide remedial treatment. If the Government had genuinely set out to be tough on the causes of crime, as in the mantra that goes back to Mr Blair’s speech at the Labour Party conference of 1992, the attributes that predisposed people to commit crimes would have been tackled vigorously by preventive action in the community.
The Home Office reported more than six years ago that alcohol misuse was involved in 76 per cent of assaults and 88 per cent of criminal damage, but it is astonishingly complacent about the harm being done by alcohol, which was already costing England £20 billion a year in 2000-01, of which £7.3 billion was accounted for by crime and public disorder. That was according to a Cabinet Office paper of 2003. The Home Office Minister in charge of alcohol crime and disorder, Mr Tony McNulty, said that it would not be practicable to update those figures annually. I should like to ask—as I did today at Question Time, though without getting an answer from the noble Lord, Lord Warner—how otherwise the Government suggest that the public can assess the effectiveness of their alcohol harm reduction strategy. I should like an answer to that question today.
I should also like an answer on the calculations that I submitted to the Home Office which showed that, since the date of the Cabinet Office survey on alcohol harm, the figure has increased by somewhere between £1.9 billion and £8.4 billion, depending on what index is used to measure it and why the Government still refuse to consider using price and availability, which are the only weapons that would effectively dam the torrents of alcohol that are poisoning millions of people.
On immigration and asylum, I very much regret, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, did, that there has been no consolidation four years after we first raised the matter and despite the assurance that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, gave us in January that she would see whether it could be taken forward with the Law Commission. She undertook to discuss the matter with me or put a note in the Library after that discussion with the Law Commission. However, as I reminded her office on Monday, there has been no word about it since then. I hope that the Minister says something about that.
There has been no further news, either, about whether the Government have decided to exercise the power given them by an amendment to the 2006 Act to repeal Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 by which families with children can be deprived of all support at the end of the asylum process. The Minister said that a decision on that matter would be made when the evaluation of Section 9 had been considered, but again we have heard nothing since we discussed that in February or March.
In the new immigration Bill, the Government seek tougher powers to police the border. I wonder how that issue has arisen, given that the previous Bill left us only eight months ago. They say that it will make it easier to deport those who break the law, but the crisis has arisen through administrative flaws and not through a lack of legislation. The foreign prisoners scandal happened last spring because the IND displayed no effective or consistent approach and no coherent or timely planning for what needs to be done at the end of the sentence. Those are not my words; they come from the recent report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons. The IND’s criminal casework team needs to be thoroughly overhauled, and that should be done before we have any further knee-jerk legislation of this type.
Like my noble friend Lord Dholakia, I hope that the Government will also have regard to what the JCHR had to say in its 32nd report about the legal rights of EEA nationals and the need for proportionality in deciding whether to deport non-EEA offenders.
Finally, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, also said, there is no sign of a coroners Bill which, as the Constitutional Affairs Committee said in another place, is long overdue. The committee had valid objections to the draft Bill but nine of its 16 recommendations have been accepted by the Government in whole or in part. The delays in hearing inquests of up to six years in the case of Oxfordshire, because of the additional responsibilities on coroners for examining deaths overseas, are utterly unacceptable. I hope that the Government will immediately provide extra resources for the coroners furthest in arrears and produce a revised draft Bill early enough in this Session for the Select Committee to be able to report on the subject again before next summer so that there can be a strong presumption of the final version appearing in next year’s Queen’s Speech.
My Lords, I believe that most speakers in the debate today will concentrate on the important issues of home and legal affairs, which is understandable because the list of Bills for the Session includes Bills on asylum, immigration, counter-terrorism, organised crime, offender management, criminal justice tribunals, courts and enforcement and legal services. It is crime with a big “C”, and I am truly glad that we have the noble Baronesses, Lady Rendell and Lady James, in the House.
Some of those subjects are familiar to noble Lords who have worked on legislation on those questions in the very recent past, who have scrutinised and—I believe—improved it, fulfilling our role as a second Chamber, complementary to the work of the House of Commons and widely appreciated by the public for that role. There is some truth in the charge that what we most need now is a much more effective administration and monitoring of legislation that already exists—for example, in relation to those cases in which foreign nationals after release from prison should be considered for deportation and should not be simply lost to view. Unfortunately, that is only one example. I am prepared to be convinced, if the Government can conclusively show that the new legislation outlined in the gracious Speech and specified in the list of Bills is truly needed to better manage immigration and cut crime—but, please, at the same time can we not improve the working of the present arrangements? That is truly the priority.
Our debate today extends beyond home and legal affairs to constitutional issues. The gracious Speech refers to the programme of reform of institutions and says that the Government will introduce proposals on the reform of the House of Lords. Many had concluded that proposals would be set out in a White Paper for consideration in both Houses of Parliament but had not envisaged that a Bill would be presented in this Session. However, a House of Lords Bill is included in the list of Bills for 2006-07, and in view of that I shall comment on that part of the Government’s programme.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for what he said about the future programme and for much of the substance, with which I agreed. If he ever wishes to cross to the Cross Benches, I am sure that he will receive a very warm welcome.
Before I move on to that, however, I express my pleasure that the gracious Speech tells us that Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will be visiting the United States of America next year to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first English-speaking settlement in North America at Jamestown, Virginia. This is what the Americans call the 400th birthday of America, and it will be widely celebrated there. The English settlers left Blackwall in London in December 1606 in three very small ships and, after storms and a long crossing, arrived in Virginia five months later in May 1607. I declare an interest as a member of the British committee for the celebration in the United Kingdom of this event, which changed the world by launching the history of modern America and the worldwide spread of the English language. It is perhaps worth recalling in this debate that the English were the immigrants then and that one of the earliest actions of the settlers was to establish a Parliament and the rule of law on the English model.
After that brief diversion to Jamestown, Virginia, I come back to the expected debate on proposals for the future of this House. I am struck by the fact that, although there have been many reports, including that of the Royal Commission, and a great deal of speculation, there has not, looking back, been very much debate in the House itself. In the perspective of proposals, I should like, without going into detail, to stress a number of important points.
First, I very much welcome the reference in the gracious Speech to consensus in this area. That may have been implicit in earlier discussions but it is now explicit and a benchmark for future work. This, of course, recognises that changes in the constitution of the nation, whether written or not, are of a different kind from changes in our domestic policies.
Secondly, I welcome the decision of the Government to look, first, at the procedures of the House in its relations with the House of Commons, which has the primacy of the two Chambers. I also very much welcome the unanimous report of the Joint Committee on Conventions, which we shall be debating. However, it has, in my view, reached a definitive position in broadly confirming that existing relations between the two Houses, at least so far as concerns the House of Lords, are satisfactory and appropriate to the proper scrutiny and, where desirable, improvement of draft legislation.
I recall that in a recent Session 3,527 amendments were made in this House and a large percentage of them were agreed by the House of Commons. It is sometimes said that many of them were government amendments. All the better for that, I say. It shows that the Government are willing to accept the force of arguments presented in this House and by interested organisations and to draw the conclusion that some change in a draft legislative text would be an improvement. After all, we examine all amendments here without a guillotine. That is one of the best ways in which this House works and it is not demonstrated solely by votes in the Chamber. I note of course that, although the Joint Committee took a clear view on the effectiveness of present arrangements, it concluded that, if any firm proposals should be put forward to change the composition of this House, the conventions between the Houses would have to be examined again. That is a judgment which we can perhaps come back to later, but at least we have made substantial progress with the Joint Committee’s report.
My third point goes much wider than conventions. At times, I have the impression that some commentators believe that, if a change to the election of a good proportion of the membership of this House were to take place, that would increase its legitimacy but leave the balance between the two Houses hardly changed. I do not believe that myself. Evidently, the House of Lords would be more assertive, and that would not be a consequence of conventions; it would be a consequence of the wishes of the electors who had voted in the elected Members of this House. Here, we are really talking about democracy.
My fourth point is that, if there is to be any further change in the composition of the House, in my view it is important that it should be spread over a reasonable period of time—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and others. Contrary to the common impression, a large percentage of the current Members of the House are relative newcomers and, if there is to be change, we need to safeguard our pool of expertise. We need to allow the steady assimilation of new, elected Members, if that is to be the case, and, in my view, the membership of existing life Peers should continue unless ended by resignation or death or by individual decisions to stand successfully for election to the House. The total size of the House would reduce, but gradually.
Finally, noble Lords would be surprised if I did not refer to the position of the Cross-Benchers. With more than 200 Members, we are not quite yet the majority party but we are an important component of this House, both in numbers and in knowledge and experience. The number might of course be reduced if the House were to be reformed on a part-elected basis. There are 33 hereditary Peers on the Cross Benches, including officeholders, and, when the Supreme Court is set up, the Law Lords—but not of course the retired Law Lords—will move away. The Northern Ireland politically appointed Members currently sit on the Cross Benches and, if elections were to be held for part of the membership of the House, obviously Northern Ireland could not be excluded.
In general, we have been heartened by the widespread acceptance since the Royal Commission that, in any reformed House, at least 20 per cent of the Members should be independent Cross-Bench Peers—we attach importance to those words. Allied to that is the widespread acceptance that, in any future reform, a statutory appointments commission should be able to choose the best men and women from a diversity of backgrounds to refresh the pool of knowledge and experience. I believe that this pattern of an independent element of at least 20 per cent and confidence in the appointments process should be one of the defining features of a complementary second Chamber in our system.
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton. As chairman of the English Speaking Union, I thank him and his colleagues for their wonderful efforts in preparing us for the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement. Like the noble Lord, I feel that next year will be marvellous with the royal visit of the president of the English Speaking Union, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, and Her Majesty the Queen to Jamestown, together with the work done by the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, and Sir Robert Worcester in taking forward this important anniversary.
I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. I think that it would be advisable for everyone who is considering the reform of this place to re-read the report of the Royal Commission. It would enhance the debate if we were to do so a little more carefully because, as the noble Lord pointed out, it was always a bid to find the consensus which the Government now say they are seeking. Of course it was never going to be welcomed by everyone, but it struck a careful balance between all the different views already expressed in this debate and those submitted to the Royal Commission.
My purpose, however, is just to refer to the Legal Services Bill. I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his generous tribute to the work of the Joint Select Committee, which I had the honour to chair. I will pass on his comments to the members of the committee and to our Clerk and her colleagues, our special advisers and the witnesses who gave oral and written evidence. The experience of the Joint Committee reinforces the benefits of this way of scrutinising legislation, which I warmly commend—in particular, when one is dealing with detailed regulatory Bills. However, we were set an impossible timetable. My recollection is that the draft Legal Services Bill was published on 24 May and the Joint Committee met on 25 May and had to report within two months—by 25 July. The Government responded by 25 September and we had First Reading of what is, one hopes, the redrafted Bill, today; no doubt we will see it tomorrow, and I understand that Second Reading will be on 6 December.
There is always a need to look again at the structure of something as important as the legal profession, which is one of our greatest assets. English law is regarded across the world as a safe haven for independent and impartial scrutiny and for justice. Indeed, English law is the chosen law of many international commercial transactions and London is the centre for international litigation and arbitration. The way in which commercial disputes are decided is very much in accordance with the traditions that we have established in English law.
I say all that because it is vital that nothing is done in any overtly bureaucratic way to damage that asset. Having spent a little time in government myself, I believe that this Government may be in danger of going down a path that we will all subsequently regret. I refer in particular to the independence of the legal profession. There is no doubt that our lawyers compete across the world exceedingly well but are constantly fighting for access to other legal markets; indeed, other legal markets are envious of the much respected traditions of English law. If there is any attempt by the Government to impose their will on the legal profession, that will hugely damage our capacity to continue to compete across the world for legal business.
Why should that danger exist? Because the Government, like many previous Governments, have gone down the route of saying that, when it comes to establishing the new legal services board, for instance, they want to choose the people who will regulate the legal profession. Having had the privilege of being a Secretary of State, I well know how easy it is to fall into the trap of believing that only I, or my successors, could possibly make the right choice. There are huge dangers in going down that path.
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to run a check on the number of times that the term “Secretary of State” appeared in the draft Legal Services Bill and that powers were given to the Secretary of State. Lo and behold, 121 references came up. This issue, however, involves not only all those references and powers but also the conviction on the part of Secretaries of State that they are the only people who could possibly choose the chair and members of the legal services board.
The Joint Select Committee felt strongly that we should concede, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, that the eventual right of appointment lies in the hands of Ministers, but we suggested that the least that could be done is for the Secretary of State to consult the Lord Chief Justice. The Government said in their response that it is not right to name a consultee in the Bill. However, we are dealing with not just a consultee but the Lord Chief Justice himself. The importance of providing for that consultation is to reinforce the independence and integrity of the legal profession. When I open the new Bill tomorrow, I hope that I will see a change of heart on the Government’s part and that they will have accepted at least that recommendation from the Select Committee.
I do not have time to discuss the other recommendations. I applaud the wish to reform the entire legal services market, to bring it under one regulatory framework and to create a new way of dealing with complaints through the establishment of the office for legal complaints, but I wonder about the cost of it all. I remember, when the conditional fee agreements were introduced by the previous Lord Chancellor, that a number of us, including the sadly missed Lord Ackner, pleaded with the Government to test first and to carry out the necessary research into the conditional fee agreements so that they would be a success and not, as we have subsequently seen, a failure. That failure has required the Compensation Act to establish a whole new regulatory system for claims management bodies that advertise on television, saying “Where there’s blame there’s a claim and it won’t cost you a penny”. It was a disaster because there was a refusal to have pilot schemes, to test the water and to proceed step by step.
My final plea to the Government is that when they look at alternative business structures, reform of the system of training, discipline and competence—and particularly the valuable work done by the Inns of Court and many other such revered institutions—they will look back to Sir David Clementi’s report and decide that perhaps he had the right way forward; that is, to proceed step by step. Then we will make our greatest asset even more valuable than it is today.
My Lords, in rising to support the Motion on the gracious Speech, I should like to add my welcome for the work of the Joint Committee on Conventions. I, too, thought that its recommendations were eminently sensible. I hope that the Government will have no difficulty in agreeing with them and the thrust of the committee's report.
The committee also said that should any firm proposals come forward to change the composition of the House of Lords, the conventions between the Houses would have to be examined again. I recall, however, that the Government’s consultation paper CP 14/03 suggested that there was then—September 2003—widespread agreement that the,
“present constitutional conventions which govern how the Lords conducts its business and behaves towards the Commons should remain basically unchanged”.
That still seems right to me.
The Leader in another place is working with all sides of both Houses in an effort to reach a consensus. I strongly welcome the general acknowledgement that a constitutional settlement of such importance must be broadly consensual.
Stability—and over a considerable period of time; over decades—is an essential outturn of any further reform. Today I wish to confine my comments to two particular points that concern me. First, I think that I may still take it as a given that whatever may be the eventual size of the House or the percentage element of elected membership, a fifth of the total membership will be allotted to non-party independents, presumably to be found and nominated by a Statutory Appointments Commission. This was also reflected in that 2003 consultation paper, although in his letter responding to one I wrote to him in mid 2004, when I was Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, the Prime Minister was less explicit, saying only that,
“the government feels that the composition of the House of Lords should be distinctive and not mirror that of the Commons. The role of a non-party element in a reformed House of Lords is one of the issues which we will need to consider very carefully”.
Whatever the Government’s present thinking about a non-party element, my concern is about the quality of both elements of a new second Chamber that remains subordinate to the Commons. The field of electable candidates for the second Chamber will be, to put it in a shorthand way readily understandable to your Lordships, a field of B-list-type candidates; that is, candidates found mainly from those party supporters who failed to get, or to be selected for, seats in the Commons. It would be facile to generalise from that and claim there would only be inferior candidates for the second Chamber’s elected element. Some would be eminently satisfactory. But to the extent that there were fewer able elected Members, without the wealth and depth of political and other experience that now resides in your Lordships’ House, that could have an impact on the quality of individuals prepared, if selected by the Appointments Commission, to allow their names to go forward to become independent Members.
Some of the best might feel that membership of what could be characterised as a B-list revising Chamber, perhaps with more restricted responsibilities than this House presently discharges, was not sufficiently attractive to them, the more so if changes in the Companion, to reflect the more adversarial ethos of party politics, removed our present forms of self-regulation. The remaining vestiges of the award of a peerage as an honour would also have been lost. For some, at least, all that might be too much. In turn, with the passage of time, the high quality that is generally acknowledged to be a key characteristic of the present independent elements of your Lordships’ House would not be sustained.
It is important, as the future of this House is considered, to recognise that there are already a few—not necessarily exclusively because of the changes that have been made so far in the size and composition of the House—who have none the less decided that this House is not any more to their liking, nor worthy of their continuing participation. Just as one swallow does not signal summer, the departure of a Peer or two does not necessarily signal that there could be a large-scale exodus, but, following reform, might there not be reluctance to become involved as a new independent Member of a redefined and still subordinate Chamber in a bicameral system? That question needs to be addressed. While I do not rule out changes, for the present I still feel there is a measure of greater agreement to leave things as they are and allow them to settle down.
The manifesto commitment to reform envisages a House that is more effective, legitimate and representative than we have at the present time. It will be for the proposers of any new settlement to demonstrate not only legitimacy and wider representation, but also greater effectiveness.
My second concern is that the last of these three aspirations may not be given as much weight as the other two. It should. The effectiveness of a reformed House, whatever its final make-up, must be considered. It may be considerably more expensive than we are today. It would be wrong to confine the case for a revised Chamber solely to the political issues identified; that is, legitimacy and representation. There should also be a business case that addresses the costs and other issues that are bound up in any restructuring.
I hope that those who are looking for consensus on structure will also seek consensus on the cost/benefit analysis that should be undertaken before voting and a decision on the way ahead is made. Is it not reasonable to expect an indication of the costs of any proposed new settlement? Government and opposition parties should not seek to dismiss costs as irrelevant and of no concern. They will be a concern for the taxpayers, and so they must be for this House and the other place.
Will the Minister give an assurance that the costs of any new proposals will also be available before votes are cast? That was done, albeit with reluctance, for the Supreme Court. It should be even more important to do it for any further reform of your Lordships’ House. Will the Government agree to provide proper costings?
Incidentally, party funds to fight elections for a second Chamber will also be needed. I can but assume that this would be a recurring difficulty for all the political parties. I hope that they will not forget to factor that into their thinking about any new proposals. They should not look to the taxpayer to fund it all.
My Lords, this debate underlines that the challenges to government are immense; that the pressures on Ministers and officials alike are huge; and that the workload, with its strains on family life, can at times be almost intolerable. Precisely because of my genuine admiration for those who carry so much responsibility on our behalf, I am sure it is essential to be candid in any critique of the gracious Speech. Anything less would make a mockery of respect.
I cannot be alone in my concern that the first page of the gracious Speech was so dominated by a preoccupation with security and law and order. To put those issues first, however important they may be, is surely to risk giving the dangerous extremists an advantage. However acute the pressures, the first priority must be to spell out the quality of the society to which we are committed, the methods by which we are determined to build and strengthen it, the vision of the future we seek for our children and grandchildren, and, above all, the values that will guide us. Having established that, it is then entirely appropriate, indeed essential, to identify grave and far-reaching threats to what we seek to accomplish, and to put firmly on record our determination to withstand all attempts to divert us or to destroy what we hold dear.
We all know that in the end extremism will be contained only if we win the battle for hearts and minds, and if we generate an inclusive, widely based conviction that there really is a society with which the overwhelming majority, from all parts of our pluralist community, can identify and which is worth defending. The gracious Speech could have powerfully set the tone. Instead, I fear, it missed an opportunity.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a Member, has emphasised that it is a human rights responsibility of the Government to protect the people within their jurisdiction. Significantly, the committee has also argued that if measures introduced by government, individually or cumulatively, were by their counterproductivity in fact to make the situation more dangerous, the Government would not be fulfilling that responsibility. That does not mean that the good faith of Ministers would necessarily be in question. It is simply to observe that, in their commitment, Ministers could inadvertently be drawn into counterproductivity.
I believe that it is a primary duty of this House to be vigilant in helping Ministers avoid that fatal mistake. That may well arise in the context of any new counter-terrorism Bill; for example, where is the demonstrable and convincing evidence that a further extension of pre-charge detention is necessary? My noble and learned friend the Attorney-General, as I understand it, urges caution on this proposal. He is right.
As we consider any new criminal justice Bill, what would be the hearts and minds consequences of a new hierarchy that made security and public safety issues more foundational to the functioning of our legal system than human rights, the rule of law and justice, as we have come to value them in our society? Indeed, just what then would be the society we sought to defend? What are the risks of harm such a new approach to law would pose, or be perceived to pose, to minority communities and to our long-established understanding of what fair trial involves and means? Do we want to be a society that deports foreign nationals who have committed a crime, however unlikely they are to reoffend, back to a place with which they may be totally unfamiliar, where they may have few, if any, family or cultural connections, and where they may not even speak the language?
Is that the hallmark of the decent and civilised society that we are determined to defend? Does it help to win hearts and minds, or does it give another spur to alienation? Meanwhile, there remains the tragic absurdity that measures that undermine the quality of justice are introduced because of an obstinate refusal to countenance, even with safeguards, the introduction of intercept evidence into legal proceedings. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, continues to give us an imaginative lead on this. I fervently hope that it is a lead that we shall soon follow and endorse.
The gracious Speech highlighted new ideas of rebalancing—as it is described—the administration of justice to give greater consideration to victims. Of course, victims should be consistently at the centre of our concern. They must be able to participate as witnesses in legal proceedings. But justice is about justice; it is not about favouring the accused or the victim. To argue, as I have heard it explicitly argued, that the public are not on our side and that we must therefore do something about it is disturbing. Justice cannot be about appeasing the sensationalist or populist media. It cannot be about placating the crowd, egged on by that emotional media. Judges, magistrates and juries are appointed to bring their free-standing and, so far as possible, objective judgment to bear in determining what within the law is just, however unpopular that may be in some quarters. Of course, the public must have confidence in the administration of justice. But one sure way ultimately to lose that confidence would be to take the road of populism. Justice must be seen to rise above the emotional spasms of vengeance. It must rise above currying public favour.
In work with young offenders with whom I have been associated, I have repeatedly been struck by the reality that it would be almost a miracle if many of them had not found themselves in trouble with the law. The story of their young, formative years is frequently a terrible nightmare. To be tough on the causes of crime is to face up to that and to endeavour to address it before it is too late. To criminalise young people who are themselves the victims of failure in our society is clearly misguided. To realise that is not weak; it is what strong, self-confident, intelligent common sense and decent values demand. Similarly, can it make sense to overcrowd our prisons with those who are mentally sick, when that often aggravates their condition and when what is desperately needed is purpose-designed, secure accommodation in which they can be properly treated? Compulsory treatment in the community is, frankly, an unconvincing alternative.
The presumption of innocence has been a fundamental principle of our legal system. Are we still determined to uphold it? Or are we neglectfully allowing it to be incrementally eroded and removed? The cross-examination of witnesses has also been a pillar of our system. What would be the impact on that if victims were able to participate in court proceedings via television? A sane penal policy must make rehabilitation central to its objectives. Anything else is stupidity. Civilised values demand it. We want to see the criminal become a positive, reliable and contributing citizen. Sound economics make rehabilitation an imperative. The cost of reoffending and renewed imprisonment is prohibitive. Are we winning the battle for rehabilitation? How far is a warehouse culture reasserting itself as a result of the mushrooming prison population and a shortage of resources? There are many first-class, sometimes outstanding, imaginative people in the Prison Service, but their frustration at not being able to pursue effectively what makes sense is frequently painful to hear.
This House has an exacting year ahead. We must eschew populism or the self-defeating, myopic short-termism of playing to the worst end of the tabloid press. Simply because of the immediacy and gravity of the dangers that we all face it is, I am convinced, our historic responsibility to rededicate ourselves to the cause of what has been forged over centuries as the quality of enlightened justice and human rights, which make Britain a country worth living in and in which we can take heart; a nation with which all parts of our pluralist society will want to identify.
Human rights are not a wet, speak-easy option for free riders. As the great statesmen and stateswomen who had endured World War Two so powerfully recognised in the conventions, human rights are an essential and strong foundation for a stable, free society. Where human rights are undermined or removed, extremism gains ground. Those who do not realise this, or who reject it, are the culprits who jeopardise our society. They fail us all in our endeavours to build and defend a genuinely free society. We must help the Government to resist them at all costs.
My Lords, I begin in the traditional way, but none the less very sincerely, by expressing my great thanks to all members of staff in your Lordships’ House for their patience, courtesy and help during my first few weeks here. I also thank the Peers, who could not have been more welcoming and inclusive. Especially, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, for her advice and encouragement, and to the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, who agreed to support me at my introduction to the House a month ago. I am privileged to have experienced so much support, and equally privileged to be able to speak in this debate today.
As some of your Lordships will know, I have had a varied career, perhaps at times an exciting one, serving as a police officer for over 30 years; then for a short time working on government inquiries and reviews; later chairing boards of companies operating on the fringe of what might loosely be called homeland security-land; also serving on the boards of charitable trusts. In the fullness of time, I should like to become involved in the work of your Lordships’ House across a number of fields, but today I want to address policing and national security.
As a basis, I will cite a quotation from the interim report of the Royal Commission on Police that was published almost 50 years ago; to be precise, in 1960. That royal commission, which reported in full in 1962, was the last major review to be carried out of the policing function in this country—overall, top to bottom, root and branch. At the beginning of the report, it said:
“The maintenance of law and order ranks with national defence as a primary task of Government. It is an essential condition of a nation’s survival and happiness”.
To rank policing in 1960 on a par with national defence and the survival of the nation when we were in the middle of the Cold War might then have seemed a touch overblown, but there cannot surely now be any real dispute that the comparisons today are valid, living as we do with the constant threat of large-scale, international terrorism. The words of the 1960 and 1962 reports were strangely prophetic in that respect.
What about happiness, the third element of the quotation? The members of the 1960 royal commission were not concerned with the dictionary definition of the word. Rather, they saw happiness as a rapport between the police and the public, where a compact existed between them, an unwritten contract, in which it was clear that the police were visible, would react when requested, and would treat seriously matters and crimes, both large and small, that were reported to them. “Dixon of Dock Green” country it might have been, but it was well recognised and expected—and it was delivered.
How very different in 2006. The members of the 1960 commission would not recognise the social scene today—the constant threat of international terrorism, organised drugs-trafficking and the widespread abuse of drugs, the effects of large-scale immigration, ideological differences, violent crime, a lack of social cohesion, a materialistic society with volume crime as a consequence, and social mobility leading simultaneously to huge traffic problems and personal anonymity. The list is not exhaustive, and it brings me to my primary point.
Those problems demand new solutions. New solutions demand that different priorities should be addressed by the police. Those new priorities require that the primary police effort is focused at the top of the list, to where the need is greatest, to ensure the survival of a cherished and threatened way of life. Perhaps, like me, noble Lords are constantly impressed with the way that their police service is facing up to those new and urgent demands, with a dedication to the task in hand, and at times with raw courage. Recent events in London and elsewhere have shown just how much we rely on the police. A warning recently given by the Director-General of the Security Service underlined just how great the task remains.
But—there is always a but—all this is at a cost. Police resources are finite. Much has been spent on the police in recent years, most of it absorbed by dealing with the problems at the top of the list. The resources are not sufficient to allow proper attention to be paid now to the myriad problems at the bottom end of the scale that cause so much heartache and inconvenience to society overall. Petty crime, hooliganism and anti-social behaviour all flourish without sufficient attention by the police, who are necessarily diverted elsewhere in ways that would not have been countenanced only a few years ago.
Let me make my position clear. I do not advocate that we should in any way diminish our efforts in dealing with terrorism and other serious crime. We cannot afford to do that. We should not do that. But we should recognise what is happening day by day up and down the country. The examples are legion—necessarily trite, but impactive. For example, the owner reporting a lawnmower stolen from a garden shed is told by the police that they no longer visit the scene or make specific inquiries, but only quote a crime number for the owner to pass on to the insurance company. A report of a street disorder is met with the reply that police will attend when they can, but not immediately, and sometimes not at all. Burglary scenes are sometimes not visited until a day or more has passed. Only last week, I drove from the Midlands to North Yorkshire and back the following day, on some of the busiest and most important roads in the country, and in a 500-mile round trip saw only one police car.
All that produces a police service that is frustrated, confused and disappointed that it cannot give the response looked for by the public. In turn the public are annoyed, feel abandoned and are largely unsympathetic with the police, and relationships deteriorate. The public are a fickle entity, as we know. They applaud the successes achieved by the police when combating matters at the top of the priority list, but simultaneously are naturally preoccupied with the everyday, ever-present minor problems, and they seek improvement. Some will say that the introduction of community safety officers, neighbourhood policing teams and the like will change all that. I hope so, but I rather doubt it, for the matters that we address in this and later debates are grave, and their resolution will remorselessly demand more and more police resources to address them, resources that will have to be diverted from the bottom end of the scale.
I spent much of my later years in the police heavily involved in countering serious organised crime and terrorism. I know what it is like to be a terrorist target; I know what it is like personally to experience a terrorist attack; I know what it is like to live with round-the-clock armed personal protection. To repeat myself, I do not in any way say that we should deflect attention from the very serious matters that occupy us now. I welcome the debates that will take place today and later as we seek to balance additional measures with civil rights. It is not an easy task. Over 200 years ago, Dr Johnson remarked:
“The danger of such unbounded liberty and the danger of bounding it have produced a problem in the science of Government, which human understanding seems hitherto unable to solve”.
What changes? Put more simply and simplistically, total freedom is anarchy and total order is tyranny, and I know that your Lordships are acutely aware of the need to strike the right balance in this regard, notwithstanding the difficulties.
However, if we engage in that weighty debate, as we will, I hope that we shall remember the words of the royal commission, which I shall repeat:
“The maintenance of law and order ranks with national defence as a primary task of Government. It is an essential condition of a nation’s survival and happiness”.
As we remember those words, can we also remember that happiness in that context required a complete, top-to-bottom police response to all demands, small as well as large, serious and otherwise? The police and the public alike deserve nothing less.
My Lords, we have just listened to a remarkable speech. It was all about policing, what the police do, what policing does and what the recipients expect of the police, and who could deliver it better than the noble Lord, Lord Dear, in his maiden speech? I congratulate him on that and welcome him to these debates in your Lordships' House. I have known him for many years; I knew him when he was Chief Constable of the West Midlands and when he was subsequently Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary—a wonderful title; no civil servant has yet made that Ofpol, and I hope that they never will. He is a person for whom I have always had great respect. I have one thing in common with him—his size. One insurance company said to me once, “You’re in the giant class”. The same applies to the noble Lord. If ever he were to make a silly remark—I am sure he will not—he could never be described as a silly little man; that will never happen. He joins the ranks of many ex-police officers who are in this House, and we all benefit hugely from their experience, as we will from his. I hope that we will hear him on many occasions.
My somewhat insignificant contribution today will be on the constitution. I was fascinated by the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Luce, who said that he was frightened that it would be controversial. I did not think that it was controversial at all, just that it was eminently sensible.
Her Majesty’s gracious Speech referred, somewhat inevitably, to Lords reform. Somehow, Lords reform seems to be to the Government what a mouse is to a cat—you must never leave it alone, but must go on with it, play with it, tweak it, make it miserable, and then sit back with glee and see what happens. After all the hoo-hah that has gone on about cash for peerages, it is odd to see the Government start on again about House of Lords reform. It makes some people look back with mild nostalgia to the days of the hereditary Peers, when those sorts of funny things did not seem to happen.
I was glad to hear, however, that the Government intend to seek consensus on Lords reform, and only if they find it to introduce proposals. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made it clear that consensus was a requirement before any Lords reform could take place, and I was grateful to him for emphasising that. However, as consensus on Lords reform has proved impossible over the past nine years, despite royal commissions, joint committees, consensus groups and heaven knows whatnot, it would seem a very optimistic person who would think that consensus would suddenly drop out of the sky, as it were.
I wish that the Government would leave the House of Lords alone for a while. We have seen so many changes in the past few years—and not many for the better. The House needs time to settle down before we start upheaving it all again. If you keep lifting a cabbage out of the ground, shaking all the soil off its roots and then planting it back again, it is not surprising that the poor thing will not grow properly. After all, it is not as if there is a demand for House of Lords reform from the public. It is not as if the House is not doing its work well. Everyone—none more so than Members of your Lordships' House—spends their time saying what wonderful work the House of Lords does and how much it is respected. That is my experience too.
In the big wide world outside the insulated, incestuous confines of the Palace of Westminster, your Lordships’ House is admired. I respectfully suggest that the way in which it does its work is greatly admired too. Most people are thankful for the contribution that the House of Lords makes to public life and for the fact that it is there.
It is really only intellectual avarice which drives people constantly to search for a democratic utopia in your Lordships’ House. It will, of course, never be found. There is no magic solution for your Lordships’ House which will suddenly enable us to relax and say, “Ah, now at last we have found the perfect answer. I cannot understand why we never found it before. Now let us sit back and enjoy it”. That will not happen.
By constantly nagging at the second Chamber we create uncertainty and destabilise confidence in the constitution. Democracy means rule by the people, rather like aristocracy means rule by the best, but we shall not go down that route. Democracy does not really mean rule by elected people—although we have taken it to mean that—because elected people can produce totally different results depending on the method by which they have been elected. Democracy—that unobtainable mirage—really means trying to ensure that the will of the people is carried out. I venture to suggest that in many instances your Lordships’ House has better reflected the wishes of the people than has another place. In that way, it could be said on many occasions to have been more democratic.
We witnessed last week the remarkable opening of Parliament by Her Majesty. It was a wonderful occasion. I never cease to be amazed by it, and to be in awe of it. I love the glory, the pomp, the pageantry, the sparkle, the colour and the meaning of it all, with each person in his or her robes or uniforms representing a facet of the constitution, including the Yeomen of the Guard picking up their lanterns and searching the House—and having a glass of port afterwards—the Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, the Sword of State, the Cap of Maintenance, your Lordships in your Lordships' robes, and the Queen wearing the Imperial State Crown imparting such dignity.
It was a great occasion and one that everyone enjoyed. The whole panoply depicts and emphasises the constitution—its meaning and what underlies it. That is why we love it, and why people from other countries love it, look on it, admire it too, and envy it.
The fashionable thing is to say, “Get rid of the hereditary Peers. Make them all life Peers, so that the hereditary peerage can ride off into the sunset and, when they are all dead, hereditary Peers will no longer be in Parliament. And that will be that”. That may satisfy some intellectual debaters, but it does not satisfy everyone. What are you left with? It will be a House that is either appointed or elected. I can never understand why people should want the second Chamber to be elected or part-elected. Those who are elected will feel that they are superior to those who are appointed. The elected ones will always be jumping up at Question Time to get in first, which will make the present behaviour of your Lordships at Question Time look like a vicarage tea party.
The idea of the right honourable Mr Jack Straw to have 50 per cent appointed and 50 per cent elected finds few supporters—even, I think on his own side. As for the leaders of my own party suggesting 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed, I can only wonder what planet they are living on. Nobody wants that, and I hope that they will soon have the good sense—of which they have much—to change their minds.
If the House is partially elected, the elected Members will want to be paid. You cannot have half the House paid and the other half not paid. That would be hideously divisive. So everyone would have to be paid. The cost would be enormous, but nobody bothers much about that these days. The atmosphere and the attitude of the place will alter beyond recognition. However much Members of another place may say that your Lordships’ House ought to be elected, their successors will hate it. Members of Parliament—unlike many of your Lordships, I have never had the privilege of being one—will hate to see another elected Member strutting around his constituency stirring up or trying to placate trouble or trying to garner admiration for himself.
I am against an elected second Chamber, and I do not follow my noble friend Lord Wakeham’s ideas, which he expounded earlier. That leaves us with an appointed Chamber, with or without the hereditaries. It is remarkable to think that 47 per cent of all the Members of your Lordships’ House today have been created since 1997, and 72 per cent of all the Labour Peers have been created since 1997. That has altered the House considerably. It has also given huge powers of patronage to the Prime Minister. It seems that the hereditaries are the only part of the House over which the Prime Minister does not have any patronage. The funny thing is that they are the only ones who have been elected. I know that your Lordships do not like being reminded about that. That is why I enjoy doing so. If the hereditaries were removed, the Prime Minister would have total patronage. I cannot believe that that would be in anyone's interests, other, of course, than those of the Prime Minister.
If the hereditaries were to go, why call everyone else Lords? The House of Lords as such will have gone. Why not call it a senate or a second Chamber? Why, then, should Members dress up in parliamentary robes if they are no longer Lords? What will happen to those other participants in that wonderful ceremony that we all witnessed last week? Will they still appear in their uniforms? Will the Yeomen and the lanterns still have a part? Will the procession, made up of all those intricate parts of the constitution, upon which we are all dependent, and which are interdependent one with another, still take place, and yet end up in a dowdy, dull senate? I know that your Lordships might say that I have a vested interest in this and, in a funny way, I suppose that I have, but I suggest seriously that if the hereditary Peers are removed the raison d'être of the House of Lords will go, and the pressure to change the name and the nature of the second Chamber will be unstoppable. Then you really are upheaving the constitution.
You cannot continue to chip away at accepted constitutional institutions without chipping away at the buttress which supports the monarchy. If you chip away at the buttress which supports the monarchy, you chip away at the monarchy. The monarchy is not an institution hovering around in a bubble on its own. It is only there by the support and approval of the people, which is often manifested by history and tradition. It is important that we constantly ensure that we do not inadvertently weaken it.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is, by an astonishing whisker, still mercifully with us. He is also the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. He has had a good old go at upheaving the constitution recently, of which I know he feels proud, but in which pride I feel unable totally to share. I hope that he can be like a cat for a while, and sit and lick the cream from the bowl of his achievements and not set off on another jungle hunt, initiating—or being propelled by others to initiate—even more reform to your Lordships’ House.
My strong advice to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—I love being pompous and giving advice to Lord Chancellors, particularly as they never take it—is to leave the House of Lords alone. It works well. Let it settle down and do its work for a few years, without the sword of Damocles perpetually swinging over its head. If, after 10 years or so, it is thought worthwhile to consider altering the House again, there will be a fresh position to take and fresh minds can be directed towards it.
My Lords, it is always a great joy to follow the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, even if I rarely agree with him.
For a change, my contribution to the debate on the gracious Speech will concentrate on Northern Ireland, as I was advised that this was the appropriate day to do so. Two of my main interests there are in policing and, more recently, integrated education, about which I shall speak in a moment.
One area of policing in Northern Ireland in which I take a particular interest is domestic violence. Last year, of 123,194 recorded crimes, your Lordships need to know that 23,059 were incidents of domestic violence. This is a quite appalling figure. In the larger Metropolitan Police area last year, the figure was 10.5 per cent of all notifiable offences, including domestic violence incidents. While statistics can be read in many ways, these are nevertheless particularly worrying. The PSNI, in partnership with other agencies such as social services and Women’s Aid, is doing excellent work, offering support and help to vulnerable women and children. They need our support. Last year, they helped over 1,000 women and over 900 children escape to Women’s Aid from abusive relationships.
Sadly and inexplicably the Government have reduced the grant to Belfast’s Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre by £60,000 at a time when the need for help, support and sanctuary is growing at an alarming rate. Why has that been done and will that funding be replaced urgently? Salaried workers at the centre have not been paid for months, and the volunteers—the majority of workers there—are becoming dejected because of this lack of funding and commitment for an essential service.
Remembering that there are still very real and horrific crimes being committed in Northern Ireland and that the victims of all those crimes can be subjected to the most appalling intimidation by continuing paramilitary groups, the police service there has probably the most difficult job of any police force in this country. They deserve our support and thanks for their bravery and dedication.
Every time I visit Northern Ireland, I am more amazed by the changes I see, compared to my first visit there some 10 years ago. Admittedly, things were still very difficult then. There was barbed wire on top of high railings surrounding every police station I saw. There was paint daubed over pavements and flags flying indicating entry to the majority communities. There were murals, of differing artistic quality, splashed on to many walls, telling the stories of the Troubles. Belfast then appeared to me a somewhat sad and dejected place.
Anyone visiting for the first time now would be hard pressed to recognise that description. Beautiful new buildings seem to go up every week; the excellent hotels are full of business people from all over the world looking to invest there; clean streets and a general air of prosperity replace many of the worn-out and run-down areas I first saw. The only glimmer of hope I saw 10 years ago was in the eyes and spirit of the people of Northern Ireland. They were determined to embrace the Good Friday agreement, as they saw it as their only hope for a peaceful and prosperous future. Those people were then, as they are now, the most generous, warm-hearted and determined citizens you could find anywhere.
Last week, a group of parliamentarians—of which I was one—met some 15 year-olds who told us of their hopes and aspirations. They were bright, articulate and happy teenagers: Northern Ireland’s future leaders, I have no doubt. They were being educated in a controlled integrated college, the Priory, in one of Belfast’s districts. The college’s ethos was one of self-respect; respect for each other and for other backgrounds; the acknowledgement of what separates communities; the ability to discuss those differences openly; and, most importantly, accepting them. This they must learn in the fast-changing world, where the ability to get on with one’s neighbour is essential.
These young people came from every background. There was no distinction between them. They did not ask each other, “Are you a Catholic?” or “Are you a Protestant?”. When we asked them if they asked their friends who attended other schools that question, they were bemused. They simply and genuinely accepted each other as young people, interested in the same things all young people seem to be interested in these days: the latest hot pop group, clothes, gossip and where they would go out that night. They wanted the opportunity that a good education would bring them. They wanted good jobs in Northern Ireland, and it is for those excellent young people that I hope the politicians will find a way through their difficulties, nominate a First and Deputy First Minister tomorrow, and provide the sort of country their young people deserve.
We also visited Rowallane Integrated College, a new school opened only in September this year. It is independently funded by the excellent Integrated Education Fund in Northern Ireland, which saw its huge potential and committed funding for its start-up because the Government here would not. In spite of well documented facts about how many parents wanted their children educated in an integrated college in that area and in spite of the Government's stated aim that they wish to see more children so educated, there is still no commitment to fund this extraordinary school.
I will tell your Lordships more about Rowallane on another occasion. The Government seem happy to provide vast amounts of money to fund academies up and down the country, but are not minded to help this small, vibrant school whose staff, pupils, parents and governors are the most phenomenally dedicated people you will ever find. They have to suffer in cramped conditions and the insecurity of not knowing when they will get government funding in the future. I hope the Government will resolve to help fund them as soon as possible.
We have come a long way since the days when no one wanted to visit or invest in Northern Ireland, which is now poised to move even further forward. Its young people want the opportunities the peace dividend has brought them to be magnified and encouraged by the politicians who have worked so hard to make it a possibility in the past few years. Young people are the future of Northern Ireland. They will make their country great again, and it is to them that their political leaders must pledge that support. I do not underestimate the difficulties that lie ahead for them, but they have come so far now that it would be a real tragedy were their political leaders not to succeed in providing good governance. Differences, however deep and bitter, can be overcome with good sense, good will and good communication. I most sincerely urge those who will have to make those decisions to think of their young people and what their future will be if the Assembly cannot be reinstated.
My Lords, I propose to confine my contribution this afternoon to House of Lords reform. In my opinion, there are two vital issues that any further reform must take into account. First, the House as it is stands is a unique reservoir of expertise and experience in almost all walks of life and from all corners of the United Kingdom. Many if not most Members have existent outside commitments and thus bring to the House up-to-the-minute expertise in their respective skills and fields. That expertise and experience is available for the detailed scrutiny of legislation coming from the House of Commons, and at relatively low cost to the taxpayer as Members are paid expenses only. It would be a great loss to the people of this country if this unique reservoir were to be lost or diminished in a reconstructed House.
The second major issue is the primacy of the House of Commons. It is a fundamental principle that this House acknowledges the primacy of the elected House of Commons. We may ask it to think again, and, if necessary, yet again, and we may challenge individual pieces of legislation, but, in the end, the House of Commons is supreme. Any elected element in the House of Lords would challenge that primacy, and the larger the percentage of elected Members, the greater the challenge would inevitably be. I find it hard to understand why any Member of the House of Commons is in favour of elected Members in your Lordships’ House.
Those two issues are central to any consideration of the second stage of Lords reform. As we all know, the House of Lords is now working extremely well. Since the first stage of reform and the abolition of the hereditary entitlement to membership, a rough balance has been created between the two major parties, and no party has an absolute majority. Members do occasionally vote against their party Whip or abstain. That must be healthy. If everything is working well, is there a need for further reform? Broadly speaking, the answer is no. However, a number of relatively detailed issues need to be addressed. For example, if the House is to remain fully or partly appointed, the composition and role of the Appointments Commission must be more clearly defined.
I believe that it should be a statutory commission, responsible to Parliament rather than to Ministers. Membership should be confined to existing Members of both Houses. It is invidious to have independent non-Members on the committee, since they themselves might be potential candidates for appointment. In practice, therefore, the commission should be composed of one member each from the three political parties from both the Lords and the Commons—thus, two members for each party—plus two members from the Cross Benches, making a total of eight members. They should elect their own chairman from among themselves.
The role of the Appointments Commission must clearly be to maintain and enhance the pool of expertise and experience that already exists in this House. It should also ensure that no single party, no matter how big its majority in the House of Commons, should command an overall majority in the House of Lords. The commission will also focus on the need for Cross-Bench independent Members and on religious representation, racial and gender balance and regional representation.
Lastly, I turn to the question of hereditary Peers. As one of them, I feel extremely fortunate still to be a Member of your Lordships’ House. Like most hereditary Peers, I recognise that the inheritance of a peerage should not carry an automatic right to a seat in the Upper House. However, I have a strong sense of history and, like the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, I believe that the role played by the hereditary peerage over the centuries in the House of Lords, in its traditions, customs and ceremonies and its relationship with the monarchy, is of value and should be acknowledged by a continued modest representation—given, of course, that the present appointed Chamber is to continue. I am not suggesting that the figure of 92 should remain, but I think a lesser figure of, say, around 30 might be appropriate. A formula for transition from the existing situation would have to be worked out. Once the new arrangements were in place, I suggest that candidates for vacancies should put their names forward to the Appointments Commission, which would select the most suitable from among them.
In summary, I believe that this House should continue to be fully appointed. A hybrid, partly elected House is the least attractive option and would not attract the quality and range of Members that are currently available to the House. A fully elected House is clearly a workable option. However, it would be wholly political and would radically change the relationship between the two Houses. It would seriously threaten the supremacy of the House of Commons. Also, the prospect of yet another election to an electorate already faced with district, national and European elections, is unlikely to inspire electoral fervour. So, let us remain fully appointed.
My Lords, very little is said in the gracious Speech about Lords reform. There is just one short sentence, which reads:
“My Government … will work to build a consensus on reform of the House of Lords and will bring forward proposals”.
“Consensus” and “proposals” are the significant words. Anyone unaware of what has been going on could, from those words, be forgiven for being lulled into looking at the question with a degree of simplicity. But we know better. We know that the proposals referred to mean an intention to bring elections to your Lordships’ House, which is the issue that I wish to address.
The gracious Speech also refers, as I said, to building a consensus. I clearly recall that consensus was unequivocally established in this House in 2003—fewer than four years ago—when we overwhelmingly rejected six options, all of which contained an element of election, and we voted by a three-to-one ratio for a wholly appointed House. Despite what some may believe, we did not vote that way on the basis of self-interest, but because of our concern for the well-being of this nation and the way we influence legislation, albeit to an understood limited extent. We must also not forget that the other place failed to support any of the options before them, unlike this House.
What my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said on 29 January 2003, when the issue was discussed at Prime Minister’s Questions, was extremely significant. He asked:
“Do we want an elected House, or do we want an appointed House?”.
He then answered the question:
“I personally think that a hybrid between the two is wrong and will not work”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/1/03; col. 877.]
At the same time the Prime Minister argued against the creation of a hybrid House and expressed his support for the House of Lords as a revising Chamber and not as a rival Chamber.
I believe that my right honourable friend was correct then and that this approach is the correct one now. So—dare I say it?—there is a possibility that we will be on the merry-go-round once again and be struggling along the path that we trod in 2003. In 2003, as I said, we voted for a fully appointed House. We did that believing that it was best for parliamentary democracy. Indeed, we did it in opposition to the views expressed by the three Front Benches. Our decision was not anti-democratic; we took it in the clear knowledge that although we are not democratically elected ourselves, we fulfil a role that essentially contributes to the democratic process of this nation. We are not alone in this. The judiciary, the Civil Service, the Armed Forces and the police, for example, do not participate in any form of elections. But they certainly work to complement the British democratic process for the benefit of our people, as indeed does our work.
There is now a real possibility of establishing a hybrid House, with a proposal being mooted for this House to be made up of 50 per cent elected Peers and 50 per cent appointed Peers. I can do no better than repeat what I said on 21 January 2003:
“Although I am against the introduction of a wholly elected House, I appreciate that those who support it do so from a standpoint of principle. However, the range of options expressing the introduction of a part-appointed and part-elected House reflects a total absence of principle and only mirrors a compromise attempting to satisfy the varying shades of opinion”.—[Official Report, 21/1/03; col. 638.]
I believed that then and I believe it now. To bring back this issue after such a relatively short time without any real change taking place is very ill advised.
As I see it, two fundamental characteristic features make this House unique in its contribution to the nation's parliamentary democracy. First, through appointments, the make-up of this House brings together people from all walks of life: from industry, the arts, economics, medicine, science, the armed services, banking, finance—and, yes, politics—as well as many others. They are people who bring with them a lifetime of experience, expertise and knowledge; people who have achieved success before coming here and now have only one motivation: to use what they have gained to serve. Secondly, because we are appointed, we have no difficulty in acknowledging the primacy of the other place, as Members of the other place are elected by the people. As they must parade their stewardship before the people at a general election, we recognise that, ultimately, the other place must have its way.
Our skill in this House lies in scrutinising and proposing revision, making our case by sound and rational argument. For the most part, our deliberations complement the work of the other place. That is our strength. In addition, we flag up and debate intelligently many issues affecting this country and its people and through those debates we can see the value obtained from appointed Peers, especially in the fields of medicine and science.
It is often said by those who favour elections that in order for the House to be democratic, there must be elections. It is my view that for democracy to be satisfied we need not only elections but those elected to be empowered with the necessary authority without limitations. To me, it appears that for those elected down the Corridor to have unlimited authority and those elected to this House to have limited authority is an injustice and effectively offends democracy itself. Of course, there will be those who say that elected Peers should have the same rights as elected Members of the other House. Where will that leave the appointed Peers? That does not seem to have been worked out. In my view, a hybrid House would be an abomination and undoubtedly a recipe for chaos.
What about a wholly elected House with full democratic rights equal to the other place? There would be no primacy of the Commons; no limitation on scrutinising and revising in this place; and no Parliament Act. That is a recipe for unprecedented conflicts between both Houses which will be of no benefit to our people and could not be allowed to continue. As I see it, it would ultimately result in a one-House Parliament, and so much of what is good in this place would be lost.
Therefore, if and when the day comes, I urge all noble Lords to vote, as they did in 2003, for a wholly appointed House.
My Lords, it has been a quite fascinating week of debates in your Lordships’ House. I remember particularly the remarkable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens—the man whose third way was the driving inspiration of new Labour’s return to government, now almost a decade ago. That idea has rightly had a significant impact on many different aspects of social policy. One of the most striking examples has been the Government’s No. 1 priority—education.
As though to prove the shared paternity of the policy, the Government have been able to build on the Conservative Government’s initiative for the public/private financing of academies and, indeed, for such financing in many other areas of public-service provision. Be that as it may, the latest step along the way has been the enactment of the most recent Education and Inspections Bill. This process has now enabled the present Government to offer schools a wider opportunity for far greater independence by opting for foundation or trust status or, indeed, by working in greater co-operation with more successful local schools, including those in the independent sector.
This kind of partnership with the independent sector has been further encouraged—that may be slightly too kind a word—by the Charities Bill, which has toughened the public benefit test for charitable status recognition. Two particular benefits, which I applaud, arise from this process. First, some looked-after children—children in care—are to have the possibility of places at independent boarding schools, where they are likely to gain far better educational opportunities and results than in their present position. Moreover, this improvement can and will be achieved at considerably less cost to the taxpayer than the huge weekly cost of keeping children in care. Secondly, the benefit of this process can be compactly expressed by pointing out that the whole middle way philosophy has enabled the Government to escape from their self-imposed straitjacket of commitment to universal comprehensive education.
There is, of course, a sharp distinction to be drawn between the comparative gradualism of that approach and the more dramatic, and, I have to say, more destructive prospect that is foreshadowed in the deceptively euphemistic language of the gracious Speech for the Probation Service:
“Legislation will be introduced to improve the way that offenders are managed and supervised”.
Those gentle words cannot, and do not, disguise the declared intention of the Government to implement in full the recommendations of the report, Managing Offenders, Reducing Crime, which was produced almost three years ago exactly by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles. It might have been interesting to have heard from that noble Lord today. Indeed, I rather hoped that we might have been able to do so, not least because he appears to be behind many government reforms. Anyway, I am glad to be able to endorse the thrust of one half of his recommendations—the half that deals with the crying need for continuity, cohesion and co-operation in the management and treatment of offenders throughout their sentence. Much of that changed pattern is, I am glad to say, beginning to be implemented. However, I have the greatest possible reservations about the other half—the structural and organisational proposals, not least the near instant imposition almost throughout our penal system of the concept of contestability. It is called privatisation by some, and competition by others, but contestability is the word that the noble Lord uses.
The organisational feature that worries me most is what I call giantism—the up-rooting, almost across the board, of existing structures, when an established pattern of partnerships has so far been working well, and their replacement by a centralised, monolithic, monochrome single structure. One example of giantism worried me greatly, and still does: the structure of Ofcom, an organisation required to take over the regulation of an entire sector, including technical, economic and, in theory at least, content regulation. Content concerns remain, as I expected, pretty invisible in the work of Ofcom.
The most recent example of the unwisdom of giantism has been demonstrated by this House and accepted by the present Home Secretary. It was agreed that the inclusion of the prisons inspectorate in the proposed new super-inspectorate was a giant step too far. Against that background, let me return to what many people see as the principal shortcomings of the Carter proposals for offender management, so swiftly endorsed—and re-endorsed, incidentally—by a sequence of no fewer than three Home Secretaries in two years, none of whom is exactly famous for his patience or caution. Most of the disadvantages have already been clearly and well spelt out by representations from NAPO and the Probation Boards’ Association.
In summary, they point out that the proposals involve the root-and-branch upheaval of a system which has evolved from practice and experience over many years, and all this at a time when two features are common ground, endorsed and agreed by the Home Office itself. First, it is accepted that they come at a time when our correctional services are under intense and mounting pressure. Secondly, it is equally accepted that they have been meeting the challenge with increasing success. The system, in other words, is working hard and working well. How can it make sense at such a time to be spending time and resources—yet again less than three years after the previous reshuffle—on changing the structures within which probation officers work? One shudders to think of the sums that must have been spent on consultants alone. There are many other far more important causes which are crying out for attention and on which those resources could be far better spent, and we have heard about a number of them from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. They referred to, among others, the need to reduce reoffending, prison overcrowding, inadequate education opportunities, and mental health and drug treatment facilities.
I have said that the penal system, in the face of mounting challenges, is working. It is worth reminding ourselves of why that is still the case. I have, I think, at least some insight into the answer to that question from my own experience as a one-time remand home governor, parole board member and Inner London Juvenile Court chairman over many years. One feature of that life which I found invaluable was the linkage that the statutory structure provided between magistrates, judges, local authority representatives, voluntary organisations and, of course, probation officers. I know, and indeed NAPO tells us so, that probation officers themselves valued and benefited enormously from those local links. So, too, claims the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, in her letter of 8 November:
“Probation trusts will build on local roots and strengths with less interference from the centre”.
How do the Government propose to set about building on those local roots? Quite simply, by pulling them up. Probation boards are to be replaced by probation trusts in which no longer will there be a statutory place for judges, local magistrates or local authority representatives. It will be the Secretary of State rather than the probation boards or trusts who will have statutory responsibility for offender supervision through the agency of regional managers, themselves appointed by the Secretary of State. Once again, I look at the letter from the noble Baroness where she says that probation trusts will suffer,
“less interference from the centre”.
I am afraid I have to say: what nonsense, for they will be the direct agents of the centre with all their local roots cut off.
We have heard today that Parliament will soon be debating the Offender Management Bill, so I close by urging the Government—in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, who we know has huge influence in this area and commands great respect in your Lordships’ House—to think again about all this, as they did, to everyone’s relief, about the prisons inspectorate. Rather than destroying agencies and individuals who have served us well, set them free from yet another upheaval and enable them to go on improving their own performance, as they have done so well over recent years.
My Lords, I declare an interest in the subject about which I have chosen to speak because for more than 20 years I have been personally, perhaps intimately, involved with it; namely, the funding of political parties.
I am not a professional politician and perhaps that is why I find the whole debate about the funding of parties depressing. I cannot discern any enthusiasm for the rebuilding of political involvement and engagement in Britain. I observe no passion to encourage the young to take an interest in politics. Instead, there appears to be a wish merely to tighten the existing rule on donations and then burden the taxpayer.
The funding of political parties is a big subject—big because it is important and big because it is built from quite separate components. What I am about to say does not address each and every one of those components, but I will address a couple of the elements which I consider to be among the most important.
Let me address the cap on donations and the legal definition of a permissible donor to political parties. We now have a structure for donations which is both pointless and counter-productive, and the debate in respect of which Sir Hayden Phillips is to be the catalyst must take place soon and it must be addressed robustly. If it is not, we will soon hear once again the nonsense which is the convenient refuge for those incapable of logical thought and common sense. We will hear once more the suggestion that there is no alternative and that we should instead move to the state funding of politics. This must be resisted at all costs.
My opposition to substantial state funding does not mean, however, that I take the view that political parties should forever be funded largely by a handful of donors, whether they be individuals or trade unions—I do not. Political parties should strive to broaden their donor base and a sign of failure is a dependence on a few big donors. Political parties must then bear the consequent but inevitable criticisms. It seems to me that those arguing in favour of state funding have been driven to this position by a combination of defeatism about the difficulties of funding a modern political party and dismay at the attitude of the media to anyone who has had the courage to make a major political donation.
The dead hand of the state is no answer; it is entirely unsuited to act as the paymaster of politics. State funding will ossify our parties. The need constantly to refresh support through the financial and membership base is the best possible stimulus to the vitality of any party. How else can one hope for efficiency in one’s operations and accountability to one’s supporters?
Once the requirement to raise funds disappears, so will the need to nurture the membership base and to embrace new ideas and new people. That base will inevitably decline, perhaps terminally, leaving behind it a self-perpetuating oligarchy of career politicians, answerable only to themselves and the National Audit Office. Heaven help us all.
We will, of course, have time to debate these points when any Bill to amend the current legislation reaches this House. I would like to consider some of the events that have elevated this subject towards the top of the political agenda. The current loans for peerages debacle is only the current portion of that history.
It could be argued that an early plan of new Labour was that the Tories could be weakened financially. New rules were implemented which seemed intended to cut off donations to the Conservatives. The need was introduced for prior shareholder approval before public companies could donate; so-called foreign donations were banned; and disclosure became compulsory. All of this was coincidentally eroding the traditional core of giving to the Conservative Party. That is exactly what happened. Life became much more difficult for the Tory fundraisers.
The weakness, however, for the Government in their scheme was that rules that hit the Tories also proved to be profoundly damaging to their party’s fund-raising efforts. And so, faced with new, if largely self-imposed, difficulties, the Government now seem to be signalling that they will allow political parties to poke their little fingers further into the public purse. These bleatings must be resisted.
The Conservatives themselves are not without blame. We should have had the courage to resist many of the barmy restrictions on political giving that were introduced following the Neill report. As a party, we were afraid to be seen as standing out against legislation which was presented to the public as part of the battle against sleaze. That was an error. Although the new legislation brought a welcome approach to transparency, it also introduced a ragbag of anomalies and contradictions which are patently absurd, yet which no politician felt able to challenge and which Sir Hayden Phillips does not address.
As is well known, the main prerequisite for permissible giving to a political party is, in the case of an individual, that he or she is registered or entitled to register to vote in the UK and in the case of a company, that it is incorporated in the EU and does business in the UK—whatever that means, and I suspect it will be tested soon at taxpayers’ expense. This means that Canadians who live in Britain are able to donate by virtue of their Commonwealth citizenship. US citizens, however, cannot. As EU citizens living in the UK, Swedes can but Norwegians cannot. Greeks can but Turks cannot. Slovenians can, but Croatians cannot. Even the Swiss, surrounded on all sides by the EU, cannot. A businessman from Mozambique, however, as a member of the Commonwealth if residing in Britain can, yet a Briton posted abroad for over 15 years by his UK employer, even if he intends to retire to the UK, cannot unless he is a diplomat for whom, not surprisingly, an exception is made.
There are more anomalies. Citizens of Gibraltar, whatever their ethnic or cultural background, all get lumped, willy-nilly, into the UK’s south-west region for the purposes of European elections. A special exemption for these people makes them permissible donors to UK political parties for the four months preceding a European election. But there are no restrictions on those parties as to the use of, or the timing of the use of, funds received from Gibraltarians, whoever they might be. Yet British citizens from the Channel Islands never have such a window of opportunity.
Northern Ireland’s political parties are exempted entirely, meaning that Sinn Fein, for example, is free to continue to receive moneys raised by NORAID in the United States without restriction.
At the corporate level, a British public company has to have shareholder approval to be able to donate, but a company from elsewhere in the EU which—to use that euphemistic phrase—does business in the UK does not. And what about the 100 per cent foreign-owned but UK-incorporated holding company which has only foreign directors, none of whom has ever been to Britain, let alone speaks English and because it is a holding company is therefore deemed to be doing business in the UK? What about those guys? No problem—it is perfectly permissible.
It is even possible to be British, tax resident and domiciled in the UK, yet unable to donate to a political party as under certain, but unusual, conditions, it is not possible to get on to the electoral register if someone lives in Britain for fewer than six months of the year. On the other hand, a Member of Parliament may have a consultancy with any foreign person, company or Government, yet their party cannot receive donations from the same source. Clearly they have confidence in their own judgment but doubt that of their party bosses. That is an interesting thought.
A brief, tangential thought from the other end of the spectrum of political funding serves to reinforce, if needed, my argument on the illogicality of the current rules and to make the point that concern could just as easily be expressed among the minnows as the giants. Donations which in any one year fall below £200 are not governed by the rules on permissibility and need not be disclosed. Two hundred pounds may be a comparatively small donation but it is well above the membership subscription of our major parties. This means that highly unsuitable, inappropriate and generally not permissible “foreigners” can become members of any one of our parties, perfectly permissibly, and vote upon important matters such as, for instance, the election of a new leader of a political party. The current rules are clearly nonsense. There has to be a better way; I hope that there is.
In our desire to draw a line between Brits and foreigners, in the misguided belief that foreign money is bad and UK money is good, we have devised a scheme which is patently absurd and achieves no logical purpose. We should dump restrictive regulations and replace them with requirements only of openness and transparency. We should instead allow political parties to accept financial support, cash benefits in kind and credit from whomever they chose and without a cap. We should require them only to make public the identity of the donor and full details of the donation. We should also, unlike the current reporting timetable, require prompt notification, especially of bigger donations, of within, say, seven days.
Political parties would then have to make decisions based not on the legal definition of permissibility but on the common sense interpretation of what would be considered acceptable to those whom they expect to vote them into office as Members of Parliament currently have to do with regard to their sources of income. Columbian drugs barons, triads, porn kings and the mob would, I hope, be considered unacceptable donors or benefactors, but if party treasurers and Members of Parliament decided otherwise let us allow the media, their own supporters and the public to judge. They would be speedier, more effective and much more telling arbiters than the courts.
In future, therefore, we should allow parties to take money from any quarter, the only requirement being that they should be entirely open about all support above a certain level. That would place the onus on parties to act reasonably and to exercise sound judgment. It would place an equal duty on the media to report donations responsibly; but in the end it would be down to Mr and Mrs Joe Public to judge. We should trust them—they usually get it right.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, made a very strong case for the irrationality of our present laws. It is quite clear, following on from his remarks, that what we need now is a private equity takeover of all the political parties.
I am extremely pleased that earlier today I was appointed by your Lordships' House to the chair of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform. It is an honour in that post to succeed my very distinguished predecessors, the late and very much lamented Lord Alexander of Weedon, and the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. The chairmanship means that I must leave the Front Bench but it does not debar me from speaking from the Back Benches on political issues. I intend to do so from time to time, although I shall be speaking for myself and not on behalf of my party. I am glad to say that most of the time if not always our opinions coincide. I shall of course not speak on matters that come within the scope of the Select Committee’s work, except on behalf of and at the request of the committee.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, about the importance of protecting the independence of English lawyers. I shall not say anything more on that subject, because the Legal Services Bill will come before your Lordships' House for Second Reading in a very short time, which will give an opportunity for full debate.
I shall speak on two statements in the gracious Speech which caused me concern. The first statement is:
“My Government will put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system”.
That statement worries me. I believe that what we should put at the heart of the system are not victims as a separate class but the public as a whole. Almost all of us suffer from crime. Anyone feeling a frisson of fear of terrorism when boarding the Tube or an aircraft suffers in a sense from crime. Even those of us who have to pay premiums for insuring our property against theft suffer in a sense from crime. But I do not think that we can be called victims for those reasons, and I doubt whether that is what the Government mean. I suspect that the Government intend to mean the victims of actual criminal offences. I shall be very interested to hear from the Minister whether she thinks too that that is the Government’s view.
So what does putting the victim at the heart of the system mean? If it means taking steps such as ensuring that victims or other prosecution witnesses are segregated from defendants and defence witnesses in court buildings or explaining court procedures to witnesses or victims to reduce the nervous tension of giving evidence, I think it is beneficial, and many steps of that kind have already been taken. What is not acceptable is to override the rights of an accused person to a fair trial. Someone who is prosecuted for a crime that he did not commit is a victim, even if he is acquitted at the trial, and much more so if he is in fact convicted. Which is worse? To be burgled or to be sent to prison for a burglary you did not commit?
So, are the Government talking about involving the victim more in the sentencing process? It is perfectly proper for the judge to be told about the impact of the crime on victims or their families. That, of course, will often be apparent from the evidence given at the trial. But I believe that it is dangerous to go beyond that. The purpose of sentencing is much wider than to provide victims and their families with retribution for their suffering.
Let us look at the purposes of imprisonment: first, retribution for the suffering of the victims; secondly, prevention—keeping a prisoner in jail so that he cannot commit crimes outside; thirdly, deterrence—that is, deterring prisoners from repeating their offences when they are released and deterring others from committing similar crimes; and, fourthly, reformation, where that is possible. Those are all important purposes. To talk of putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice system can be understood as making retribution not only an important element in the sentencing but the primary one. That could take us back to eye-for-eye justice and turn us into a brutal and vindictive society, egged on by the media.
I see real signs of that happening, and I think that over recent years it is partly to blame for the constant ratcheting up of sentences. When the courts impose a sentence which 10 or 20 years ago would have been regarded as extremely serious and only to be reserved for the very worst crimes, we find that nowadays the people involved complain about the sentences not being serious enough, and the media back up that cry. Is that really what the Government want? Sentencing should be dispassionate, consistent, fair and proportionate. To talk about putting victims, rather than the public, at the heart of the criminal justice system is either meaningless or dangerous.
I note that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, when opening this debate, used the word “victim” only once. It was in reference to the criminal injuries compensation scheme, where it was plainly the appropriate word to use. Perhaps he shares my lack of enthusiasm for the wider use of the word in this context, which it seems to be the wish of the Government to promote.
And now for something completely different, in the immortal words of Monty Python—that is, reform of your Lordships’ House. The House of Lords is a beguiling place, and I am certainly beguiled by it. Indeed, I am tempted from time to time to believe that any system which got me here must be a very good one and that it cannot be improved on. But I resist that temptation. We do, indeed, need reform. On this occasion, I do not want to go into what the reform should be or why it is necessary. I have made my views and those of my party clear over the years, and I accept that they do not coincide with those of a majority of the Members of your Lordships’ House.
I agree entirely on these matters with my noble friend Lord McNally, and I think that the proposals put forward in the very interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, are altogether too modest. In particular, I am concerned at the statement in the gracious Speech that the Government,
“will work to build a consensus on reform of the House of Lords”,
as I am at the emphasis put by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the need for consensus and, in particular, his clear indication that there will be a need for your Lordships’ House to be party to that consensus.
As my noble friend Lord McNally pointed out, consensus has never been a necessary requirement for constitutional change. There was no consensus over the great Reform Act 1832 or the Parliament Act 1911. If the House of Commons supports an elected majority in the composition of your Lordships’ House, as the public clearly do—as they have shown in response every time they have been polled on this question—the Government should be prepared to implement that reform, if necessary without the consent of your Lordships’ House. Of course consensus is desirable but if it cannot be achieved, even on the basis of the Lord Chancellor’s suggestion that current life Peers should be able to remain as Members for life, reform must be brought about without consensus.
During the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999 I said that I believed that we would have a democratically elected second Chamber in time for the centenary of the Parliament Act. I have not changed my mind; I still believe that that statement is correct but I now begin to fear that the centenary will be not that of the Parliament Act 1911 but that of the Parliament Act 1949. All I can say is that I hope that my fears are unfounded.
My Lords, I rise to speak in the debate on the Address on topics relating to Northern Ireland. I know that we are all exhausted after a day-long debate on Northern Ireland yesterday, but these topics did not easily come up in yesterday’s debate. This is the day during the Queen’s Speech debate on which topics about Northern Ireland are allowed to be raised. I totally accept that the Minister will probably not be able to answer these points today, and I am totally happy to accept a communication from the appropriate department when the time comes.
I want to take up an issue that I feel is about equality. For the full length of the civil unrest in Northern Ireland, the three voluntary ambulance services—St John, the Red Cross and the Knights of Malta—gave unstinting service to the embattled community. Drawn from all sections of the population, the service worked day and night to render medical attention to the victims of the terrorists’ murderous campaign. Mostly, they ferried victims to hospitals in ambulances that were paid for from collections that were organised by each order.
Let me take, for example, one day in the history of Northern Ireland: Bloody Friday; a warm day in Belfast city, in late July 1972. The IRA attacked the centre of the city with up to 20 bombs in the early afternoon. I was there that day. All transport stopped. Turn one way and bombs were going off; turn another way, and yet more smoke and flames filled the air. Frightened shoppers and office workers ran about like headless chickens looking for safety. Many lay dead or very badly wounded.
The voluntary ambulance services without question or hesitation joined their full-time partners clearing parts of bodies into plastic bags and helping people whose legs and arms had been blown off. The scene was like a movie from hell. Contrast the work of the many ordinary people in the voluntary ambulance services who fought to save lives in dreadful circumstances with that of one of the commanders of the IRA, who was in Belfast that day and who caused the destruction in Belfast: one Gerry Adams. Today, Gerry Adams walks in and out of Downing Street with his list of demands and is treated like a head of state; nothing is refused. I do not comment at this stage on whether that is correct but I must draw attention to a reply that I received to a Parliamentary Written Question on 2 November. I asked the Government:
“Whether they have any proposals to recognise the work of the voluntary ambulance services throughout the civil unrest in Northern Ireland”.—[Official Report, 2/11/06; col. WA 63.]
The Answer consisted of one word: “No”.
Is it any wonder that people feel left out and marginalised? I ask Her Majesty’s Government urgently to think again and have compassion for those who, throughout the horrendous Troubles, in scenes we never want to see again, worked without reservation against all odds but have never even had a letter of thanks.
I move to the topic of rates capping, which came up in recent discussions on the Rates (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order. There seems to be a considerable difference between what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said in this House on 7 November about the order, when he accepted an amendment from the Conservative side that would put in place a cap of £5,000 for rates in Northern Ireland, as well as helping pensioners, with the remarks yesterday in another place of a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, who said that if the St Andrews agreement fails to work he will have seriously to reflect on the issue of the rates and what conditions will be put in place. Which is right: that which has appeared in Hansard in the Commons, or that which appears in Hansard in the Lords? They are totally contradictory. That is another example of the bullying that a lot of us seem to believe we receive in Northern Ireland to achieve a political end—and if there is one thing you cannot do with Northern Irish people, it is bully us.
I wish to return to a topic that I have mentioned in this Chamber before, but on which I get no satisfaction and which grows worse: one of the cross-border bodies, Waterways Ireland. I have repeatedly warned that that organisation is descending into total chaos and mayhem, yet nothing seems to be done about it. There are currently two significant court cases involving Waterways Ireland pending in Northern Ireland, one about discrimination against someone on the grounds of race and religion, and the other on an issue of bullying. As I have pointed out before, this is an Alice in Wonderland world where the guy found guilty of bullying in that organisation is still in his post—and, for his trouble, has received a 35 per cent increase in pay—while the guy he bullied is sacked.
In trying to look at some of these things, the Information Commissioner recently slapped the wrist of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland by saying that the department had refused to give sufficient information to the tribunals looking into these cases at the behest of, and for fear of offending, the Dublin Government. This is a matter for the UK authorities and the UK Parliament. I have said before in this Chamber that one of the problems we have is that DCAL has been answering questions and speaking on topics with an Irish perspective—not my words any more, but those of the Information Commissioner.
A problem I have raised here before is transitional funding, which the Government created to fund Irish festivals from 2004 to 2006, and they are at it again for 2007. The problem is that the money is taken away from the community from which I come, for which training is required, to organise community festivals. I warn the Government that we know exactly what they are doing, and, more particularly, we know who is organising this piece of bullying.
I referred to water charges earlier at Question Time. They are another example of the somewhat unreal world in which we live in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Consumer Council took the Minister in charge of water charging to a judicial review, and won. Costs were awarded against the Minister. When the order comes back to this Chamber, according to the judge at the review, there will be a health warning that there was a judicial review, there was not proper consultation and the Minister had not exercised his duties properly. Yet the Minister put out a press release claiming victory. It is amazing, if he won the judicial review, that he will have to pay for it. It is about time we had a bit of reality.
The problem we have is that there are inside the Northern Ireland Office people who are quite prepared to use any mechanism for political ends in trying to create whatever system of politics, or mixture of politics, that they want to see in Northern Ireland. Bullying is a way that they use. I have resisted for some time the temptation to talk about one particular gentleman in the Northern Ireland Office, who is the political adviser to the Secretary of State. Despite warnings, all the topics that I have talked about today, with the exception of the voluntary ambulance service, are ones which his fingers are over. It is unfortunate, but I have to name Philip Taylor, the political adviser to Peter Hain, as the person who is causing the problems in the Northern Ireland Office. Bullying may be all right in the Wales Office—I doubt it—but it is not acceptable in the Northern Ireland Office. We have a lot of information on this. He has been bullying Ministers, and more particularly he has been bullying civil servants. He has been taking the view that the courts in Northern Ireland will not stand in the way of political progress so he can do whatever he likes. That is not acceptable; and I look for a change in the circumstances and position of Mr Taylor.
My Lords, I shall speak about reform of the House of Lords, which was mentioned in the gracious Speech. Before I do so, I should point out that we are debating what we call the gracious Speech, but it is a Prime Minister’s speech as read out by Her Majesty the Queen. I have often thought that our procedures are somewhat burdensome to Her Majesty. We should have a different procedure, whereby Her Majesty reports on her own activities and then asks her Prime Minister to read the speech that he has written. Then we could properly discuss the Prime Minister’s speech. I would also like to move the ceremony from here to Westminster Hall, but that is another matter for another day.
One of the great pleasures that this House often indulges in is self-congratulation. There is nothing like feeling that we are indispensable to the constitution and had it not been for our presence chaos would loom in the land and all our liberties would be lost. The Great Reform Act 1832 has been mentioned, and I am sure that before that it was asserted in the House of Commons that if reform came, nothing but chaos and anarchy would rule, because the people could not be trusted to elect people of the same wisdom that Old Sarum could be trusted to elect. It is very tempting to believe that.
I have always believed in and have consistently voted for an elected Chamber. I believe that is necessary because the House of Commons as it is today is an insufficient check on the Executive. While this House cannot be fully powerful, the Prime Minister of the day, with a sufficient majority, will always be able to drive a coach and four horses through our civil liberties. There is nothing that we will be able to do to prevent it. Therefore, although the gracious Speech mentions consensus, I agree with the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Goodhart, that not a single constitutional reform in this country in the past 200 years has come from consensus; not the 1832 Act, nor the 1867 Act, nor the 1884 Act, nor women’s suffrage. They all came by struggle. My party played a big part in the struggle for the extension of the franchise. I hope that my party acts to implement all the manifestos that I have read that it has put forward, at least since the election of 1966, since when I have been in this country.
We have to have an elected Chamber. I know that, like many other dreams that I have had, it may not be realised and I may have to compromise. Let me say two things about the problem of a hybrid Chamber. There is no problem of a hybrid Chamber; we are currently a hybrid Chamber in the way we are elected to sit here. However, if we are going to vote on a series of alternatives between 0 and 100 per cent elected, I would like to repeat the warning that I gave in 2003 in your Lordships' House before another place voted. Free vote or not, I hope that it is not a sequential binary vote—yes or no—on a series of proposals. That is a way of not getting a consistent decision. It is an elementary proposition in voting theory that that is not the way to vote on multiple alternatives. I hope that another place, and we ourselves, adopt a method to rank different alternatives. Then, as someone said before, nobody will get their preferred alternative, but everybody may get their second or third choice. That is how consensus will be established. If we do that, we are more likely not to repeat the folly of 2003, when another place rejected all the alternatives put before it. That was a predictable result because an alliance of abolitionists and those who want no changes can always be constructed to block any reform proposal in another House. That is what happened in 1969.
We do not need to innovate for reform, in the true tradition of our constitution. We can look to the past to find ways in which we can implement the reform. There are two elements to it. We should follow the practice of your Lordships' House after the 1999 reform and choose from among ourselves by a voting procedure a smaller number who would stay behind. We would ask people to run to stay on after the reform, and have all of us vote on whom we prefer to stay. That gives the choice to people to show their willingness. Those who have not been active will fall by the wayside not because somebody says that that is the rule, but by the collective will of your Lordships' House. But I want to be very kind and generous to those who fall by the wayside, and use the 1969 Bill and other proposals that have been made in your Lordships' House to create two categories of Peers—those allowed to speak and vote in the Chamber; and those allowed to speak but not vote, so that they can go on attending and, if I may say so in a rather vulgar way, drawing their allowances. They would not need to feel neglected. If we can create that sort of Chamber of roughly 200 chosen Peers—Back-Benchers, Front-Benchers, all parties treated equally—it will be open for another place to choose whatever proportion it wants of elected Members. We can discuss numbers later.
We ought to allow another place to decide on the proportion. If we assert the primacy of the House of Commons, as many people who have been against reform have done repeatedly, the least that we can do is allow it primacy in choosing what sort of House of Lords it wants. If we do not want that, what sort of primacy of the House of Commons are we talking about? Let it on a free vote—and on a rational voting basis, I hope—choose what proportion it would have, and then by our own voting procedure we could select from our numbers the appropriate size of the House of Lords that would stay behind, having come here on a non-elected basis. If we do that, it will be a good consensual way of going forward. It would put at rest the fear of those people who feel that they have been promised that they would be here for life, and that promise will not be fulfilled. Nobody need resign; nobody need go away. It is only their rights to vote that would be taken away because the membership of your Lordships’ House will have decided that they would like to choose a small minority among the Members who will be eligible to speak and vote.
If we can do those two things, I believe that we can move forward with House of Lords reform, which would stick because it would be based on consensus and voluntary action by your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai. It is a particular pleasure to be able to say that, on this occasion, I half agree with one of his points. He is in favour of a wholly elected House, and has always been so. I have always been in favour of an at least half-elected House. It was a pleasure to hear him say that. I think that it was the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. I have never understood the difficulty in the idea of a hybrid House, but that is not the point on which I wish to speak.
The only mention of terrorism, the point on which I wish to speak, in the gracious Speech was the promise of further action. A Statement is now expected before Christmas, and the opposition parties are positioning themselves in expectation of that Statement. I want to say a few words from the point of view of an independent Cross-Bencher who has been concerned with the question of terrorism for more than 12 years.
On the level of the threat, I shall say little. I am glad that Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller made the speech that she did. It served an important public purpose. Just as it is important—perhaps very important—not to underestimate the dangers that we face, it is equally important, and perhaps more important, not to overestimate, exaggerate or overstate those dangers.
Fifty-four people have been killed by international terrorism in the five years since 2001—all in the horrifying incident that occurred on 7 July 2005. That has to be compared with the 3,200 people killed in many horrifying incidents, one of which was described by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, in the 25 years of Irish terrorism. We did not over-react to Irish terrorism during those awful events, and I hope that we will not over-react to international terrorism now. We learnt early in the case of Irish terrorism—and at great cost—that executive detention does not work; it only makes matters worse. I hope that we will not repeat that mistake.
Yet, according to what the Prime Minister said in his recent press conference on 19 October, executive detention was always, and still is, his preferred option. But he was, he said, “frustrated” by the decisions of the judges. I never expected to hear a British Prime Minister express such sentiments in peacetime.
There are bound to be further instances, such as occurred on 7 July, and we must do our level best to prevent them. It is also important to get across that the chances of any individual being killed or injured in any such incident are almost infinitesimally small. They are much, much more likely to be killed in a road accident. We need some political leadership to get that point across.
On the response to terrorism, we can learn a lot from the recent elections in the United States. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, President Bush declared war on terror and the “axis of evil”. There followed the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, but it seems that the American people have now passed judgment on the war in Iraq. They have seen that, far from reducing the threat of terrorism, it has only made matters worse. The military response to terrorism has failed. I hope we shall hear no more about the so-called war on terror.
Another matter which emerged from the mid-term elections was perhaps even more important. In the run-up to the mid-term elections, President Bush pushed through Congress legislation the like of which I have never seen. It was extremely repressive, dealing with the detainees in Guantanamo Bay. He did so in the hope that he might persuade people to vote for the Republican cause, thereby saving his control of Congress. That hope failed. The American people saw through it. I hope we will learn from that lesson. We now have all the legislation we could possibly need for dealing with the threat of terrorism, with one certain exception to which I will come.
We do not need any more legislation. We need more intelligence, of course, and to make proper, full use of the legislation we have—as well as the common law of conspiracy, as we have seen from two recent cases. My only surprise is that it has taken so long to make use of the tools we already have at our disposal. Above all, we must surely avoid legislation which sounds tough but will in fact be counter-productive.
That brings me to the question of 28 days’ detention. On that, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General. He said he had not seen any evidence to justify an increase over 28 days. Nor have I. Indeed, until recently the evidence of the police themselves was that they did not need more than 14 days. That was what they asked for as recently as 2003. How, then, could they have justified 90 days in 2006, only three years later? Bear in mind that the maximum for all other forms of crime, however complicated, is only four days, and that the reasons they gave in 2006 were exactly the same as in 2003.
If that is to be part of the programme brought forward at Christmas, I shall strongly oppose it. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Condon, is then in his place to make the speech he made on this topic some years ago, which I found profoundly convincing and moving. He said—I am paraphrasing from memory—that we are concerned not with putting a finite number of people behind iron bars, but with an ideological struggle which will probably go on for as much as a generation. To increase the period from 28 days might have certain tactical advantages in the short run but would be a great mistake, strategically, in the long run. Coming from a former head of the Metropolitan Police, that is surely advice that we should all seriously take into account.
In my last minute or two, I shall make two suggestions. One comes from Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, who was the independent commissioner for detained terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland for five years. The idea for such a commissioner came from Lord Scarman’s report on the Brixton riots. It was adopted in Northern Ireland and proved very successful. There is happily no longer a need for such an independent commissioner in Northern Ireland, but Sir Louis suggests that we ought seriously to consider having such a person acting as an independent commissioner at Paddington Green and any other place where terrorist suspects are detained. To have such a person there who can be present while police interviews are going on and can see what the police are doing to bring forward the inquiry would do more than almost anything else to reassure the communities who are most concerned that detention periods are no longer than absolutely necessary and are not being abused. I hope that that will be considered by the Home Secretary when he makes his report.
Lastly, and I shall say nothing about it, is the interception of communications. I have tired this House often enough on that subject. Surely, we can now have something firm on that by Christmas.
My Lords, today we are discussing constitutional matters arising from legislation forecast in the gracious Speech, especially the threatened further assault on your Lordships’ House. We have a Prime Minister who is unashamedly concerned about his historical legacy. Under the heading of the constitution, that legacy includes the exercise of the royal prerogative in taking us, on the basis of what now seems to have been a dodgy dossier, into a war in Iraq that he has now publicly admitted was a disaster. It includes the vandalism of the concept of the United Kingdom by the creation of the separate Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly—and the Labour Party may well pay dearly for that next May with the resurgence of the Scottish nationalists. We have a Prime Minister who, when he was leader of the Opposition, stood at the Dispatch Box pointing his finger at John Major, chanting, “Sleaze, sleaze, sleaze”, but who has now presided over the sleaziest Administration in history—including the personal behaviour of several senior members of his Government; Bernie Ecclestone’s £1 million contribution to finance Labour’s 1997 general election campaign which the Labour Party was ignominiously compelled to refund; and the blatant, unashamed cronyism that has been a feature of his Administration.
Bad as that dismal catalogue is, however, ranking no less high than the irreversible damage which the Prime Minister has inflicted on the ancient, tried and tested constitution of this country is what he has done to what we proudly call “the mother of Parliaments”. I do not refer just to the disfranchisement of English and Welsh voters by the blatant gerrymandering involving the use of the votes of Scottish MPs to steamroller through legislation affecting only England and Wales. I do not refer just to the ruthless use of the guillotine in the other place which enables whole swathes of legislation to reach your Lordships without having received a single minute’s examination down the Corridor—a process which I understand is being threatened to be imposed on this House too. I do not refer just to the way in which many Acts are now passed in skeleton form, with the substance in secondary legislation which cannot receive more than a cursory examination and which convention prevents your Lordships rejecting or even amending.
Now we see from a scant 19 words in the gracious Speech that further changes are to be proposed to the constitution of your Lordships’ House itself. Some of your Lordships may recall that when we reached the final vote on the Act which removed all but a handful of the hereditary Peers, I sat next to the Leader of the Opposition and unashamedly wept in full view of the cameras, because I saw 800 years of history and tradition being ruthlessly and spitefully thrown away with no viable plan for the future of the second Chamber.
Having disposed of a large part of the membership of what was universally accepted as the finest and most effective revising Chamber in the world, on the grounds that their presence was undemocratic, the Prime Minister has replaced them with more appointed Peers than his two predecessors combined appointed. That should not be taken in any way as disparaging the Prime Minister's appointees whom we now have in this House. Very many of them, like me, received their appointments after long years of public and political service, and many have justified their presence here by their contribution to our work and the long hours of unpaid and often unrecognised work that they do. But to disguise an unprecedented amount of political patronage followed by an act of political spite as an exercise in democracy is nothing less than breathtaking hypocrisy.
It is not as though your Lordships' House is not working as effectively as it can under the self-denying conventions that inhibit what we can do given the Government's electoral mandate. This is being done to placate the left wing of the Prime Minister’s party, which is disgruntled over the Iraq war and about his justifiable refusal to totally dismantle the Thatcher/Major trade union legislation—as well as about the appalling failure of government policies on education, education, education, and what the Leader of the Opposition recently called the NHS, the NHS, the NHS. It is being done, I suppose, in the vain hope that the trade unions will once again come to the financial rescue of the Labour Party now that the Prime Minister’s other creative forms of fundraising have been stopped.
To paraphrase an American aphorism, “If it looks like a lame duck, walks like a lame duck and quacks like a lame duck, then it is a lame duck”. In the dying days of his Administration, and while he is clinging on to office by his fingernails in the last Queen’s Speech that he will write, this lamest duck of a Prime Minister in our history has decided to throw his toys out of the pram with this final piece of damaging legislation. By all accounts he is going to introduce an elected element into your Lordships’ House. Some of the leaders of my own party currently appear to support this concept, but I doubt that they will continue to do so when they see the detail in the Bill and discover the working of the law of unintended consequences—at least I hope they won’t.
It is not clear how anyone will be persuaded to stand for election unless the powers of this House are greatly extended, and I imagine that the other place will have grave reservations about that. Nor would an elected or partially elected House be bound by the self-denying conventions that I have just referred to, and a hybrid House—part elected, part appointed—would be the worst of all possible worlds. Will it mean that some Members are more equal or more legitimate than others? Nor would the country get the service of the Members of this House for the present bargain price of absolutely nothing.
Lastly, but not least, there is some talk of limitation of membership of this House. I remind the Government that my Letters Patent creating me as a Member of this House, as do those for other life Peers, state:
“to hold the same for her life”.
I certainly do not intend quietly to surrender even the slightest tittle of my rights as a Baron of the United Kingdom at the whim of a time-expired professional politician who is well past his shelve-by date. I believe that that view is shared by many colleagues and friends not only on this side but also across the Gangway, who justifiably earned their honours by their services to this country. I look forward with some relish to the detailed examination of whatever Bill the Government decide to bring forward.
My Lords, the Lord Chancellor, in his generally calm speech, began with a very pessimistic reflection that the terrorist threat might last for years or generations to come. We do not need reminding that the terrorist threat is very serious, but I believe that when he considers that phrase, the Lord Chancellor will think that it is one far too gloomy with which to begin a speech in this House.
With some hesitation, I shall talk about the serene and unambitious reflection which the gracious Speech makes about the future of your Lordships' House. Standing aside from party positions—that is very difficult to do, even for a Cross-Bencher—it is quite reassuring to think that there is not expected to be very much change. No one seems to be thinking of the abolition of this House or of proposing a third or fourth Chamber—which, if we were really in an era of constitutional innovation, would surely be suggested by someone.
No one seems to be contemplating or suggesting the removal of Ministers from this House, or even a reduction of their number, although that would be a perfectly reasonable proposal, especially since the increase of the Executive, of members of the Government in the legislature, has been the largest single constitutional change of the past century, even though it is practically never mentioned. For example, there were 40 government members in the legislature in 1900, and 60 in 1939, but there are now well over 100.
As far as I can see, there is no suggestion that the role of the Lords will be very much altered. We are a House concerned with scrutiny, with revision, with debating important issues—that is not to be forgotten—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, rightly reminded us, with underpinning the necessity to have elections every five years. Who knows what would happen if there were no second Chamber?
It is widely considered—even if not by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, or the noble Baroness, Lady Miller—that a good solution in the long term for the composition of this House might be a combination of two kinds of Member: elected and nominated. I thought of that particularly while the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, was speaking. That is a positive approach, which needs to be considered very carefully. All will depend, however, on the method of nomination and election.
One might reasonably suppose that many nominated Members of this House under new rules could be very similar to those who are nominated now: ex-Cabinet Ministers; a few other distinguished ex-politicians; ex-Chiefs of the Defence Staff—who does not remember the speeches of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, during the Iraq war and on other occasions before that?—who have always made very important and interesting contributions to foreign affairs and defence debates; ex-ambassadors; European Commissioners; and Cabinet Secretaries. I think the best speech that I have heard in this House was made by an ex-Cabinet Secretary, Lord Trend.
We should also consider having any Nobel Prize winner, not only writers such as Sir Vidya Naipaul or Mr Harold Pinter but scientists. The Bench of Bishops might, as has been suggested, be reduced, or added to by representatives of other faiths. Having mentioned Bishops, however, I shall touch on an idiosyncrasy of the formation of this House which is not often noticed. Bishops are here as serving bishops; they are not in retirement. The same is true of vice-chancellors, who are very often nominated in their first or second year of office, although they, unlike Bishops, can remain permanently in this House. Many of us will remember the marvellous speeches of the late Lord Annan, with his wonderful presence and splendid voice. Nor are the historians among us, such as the noble Lords, Lord Morgan and Lord Skidelsky—a biographer of Keynes—or indeed me, in retirement. It is also true to reflect that some Cabinet Ministers may think that they are retiring but do not do so. Lord Thorneycroft, for example, became a Member of this House in 1967. It seemed that he was completely out of politics, but he returned eight years later as chairman of the Conservative Party.
However, most life Peers are not like Bishops, vice-chancellors or historians; they are retired men of distinction, wisdom and long experience. I wonder if that is, in fact, correct. This might affect consideration of nominations even now. In this country’s golden age of the 18th century, either by accident or by early promotion, many noble and military commanders, Nelson and Wellington among them, came to the House while they were still in command of troops or of fleets. Why should our commander in Afghanistan not be here now and not wait until his retirement, particularly if you reflect that his grandfather, Lord Butler, was an adornment of our political system? Would it not perhaps have been better if the remarkable speech made by the Chief of the General Staff a week or two ago had been made here? Perhaps it would have been better if the speech made by Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, to which my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick referred, had been made here.
I think I have time to consider very briefly methods of election. If this happens, a majority should no doubt be directly elected by some good method, but one that is different from that of the House of Commons. Perhaps the European Parliament could be a guide. Perhaps, to begin with, Members of the European Parliament should automatically be Members of this House. But it could be that other electoral methods might be combined with that system. Why not, for example, consider—dare I say it—a corporate approach whereby interest groups such as trade unionists, doctors, dons, teachers, vets, lawyers, engineers, actors, journalists, municipal councillors and poets, painters and independent writers are able to elect representatives here?
In the old days of the hereditary peerage it used to be claimed with truth that that element in our legislature provided a great diversity in the membership of this House. I recall that being said by a friend of mine, the late Lord Orkney, who was proud of being the first and probably the only sergeant of the Royal Army Service Corps in your Lordships’ House. It will be suggested that I am proposing a corporate approach such as was unsuccessful in the fascist regimes before the war, but the essence of fascism was dictatorship and illegality, and I am not proposing that. What I am suggesting is that an original and responsible solution could be cogitated and could inspire other countries such as our plan in the 13th century for electing to the House of Commons two knights from every shire and two burgesses from every borough. That was an inspiration.
I hope that I will not be considered absurdly reactionary if I suggest that, among the interest groups which could elect Members to this House, we should consider a cohort—I believe that is the right word—from the old hereditary peerage whose representatives here since 1998 have covered themselves with distinction. As for existing life Peers, I am rather tempted to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, when he said that there should be an election from the existing life Peers, and we the residue might be comforted—as again the noble Lord thought—by being entitled to come here to speak but not to vote, as suggested in the Lords reform Bill considered in the late 1960s.
Although this will seem an eccentric suggestion I think it should be considered. Some thought could be given to a suggestion made by the poet Auden, who thought that the best way of choosing Ministers was by lot. That jury approach could also be considered as providing another cohort. These are all matters as interesting as they are important. Incidentally, I see no reason to change, much less to modify, the powers of this House, which, after all, now constitutes a reasonable if not always adequate challenge to the lower House and the Government, as even members of this Government perhaps will soon have reason to consider beneficial if they are shortly in opposition.
My Lords, I congratulate the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York on his maiden speech. I felt privileged to be in the House to hear it and I am sure that we will hear more interesting comments delivered in his usual forthright manner in the future. Unfortunately, I did not hear the other two maiden speakers, but I congratulate them nevertheless.
I welcome the Government’s proposed legislative programme because I believe that it builds on the foundations of previous legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, in her response accused the Government of suffering from legislative incontinence. I thought that that was a rather unfortunate phrase and I wrestled with what legislative incontinence really is. What would be the role of the House of Lords? Would we be some sort of legal revising pad for that incontinence? But I gave up that idea. However, what struck me while listening to the contribution of the noble Baroness and that of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was a refusal to recognise that any progress has been made. The glass is certainly not half full—if you listen to the criticisms, it appears to be completely empty, but the statistics belie that.
According to the British Crime Survey, since 1997 overall crime is down 35 per cent; domestic burglary is down 55 per cent; vehicle theft is down 51 per cent; and violent crime is down 34 per cent—an issue to which I shall return later. We have record police numbers—up 14,000 since 1997—and 6,800 community service officers, with 16,000 planned by April 2007. More than 7,000 ASBOs have been issued—another subject to which I will return—500 crack houses have been closed down and there are nearly 4 million fewer victims of crime.
This is not to say that Britain is now a crime-free society, but there should be some acknowledgement of the real progress that has been made. We do ourselves an injustice if we paint a picture of total anarchy and of no progress being made. Such a picture is not supported by the statistics.
It is interesting to look at some of the statements that have been made. The Association of Chief Police Officers stated recently:
“Police performance across the country is continuing to improve despite the ever-changing threats and challenges the service faces”.
Even the Daily Telegraph stated:
“Over the last 10 years or so the amount of crime in the UK has gradually fallen. This point will be missed by cherry-picking critics”—
I certainly second that point—
“who will seek out an attention grabbing headline figure”.
All I am making a plea for is that, if we are to have comment on the Government’s record on crime, it should provide a balanced, and preferably accurate, analysis.
The Times on 18 November reported that a review commissioned by the Home Office queried the way in which we record the statistics on violent crime. It made some important points. It condemned the definition of violent crime as lacking in common sense. This was basically because, although the police recorded 1.2 million violent crimes in England and Wales in 2005-06, half these offences involved no injury. The figure also included cases of bigamy and 217,000 cases of harassment that involved no physical injury to the victim. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that. It also expressed the view that a totally independent body should issue such statistics. That is an interesting comment.
A great many comments have been made about the Criminal Justice Act; people have said that, although it was enacted in 2003, large parts of it have not yet been introduced. Again the facts belie the accusation. In another place, Menzies Campbell suggested that 52 sections and five schedules have still not been brought into force and the Leader of the Opposition, always wanting to up the ante, suggested that 110 sections had not been brought into force. In fact it is nothing like that.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I can perhaps assist the noble Lord if he will take a brief intervention. Like him, I was concerned to check the accuracy. One figure refers to the 2000 Act and one to the 2003 Act. I am sure that the Minister will refer to this. The 110 provisions not brought into force refer to the 2000 Act. That has been checked by the Library of this House.
My Lords, perhaps I should say that that Act has only 82 sections.
My Lords, it is nice to have a bit of ping-pong in our own House.
I stand by the fact that most of the 329 substantive sections of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 have been implemented and that the vast majority will be commenced by the end of the year. All I am pleading for is a balanced assessment rather than criticism for the sake of criticism.
Civil liberty is a difficult area. I am not quite sure who talked today about the tyranny of restrictions on civil liberty—it may well have been the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I do not quarrel with the rhetoric; it is an important assessment that we need to make in any legislation that impacts on civil liberties. But I offer a reflection made by John Stuart Mill, who said:
“The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited. He must not make himself a nuisance to other people”.
He was a man ahead of his time who clearly anticipated anti-social behaviour orders.
The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York rightly commented that strong communities cannot be engineered. We have to remind ourselves that legislation alone cannot be the basis for a strong community. He then said that we have to meet the other person halfway. Most of us would want to do that, but there are individuals in our communities who have no intention of meeting anybody halfway. Society, as John Stuart Mill rightly said, has to find a balanced way of dealing with this.
If all the Government were doing was creating legislation that set up anti-social behaviour orders, I would be as concerned as the most reverend Primate. But they have been making many other efforts, such as Sure Start, childcare, more employment opportunities and the lifting of children and pensioners out of poverty. The Government have undertaken a range of activities that have had a positive impact on society and assisted in creating strong communities. It is a difficult balance when we see what goes on in modern society. We monitor people closely on closed circuit television and we take DNA samples from individuals, and there are those who express their concern. You have to make a balanced assessment. Some allege that recording the DNA of people who have been arrested infringes civil liberties, but it has made a huge difference in solving serious unsolved crimes such as rape or murder. The families of the victims—the loved ones who never got justice—are at long last seeing justice, 10 or 20 years later. It is a balance and I think that we have got it right, but I understand the concern expressed by people about this legislation. The same applies to anti-terrorism legislation. The test has to be the greater good as well as control and accountability.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, seemed to believe that immigration had no benefit for this country. He gave a litany of terrible things that have happened to our society as a result of immigration. What disappointed me was that he did not seem to understand that the people who run many of our vital services such as hospitals, hotels and catering—not to mention the Polish plumber or dentist—are immigrants who are making a positive contribution to society, as they always have done.
There has been a lot of talk about House of Lords reform; I am not going to add to it because we have heard every variation imaginable. However, I had to smile at a couple of comments. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said that it was unfortunate that we were talking about reforming the House of Lords at all and that cash for peerages did not exist under the old hereditary system. If one examines the history of hereditary Peers and how they obtained their peerage, one recalls that pillage, looting and a whole host of other things were often rewarded by the monarch of the day. I should not think that one could really recommend that system as the way forward.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally—he is not with us, unfortunately—referred to sleaze. There were perhaps 2.4 million reasons why he might have thought whether he should have made that comment in the way in which he did. Glasshouses and stones came to mind.
I can usually rely on the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, to make an interesting and vital contribution, but today I did not feel that her contribution had quite the balance and charm that her speeches usually have. She talked about a conspiracy theory—that the reform of the House of Lords was to appease the left in the Labour Party. Let me assure the noble Baroness of two things. First, many people in the Labour Party who would not be on what she would consider the left would support an elected second Chamber. Secondly, there are two theories of history, as she well knows—the conspiracy and the cock-up theories. I always favour the latter.
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said in opening this debate, the prime concern of any Government is public perception. Have not the customary reciprocal diplomatic arrangements made by this Government under international law which could have afforded extraordinary rendition engaged public perception? That comes in the wake of the courageous initiative of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza. A series of flights via the UK over many years has been given diplomatic clearance by the FCO without knowledge of the purpose of the flights. The findings of independent bodies were that the purpose was extraordinary rendition. The question is how to deal with this unfinished business in a manner acceptable to government.
My noble and learned friend Lord Lyell of Markyate has said that it is just not good enough merely to pay lip service to our opposition to extraordinary rendition. We must satisfy the world at large that we really mean what we say.
In the light of the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, on the Civil Aviation Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, on the Unstarred Question, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on the Armed Forces Bill and the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, on the Police and Justice Bill, it has to be accepted that this is not a matter of domestic law that can be dealt with by statute—an assertion that was wholly supported by the speeches of the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Boyce and Lord Inge, on the Armed Forces Bill. The only way in which this worrying and emotive matter can be dealt with is by a bilateral arrangement with the United States as to the FCO verification procedures which seek to ensure a requisite measure of safeguards.
This is no occasion to rehearse the findings of these many independent bodies, as recorded in a series of sister amendments to those three Bills, accepted on two Divisions by cross-party, Cross-Bench minorities as having evidential credibility and, at all events, as warranting an inquiry, as was said by my noble friend Lord Kingsland in the Unstarred Question of 18 July.
On the first occasion, on 28 March, I voted with a minority of 58 against 84. On the second occasion, on 6 November, on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Garden, to the Armed Forces Bill, I voted with a majority of 170 against 69. Why so? I was compelled to do so for the reason given by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, on 18 October when we were debating the Police and Justice Bill, as reported at cols. 782-83 of Hansard. She explained with total clarity what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on 12 October on the Armed Forces Bill, reported at col. 440—that the flights from the United States were part of the normal arrangements between states. Also in this context, one relies on what was said by the noble and gallant Lords on 6 November, and I shall come to that in a moment.
Perhaps I may summarise what the noble Baroness said, although that is difficult to do as it was an erudite and authoritative presentation. As I understood it, she said that the flights of the US state aircraft were given clearance to overfly land and leave military and civil airfields in the United Kingdom in accordance with normal diplomatic reciprocal arrangements under customary international law, the principles of which were none too clear, and that there was no bilateral arrangement between the United Kingdom and the United States. Such arrangements under public international law are not subject to the jurisdiction of the courts of any state, and the series of sister amendments that were made would not be conceived on any other Bill.
Accepting, as was said by my noble friend Lord Kingsland on 6 November, that complicity with the international crime of torture imports personal liability, regard must also be had to what was said by the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Boyce and Lord Inge, on the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Garden. This is the only quotation that I propose to make but it is of such importance that, by leave, I wish to make it.
“My Lords, I wish to approach this amendment from a slightly more practical point of view. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, has said that one reason for the amendment could be to avoid putting the commanding officer in an impossible situation. But the practical aspects of this will achieve exactly that and will put him in an impossible situation.
The responsibility for a foreign aircraft landing at one of our military airfields is with the Foreign Office, which gives the diplomatic clearance, not the commanding officer. If there is a suspicion or worry that an aircraft may be doing something improper, such as being used for extraordinary rendition, it is up to the Foreign Office to deny that flight. It is not for the commanding officer to sort out when he gets it on to his airfield. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has made it clear that the amendment is unnecessary because there is a legal binding duty on him to search the aircraft if he thinks that there is extraordinary rendition. But he should not be expected to search every aircraft that arrives in case it is doing something illegal. That should not be his responsibility. If it is, it will lay on him a most enormous burden”.—[Official Report, 6/11/06; col. 625.]
Ten minutes is showing on the clock so it is time that I should end. I will do so by pointing out that at col. 628 on 6 November, I made such a tentative suggestion, which was concerned not with legislation but with the examination of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office verification procedures. The noble Lords, Lord Drayson and Lord Triesman, were good enough to concede that that should be considered on its merits. How else could your Lordships satisfy the world at large that the United Kingdom and the United States really meant what they had said, and so alleviate justified concern?
My Lords, in this debate we have heard some very distinguished contributions on weighty issues to do with our Lordships’ House and other constitutional matters. I make no apology at this late stage in the proceedings for coming down to brass tacks, as it were, and focusing instead on something at the other end of the spectrum; namely, the Bill announced in the gracious Speech for the management of offenders.
As noble Lords will know, this is not the first time that the Queen has announced that there would be legislation to reduce offending. She said so on 23 November 2004, and, on 12 January 2005 the Minister begged to move that the Bill that had been introduced should be read for the first time. However, the Weekly Information Bulletin for that week announced that the Bill had been dropped. Having looked at it, I am not surprised because, frankly, there was very little in it to do with the management of offenders. In Her Majesty’s gracious Speech on 17 May 2005, she announced again that her Government would be bringing forward,
“legislation to reduce reoffending by improving the management of offenders”.
This time, there was nothing to drop in the Session because nothing appeared. So we waited with interest on 15 November, when she said:
“Legislation would be introduced to improve the way that offenders are managed and supervised”,
The Bill appeared in the Printed Paper Office this morning.
I looked at the content of both the Queen’s Speech and this Bill with some interest. Three other things were mentioned in the gracious Speech that affect the management of offenders. The Government would put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. I was interested in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, because I must admit that one of the phrases used by the Government that worries me is that they are going to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of victims. To me that smacks of lynch law, and I am not happy when I hear phrases like that, because they suggest a distortion of the way justice is administered. A Bill will be brought forward for the next stage of reform of the criminal justice system, along with legislation to create an independent board to enhance confidence in government statistics. I venture to suggest that the statistics about which the public have least confidence are those to do with crime, imprisonment and offenders.
I also noted that in the list of 29 Bills that the Government intend to introduce, no fewer than 11 have something to do with the conduct of imprisonment: asylum and immigration, child support, further education, local government, mental health, organised crime, corporate manslaughter, legal services and so on. That suggests to me that, instead of merely having a Bill to deal with offender management, we actually need some form of consideration of the whole way in which the treatment and conditions of offenders are handled, quite apart from their management. When I looked at the Bill this time, I found again that there is precious little to do with the management of offenders; it is all about the management of the management of offenders, which is not the same thing at all. You manage offenders by having face-to-face contact between managers and offenders, the manager, teacher, officer or whoever being responsible for acting to protect the public by preventing that person from reoffending.
What worries me about all this is that here we are, three years after the then Home Secretary, Mr David Blunkett, announced with great trumpets, following the publication of a government document, Reducing Crime, Changing Lives, that he was forming a new National Offender Management Service that would have direct responsibility for the punishment and rehabilitation of adult offenders, both in custody and in the community. It was to be responsible for improving the enforcement and credibility of community punishment so that prison is not the first resort for less serious offenders, for ensuring that both custodial and community punishments make offenders address their behaviour and offer a path away from crime, and for raising educational standards among offenders in order to break the link between low educational attainment and criminality. No one would argue with any of that as an aim—but those things were already the aim of the Prison Service and the Probation Service, so why did we need a new one?
It was then announced that other things would follow, such as the merger of those services. That has not happened. The National Offender Management Service is in fact a myth. Nothing has happened, other than an increase in the numbers of people who have reoffended, and a retrenchment, not just of Bills that have never appeared, but of the mergers of services and the “custody plus” that was going to be at the heart of the programme. Last month, the present chief executive of NOMS, in an interview for the Guardian, said that under the latest blueprint,
“Noms—whose strategic policy function is to return to the main Home Office”—
so where was the Blunkett vision?—
“will become a small, strategic commissioning organisation setting out clear national standards of what is expected for offenders both in and out of prison”.
If NOMS is merely going to become a small strategic commissioning organisation, where does the word “service” come in? What is the purpose of establishing a great body with 1,647 civil servants, two tiers of management, and not just a national system but a regional system that has 10 regional managers each at a cost of about £500,000 a year, who for two years have been allegedly commissioning services from prisons and probation without any budgets with which to provide them?
The Home Secretary announced that the Home Office was not fit for purpose. Frankly, my sympathy goes out to the poor, beleaguered civil servants in the Home Office having to process this torrent of legislation, initiatives, rules and orders contradicting the previous ones. Hardly is the ink dry on one before another contradictory one follows. My sympathy is also with the poor officials in the Prison Service and the Probation Service, who simply do not know which way they are meant to be turning. They have had contradictory directions from three Home Secretaries and three Prisons Ministers. They have had two chief executives, three change managers, 10 regional offender managers and so on—all that has been piled on to an existing organisation. I submit that what is dysfunctional is actually the lack of direction from the Government and senior officials to the criminal justice system, and particularly to those who have the responsibility of protecting the public by the prevention of crime and the way that they try to rehabilitate.
It is no good trying to say that you are going to supervise every offender in the community unless you have got supervisors. At the moment, there are some 7,000 probation officers to look after 209,000 offenders. I entirely agree with what my noble friend Lady Howe of Idlicote said about the Probation Service. I am deeply worried about it and deeply worried about there being more change here. I respectfully suggest that, instead of pressing ahead with yet another ragtag of minutiae, the Government should tackle the guts of the problem with offender management, which is that the Prison Service, which I know best, is neither structured nor organised in a way that is capable of looking after offenders in the way that the Government would like. There is no system of responsible and accountable management, and it has no one responsible for each type of prison. The governors of prisons are not given clear aims for their prison. When I asked one what his aim was, he said that it was to save £500,000 from his budget by the end of the year. Without a clear aim, how can you possibly provide a prison with the courses, resources and facilities that it needs to manage the offender in a way that the task should be done?
NOMS has been referred to as the “nightmare on Marsham Street”. I prefer the word “nonsense”. I respectfully suggest that the Minister looks seriously at what is going on and realises that the dreams with which she beguiles and charms the House so often will never be realised unless the basics are put right.
My Lords, it is my pleasure to speak in this debate. Having heard the debate being introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, earlier on, I congratulate the Government on the totality of the Queen’s Speech.
Before I get on to my main point, I will refer to some of the points made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. He mentioned particularly those aspects of the Queen’s Speech that deal with terrorism. The House and people outside would do well to appreciate the enormity of the burden that rests on the shoulders of Ministers, the police, and others, who have the awful job of trying to combat what is undoubtedly a reign of terror instigated against this country and the people who live in it by evil forces, wherever they may come from. Whether the measures that the Government are taking will work remains to be seen. I have been about this House and the other place for some years and I know that the efforts we make to improve a situation sometimes do not work out as well as we would like. However, the Queen’s Speech reveals a genuine attempt to deal with the problems.
The other point made early in the Speech was about dealing with the immigration scene, and I am glad that the Government persist in trying to improve the position that arises from it. My noble friend pointed out earlier that this was not a black and white issue. It is not a question of all right or wrong; there are good points and bad points. We ought to recognise that we will never solve to the satisfaction of many people what is called the immigration problem, but I congratulate the Government on the measures that they are taking.
Then there is the Criminal Justice Bill. Sometimes I think that the public, and often Members of the House, fail to appreciate that those who work in our prisons—the prison officers and others—are also prisoners themselves. The public acknowledge—I will not say relish—that when terrible crimes are committed by awful people, those people are sentenced to go to prison, and the prison doors are locked bang against them. Once that happens they cease to be a matter of memory or concern to the public but, inside the prisons, the prison officers and others have to deal with the problem. I do not say that every prison officer is lily-white—just the same as in this House or any other group of people, there are good and bad—but we ought to recognise that society gives them the awful task of having to deal with those problems.
I shall move on to the future of the House of Lords. The word that I relish in the relevant paragraph is “consensus”. I have not looked it up in a dictionary, but consensus means a seeking towards a common view on how to make progress. I warmly welcome the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. I think that shares in Wakeham will go up in time, because of his perception. Three or four years ago, he and his committee presented us with options and alternatives, and although he said fairly that it may not have been the position from which he started, he said that eventually, working towards it painfully and slowly, we should look towards a House that had an element of elected Members. That is my view. I carry about with me a card of a poster, which says:
“Labour Clears the Way. Labour Party poster of 1910 challenging the House of Lords’ rejection the year before of Lloyd George’s ‘People’s Budget’”,
and it shows the doors of the House of Lords smashed down. Therefore, the Labour Party has been committed.
When I started my political philosophy, the abolition of the House of Lords was one of the cardinal principles—that is, getting rid of it altogether. In time and by argument, I came to the view that we could not abolish the House of Lords because we needed a second Chamber. Whether it continues to be called by this name remains to be seen, but we need a second Chamber. We are arguing about what shape it should take. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said that the House was working well and that the public appreciated it. She did not say, of course, that it has only worked well after 1997 because of the major change that took place in 1998, the removal of 90 per cent of the hereditary Members. What the public and the noble Baroness are saying is that, devoid of 90 per cent of the hereditaries, the House is working better than it was then. Lord Cranbourne did the deal in 1998, which retained 10 per cent of hereditary Peers because in his view that was better than losing 100 per cent. He was known as a wise politician.
When we had the debates on the future of the House of Lords I started by saying that I wanted as high a percentage of elected Members as I could possibly get. I went down the list until I got nothing at all because that was the way it was. There is a play by Arthur Miller, “A View from the Bridge”, which relates to an immigrant community living on the dockside in New York. An interlocutor comes on stage from time to time and says, “That is how it is here; we settle for half”. In other words, you cannot win them all; let us try to win some.
I shall give my philosophy on the future of the House of Lords. I cannot begin to compete with the very clever people—I mean that kindly—who have given their time and thought to the various stratagems that need to be employed on aspects of the change. I cannot believe that anyone on this side of the House—or even on the other side—believes that the public thinks there should be no change in the composition of the House of Lords.
When I first came here, people tried to kid me that this really was not a political House and that Members of the House of Lords were not political. Of course, we are all politicians. We may not be full-time professional politicians, like the Commons, but we are all politicians. As Rab Butler is alleged to have said, politics is the art of the possible. I fear that attempts by the Government this year to proceed in a substantial way may not go very far. I speak to colleagues and friends all around the House, and I sense that the mood is such that I cannot envisage that we are ready to do the deed—dirty or otherwise. We need a little more time to reach consensus.
I can say to the noble Baroness who will reply to the debate, all power to your elbow and that of the Leader of the House of Commons, who is faced with the difficult task of producing a workable solution to the future, whether it is 50 per cent, less or more. I believe that the public are ready for the change. We may not be ready for it, but we are here to serve the public. Time and again the public have said that that which has constituted the House of Lords for 100 or 1,000 years is no longer acceptable in 2006-07. I am all for change, and I rest my case.
My Lords, having drawn the short straw of having to speak last, I start by congratulating the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York on his maiden speech. His refreshing and truthful style is noticed by the public and appreciated in this House. I apologise to the noble Lords, Lord Luce and Lord Dear, for not being here for their maiden speeches.
A lot has been said in this debate—in particular, abundant wisdom from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in his reflections on the new National Offender Management Service. I start by declaring an interest as chairman of Crime Concern, which I hope, ultimately, should the legislation reach the statute book, will be a beneficiary of partnerships between voluntary organisations and the Prison Service and the National Probation Service.
I see that my personal good friend the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, is on the Front Bench, and hope that she will give this legislation good speed, but will ensure that the nature of the legislation as it emerges will be pleasing in its intentions as well as its outcomes. I shall restrict my remarks to just my concern about the inputs to what the nature of the National Offender Management Service will be, as well as its possible outcomes.
I refer to the gracious Speech delivered by Her Majesty in which the Queen addressed the need for victims to be at the heart of the criminal justice system. I want to enter a perspective into this debate and the consideration of the legislation, which I imagine some may find squeamish and almost unacceptable. I suggest that some offenders—I dare not say either a majority or a minority—are victims as well as offenders. The focus on victims at the heart of the criminal justice system must include those who are victims of poverty and unemployment as a cause of their criminal activity, or consequentially leading to it; victims of poor education, illiteracy, innumeracy, bad schooling, drug abuse and poor neighbourhoods; victims of loss, hurt and despair; increasingly, as one meets people in the youth justice or prison systems, people who are disregarded and, in some senses, hopeless, lonely and out of touch with the society we wish them to play an effective part in.
There has been too much recent ping-pong, and somewhat silly debate about whether you can love and hug the hoodie. I refer to the comments of the Home Secretary in a Sunday newspaper this weekend, who says,
“anyone who thinks that tackling crime, including youth crime, can be delivered by more love and hugs alone is wide of the mark”.
Nobody wishes to be as potentially naive as that, but to disregard that dimension of enforcing effective offender management and strengthening the opportunity of rehabilitating people back into society is also to be wide of the mark.
I draw the House’s attention to the letter of 8 November distributed by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, and the Minister in the other place. Paragraph 2 says:
“Over the past four years alone we have increased by nearly a third the resources we have put into probation—both in terms of finance and staffing. But still nearly 60 per cent of offenders commit further crimes within two years. We cannot regard this as acceptable. We need to improve performance and make absolutely sure we are getting the best value out of what we are investing in the system”.
I suggest to the Minister and the Government that the investment cannot be entirely, or mainly, material. Investment must be significantly to do with the nature of the relationships that many offenders have not enjoyed and need to enjoy in order to be liberated from the endless pursuit of crime. A report on the BBC’s “Law in Action” programme last week, entitled “Breaking the reoffending cycle”, talks about the techniques used to deliver effectiveness in this area and says that the technique that seems to work the most is the offender’s,
“‘social capital’—the prisoner’s stock of connections to law-abiding friends and family members”,
around them. We disregard that at our peril.
Another recent BBC news programme referred to the Home Secretary saying that the focus of the new offender management service has to be on reducing reoffending rates and doing what actually works to ensure that the service is effective.
We can all point to many examples of effective delivery in this area. I refer to one, a project curiously not funded by the Home Office, but by the Department for Work and Pensions: the Pecan charity based in south-east London, with which I have a long association. I am immensely proud of the work it has done since it was established in 1988. I refer to the figures it provided last week: working on average with 20 offenders per month, over the course of one year, 94 per cent of those who have started courses with Pecan have gone into full-time employment and effectively stayed out of any reoffending cycle. In the course of the past year, expending £900,000 of Department for Work and Pensions resources on the service has saved the taxpayer £1.54 million. We all know of multiple examples of effective spending in prevention delivering real savings to the taxpayer.
What is distinctive about the Pecan charity, or another charity with which I have some association, Caring for Ex-Offenders—which, since 1999, has had 604 ex-offenders on its books with a reoffending rate of 12 per cent? Such distinctions are certainly not what the head of the Probation Boards’ Association called the “politics of the madhouse”. They are about respecting the dignity, opportunity, rights, needs and relational priorities of offenders; about enabling people to find work, housing and security. Part of that security has to do with the nature of the experience offenders enjoy in the period before leaving prison and in the months immediately afterwards.
The Offender Management Bill was published today. Clause 1(2)(b) states that the purpose of the Bill includes,
“assisting in the rehabilitation of offenders who are being held in prison”.
I understand exactly what that means in legal and legislative terms, but it has a sense of being passive and structural. I wish there was more sense of energy, ambition and passion. I wish the words read, “imaginatively delivering the rehabilitation of offenders who are being held in prison,” and asked the Home Office, the Home Secretary and Minister to take account of the need to deliver a little against the victim needs of the offender as well as the victims in wider society. We will not serve the interests of the public as a whole by disregarding the victim needs of the offender by structural administrative processes that disregard the power of relationships, of loving reformation and the determination to enable people who have been disempowered by vulnerability and circumstance, and by having purely a harsh, classically ineffective and clinical system that moves people through to try to keep them out as long as possible.
NOMS is supposed to be a moment for a revolution in the care of offenders and the working of our prison system. I hope that, as well as a deep concern for the victims in wider society, the Government will have the human will to determine to humanise the system and dignify offenders towards engagement as citizens and effective contributors to a cohesive society.
My Lords, as part of the continuing legal education that the Bar Council requires me to undergo, last Saturday I went to a seminar at Mold Crown Court on the Sexual Offences Act 2003. That Act is very dear to my heart, because I led my noble friend Lady Walmsley in our deliberations on it, and now she leads me. I recall the Government’s attempt to increase the conviction rate in sexual offences. It was very interesting to see how the Sexual Offences Act is working in practice.
One issue that was hotly debated—indeed, negotiations took place with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—related to presumptions of consent and whether there should be rebuttable or conclusive assumptions of consent. Judge Dutton, who deals with sexual offences in the Chester and north Wales area, told me that, in the two and a half years since the Act came into operation, those presumptions have featured only once, and that was in a case where an acquittal followed. Similarly, a counsel engaged in these cases told me that he had never come across the presumptions contained in the Act. That shows that measures that are brought in do not necessarily have any practical effect.
The other issue that interested me was the support given to the complainant. A practitioner told me that I should appreciate that when a person makes a complaint of rape, the police and Victim Support very properly support her and prosecuting counsel must discuss matters with her; special measures such as video links or screens can also be used. Cushioned by all that, she gives her evidence up to the point of cross-examination. At that point, the defendant’s case is put to her for the first time. She is questioned and finds great difficulty in coping with that. All sorts of consequences flow from that Act.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked whether video link cross-examination still exists. The judge to whom I referred told me that, when a complainant gives evidence by video link, he constantly has to remind the jury that this is reality and not a television soap; it is something that has happened or which the complainant says has happened. About the technology involved, he pointed to the equipment in the court, saying, “You can find that in a skip at the rubbish dump at Chester. The equipment is entirely out of date. They do not properly fund it”.
When I hear that victims are to be put at the heart of the criminal justice system, rather like my noble friend Lord Goodhart, who referred to this part of the Queen’s Speech, I find it offensive that the Government have put what is essentially a political slogan in the mouth of the Sovereign.
I have perfect credentials for showing my support for victims. I resigned from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board when it sought to reduce compensation. Over and again in your Lordships’ House, I have raised the fact that this Government have pegged compensation for victims since 1997 at under £200 million per year. For all the Government say about the victim being at the heart of the criminal justice system, they do not pay the money. So I find that offensive.
At the seminar I referred to, the CPS lawyer told us, “When we have these complaints, we think ‘victim, victim, victim’”. She had obviously taken on board her training. But the head of the medical centre for Manchester, a lady doctor with seven or eight years’ experience—over 11,000 cases had been through the centre—said, “I do not call them victims; I call them complainants”. I think that that is the proper word to use. After all, the statue at the Old Bailey—go down and look at it—is of the figure of Justice blindfolded. That idea goes back to Greek times. I think that it was the Romans who introduced the blindfold so that Justice does not look at one side or the other but holds the scales balanced in the middle. That is the role of justice in our society. The state should not get into one side of that balance and tip it in the way that this Government have sought to do.
I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Goodhart, who said that the legislation suggests that retribution is the principle behind the criminal justice system and that that leads to a brutal and vindictive society. A moment ago, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to lynch law.
The fourth matter that emerged from the seminar was relevant earlier sexual contact, evidence of which cannot be given except with the leave of the judge. The House of Lords on the very first test of this—in the case of Roberts—decided that the overriding principle must be the need for a fair trial. This Government, much to their credit, introduced the European convention Article 6 fair-trial concept into our jurisprudence. Any Act of Parliament must be read in that context. Nevertheless, every new Home Secretary—and there have been a succession of them—tries to puts his stamp on the programme; he has to be tougher than thou.
Terrorism, I note, has been pushed to next year, possibly rather nearer to a potential campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party. We will then presumably revisit the 90-day rule, which the Attorney-General has now advised against.
In the Queen’s Speech, we have the new Criminal Justice Bill. Remarks have already been made about how the previous Criminal Justice Act has not been fully implemented and yet parts of it have been repealed—two clauses were never brought into effect and were repealed, and three other clauses were brought into effect but were immediately repealed.
I will refer to only one aspect—that there should be no statutory deduction for a plea of guilty. That provision was contained in the 2003 Act; it is now to be repealed. Judges are suddenly to be given discretion—not, as I understand it, to consider sentences as a whole, but to put the sentence above the norm, not below. We will examine those provisions when they come before us in due course.
We on these Benches seek from a criminal justice Bill honesty in sentencing. Life imprisonment should mean life imprisonment. If it is necessary to have an indeterminate sentence, it could be described in its proper form as a public safety sentence—something that everyone would appreciate need not necessarily last for life but should last for as long as the public’s safety must be maintained. Words are important. The community sentence has, perhaps, become a rather cosy idea but, as the Lord Chief Justice discovered, it can mean hard community work. We think that hard public punishment orders should be made so that people understand what they are all about. Honesty in sentencing is what we seek from any new criminal justice Bill.
We also understand that there is to be a serious and organised crime Bill containing new ASBOs for serious offences, to freeze assets in serious crime. Why do the Government like ASBOs? There are two reasons. The first is that an ASBO is a civil order and therefore requires the offending conduct to be proved not beyond reasonable doubt, but only on the balance of probabilities. Furthermore, an ASBO does not require direct evidence; hearsay evidence is enough to get you an ASBO. Listening to the interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, I got the impression that he would like to hand out a few ASBOs to members of the Government for some matters that are now being investigated—there may not be enough proof beyond reasonable doubt, but it would be a good warning to freeze the assets of some of those involved.
Solutions devised for young tearaways—ASBOs—are now to be employed and applied to serious criminals. If there is serious crime, we should get the evidence and prosecute. We should not rest on that lazy way of trying to control serious crime. In the Bill, we are also promised a “sin bin”: an area where parents and children must live under strict rules and curfews.
I was much impressed by the inspiring maiden speech of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, who warned us against spinning a legal spider's web that communities will have difficulty escaping. He also said that strong, secure communities are not to be engineered. One surprising thing this afternoon was that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, approved of something not said by the Front-Bench spokesman of his party. The Archbishop reminded us that we reject values of trust, decency, good faith, compassion, liberty and justice at our peril. That should be writ large above the entrance to the Home Office. If I may say so, that is an inspiring approach to our criminal justice system.
I cannot begin to match the criticism by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, of the proposed Offender Management Bill. The issue seems to me quite simple. Overcrowded prisons make it impossible to carry out effective rehabilitation. The prisoner is released to the Probation Service. The Probation Service is dealing with someone who has not had the training that he should have had in prison to get a trade or even to be able to read and write, and it struggles. So what does the Home Secretary do? He attacks the Probation Service, the people who are having the greatest difficulty in coping with the inadequacies earlier on in that system. Not only does he attack it, but he does so in front of the very prisoners who are supposed to be benefiting from it when they are released. Can you imagine anything more likely to weaken their confidence in the treatment that they will get once they have left prison?
The Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill is another amendment to the Criminal Justice Act 2003. It is a purely mechanical device to get around the provisions in that Act that required the consent of both Houses for trials to be conducted without a jury. What do the Government do? They simply abolish that requirement in the Act. I promise a long and difficult passage for that Bill.
I shall have my say on the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill next week, so I will not weary your Lordships with it. Indeed, other matters are to come forward.
I come finally to the House of Lords, which has occupied many of your Lordships this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, had in his pocket a Labour Party postcard showing support for the Liberal Party’s attempts to abolish the House of Lords in 1910. There it is. I entirely endorse it. I remind the noble Lord—he has probably heard it before—that in 1964, when I fought my first election, there were three planks to my policy. One was a parliament for Wales. The second was proportional representation. The third was the abolition of the House of Lords. I will campaign along with him—I have amended my views—for a fully elected second Chamber.
There is much to discuss in this disappointing programme at the end of a disappointing Government. I mean that, because I know that many noble Lords on the Government Benches are as disappointed with their Government as we have been.
My Lords, I know your Lordships will agree that the three maiden speeches that we have heard this afternoon have been an ornament to our deliberations.
I shall dwell for a moment on two matters upon which the most reverend Primate spoke in his illuminating speech. That should in no way diminish the value of the other matters to which he drew our attention. The first point is one to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has already referred: the most reverend Primate’s observation that strong civil communities cannot be engineered by statute. They are the product of human values and standards that determine our conduct in communities towards each other as human beings. The most reverend Primate might have added that the church has a significant role to play in this.
The most reverend Primate’s second observation was about the development of the common law in this country. He referred to the law being moulded by judges brought up in the Christian faith. We sometimes forget how important Christianity has been to the development of our free institutions. We are all equal in the eyes of God; and equality is the foundation for both the rule of law and the principle of democracy. These two principles have run through our constitutional crises throughout the ages and have remained triumphant. So, if from time to time the church gets depressed about certain matters, it can be reassured about its central contribution to freedom in this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Luce, is returning, in a different form, to an old occupation. He has been in incubation for six years but has now emerged, to our great benefit. We are all absolutely delighted to see him and look forward to hearing from him often. Maiden speeches are supposed to be uncontroversial, and the noble Lord was, of course, adept at remaining within the confines of that discipline; but it would have been difficult not to have reached the conclusion that he favoured a non-elected House. He, wisely in my view, did not go on to endorse the status quo in every respect, and it is important for those who support the notion of a non-elected House to recognise that there are, nevertheless, certain changes that need to be made to the status quo.
The noble Lord, Lord Luce, drew our attention to two important changes. The first is the question of a statutory appointments commission that is devoid of political influence. I think that that will garner widespread support throughout your Lordships’ House. The second is the question of the size of the House. If we go on as we have in recent years, every time there is a change of government we will have a raft of new Peers. Before we know where we are, we will be an appointed House of approaching 1,000, and that is plainly unacceptable. So, if we are going to continue with an appointed House—in other words, if there is no consensus—we will nevertheless have to grapple with the problem of size. That will not be a simple thing to do because we have got to let a certain amount of new blood flow in while reducing its present scale. For noble Lords who are keen on retaining the present arrangements, that matter needs some urgent attention.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, talked about the maintenance of law and order and a range of matters connected with his experience of policing, but, if I may say so, he was tantalisingly circumspect about the central issue, which is the tension between freedom and security. He had to be because he was making his maiden speech. He provided us with two eloquent bookends of complete freedom, which is anarchy, and complete order, which is tyranny; but he did not trespass on the point on the spectrum that he thought would produce the right balance.
The noble Lord can be completely forgiven for doing so, not only because he was making his maiden speech but because it appears that the Home Secretary himself has not made up his mind. He has established an inquiry, and he tells us that, when the results are known, we will get the benefit of his views. Until then, we shall have to wait. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, will be able to enlighten us on the timing of the conclusion of the inquiry; but we really cannot take the matter any further until we know the Government’s views.
We were lucky to hear the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General say the other day that he had seen no evidence to justify the increase of 28 days between arrest and charge; and we are also aware that the Attorney-General has been convinced by the eloquence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, on the question of intercept evidence. So, there is perhaps more to hope for than to fear from the investigation taking place in the Home Office. I think your Lordships will agree that a rich tapestry was woven by our three maiden speakers.
My noble friend Lady Anelay dealt with the Home Office legislation. I shall spend a little more time reflecting on—the word used often is “reform”, but I do not think it is appropriate—the proposals, to be thoroughly neutral, for changes in the House of Lords. My first port of call is my noble friend Lord Waddington because he asked the really fundamental questions. It is extremely difficult to make up our minds about what constitutional function your Lordships’ House should play without having a clear understanding of what is happening in another place. The central issue is the extent to which Parliament, collectively, can control the Executive. Whether that is done in another place or here, it is the net quality of control of the Executive that matters. So to the extent that another place is not capable of controlling the Executive, that is an argument for having stronger powers in your Lordships’ House. I wonder whether just looking at the status quo without investigating exactly what is going on in another place is enough before we move on to questions of composition.
There is a real paradox at the heart of the way in which the British constitution works in another place. On the one hand, another place has to keep the Government in power; on the other hand, it has to keep them under control, and it is the majority party that has that task. Nine times out of 10 the majority party will opt for keeping the Government in power rather than keeping them under control. So if we are going to control the Government successfully, it must come from other constitutional initiatives in another place—perhaps from Select Committees that are not controlled by Whips—and from your Lordships’ House. I see no sign of any serious analysis of these issues being done as a preamble to questions about composition and the authority of your Lordships’ House.
The other important point that my noble friend Lord Waddington made is the extraordinary dissonance of the Government’s view that, even though an elected House would give this House greater legitimacy, in the Government’s opinion, nevertheless that has no implications whatever for its powers. The noble Lords, Lord Williamson of Horton and Lord Cobbold, said that if the Government think that introducing elected Members into your Lordships’ House will be politically neutral, perhaps they ought to think again. It seems to me and certainly to my noble friend Lord Waddington and a number of your Lordships that the introduction of elected Members into your Lordships’ House will have a considerable political impact, though its exact shape and form are as yet unpredictable.
The timetable set out by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, as I understand it, is that first we will have a debate on the report of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, and then we will move to—
My Lords, I beg the noble and learned Lord’s pardon. The Government will respond to Cunningham, and then we will have the debate. Then, if my memory serves me correctly, there will be a White Paper; sometime in the New Year, that White Paper will be debated in another place; and there will be, ultimately, a free vote in both another place and your Lordships’ House.
I know that the Minister will be careful not to anticipate in detail the White Paper, but just how much detail can we expect in it? Of course, we know that it will say something about the appropriate number of elected Members, but what will it say, for example, about the nature of the elections themselves? My noble friend Lord Wakeham, for example, referred to a single term of office. I think that he meant by that a rather long single term, somewhere between 12 and 15 years. That seems an admirable proposal, should we move to a system of elections. It would mean, in the memorable words of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, some five or six years ago, that elected Members of your Lordships' House would have nothing to hope and nothing to fear.
Is it the Government’s view that there should be a single long term or do they have another view? What about the nature of the elections themselves? I hope that the Government will not come up with a proposal of regional lists determined by the parties along the lines that we have for European elections. It is vital that, if there are elections, they are proper elections, held as close to the grass roots as possible. I would prefer them to be based on the counties and the great towns in the way that is traditional in this country, but in some way in which there was a genuine election and not simply a selectorate imposing its decisions. All these issues will have to be grappled with, quite apart from the question of whether there should be elected Members or what proportion of the House they should make up.
On House of Lords reform, we are in the foothills of what will be a very long story. It is extremely difficult to take any view, let alone a final one, until all these different shapes are coloured in, or at least coloured in to a greater extent than at present. We shall watch the development and see what the Government propose.
I am very interested to know what the Government mean by “consensus”. Do they mean that there must be a majority in both Houses for their proposals before they go forward, or are they referring merely to consensus between the political parties? I hope that the noble Baroness will address that question.
I was particularly taken by the intervention of my noble friend Lord Ferrers, who adumbrated the principle that democracy means rule by the people, aristocracy means rule by the best. Despite his own thoroughbred breeding, I assume that that judgment was made as a consequence of a dispassionately objective analysis.
My Lords, my noble friend was making a very important point. Since 1999, your Lordships' House has been confronting the prospect of radical change, which, so far, has never come. The import of my noble friend’s message was, “Why can’t you leave us alone for a decade or two to get on with a job that we are really doing rather well?” I think that the chances of that happening over the next six months are rather slim, but if consensus is not reached, then it is time to draw a line under these matters, at least for a reasonable period, so that we can make the kind of changes that the noble Lord, Lord Luce, suggested and get on with our work. No doubt in a decade or so these matters may be returned to. I see the Liberal Democrats jesting, but we simply cannot go on and on about this question. If we cannot achieve that reform this time, there should be a long period of reflection before we return to it.
My noble friend Lord Ashcroft, in a characteristically trenchant speech, demonstrated how absurd the current arrangements are for party funding—a matter that is being investigated at the moment by Sir Hayden Phillips. I do not think that anyone would want to anticipate what Sir Hayden is going to say, either on the question of state funding or on capping. I take the view that in principle it would be a bad thing for the state to shoulder the responsibility for funding political parties. There is a great deal to be said for what lay behind my noble friend Lord Ashcroft’s remarks about the importance of allowing the market to decide these matters, provided that the process was completely transparent and open and that everyone knew what the source of funding was. My noble friend made an extremely useful contribution to the debate on that aspect.
My noble friend Lady Anelay said everything that needed to be said about the Home Office Bills. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made a remarkable and memorable contribution to the debate on the question of rehabilitation.
In closing I shall refer to one other matter—that of jury trial. The Government have introduced a very short Bill in another place to give courts the right to try certain classes of fraud case without a jury. That has been the subject of a long battle between the Opposition, the Liberal Democrats and the Government over the past three years. The initial rationale for the Bill was that fraud cases for juries took far too long and were far too expensive. That argument lasted until the Lord Chief Justice on three recent occasions stated that irrespective of whether fraud trials were heard by a single judge or a jury they would take just as long.
The argument moved on and it was said that some of the issues were too complicated for juries. That suggestion was blown out of the water as a result of the report on the Jubilee Line case by Mr Wooler, who, after interviewing the jurors who appeared in the trial, came to the conclusion that they had a remarkably good grasp of what was an extremely complicated case.
Although it has not been said in terms by the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General, I have come to the conclusion that the real reason why the Government want trials by single judges has nothing to do with either of those matters. In a trial by single judge, certain evidence that would be inadmissible in front of a jury would be admissible which would have an effect on the number of prosecutions that could be brought in the first place. That speculation may or may not be true.
The acid test is what happens in the United States, a country that is by no means unfamiliar with the problem of white collar crime. The United States manages perfectly well with juries in fraud cases—so why on earth cannot we? We have managed well up to now; there is no evidence that it is a problem in the United States, so why should it be a problem in this country?
There is, moreover, an important constitutional issue here. My noble friend Lady Anelay mentioned the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument. That is a very important argument. First fraud cases—where next? The jury has played throughout our history an absolutely central role in guaranteeing freedom. People are sent to prison or worse because 12 men or women who have absolutely no connection with the Government at all say that that should happen. They are simply part of the community. What better guarantee can you have of freedom than that? I have seen no argument from the Government that in any way measures up to the importance of retaining that principle and we shall oppose the Bill when it comes to your Lordships' House.
My Lords, yet again we have had an extraordinary series of speeches on the gracious Speech. During this erudite and interesting debate, I have kept a chart of what everyone has said. I shall hold it up to the House, although I know that I am not supposed to do that. The balance of the debate has been extraordinary.
I come, first, to the three exceptional maiden speeches. Many of us waited a long time to hear the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York speak for the first time. I do not think that any of us was seriously disappointed: his comments were insightful, trenchant and forthright, and we very much welcome his contribution to this House. I assure him that his desire for the fabric of our community to be expressed not only in legislation is passionately held by this Government. Through the many things that we have achieved—for example, the Together We Can campaign and the conference that I attended early this morning with the faith alliance and faith groups—people are coming together to heal communities and change the lives of offenders, and that very much speaks to the most reverend Primate’s aspirations for us. We welcome his contribution.
The noble Lord, Lord Luce, has been missed by this House for the past six years. We did not understand how much we had missed him until we had the privilege of hearing him. Not only was his contribution today sound and insightful but it gave a number of us pause for thought—particularly his acceptance that, in order for us to remain where we are, we have to change.
I could not have appreciated more the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dear. He has been one of the most stalwart and brave members of the constabulary that we have ever been fortunate to have. I very much commend him for what he said—indeed, I could not find fault with it. It bodes well for the maintenance of our debates in the future.
This debate fell into five principal areas. The first related to criminal justice and, in particular, the National Offender Management Service. The second, and by far the weightiest, was the House’s concentration on the proposals for changes in the House of Lords. The Legal Services Bill, which will be piloted by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, had three stalwart contributors in my noble friend Lord Lofthouse and the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Goodhart. Immigration held a little interest for the House, too, as we heard in the contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Waddington, Lord Avebury and Lord Williamson, and my noble friends Lord Judd and Lord Graham of Edmonton.
There was passion and illumination in relation to political parties. Although the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, was the only person to speak on that issue, I think that he probably made up for the contributions of at least 50 Members of the House, such was the power of his comments. However, it was illuminating to understand the Conservative view, and perhaps the dividing line between the Labour views was all too clear. I was particularly interested in the noble Lord’s idea that there should be no limit on the people from whom we accept money and that the matter should be reviewed by the public only when they come to vote. That was an interesting and insightful suggestion, which I know many of us will enjoy for many a year to come.
I turn to the first issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay—with whom I will have the joy of doing many Bills; and it looks as though we will have good company this Session—said that the Bills that we have previously gone through were a bit of a mess and asked about what we had done. My noble friend Lord Young was right—the cup is not just half full; I gently suggest to her that our cup is probably 99.8 per cent full and we are going to deal with the extra 0.2 per cent.
We have made substantial changes in the past 10 years, and it is important to remember how great they have been. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 made significant changes to sentencing provision, such as extended sentences for sex offenders. Under the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, victims of sexual or violent offences may be consulted on the licensing conditions of their attackers, and registrable sex offenders became statutorily ineligible for early release. The Sexual Offences Act 2003, which was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, brought about the most radical reform of sexual offending legislation for more than 100 years by redefining offences and sentencing as well as giving stricter control over offenders. The Criminal Justice Act 2003—the single biggest reform of the criminal justice system since 1997—established the Sentencing Guidelines Council to increase consistency in sentencing and the early removal scheme, allowing foreign national prisoners to be deported up to 135 days before the halfway point. The Police and Justice Act 2006 regulates the use of live links in courts and gives greater protection.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was far more restricted in her comments on non-implementation. Quite properly, she concentrated on intermittent custody and custody plus. I commend her on her propriety, restraint and accuracy. Noble Lords will know that intermittent custody was introduced and worked well in relation to weekend provision. However, there is an issue about how much space can be adopted in that regard; we will have to look at that again when we have more resources. On custody plus, I assure the noble Baroness that our intention is to bring in provisions if and when we have the resources so to do. We have not by any means put that to one side. It would not be right to say that the provisions of that legislation have not been properly implemented. It brought about comprehensive change and although not all of the provisions of that weighty tome could be brought in overnight, they have been brought in, and to considerable effect.
The noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Dholakia, my noble friends Lady Thornton, Lord Judd and Lord Young, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and—last but by no means least—the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, commented on changes that we aspire to make on the National Offender Management Service. I very much agreed with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the principles involved and the reasons why we must change. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, was absolutely right about the thrust, ambition and energy that we intend to put into this change; change is absolutely fundamental.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that—notwithstanding the huge commitment of the Probation Service, the improvements and the huge investment made—a situation in which we collectively have a reoffending rate of 60 per cent can never be described as a success. We cannot accept that that should continue. It needs to change, but that change involves the creation of a partnership between public, not-for-profit and private agencies working together to satisfy the needs of both victims and offenders.
Victims whose needs are not addressed can often become offenders in a very serious way. We see that time and again, particularly in the case of women. The women in our prisons cause us concern. About two months ago, I went to see Holloway, one of the major women’s prisons in London. I was told by the governor that 83 per cent of the women in his care at that time had at some stage been a victim of either domestic violence or sexual assault. Many of those women had used alcohol or drugs as a means of relief; a panacea for the pain they quite clearly felt. They had engaged in acquisitive and other crimes, becoming damaged but also extraordinarily damaging to other people. This idea of helping victims and making them the centre is meant to address those needs and, one hopes, help us stem the tide of those who subsequently go on to offend. There is a huge opportunity here for us; the Offender Management Bill is our opportunity for real and dynamic change.
I turn to House of Lords reform. I listened to each contributor with care: the noble Lords, Lord McNally, Lord Waddington, Lord Luce, Lord Wakeham, Lord Williamson, Lord Hunt of Wirral, Lord Cobbold, Lord Goodhart and Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, my noble friends Lord Davies of Coity and Lord Desai, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, who spoke with quite extraordinary and unusual passion. I noticed that there was no consensus between any of those who spoke.
The fact that we need to strive for consensus is critical. I agree with the wise comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. This is an issue about which we will never get total agreement. There will always be nuanced differences. The noble Lord was right when he said that, in order to achieve a consensus, there will have to be movement—movement, I respectfully suggest, by all. We do not underestimate that as an easy thing to do, but that it is important that we endeavour to do it cannot be in any doubt. I hear, of course, what my noble friend Lord Desai said, about no change ever being undertaken purely consensually. However, I hope the House has been used to the way we on this side have operated now for seven years, certainly since I have been answering from this Dispatch Box. We strive for consensus on those issues where it is possible, thereby narrowing the areas about which we subsequently may have to disagree, argue and fight. Consensus, and the attempt to find it, must be the right way.
My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has set out the methodology that we propose to adopt. I am not surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord McNally, say that he finds the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, more seductively alluring now than perhaps he did when he first espied them. I am given to understand that mature judgment comes with time.
If we look at the difficulties with which we are faced, and the passions that are clearly felt about this issue, we have to appreciate the enormity of the challenge that we will have to undergo to reach success. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that although she would appear, if I may respectfully say so, slightly antipathetic to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, he is a man of great integrity and wisdom, and I am sure that he will be utterly forgiving of her for her temporary lapse of charity.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and others, said that we have made a number of changes on immigration, and asked why, therefore, change was still necessary. It is necessary because although we have made considerable improvements in outcomes, those improvements have not yet resulted in all the success that we appreciate is possible. We have honed and changed the system, and we have made it faster and more effective. There have been a reduced number of unfounded asylum claims. There were 25,720 in 2005, fewer than in any year since 1994. That figure is 24 per cent lower than in 2004. On decisions, approximately 76 per cent of new substantive claims were decided in the two months January to March 2006. In 1997, when we first came into office, it took 22 months. Decisions have now really changed around. We have met the targets for initial decisions, where 76 per cent of new substantive cases are settled within two months, compared with a target of 75 per cent. Removals are up. We have made huge improvements and huge change. I say to the noble Lords who raised this that there is still much more to do.
I turn now to the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill, which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and others. I hear, not with trepidation but with happy delight, the promise of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that he will make sure that the passage of this Bill takes a long, long time. Having had the delight of accompanying him through Bills, I know that he is absolutely capable of doing that. I am sure that the House will be delighted to hear that and will treat his contributions with its normal courtesy and care.
I hear, too, what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said about the wonders of the American approach to litigation. I was surprised and interested to hear him say that, particularly in relation to fraud. The comments that come quickly to mind relate to our recent debates on the American system, particularly as it relates to fraud, and the likely treatment of British litigants in America if subjected to fraud trials. I very much welcome the transformation—the Damascene conversion—that appears to have happened. I can attribute it only to the presence of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, who, we know, is capable of bringing about the most profound conversions among his flock.
My Lords, that was an uncharacteristic sleight of hand by the noble Baroness for which I forgive her. I think that she was referring to our debate on extradition. The points at issue there had nothing to do with the American system; they had everything to do with the disproportionality of obligations between the United States and Britain with respect to the evidence that has to be advanced to get somebody extradited.
My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says, and will savour with pleasure the comments none the less.
The noble Lord, Lord Laird, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, made comments on Northern Ireland. I say to the noble Lord that I will ensure that those issues are raised with the appropriate Ministers at the Northern Ireland Office, and I am sure that they will wish to respond in proper form. I say to the noble Baroness, in similar terms, that I know the passion with which she properly addresses domestic violence—not only in Northern Ireland, but here—and shall make endeavours on that.
I hope that the House will forgive me if I spend a moment or two answering the question raised by my noble friend Lord Lofthouse. He has committed a huge amount of time and attention to the issue and raised his proper concerns about the way in which the solicitors, and particularly the Law Society, have responded. I assure him that every effort is being made to make sure that those who have acted with impropriety should be brought to book. I very much welcome the trenchant support that he gives to the Legal Services Bill, on which this House will be able better to consider some of those issues.
I am conscious that I have spoken for 21 minutes and that the House has had a very long day, but I am also conscious that this debate bodes well for the Session, because I am sure that we will have an insightful, exciting time when there will be much cut and thrust—but in the end, I hope, consensus.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned until Monday next.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until Monday next.
House adjourned at 6.43 pm.