House of Lords
Thursday, 7 June 2007.
The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.
Disability Living Allowance
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
What are the reasons for the low take-up of the disability living allowance.
My Lords, we want everybody who is entitled to disability living allowance to take up that entitlement. I am pleased to say that there has been a year-on-year increase in both claims and awards for this benefit since it was introduced, confirming that increased numbers of people are receiving this important help towards the extra costs of disability.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but can he tell us what the Government are doing to help the many disabled people who simply do not know about the allowance? What advice are the Government giving to the many people who are deterred from applying for the allowance by the vicious campaign in some newspapers alleging fraud in relation to the DLA, although government figures show that that fraud is almost non-existent, running at between 0.4 and 0.9 per cent? Would my noble friend care to confirm or contest those figures? Does he agree that the other main deterrent is the absurd application form, which runs to 47 pages? The only question that it does not ask is the name of the applicant’s great-great-grandfather’s second cousin, which would be more sensible than much of the stuff in the form.
My Lords, I begin by acknowledging the tireless campaigning that my noble friend has done on behalf of the disabled. He speaks with great knowledge and authority. I should make it clear that we would not want anyone to be deterred from seeking to claim DLA or any other allowance because of newspaper or other campaigns associated with fraud. My noble friend is right: apparently 0.5 per cent of the spend is subject to fraud, but that is out of a total spend of £8.6 billion.
My noble friend also asked what the Government are doing generally to encourage take-up. We are working with and supporting voluntary sector organisations; we have a helpline facility, which takes more than 5 million calls from customers every year; and work is being done with Jobcentre Plus and the Pension Service to signpost people to other appropriate benefits. Work has been done to develop a new form. It has been tested in the north-west and is being rolled out nationally at the moment but, inevitably, given the nature of these benefits, I am afraid that the form will never be particularly brief.
My Lords, what is the position with regard to access to work payments? I am sure the Minister would agree that it is very important that disabled people who are able to work have the opportunity to get there. However, recently these payments, particularly in the Civil Service, were transferred to other departments, whereas they used to be paid directly by the Department for Work and Pensions. What is the effect of that? Are more people applying—there is certainly a need for more people to do so—or have they been deterred? Are these individual departments paying their share, as they should?
My Lords, access to work is a hugely important part of the government programme to help people with disabilities. The noble Baroness is right. The budgets for government departments were mainstreamed out of that resource pot, but that has freed up some of the pot for focus in other areas, particularly SMEs. We believe that it is working as part of a comprehensive range of programmes to help disabled people to get into and stay in work.
My Lords, I declare an interest. I receive DLA, which is a marvellous benefit. However, the form is incredibly daunting. I had to go to a tribunal in order to get some help. Has the form altered radically? I gather that it is still as long as it ever was, but I found that it contained a few contradictions. I would be interested to know whether the Minister has vetted the form himself in order to ensure that it is not too daunting. Secondly, are the Government using a bit more imagination to get the message out? It would be very useful to get the message out to doctors’ surgeries and hospitals as well as advice centres.
My Lords, the form has been developed together with the voluntary sector. It was piloted in the north-west and is now being rolled out nationally. Given that the benefit is focused on people’s care needs and mobility needs, the form will always have to ask a range of questions, some of which are quite intrusive. It is quite difficult, in all instances, to distil those questions into a very simple form. The noble Baroness is right to say that we need to ensure that the message about this benefit and others is spread as widely as possible. Certainly the Department of Health is involved in helping to get the message out. Something called the “patients prescription” is being developed—that is one route—but we need to ensure that the scripts that advisers in the DWP use when they receive telephone calls cover and signpost those opportunities for people.
My Lords, time was when Ministers gave the House carefully researched estimates of the extent to which disability benefits went unclaimed: I recall a reply of admirable clarity from my noble friend Lady Hollis. As over-claiming, rightly or wrongly, is now so often in the news, will my noble friend give the House his estimate of the total sum that went unclaimed by people entitled to DLA in the latest year for which figures are available?
My Lords, that is an extremely pertinent question, as I would expect from my noble friend, given his expertise in the matter. The difficulty in trying to identify take-up of these benefits is to understand the potential population of claimants. One could know what their diagnosis might be, but the award of the benefit depends on how that diagnosis affects them in individual circumstances. I know my noble friend is well aware of that and that is why the department has commissioned the Policy Studies Institute to develop a methodology so that we can better understand the potential full claim and, therefore, the level of take-up. But, at the moment, we cannot do that from robust figures. It was last done several years ago but we stopped doing it because we were not convinced that those figures were robust. It is an important issue. The PSI will take some little while to complete the methodology, but it will help us to target efforts to ensure that the take-up is as good as it can be.
My Lords, has the Minister read the Child Poverty Action Group survey Out of Reach: Benefits for disabled children, published last year? It showed that only half of the 772,000 disabled children in the UK are claiming DLA. In his work on increasing the take-up of DLA, will the Minister concentrate on these children?
My Lords, I have not read that publication, but I will. The noble Lord again raises an important point: it ought to be part of the work and the targeting that we do.
Benefits: Cancer Patients
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
What mechanisms are in place in the National Health Service to ensure that cancer patients are aware of the financial support available to them through the benefits system.
My Lords, local policies are being developed to routinely offer information throughout the cancer patient pathway. The department is developing the concept of information prescriptions, which will guide people to further sources of information about their care, including benefit information and advice.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He will be aware that the National Audit Office has found that three-quarters of cancer patients receive no information on financial support. Given the devastating effect that cancer can have on patients’ finances, can the Minister confirm that the cancer reform strategy will include new mechanisms to monitor and improve benefits awareness among cancer patients?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to the NAO’s report; he might also have mentioned the Macmillan report in this area. We are concerned about this. It is clearly important that the patients he refers to receive advice and are signposted not just to the forms but also to help in filling them in. We take this very much to heart. The NHS should not have a role in giving benefit advice, but it should certainly be able to signpost people to obtaining those benefits. We will redouble our efforts in that area.
My Lords, the Minister will know that the manual of cancer services is the principal way in which cancer services are audited, and is based on peer review. Does he accept that the way to ensure the correct financial support is to have pages on benefit information prominently within it?
My Lords, that is a helpful suggestion and I will ensure that it is considered. The whole purpose of the information prescriptions being piloted over the next year or so is to ensure that patients who particularly need advice—not just on care, but also on benefits—receive it. I will take that suggestion away and consider it.
My Lords, can my noble friend confirm, one way or the other, whether the Healthcare Commission’s annual health check is currently being used to monitor the financial support information given by NHS trusts? If it is not, will he give careful consideration to a proposal that it should be? Moreover, will he keep in close rapport with Macmillan Cancer Support about this?
My Lords, I pay tribute to Macmillan for its excellent work. There is no doubt that its report showed clear evidence that many cancer patients were not aware of the financial support available to them.
We want the Healthcare Commission to monitor and evaluate the performance of NHS organisations. While I am happy to take that point back to the commission, however, it is an independent body and must clearly target the information that it checks out with each organisation. I will certainly refer that matter to it.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that a major drain on the resources of cancer patients—and not just cancer patients—is that they must often attend hospital for treatments every day and that the car park fees can be enormous? They get no compensation for it. Can the Minister say what the National Health Service proposes to do about this?
My Lords, I know that car parking exercises many Members of your Lordships’ House. It is and must be a matter for decision-making at the local level of the NHS, but guidance is available to individual organisations on a range of factors that need to be considered. On help with travel costs, there are various NHS schemes to help people on low incomes to get to hospital without incurring financial costs.
My Lords, are those benefits unique to cancer patients or do they also apply to people requiring long-term continuing treatment?
My Lords, there are what are called special rules for terminal illness, particularly in relation to attendance allowance and disability living allowance. They enable people who have any progressive disease from which death can reasonably be expected within six months to be immediately awarded the higher rate attendance allowance or the higher rate disability living allowance. On the question of the complexity of the forms, those people do not have to fill in many of the pages.
My Lords, the Minister will be only too aware that one of the best ways for cancer patients to find out about anything, including the financial support available to them, is through information provided by their GP. The Minister more or less said that he does not want GPs or the NHS to provide financial information or that kind of advice, but does he agree that we ought to be using the quality outcomes framework more effectively to encourage GPs to give at least minimal financial support information to patients? If he does agree, would he encourage that?
My Lords, I want to draw a distinction with regard to asking health professionals to give advice on benefit claims in what is acknowledged to be a hugely complex area. Forms and leaflets—and suggestions from health professionals—stating that a patient may wish to consider claiming benefits, and signposts to where they might get help in doing so, ought to be available in every NHS outlet and GP’s surgery; that is important.
My Lords, in how many languages are the guidance notes and forms available?
My Lords, I am not sure which guidance forms the noble Lord has in mind. My understanding in relation to the general guidance that the health service gives is that publications are often turned into different languages. I am sure that the Welsh health service is very used to dealing with that issue. However, I doubt whether any information is held centrally that details the thousands of guidance documents given out in the NHS and which languages they use. However, we do, of course, understand the need to make sure that as much guidance as possible is available for people who use English as a second language.
National Waterways Museum
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Whether, since other transport museums are open to the public free of charge, they will consider granting free entry to the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port, Gloucester Docks and Stoke Bruerne.
My Lords, the Waterways Trust is an independent charitable trust that runs three waterways museums. The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council has provided substantial support, advice and aid to the trust to realise its potential. The trust has also received £100,000 from the Designation Challenge Fund and £40,000 from the Wolfson fund in the past two years. The DCMS has no plans to provide funding for the National Waterways Museum. It is for the trustees of the museum to identify business plans to aid funding and support the preservation of its collections.
My Lords, given that the National Waterways Museum is essentially public-owned and holds important, rich national collections illustrating our cultural and industrial past as well as supporting the modern tourism and leisure industries, will my noble friend give further consideration to granting it the free-entry status currently enjoyed by other national museums and, indeed, university museums? I thank him for his helpful reply, but does he understand that one of the Government’s most popular actions was to give free entry to such important national museums? This would add further shine to that shining example.
My Lords, how could I possibly disagree with my noble friend’s last statement? Although I understand the point he makes, the independent Waterways Trust, which looked at these three museums, said that there is considerable work to be done to set their house if not their boats in order before we could consider giving moneys—which is impossible at the moment because of the upcoming spending review—to enable them to open free of charge to the public. There is a lot of work to be done and the DCMS and officials are having many meetings with museum representatives to try to help them find their way forward.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former president of Gloucester Docks waterways museum. I accept that a lot more work needs to be done, and Gloucester would like a great deal more help with it. However, although entry to the museum is not free, all of the ancillary amenities are a good deal cheaper there than they are in other museums where there is free entry.
My Lords, I visited the museum at Gloucester when I was chairman of the MLA, and it is a wonderful museum. However, it is essential for museums in the 21st century to realise that they have to position themselves for the new world. They have to put on exhibitions that attract visitors, because there is a lot of competition in this market, underwritten by the fact that free entry has been a very positive development.
My Lords, given the unprecedented level of personal wealth in this country, particularly at the top end, does the Minister agree that we should do much more to create a culture of giving? Should not both national and regional museums be doing more to build bridges between themselves and the “Rich List”? Should not museums themselves and especially the Treasury be more creative in encouraging the development of this bridge, and as a nation should we not acknowledge more those who give generously to our national institutions?
My Lords, there are a number of questions there. A variety of tax concessions are already available to encourage private and corporate giving but it appears that they are not generally well known and are not taken advantage of. The DCMS, in conjunction with the Treasury, is therefore producing a booklet to explain the many schemes available that would meet the points which the noble Lord has raised and improve the funding of arts organisations and museums throughout Britain.
My Lords, I think that it is the turn of this side.
I don’t think so at all, my Lords.
The questions so far have concerned regional and national museums. Perhaps I may ask the Minister to put in a plea for local museums. I speak in particular of Wandsworth Museum, which was visited last year by nearly 8,000 children not only from Wandsworth but from other districts as well. It was in grave danger of closure by the council but has now been saved through the financial efforts of an Australian resident of Wandsworth. Will the Minister put in a plea for the continued existence of local museums?
My Lords, the noble Baroness and I have discussed this matter before and I suggested that she personally go to see local councillors, as a result of which they would give her all the money she needs. However, local museums are the responsibility of local authorities. Although we can be from the centre as encouraging as we can, it is ultimately their responsibility. I am delighted that the Wandsworth Museum was saved.
My Lords—as I was about to say—underlining the point made by my noble friend Lord Harrison about the success of the abolition of museum charges, can my noble friend confirm that the number of additional visits that have been made to museums in England since 2001 when the charges went off is a staggering 30 million? Is he aware that, of those, an extra 53 per cent of visitors have visited the National Railway Museum at York and the other museums in the Science Museum family? I declare an interest as a trustee of the National Museum for Science and Industry. Does he not think that free admission is the one way in which it is possible to open up these priceless national treasures to the widest possible sections of the community, particularly the disadvantaged members and children?
My Lords, I absolutely agree that free admission is the bedrock of everything that my noble friend mentioned, but another point that must be considered is: what is in the museum that people want to go to see? Free entry is of great importance, but the quality of the exhibits and how the museum community has modernised itself in the past few years, really setting out to attract the public to come to its museums, is terrific.
My Lords, in invoking competition—
My Lords, we are into the 24th minute. We must move on.
EU: Emissions Trading Schemes
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
What recent assessment they have undertaken of the European Union emissions trading schemes.
My Lords, the establishment of the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, which is the world's largest market for trading CO2 allowances, is indeed a notable achievement. There are clearly lessons to be learnt from phase 1 of the scheme, which finishes this year. We have already taken account of some of those lessons in completing the United Kingdom's national allocation plan for the second phase, from 2008 to 2012, which will also inform the forthcoming review by the Commission of the trading scheme directive.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the Minister's reply. He will be aware that the White Paper issued a couple of weeks ago made it clear that the Emissions Trading Scheme is the carbon price instrument of choice and a key component in the UK's policy framework to fight climate change. Given the weight that the Government are putting on the Emissions Trading Scheme, are they confident that, in the new round, the national allocations not just to the UK but to the other countries involved in the scheme will be sufficiently tight to bite, rather than, as happened in the first round, allowing an increase in carbon emissions and substantial subsidies to some of Europe's big energy producers? Are they also confident that the system can be policed sufficiently well to prevent the fraud and cheating that has appeared in the first round? In particular, given that the system is to be linked to the UN's clean development mechanism, are they confident that the CDM certificates issued under that scheme actually relate to schemes that promote clean energy and a reduction in carbon emissions?
My Lords, the noble Baroness asked an awful lot of questions there—rather more than two. It is true that phase 1 of the scheme has been a learning exercise; everyone accepts that. Lessons have been learnt from phase 1 and incorporated into phase 2. The United Kingdom has a clean pair of heels on the issue of allowances. We were the only country not to have adjustments. It is clear that there have been defects in the scheme, as is shown by the price of carbon. Yes, there have been allegations about the clean development mechanism not quite working. There was a long piece about that in one newspaper last week. A new official has been appointed on behalf of Defra to the board of the CDM and we expect the board to take account of these issues. This is an ongoing process. It is the first time that there has been such an inter-country trading scheme and phase 1 is certainly a learning-by-doing process.
My Lords, is not the Minister aware that the emissions trading business has been widely exposed to have become the biggest scam on the planet, most recently in a very thorough and excellent investigation published in last Saturday's Guardian, which I am sure is a newspaper close to his heart?
My Lords, I referred in my previous answer to some of the allegations made in that fairly long article. They are serious and specific allegations, especially against Ernst & Young. Those will clearly have been drawn to the attention of those responsible for the clean development mechanism. They need investigating and it is appropriate for the board to do that. That is what it is in place for. It is a United Nations body; following Kyoto, that is its role. But to say that this is the biggest scam on the planet is, frankly, extravagant language.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the research that was noted in the very same Guardian newspaper last week showing that Heathrow Airport is set fair, if all its polluting emissions, not just CO2, are taken into account, to become the biggest single polluter in the country, above Drax power station? Does he agree that, in view of that and the continuing concern about aviation’s contribution to emissions, it is time that the Government reviewed their policy on the expansion of airports in this country?
My Lords, one of the gaps in phase 1 was aviation, which has been debated in this House on more than one occasion, to my recollection. It is our intention to incorporate aviation into phase 2, and we expect decisions from the Commission by directive later this year. Obviously the matter is complicated, because planes take off and land in different countries. My understanding—I will get advice on this if I am wrong—is that any future development at Heathrow must maintain the same carbon footprint as is there now. It will not be allowed to increase the carbon footprint. Whether its carbon footprint will be greater than Drax’s, I do not know; I will have to take advice on that. I do not have that Guardian article in front of me, although I have all the others.
My Lords, there have been recent reports in the press that the aviation industry is complaining that the entry into the trading scheme might lead to a reduction in the growth of aviation, but is not the whole point of the trading scheme to reduce the amount of carbon emitted by aeroplanes, and does the Minister support the objective of reducing the numbers of flights?
My Lords, the intention behind the scheme is to change people’s behaviour, both in business and as individuals, in the long term. Obviously this is consequential as the money flows through the system. We have no intention of stopping people having holidays, but it is better if they can use the train rather than fly. It would certainly be nice if all the leaders of the G8 went home by train—well, not all of them, obviously; it would be a bit difficult for some of them. It would set an example. Our intention is not to stop people having holidays but, overall, to reduce emissions from aviation.
My Lords, with permission, a Statement on counterterrorism will be repeated by my noble friend Lady Scotland after the second debate today. As both debates are timed, the Statement will be repeated at about 5 o’clock.
Business of the House: Debates Today
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend the Leader of the House on the Order Paper. I apologise that the speakers list for the second debate shows a time limit of two hours. It should be two and a half hours, although the timing for each speaker is accurate. It was the mistake of my office, which proves that even the Government Whips’ Office is occasionally fallible.
Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of Lord Dear set down for today shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick to two and a half hours.—(Lord Grocott.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Greater London Authority Bill
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lady Andrews on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
Clauses 1 to 4,
Clauses 5 to 55,
Clauses 56 and 57.—(Lord Grocott.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Police: England and Wales
rose to call attention to current arrangements for policing in England and Wales, and to possible improvements; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am delighted to have secured this debate today, and am encouraged by the interest that has been shown in it. The police service is an integral part of our society; yet it is taken very much for granted. It is 47 years since the police were last exposed to the all-embracing scrutiny of a royal commission, and the totality of policing has not, I understand, been debated in your Lordships’ House for more than seven years. It is all too easy to wring one’s hands and hark back to the so-called golden days when Dixon bade you “good evening” from Dock Green. The fact is that, in the half-century since policing was last examined in the round, society has changed faster than probably at any other time in our history. No business could survive in that environment without radical restructuring; without deciding what its future core business should be; and without identifying how it can best position itself in the future.
The only real attempt to get ahead of the game was last year when the Home Office attempted to introduce a plan for the amalgamation of police forces, although I have to say that that was, in my view, without proper consultation or research. I will not comment on that, save to say that no successful business would conduct such an exercise without first being sure what its role and its offering should be in the future. Let me put it another way: until we can decide what the police service should be responsible for and what we can realistically expect it to succeed in doing, any attempt to reform its structure is wasted effort. Form should follow function and not the other way around.
I want to look at three sets of tensions: first, that which exists between local and central control and accountability; secondly, that which exists as a result of the now-extended range of police responsibilities; and, thirdly, the tensions that exist between the provision of perfect or, one might say, total security for the public on the one hand and human and legal rights on the other.
First, I turn to the tension between local and central government. The Victorians built the current policing model. They were very clear that they wanted a division of power; a tripartite arrangement, in which power and accountability were equally shared between the chief constable, the Police Authority and the Home Secretary. Policing was a local service, which was delivered and overseen locally. In the past 10 years, the gravitational pull has changed very much towards the centre. Although there is much talk about the need for local involvement and accountability, the central directive hand is very obvious. Look at examples like the annual policing plans set by the Home Secretary; PSA targets; chief constables on fixed-term appointments with central assessments and performance-related pay; ring-fenced funding to achieve ministerial objectives; a Police Standards Unit with powers of intervention if central targets are missed; and a national policing board chaired by the Home Secretary as a policy-making forum. I could go on, because that list is not exhaustive.
This tension has brought the police service to a very uncomfortable crossroads. If the broad reach of the task is local in nature and impact, but we have an agenda which is largely set and controlled from Whitehall, the dilemma is viciously circular in its consequences. The more that central government seek to control the direction and priorities of policing, so successive Home Secretaries feel responsible for the outcomes, and for the brickbats. Therefore, they look for even tighter mechanisms of control.
In an attempt to reverse this trend, the Conservative Party has recently published its policy review, entitled, Policing for the People. It contains a good many very thoughtful recommendations, but in seeking to counter the growth of central control, the paper recommends the replacement of police authorities—which noble Lords should note—with directly elected local police commissioners who are responsible for appointing and supervising, and, one may think later, for directing the professional police commanders who would be their de facto subordinates. That is the model found in some states in the USA, where it works after a fashion because all public office holders are elected. If that model were to be adopted here, there would be little to stop the idea spreading to the election of magistrates, public prosecutors, judges, prison governors and so on. I believe that that suggestion is fundamentally and fatally flawed. It flies in the face of the long-held view that the police should be accountable to the law and be able to operate without pressure or influence, especially political influence. Sensitivity to local issues is one thing; subservience to them is another thing altogether.
I turn to the second tension, which is caused by the widening mission for policing. The time was when every local police force provided patrol, response and basic crime investigation. Now every force must be competent in major crime investigation. Local crimes become national news. Examples of that are Soham and the murder of prostitutes in Suffolk. Every force needs the skills and the capability to tackle serious organised crime and terrorism. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that terrorists awaiting trial today have been arrested in places as diverse as Stirling and Thetford. Amalgamation of forces might provide a partial answer, but not to the parallel problem of the clamour for visible local policing. Current government requirements for more visible police patrolling has produced action in urban areas, but I would suggest that many rural areas are often bare, and government funding has already been withdrawn for 8,000 CSOs. The motoring organisations continue to be concerned that main road patrolling by the police is seen much more in the breach than in the observance, and the only regular driver supervision is provided by ubiquitous and wholly non-discretionary speed cameras. Meanwhile, criminals travel on main roads with only a scant chance of a check by the police.
It is fair to say that record amounts have been spent by the Government in recent years, and full-time police strength now stands at around 140,000, although I have to say that this is low by overseas standards. In England and Wales, there are 264 officers per 100,000 population. In France, the figure is 387; in New York, 457; and in Chicago, 467—almost double the figure here. It is undeniable that the public and the police remain dissatisfied. Both often focus on the increasing gap that is left in the middle reaches of police activity where there is an absence of effective action to counter crime committed across force boundaries, a weight of bureaucracy and compliance with often inappropriate targets, and resources stretched too much to make any real impact on issues that directly affect public confidence and esteem. Too often the police do not respond, or respond late, to calls for assistance. Too often the public believe that the police no longer care. In reality, the police are stretched too thinly across the middle ground.
I shall stay for a moment with the middle ground. There is a tension simultaneously upwards to deal with the most serious, and downwards to produce a visible presence. No one could argue that the thrust against very serious crime and terrorism should be lessened, and most would argue for more visible patrolling. But the bulk of police work is found in the middle ground where the tensions will grow rather than ease. Recent briefings emanating from the Cabinet Office forecast some significant future trends, including the growth of what are called “low aspiration cultures”, which I take to mean the growth of an underclass; Home Office budgets that will not rise in real terms over the next five years; race and immigration issues featuring more as a social concern; continuingly high reoffending rates; crime becoming increasingly global and therefore more difficult to combat; climate change, resource competition and demographics, all posing additional drivers for conflict; and of course the continuing serious threat of mass casualty attacks by terrorists.
The truth is that the police task is too wide to ensure a good level of response and service across the board. We have long since left the world where the police were expected to be the only true 24-hour emergency service, and we cannot put the clock back. We have to face facts, and I want to emphasise that if we are to provide what in my opinion is a professional service, the police task must be reassessed and adjusted to match available resources to ensure that what is left can be properly addressed. We cannot go forward with resources stretched to invisibility, and with the police and the public alike confused as to what is expected.
I have addressed briefly the local versus the central tension, and the tensions around the extended police task. I turn now to the third tension, which I believe is around the expectation that the police, together with other security organisations, should provide what is sometimes called the “perfect”, or total, security solution while at the same time adhering to high standards vis-à-vis human rights and privacy. Over the past 20 years or so, we have seen the introduction of PACE, disclosure rules, criminal justice processes that demand a high burden of proof regardless of whether a misdemeanour or a serious indictable offence is involved, and many other changes. I do not criticise the trend, of course, but in my opinion it sits uncomfortably with the growth both of the surveillance society and the increasing trend to make the police both judge and jury in a growing array of offences that can be dealt with by way of fixed penalty on the street.
Many lawyers share my concern. Justice, together with Liberty, both identify summary justice on the streets as one of their major concerns. Others include compliance with Section 6 of the Human Rights Act at operational level, where officers are given very broad discretion to exercise powers that can restrict convention rights; and also the broader and related question of the regulation of policing generally. How, Justice and Liberty ask, can excessive bureaucracy be avoided without compromising standards and accountability? How, Justice asks, are the police sufficiently operationally independent of government? What, it asks, are the appropriate degrees of independence and accountability? A plethora of questions, all of which, and others, demand answers if policing is not to be completely overtaken by red tape and events within the next five or 10 years.
But one other issue runs right through the debate as a central theme: what about the leadership of the police service and the quality of officers from top to bottom? Since 1979 salaries have been pegged at the retail prices index, moving the service for the first time away from the shameful situation that was last seen in the late 1970s, when the best often did not join the police, the best still serving left in droves and morale plummeted. Current suggestions that the service should once again be opened up to “market forces” ignore the lasting damage that we saw before the Lord Edmund-Davies review of 1979 and fly in the face of history. In the future, the task is going to become more complex, more difficult and more dangerous, and we need a service populated by people who are up to the job.
To be frank, for many years the police service has not been seen as a service of choice for the best. Top-class leaders like Sir Norman Bettison are thin on the ground, and will become thinner unless current arrangements for accelerated promotion are addressed. The Police Federation places an absolute premium on the need for senior officers to have experienced life on the beat, and I do, too. But, very shortly, we shall have to produce a scheme that recruits the best people; that exposes them to rigorous, extended training where leadership is emphasised; which vigorously culls those falling short of high standards; which exposes them to the proper experience of life on the street; and which sees them at the rank of chief inspector or superintendent within five years. That is not much different in concept from what exists today, but it would have higher standards, tighter time-scales and better guarantees of appropriate advancement for the very best. Neither the service nor the Government can afford to duck the issue if what is sought is the very best for policing.
I begin to conclude by asking how can a pool of only a few hundred of the very best officers be best managed nationally to avoid the present lottery where the vagaries of local police authority selection precludes any attempt at career planning and development at the very top? I am impressed with the model in Sweden. Admittedly, there it is a national police service—I do not necessarily advocate that—and Sweden is small in comparison with England and Wales. But the Swedish system is scaleable and there a cadre of top officers is developed nationally. These officers are posted to areas where they must relate effectively with the local police authority before perhaps being moved on to maximise the overall personnel thrust. It is a model that would repay some careful attention.
It would ruffle a few feathers here, but more than ruffled feathers is required if we are to ensure a police service that is up to the job, not only now but in five years’ or more time. We cannot go on simply making adjustments as we bump up against events, knee-jerking our way from problem to problem as we have for so many years.
The present police model is tired; it is largely incapable of much more responsive change; it is stretched too far and too thinly; it urgently needs a redefinition of role. Both the police and the public they serve deserve a brave, open and adventurous new approach if we are to continue to have a service that we can still hail as the best in the world. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on securing this important debate. I have great respect for the noble Lord, who gave a valedictory speech at the Police Staff College when I was attending it on a course. He will not remember it as it was many years ago, but, as with a good teacher, you remember these things, particularly if you are a policeman.
The defence of our citizens against criminals is second only to the defence of the realm against external enemies. Let us be clear that criminals are properly described as enemies of society because of the pain, misery and despair they cause. Policing is about more than fighting crime, as the noble Lord said. It is about keeping the Queen’s peace; dealing with road accidents, air and train crashes; missing people; lost property; and safeguarding sporting events and crowds of all kinds. It is about helping to maintain social cohesion by creating safer neighbourhoods.
I could go on but the list is endless, and the problem is that it is getting longer all the time. As an example, when I joined the service all those decades ago there was no National Crime Squad, no regional crime squads and no anti-terrorist squad. There were no family liaison officers, drugs squads or riot squads, admin support units, paedophile units, child exploitation and online protection centres, or indeed anywhere near the number of vehicles or radios that are available today. That was the situation throughout all parts of England and Wales.
What we had, though, was an abundance of police officers on the streets covering their beats on foot in the towns and villages “24-seven”, using the modern jargon—all day and night. Woe betide you if you strayed off your beat without the authority of your sergeant. We did the job without all the modern technology we have now, and in my submission we did it rather well. How often do your Lordships stand in the village pub or community hall and listen to the village elders—indeed, perhaps, it is yourselves who are speaking—discussing the good old days when the village bobby caught them doing this or that? Yet they say it with affection. The vast majority of people appeared happy with the service they got. How many of your Lordships can say now, with hand on heart, that the public are happy with the quality of policing they get?
What has gone wrong? Time does not permit me to cover all the aspects of modern society that have led to the service deteriorating, but I will share my thoughts on some issues. Society itself, as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, said, has changed dramatically in the past 30 or 40 years—just look at the squads I mentioned earlier, created to deal with new forms of criminality. The public, as with anything they pay for, want a decent service. When they ring the police they expect to be listened to with courtesy and responded to in a timely fashion. Some of the horror stories I hear these days defy belief; for example, responses to burglary taking not half an hour, not half a day, but sometimes half a week. That is totally unacceptable.
My brother-in-law recently had the bonnet of his business van stolen in the north-east while parked outside his home. It had been meticulously removed by precision drilling by professionals. When they arrived, the police stated that they believed parts were being stolen to order and that he should put his van in a garage. Good advice. Even though this was clearly an organised theft, they did not fingerprint the van. That would have been unheard of only a few years ago.
Policing is also about good communications, whether it is when you ring the police station or when you are stopped while driving, or for throwing litter, or for carrying a strange item late at night. The manner in which you are spoken to quite often makes the difference. As an old sergeant once said to me, “It’s nice to be important, son, but it’s far more important to be nice”. That is pretty good advice. It would be nice if some officers occasionally remembered who was paying their wages.
Finally, I make a plea for the police to get back to their core business: enforcing the law. Your Lordships spend a lot of time enacting criminal law, which is totally pointless if the police just ignore it. Personally I am sick and tired of cyclists riding at speed on footpaths and jumping traffic lights, motor cycles often without lights at night, people in motor vehicles using mobile phones with impunity, people just throwing litter on to the streets out of vehicles, and people smoking on the Tube or generally indulging in anti-social behaviour. Those are the things that upset the public and that the public would like the police to get back to dealing with. I cut my teeth on dealing with such things. I remember standing next to a “halt” sign on Tyneside early in my career. People would drive past the sign at speed and it made for good detection work on which to cut my teeth. I remember a priest approaching the “halt” sign on a bike at very great speed. It was clear that he would not have time to stop, so I stepped out and he stopped in time. He slammed on the brakes, put his feet on the ground and stopped right on the line. I said to him, “Father, you were travelling rather fast”. He said, “Don’t worry, officer. The Lord is with me”. I said, “Excellent. Two on a bike”. So justice can prevail.
What stops the police communicating with the public? I believe that it is paperwork—the noble Lord, Lord Dear, touched on it. Every time an officer on the street decides to confront bad behaviour, they have to stop people. They have to provide them with a record of the date, time, place, the reason questioned and so on. That is a clear disincentive to officers to communicating with the public. It also upsets the public, because people do not want to give their particulars if a policeman talks to them. We should look at this. I would ask the Minister to reconsider whether this is absolutely necessary for, and in the interests of, the policing of the streets, because it causes a very real problem. We have more police officers than ever, and we are asking them to take on more and more tasks. We need to reduce paperwork, and we need officers to be more visible on the streets, building a friendly dialogue with members of the public who abide by the law, but enforcing the law against those who do not.
My Lords, much more money is being spent on the police than in, let us say, 1997, but nothing comes without a price and the price exacted by Government has been more and more central control. That was made quite clear by the noble Lord, Lord Dear. We are grateful to him for giving us the opportunity to debate these matters today.
The public do not see much evidence that more money spent has meant a better service. They are told that police numbers have increased, but with police stations closing and fewer police officers on the streets, the evidence of their eyes seems to contradict what the Government say. Furthermore, the priorities followed by the police are all too often not those of the public.
The Government obviously have a duty to see that in every part of the country the dangers of terrorism and crime on a national and international scale are addressed, but, at the other end of the spectrum, the Government should certainly not be telling the police at local level to concentrate less on preventing shoplifting and more on preventing any conduct, however trivial, that might be thought by others to constitute a hate crime. Yet that is precisely what they are doing, as is obvious from a whole raft of cases which has hit the headlines, perhaps the most absurd of which was the investigation of Anne Robinson for allegedly making anti-Welsh remarks.
Senior police officers have sometimes said, “Well, we have to follow up complaints from the public”, implying that they have to follow them up however absurd they may seem; but that does not stand up to a moment’s examination when some forces say that, because of shortage of resources, they cannot follow up cases of shoplifting. Furthermore, at the Police Federation’s recent conference, police officers explained how a determination to meet targets and push up detection rates has led to entirely inappropriate action; for example, the arrest of two Manchester children for being in possession of a toy pistol, the arrest of a child for throwing a piece of cucumber from a tuna sandwich at another child, and the charging of two girls with criminal damage for drawing on the pavement.
So what is to be done? Plainly, the police should be made more accountable to local communities at every level. Contrary to the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, I believe that there is a strong case for the replacement of police authorities by elected police commissioners. I do not believe for one moment that it would spread like measles to the election of judges and magistrates. Chief constables should retain operational responsibility for day-to-day policing but the elected commissioners would appoint and dismiss chief constables, make their own policing plans and, crucially, control their own budgets.
I am sure of one thing—there would soon be more police on the streets. For years that is what the public have demanded, and for years they have been told that bobbies on the beat are old hat, a poor use of police resources in the modern world, and would do little to reduce crime. However, not for the first time, the experts have been proved entirely wrong and the public have been proved entirely right. That is plain from 7/7 and from what happened in New York a few years ago. When more police were put on the streets of London after 7/7, crime fell, and there is near universal agreement that the dramatic fall in crime in New York following the election of Mayor Giuliani occurred as a result of a significant increase in police numbers on the streets, robust community policing, and reforms which enhanced the accountability of managers—the whole process being led by an elected mayor accountable to the people and an inspirational police chief.
How do we get more police on the streets? We have to free them of as many as possible of the non-productive tasks placed on them. They have to be freed from the endless form-filling, from having to meet ever more targets, and from having to take account of ever more performance criteria. In 2002 Mr Blunkett pledged a bonfire of the paperwork to free up more police time, but since then virtually no progress has been made. There is no evidence to support the Government's claim that they have made 9,000 forms obsolete. Except in the Met, progress with neighbourhood policing has been slow, and police officers still spend far more time on paperwork than on patrol. Giving patrol the widest possible definition and holding it to embrace not only time spent on foot/car/beat patrol but the time of CID and traffic officers, amazingly just 14 per cent of all police officers' time is engaged on it, and even those who are on it spend nearly as much time on paperwork as actually patrolling. What is clear is that if the time a police officer spends on the beat could be increased by a modest extent from one-fifth to two-fifths, that would effectively double the police presence on the street without recruiting a single additional officer. That is what the public want; it is one thing that is much needed.
My Lords, I declare two interests: I am a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority and have been for a long time, and of Oxfordshire County Council. First, I turn the attention of the Minister to police community support officers. We have 417 of them and will have 530 by the year end. We would have had more, but the numbers were cut. We also face a tight budget; at the moment it leaves us £8 million short for next year, which we are addressing. Having 530 police community support officers leaves us very tight to provide adequate neighbourhood policing, and certainly well short of the one-two-three—a sergeant, two constables and three police community support officers—which the Met has on the streets.
Yet, at a police consultation meeting on Monday, I was struck by the fact that contact with the police is identified as an important matter for the public. Very few people mentioned, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, did, the issue of whether police were on the beat or not, but they wanted a response to their telephone calls—and not only quickly when there is an actual crime as the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, said. They also want to know what happens after they have reported something. There is a big gap there that needs filling.
At the consultation meeting there were parish councillors from places such as Chipping Norton, Tetsworth, Grove and Stanford-in-the-Vale—and I cite these places simply because I know that the Minister is aware of them. Elected representatives were there and we consulted them through electronic means as well as speaking to them, so we got a very good idea of the priorities of local people.
One factor I would press on the Minister is that 65 per cent of the people present named anti-social behaviour and drink-related problems as their number one priority. Despite the propaganda, crime has fallen, but disorder has increased immeasurably and spread out to some extent from cities to smaller places. The pressure on police to have too many officers on duty at busy times at night has reduced the number of officers available to deal with the more “routine” business. We were shown a video of some night-time scenes of people fighting with knives, which were absolutely disgraceful. To some extent, we are passing to the police the real ills of society. I hope that the Minister will say something about what is being done about anti-social behaviour and particularly whether the Government are going to review the whole question of the extension of licensed hours. That was one of their main objectives, with their desire to introduce a café culture of drinking in this country, which can be said to have manifestly failed.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, mentioned the issue of targets. There are well over 100 targets for our authority to reach and this leads to a great deal of paperwork, much of it very difficult to read and even to see, because it is produced in such small print, although my eyesight is good. The separation of the Home Office from the Ministry of Justice may give rise to the possibility that people on one side will impose bureaucracy on people on the other.
On how funding for PCSOs will be done in future, there is talk that the Home Office will make that money available through the rate support grant to local authorities, which should then pass it on to police authorities, rather than in a direct grant from the Home Office. I hope that such a proposal does not go forward but, if it does, it is important that the money is somehow passported through to the police authorities—otherwise it will not reach them. I draw the Minister’s attention to one question. If an authority is on the floor, as Oxfordshire is, it is cash-limited to 2.5 per cent this year. Even if more money is awarded, it does not get it—so the authority would not have the money in Oxfordshire to pass on to the police authority. That has happened with the concessionary fare bus provisions, which also pass through local authorities, and is a real trap that the Government must address.
On new crimes that are multiplying, last year 2,000 car number plates were stolen. Such a crime really did not happen two or three years ago. The advent of automatic number plate recognition, congestion charging and speed cameras, has caused that to become a crime that needs addressing. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, is sitting next to the Minister because we will come to that matter in our forthcoming debate on the Vehicle Registration Marks Bill.
On elected commissioners, I believe that we make very honest attempts to find out what the public really want. I am afraid that elected commissioners would be political nominees, backed up by the popular press with slogans such as, “Hang paedophiles”. However, attention would not be focused on the highly professional job of policing, which I am sure chief constables lead very effectively in most cases.
My Lords, like others in your Lordships' House, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for initiating this debate on policing. I speak as an ordinary member of the public who has lived in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, for the past eight years. I feel bound to draw attention to the concerns of the police forces and authorities in the east Midlands region.
At the heart of our system stands the principle of policing by consent. While the police must secure the voluntary co-operation of the public, they must have the freedom to work out their operational needs and to negotiate policy in collaboration with elected politicians, the magistracy and members of local communities. It is vital that whatever reforms take place, the sharing of responsibility through the tripartite structure is maintained so that no one person or group can gain control of the whole system.
As citizens we should have high expectations of our police service; and in turn they have the right to expect proper public understanding and co-operation. It is clear that there is a strategic challenge to combat serious and cross-border crime and I welcome the increased collaboration between the five east Midlands forces since September 2004, especially through the East Midlands Special Operations Unit. However, this must not lead to a state of remoteness from local concerns. For this reason I strongly welcome the stress in recent government policy on neighbourhood policing. For most people, their neighbourhood is the place where policing stands or falls. Policing should be regarded as a service of last resort—the longstop when order and relationships break down. Yet so often we rush to the police as the first port of call. I must confess that I am as guilty as the next one over this. For example, the fencing round my home is quite regularly the subject of petty teenage vandalism. I have called the police in the past and they have been very helpful and energetic in pursuing it, but is it really a police problem? The challenge surely is who is inspiring, leading, motivating and mentoring our young people today? Is it parents, family, extended family or local community and church groups? As one of my neighbours who stood with me surveying some damage one Saturday morning said, “It is the director of youth services you should ring, not the police”.
The truth is, we need partnership. I recognise that since 1998 we have had local crime and disorder partnerships, but there is always the danger of such arrangements becoming too bureaucratic. We have had several references to the bureaucracy that our police service is encumbered with. Therefore, I welcome the steps being taken to make those arrangements more responsive to ordinary people. I shall be interested to see how the procedures for “community calls to action” will work out, but I hope that they will not fall into the hands of unrepresentative individuals or groups.
As an example of partnership I commend to your Lordships' House the initiative known as Street Pastors, which was pioneered in London and has spread to about 10 other cities, most recently Leicester and Nottingham. This is an interdenominational church scheme which trains people to go out on the streets, to get to know the people in their area and to try to sort out problems by talking before they escalate. They work closely with the police and other statutory authorities and agencies and their presence has made a difference in the areas where they operate.
I am happy to report from the city and county of Nottingham that crime has fallen by 14.3 per cent in the past five years. Over that period burglary was down 25.9 per cent, car crime was down 27.9 per cent and 77 per cent more offenders were arrested. Last year alone saw an increase of 4.3 per cent in offences brought to justice. Furthermore, I am pleased that Nottinghamshire Police’s operational judgment is unclouded by inappropriate targets; they are not into counting kids throwing an egg at a passing bus.
However, these achievements are threatened by a growing funding gap. Despite the efficiency savings of the past eight years, the East Midlands forces face a huge shortfall, not least as a result of the funding of only 75 per cent of the pay of our community support officers. We must face the truth that the welcome improvements of recent years must be paid for and that, in the future, appropriate and responsive policing is not to be had on the cheap.
My Lords, the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, is welcome and timely. The fact that so many noble Lords have put down their names to speak and that we are all restricted to so few minutes is an indication of that. Of course, it is not helped by the fact that the noble Lord addressed an interesting range of issues in his opening remarks, each of which could happily take a three-hour debate in their own right. The short time that we have means that we can address only a fraction of the points that we might otherwise have wished to make.
Before going any further, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, as a vice-president of the Association of Police Authorities and as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Policing.
My theme today is that good governance—in particular, lay oversight—and proper engagement with the community are essential and important parts of ensuring that our policing services are effective. To achieve that, the police need to address the needs of local communities just as much as they do the policing and the pressing problems of terrorism and serious organised crime, as well as the middle ground, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dear, referred.
Why is that important? In this country, as the right reverend Prelate has just said, policing is built on consent. The police are there to provide a service to the public. They should be responsive to the needs of the community and they are, or should be, accountable to the public whom they serve. Incidentally, this is as important when we are speaking about counterterrorism, which is my particular remit on the Metropolitan Police Authority, as it is when we are dealing with neighbourhood policing.
In his remarks a few days ago, Gordon Brown recognised that carrying the public’s support with counterterrorist measures is essential. One element of that is transparency and good governance, but I would go further. It is vital that the policing service is a continuum: one service dealing with anti-social behaviour, neighbourhood issues, street crime, burglary, serious and organised criminality and terrorism. There are synergies between the different aspects of policing work: traffic police who find that those speeding are wanted for other crimes; credit card fraud used to finance people trafficking; and the disposal of large quantities of peroxide bottles being spotted by local PCSOs identifying a terrorist plot in the making. The list could go on.
Critically, if it is the same police service that has to manage the community consequences of high-profile counterterrorist operations or the rounding-up of a serious crime ring, then that police service will be mindful of those consequences in the way in which those operations are conducted.
Community engagement also delivers better policing, as, through that engagement, the public can, importantly, give a steer and direction on questions such as what reassures them and what does not or how to use particular policing tactics in culturally sensitive ways that will command public support.
Building strong relationships with communities will be essential for future anti-terrorist work, just as it is in tackling Trident-type gang warfare. Getting it wrong will build resentments that will not only make co-operation with the police more difficult but be likely to act as another factor influencing a very small minority to listen to the calls of those promoting terrorist violence or pulling individuals into a violent gang culture.
To understand the problems that we may face, the police need the co-operation and support of all, or virtually all, strands of community opinion. I am not talking here about the recruitment of covert sources, although the environment in which the police are operating will also have an impact there; I am talking about ensuring that the police understand what is happening within a community and that they are aware of which meeting places are attracting people who may be vulnerable to extremists. I am also talking about ensuring that, if there are worries or concerns about particular individuals, they are articulated so that the police may monitor and supervise the situation.
None of this will happen without trust and that trust cannot be created overnight. Moreover, it will require a very high level of trust for an individual to voice suspicions about a friend or family member. But even the degree of trust necessary for individuals to talk to the police about community sensitivities will require a consistent willingness by the police to address that community's concerns. The police cannot be just fair-weather friends; they will need to be there all the time.
My noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate talked very powerfully about the importance of the way in which the police carry out their functions, doing so with respect. I was with him absolutely until he started to talk about the bureaucracy of recording stops. The reality is that to maintain the trust of the community, particularly in sensitive areas, it is important that the police are able to demonstrate that they are operating proportionately, appropriately and without prejudice. That can be done only if there is a proper system in place for recording what they do and how they do it.
I acknowledge that a procedure that takes seven minutes—longer than the interaction between the police officer and the member of the public concerned—is clearly ludicrous. I find it surprising that, in these days of information technology, a simplified process cannot be found to make that a task of seconds rather than minutes. A handheld device that simply provided a receipt, with the number of the officer and the time and date of the interaction, would at least enable an individual, if they wished, to pursue the matter. That would also ensure that the recording of the matter was entered into the police system automatically. I would urge that, if we do not want to allow myths to spread about the way in which the police use powers, we must look at those kinds of issues.
Only when individuals within communities have sufficient confidence in their local police service, in the police officers whom they know, will they start to confide their fears and concerns. Only when they have acquired that confidence, only when the police officers concerned have demonstrated their willingness to act on the full range of issues that worry the people of that community and they have shown that they can act appropriately, effectively and, where necessary, with discretion, will more serious matters be raised, such as traditional policing issues about burglary, street crime or anti-social behaviour as well as matters which are directed specifically at that community.
None of that is easy and it takes time—time that those who are under pressure to deliver results in major investigations or indeed in any of the policing key performance indicators will feel that they can ill afford. However, I believe that time is an essential investment. It is certainly not an optional extra. It is essential for the police to demonstrate that they are not fair-weather friends and that they will actively address the wider issues of concern to everyone in those communities. That is essential so that when things go wrong—as they will—there can be a dialogue, a debate, and perhaps an understanding. It is also essential so that the police will have the support and perhaps the information that they need to take forward their work.
My Lords, I, too, want to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for allowing us to debate this absorbing topic and for making a most valuable speech. Both the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, whom it is a pleasure to follow, have stated that consent is the centrepiece of our system of policing. That must be so in any democracy; effective policing must be based on consent. There is not much controversy about that, but there is more room for debate when one comes to consider what consent has to be founded on. I shall adapt a famous saying and submit to your Lordships that all policing politics are local. Consent depends on local confidence—much has been made of that already in this debate—confidence born of people’s expectations and perceptions of how the police respond to local things: the relatively small, everyday things that impinge on our lives locally.
I have taken advice on this from within my own county force, and, interestingly, it seems clear that people are much more influenced by what they read in their local newspapers about law and order than by anything they see on the telly or hear on the radio. What matters most to them is how local police respond to local anxieties; the big stuff—the national scene—comes a long way down. You can see why. It is the gang of youths who mug people in your street and your neighbourhood. It is the recurring vandalism to your bus shelter. It is the used syringes chucked into your front garden. Those are the things that can turn you into a depressive commentator on the state of the country and turn you off about the police.
If you start to reckon from your own adverse local experience that the police seem to have little interest in getting after those offenders, it must become all too easy to see the police simply as remote uniforms who, when they impinge on your life, do so only to mess you about. When that attitude manifests itself, it becomes very easy for the police themselves to resent the public whom they are trying to serve, so that you then get what may be described as a state of mutually assured dislike. This may be more widespread than we care to suppose, and it does not exactly make for consent.
Fortunately there is a safeguard and a remedy, and it is not the only one. Like the noble Lord, Lord Harris, I wish that there were time to develop one or two additional themes, but one can take only one at a time in a debate of this character. This safeguard and remedy lies in the concept of neighbourhood policing, structured at area level and delivered on the ground by locally designated and rooted police community support officers who are given flexibility and wide discretion. At present, I know about these officers only in Kent. I hope that the Minister will have an enthusiastic report to make on them at national level. I will come back to that.
In Kent, PCSOs work like this. Given that their purpose is to enhance public confidence in the police, they need to know where and why local confidence currently exists or is lacking. So, every quarter, a crime and victimisation survey is undertaken by Kent Police headquarters, using a method of sampling that is validated by the Home Office. Each quarter, the findings are made available to each area commander, so that he can tell what the public are thinking about the policing effort in his patch and—perhaps just as importantly—in his colleagues’ patches. Out in the neighbourhoods into which every policing district is divided, the locally designated PCSOs are tasked accordingly in the light of those findings. There are currently just under 400 of them.
Not surprisingly, it is working. The old bugbear of remoteness is being dispatched, and familiarity with the local police is breeding not contempt but confidence and approval. Anti-social behaviour contracts, as distinct from orders, are increasingly showing their practicality. A separate bonus is already developing: with officers gaining a feel for their patch and the residents gaining a confident feel for the PCSOs, a supply of intelligence about local crime and criminality becomes available. That can prove, and occasionally has proved, extremely valuable. And so a circle, not vicious but virtuous, is being created, and there are not too many of those in the criminal justice scene at present.
There is, however, a fly in the ointment. The trouble is that there is insufficient confidence that the basis for the Government’s funding of PCSOs will be sustained. The right reverend Prelate told us of the concerns of the east Midlands police authorities, and there has been a helpful briefing about that. Can the Minister reinforce confidence that the funding will be sustained, or will a higher proportion of the cost of PCSOs be demanded from further efficiency savings or from partnership funding when the latter is restricted by budget deficits in local government? I hope that the Government will give practical evidence today that they can recognise and sustain a good thing when they see it.
My Lords, it is, as always, a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord. I agree with almost everything he said. This is a debate about police arrangements, but, whatever arrangements are made, the first priority must be the maintenance of public trust in the police. On that, I very much agree with the concluding remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. It is on the elusive question of trust, on which so much depends, that I wish to say a few words.
On 25 May, an article in the New York Times quoted a speech by Peter Clarke, the assistant commissioner in charge of counterterrorism at Scotland Yard. The assistant commissioner drew attention to the current lack of trust which, in his view, is endangering the relationship between the police and the communities they serve. He said that it meant that, in terrorism investigations, the police get very little help from the public. They get information, of course, from electronic surveillance and foreign sources, but they get little or no help from local residents. His solution was that the police should be able to tell the public more about the current investigations that they are conducting. He thought that that would do something to restore public confidence in the police. He was critical of the courts for imposing reporting restrictions in recent terrorist cases and especially critical of the court in the trial which followed on Operation Crevice. That was the case, your Lordships will remember, where the police had evidence of a connection between five of the seven defendants and the suicide bombers who were involved in the 7 July atrocity. That evidence could not be made known until after the trial. The assistant commissioner thought that that was regrettable.
The House will not be surprised that I do not agree with the assistant commissioner’s solution. Of course I understand the frustration of the police when they have evidence which cannot be revealed until months or even years later when the trial is completed. But surely a fair trial is the first priority in these cases. There could not have been a fair trial, for example, in the Operation Crevice case if those facts had been revealed before the trial started.
What is the cause of the current lack of trust? A major cause is the sort of case in which I was involved, the Birmingham Six appeal, which revealed the state of corruption then endemic in the West Midlands police. It did a great deal of harm to the public’s trust in the police. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, himself did so much to put that right. I have also been involved in cases that reveal corruption at a much lower level. I remember a case tried at Lewes involving two police officers who were accused of receiving backhanders in return for favours received. They were in fact acquitted, but I was afterwards told on good authority that most police forces have at least one or two corruption investigations running at any given time, which would make up to 100 corruption investigations in the country as a whole.
It may be said that corruption at that level is of no great moment. But that would be quite wrong, because corruption is extremely contagious. It spreads upwards as well as sideways. It is corruption at that level—often referred to in local newspapers, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, referred—that does so much to destroy public trust in the police.
So what can be done to restore trust at that level? The noble Lord, Lord Dear, referred to leadership at the highest level. He is quite right that that is where leadership is needed. But it is needed also at a much lower level, at the level of the sergeant and the superintendent. It is the sergeant and the superintendent, with whom the newly recruited police officer mixes, who can do most to influence him and his future career. It is they who can and must, at that very early stage, enforce the highest standards. That is the critical moment. If they learn bad ways then, we are indeed in trouble.
The restoration of public trust at that level will become more and more important as more and more powers are given to the police at that level. I have in mind, of course, the conditional caution which the police can now give that enables them to deal with offenders by way of caution on condition of payment of a fine. The Minister will remember how strongly I opposed that, and I still do. That type of power will not work unless the police at the very lowest level have the confidence of the public. That is what we must, if we can, ensure.
My Lords, having spent a year of my life chairing the public inquiry into the professional standards and workplace practices of the Metropolitan Police, I must declare an interest, and I pause to thank my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey for his support at all stages of my inquiry.
Today’s debate takes us to the very heart of the matter of policing in England and Wales. For me, it raises two questions: first, how can we sustain the philosophy of policing by consent and, secondly, what improvements are needed to maintain that philosophy while meeting the needs of communities? In our search for answers, we are fortunate to have in this House the experience and wisdom of a number of noble Lords who served as chief police officers and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for his excellent and informative speech. I am informed that Sir Ronnie Flanagan has been tasked by the Home Secretary to review policing in England and Wales and to report by the end of this year. Nevertheless, while we await Sir Ronnie’s report, we must seek to find answers to the questions that challenge us in this debate.
We know what the challenges are. If we set aside issues about structures that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, mentioned, the challenges are the levels of crime and anti-social behaviour, which, although falling, remain too high, and the rate of detection, which remains too low. Therefore, we must reduce public fear of crime, build confidence in our communities and create a level of social capital in them. These challenges can be tackled only within a robust and enabling legislative framework that is efficient, transparent, accessible and fair, and includes reform of the criminal justice system.
During my inquiry into the Metropolitan Police, we asked police officers and the public what they wanted from the police service. The public told us that they wanted a citizen-focused service that gave special attention to victims and witnesses; initiatives to tackle anti-social behaviour and street disorder; a robust response to robbery from vehicles and drug-related crimes; action to combat serious and organised crime across and within boundaries; and a narrowing of the gap between the number of offences committed and the number brought to justice.
Because police officers must deliver the programme, we asked them what their needs were. They told us that they wanted structural stability—there are too many reviews and inquiries—better leadership and training; the optimum use of science and technology to give them a quicker and more responsive tool for detection; a better deal on occupational health; the modernisation of police regulations and terms and conditions; and better co-ordination between civilian staff and uniformed officers.
So we said, “What about your operational needs?”. Operationally, the Metropolitan Police told us that it wanted a modern police service with the requisite numbers relative to population recruited from the broadest spectrum of the communities that it serves, a commitment to the highest levels of integrity and professional standards within the service, and zero tolerance of corruption. On recruitment, police officers were very clear. They see local recruitment, where possible, building confidence within the community. I recall the words of President Clinton, who said when he was forming his first Administration: “I want my Government to look like America”. I want our police service and all our law enforcement agencies to look like the United Kingdom.
However, citizens, communities and the police can only do so much in the fight against crime. In the end, it is the Government who create the culture, set the agenda, legislate, regulate, determine levels of public accountability and provide the investment. What the police service and we, as citizens, have a right to expect is consistency of approach and joined-up thinking resulting in joined-up policing. We want to see real action in tackling not just crime but also, as we were promised, the causes of crime. Experience has taught us that we cannot reclassify cannabis, extend the licensing hours for alcohol consumption, expand the numbers of gambling casinos and then expect crime to fall. That is a policy for another planet.
My Lords, I, too, am delighted to take part in this debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for initiating it. I have to make a confession: as a child, I was distinctly ambivalent about the police. My parents told me that a policeman in uniform was someone to go to if I got lost or needed help but, on the other hand, my brothers put me in the back of their Minis so that I could watch out through the tiny back window in case a policeman was coming up when they were driving too fast. I am happy to say that, by the time I grew up, this ambivalence was resolved in favour of the police.
I should like to speak about two specific areas of police work on which there is little publicity. The first is domestic violence and the second is stranger child abuse, by which I mean paedophilia. In both areas, as I hope your Lordships know, the police do absolutely splendid work, which goes largely unrecognised by the public.
First, until the beginning of this century, domestic violence by a spouse or a partner was not treated seriously by the police or, I am sad to say, by the courts. It was behind closed doors; it was termed a “domestic” and it was thought that it was better not to inquire too closely. Only recently has there been recognition of the enormous damage that domestic violence does to the immediate victim, to the children living in the house and to the community generally. There has been a sea change, at the forefront of which have been the police, with their splendid work in resolving conflict, supporting victims and charging offenders, even when the victim has decided not to pursue the case or has been under pressure from the offender not to pursue it.
This work has been supported by excellent protocol for the Crown Prosecution Service, which was presented by the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General, on prosecuting domestic violence even without the complainant. There has been excellent co-operation in many areas of the country—I particularly point to the north-west, where the contribution towards dealing with domestic violence has been wonderful. We have been talking about communication and co-operation during the debate; the co-operation between the police, social services, the other agencies and local judges has made a significant difference to the incidence of domestic violence.
I have been to several important conferences—in the United Kingdom and abroad—on domestic violence where the lead speakers have been senior police officers telling, among others, the judges how domestic violence should be dealt with. The police are playing an important and invaluable role in the necessary wake-up call to the public about the seriousness of this behaviour within the family and they are to be congratulated on their work on this seriously unacceptable behaviour, which remains a cancer within society.
The second area I should like to mention is child abuse by strangers: paedophilia, child pornography and chatroom grooming. The Metropolitan Police, aided by the NSPCC campaign to stop child abuse—I have been associated with that as president of one of its charity appeals—has a special unit at New Scotland Yard, which does incredibly useful work for the better protection of children. Work is also going on across the country to track paedophiles, to prosecute them, to support children and their families and to work with local agencies, notably social services.
These unsung contributions made by the police to the public good need to be better known and supported. They need to be treated as part of the core work of police forces in this country. However, we live in a world of cuts in services, and the police are not immune from that. They have, as we have heard today, considerable financial constraints. I hope that your Lordships will agree with me that this work must go on and must be supported financially. I very much hope that future arrangements will be made to protect and enhance this work for the benefit of victims, those at risk of abuse and, most important, for the benefit of local communities and people right across the country. The Minister is well aware of the issues that I have raised and I am confident that she very much supports this work, but it needs to be supported financially in the future.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble and learned Baroness. I served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to one of her brothers, out of whose Mini window she must have looked, when he was Attorney-General. So people change.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on initiating this extremely important debate and on his excellent speech. One of the points that he made has been in the public eye this past week; that is, compliance with often inappropriate Home Office targets for arrests, charges, fixed penalty notices and cautions. These problems have rightly been highlighted both by chief constables and by leaders of the Police Federation. Jan Berry, the chair of the federation, put the matter succinctly. She said:
“This target-orientated culture is damaging the Police Service, corrupting our relationship with communities, and eroding the use of discretion and common sense”.
This is very much in the Minister’s field, since I imagine that she has almost personal responsibility in this area. I am sure that she is concerned and doing something about it, as I hope she will tell us. Examples have been given by my noble friend Lord Waddington and others about silly charges: overzealous pruning by a 70-year old woman; children arrested over toy pistols; a retired brigadier bullied into accepting a caution so that he could catch a train; 540 detailed inquiries over a single possible charity fraud by a young person to get 540 offences on to the target lists; and the changing of a charge of being drunk and disorderly into one of harassment, alarm and distress, to get the offence on to the violent crime register.
Each of these points requires genuine judgment by the police. It has been one of the great traditions of the police service and one of its great strengths—it largely still is—that police officers show tact, common sense and a sense of proportion in their dealings with the public. The sad thing is that targets of this sort, unless they are very carefully explained and monitored, corrupt the system.
My other key point concerns something that I had hoped the resources of the Home Office, its excellent legal advisers and the Minister with her long experience would have prevented from happening in the first place; it is an example of where government has not been joined up in the way that this Government and all Governments would rightly wish. The system is acting contrary to the principles that underlie the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the whole prosecuting system. As Lord Shawcross said in a statement that must be known to every Crown prosecutor and every Minister in the Home Office, when you prosecute, it is not only a matter of evidence; it is essential that the prosecution should also be in the public interest. That sometimes arises in high-profile issues at national and international levels, but equally it raises important issues about ordinary people in everyday, sometimes minor offences for which prosecution is heavy-handed and inappropriate—the police normally recognise that.
The Code for Crown Prosecutors—and I looked at it again this morning—is absolutely explicit that these principles apply to police officers. They apply more and more, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, pointed out, as we entrust police officers with greater powers and greater flexibility on the ground and in the street. I hope that the noble Baroness will tell us, because this has been in the public domain for at least a fortnight, what is happening in the Home Office to correct something that plainly has been going wrong and is distorting the system, which I hope will shortly and transparently be put right.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Dear on obtaining this important debate at this time and salute him for the breadth and wisdom in his most excellent opening speech.
Like other noble Lords, I suspect, one’s interest in the subject is born out of personal experience. I have had a certain amount of practical experience over the years as a member of the Army working very closely with the police, especially in Northern Ireland but also in the United Kingdom. I have always regretted that the 1969 injection of the Army into Northern Ireland by the then Government was not to be the Army to do the Army's role in support of the police and then hand the situation back but was, as it were, to be the police on the streets instead. The clear distinction between the two roles was never satisfactorily resolved.
When I was commanding my battalion in 1974, based in the Springfield Road police station in West Belfast—where, incidentally, the CID commander was one Chief Inspector Flanagan, who is now the Chief Inspector of Constabulary—I was conscious that we as soldiers were not good policemen and that the training and reaction of police to events was very different from our motivation. Not having police in those areas who were acceptable to the public left a distinct void that needed to be filled.
I was very taken by the fact that a young captain of mine retired from the regiment and became a community constable because he felt that his military experience enabled him to contribute hugely to the community and that he could, perhaps, be someone in whom the community had confidence. Five years later, I spent a day with him when he was still a constable in one of the big White City blocks built for the first Olympic Games. I saw the relationship between him and the 5,000 families in that area, which he had built up over time. That set me thinking about the fact that the people performing that role with the community need to be very different people—motivated, trained and left for a time—from those who do some of the other tasks about which we have been speaking.
When I was commanding the field Army, we dealt a lot with all the police in the country, but I remember one incident when we were trying to follow a drugs team based in Aldershot but which had links up to Sunderland. Trying to follow the team through the country was almost impossible, because we discovered that different police forces in different parts of the country had different radio frequencies. Some had drugs teams; some did not. That set me thinking that there needs to be a better system to look after what one might call national, as opposed to community policing.
That takes me back to 1962, when I was a student at the staff college. One of the set books that we were given to read was the Royal Commission on the Police. I have always been taken by the dissenting verdict, the memorandum of dissent, by Dr AL Goodhart, the father of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, to whom we listen often in this House. I should like to cite just four points from it, because they have always seemed to me to be at the heart of some of the tensions that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, mentioned. Dr Goodhart said that he regretted that he could not sign the report because he was,
“convinced that it is essential to establish a centrally controlled police force, administered on a regional basis”.
Secondly, he stated:
“Perhaps the chief obstacle in the search for a practical solution to the police problem is found in ‘a certain historical sentimentality’”,
not willing to make change. Thirdly, he stated:
“The Commission has done a notable service by refuting the argument that a national police force, whether organised on a regional basis or a unitary one, would be either constitutionally objectionable or politically dangerous”.
That is an interesting argument about those objections. Finally, he stated:
“It has been suggested that the recent dictatorships on the Continent ought to be a warning against the establishment of a strong, centrally-controlled police force here. I believe that the lesson is the exact opposite. The danger in a democracy does not lie in a central police that is too strong, but in local police forces that are too weak”.
I focus on that because it refers to the tensions to which the noble Lord, Lord Dear, drew attention. The high end, if you like—the national and international crime solution—requires a particular type of policing and of police person that lends itself to the fast-track approach, with people put in position to play a role in that as early as possible, so that their skills can be maximised. That may be very different from the low, local end, the bit that gets the confidence of the public and requires someone like my captain, who is there for a time and establishes confidence. That is why the debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, is so timely. We have just had the Ministry of Justice formed, which is taking on part of the oversight of the criminal justice system, but crime prevention and policing remain in the Home Office. There may well be a tension there as well. I hope that resulting from everything that has been said in this debate, the Minister will realise that there is now an opportunity to do something to resolve those tensions, because both aspects of the policing spectrum need to be covered—as well as the all-important middle ground.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for having given the House the opportunity to hold this debate today. In particular, I thank him for what I thought was an outstandingly incisive and analytical speech. If I may say so, he seems to me to characterise the enlightened professionalism that is increasingly evident in some of the best leadership of the police.
Context, perspective and purpose are beginning to be seen as vital, not least in police training. It is still too early to assess the impact of that training on the overall culture of the police, but there are indications that those whose early training includes study at centres of higher education or in universities are starting to be recognised not as softies, but as people who will contribute significantly to the effectiveness of the police. The days of any tendency towards the closed circuit of institutionalised traditional practice—dare I say, sometimes indoctrination?—are, I hope, numbered.
The magnitude and complexity of the task facing the police has been rightly emphasised by the Home Secretary—stretching, as it does, from work in the community to the immense challenges of international terrorism and modern, sophisticated, international, large-scale crime. I am one of those who is totally convinced that for the police to be successful, working with the community is essential. There must be a dynamic, positive relationship between police and society. Community support for what the police are doing is indispensable. There is a key need for the constable as the familiar friend of the neighbourhood. Top-down authoritarianism will not work or deliver. Often, the police themselves understand that better than politicians and too much of the media.
Stability and security must be painstakingly built. That involves a lot of hard work. There is no substitute for visibility, accessibility and transparency. Of course, from time to time, there will be bad eggs or serious mistakes. I hope that the police themselves are beginning to understand that the principle of an independent commission to investigate things that go wrong and to help them to learn lessons is a great asset for them, as it helps their relationship with the general public. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, emphasised a very important point, with which I have a great deal of sympathy; the police must be accountable to the law. I hope he will agree, however, that the complexity of the situation is that they must be accountable to the law while at the same time feeling that they belong to the community and the community feels that the police belong to it.
How does all this apply to terrorism and large-scale crime? Surely, the support of the community is absolutely crucial to winning the battle against terrorism. What assists terrorists is widespread ambivalence in society. People may condemn terrible things when they happen but do not feel that it is their primary responsibility to help the police to find the culprits because they believe that, however wrong the actions may have been, the perpetrators may be on their side. In such a context, the relationship that the police have built with the community is, again, crucial. My noble friend Lord Harris made the point very well that one or two ill judged operations without that relationship can be counter-productive and do untold harm, thereby playing into the hands of the terrorists.
My last point is simply this. I hope that our police service will feel that it has the full support of this House, and of the public in general, in seeing its role as defending justice. We talk a lot about the Human Rights Act and human rights, but people are not expected to do things because they are required by the Human Rights Act; the Human Rights Act is a way of underwriting the pieces that are necessary and that make up a just society. What is a just society? It is fairness. It is trials that are perceived to be fair, with intercept evidence being used if it is crucial to the action being taken, a point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, frequently makes so well. It is justice not only being done but always being seen to be done. It is habeas corpus. These are the things that make for fairness and the perception of fairness. In the battle against terrorism, they are absolutely crucial. The greater the temptation to take short-cuts or to dispense with them, the greater the danger of playing into the hands of the extremists.
It is no accident that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, to whom I listened very carefully, referred several times to the police service when he introduced the debate. To sum up an awful lot of what we are saying and feeling, we want a police service, not a police force.
My Lords, I, too, warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on securing this important debate and on his masterly introduction. In my very short contribution, I draw on my experience as a member of the West Midlands Police committee, first as an elected member and then a few years later as a magistrate. Both gave me an understanding of police operations at that time. I was fortunate to serve at the same time as two chief constables who are now members of your Lordships’ House; the noble Lords, Lord Knights and Lord Dear. It was a privilege to work with both of them, as both periods had their difficulties and challenges.
In recent years, there has been a great drive in magistrates’ courts, and indeed in every sphere of life, to centralise decisions and take them away from local people. The motto seems to be, “Big is beautiful and much more efficient”. I query both views, and believe that it is always a mistake to take local people out of the loop and expect them to implement those decisions when they have not been at their birth. Change is always a challenge and has to be managed so as to influence and to take the maximum number of people with it. My worry is that, by removing local people, a lack of trust will develop. Any changes in either the number of personnel in police forces or the roles that they cover will be viewed suspiciously without real consultation, and will not only antagonise many people but will not be accepted by the community. I dislike anything that hints of regional government, so naturally I was delighted when the Government decided not to proceed with the merger of some police forces. However, although I do not favour combining forces, it does seem eminently sensible to collaborate on some of the services that need specialised expertise and, where possible, to encourage co-operation and collaboration between forces for specific activities.
The unnecessary burdens placed on the police force are not only structural but substantive. At a time when the Home Office’s own figures show that officers spend only 14 per cent of their time actually on patrol, and that only one in 58 police officers patrols the streets at any time, is it not increasingly clear that bureaucracy is holding the police back, as many noble Lords have said? Sadly, however, there is no evidence that Her Majesty’s Government have taken advice from my own party and others to reduce paperwork, to employ more technology and to modernise workforces to improve efficiency. On the contrary, we learnt a few weeks ago that the police are now expected to caution and arrest people for so-called “offences” such as possession of an egg with intent to throw. Surely, we can all accept that this is simply, to use an old-fashioned phrase, a waste of police time. Whatever the future holds, I hope that we will not throw the baby out with the bath water but will build on what works. It is so important to conserve the principles that have made our police service so respected throughout the world.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Dear on an excellent speech that had the benefit of taking place after our Whitsun break. That gave me the chance to talk to a number of people who are either serving or involved in the management of different police forces. It also made me realise once again just how easy it is to take for granted the vital role that the police play, not only in maintaining law and order but in upholding this country’s far wider democratic values.
One thing is inevitable; the chill wind that constantly blows, and will continue to blow, on all public service budgets, as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, said. Future plans for policing must therefore be judged against the background of a lack of additional resources. Equally clearly, however, the new demands on the police are considerable, and others will continue to emerge. My first point is therefore blunt and simple; public funds for a highly, and increasingly widely needed, skilled police force must remain a spending priority. Thankfully, further education and training in the police remains to a great extent the responsibility of local forces and is increasingly linked with universities.
My second point is equally simple but no less important. It is the plea, which reaches one from every quarter of our police forces, for a period of freedom, so far as possible, from undue and avoidable change. Surely further improvement in performance, which is a real need, should be attainable without round after round of additional institutional upheaval. The same is true for the law itself.
It was Tacitus who first said of the Roman Empire that formerly,
“we suffered from crimes. Today we suffer from laws”.
As Sara Thornton, the Chief Constable of the Thames Valley Police, said to me, it is very challenging for officers to keep pace with changes. Apparently, 1,500 pieces of new legislation in the past 10 years have affected it. She quoted one very revealing example; namely, the new police power to enter and search the homes of sex offenders for risk assessment. The required procedure was so detailed and restricted that, in practice, a registered sex offender will be given two chances to get rid of any high-risk items. Even then, if any are eventually found, there may well be no right to seize them. She said that this kind of legislation may not be a bad thing in itself, but it builds in huge complexity of policy and procedures for a very modest gain. Incidentally, I am glad to say that seven of the 43 chief constables are women, which is considerably higher than in the FTSE 100 index—so I am expecting great improvements as a result of that alone. That is just one example of the growing pressures on those who are working at the top level and, as has been suggested, is probably one reason why in some police forces applications for vacant jobs posts are noticeably fewer. I am afraid that that is in no way surprising if one bears in mind the hugely increased bureaucratic burden.
Already some police forces are taking on older, more widely experienced recruits who have relevant skills and expertise which were developed in an earlier career. Fast streaming and the sort of indications that we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Dear, are clearly important too. Pushing this point to the limit, would it be too controversial to suggest opening even the job of chief constable to a non-policeman?
I turn to one aspect of my own career. In my early days as an inner London juvenile court magistrate in the early 1960s, the police still had the role of taking any youngster who they found truanting straight back to school. I wish that they still played that part, because now that it is left to the social services to bring proceedings, very little happens until an inevitable offence takes place. By the time the court asks about the young offender’s school record, a pattern of truancy is well and truly established.
The Government have acknowledged the popularity with the public of the shift from the first phase of their reforms—the “centralising” phase—to the second “localist” approach. They have said:
“The main thrust of our reforms is to pass power from the political centre to local citizens and communities”.
The problem is that this is not yet seen to be happening sufficiently. Yet this is the central theme of the Offender Management Bill on which your Lordships have also been working this week and on which the Minister has been working even harder. End-to-end management of each offender must, by definition, include the police at local level in the many voluntary and statutory partnerships involved in finding the best way to prevent an offender’s return, but the police are hardly mentioned in that Bill.
Concentrating resources with such partners on rehabilitating “prolific and persistent” young offenders must be a key priority. A superintendent from Mercia police pointed out that this 20 per cent of offenders causes 80 per cent of the crime and—no doubt these figures overlap—80 per cent of “acquisitive crime” is to feed drug and club habits. Surely, there would be some efficiency savings if only half that number could be rehabilitated. Crime prevention is equally important. Giving maximum support to deprived and vulnerable families when their children are very young will minimise the risk of reoffending. The police have a vital role here, too.
Citizens rightly want more police on the streets. The community policing initiative is popular, but it is grossly under-resourced. Police with leadership and communication skills need to be visible in schools and local community centres, and as partners in running local activities. I am glad to say that in some areas this is happening. Certainly, they need to have authority and be respected, but they also need to be seen as normal human beings, as members of the community who are approachable by children and adults alike, and be able to build the trust about which my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick spoke.
At the same time, in today’s world there is an equally clear need for us all to be involved in the prevention of crime and the rehabilitation of the offender and for us not to back away if we are asked to stand up and be counted, to be a witness. Just how well those words coincide with the central message of Sir Robert Peel’s classic observation:
“The public are the police and the police are the public”.
My Lords, I must first declare two interests: I am president of the Association of Police Authorities and chair of the Security Industry Authority, but the views I express in this debate will be personal and will in no way represent the official views of either body. I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on securing this debate and on setting out so clearly the growing range of pressures facing the policing service. I shall start with good news and positive achievements, then spell out what I see as two or three major challenges that need to be met sooner rather than later and end, as is my wont, on an optimistic note.
Neighbourhood policing, where it is locally embedded and based on a clear ward model, as it is in London and Lancashire, and, as we heard from the noble Lord on the Benches opposite, in Kent, is working well. Residents are keen to express their appreciation and will readily admit that the local policing team, which usually includes beat officers and a couple of community support officers, are doing an excellent job. In Lancashire, local beat officers hold monthly meetings with ward residents, which are advertised in the local press and through newsletters, to discuss what should be police priorities for action in the next four weeks and whether there are any particular issues which need tackling around nuisance or anti-social behaviour. These PACT—police and community together—meetings have been a great success. They help the police and residents have a much clearer appreciation of how the police work and what they can do.
A further development in Lancashire has been the formation of multi-agency teams at district council level to focus on common problems or on particular families or individuals, whose anti-social behaviour or drug habit is a cause of concern, not just to the police, but to housing agencies, social services and the Probation Service. These multi-agency problem solving teams—MAPS—look at issues across the district and work together to focus resources where they are needed, which maximises the performance of individual local council services and local policing.
So far so good: this model of neighbourhood policing works. The public want it and the Government, in conjunction with police forces, plan to introduce it across the country. But—there is a big but—it is resource intensive and a small force will struggle to provide good local policing on this scale, effective response to a range of incidents across its area and be able to play its part in counterterrorism activity. Such a range of national and local demands is bound to have an effect on force resilience and force budgets—even quite large forces—as inspectors of police have been reporting recently.
Therefore, the first challenge has to be: can the present 43-force structure deliver what the Government want and what local people want? In my view, the answer is no. I was last year, and remain this year, unrepentantly a firm supporter of the concept of strategic forces. They should be big enough to tackle level 2 crime and to deliver effective protective policing and liaise closely with SOCA, but they should be structured in such a way as to be able to deliver good neighbourhood policing.
I am well aware that it will not be easy to move from where we are now to where we need to be, but the range of collaborative partnerships established between forces in the past few months could, I believe, pave the way to my vision of around 20 strategic forces. We would already have one in place now were it not for the national straitjacket in which local government finance has to operate.
Herein lies the second challenge, which was clearly spelt out by the noble Lord, Lord Dear; namely, to reconcile the Home Office's avowed aim,
“of reshaping the police service to become more citizen-focused and responsive, to reflect the needs and expectations of individuals and local communities in decision making and service delivery”,
with the reality that police authorities at present are powerless to deliver that. Every year, police authorities have the task of consulting local residents about the level of police community charge they think would be appropriate for the coming year and on local police objectives. Would local people like to see more officers or a strengthening of the force’s response policing capability? Are they prepared to pay more police precept, and if so, up to how much extra per week or month? Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of residents are consulted, and invariably people are willing to pay up to 20 per cent and more in return for an improved service. But police authorities are told by the Home Office that the Government will not countenance rises above 5 per cent, even though the police precept accounts for only around 8 or 9 per cent of local council tax. So much for local flexibility and the ability to shape and develop local policing, and so much for what local people want.
Last year Lancashire and Cumbria were not even able to merge to form a strategic force, at that time an avowed objective of the Government, because Lancashire needed to raise its police precept over two or three years to the level of Cumbria’s, and the Government could not promise that in the process it would not be capped. If we really mean what we say about the importance of local accountability, and I do, this has to include local financial accountability and flexibility.
That brings me to another challenge, that of local accountability. At present, police authorities operating at force level hold the force to account through its senior management team. Many authorities have input at divisional level, and soon local overview and scrutiny committees will be able to look at the performance of community safety partnerships. I believe that the current system works. The police authority acts as a non-executive body operating in a non-party political, efficient and non-partisan way. But as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, noted and the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has confirmed, the party opposite is now committed to introducing directly elected police commissioners to exercise this role. I have to say that I am not clear whether a county the size of Lancashire would have one commissioner or one for each of the 14 districts, but what I do know is that elections to such a post would politicise policing hugely, and greatly to its detriment. And what, in the end, could the police commissioner deliver? He or she could not fire chief constables, as they do in the United States. They could not raise extra local resources, as I have said, and they would have to recruit a big team of non-elected assistants or pseudo-specialists to help them to achieve the level of managerial accountability that is already being exercised by police authorities. I do not see that proposal as being a meaningful or effective answer to any of the challenges facing policing.
Let me finish on a positive note. There are more police officers out there than ever before—more than 140,000. There are also more than twice that number of security guards and people working in the private security industry. What we need is for the police and people working in private security to work together more effectively to enhance public protection and drive down crime. Some exciting projects are currently taking shape to achieve this. The one I should like to mention is Project Griffin, which was originally a scheme involving the City of London Police and the business sector in the City. It has now been running for three years and involves the police briefing private security guards about counterterrorism issues and threats, current crime trends and relevant local information. It gives the police a large number of extra eyes and ears out in the streets and provides extra cover in an emergency. More than 5,000 guards have been involved so far, and they protect more than 500 buildings. No wonder the scheme has spread from London to 13 other big cities, and to Scotland, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere. Other such schemes are now being developed by the British Transport Police, among others. If these and similar partnerships can be developed to give the police additional human and material resources to draw on, and if the police role can be clearly defined and there is adequate local and national finance to support it, within a strategic force structure, I think that many of the challenges facing policing can be successfully met.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on introducing this very interesting debate, which gives me the chance to talk about roads policing, an area of policing in which I am qualified and still involved. It is also an area of policing which is overlooked by many. ACPO’s strategy on roads policing is as follows: denying criminals the use of the road by enforcing the law; reducing road casualties; tackling the threat of terrorism; reducing anti-social use of the roads; and enhancing public confidence and reassurance by patrolling the roads.
Roads policing officers are highly trained to observe drivers and their vehicles and, together with automatic number plate recognition, they are much more likely to stop a criminal on the road than an officer who is not so trained. It will not surprise your Lordships that criminals regularly travel from A to B by car, and are therefore liable to be stopped, leading to search procedures and arrest by a roads policing officer. There is that old saying:
“Most drivers aren’t criminals, but most criminals drive”.
Perhaps it is due to cost implications or how priorities are set by the Government that roads policing numbers are in danger of melting away. It may also be partly due to the opinion of many people who think that traffic officers are there only to stop people exceeding the speed limit. They are not. Perhaps people should not complain about safety cameras when they catch only people who are committing an offence. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, said that cameras are there only to catch those who are committing the offence of speeding. That is absolutely right. Inappropriate speed can kill. It has been suggested that the Department for Transport is not as powerful and influential as the Home Office and is unable to persuade chief officers to reverse the growing trend of cutting traffic police numbers and focus on casualty reduction. The Home Office determines crime priorities, and so much rests on achievement at all costs.
I have been told that policing is getting pushed and shoved about with targets set to measure performance, yet in so doing, lots of common sense and discretion is being lost. The national crime recording system is inflexible and too rigid. We allow the police to do their job independent of politics by public consent, and we must never forget the bond of trust that must exist for officers to earn the respect of the communities they serve.
Intelligence-based information highlighted three wards in Hackney as being the Met’s hotspots for fail to stop collisions—and that is 24 per cent of collisions. The Motor Insurance Bureau also highlighted these areas because crime analysis showed them also to be crime hotspots. In a period of only four weeks, more than 1,800 uninsured vehicles were seized and 290 people arrested for a whole range of criminal offences. But one of the difficulties encountered when seizing vehicles is finding a secure pound into which they can be placed. This has shown that lack of resources make such operations difficult in many other areas of the country.
Can my noble friend advise me when offences such as drink or drug driving, and driving while disqualified, will be included in the “offences brought to justice” group which includes thefts of, say, a pedal cycle or a Kit Kat? Which has the more serious implication? Perhaps it is worth pointing out that the traffic officer will not get credit for arresting a driver for many offences, whereas the officer arresting someone for stealing a Kit Kat will. That seems total madness to me. Perhaps my noble friend would also like to address the problem of drugs. If Parliament determines a drug to be illegal, why is it okay to drive while under the influence of such a drug unless the police can prove impairment as a direct cause of the incident?
Transport Select Committee reports and the Audit Commission document, Changing Lanes, have highlighted the need for roads policing and the technology to support it, but nothing seems to impact on the need for chief constables to have meaningful roads policing targets. Until this changes, we will witness the malaise that currently exists. Chief constables will still treat it as a secondary issue and more people will lose their lives or be seriously injured on the roads.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is brought in when there is a road death or other circumstances in which police drivers are thought to be involved. If blue lights and sirens are used, a driver being ordered to stop is committing an offence in failing to do so—something the IPCC rarely brings to the fore when issuing press statements. If it does, then the press is at fault for not including it in their reports. I very much hope that an offence of “aggravated failure to stop” can be put on the statute book to demonstrate the true responsibility when a pursuit ends in a collision.
Roads policing is not a bolt-on to mainstream policing but should be seen as a core business. Perhaps consideration should be given to forming a national roads policing service similar to the British Transport Police set up for the railways. If chief constables are unable to agree a corporate approach, then let us have one force for the lot. After all, we do not have any argument with the BTP and its policing of the railways, so why not take a leaf out of its book?
Motorways are used extensively by criminals, but due in part to the introduction of Highways Agency traffic officers, they are not being patrolled to the same extent as in the past. The criminals know this—most of them are not stupid—and a national road policing service would therefore be beneficial.
Going out on traffic patrol on a regular basis shows me what is actually happening at the sharp end and the expertise of those officers dedicated to road policing. In many cases reality is more relevant than theory, I tend to think, but I am sure there are those who would disagree with me. If reducing road deaths, reducing casualties, improving driver standards and behaviour and enforcing compliance are important, then the Government need to tell the people that they are important, set real, challenging targets and hold chief officers to account for delivering roads policing.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for securing the debate.
When police patrols began in 19th-century London, today’s complex challenges were unimaginable; in particular, terrorism. I thank the security services for their constant vigil against the continuing terrorist threat. I acknowledge the Metropolitan Police and all of the emergency services, Transport for London, Tube Lines, Metronet and, not least, the British Transport Police for their tremendous efforts immediately following the London bombings.
The Government and others have worked hard since that July to improve our preparedness for unforeseen events. For instance, the business organisation which I lead, London First, together with the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, has prepared a booklet, Expecting the Unexpected, now distributed nationwide to businesses. As the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said earlier, police experts in the City and the Met now regularly train company heads of security in counter-terrorism techniques under project Griffin. The Government are also working on an incident information cascade to deliver all businesses accurate information, quickly, with which to advise their staff. Such arrangements are welcome; the sooner the better.
Business wants policing characterised by more personal interaction and collaboration. Business leaders want to work with senior police colleagues to design innovative solutions to shared problems. They want to support the police by working together to develop management solutions; by providing intelligence to outwit criminals; and by receiving advice on changing business practices to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime. Business people also want their staff to be safe. They are ready to work with their competitors and local police to ensure that local neighbourhoods are places in which people want to work and live.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, mentioned police leadership. Several years ago, London First set up a police-business leadership exchange programme, encouraging joint mentoring between senior police and business people to share best leadership and management practice. Similar programmes are now starting in West Midlands, South Wales and West Yorkshire. One example of more than 100 is in south London, where the pairing between the area manager at Royal Mail and the local Metropolitan Police business manager has resulted in postmen and women, street-cleaners and park attendants acting as extra eyes and ears for the police.
Another initiative is ShopWatch, where retail staff are trained as special constables and join police patrols twice a month. More mutual understanding between retailers and police officers is in itself a good thing. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it also reduces retail crime. Similar schemes operate in other sectors, including banks and universities. Campus Watch, for instance, has served to reduce the fear of crime among university students.
These initiatives demonstrate how business and police can work effectively together, yet there remains more to do. Excellent progress has been made in rolling out safer neighbourhood teams across the capital. People want to see police officers in their local community who are responsive to local issues. But, when visiting the office of my local safer neighbourhood team, I found it open only from 11 until two, with no telephone contact number outside office hours—and that is in the middle of the day, not in the middle of the night when it might have been busier.
Sometimes business crime is considered victimless, almost invisible. It is neither. With shoplifting, for example, new villains are blooded with perceived “soft targets” and, where that funds drug habits, bigger crimes will follow; staff face violence and abuse; crime prevention costs are passed on to customers; and measures such as bars on windows repel would-be customers. All of this damages competitiveness and makes neighbourhoods feel unsafe. It can even cost jobs.
As to the so-called white collar crime, the Association of Chief Police Officers recently estimated the cost of fraud to the economy as between £14 billion and £20 billion per year, at worst just £1 billion less than the contribution of the entire financial services industry. I welcome the recent announcement that the City of London Police will take the national lead on fraud.
Fraud is no longer simply a crime against business. As technology in personal banking increases, so, too, does criminal opportunity. Individuals are now direct targets for fraudsters. Police and financial services already work together in the Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit, but a wider effort from police, government and business is needed to protect us all.
Finally, I should like to make an unorthodox plea for more statistics. The lack of accurate data on business crime contributes to the problem appearing invisible. The British Crime Survey does not collect information on business crime. The inelegantly titled Commercial Victimisation Survey has been carried out only twice—in 1994 and 2002. We need robust evidence, annually collated, of the scale and impact of business crime. After all, what gets measured usually gets done.
The Metropolitan Police’s stated objective is to make London the safest city in the world. Good. But how is progress towards this objective being measured? As far as I am aware, the only agreed benchmark between cities is the homicide rate, and based on this we are neither worst nor best. All business leaders recognise the need for clear objectives, but they must be measurable. Then we all will be able to say categorically whether policing works in the capital.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for securing the debate. I have known the noble Lord since his days as Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police, followed by his services as Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary. Our paths have crossed on a number of very complex inquiries and I value his friendship as well as his judgment.
The governance of policing goes to the core of our civic society. It is the culmination of a history that has taken hundreds of years to play out in balancing the interests of the state against those of the citizen. The creation of police forces is only at the relatively recent end of this spectrum, but policing by consent is an absolutely fundamental rule of our society. This is also the envy of the world.
The police have to have the confidence of the community from which they derive their authority. Without this confidence, effective policing is not sustainable. Primarily, we have done this by ensuring that the police are accountable to the public they serve. In recent years we have also placed increasing emphasis on being responsive to public need and to ensuring that police have common cause with the communities they serve by being reflective of their make up. In essence, the present tripod consists of public accountability, operational independence and the balance of power, the factors so ably described by Lord Scarman in his report on Brixton disorder in the 1980s.
Certain aspects of the current criminal justice system are not working. The public certainly perceive that they are not working well enough. There is a widespread feeling that victims are ignored; there are worries that alcohol-related disorder, especially, has made many city centres no-go areas at night; there are concerns about criminalising children through gun and gang crime and about the way in which the system then treats them, both as perpetrators and as victims; and there is the concern that prisons and police cells are full to bursting. Add to this list the still adversarial relationship between police and the black and ethnic minority community.
There have been a number of royal commissions on the police, mostly concerned with structures, the last one in 1960. However, the key question is still to be answered: what kind of police service do we really want? Let us admit that there is much that works well and no evidence of widespread failure in governance, but there are elements that could be improved and strengthened. There are new threats to our security that we must be equipped to deal with, but it must not threaten the fundamental principles of policing by consent and its implications on rights and liberties of the individuals.
What we have at the moment is one of those British hybrids that have grown up over time in response to events and experience. It recognises that in this country policing is still organised round local forces, not centred on national structures, yet is linked to national imperatives. This has the benefit of enabling local interests and local styles to be reflected in how policing operates. The key players in this structure are the chief constable, the local police authority and the Home Secretary, with the interests and powers of all three being balanced against the others. There are weaknesses in the system. Police authorities are sometimes criticised for being invisible and undemocratic or for being the weak arm of the tripartite relationship, with perhaps rather less power than either the chief constables or the Home Secretary.
It is important that people know and understand how the system works, that there is transparency in how accountability operates and that they know who to contact about what. Police authorities could do more to raise their profile to ensure that their role is understood, but that needs to be done with great care. It should not detract from ensuring that the police themselves are more visible, because we know that that is what people really want.
The argument that police authorities are undemocratic is not wholly justified. Authorities retain democratic links, as the majority of their members are local councillors appointed according to the political balance in that area. Of course they also have independent and, at least until next year, magistrate members, which means that they can represent a wide range of local people and develop links to the rest of the criminal justice system.
We could perhaps look at that democratic link again, but caution needs to be exercised in doing so. A key strength of police authorities is that they cannot be dominated by one political party—that protects the police from political interference. There are good reasons why policing was taken out of direct council control in the 1990s. There is perhaps more value to the perception that police authorities do not have enough power to stand up to the other two tripartite partners on an equal basis.
My own experience—I have been a member of a police authority and of the Police Complaints Authority—is that the situation varies across the country. In part it is down to the resources that authorities are prepared to devote to strengthening their own effectiveness. Although they decide how much of the police budget to give to the force, most authorities feel under enormously strong pressure to prioritise police requirements over their own and ensure that as many police as possible are on the streets. But there is also a balance to be struck to ensure that authorities are able to effectively do their job of holding the chief officer to account, because it is an important one. Police authorities are corporate bodies, and we should exercise caution in proposals about a single commissioner to do the job, the proposal so rightly demolished by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and the noble Baroness, Lady Henig.
I shall add my concerns as well. The proposal for a single commissioner would give too much room for overt political interference and influence in the police. It risks the polarisation or marginalisation of views, and could have most unwelcome effects on community cohesion in certain parts of the country. It would put a lot of power in the hands of a single individual, and a four-year election cycle would be a long time in which to use it badly.
The current system has real advantages. It guards against the politicisation of policing and ensures that no one individual can become too powerful. However, we live in an ever-changing world. There are now significant threats from terrorism, and the way in which the police are governed needs to keep up with those. That could have wide-ranging impacts, varying from an increasingly national and international focus through to very local levels, where inappropriate responses to terrorist threats could have a detrimental effect on particular communities and on the very basis of consent on which the whole edifice is built.
Police leadership, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, is crucial, but there is a mismatch of supply and demand for senior posts, which needs to be addressed urgently. Police authorities are directly responsible for recruiting the most senior officers in the force and they should remain so, as they are best placed to understand the needs and style appropriate to local communities. Since these officers will lead the force, it is important that a diverse pool is available for authorities to select the skills and attributes that are best for the local policing requirement. It is not good enough to have someone at the head of the force who is a competent operational commander but lacks business management experience. Recruitment could be widened to senior executives who are not serving police officers.
At the other end of the scale, police community support officers are a valuable resource that enables forces to address both ends of the crime spectrum efficiently. They are critical to the success of neighbourhood policing, which is rightly a key policing focus. With fewer powers, PCSOs are less likely to be abstracted from communities to deal with more serious crime. The success of the PCSOs’ recruitment should be applied to police officers, to ensure that they are more reflective of the population they serve.
I have mentioned in passing some of the key functions for which police authority members are responsible, but there are many more. They need to ensure that they have access to independent advice on accounts, statistics, HR, law, community engagement and a host of other things; otherwise, they cannot be sure that they are asking the right questions to challenge their force effectively.
The Government must also support the checks and balances required in this exercise. Instead of underplaying their importance or treating them as an afterthought, they must consider how they can assist authorities to better resource not just effective policing, but also effective governance. Following the Macpherson report and the CRE’s investigations, there is evidence that compliance with diversity legislation is still very problematic. That affects the authority’s duty to set the style and culture of policing. Police have made significant advances, but they still fall short of reflecting the community they serve. The Minister shares my concern on this issue. I should add that the black and ethnic minority community cannot opt out of this process; they have a significant role to play as well.
We have been told that Sir Ronnie Flanagan has been asked to undertake a review. I hope that the first thing the Minister will do tomorrow is pass him a copy of today’s Hansard so that he can read the reflections of this House.
My Lords, I too am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for initiating this very important debate. All sides of the House will agree with so much of what the noble Lord has said. He reminded us of the tripartite responsibilities shared between the chief constable, the chairman of the police authority and the Home Secretary, but, as he rightly pointed out, the gravitational pull has in recent years moved towards the centre.
During the debate last year about the amalgamation of police forces, so wisely abandoned by the present Home Secretary, I was able to meet a team of representatives of several forces, usually the chairman of the police authority and the chief constable. They put their case with impressive clarity, and I was struck then by the strong local identity that this partnership is capable of providing. That local identity has been the subject of many remarks today. However, if the police forces are going to loosen their centralised ties, they must be accountable to someone. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, has expressed his misgivings about elected commissioners. My noble friend Lord Waddington has made the case for such an election, but impressive cases against have been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Dholakia.
I thought the House should be aware that my right honourable friend David Cameron said in his address to the Police Federation last month that, in his view, police authorities as presently constituted are too weak and too invisible—how many people know the name of the chairman of their own police authority?—to exercise local accountability. He set out his plan to replace them with directly elected commissioners, rather than police chiefs, who will answer to the communities.
As I said, the merger of police forces has been abandoned, at least for the time being. However, there is no question that there must be a centrally directed body to fight high-level, sophisticated crime. As my noble friend Lady Seccombe said, we would very much welcome the middle way: sharing facilities, back-office and forensic. It would be cost-effective and free up members of the forces for front-line duties. The forces in Surrey, Sussex and Kent and the five forces in the east Midlands, on which many of us will have received a very good brief, have shown welcome progress in combining resources. However, I think that it is generally accepted—this is in defence of the then Home Secretary—that there has hitherto been more than a little inertia in pursuing those sharing initiatives. Chief constables are naturally jealous guardians of their fiefdoms. We would like to see a statutory requirement for taking forward those initiatives in sharing facilities.
Several noble Lords referred to the bureaucracy with which police forces are encumbered. The Home Office study that my noble friend Lord Waddington quoted showed that an average officer spends almost as much time in the police station as out of it during his shift, and less than one fifth of his time on the beat. The Government have made a welcome start in simplifying the form-filling, but I invite the Minister to support the Government’s claim that nearly 9,000 forms have been made obsolete.
Perhaps I may refer to an experience that I underwent last week. Having emerged from a transatlantic flight, I was driving down the M3 and found myself following a fully marked police car at 90 mph. On being invited to give an explanation, I said that I was hurrying to open my garden as one of several in the village for the benefit of the church. The officer with whom I was speaking said that he was not totally impressed by that but that he was on his way to visit a family who had recently lost a son in a motor accident and he regarded that as more important than giving me a ticket. I suggest that his priorities were quite right: bureaucratic form-filling nil, public interest, I hope, served.
Police IT systems are still in the dark ages. The IT systems of police, courts and the CPS cannot communicate with each other; this is but one example. More resources to pay for more officers are only part of the answer; indeed, in this respect, they are not particularly effective. Britain now spends more on law and order as a proportion of GDP than any other OECD country, yet as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, pointed out, there are only 164 officers per 100,000 of the population in England and Wales, compared with 264 in France and 457 in New York. Rather, it is in upgrading internal efficiency that investment should be made.
Targets have been frequently mentioned today. Central targets are notoriously open to manipulation. Assessment of the police through these targets is bureaucratic and complicated. Targets should be set locally and police performance assessed on three simple factors; they are, I suggest: crime reduction, how safe the public feel, and how satisfied witnesses and victims are when they come into contact with the police. Targets set against these three criteria can be simple and transparent.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, realistically addressed the shortage of top-class leaders in the police and the need for a structure of accelerated promotion. He challenged the theory that any police officer must at some stage experience life on the beat—the lot of any police constable—and for a period substantially the same for all. He made a powerful case for the recruitment of top-class candidates, quite rightly subject to very rigorous culling, who by their ability and training will have the flexibility to enable them to benefit from a much shorter period of basic experience and to move rapidly up the promotion ladder, where their leadership skills will be recognised at the earliest possible stage. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, reminded us of the need for top-calibre officers at that level. This is not to advocate a return to the Trenchard system or to replicate Sandhurst-pattern training, but such an approach is essential if we are to have the quality of personnel which modern policing demands. Feathers may be ruffled, but this problem will not go away. The House will be indebted to the noble Lord for addressing this issue.
I have two specific criticisms on which I should be grateful for comment by the Minister. The Government’s manifesto commitment to introduce 24,000 community support officers has apparently been revised to some 16,000 due to lack of funding. Moreover, the Government have not delivered on their promise to introduce 112 non-urgent calls to the police. The system has proved highly effective in cities such as New York and Chicago and in areas in England where it has been trialled, such as my own county of Hampshire. It should be rolled out across the whole country.
I recently met an academic criminologist from one of the east coast universities in the United States, who was over here for an international conference on policing. He said, “You know, we in Massachusetts are the true heirs to the Sir Robert Peel tradition of neighbourhood policing”. The noble Lord referred to that also. It is true that the number of police per head of population in New England is higher than in the United Kingdom, but a return to the copper on the beat is an ideal for which we must continually aim. The Met has made considerable progress in this regard with its safer neighbourhood teams—the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, referred to them. Let us hope that their success will be matched throughout the country.
I conclude by echoing the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. It has often been said that a country gets the police service that it deserves. It is possibly worth reflecting that there are occasions when the police service needs the public that it deserves.
My Lords, this has been a truly inspirational debate. I can say without reservation that I have enjoyed it. Noble Lords who have been with me during a number of debates will know that I have never said that previously. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that I will certainly ensure that a copy of today’s Hansard is passed to Sir Ronnie Flanagan, because I am sure that he will enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed listening to today’s debate.
The debate has been so powerful because it has been wide-ranging, well informed and extremely good humoured. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, appears to be the only noble Lord who is perhaps a little out of step with what we generally feel have been some quite amazing and welcome improvements.
I join all noble Lords who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on securing it. I congratulate him also on the quality of his speech. As he is a former Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, we expected his remarks to be both well informed and excellently presented. He did not disappoint us.
Noble Lords will know that my position has changed. I therefore have great pleasure in responding to the debate in my new capacity as Minister for Crime Reduction. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, made many comments to which I shall try to return, although, because of the wide-ranging nature of the debate, I may not be able to deal with every detail.
The debate offers me the first opportunity in my new capacity to speak in this House on the hugely important issue of the arrangements for policing in England and Wales. Reducing crime requires commitment across government from a wide range of delivery partners. It is the job not only of the police—the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 made this clear—and we will continue to build on the contributions made by other partners. I warmly welcomed, therefore, the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham and of the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, who both in their different ways identified those other parts of our community who can contribute so much to the work that we do. I particularly endorse what the right reverend Prelate said about the Street Pastors, who have made an enormous and powerful contribution that very much echoes some of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the importance of full community engagement.
It is important for us to recognise the contribution from the wider family, but the police are and will remain at the forefront of tackling crime. Effective policing has been vital in reducing crime. The debate about the arrangements for policing is important to ensure that the police are in the best position to continue to lead the fight against crime. As I indicated, I am keen to respond to as many points as I can today, but I agree with those who have said that the nature and breadth of the debate might give rise to five or six separate three-hour debates on different issues.
I particularly commend the words of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. Her powerful exhortation of the importance of the work that the police have done on domestic violence, which has largely gone unsung, needs to be heard, together with one on the work that they have spearheaded on sexual violence towards children and paedophilia.
I shall come to the root of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dear. It is true that the challenges facing the police service in England and Wales have seldom been so great. While crime has fallen over the past 10 years, the demands made of the police have risen significantly. From meeting the national threat of terrorism and organised crime, to tackling anti-social behaviour and low-level crime at the local level, the challenges are significant and fast-moving. Therefore it was right that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, emphasised the importance of the local position.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has been both consistent and clear in his message—from his statement of common values published on Tuesday 6 March to his speech at this year’s Police Federation conference—that meeting the local and the national challenges are not “either/or” options. The public want, and rightly expect, a police service that can provide effective protection at the personal, local and national level. Of course, there is a vital role for the Government. We must do everything we can to help the police service maximise the additional and considerable resources that have gone into policing since 1997. Pressing ahead with the productivity and efficiency agenda is central to ensuring that police forces are able to meet the full range of challenges that they face. It is important for us to recognise that, because if we fail to do so nothing will significantly change.
Therefore, the Government also have an important role to play in promoting greater use of partnership; we do not expect the police service to meet these challenges alone. Local councils and NHS trusts, for example, have a vital part to play in dealing with the small number of individuals who, for whatever reason—from mental ill health to alcohol addiction—cause so many problems for the majority of society. Because the challenges are significant and fast-moving, we have to move with them. It is not always comfortable and is often difficult, but that is why we are committed to continuously seeking ways to improve our capacity and capability to meet those challenges and deliver a police service that is respected nationally and trusted locally. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, talked about trust; I agree that trust and respect are important.
Several of your Lordships mentioned funding issues—rightly so, since funding lies at the heart of the Government’s belief in an efficient and effective police service. The Government’s commitment to a well funded police force in England and Wales cannot be called into question. In 2007-08, all police forces in England and Wales are receiving an increase in general grant funding of 3.6 per cent, above the rate of inflation. That comes on top of a sustained increase in funding under this Government. I am glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, accepts that there has been such a significant increase given by this Government in total. The total grant has been £3.2 billion—51 per cent, which is over 18 per cent in real terms—since 1997-98. There has been an increase of £2.6 billion—39 per cent, which is 16 per cent in real terms—since 2000-01.
That money has been put to good use; I say that to the noble Lords, Lord Waddington and Lord Dear. Total police numbers on 30 September last year were 139,446 officers; that is 14,435 more than in March 1997, which represents a huge increase. There were also 20,165 more civilian staff than a decade ago, taking the total to 73,175. Those extra civilian staff have helped to release officers for front-line duties, where I am sure all your Lordships want to see them. A number of noble Lords talked about bureaucracy; indeed, the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked about the 9,000 forms that have been removed. We have done much to make sure that bureaucracy is driven down even further. The work that we have done through the NPIA, the police review, the PACE review and the IMPACT programme has all gone towards looking at how we can remove forms and bureaucracy to get people where they need to be, on the front line.
It is important that we do not focus just on inputs and that we look at what else has been done. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, rightly spoke about the important work that CSOs have done. The government target of 16,000 police community support officers was met at the end of April. They are now widely welcomed and were an innovation under this Government. Many will know that there was scepticism at first as to whether that addition to the police family would help, yet now none of us would be without them. It is a matter of some rejoicing that we can all compliment them with one voice.
We must look at the results, which have also been impressive. Again, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham about how much things have got better. Nottinghamshire Police particularly benefited from assistance from the centre, but it grabbed that help, ran with it and has the results to prove it. Between 2002-03 and 2005-06, overall recorded crime in England and Wales fell by 7 per cent, representing over 400,000 fewer victims of crime a year. Particularly impressive was the performance on burglary, which fell by 27.5 per cent in that period. The British Crime Survey shows a 44 per cent reduction in crime between 1995-96 and 2005-06. I pay tribute to all those in the police service and beyond whose efforts led to those excellent results.
I know that your Lordships are interested in the future funding arrangements. No decisions have yet been made on police funding for the three years of the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, 2008-09 to 2010-11. I assure your Lordships that the issues that we have talked about today are at the forefront of our minds. It is no secret that the financial climate will become tighter and that the days of the police receiving above-inflation settlements are likely to be over. However, the funding increases which we have given in the last few years have provided a very solid foundation on which the police can build as we move into what my honourable friend the Policing Minister, Mr Tony McNulty, described to the Home Affairs Committee in another place recently as, “a period of consolidation”.
There are challenges. I said that these figures are too important to ignore, and I believe that to be true; but there is another side to this. No one can now be under any illusion that, from the local challenges of anti-social behaviour to the national and international challenges of organised crime and terrorism, the police service in England and Wales faces significant and fast-moving challenges. It must meet these challenges, while delivering real improvements in productivity and efficiency.
The Home Office has done much to deliver on these issues. I can tell the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, that what he has seen in Kent is being reflected elsewhere. In the Metropolitan Police Authority area, the safer neighbourhood teams have held 11,996 public meetings attended by 179,167 people, have conducted 1,291 street briefings, made 18,366 arrests, submitted more than 246,000 intelligence reports and closed more than 400 crack houses. All that is very impressive—and what the noble and learned Lord sees in Kent we are starting to see all over our country, with the help of the police and CBRPs, and through working with business, health and schools. That local delivery is really driving home the improvements that we seek.
We have recognised that greater accountability is needed. We are committed to ensuring that local people receive the service that they want. People want to know that the police are tackling the issues that are important to them, and providing maximum value for money. Local accountability is key to ensuring that the public can be confident in the service that they receive; it is also an important lever for improving performance. That is why we are already improving local accountability through the roll-out of neighbourhood policing and through reforms to police authorities, whose functions are changing via the implementation of the Police and Justice Act 2006. The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and my noble friends Lord Harris and Lady Henig are of real importance in that regard.
The use of technology has helped us greatly. For example, the Livescan allows for fingerprints to be taken electronically within police stations, saving seven minutes per time over the ink and roller method. We are also rolling out head cams to forces so that they can video what is happening; evidentially, that cuts through a huge amount of time and effort and is very successful.
The review that we have spoken about with Sir Ronnie Flanagan is very important. As your Lordships know, one of many recommendations set out in the government report Building on Progress: Crime, Security and Justice, published on Tuesday 27 March 2007, was an independent review of policing. On the same day, the Home Secretary announced that he would be appointing Sir Ronnie Flanagan, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, to conduct that review. I do not propose to give a lengthy discursive account of the details of the review, but noble Lords may find it useful to know that it will focus on four specific areas, identified by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary for further progress and to encourage new ideas and recommendations. Those areas are: further reducing bureaucracy, focusing resources on the front line and freeing up police officer time; embedding neighbourhood policing and ensuring that it becomes a permanent part of the policing landscape; local accountability, so that we can better ensure that the public are driving local policing priorities; and how the service can best use its resources to meet all the challenges that it faces. That is a very broad, inclusive remit.
We shall of course look at the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, about how elected commissioners could be used. He could probably tell from the flavour of the debate how likely that model is to receive a great deal of support, although I am not making any suggestion about what Sir Ronnie Flanagan may subsequently determine.
Noble Lords will no doubt recognise that these areas cover many of the points made during today’s debate and that it would be premature of me to in any way prejudge the outcomes of that review. An interim report will be produced in August this year setting out initial findings on all those four areas and providing more detailed recommendations for the first two. At the end of this year, the final report will be produced, again covering all four areas but also providing a more substantive response to the last two.
My noble friend Lord Harris spoke about the police being one service and engaged in the community. I very much agree with his comments.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, talked about the maintenance of public trust. There is a balance to be drawn between the needs of a robust system in terms of appropriate trials, and those issues are very much at the forefront of our minds.
The targets referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate, are not inappropriate. By looking at how they impact on the service through the work of local criminal justice boards and the National Criminal Justice Board, we have narrowed them so that they are focused on outcomes. However, we cannot legislate for good judgment. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, demonstrated clearly that good judgment can be exercised by the police, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, who told us that in Nottinghamshire they do not have those difficulties. The targets are there to help to improve delivery and enhance what we can achieve. The community support that we are getting enables us to do even more of that intelligence.
I shall write to noble Lords on any other outstanding issues, but I hope that I have covered the majority of them. I end by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that I am sure that Sir Ronnie Flanagan will remember well his days in Northern Ireland and that that memory will better inform him.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on a splendid speech.
My Lords, with an eye on the clock, not wanting to overshoot—and may I say how grateful I am to the Government Whips’ Office for extending the duration of this debate from two and a half to three hours—I shall take a minute to close this debate. I am sincerely grateful to noble Lords for their interest and support, and particularly to the Minister for how she responded to the many comments in what has been a far-reaching and incisive debate, and a very encouraging one. It was packed full of very positive comments, despite fears raised on a number of issues. As the Minister said, the tone was very encouraging.
No matter what shape the police service may be in future, there is little doubt that the local element is there and will be protected by whatever means.
I leave your Lordships with one small asterisk against an issue that I raised at the beginning, which I think is a very large one, when I talked about the two dimensional pull—the pull of police resources upwards to deal with the very serious matters and downwards to deal with what everyone wants to see, high visibility policing, leaving this almost invisible stretch in what I call the middle ground and what in the trade is called level 2 crime. If that is the case, and I believe it is, and if we see that low ratio of police in this country—it is an unassailable fact that it is far lower than in most countries—and if we are strapped for cash in the future, which most of us believe will be the case, we will have to reappraise that middle ground and the way in which it is currently not covered, and honestly reappraise the situation regarding the range of police tasks across that ground.
I thank noble Lords for their attention. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
rose to call attention to the characteristics of a multi-cultural Britain in the light of the parliamentary and anti-slavery legacy of William Wilberforce; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am delighted to introduce what I am sure will be an extremely wide-ranging and, I hope, intelligent and interesting debate. In revisiting the subject of slavery, the legacy of William Wilberforce and even the questions around multi-culturalism and the nature of modern Britain, it is very tempting to think that it has all been said before. That would be tempting but extremely deceitful.
It is very useful to remind all of us in the House that when William Wilberforce delivered his first speech on attacking the dreadful imperative of ongoing slavery, he took three and a half hours. In the 17—nearly 18—years of continuous argument and perpetual pressure to move this agenda forward, most of those debates took place through the night. Another place was occupied for endless weeks and then years with the battle finally to bring slavery to a conclusion. But even by 1807 it was not finished. There were a further nearly 30 years to go, a total of 45 years of perpetual campaigning and generations to come, before some sense of what was the traditional slave trade had come to an end. But I believe it is important that we keep the flame alive in our hearts, minds and thinking. As long as there are as many as 26 million people entrapped in forced labour and slavery around the world today, as long as there are children who are fighting for their survival, having to work at somebody else’s whip, as long as there are women who are part of a grievous and evil sex trade—much of which happens in this city and in this country—we have to remember. We need to be patient in remembering. We need to determine that we will not become exhausted by what are inevitably for us short debates and simpler considerations than they were 200 years ago.
I pay tribute to the many others who have spoken on this issue during the past few months. A debate took place in this House on 10 May, initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids. I quote from her concluding paragraph—I see that she is in her place—because what she said in it helps to move on our thinking. I read it verbatim. She said:
“Finally, and perhaps the most difficult legacy of all, I pray for a deeper understanding of the effects of history on the contemporary generation of children of those taken across the ocean to that cluster of islands in the Caribbean and now transported again to the homeland of the former imperial power. I ask people to look beyond the easy offerings peddled by those with diversionary agendas who mistake diversity for divisiveness unless on their terms. I ask noble Lords to look long and hard, with a spirit of empathy and understanding, at the debris which is the hangover of that historical era—be it substandard housing, over-representation in the prison population and the mental health service, underachievement in and disproportionate exclusions from our schools and, simply, the waste of so much human talent which, with nurture and care, is ready to be put to use for the betterment of everyone in our society”.—[Official Report, 10/5/07; col. 1545.]
Those are immensely powerful and salient words. We have to remember that there is much unfinished business.
I wish to quote also from a very wide-ranging and perceptive lecture given by the Jamaican historian, Rex Nettleford, on 3 May at the Jamaican High Commission in London. He quoted a Jamaican journalist, John Maxwell, who asked whether the legacy of slavery,
“is not to be measured simply by the millions slaughtered by slave hunters in Africa, thrown overboard on the Middle Passage, or beaten to death in Jamaica or Haiti, but in the destruction of important lines of human development, in the triumph of the parasite over the producer”.
He went on to record in the article the loss to civilization of generations of those whose humanity has been degraded.
I am delighted to speak in this debate as I have three lines of heritage. I was born in Britain and am proud to be British. I was brought up in Jamaica and am delighted to call myself someone of Jamaican stock. But my birth heritage comes from Angola, where my father was born. Therefore, I can truly say that I am an African. In all those senses I believe that the nature of our multi-cultural society challenges us profoundly not just to look back on what we have sought to change but to look at what we have not yet changed and, indeed, at our attitudes, perceptions and feelings about others we see who are different to ourselves.
I return to the words of William Wilberforce in 1791 when he, with the passion which drove him to debate for hour upon hour, to push, to pressure, to lose his health and nearly his life, to fight to the very point where, within days of his death, he finally saw achieved what he longed for. As quoted by Mr Hague in the Commons, Wilberforce said at the very beginning:
“Never, never will we desist till we have wiped away this scandal from the Christian name, released ourselves from the load of guilt, under which we at present labour, and extinguished every trace of this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, looking back to the history of these enlightened times, will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonour to this country”.
We celebrate what happened in 1807. The Prime Minister at the time, William Grenville, said—again, this was quoted by Mr Hague in the Commons—that we appreciate that this was,
“the most glorious measure that had ever been adopted by any legislative body in the world”.
But we pause because we feel pained by what we continue to witness of slavery in this country, of the trafficking of people in Europe and of the battle to liberate those who remain desperately poor as a result of some of our traditional attitudes abroad.
The noble Baroness the Lord President reminded the House at the end of the debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells:
“This bicentenary provides a valuable opportunity to have a real debate about what it means to be British today and how the diverse cultures which comprise modern Britain can forge a common purpose, shared values and a common identity”.—[Official Report, 10/5/07; col. 1586.]
We all have our own ways of thinking about multi-culturalism and the structure of those in our society who are other than us. We all have attitudes when we look across at people on the other side of the road or those who approach us. Sometimes we are inclined towards prejudice. It persists. It is often in our hearts, if it is not in our intentions. One of the things we have to face up to is that words such as “multi-culturalism”, “ethnic minorities” have, like “tolerance” to a certain extent, become associated with a negative attitude towards what Britain could and should be. I suggest that we need a changed and fresh attitude altogether.
I quote again from Rex Nettleford, who talked about the history of the future. I love that phrase. He said:
“The history of the future may well record the ‘mongrelization’ of Planet Earth”.
None of us likes the word “mongrel” but I believe the sentiment that he is driving at is that mass migration on our planet, the movement of millions of people worldwide, the healthy impact that it has on economies, the freedoms that people are finding—but sometimes the movement of people in desperation—are changing altogether the very nature of what societies are. It is not just about multi-culturalism but a different kind of people. He went on:
“The history of the future may well record the ‘mongrelization’ of Planet Earth as a unique phenomenon of the Third Millennium. All of the Western Hemisphere—the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean—have been pioneers in this process. It is only for the entire 21st century Western world to now stand on the right side of history and come to terms with the diversity which the old Roman Empire’s motto—‘e pluribus unum’”—
a plural world—
“acknowledged eons ago. In modern times certain ones of us have wanted”,
to keep the world rather than the plural. He continues:
“And a high price is being paid for this defiance of commonsense”.
The societies, economies, nations, cultures and communities of the future will have people of every colour, type, creed, culture, religion, feeling, imperative and background. We will be radically different as a nation in 20 years’ time, but how mentally and emotionally prepared are we for that radical shift to take place? It is a point of pride for leaders of a country to say, “My cities and my country are diverse. There are many languages spoken here. We have people of common identity”. Even this week, we have been told that we need to have a new national day to celebrate our citizenship and the kind of country that we have become. Perhaps I may quote from a speech that Haile Selassie delivered to the United Nations in 1963. He said that,
“until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned … until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation … until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes … until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race … until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained”.
If there are ongoing challenges—and there are many—from the remembrance of the legacy of Wilberforce and the battle to end slavery, it is the challenge to our attitudes, the challenge to reflect on what societies of the future will be like and the challenge to embrace the new immigration, which needs to be seen not as swamping but as encouraging us. In the past few weeks, Her Majesty’s Treasury recorded that immigration has been of enormous economic benefit to the United Kingdom, with immigrants making up 8 per cent of the UK workforce but contributing 10 per cent to the gross domestic product. From 2001 to 2005, migration contributed to an estimated 15 to 20 per cent of the UK’s trend growth. These are positive benefits. They are something of the great benefit of the lasting legacy of the battle fought by the abolitionists but, at the same time, they are challenges to our attitudes.
There is another legacy that we need to take account of. Perhaps I may quote from a speech delivered by Kofi Annan in the Royal Gallery of this House on 8 May:
“The abolitionist movement was the first campaign to bring together a coalition in a struggle against gross violations of human dignity. It showed how effective the mobilisation of public opinion can be. The abolitionists of eighteenth-century Britain represented a moral truth that seemed remote from the ways of the world, a moral passion that must at first have seemed utterly impracticable. Yet by persistence, by resolve, by eloquence, and by imagination, they changed history. They showed that moral persuasion could prevail over narrow self-interest. They demonstrated that public opinion could change the law”.
If there is a second legacy that we should embrace, it is that we should have a new purpose driven by an independent way of thinking about issues. The incoming Prime Minister says that he wishes to restore something of the power and independence in the thinking of Members of another place. I believe that the challenge for both Houses of this Parliament is the need for a strong, independent element. We have it here in the Lords; they could do with it in another place, and it is for them to imagine how it might be created. However, as Wilberforce realised, independence gives freedom to persist, to speak and to bring pressure without the constraint of Whips or the ongoing pressure of the electoral cycle bearing in with other issues. Independence is vital if the abolitionists’ call is to remain with us today.
The abolitionists also challenged the idea that faith was a private affair, just for the preserve of normal élites. We live in a globalised world and measures of increasing desecularisation are occurring at a rapid pace. The abolitionists showed us that people who had a distinct faith commitment—in their case, a Christian commitment with a clear following of their faith, a clear pursuit of their Bible and a clear commitment to their Lord Jesus Christ—and who were absolute in their faith were also significant in their actions. In a recent speech, David Cameron talked of Wilberforce doing something much higher than statecraft. He said that the abolitionists pursued moral purpose and the betterment of all mankind, and I believe that that is a fourth element of which we must take account.
In my last minute or two, I shall suggest another dimension which is of great concern to multi-cultural Britain and to the legacy of Wilberforce and the abolitionists. It is the tens of millions who die every year in another continent—the continent from where the slaves came—and it is the persistent poverty that does not need to remain. It is also the subject of discussion at the G8 in Germany today. But will there be the resolve to move, to provide the investment, to challenge each one of us to change our habits on spending and to make us as determined to fight for the eradication of poverty as we are for other equality causes? It is a challenge to our commitment, to our leadership, to our independence and to our significance for the future.
Lastly, I quote the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as it assesses the life of Wilberforce:
“To evangelicals he was a seminal leader and an inspiration, a man of committed faith and integrity, who at great personal cost followed the call of Christ to help the oppressed abroad and proclaim the moral and spiritual imperatives of the gospel at home … Behind both perceptions [of him], though, lay an awareness of his undoubted stature as a leader who stirred the conscience of the nation and upheld the human rights and dignity of the slaves. Many others contributed to the campaign against slavery, but Wilberforce’s role was essential and unique precisely because he was a fully integrated and respected member of the political and social élite”.
I believe that Wilberforce’s legacy is a challenge to the way that we are as a multi-cultural society, to how we think about the successful society of the future and how we deal realistically not just with the slaves of today but with the Africa that remains desperate for our intervention and its economic freedom. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, for introducing this debate with great passion and clarity. It is important to bear in mind that William Wilberforce had spent more than 20 years trying to abolish the slave trade. The Bill to abolish it was introduced by him and his colleagues 11 times and it failed each time with an increasing majority. In 1804, he wrote in a private letter:
“It was truly humiliating to see in the House of Lords four members of the Royal Family come down to vote against the poor, helpless, friendless slaves”.
In 1806, a much weaker version of the Foreign Slave Trade Abolition Bill was introduced by no less a personage than the Prime Minister, Lord Granville, and it was eventually passed with the overwhelming majority of 283 votes in favour and 16 against.
I mention that only because I want to highlight two important lessons. The fight against injustice and evil is always protracted and always difficult, especially if it involves taking on vested interests. But it can succeed if you are able to appeal to people in idioms with which they are familiar—in other words, if you can appeal to them in terms of their own tradition—and if an enormous amount of economic and political pressure is mounted from outside. Those are the two lessons that we need to learn in our struggle for a multicultural society.
It is also important to remember that, once slavery was abolished, slaves became part of British society and they married local women. On a recent calculation, one out of six British citizens—men and women—carries some genetic inheritance from those slaves. It is also important to bear in mind, therefore, that Britain has been a multicultural society not of late but for hundreds of years, and certainly after the abolition of slavery. The first Muslim Peer was Lord Stanley of Adderley, in 1884, and he was followed by Lord Headley, who converted to Islam in 1913. So there have been Muslim Peers for more than 100 years. We had Hindu Peers—Lord Sinha, for example. We also had Members of Parliament from different communities. We also had Indian sailors, traders, missionaries, servants, doctors and entertainers over the centuries. I say all that simply to indicate that there is a tendency to think that multicultural society is new to us; it is not.
Today Britain is firmly and irrevocably a multicultural society. Our food, music, sports, literature, business, professions, economy—all these areas of life—bear the fingerprints of our ethnic diversity. And it is not the result of immigration only; it is a result of globalisation and people making different individual choices. Immigration is only one factor. That is also worth bearing in mind because there is a tendency to think that if all the immigrants were to disappear, somehow Britain would be able to return to the halcyon days of cultural homogeneity. Diversity is a fact of life and will continue to remain so. It is not only a fact of life but also an important value, because cultural diversity brings new sources of imagination, new talents, new ideas and new ways of solving problems.
I have always seen multiculturalism as a matter of collective self-renewal. It is through the interaction with other cultures, other groups of people, that a society renews itself. The tremendous success of the United States is a classic example of this, and I could think of other immigrant societies, such as Canada and Australia, that have periodically renewed themselves through cultural diversity.
Integration is already taking place in our society, as the marriage statistics indicate. Two-thirds of Afro-Caribbean men and women have married across the racial boundary; 15 per cent of Asian men have white wives, and 8 per cent of Asian women have white partners. Of course, some ugly practices remain but they have been fought with a great deal of consensus.
We are told by dubious opinion polls that people are not integrating. These polls ask such absurd questions as, “Are you British? Do you feel British? Are you more British than Muslim, or more Muslim than British?”. It is not clear to me what is meant. If someone asked me, “Do you really feel British?”, then, after having been here for 47 years, it would take me a little time to spell out what the question was supposed to mean. Sometimes the interviewer has one meaning in mind but the interviewee has another, with the result that such questions do not deliver any kind of reliable data. More importantly, when the same people are asked, “Do you feel British?”, although they might say no, when they are asked, “What about being in Bradford?”, they will say, “I couldn’t imagine myself outside Bradford. That’s my home”. So the question is: are people not locally rooted and do they not define their identity in civic or local terms? These data on national statistics cause considerable panic because people say, “Only 5 per cent of Muslims feel fully British. How can that go on?”. It causes a sense of panic which leads to further panic and further alienates people.
The fact that some young Muslims were involved in 7/7 does not indicate that our multicultural society has failed or that our model of integration has run into crisis. What happened had other factors: our foreign policy, and intergenerational discontinuity within the Muslim community as a result of which the young Muslims are in many cases rootless. We need to foster a common sense of national identity and belonging, but that comes through lived experiences. I become a part of society and feel British—or French or American or Indian—because I feel accepted; this is where I have struck my roots. This is the society of which I feel a part and where I am treated justly and equally. In other words, national belonging or national loyalty comes from a lived experience. You cannot produce that by a checklist of British values, because those values are difficult to list. More importantly, they are picked up as one grows up and are not taught. Equally importantly, national days and citizenship oaths, ceremonies and tests have at best a symbolic value. They can be no substitute for a genuine policy of tolerance and justice.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, for creating the opportunity for today’s debate.
It was Indira Gandhi who said:
“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist”.
So in achieving a successful multi-cultural Britain, we must build bridges between our various communities and not walls. For me, the essential message of campaigners such as Wilberforce, Clarkson and former slaves such as Equiano was a simple truth: that there is only one race, the human race. It was a campaign that galvanised nations and clearly has an ongoing legacy today. I myself am a great-great-grandson of slaves. The Taylor plantation, from which I derive my surname, still exists in Jamaica today.
What of today’s Britain? There has been progress in bridging the equality gap between black and other ethnic minorities in mainstream Britain. I grew up in what I like to call paradise—an exotic place called Birmingham, just off the M6 motorway by the gasworks. At my old grammar school, I was taught nothing about black history. I had no idea that there were black inventors such as Elijah McCoy, who had more than 50 patents to his name and from whom the term “the real McCoy” was coined. I did not know that traffic lights and the first electronic heart pacemaker valve were invented by black men. We now have Black History Month, but it is a pity that we need it at all. The positive achievements of black people need to be a part of mainstream education rather than covered for just a few days each year.
Some argue that the destructive legacy of slavery is linked to the under-achievement of black communities today. Some 10 per cent of the prison population is black, compared with less than 3 per cent of the general population, and 16 per cent of those in young offender establishments are black. The lowest level of GCSE attainment is among Black-Caribbean pupils, especially boys. Only 27 per cent of Black-Caribbean boys achieve more than five or more A to C grades. Unemployment rates are three times higher in the black community than in the white community.
At the risk of dumbing-down the debate, I welcome the fact that this morning Channel 4 evicted another “Big Brother” contestant for using the racist “N” word. But I wonder what credibility that TV show can have in the future as this is yet another racist remark by a contestant following Jade Goody’s remarks in a previous series. One may say that it is only a television show but millions of people, especially young people, watch these programmes, and they have influence.
There is good news too. Many of Britain’s sporting and entertainment icons are black. Soccer stars such as Rio Ferdinand and singers such as Beverley Knight are now household names. Black and Asian politicians have established themselves, while the Asian business community has excelled. I hope that the true and moderate voice of Islam will prevail over the harmful rhetoric of extremist clerics in some of Britain's mosques.
For some years the post-Windrush debate about black communities was on the basis of civil rights and equal opportunities, and quite rightly too, but now the business case for diversity has emerged as a strong and compelling one. More and more industries and professions are realising that black and other ethnic minorities in Britain have spending power. The ethnic minority consumer is now an attractive market that needs to be wooed. That is why so many advertising campaigns now feature black and mixed-race people.
My own children, who are a mixture of Afro-Caribbean, Scottish, Polish, Russian, Irish, Indian and Jewish, are typical Londoners. They represent the fact that London is the most multi-cultural and multiracial city in the world. It is no coincidence that London is also the most vibrant financial centre in the world. Even the company boardrooms of Britain, which have traditionally been white, old and male, are beginning to open up to suitably qualified ethnic minority directors.
What of the future? For that we have to learn the lessons of the past. It was during the social reform of Victorian England that the Christian church took on the biblical command to be salt and light in society. Christians pioneered the changes that helped children, the poor, factory workers and the sick. It was this Christian tradition that Wilberforce, Shaftesbury and George Müller came from. With much zeal, Christian missionaries went out to convert black Africa.
The irony is that it is the black churches, particularly those led by Africans, which are doing the best in Britain today. God does have a sense of humour. It is not unusual to see a congregation of more than 2,000 at a service at London’s Kingsway International Christian Centre. There are more than 3,500 black-majority churches nationwide. These churches are based in the heart of the inner-cities and are able to touch the lives of people in a way that no politician can. Black church projects such as the Street Pastors initiative work with the homeless, addicts and prostitutes. They transform these troubled lives through a spiritual, not a political, ministry. Some of these churches run highly successful Saturday schools and care for the needs of the elderly and single mothers. Indeed, there is an opportunity for the Christian church as a whole and other faith groups—in the mosques, temples and synagogues—to use their influence in local communities. These faith groups are in a prime position to remove some of the barriers that block a harmonious multi-cultural Britain. I am glad that the Government have various initiatives to combat racism, but the faith groups, particularly the Christian groups, deserve more support because they achieve much in the inner-city communities.
William Wilberforce had no ambitions to be a government Minister. He was an MP but never achieved high office or ran big business. He felt a calling and helped to inspire the movement that led to the abolition of the slave trade, literally hours before his death. What would Wilberforce say of modern multi-cultural Britain? I am guessing that he would say something like, “Build upon what unites you, not what divides you. Yes, you still have problems to solve, but, as a nation, don’t get bitter—just get better”.
My Lords, I gently remind noble Lords that when the clock shows “5”, we are in the sixth minute.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate in this historic year and on introducing it in a way that reflects the deep commitment to multi-culturalism and the well-being of all citizens that has characterised his work in different fields over the years. When I spoke in the debate on slavery on 10 May, I focused on contemporary slavery. In my humanitarian and human rights work, focusing on people often trapped behind closed borders and receiving no help from major aid organisations, I have met hundreds of men, women and children who have escaped from modern slavery. I have heard their stories, seen the scars on their bodies and heard them tell of those they love who are still enslaved.
The greatest tribute we can pay to William Wilberforce and his co-abolitionists is to do all we can to complete his as yet unfulfilled mission to eradicate this barbaric phenomenon from the face of the earth. It is to our shame that there are still an estimated 27 million people enduring some form of slavery. I hope that a recollection of the legacy of past slavery will stimulate all of us who enjoy freedom to renew our endeavours to achieve freedom for all people in our day.
Today’s debate focuses on Wilberforce’s legacy for multi-culturalism for us today, and I will briefly highlight two aspects: first, the Christian faith and values—already referred to by previous speakers—that motivated and supported Wilberforce and the Clapham sect; and, secondly, the urgent need to do more to ensure respect and freedom for all citizens in this country today. Wilberforce himself emphasised his Christian faith as the driving force that made him continue his struggle against apparently overwhelming odds of commercial interests, disingenuous arguments and cruel complacency. On Sunday, 28 October, 1787 he wrote in his diary:
“God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of”—
society. David Vaughan, in his biography of Wilberforce, writes:
“Everything he was as a person, and everything he accomplished as a leader, was an expression of his Christian faith. And any attempt to ‘secularize’ the abolition movement in Britain is a revision of history ... Those immortal words penned in his diary say it all: ‘God Almighty has set before me...’ Wilberforce believed that God had called him to the task of abolition, and it was this Christian conviction that sustained him during the long and arduous struggle”.
However, there have been reports of attempts to play down or even to omit reference to this fundamental driving force of the abolitionist movement by some influential bodies. For example, funding by the Mayor of London’s Office for the initiative by the Centre for Contemporary Ministry to bring the replica slave ship, the “Zong”, to London was subject to the condition that there should be no emphasis on the role of Wilberforce or the Christian faith. Instead, the emphasis was to be on “racism”. This requirement was so unacceptable that the organisers had to turn down the conditional sponsorship of £50,000. The Heritage Lottery also refused to provide funding because the exhibition included modern slavery. Such constraints violate historical integrity and undermine the “Zong” initiative, designed to combine concern for both past and present. The mayor has now recognised the educational value of the “Zong”, and supports the idea of it having a permanent place in London because it may help Carribeans, particularly young Carribeans, to know that their history is acknowledged and recorded. But this must be seen in the context of the faith and values which inspired and sustained the struggle of the abolitionists.
My second concern is with the continuation of slavery on our own doorsteps. The Stop the Traffik campaign is deeply concerned about the growth of human trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labour. In 2003, Home Office statistics suggested that there were 4,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution in the UK. The figure is now believed to be significantly higher. For example, 10 years ago, 85 per cent of women working in brothels were UK citizens. Now, 85 per cent are of foreign origin, with good grounds for believing that the majority are victims of trafficking, working against their will in appalling conditions of exploitation. Discussions about multi-culturalism must embrace concern for anguish and agony on our own doorsteps. There can be no more marginalised and exploited people than those currently enslaved in our midst today.
I conclude with two practical proposals for the Minister’s consideration. The first echoes Wilberforce’s challenge to the commercial interests of his day with his exposure of the role of the sugar industry in promoting slavery. Stop the Traffik is trying to expose the role of the chocolate industry in the exploitation of trafficked children on cocoa plantations in west Africa. I ask the Minister what action is being taken by Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that chocolate sold in this country is produced without the use of forced child labour.
Secondly, will Her Majesty’s Government give sympathetic consideration to the proposal to establish a royal commission on slavery? On 26 March, I introduced the First Reading for a Bill to establish such a commission. It would provide an opportunity for experts to give evidence on the horrific realities of slavery past and present. The evidence would be available as a permanent record and an authoritative resource. The commission could also recognise and support existing efforts to abolish slavery by individuals, civil society and Governments, including Her Majesty’s Government. It would thus be a fitting initiative to mark this bicentenary year in commemoration of the parliamentary achievement of William Wilberforce, and would enshrine for all time the important issues raised in today’s debate: a multi-cultural Britain in which the fundamental rights of every citizen are protected and Wilberforce’s endeavours to achieve freedom for every citizen of the world until all are free.
My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, for bringing this matter before us. In the 360 seconds available to me, I shall make two very simple points. My noble friend Lord Parekh reminded us that a watered-down version of the legislation came before this Parliament in 1806. There had been several heroic attempts to get it on the statute book in the 1790s, and it was finally approved with a wrecking amendment by the then Home Secretary, which led to a delay that proved fatal. The regicide in France led to concern for security, lest similar things happened here, and there was a great black hole of 15 years during which nothing much seems to have happened. While I admire Wilberforce’s immense courage and his undoubted faith, I suggest that during that time he withdrew from the fray to some extent and prioritised other and more pietistic objectives because he subscribed to the mood then prevalent that national security should be the over-riding concern.
When we become obsessed by issues of national security, potential mob rule and the subversion of the existing order, questions relating to civil liberties get put into the second league, the Championship. I draw from that the fact that we must be careful that when we become preoccupied with national security, we must be vigilant on the question of civil liberties, and I surely do not need to spell that out. However, two very remarkable articles have caught my eye: Shiv Malik’s article in the current edition of Prospect about his researches into those who caused the 7/7 bombings and Tariq Modood’s Multiculturalism, citizenship and national identity. They both point us towards understanding that multi-culturalism is used as a whipping boy and is particularly used to justify oppressive measures and create oppressive attitudes towards minorities, particularly Muslim minorities, in this country at this time. National security is a great danger to civil liberties.
My second point is that during the 15 years that I referred to, the greatest significant contribution towards the emancipation of slaves had nothing to do with our efforts to see that the slave trade was ended. That was only a partial objective, and it led to gross injustices of its own kind. It was on another continent, in the midst of the phenomenon of slavery, that the most significant happening occurred. It was the war for independence in the nation we now call Haiti, which was then Saint-Domingue. The greatest hero in this whole, rather tawdry, discussion is Toussaint L’Ouverture, who, in his writings, thinking and example, is the greatest black person I have ever encountered. The bicentenary of his death was shamefully overlooked and minimised just a couple of years ago. The 12-year struggle in the aftermath of the French revolution, which saw this Parliament endorse a military intervention in Saint-Domingue that saw 20,000 British troops die on Haitian territory—a figure that is never referred to in our school textbooks and of which no one is really aware—as we sought to pick up the richest of France’s colonies during the disturbances in Paris. Later, when Napoleon came back into power in France, an expeditionary force was sent under General Maitland—our Army had ignominiously withdrawn by then—and an equal number of French troops were killed or died before General Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother-in-law was expelled with his tail between his legs. I mention this because the moment Haiti became independent on 1 January 1804, the international community decided to have nothing to do with it. The spiral into a pariah state that has continued ever since began on the very day of independence
We should draw an important lesson from that. My daughter works with Cambodian victims of the sex tourism trade in Thailand. She speaks fluent Khmer, and I am immensely proud of her. She does civil rights work with those victims in Cambodia, and she is married to a nice Cambodian boy. We are enormously happy with all of that. However, I look at places such as Cambodia and I have worked extensively with Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic and have seen the conditions in which they live, so I am aware of contemporary forms of slavery and the way that the international community is blithely ignorant of, and cares little for, the plight of such people.
I look back to the parliamentary history for the legacy of Wilberforce and I see not just something that is undiluted light and progress, but lessons that desperately need to be learnt.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, on this timely debate. It is time seriously to debate concepts, ideologies and thoughts that lie behind the noble Lord’s Motion. I shall speak about multi-culturalism in today’s Britain.
In 2004, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, said that multi-culturalism was of an era and needed to be scrapped. He said that the term suggested “separateness” was no longer useful in present-day Britain.
The Cantle report in 2002 found that there was a depth of segregation and a total lack of contact between different racial groups. It highlighted the poor leadership in the local authorities and other institutions of Oldham, Bradford and Burnley, and the lack of commitment to a multiracial and diverse society.
I make these points first to highlight the real need for an honest and open debate. My contributions are predominantly of experiences and events around what I have witnessed and what I currently witness. A lot has been made in recent days about the need for Britishness, citizenship and for all different communities, old and new, to make efforts to fit in and better integrate.
These are noble desires until you realise how hard those simple desires become. Today there are cities in Great Britain where large pockets of communities live separate lives—a mini city within a city. People within these communities see no need to integrate, to learn English or to make friends outside their communities, and they feel that there is no need to build ties for the sake of their children. Therefore, the next generation sees that as normal and the cycle continues.
To live parallel lives is difficult enough for children and young people, but to ensure that a separate existence is created really does prevent any hope of integration and understanding of the communities and societies in which we live. I understand, probably better than most, how difficult it is to find a balance between living a life which you see as completely normal, fitting in with the norm around you, while, on the other side of the coin, satisfying a parental need to retain and maintain traditions and cultures.
The problem of politicians and Governments has been to look at short-term solutions when welcoming different cultures, races and religions into Britain. This has ensured that longer-term problems which build up receive a sticking plaster remedy that covers them for a short time, while other problems take their place.
While of course a certain provision of support is always necessary for communities to settle and to integrate, when those supports become permanent crutches they throw up bigger and much more difficult problems to solve. The problem of learning a language instantly comes to mind. A recent report on “Newsnight” informed audiences of the tens of thousands of pounds spent on interpreters. It was discovered that this actually discouraged people from learning English.
I come from a city that is often cited as being one of the success stories of multi-culturalism—Leicester. It has welcomed new communities and a great number of success stories have come from there. But, if we look deeper, we will find that even there, distinct areas have developed where children will grow up meeting no one of another race, culture or religion, and where there is no involvement in local activities, such as watching football or going to rugby and taking part in sporting activities, that encourage cross-cultural integration.
In a recent conversation with a colleague, I was asked why some young people whose origins were south Asian, but who were born and brought up in Great Britain, refused to socialise in the wider community. I put this question to a group of those young people. They said that their idea of socialising was not to get completely drunk on a Friday or Saturday night, and they did not want to do drugs and fall about in the streets. They were making those choices because what they saw being offered in the wider community ran in the opposite direction to what would be acceptable to them and their families. They felt that respect for families and others in society had disappeared, and they valued the opinions of families and friends far more than the wider community, even if that made them appear divorced from the mainstream.
The remedies are never easy. Differences should be celebrated. But for civic society to succeed in ensuring that all participate fully, it has to celebrate and encourage the things that are common to us all. Employment opportunities, especially in the public sector, still produce difficult barriers. Full engagement is crucial if different cultures are to share confidences and commonalities.
As a British citizen of Indian origin, I want to be seen as a British Indian, with my identity clear to all, not an ethnic minority that creates no sense of belonging to anything or any place. I want to share a common culture, one in which I share common values and traditions, partake in celebrations and share the worries—as well as proudly celebrating the culture and traditions—of my Indian origins, just as you would if you had Scottish, Welsh or Irish ties.
Governments must be brave enough to recognise that in a climate of uncertainty and mistrust, an honest and open debate must be had.
My Lords, I remind your Lordships that, after the passage of the Bill abolishing the slave trade in 1807, something remarkable occurred. From the moment that the Bill received Royal Assent in March of that year, successive Governments made a determined effort to secure the international abolition of the slave trade. What was the point of abolishing the British trade in slaves if our place was to be taken by the French, the Spaniards or the Portuguese?
In 1807, this country embarked on what the late Mr Robin Cook would in 1997 describe as an ethical foreign policy—one against the slave trade. That lasted for about 60 years and was remarkably successful. The policy had four elements. First, there was simple diplomacy aimed to persuade other powers, France included, at the Congress of Vienna, that the slave trade was evil. Secondly, there was diplomacy backed by money, a policy devoted to countries in Europe such as Portugal and Spain which, it was rightly thought, would like some financial support in the form of loans in return for abolition. Thirdly, the same commitment of diplomacy and cash was directed at African monarchs, merchants and noblemen who had greeted the abolition of the slave trade in Britain with incredulity. We need to recall that the vast majority of slaves carried by European captains to the New World were sold by, or exchanged with, African merchants, kings or noblemen. That is one reason why the whole idea of compensation is especially difficult.
A fourth tactic was adopted by British Governments. That was the remarkable naval patrol by ships of the Navy off the African and, to a lesser extent, the Brazilian and Caribbean coasts to try physically to prevent the Atlantic slave trade continuing. For example, a British West Africa squadron of two vessels made a trial journey for that purpose to west Africa in 1808. The last such voyage was in 1870, after which the battle-scarred West Africa squadron was merged with the Capes squadron. Between those years, of some 2 million slaves who had been carried across, 160,000 were freed from slave ships by the Navy. Not far short of 1,400 slave ships were seized by the Navy—about a sixth of the 7,750 slave ships which probably set off in that era.
In the last stages of the patrol era, British naval vessels were joined by some French and American vessels. Those two nations played a small part in that police operation, although a far lesser part than we did. British Secret Service money was amply used to assist naval captains. For example, for a time, the harbour master of Río de Janeiro was working for us, so the Navy was well informed of arrivals and departures of slave ships from that port in the 1840s.
About 2,000 British seamen died as a result of skirmishes at sea, from yellow fever or from malaria contracted on land or in the rivers of the slave coasts, which had by then begun to be known as the white man’s grave. That was a long, wearisome commitment, with an importance far greater than the number of slaves released would suggest. It tried the nerves as well as the patience of officers and seamen alike for year after year. It also was trying for Members of this House and of another place. That commitment by the Royal Navy enabled us to look back from the early 21st century with real pride at the years immediately after abolition. It caused Palmerston to consider in old age that his achievement in bringing an end to the slave trade to Brazil was his greatest work. If we are fair, it also allows us to recall the famous liberal historian, Lecky, who wrote in A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, of the,
“unweary, unostentatious … crusade of England against slavery”—
after Wilberforce had begun his work, of course—which,
“may probably be regarded as among the three or four perfectly virtuous pages comprised in the history of nations”.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, for introducing today’s debate, which is an opportunity for Members of this House to commemorate the bicentenary of the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807. I am pleased that so many distinguished noble Lords are taking part.
Earlier this week, I participated in a tribute to William Wilberforce in his birthplace, the city of Hull, in celebration of his achievements. To make people feel the pain of others’ suffering, the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam, described in his address what it was like in Mauritius, where most of the populace are direct descendants of slaves. These people were enslaved and taken to Mauritius by European companies, which exploited human beings to satisfy their greed. We should all feel justly ashamed of that.
In contrast, the city of Belfast, where I live, took a courageous and enlightened stand against the slave trade as far back as 1796. Tom McCabe, one of Belfast’s radicals and a small businessman in the jewellery trade, saved Belfast from slavers and slavery. Warning against the establishment of a slave company, he is noted as saying:
“May God wither the hand, and consign the name to eternal infamy, of the man who will sign that document”.
As a result, the port of Belfast was closed to the slave ships and a boycott of sugar was launched.
Slavery is an inhuman and degrading practice, which tragically is still being carried on in different forms in some parts of the world by criminal gangs and feudal tribes. Contemporary slavery—the exploitation of the poor and weak—is being driven by economic influences, such as the continuing demand from consumers in developed nations for ever cheaper goods and raw materials. Tea today, for example, costs a fraction of its price when it was first introduced to Britain. How many of us realise that the workers in tea gardens in India, who are mostly women with young children, earn less than $1 a day? We are happy to buy goods produced in countries where workers do not earn a living wage, but we fail to realise that they are working as economic slaves to sustain our rich and affluent lifestyles. Waste is part of the disposable society in which we live today. We buy it cheap and throw it away. Low costs encourage waste, so this lifestyle has a major environmental impact.
Poor countries and their people are caught in a vicious cycle. We do not pay a fair price for what we buy from them. They have little or no bargaining power. The rich and powerful consumer countries and international trading companies have the power and the muscle to drive down prices to rock bottom. We must address meaningfully and effectively the rampant consumerism that strips developing nations of their natural resources and forces their peoples to live often in abject poverty.
There can be no economic justice and fairness unless we create a world order with a minimum wage in each country according to its cost of living. We need to do on an international scale what the trade unions did to improve the working lives of people in this country early in the last century. We can have slogans such as “Make Poverty History”, but we will not have much success unless we look at the economic world order and provide structures on a global scale to ensure that the weaker members of mankind are given a fair wage and a fair chance. Many young people growing up in developing countries feel disfranchised. They lose hope and because of this they fall prey to extreme organisations. We must develop a global culture of caring and sharing. To quote a line from Mahatma Gandhi's daily prayers, you can only claim to be a good person if you can feel the pain of others’ suffering. If people earn a basic wage in their own countries, there will be less human trafficking, illegal immigration and exploitation by international gangs and criminals.
In the 200 years since the passing of Wilberforce’s legislation, slavery and the trafficking of men, women and children have increased dramatically. We have all heard and been appalled by the figures from the UN and other agencies. I believe that the UN or the WTO should take the lead in addressing economic issues more effectively by means of a minimum wage that would improve living conditions in poor nations and increase awareness of the plight of the victims of the worst aspects of consumerism in the West. We will not see the end of human exploitation and suffering unless we develop a system of ensuring that people are paid a living wage.
In the bicentenary year of Wilberforce, we should take a vow to work towards a fairer international order to achieve the real end of exploitation, give people hope for a better future and show them by our deeds and actions that we care. The struggle to end slavery started here. Let us take another step and complete the work that Wilberforce started 200 years ago to achieve a fairer world order. That is the only way to achieve a peaceful world.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, not only on having secured this debate, but also on his eloquent and compelling introduction. I must say that there have been several other notable contributions to this debate. Isaac Newton famously once said:
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.
That phrase applies not only to great scientists or great philosophers, but also to great reformers. It also applies to William Wilberforce, who was famously diminutive of stature, so he may have needed to stand on something to see further anyway. However, it is true in a much more profound sense, to which a number of other speakers have alluded. What Wilberforce achieved was magnificent and a tribute to his persistence and determination, but it also depended on the efforts of many others. In this country, we think of the campaigning endeavours of Thomas Clarkson or the former slave Olaudah Equiano, who has already been referred to. He gained his freedom from his owner, Robert King, who taught him to read and write and educated him as a Quaker. He then became an abolitionist who worked with Clarkson. There are many others across the country. However, I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Griffiths. Bringing an end to slavery was the result of worldwide movements—not just in what is now Haiti, but in Africa, Jamaica and elsewhere. Indeed, some of the critics of the commemoration days established for Wilberforce have made the point even more forcefully than did my noble friend, and I fully back it up.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, expressed regret that we have to delve back into our own history to discover the many strands in it, but it is important to do so. An example of that is the work of local historians on the Black History in Dorset project. Dorset is not one of the counties that we associate with the slave trade, because most of the history concentrates on cities and the large ports in the north, but slaves came directly to Dorset ports and their descendants have lived in Dorset and the surrounding counties ever since. Moreover, the wealth of Dorset came in substantial part from slave plantations overseas. Dorset also had its abolitionists, such as Thomas Foxwell Buxton. A lot of history is still to be resurrected, and the work of local historians is important to this.
We have always lived in a mongrel country, the term used by two or three authors of histories of Britain. It means that diversity, cultural difference and what social scientists in their odd way call “hybridity” are part of mainstream British history and are not marginal to it. But when we fast forward to the present, we see that these things are now even truer than they were in the past, as many speakers have said.
We live in a society of cultural diversity. The term “multi-culturalism” has been widely applied, but at the moment the notion of multi-culturalism is under something of a cloud. People on both the right and the left are declaring multi-culturalism to be dead and arguing that we have to move beyond it. I want fiercely to contest that idea, which is based on a false understanding of what multi-culturalism is.
Modern thinking about multi-culturalism has its origins, especially in Canada, in the writings of distinguished philosophers such as Charles Taylor and in the approach to migration and diversity that successive Canadian Governments have taken. If you understand it in this sense, multi-culturalism has never meant what its critics here and elsewhere often say; it has never meant cultural or historical relativism. It has always meant the primacy of law, especially of international law, and the primacy of common laws of humanity over individual cultural difference. It has never meant the denial of national identity. The present Government have in some part derived their ideas from Canadian schemes of migration. Canada has always stressed citizenship ceremonies and the primacy of national identity, and it has forged a place for cultural difference in relation to that. Multi-culturalism has never meant the separation of communities. On the contrary, the whole literature of multi-culturalism, which is very sophisticated, has always advocated fostering connections between communities; it has always been about contesting the separation of communities, not endorsing it. We have many ways of furthering that.
In conclusion, I should like to claim that this country is probably the most successful multi-cultural country in Europe. Contrary to what people say, indices of segregation between ethnic groups show that segregation is reducing rather than increasing, as is reflected in individual studies of communities. While many people might say that multi-culturalism is dead, I say, “Long live multi-culturalism”.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend for this opportunity to continue our reflections on the legacy of the slave trade. As a Cross-Bencher, I join him in calling for more independence from Whips in another place.
Coming to terms with slavery, as painful as it can be, is part of a gradual healing process in our society that can only help to build a strong and diverse community. It has also become a valuable exercise in global and community education, an issue that was touched on earlier. I congratulate the Government on helping teachers to use the history of the slave trade to expand students’ awareness of international affairs and on doubling their development education budget for schools and further education. That has meant a great deal: Mandarin, Arabic, climate change, healthy cooking and slavery are now all on the school menu.
In February, the Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, announced changes that included compulsory teaching for key stage 3 students on the history and the impact of the slave trade, with explicit reference to the role of reformers such as Wilberforce and Equiano. As the Minister knows, I have admired the work of the Development Education Association since I came to this House and she will know of the ingenuity of the many small development education centres and organisations, such as the ones in Dorset, that are working to create case studies and course work based on the legacy of the slave trade. To me, this work is perhaps the most fundamental means of ensuring that we have a more progressive and understanding multi-cultural society in the future.
Slavery has inspired a wide range of activities this year, including the dramatic concert in Westminster Hall last month hosted by my noble friend Lady Young, who has done so much for our own exhibition. There are major exhibitions, conferences and other events occurring every week this summer; school linking is bringing students across countries to share their experiences and gain a wider understanding of slavery in its modern forms.
There are many equally valuable smaller activities. For example, the Fairmead SEN school near Bristol in its slavery project invited an artist from Ghana to create some traditional artwork. The school also set out to challenge preconceptions by bringing in artefacts and photographs from Zambia to demonstrate the diversity of lifestyles, looking at housing, transport, costume, shopping and so on. For me, this links directly with the powerful imagery of the Clarkson chest, which noble Lords will know from our parliamentary exhibition, confronting our society, again, with African arts and crafts of high quality. This project has been supported by the DEA and the local education centre, as well as by DfID through the Global Dimension website for teachers.
DfID has an obvious interest in all these projects, but it is important that the DfES should also take them seriously; it should talk to bodies such as the DEA to ensure that practice in schools keeps up with contemporary themes and trends and is not only dependent on the fact that there is a slavery anniversary. One of the many advantages of welcoming new migrants and asylum seekers is that they know what is happening in other cultures and can keep us abreast of these trends and changes.
This month I detect some apprehension about our incoming Government and what they might do about immigration. What a contrast between the educational work that I have described and the barriers that are going up against new asylum seekers and migrants. We will hear more about that in the Statement in a moment and we will debate next week the UK Borders Bill, which has been introduced largely in the name of anti-terrorism and national security, to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths.
Here I declare an interest as a member of the Independent Asylum Commission. The commission emerged last year from a grass-roots initiative called the Citizen Organising Foundation, which produced an influential report on immigrants at Lunar House. The Asylum Commission is taking a new and, we hope, impartial look at the system dealing with asylum seekers, and we will make our own recommendations early next year. These are to ensure that we continue our proud history of sanctuary while restoring public confidence in the system.
The commission is committed to investigating the asylum system on behalf of a whole range of citizens, from those who believe that asylum seekers are not being treated with humanity to those who believe that our asylum system is too generous. In my view, in the debate on immigration we are often concerned about overall numbers, as we should be, and so rarely acknowledge the achievements of those who come here for further study or asylum and return to help their own societies in Africa and elsewhere. There are spectacular examples of that.
Finally, I commend the current Strangers into Citizens campaign of the Citizen Organising Foundation. Its proposal is simple: irregular migrants who have lived and worked in the UK for four or more years should be granted a two-year work permit and, at the end of those two years, subject to employer and character references, they should be given leave to remain. I do not hide the disadvantages of any form of amnesty for immigrants, but the writing is on the wall. It is arguable that if we do not create a solution, there will never be one. I hope that the Minister will grant that this proposal is now firmly under discussion.
My Lords, I am very much looking forward to reading Hansard tomorrow because so far this debate has been so rich, varied and interesting. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, for initiating it.
I shall focus on the significance of racial stereotyping, which was developed and consolidated during the period of African enslavement in the 18th and 19th centuries—ways of thinking about Africans that, one might say, have also plagued abolitionists. Those ideas have endured, and they have continued to exert their pernicious influence in many areas of our lives today.
“Race”, which I always use in inverted commas, is not an objective, culture-free designation of difference. The underpinning of theories of race and difference some 200 years ago was the supposed superiority of white western Europeans. Newly developed scientific theories about physical characteristics and human evolution purported to demonstrate that Africans were intellectually, morally and culturally inferior to all other racial groups. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned Clarkson’s chest, which is in the current parliamentary exhibition in Westminster Hall on the abolition of the slave trade. The collection of objects and artefacts in that chest question the notion of a hierarchy of civilisations that was prevalent at the time.
It is now generally accepted that the old biological definitions of “race” are spurious. However, notions of racial difference are deeply embedded in our society, and we are still locked into the habit of racialised thinking. It is a problem because it affects the ways identities are formed and social interaction experienced on a day-to-day basis. The belief that there are fundamental, essential differences between black and white peoples persists, resulting in particular psychological, physical and intellectual characteristics being attributed to each group. For people of African descent, the consequences have been devastating. Words and phrases such as “big black bloke”, “boisterous”, “loud”, “physically massive” or “good at sports” may seem innocuous, objective terms, but such descriptors are often code words for what are seen as specifically “black” modes of behaviour requiring restraint and control. We can see this in the way that black people are prescribed stronger drugs more frequently than others within the mental health system, in the over-representation of black males in prisons and in underachievement in the education system. Some people argue that stereotypes are rooted in reality, but if we continually assess people on that basis we confine them; we trap them in certain modes of behaviour, and discourage aspiration and ambition.
To some extent we have all internalised these ideas at some stage, and we must seek to challenge both black and white people who continue to promote these confining forms of categorisation. If we look at the specific instance of the association of people of African descent in the Caribbean with music and dance—I focus on that because it is a clear example, but I could also have mentioned sport—we see that there are logical historical reasons for the development of particular kinds of music and modes of communication. While enslaved Africans were encouraged by their owners to sing as they worked under the brutal plantation regime, they were forbidden to sing of freedom. It was in this context that the enslaved found ways to link their musical cultures to the European hymns that they were hearing to create new musical forms such as “negro spirituals”, with lyrics that subverted the law that banned articulating the desire for freedom. As far as the plantation owners were concerned, these were harmless ditties, but, in reality, they were coded escape plans. Abducted Africans were split up in such a way that those within the same language groups were separated and forbidden to speak in their own languages. Therefore, non-linguistic forms of interpersonal communication, such as physical gesture, music, drumming and dance, were particularly important. These became essential parts of the repertoire of communication and resistance.
In the Americas, the Caribbean and across Europe and Africa, individual and collective protest against prevailing political and social conditions has continued to be woven as a thread through the musical forms of African diaspora peoples, be it in gospel, jazz, blues, reggae, soul or hip-hop. The experience of enslavement, calculated to dehumanise and oppress, was resisted and given a voice and dignity through these forms, and they have both energised and transformed the vocabularies of modern music.
Two weeks ago, as has already been mentioned, we launched the exhibition, The British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and People in Westminster Hall. One of the schools working with the poet in residence, Rommi Smith, sang three traditional west and south African songs. One could almost hear the children thinking afterwards, as they watched other performers play their music and sing, that they, too, would like to be able to play professionally the violin or to sing soprano.
Three of the contemporary composers whose work was performed at the launch, Errollyn Wallen, Byron Wallen and Shirley Thompson, are black Britons who are following in the footsteps of African 18th-, 19th- and early 20th-century poets and musicians who drew on both European and African musical traditions, including people such as Joseph Emidy, George Polgreen Bridgetower and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. However, they all have to face the struggle to escape stifling categories which attempt to place one’s work in boxes such as “street music” or “urban music” linked to ethnic origin.
The legacy of slavery has produced some wonderful achievements against all the odds, but it has led also to the creation of an alienated underclass with little or no stake in society. One of the legacies of this year’s events must surely be a greater determination to be much more imaginative and effective in how we tackle this situation.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, for having introduced this debate and for the refreshing and lively way in which he spoke. The abolition of slavery, I suggest, was about not just the abolition of an institution, but the emancipation of the people trapped in it. My contention is that until we have overcome exploitation wherever it exists, the work will remain incomplete.
This is obvious in the context of immigration. We are told that the unquestionable basic truth of international life now is the global economy and liberal economics. This means the free movement of capital, the free movement of investment, the free movement of goods—or people argue for these principles—but the one thing that we cannot accept is the free movement of people. There is a strong, practical argument that we are not yet ready for the free movement of people and that just to launch into it would prove disastrous. However, if we are not yet ready for the free movement of people, we must recognise that there is a fundamental, huge flaw in the concept of the global market, meaning that we ought to treat with the utmost respect all the time the people who are frustrated by that flaw as they seek for themselves and their families the freedom and emancipation which we take for granted in our own society. If we do not have that respect, be it at ports of entry or in the Immigration Service, we are fanning the flames of alienation with God knows what consequences for national and global security. Full emancipation demands a prevailing social spirit of respect.
Like my noble friend Lord Giddens, I find the debates about whether multi-culturalism is a valid concept rather perplexing. We have always had it. We have had Scots, Welsh, Irish and English culture; we have even had the concept of working-class, middle-class and upper-class culture. The rich mix of those elements has made for the strength of the United Kingdom. If we recognise that point, I hope that I will not be alone in having anxieties about tests for citizenship. We cannot fulfil citizenship simply by passing a test; it is about belonging and participating in and feeling part of the society in which you seek citizenship. Of course, the paradox is that part of that reality is understanding and relating to the multi-culturalism.
I had the good fortune to go to a school where a third of the boys were Jewish. That had a tremendous impact on me, as someone who had grown up in a Scots and English nonconformist family. I came to value Jewish culture tremendously, and many of my lifelong friends have come from the Jewish community. Nobody could deny that the Jewish culture was there, and the mingling of the Jewish, Christian and agnostic culture was important in that secondary education. I must add that I frequently find myself asking—other noble Lords must ask themselves the question—how many white Anglo-Saxons at all levels of society, with long-standing origins of having lived in this country, would pass the citizenship test. We have to be careful about the damage done by institutionalised hypocrisy and double standards.
There has been reference in the debate to public service and the contribution made to it by immigrants; that is obvious, but I am concerned that the human potential to which the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, referred is still unfulfilled in the great institutions of our society. That is why it matters tremendously that the police, the armed services, the Civil Service and government at all levels reflect that vibrant multiculturalism. If I am allowed to say so, it means that it is terribly important that the servants of both Houses, at the most senior level, reflect the multi-culturalism of our society; I do not believe that they do, and we ought to ask ourselves why.
As we talk about our future in this House, what about the Bishops? They are totally absent this afternoon, I am sorry to say. I am an Anglican now, but why should a certain faith be represented as of right in this House, while others have to find their own representation by the extraordinary methods that we have for appointing Peers? How does that recognise and reflect multi-culturalism?
We live in a highly interdependent world community. We talk about citizenship, but ought to talk far more about global citizenship. Where in the G8, the World Bank and the Security Council of the United Nations is there a convincing reflection of the world as it exists today, as distinct from its old power structures? The task that Wilberforce undertook so bravely, courageously and tirelessly will not be fulfilled until we are all fighting for a redistribution of power in our global community.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be able to speak in support of my noble friend Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, who opened today’s debate in such a thoughtful and challenging way. I shall talk about the achievements of the abolitionist movement and adduce some contemporary lessons.
Recently, I took my children to see the excellent new film “Amazing Grace”. Its title is drawn from the hymn composed by the Liverpool slave-trading ship’s captain, John Newton, whose change of heart and mind and first-hand accounts of exposing the cruelties of the trans-Atlantic trade gave impetus and momentum to the abolitionist cause. If I have a criticism of the film it is the use of the phrase, “one man’s battle against injustice” to describe William Wilberforce. Remarkable man though he undoubtedly was, the slave trade was not—as we learnt in today’s debate and the earlier debates in May and December—the achievement of one man alone. It took the creation of a nationwide grass-roots movement to enable Wilberforce to persuade Parliament to enact change. And it would take persistence and the uprisings of slaves in Haiti, Jamaica and elsewhere over the following 26 years—as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and others—before slavery itself would be outlawed. In parenthesis, let me add that it is to our continuing shame that slavery persists in many guises and many parts of the world today.
The composition and achievements of the anti-slavery coalition are not simply of arcane historical interest. Though the original inspiration came from the Quakers, it was a Cambridge University divinity student, Thomas Clarkson, who became the indefatigable organiser who would spend more than 60 years of his life addressing meetings, collecting petitions and tramping the length and breadth of the country. The remarkable coalition that he assembled included Olaudah Equiano, who bought himself out of slavery and whose books describing his captivity sold in their thousands; Granville Sharpe, who used his formidable lawyer’s skills to take the fight to the judiciary; the poet and polemicist, William Roscoe; and Josiah Wedgwood, whose potteries produced lapel badges and hair braids in their millions declaring the simple truth:
“Am I not a man and a brother?”.
It is sometimes said in your Lordship’s House that those who have religious beliefs should keep them to themselves. Clarkson, Equiano, Sharpe and Wilberforce were all Christians who passionately believed that their private beliefs should animate public concerns. As we consider the nature of multi-cultural Britain, it is surely worth stating that the suppression of religious faith would have suppressed the very impulses that were the motivation and the lifeblood of the abolitionist movement. Doubtless religious adherents are guilty of all the same faults and sins of omission and commission as the next, but a secular intolerance that seeks to suffocate religious opinion will not help to create a tolerant or respectful Britain.
Last December, the Prime Minister gave a lecture entitled “Our Nation’s Future—multiculturalism and integration” at an event hosted by the Runnymede Trust. I agree with a lot of what he says about past mistakes and the time for a new approach to diversity. Where I part company with him is with the implication that it should be the objective of the state to privatise faith out of the public square. He draws a distinction between what he says “defines us as citizens” rather than “as people”. If the implication of this is that we can be Christian or Jewish or Muslim people but not Christian or Jewish or Muslim citizens and that British values cannot really be Christian values, in a country where 71 per cent in the 2001 census declared themselves to be Christian, it will lead to systemic alienation and greater fragmentation, not to cohesion.
Aggressive secularists too often fail to recognise the constructive and enriching role that religion can play in shaping culture and national identity. Religion is too often blamed for man’s failures—a sentiment brilliantly summed up by our British Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, who says:
“Don’t ask where was God at Auschwitz, ask where was man”.
Abolitionists asked the same sort of question when they found men avariciously selling and degrading other human beings. By the 1850s, 12 million people—some historians put the figure at 40 million—had been sold into bondage. Motivated by their faith, the abolitionists launched a nationwide campaign to do something about it. All over the country, Clarkson exhibited manacles and implements used to torture slaves that were purchased in Liverpool, and roused the conscience of the nation.
Every time you put your name on a petition, take part in a boycott, wear a lapel badge or a wristband, join a grassroots movement, read a report by an investigative journalist or are encouraged to combine a religious belief with practical action, you can trace the origins of that action to this first human rights campaign. With 27 million people enslaved today—including 8.4 million children—with trafficking, debt bondage, forced labour, child labour and race and caste-based slavery, there is no shortage of contemporary dragons waiting to be slain. There are many other causes, too. Perhaps if our political leaders were identified more with great causes and less with narrow party interests, it would inspire a new generation to enter our civic life.
I end with one brief observation. Two years ago an 18 year-old black Christian boy, Anthony Walker, died in a Merseyside hospital after a gang of four white youths mounted a racially motivated attack and set upon him while he waited for a bus at a bus stop in Huyton with his white girlfriend. The gang hacked him to death with an axe, which they embedded in his skull. In contrast to the case of Stephen Lawrence, the Merseyside police immediately named this as a racially motivated murder and arrested and convicted those responsible. Few who heard the dignified and forgiving remarks of Anthony’s mother, Gee, could have been left unmoved. That evening I could not but think of the abolitionists and their logo:
“Am I not a man and a brother?”
It is surely that belief in a common humanity and a common good—a belief which counters and resists pernicious racism and which replaces violence with mutual respect and tolerance that holds the key to our country’s future.
My Lords, as the last Back-Bench speaker in this fascinating and wide-ranging debate, which was so excellently introduced, I shall make just one central point and illustrate it with examples. It follows on directly from the previous contribution. The point is simple and obvious and is made by that extraordinary Wedgwood plate just referred to, which shows a black man kneeling in chains with the logo,
“Am I not a man and a brother?”.
Amid all the much larger-scale political, economic and social arguments, it is a direct appeal from one human being to another. It illustrates the simple point that when you see somebody else as a human being, talk to them and look into their eyes, it is much harder to brutalise and exploit them. It is a simple and obvious point but I emphasise that it needs to be remembered and interpreted practically in every new circumstance. If what I have said is true, and if it is an important part, but only part, of challenging evil and injustice, what does it mean for public leadership and policy now?
I give two examples. As chief executive of the NHS, I was conscious that we were the biggest employer of staff from black and minority ethnic communities in the country—170,000 people, or 14 per cent of the workforce. But I was also conscious that the organisation was, in Trevor Phillips’s word, “snowcapped”; in other words, it had a very broad base but, as you moved towards the top of the pinnacle, it became whiter. I am also very conscious that, despite the contribution over the years of so many people from the Caribbean—I am delighted to see that celebrated in Many Rivers to Cross, which was published last year in partnership with the Department of Health—Africa, Asia and, more recently, the Philippines, there are real feelings of inequality and injustice within the system. Staff and patient surveys within the NHS say that levels of satisfaction with employment and services are lower among people from black and minority ethnic communities than they are in the wider community. This is a consistent finding.
Quite apart from the obvious moral and legal reasons why this is a bad thing, there are good business reasons why it is important to address it. The first, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is the potential waste of not being able to draw on all the talents within the community. The second is the need to deliver culturally sensitive healthcare to a culturally diverse population. That point has been made in relation to mental health and coronary heart disease.
I know that the NHS is not unique and that the same issues arise elsewhere. I am told by friends that these same feelings of injustice—of something not being quite truly there for them as for other people, and of not being seen as equal participants—have a wider impact on national identity issues. As one friend said, integration will happen only if young people can see that there is a future for themselves in which the UK acknowledges their presence and does so in the context of equity and fairness, a point that echoes the one made so eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma.
In trying to address those issues in the NHS, we did many things—of course, there is not just one solution—but I want to mention one in particular. It concerned one-to-one mentoring between senior people within the organisation and people from black and minority ethnic groups. As chief executive, I challenged the senior leaders to take part and, indeed, over a year 900 became involved in that sort of mentoring relationship. I hope that it was helpful to the black and minority ethnic community people who were involved, but what was interesting for those of us in leadership positions was how two-way the mentoring process was. The first person whom I mentored was black, a woman and a nurse. Obviously I am not two of those things, but neither am I a nurse, and seeing the NHS from the point of view of a very different person with a very different perspective, sociologically as well as in employment terms, was absolutely fascinating.
At that time, I was struck by a newspaper headline that said that 75 per cent of white people over the age of 50 did not have a black friend. There is segregation in all kinds of different ways in society. That mentoring programme was mutual and fun and I hope that it started to make a difference, but it needed to be done in the context of an excellent breaking-through programme to provide opportunities for professional equalities and human rights action and opportunities for more articulate non-executives from wider and more diverse communities. There is a long way to go but my point is that the individual human context is an important part of this.
Perhaps I may mention one other practical example in international development. I believe that there is an important place for all the link partnerships and twinning arrangements between communities, hospitals, schools and organisations in developed and developing countries. There are now thousands of them and they deserve our support. As Build, a coalition of NGOs building partnerships and links, says:
“Barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding can only break down when we engage and create partnerships at grassroots level”.
Of course, that is not the whole story on international development but it is an important part of it.
Perhaps I may mention one other example in responding to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. Part of the greatest need in supporting development in Africa concerns human resources for health. I am pleased that the G8 has been discussing that need and the fact that a massive scaling-up in the training and development of health staff within developing countries is required. We in the UK have a responsibility as a global employer and the ability, with our great health and education establishments, to do something about that.
Finally, on the leadership role of today’s Wilberforces, it is essential to confront evil and to take on the unfinished business of slavery and exploitation. It is essential to use economic, political and social levers to support opportunity, create change and tackle injustice. It is also important to make these changes sustainable and to find practical ways of supporting human relationships across boundaries. That, in turn, will build long-term relationships and understanding and tackle prejudice and misunderstanding.
My Lords, we take pride in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, on this debate. His powerful and wide-ranging arguments have given us much to think about. He has provided us with an opportunity to reflect on a movement and a group of individuals who literally changed the world. The protagonists—Wilberforce, Clarkson, Newton, Sharp, Equiano and, not least, the female figures of Heyrick and others— showed the powerful application of moral purpose. They did this to benefit people whom they did not know, with no thought of self-interest—indeed, only self-sacrifice was evident. The recognition of a common humanity mobilised an entire country over time against powerful vested interests.
Among the many things that we can learn from their legacy, one thing stands out above others, and the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, touched on it—I am sorry that he is not in his place. I refer to the length of time that it took to eradicate the trade. Adam Hochschild reminds us in his powerful book, Bury the Chains, that:
“For fifty years, activists in England worked to end slavery in the British Empire. None of them gained a penny by doing so, and their eventual success meant a huge loss to the imperial economy”.
The fact is that, even after 1833, many thousands of slaves continued to be transported between the major European powers and North and Latin America. The shadowy form of the trade continues today in some developing countries, and its cousin—bonded labour—still blights the lives of the very poorest in society in many parts of the world, despite its immorality, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, reminded us.
Other more contemporary aspects of this debate raise vexed questions about both the characteristics of a multi-cultural Britain today and what we do about it in current policy. When the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, who has just returned to the Chamber, commented that the policy is attacked from right and left, I noted that he did not single out Liberals. I am sure that he was conscious of Isaiah Berlin’s conceptions of value pluralism as an important British contribution—via Riga, I admit, but nevertheless a British contribution—to the philosophy underpinning that tradition.
We have heard much from the Government in the past few years about the characteristics of a multi-cultural Britain. We have had action and fine words galore from the Prime Minister, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and, only a few days ago, from the Minister for Immigration. The thinking has evolved somewhat along the following lines, which I shall summarise briefly. Initially, the thinking from the Chancellor was that there is a problem with the union, in that the Scots want to be free of the English, so perhaps we need to sign everyone up to Britishness. Then from the Prime Minister we had the nuanced argument that there is a problem with Muslims in that they do not sign up to our values so we need more law—terrorism law. Then, only a few months ago, in March Ms Kelly said that she had got it wrong and that what we need is both stick and carrot—the battle for hearts and minds as well as the diminution of civil liberties through terrorism legislation. Now from Ms Kelly and Mr Byrne, in a Fabian pamphlet that has just come out, we are told that the Britishness solution is the real solution, although we shall raise the bar for newer migrants. This has all come at the same time as we are reassured that this Government are unequivocally committed to, and clear about, their vision for a diverse and pluralist country. All the rest of us have to do—the rest of us migrants above all—is to learn the talk and walk the walk and all will be well.
There are some fairly fundamental flaws with these approaches. The first is the persistent tendency of the Government to conflate issues of diversity and integration with an entirely different set of issues to do with political Islamism and terrorism. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, have alluded to that. Those are a different set of issues again from those of Islamic extremism—not all extremists are violent and not all jihadi terrorists are motivated by Islam. On the Government's own Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who appears rather more conversant with expert thinking on these matters, has argued in his book Rethinking Islamism that Islamist terrorism is a violent political ideology rather than an amalgam of issues to do with deprivation, socio-economic factors or a lack of understanding of British values.
I say for the record that we believe that a serious public policy discussion arises from trends towards increasing diversity, and I will deal with them in a minute, but I want to stay with issues concerned with the most difficult and problematic area, that of the integration of British Muslims and the link that is drawn with terrorism. In the plethora of speeches that Ministers have given on a regular basis, one thread is becoming evident: the mixing together of the law-and-order agenda and the winning-hearts-and-minds agenda. While we on these Benches may have grave concerns about the detail of the law-and-order agenda, we support the Government in their duty to seek measures that will prevent and counter terrorism and terrorist-related acts. We believe that that is the appropriate concentration of the work on counterterrorism. However, the winning-hearts-and-minds agenda, while entirely worth while in terms of inculcating citizenship, is not the appropriate tool for counterterrorism. It runs the risk of selecting the wrong change-makers, as the sorry history of the Government’s relationship with the MCB shows; it runs the risk of involving the state in theological debates about religious precepts, which it is ill equipped to do. When it gets it wrong, it runs the risk of further alienating many different sections of its own citizens, who see its policies as selective and divisive.
A second flaw in the Government's thinking is their belief that the construction of a British identity can replicate US-style integration. This argument is flawed for several reasons. For one, the US is historically a society built entirely on immigration, which the United Kingdom is not. American society is therefore a leveller in the sense that new migrants repeat a pattern of “assimilation”—the favoured word there—in ways that are replicated in successive generations. There is therefore broad acceptance of those patterns: the migrant coming in, doing well and getting on. We do not have those examples passed down generationally to the extent that it becomes the story of all our backgrounds in this country, which is, at least racially, rather more homogeneous.
A further and distinct difference relates to the welfare state. The contract of entry to the US is that you will be financially self-sufficient from the outset, irrespective of how hard that may be. In return, the US will accept you as legitimate from the outset, but only if you are prepared to work your socks off. Once you have done that, the US will give you the reward of citizenship: no pain, no gain. In the UK, the fact of the support system provided by the welfare state changes the terms of that implicit contract. If I am asked to make a value judgment as to which I consider better, I have no problem in coming down on the side of the welfare state every time. I point to that striking difference because it fundamentally alters the motivation of new migrants to sign up to the host country, a point made by David Goodhart in his pamphlet on identity for the think tank Demos.
A third difference is the nature of immigration to the US versus the UK. The skills-based and quota-based system of the US attracts a different kind of migrant. The single most striking fact, when we look at Muslim communities in the US over the past year, is the difference in education, professional membership, and social and economic status of Muslims there versus here. It is no accident that they appear more integrated there, more segregated here. So the idea that we can import US-style loyalty to UK citizens is flawed and, if it were to succeed, would require a wholesale change to British and European identity and society—something that I do not advocate tampering with.
On the future of pluralism and diversity in the UK, one trend is apparent, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, pointed out: diversity will continue to increase due to our own demographics. As long as we in Britain continue to have declining birth rates and increasing longevity, we will continue to need to import labour. While we have found the EU a ready pool, one of the results of increasing prosperity, particularly among women, is a declining birth rate. Our population is likely to become more racially and religiously diverse in the not-too-distant future, as our workers come from further away. We must confront this challenge in a calm, measured and evidence-based manner, because the consequences of not planning and managing it are too evident, as we have seen in the example of Slough—a point forcefully made by the chief executive of that borough in the media this week.
A further and final point is the challenge of inculcating loyalty towards the majority in certain groups, such as Muslims, whose values and cultural and religious traditions can be different, although they are less different than is sometimes thought. We should not get overworked about the challenge for that particular group. Over time, there is a convergence of values between all groups in a society. Ultimately, school, the workplace and the community space all play their part in making us more homogeneous, despite our diversity. All of society changes, not just the newcomer. In the mean time, perhaps we should just concentrate on putting up with one another rather than aspiring to “bowling in groups”, to extend Robert Putnam’s US analogy.
In a recent Spectator article, John Gray stressed the value of tolerance in the first instance, rather than the exertion of more pressure on trying to have common moral values. Winning over hearts and minds cannot be dictated from on high, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said. Perhaps we need less policy and greater trust in people themselves. Trust in people doing the right thing kept the abolitionist struggle going over those long years. We have much to recall from that legacy.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, for initiating this debate and for a lively, intelligent and intellectual speech. It was a great start to this debate and set the scene for the way it developed and for the speeches that followed it. That was not easy because this debate follows hard on the heels of the debate promoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, on 10 May. The noble Lord made an inspiring speech, and we must thank him for it.
When we discussed this matter previously, the speeches were thoughtful, as they have been today. On both occasions, we had relevant discussions on the historical aspects of the abolition of slave trading through the great work of William Wilberforce and his Christian allies. It is notable that there were many women among them. They were not allowed to put their heads above the parapet but, as women always do, they provided the inspiration. As many speakers said, the abolition of slavery 20 years later was inspired by what William Wilberforce did.
However, the aftermath continues. Various forms of slavery have continued, and many speakers have referred to them. It is hard to find a definition of slavery, although I am sure many have tried. It seems to me that it is forced service provided by people against their free will, usually under duress with the threat of physical abuse or death, in inhumane conditions. There are still many examples across the world including the trafficking of women as sex slaves, young children being kidnapped and forced to become part of guerrilla or terrorist armies, and, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Rana, exploitation of workers to provide cheaper labour to produce cheaper goods. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, gave us many examples in the previous debate of the areas that I have touched on, and we still have a very active anti-slavery movement.
During the Recess, my husband and I had a short break in Barbados—I just wanted noble Lords to know that. It is a beautiful, welcoming island whose past is steeped in the slave trade. It was uninhabited for many centuries, but was settled, as I am sure noble Lords know, by the English in the 17th century and remained part of the British Empire until 1965, when it became a republic within the Commonwealth. It is now held up as one of the best examples of an effectively working parliamentary democracy, which is a good legacy of our influence there. Its increasing maturity as a nation is well demonstrated. However, it was founded on sugar plantations that needed a large number of workers, which resulted in its population being generated from slavery. Many of those who still live on the island have ancestors who were of African slave origin and who remained on the island when they became free men.
All the harvesting of the sugar crop is now done mechanically. It originally had to be cut by hand by machete and carried, usually by women. Today the crop is only about 25 per cent of that planted in the 18th century, but when one sees the acres of sugar, one realises the enormous physical labour and the vast numbers that would have been required to maintain the trade. The terrible tragedy was that they had to be obtained by the capture and enslavement of thousands of African people who were transported in inhumane and degrading circumstances from their homelands to provide that labour. Three and a half million slaves were transported in British ships, travelling first from Africa to Britain and then across the Atlantic.
George Washington briefly lived in Barbados. His house has recently been opened. It has a small exhibition on slavery, which graphically demonstrates, as do other current exhibitions, the awful nature of slavery—the neck yokes, the chains and the shackles—and the inhumanity of man to man.
Speakers have drawn attention to European slavery. Ironically, there was considerable migration of slaves from Barbados to Virginia, so much so that 8 million African Americans can claim Barbadian ancestry. The emancipation of slaves in America followed long after Wilberforce and his allies had brought slavery to an end in this country. That occurred after the American Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln defeated the confederate army, but it was only really following the great civil rights marches of the 1960s that true freedom came.
We would be proud today if, in addition to being able to claim that this nation brought slavery to an end in the 19th century, we could say that it had been for all time, but we know—speaker after speaker today has described this—that we cannot do that. History has far too many examples of people still being treated as property, to be bought and sold even though it is illegal to do so under international law. There are endless examples of well meaning efforts to bring exploitation and trafficking of people to an end; for example, the Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings of 2005, which the Government did not sign at the time, although they indicated they would do so by April this year, and the inclusion by this Government in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 of a new offence of trafficking someone in this country for exploitation.
However, this debate is not about the past; it should be about the present and the future. Perhaps we can claim a better legacy than we have had when we recognise that this country has a proud record of rescuing people: those who have been oppressed by foreign regimes, who have found themselves under threat, who have sought asylum from terror, and indeed now those who seek asylum for economic benefit.
I accept that to be welcoming is not sufficient, and that we now have a wide spectrum of the world’s nations together on an increasingly crowded island. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, reminded us, it is now truly a plural world. Even in my small part of London we have over 80 languages spoken in our schools and some 130 nations are represented within our boundary. It is in such areas that many organisations which represent particular communities work for them to try to bring them together into one national community. We have a very flourishing Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, which looks outwards and tells us about and leads my part of London to understand better the nature of Muslims and the good work that they do. We want to be careful that we do not demonise particular parts of our community.
We have a responsibility to ensure that in the nation that we now have, and the nation that we have become, the people we have welcomed into our country and whom we value truly become one community. We will need to recognise and will want to recognise their cultures. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, talked about the dance, music, art and everything else that makes people who are different demonstrate that to us. It will enrich our heritage. The challenge for us is to ensure that that future is one in which everyone is happy to participate.
My Lords, it is a privilege to wind up a debate opened with such style, eloquence and spirit as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, demonstrated. It was a splendid start to what has been a splendid second debate on the whole subject. If anyone thought that there was not a great deal left to say after the first debate, they will have been confounded by the range of the contributions that we have heard this afternoon.
Noble Lords have explored in many different ways the history and the future, drawing both on their personal experience and on a wealth of historical and academic reference—most importantly, their experience from living out lives that are in themselves complex, and bringing their personal histories before the House. I am extremely grateful for that. It has proved what my noble friend Lord Parekh said: multi-culturalism is in our DNA. It is not only in our DNA; it is in those parts of the country, such as Dorset, which we sometimes overlook because they appear to be untouched by that history.
A collective and consensual approach has emerged today. We are all ambitious for a society in which all our communities take pride in themselves, their cultures, histories and traditions, but also take equal pride in being citizens of modern Britain. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, opened a debate that was brilliantly dissected by my noble friends Lord Giddens and Lord Parekh and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, about what it means to live in a multi-cultural society. I agree with the noble Lord that, as we are at a turning point in how we view our society, for many different reasons, it is time to look at the nature of our language— our vocabulary—to ensure that we use terms in a shared sense, as well as the values that they represent.
The patterns of migration in this country have meant that the make-up of the different communities which constitute our society has changed radically during the past 40 years. That has increased our diversity. In that challenge is what I believe is a unique strength, which will be tested as our society grows more diverse, as it is bound to. One of my few quotations is from Trevor Phillips, who said recently, when he was a chair of the Commission for Racial Equality:
“Britain is by far—and I mean by far—the best place in Europe to live if you are not white”.
Coming from him, that is a resonant and powerful statement.
We have been absolutely right to make as much as possible of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, not in a spirit of self-congratulation—sometimes in sorrow—but primarily for the opportunities presented to interrogate as well as celebrate our history. As my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port pointed out, we need to learn from our history and the unpredictable consequences of what happened. That interrogation enables us to explore what unites us as a nation.
In a previous debate, my noble friend the Lord President of the Council talked about our common purpose and shared values. Those values ran through Britain's campaign to abolish the slave trade: freedom of speech, equality of opportunity and respect for and responsibility for others. Exactly the same values have recently prompted the idea of a Britain Day, as proposed by Ruth Kelly and Liam Byrne, to mark the contributions made to our national life by the diverse communities that comprise Britain. Taking a close look at that history and exploring that notion makes it essential that we do what my noble friend Lord Judd talked about: promoting a sense of belonging which, although less tangible, is what makes up identity and community and enables us to foster a tolerant society. We do indeed struggle with legacies. These have been explored in different ways today, and can be positive as well as negative. The negatives include inequality, discrimination and racism, which persist today, and poverty and inequality on the African continent. Our task in this bicentennial year is therefore not only to promote what we have learnt from our history as a culture and community but to redouble our efforts to tackle those issues.
It has been interesting to see how the bicentennial commemoration has stimulated an enormous amount of interest in a hidden history that is quite difficult to uncover. In uncovering it, we have revealed the complexities and paradoxes of being a country which both led the abolition of the slave trade and yet built its wealth and empire upon it. I sat in Westminster Hall and heard those young people sing and recite their excellent poetry. I watched them respond to the dramatised debates of the Select Committees and the reading of the diaries, and watched them uncover in their own lives what it took to make those changes. It made one ask why it took so long. I was very grateful for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, who explained that abolition took a long time domestically but that it was achieved by international effort in the end. It was the great challenge of that collective effort that actually made the difference. Those young people in Westminster Hall discovered that the 12 million people who were taken from Africa had lives, families and cultures. They were not nature’s natural victims at all and, having reached this country, they are no longer victims. Recovering that pride in their culture has been extremely important, and will continue to be so this year.
It is easy to be overcome by the scale of the horror of what happened to people on the middle passage and when they became slaves on plantations in Barbados and elsewhere. It changed their lives but also changed the political and economic history of the world. We still live with the direct and indirect consequences of the huge shift in geopolitics that the slave trade brought about. One of the paradoxes is that places such as Sheffield, which made the chains for the slaves, were also the places that led the campaign for abolition. I was very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, for celebrating the role of women and the Society of Friends.
When we investigate our history today, we are bound to search for common purposes within the context of multi-culturalism. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, in his dissection of the matter, presented a very positive account that not only took issue with what multi-culturalism is not and how it is parodied but explained how we strive for progress. If we are to achieve the shift in attitudes that we want, we must start with the young and, indeed, the very young. One of the inspiring developments this year has been the way in which young people, the museums, the education system, arts and cultural groups, and the Department for Education and Skills have led this movement to engage our young people in the work, not only through the national competition, Understanding Slavery, but in making understanding slavery part of the permanent curriculum of key stage 3. After all, surely it belongs there as much as the industrial revolution does. That will make a really big difference to the way in which future generations judge their own history.
Although building inclusion through shared knowledge is vital, it cannot be sustained unless we also have the will to satisfy aspiration. Again, we must celebrate, as many noble Lords have already done, the extraordinary contribution that the black community has made to this country. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, reflected on the contribution of the “invisible” black scientists. I am sure that we could list, if we had time, the sources of creativity and innovation, the contributions to public service, and the achievements that black communities have given and continue to give today. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, reflected much of that in what she said.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, was too modest to say that he had a hand in the book, Many Rivers to Cross—the History of the Caribbean Contribution to the NHS, which is a fine example of how the health service has benefited from the black community. We must not lose sight of the fact that in public service—so well defined by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp—unless we deal with and address the failure of aspiration in black communities, we will not address the legacy of deprivation, poverty and low skills. Programmes like the Sure Start centres work hard in deprived communities where there is a disproportionate concentration of black and ethnic minorities. They reach into those families and services where they can make a real difference. They work with young parents and follow up in the later stages of education with programmes such as the Aiming High strategy, investment in the ethnic minority achievement grant which is now worth £178.6 million, the black pupils’ achievement programme and the Reach project for young men, which was discussed at some length in the previous debate. That adds up to a serious commitment to lift aspirations and to target support, understanding and professional help on those parts of the community which can and want to respond in more positive ways.
If education is the key to success, a successful economy is also crucial to preventing and tackling disadvantage. That is why lifting families and children out of poverty is so important and is particularly reflected in the challenge presented by our most disadvantaged communities and the concentration of black and minority ethnic families. Our child poverty reduction strategies are helping to do that. As we move on through the life cycle, we have to look to the Department for Work and Pensions to take forward a range of work at national and local levels, and to work through the employment and welfare reform and the Ethnic Minority Employment Task Force, which was the first cross-government ethnic minority employment strategy. That is about breaking down barriers, promoting work and creating greater equality.
I am delighted that since 1998 more than 144,000 people from ethnic minorities have found work through the New Deal. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, addressed health problems and made an extremely important point in relation to the personal exchange which, ultimately, determines the quality of our relationships and our communities. It is very easy to become excluded if you are poor, black and disadvantaged, not least because so many families are reluctant to go to the formal health services. Some of the work of our New Deal for Communities in creating outreach health services will be vital for enabling people to obtain the help, self-help and collective help that they have not reached through the formal health services.
We have made a priority of promoting cohesion as part of enabling society to grow in strength together. We have made this a priority because poverty, disadvantage and frustration can isolate people. It can make them vulnerable to extremism and stop them playing a full role in and identifying with society, which is why our strategy Improving Opportunity, Strengthening society does just that. It attempts to build cohesion and address race equality through investment in many areas in many ways. We are taking forward a range of measures. We are coming forward with recommendations for how we build better resilience in our communities, how we involve schools, how we work across Whitehall and how we involve local authorities in shaping places which are safe, tolerant, kind, successful and integrated. We should work not just with each other but throughout the community, with partners in the faith communities, with the black churches, about which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, spoke, with youth volunteering groups and with women’s groups.
Yes, we are committed to winning hearts and minds because we believe that that is a way to divert and prevent violent extremism. In April, we outlined our policy in Preventing Violent Extremism—Winning Hearts and Minds, which is about promoting shared values. It is about supporting local solutions because we have hundreds of examples of fantastic work in local communities that are making a big difference to families. It is about building civic capacity and leadership; it is about strengthening the role of faith institutions; and it is about lifting people out of poverty.
The other day, I went to Aston Pride, which is one of our NDC areas. We are making big strides in these areas. It is not about winning hearts and minds in any sort of fuzzy way, but about bringing people into work, raising their standards of education and improving their health standards. In 2003, Aston had an estimated black and minority ethnic unemployment rate 2.2 times the estimated city rate of 8.8 per cent. It is much better today. Some 409 more people are now in work, 380 of them from B&ME groups. This is the way to promote integration and success in our communities, and how to turn people away from any temptation towards extremism.
Just before I conclude, we should spend a moment thinking about Africa. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said that our attempts to address the legacies of slavery in Africa need to focus on empowering African citizens rather than regarding them as passive victims, and he was right in that. The empowerment of people, whether at home or abroad, lies at the heart of what we are trying to do. We are committed to tackling poverty and we have made no secret of that. I am sure that noble Lords are familiar with the figures. We are playing a leading role in the fight against poverty by spending some £6.85 billion in 2006, and that is going to increase as we move towards the UN target of 0.7 per cent of national income for development spending by 2013. The G8 now taking place is another opportunity to reflect on what more can be done, not least in terms of health. DfID is running a programme aimed at global poverty elimination. I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Rana, that that is the way to deal with the sort of grotesque examples he gave of international poverty which is driven by the worst forms of globalisation. Indeed, the slavery of illiteracy is precisely why we are investing £8.5 billion into supporting education in developing countries. That is where we can make the greatest difference.
In terms of contemporary forms of slavery, I am sure that noble Lords know the words of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights only too well:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.
Would that it were so, and many of the examples have been given about the importance of understanding. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke of development education as a way of reaching the interconnections between development, education and economic activity. We are still far from establishing universal human rights, but again in this country we are showing leadership, and that is extremely important. Human trafficking, the principal modern form of human slavery, is an appalling crime. Some 200 years on people are still being treated as commodities and traded for profit. We have a comprehensive and integrated approach to human trafficking which encompasses legislation, enforcement, international co-operation and support for victims. Since March 2003, we have been funding the Poppy Project, which has provided safe shelter and support to assist in the recovery of the adult female victims of trafficking. We are also pleased to have signed the Council of Europe Convention on human trafficking at the very desk used by William Wilberforce. Further, we have just published the UK action plan setting out how we intend to tackle human trafficking domestically. It is a living document on which we can act in terms of prevention, enforcement, protection and help for adults and children.
I want to respond briefly to the two points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. We are committed to tackling child slavery. I shall have to take up with officials in the department and come back on her point about the relationship between chocolate and child poverty, but as I have said, in 2006 we spent £6.85 billion on trying to reduce poverty. I note that the noble Baroness has had some correspondence with the Prime Minister’s Office in relation to her call for a royal commission. I think that that has been rather disappointing for her, but an invitation has been made to her to come and meet with officials in my department, when we will take the conversation forward as fast as we can.
We have had a splendid debate. We need to remember that, while we are ambitious for a more cohesive society, we have always been a diverse one. Indeed, many noble Lords have referred not only to contemporary diversity but to the fact that we have always been a melting pot of nations—Welsh, Scottish, Irish, English—and, if one remembers 1066, we have welcomed many invaders over the years. We will continue to do so because it brings a strength, a benefit and a richness to our society. We accommodate different local identities; we have unique links with the Commonwealth; our national culture and life have been enriched by generations of immigrants and will continue to be so. We are strongly placed to meet the challenges and take the advantages provided to us by living in a multi-cultural society.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, spoke of keeping the flame alive, not, I think, to illustrate or illuminate history but to take us forward so that we can illuminate the same collective moral passion and purpose to end discrimination and to build a positive multi-cultural society in which we would all want to live. I am very grateful for the noble Lord’s introduction of the debate and the way in which it was responded to around the House. It has been a pleasure to reply.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions during the debate. I, for one, have learnt an immense amount which has added to a rich, deep, valuable and significant debate.
I shall conclude with two quick sentences. The first is to ask the House to continue to fight the inclination to boredom on this range of issues and the belief that once we have said it, we have done it. The second is to call on the G8 leaders, who I am sure have paused this afternoon to follow our debate with due aplomb, to put as much effort into tackling contemporary slavery as they put into tackling terrorism, and to keep Africa in the centre of their minds, year on year, until the battle is won and the issue is done. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, the House will know that we face an unprecedented threat from terrorism. It is the duty of the Home Secretary to ensure that our response provides the best possible protection against that threat on a personal, local and national level. That is why we have increased the spending on counterterrorism to £2.25 billion in 2007-08. That is why our security services have never been better resourced. MI5 has doubled the number of people it employs since 2001, and we have given greater powers to the police, such as increasing the length of time they can detain terrorist suspects from 14 to 28 days. Furthermore, in April, we refocused the Home Office to concentrate on protecting the public and securing our future in a more effective way. The new Home Office brings together responsibility for managing the Government’s counterterrorism strategy, including the new Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism.
“In pursuit of the same objective, we have now completed a comprehensive review of potential counterterrorism legislation. Legislation forms a relatively small, but vital, part of our response to the terrorism threat. It sends a signal to those who wish to plot terror and turn people towards violent extremism that their actions will not be tolerated, as well as offering substantial protection. This is a threat that is continuously evolving, so it is crucial that our response evolves with it to include legislation which is effective and proportionate and to provide the maximum possible security and liberty for the law-abiding majority.
“In approaching this, I have tried to incorporate three elements. First, I want to strengthen our capability to counter terrorism and protect this country from acts of terrorism. Secondly, I want to try to ensure that as we increase these powers where appropriate, we also increase the parliamentary, judicial and sometimes public scrutiny to ensure a proper counter-balance against any arbitrary use of these powers. That is essential in any democratic society. Thirdly, it is my intention, wherever possible, to proceed to build national consensus on national security, to build cross-public and cross-party consensus. That is why I will set out proposals today. It is in that context and spirit that we will bring forward a new counterterrorism Bill later this year. Today I want to outline our approach and the main areas of law it might strengthen.
“Because I start from the position that it is desirable to reach a consensus on national security wherever possible, I want to ensure that there is extensive consultation before any legislation is introduced. Today’s announcement is only the start of that process. For very good reasons, previous counterterrorism legislation has been fast-tracked through Parliament. We have an opportunity here to do things differently. That is why the Prime Minister, my honourable friend the Member for Harrow East and I have already met members of the Opposition. Today, following those meetings, we will outline the areas and direction of measures we wish to pursue. Then we will conduct further discussions and consultation, after which we will produce further detail, including a full Bill content paper, which will then further inform discussion.
“Since it has been said to me, and I completely accept, that the devil is often in the detail of proposals, we then, at that stage, intend to share draft clauses before introduction and to seek the scrutiny of the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights in key areas. I can tell the House that I have also asked today for Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of counterterrorism legislation, to undertake a report on what is proposed.
“In addition to discussions we will have in Parliament, with colleagues on my own Back Benches and the Opposition, I am also committing to discussing fully with those organisations that have an interest in the proposed legislation. That includes discussing the proposals with the police, representatives of the judiciary, civil liberties groups and with communities. I hope that the House will accept that this is a more comprehensively consensual approach than we have ever used before, but I think that this is the best way of establishing counterterrorism measures. To begin the consultation, I have today produced a short document, copies of which will be placed in the House Library and available on the Home Office website.
“Now I turn to a number of specific areas. The decision to increase pre-charge detention limits from 14 to 28 days has been justified by subsequent events. It means that we have been able to bring forward prosecutions that otherwise may not have been possible. We have made it clear for our part that we believe that it is right for terrorist cases—I stress, terrorist cases—to go beyond 28 days. But I want where possible to build broad agreement on the way forward—if that is possible. I would therefore like to begin discussions now on how we might do that.
“I am not being definitive, but one way might be to legislate now to extend the current limit but to make it clear that there would be further judicial and parliamentary oversight if such measures were to be implemented. That would continue to include judicial approval every seven days for any request to hold suspects, but it might also, for instance, include a detailed annual report to Parliament on the pattern of the use of such powers with an accompanying debate. We will discuss that further.
“We are planning to legislate so that in terrorist cases suspects can be questioned after charge on any aspect of the offence for which they have been charged. With regard to adverse inferences, we will apply the same rules for post-charge questioning that currently apply to pre-charge questioning. In addition, we are considering notification requirements, similar to those already imperative for sex offenders, once convicted terrorists leave prison.
“Where terrorists are charged with general offences, we believe that the sentences should be enhanced to reflect the additional seriousness that terrorist involvement represents. The House will know that I do not consider control orders to be our best or most effective option, but we need to make of them what we can. We are therefore proposing a number of changes to control orders, including measures relating to fingerprinting, DNA and powers of entry. We do not want to propose any amendments at this stage that might pre-empt the forthcoming judgments from the House of Lords. We accept that these are always controversial.
“We would like also to legislate to place data-sharing powers for the intelligence and security agencies on a statutory basis and put the police’s counterterrorism DNA database on a statutory footing similar to that of the national DNA database. I stress that these measures do not alter the powers of the police and agencies to collect material.
“The Government’s position on intercept as evidence has consistently been that we will change the law to permit it only if the necessary safeguards can be put in place to protect sensitive techniques and to ensure that the potential benefits outweigh the risks. I have not been persuaded that this is the case. However, I accept that the right approach is to address this carefully and fully before deciding on whether to use intercept as evidence. That is what we are and have been doing.
“However, we believe that we now need to reach a conclusion on the issue. Therefore, subject to further discussions to agree the structure and timescale, I am today announcing that we will commission a review of intercept as evidence measures on Privy Council terms.
“Consideration of powers to stop and question, currently available to police in Northern Ireland and suggested for introduction across the UK by the Northern Ireland Office, is at a very early stage and subject to a process of internal government consultation. We will report the outcome of that in due course.
“I believe that terrorism remains the greatest threat to life and liberty that this country faces. It is our greatest challenge, and it is important that our legislation continues to evolve to meet that threat. I firmly believe, however, that any legislation to deal with the threat to national security should be taken forward with the full support of this House where possible. I hope that the process which I have outlined will enable us to do that”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for reading out to your Lordships' House the Statement by the right honourable Home Secretary.
The Opposition welcome this new approach to the drafting of terrorist legislation. Hitherto, the Government have almost invariably reached their decisions without consultation and then proved quite immoveable in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary. The process that the Minister now outlines will, if fully implemented by the Government, allow not just your Lordships’ House and another place, but those who have an interest in these matters outside Parliament, to play a full part. I also hope that we will see during this process an end to some of the posturing that has been evident from certain members of the Government in relation to terrorism.
There are some matters that have been announced by the Government today which have our wholehearted agreement. I am thinking in particular of, first, the introduction of a terrorist offender register. Secondly, we agree with the requirement that those committing offences who are at the same time involved in terrorism should see their sentences aggravated by the terrorism factor, although that should be handled carefully by the judiciary; it should exercise that new power proportionately. The third proposal is one that we have been pressing for the last two years—that there should be interviews after charge. Once again, the rules about how that should be introduced will have to be carefully thought through if the processes for fair trial in this country are to be properly protected. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, will underline that if he chooses to intervene.
In reading the Statement, the noble Baroness placed great emphasis on two factors to which your Lordships have addressed your minds with particular intelligence and acuteness over the past two years. The first is intercept evidence, and the second control orders. I am, of course, not as great an expert on the subject as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, but it is clear to me that if we can find a way of allowing intercept evidence to be used in terrorist trials, that will substantially reduce the dependence we need to place on control orders. The questions of intercept evidence and control orders are intimately linked.
I welcome the announcement today by the right honourable Home Secretary that he intends to establish a committee of privy counsellors to consider ways in which intercept evidence might be introduced in the trial process without in any way compromising either the sources of the methods used or the techniques. I ask the noble Baroness to pass on a suggestion that, if the decision of the committee is to be credible, it should be chaired by a privy counsellor who is quite independent of the Government, and that the committee should be representative of all parts of the political spectrum.
About two and a quarter years ago, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave an undertaking to your Lordships' House that we would be able to revisit the legislation that introduced control orders in full measure. That undertaking has not yet been met by the Government. I understand why the noble Baroness has announced this afternoon that the Government wish to wait until the Judicial Committee of your Lordships' House reaches a decision on some important issues that are in front of it in relation to control orders. However, if the consultation process on the matter unrolls in the way that the Government suggest, that decision will be comfortably behind us by the time that the legislation is in place. I therefore see no reason why we should not be able to review the control order system in its entirety in our debates on the new Bill when it comes before Parliament. I should be most grateful if the noble Baroness would confirm this afternoon that if the decision of the Judicial Committee has been made by the time that the Bill is introduced, the Government will meet in full measure their undertaking to your Lordships' House made in March 2005.
Although I have said some critical things about the Government this afternoon, I underline that we welcome the Statement and the principles that lie behind it. Terrorism legislation is constitutional legislation. By that I mean that it affects the liberties of the individual citizen. If we fail to protect those liberties by ceding unnecessary ground in legislation to the powers of the state, we shall simply signal to terrorists that they are winning. So it is absolutely crucial that we ensure that we cede the minimum amount of liberty necessary to achieve the maximum protection for our citizens.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister for repeating the Statement in your Lordships' House. I am grateful to her, too, for the more detailed explanation that she gave me in expectation of this Statement.
We also welcome cross-party consultation about measures to tackle terrorism. I fully concur with the sentiments and reasons advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. That is the right way in which to proceed. The British public rightly expect that on an issue of such importance parties will work together rather than create synthetic points of difference. Equally, we welcome the wider consultation, referred to in the Statement, with civil liberty organisations and other relevant bodies.
There is another reason why a consensus on terrorism legislation is important. If agreement is reached, it will send a clear message that the country is united in its approach to safety and security. Terrorists who wish to harm our country will have no comfort from any one of us. The process of consultation is attractive because it will allow us to identify where cross-party agreement is possible. We must also accept that there will be grey areas where consensus will be possible if proposals advocated by the Government are based on clear and compelling evidence.
It is equally important that we achieve the right balance between rights, liberties and security measures. That is particularly important when the effect of both the language and policy of our anti-terrorist strategy can have such an impact on the opinions of precisely the communities whose co-operation we need to counter terrorism. We also welcome the fact that this consultation will lead to draft legislative proposals. We should seek cross-party support before a Bill is put before Parliament.
There is a need to recognise the limitations of a consultative process. There are bound to be matters on which cross-party support cannot be reached. However, I am glad that the Minister identified issues for consultation. I need not repeat them, but I offer our views on at least four of them.
On pre-charge detention of 90 days, 28 days or something in between, we have yet to see any compelling evidence that this is necessary. Such a departure from the principle of habeas corpus should be considered only if there is overwhelming evidence available at the consultation.
On intercept evidence in courts, the Government are aware that we supported the amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. This is vital if we are to focus on terror convictions. While there is merit in the Privy Council committee, it must not be used as a delaying tactic. We stress the need for an independent chair. A better way would be for the group to be asked to find a way on how such evidence could be admitted in court without jeopardising the work of our security services.
On pre-charge questioning of suspects, we have been advocating this change. As for control orders, however, it is clear that they are not working. Six controlees have absconded. Even John Reid has said that they are full of holes. It will not help to tinker around with this legislation—we need a fresh approach.
Overall, we are broadly supportive of other measures and proposals, but we need to look at draft legislation as part of the consultative process. At this stage, I shall simply ask the Minister to indicate when the Government expect my noble friend Lord Carlile to report. My noble friend has pointed the way forward in a number of media interviews, and this may lead us to a road map towards a proper consensus.
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for the temperate way in which they responded to the Statement. I very much welcome what they said, particularly, if I may respectfully say so, the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that if we can reach agreement between ourselves, it will send a very clear and powerful message to those who wish to undermine the security, stability and well-being of the people of this country. We are all of one mind. Therefore, I say very openly and frankly to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that in terms of aspiration nothing divides us.
Our country is a proud democracy. We wish to give no succour to those who wish to undermine democracy, not only here but elsewhere. The challenge with which we are faced is great because we have at the same time to preserve civil liberties and the public security and well-being. When we have had to introduce legislation in the past, we have all had to do that quickly—sometimes much more quickly than any of us would have desired. These provisions give us an opportunity to do that which I am sure many on all sides of the House would most like to do, which is soberly and carefully to review all the measures and to arrive at a situation which will deliver for us the balance we have all sought for some time.
I agree that we must seek consensus wherever it is possible. I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said—that there may be issues upon which we will not be able to arrive at total unanimity and consensus. I am sure that all of us in this House and in the other place will work as hard as we can to make sure that those areas are narrow and limited. In saying that I am greatly comforted by considering all those issues upon which the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, indicated their assent. I acknowledge that a number of these issues have been pressed for some time by parties and individuals.
Intercept is one of the issues upon which there is not total agreement. The assent to the suggestion that we should now seek consensus through a committee on Privy Council terms is not an attempt to put this issue into the long grass, if for no other reason than that we know a very efficient mower comes along every other moment to make sure the grass is kept very smooth and short. It is a genuine attempt to reach a conclusion.
There is nothing between the Government and the Opposition on the desire to use this information if that can be safely achieved. But that is the issue—can it be? Therefore, I very much agree with both noble Lords that these provisions give us an opportunity to do just that. As regards control orders, it very much depends on whether the Judicial Committee of this House comes to a resolution sufficiently quickly to enable us to consider the matter in the round. I am very grateful for the indication given by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that he accepts the propriety of not seeking to look at this as a wholesale change unless and until we have had an opportunity to consider what the Judicial Committee has to say. Not only would it be discourteous to that committee not to consider its view but it would deny us an opportunity to receive sound advice and direction on how we should take this matter further.
There is no dispute that, for different reasons, we believe that the control order system could be better. We could have a number of arguments—although we will not have them today—about why the control orders are not as effective as they could be, but we now need to start again. I thank the House very much for the spirit in which the Statement has been received because that augers well for our deliberations in the future.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for not having been present when the noble Baroness started to read the Statement but I was present when she finished it, and of course I have seen a copy of it, so I know what it contains.
I welcome the part of the Statement that deals with intercept evidence. I am delighted that the Home Secretary has decided to set up a committee of privy counsellors to investigate the whole question because, as the Minister may remember, that was the very purpose that I had in mind when I introduced the Interception of Communications (Admissibility of Evidence) Bill in 2005, although I could only ask for a Select Committee of Members of this House, which I did.
One of the objections to having a Select Committee of Members of this House was that there was already the Intelligence and Security Committee and it could do the job. But I have always been of the view that an ad hoc committee to consider the problem was required, and that is what I am glad to hear we now have.
I have only two short questions for the Minister and I think that both are easy to answer. I hope that she does not see me in the guise of a mower who is determined to keep the grass short. I do that at home but not in the House of Lords.
First, I read a reference to a committee of Members of the House of Commons considering this matter. I take it that Members of this House are not excluded from such consideration, but perhaps the noble Baroness can confirm that. Secondly, will she do her best to ensure that membership of the committee will include those with expertise not only in intelligence and police matters but, above all, in the criminal justice system? I say that because of the widespread misunderstanding that still exists about the extent to which the courts can, and even do, restrain and protect sensitive intelligence. If she can answer those questions satisfactorily, then I myself shall be very satisfied.
My Lords, I reassure the noble and learned Lord that the whole idea of the Privy Council committee came from members of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition. We have taken that proposal very seriously. We will talk to all parties about how the committee should be set up and who should be on it. I cannot give a definitive answer to that because that is what consultation is. If the committee is to be of a mixed complexion, it would be appropriate for us to talk to the relevant parties about how it should be made up. The beauty of having a Privy Council arrangement is that we will have the benefit of privy counsellors who sit on all Benches and in both Houses, so we can pick from an array of talent.
Perhaps I may say how pleased I am by what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, indicated in relation to the committee. That enables us to move forward. If we look at the details of the clauses and the Bill in the future, that might be the better time to consider the outcome of whatever deliberations there may be by then. I say that because we do not yet know how the work of that group of privy counsellors will be taken forward.
My Lords, I join with those who have expressed appreciation for this very helpful preliminary Statement. It is helpful to have it in this form. As a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I welcome the undertaking to seek scrutiny by that committee and by the Home Affairs Committee. I can assure my noble friend that we shall take that task extremely seriously.
Does my noble friend agree that, in considering these proposals, it would be very helpful for parliamentarians, and for the general public, to have as much contextual information as possible? Of course, there are security implications and it would be foolish to overlook that. For example, just what is changing in the nature of the threat that makes any additional powers, or an extension of existing powers, necessary? It would be helpful to have an indication of that. Similarly, it would be very helpful to have an indication of how many prosecutions have not been brought but which could have been brought if there were a further extension of the period of pre-detention and of how many prosecutions that have been brought and which were possible only because of the extension from 14 to 28 days.
As a member of the Joint Committee, I do not want to waste time raising issues that we shall probably raise in the committee. However, I draw my noble friend’s attention to the fact that, on a recent, very interesting visit by the Joint Committee to Paddington Green police station, and during discussions with the very helpful and co-operative police with whom we spoke, it was strongly pointed out to us that the police would find it extremely helpful to have the provision of police bail in this situation. I wonder whether that will be included in the possibilities that are put out in the consultative paper to which this Statement is committed. Above all, like others, I believe that this is the right way to approach the matter and it has been helpful and sensible of the Government to make this preliminary Statement.
My Lords, on contextualising, we will try to give as much information as we safely can. Your Lordships should know that in relation to two of the terrorism suspects who were subsequently dealt with effectively, we went right to the edge of the 28 days. To my knowledge, that was a matter of some importance. We shall have to consider whether it is necessary to go further. That is why the Statement talks about that and the seven-day extensions. There will be an opportunity for us to look very carefully at that point.
On the number of prosecutions, we have the report from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew. The Government are very open to receiving any cogent, sound suggestion in this area that any part of the House thinks will help. This is not a situation in which we have closed down the options or the opportunities. We have an opportunity to discuss and to debate, so I do not close off the suggestion of police bail, but there are some very clear dangers in bail in relation to individuals who have been arrested and are being detained because they are identified as possible terrorists. Detention is being considered because it is felt that we need to retain them in custody while further investigations are undertaken. I am in no way being dismissive, but I am simply saying that there may be challenges on some of those issues as they arise.
My Lords, the Minister has referred to the delicate balance between security and civil liberties. Because a consensus has to be achieved on that, the Statement is extremely welcome. I hope that the consultation process works well. It might have been better achieved if Mr Gordon Brown had restrained his impatience in seeking to pre-empt that agreement with his statement at the weekend.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that there must be evidence-based decisions. Although the Minister has referred to various matters in the report of my noble friend Lord Carlile, I hope that we will have something specific before both the committees and this House. On the post-charge questioning, will the Minister confirm that there will be stringent safeguards, that there will be an opportunity for the parties to discuss them and that regulations are not brought forward at the Third Reading of some Bill? There should be discussions on that important matter.
As for intercept evidence, unlike the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, we will be reapers, not just mowers, if there is an attempt to kick that issue into the long grass. I hope that we can have an assurance from the Minister that intercept evidence will be fully considered.
My Lords, the whole point of saying that we are going to consult on post-charge questioning is that we are going to consult on post-charge questioning. There will opportunities for all of those who have a genuine interest in this issue—and I know that the noble Lord is one—to put forward suggestions. We must clearly have safeguards for post-charge questioning, and there will be an issue as to what they are and how we ensure that they are implemented in a proportionate and appropriate way without impinging inappropriately on the ability to being people safely to trial. All those issues will clearly be important.
It may help if I give a few more details on the figures and extensions since 31 December 2006. Since the extension from 14 to 28 days, 10 suspects have been held for over 14 days: six have been held to the maximum and three were released without charge. We must look at, discuss and debate those issues and what they mean for the system we are trying to put in place for the longer term.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement, and apologise for missing the first minute or so of it. I hope that when divisions arise on these matters, they will be at least as much on either side of the House as across it. I suspect from some of what has already been said today that that may be the case.
Is the Minister entirely satisfied that the definition of “crimes of terrorism” is sufficiently tightly drawn that there could be no creep of that definition of crime into areas which are not really terrorism-related? Secondly, is there any prospect of dealing with the problem of the ineffectiveness of control orders by making it easier to deport foreign nationals believed to be involved in terrorism on the grounds that their presence here is not conducive to the public good, regardless of whether their deportation might be to their good?
Finally, is the Minister aware that I do not believe that the Home Secretary or Mr Brown are simply being obstinate about the facts on intercept evidence or simply illiberal over the issue of 28 or 90 days? I would like to feel that we knew more of what is driving them to their conclusions. If we fully understood that, the odds are that, I, for one, would agree with the Home Secretary.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for his comments, which I welcome. He will know that we have an opportunity to look at the definition of terrorism as a result of the review conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. It is important for us to differentiate clearly between measures that we are taking against terrorism and measures that we are taking against all other forms of crime. I understand the anxiety that there should not be inappropriate creep. That is something that we have all been anxious about in the past.
We now have more information than we did about the nature and length of time that we need to respond to some very complex cases. We have said before that one of the difficulties we have is that terrorists are getting increasingly skilled, and it is much more difficult than before to interdict some of the things that they are doing. Getting the technological solutions right will be a challenge. This process is an opportunity for us to explain, share and think together in a concrete way about how we can make a proportionate response.
I reassure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is not being obdurate or difficult, but he is resolute, as he will remain, about putting the safety and security of this country first. Noble Lords will know that we are challenging the decision in Chahal through the case of Ramzy, which is going to come up. We need see what consequences that will have.
However, nothing should undermine our adherence to democratic processes and the rule of law, which are of fundamental importance. The difficulty we all have is how we keep democracy and security, both of which are precious to us, in proper balance. It will not be easy, but I am much heartened that all around the House there is a determination to try to do this together.
My Lords, my noble friend made a commitment to consult on proposed legislation and spoke about consulting the police, representatives of the judiciary, civil liberties groups and groups within the community. Will she also undertake to consult the victims of terrorism, those who have lost loved ones and those who have been directly threatened by terrorism? It is important that those voices are also heard. Secondly, when we come to the review of intercept evidence, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and I have taken very different views of this matter in the past, but I agree with him that this is the right time to have this review so that a considered view can be taken without the heat of legislation at the time of taking the decision. Can my noble friend tell the House what timescale is anticipated for the review?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Symons for raising the issue of victims because in many of our debates their interests and views have not always got the credence, support and voice that perhaps they deserve. We intend to make sure that all those who are directly or indirectly affected by this have an opportunity to have a say and make an input so that we have an opportunity to consider how to go forward.
It is difficult to give my noble friend a timetable because we would like to do this as expeditiously as we can. We are going to consult on composition and at that stage we will be in a better position to advise the House about what the timetable may be. This Statement is an important opportunity to set out the plan for how we hope to work and to get the assent of both Houses to the fact that this is the best way forward. We will continue to work together on that as quickly and as effectively as we can.
My Lords, does the Minister recognise the unusual nature of the Statement? It is a valedictory Statement by the Home Secretary, in which he is undertaking to conduct major consultation that in barely two weeks’ time will no longer be his responsibility. I do not think this is an entirely frivolous point. The theme of the Statement is entirely welcome: that a more measured approach is to be taken.
If the new occupant of the Home Secretary’s post is someone in a hurry—we have had some impatient Home Secretaries recently—I am mindful that some of the undertakings given today did not help the noble Baroness in the very difficult role she had to play. I refer in particular—the noble Baroness knows this better than any—to fast-tracking and the sense that this House and others were being bounced over some of the other proposals. Therefore, the new and more measured approach is very welcome. I hope that it is sustained in the future.
My Lords, this is not a valedictory Statement because, as the noble Lord knows, I speak on behalf of the Government. The Government will remain so after my right honourable friend the Home Secretary moves on to do other doubtless more restful things than he is currently able to do.
On the question of being bounced, the noble Lord will know that it was the Government’s intention to take this matter more slowly but that the emergency situation in with which we found ourselves on 7/7 and the change in the dynamic meant that none of us was able to do that which we would have liked. There was an agreement in this House that bearing those factors in mind we would have to adopt a different—a truncated—approach. So I say to him that this is a commitment being made by the Government, and whoever sits in the seat of my right honourable friend will be bound by the same process. I cannot say to noble Lords that we will not have an event similar to that which put us off guard. My noble friend wants to get in so I shall sit down.
My Lords, I am afraid that our 20 minutes are definitely up. We must move on.
Monetary Policy (Economic Affairs Committee Report)
rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the Economic Affairs Committee on The Current State of Monetary Policy (First Report, HL Paper 14).
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am very pleased to introduce this debate today. Although the report of the Economic Affairs Committee was published some time ago now—in fact, last December—subsequent developments, to which I shall turn in a moment, mean that our debate is very timely.
I must thank all the members of the committee for their contributions to the report. As usual, our report is evidence-based and entirely non-political. It is based on an evidence session with the Governor of the Bank of England and some of his colleagues on the Monetary Policy Committee, as well as on some written evidence. I thank our admirable and long-standing specialist adviser, Professor Mike Wickens, as well as our Clerk and his small team.
I should say immediately that the Government's response to our report is extremely disappointing. Our report is short but it took the Treasury over three months to produce a response, which is cursory and devoid of substance on key issues, to the point of being offensive. They questioned where we got our evidence from. Let me tell them. The data in paragraph 22 come from table 2.3 on page 27 of the Treasury's pre-Budget forecast published in December 2006. The data in paragraphs 20 and 21 come from previous Budget Reports.
To get at the Government forecasts, one has to look at Budget Statements and track back. The Financial Times also published some of these data. In other words, the evidence is familiar. It shows porcupine-like graphs. The forecasts are the upward lines for the future that does not occur. The actual data are the back lines from which the forecast lines spring each Budget. It is noticeable how skilful the Treasury is in not reporting past forecasts and outcomes of expenditures in the Pre-Budget Report. If Treasury officials do not accept their own figures, I will be glad to ask our specialist adviser, Professor Mike Wickens, to brief them.
Treasury forecasts are of much more than academic interest. I acknowledge that there have been widely reported difficulties in measuring GDP, which have led to revisions to the figures. Clearly, that makes forecasting no easier. I am no economist, but if in the Treasury forecasts, which are of great importance in the real world, the economic growth forecasts are exaggerated, that leads in turn to exaggeration of tax receipts, with immediate implications for the fiscal deficit. In turn, that has implications for public confidence in the economy and for decision-making in the private sector.
The blunt fact is that the Government's response is not good enough. The Economic Affairs Select Committee, which I have the honour to chair, is made up of distinguished Members of your Lordships' House: several former Treasury Ministers, including two ex-Chancellors of the Exchequer; a former Governor of the Bank of England; two professors of economics; and other Peers, all of whom are entitled to better than this. It is not as if the Treasury does not have form on these matters. Last year, I had to reprimand the Treasury because it did not understand the constitutional position of the House of Lords in financial matters. To the credit of the Minister who was responding then for the Treasury, it climbed down completely and admitted that the Government had got it wrong.
Going back further, I remember when, as Leader of your Lordships' House, being appalled by the briefing sent to my colleague to do the job that the Minister is doing today. It was a vast, undigested and indigestible bundle of papers. I was so cross that I put the briefing in a brown paper bag and send it to the Permanent Secretary of the day asking that such contempt for the House of Lords should not be repeated. The Permanent Secretary took the point. If the Minister has a decent briefing today, perhaps I can claim a little credit for what I did some years ago.
A major point that I should have liked the Treasury to address concerns how external appointments are made to the Monetary Policy Committee. As we said in our report, how the choice of appointments to the MPC is made is still shrouded in mystery. As a result of the inadequate process, it is widely acknowledged that some appointments that probably should be made were not and, equally, that some appointments made have been surprising, to say no more. It is also unclear why some appointments were renewed while others of apparently successful members were not.
Altogether, it seems that there is a good deal more transparency in how appointments are made to the security services nowadays than to the Monetary Policy Committee. I very much hope that, when the Minister responds, he can cast more light on the matter than did the Treasury in its reply.
Despite our concerns on this point and some others and despite the need for the Governor to write an open letter to the Chancellor, it must be acknowledged that the independence of the Bank of England has worked very well. The United Kingdom has been seen around the world as an example to follow. Despite our concern about the recent rise in inflation, the recent need for the Governor to write a letter to the Chancellor and some other points, it must be acknowledged that the independence of the Bank of England has worked very well. The United Kingdom is seen as an excellent case to follow.
The recent rise in inflation has led to renewed speculation and discussion of monetary policy. However, we concluded that the bank has continued to conduct monetary policy with considerable success. It has steered the economy through a difficult period and the prospects for inflation appear to us to be good. However, the increased importance of goods inflation in recent months is a concern and needs more explanation than the Monetary Policy Committee has so far provided. As a matter of fact, the way in which interest rates act to control inflation still seems to us to be surprisingly little understood. Controlling expectations is probably the key, as the Governor of the Bank of England has frequently stressed. In any case, we should resist any temptation to over-rely on the scrutiny of the labour market, where the statistics are in some doubt, or on the scrutiny of money growth. Such scrutiny would not be wise or justified.
Finally, the retail prices index has recently enjoyed—if that is the right word—a return to prominence. This has been at the expense of the consumer prices index, which is of course the Chancellor’s chosen index of inflation. It would be helpful to know why the two indices now differ so much. The gap between them is around 1.5 per cent, although we were told that it would not be larger than 0.5 per cent. In particular, it must be asked how much of the difference between the two is attributable to the treatment of housing. The question that arises is simply: when will housing be properly included in the CPI? Do we really have to await the EU’s decision before we take the right decision for the UK?
Altogether, we can applaud the record of the Monetary Policy Committee in the past 10 years, but there are still some important questions to be answered, not least on the matter of appointments to the committee. I very much hope that the Minister will be able at least to start to respond to them this evening.
Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the Economic Affairs Committee on The Current State of Monetary Policy (First Report, HL Paper 14).—(Lord Wakeham.)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, for chairing the committee so successfully. It has been quite a busy committee. It has many things to discuss and to concern itself with, but it has been very successful and has benefited from the experience and expertise of many of its members. That has been rather surprising, given that most committees do not have this level of expertise and experience. I look forward to the Treasury forecast, which the noble Lord mentioned, being rather more closely examined in the months to come.
I shall be brief, as my comments are on the outcome of giving the Bank of England the power that it required 10 years ago. It was quite unexpected that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would hand over enormous powers of this kind to the Bank of England, but it has been extraordinarily successful. To have had 10 years of success is rather surprising in the economic world. The Bank of England has conducted monetary policy with considerable success. It was a difficult period, and initially such power was wisely used. The Bank of England has dealt very well with inflation, the main concerns being the wage claims based on the RPI increases, the consequent wage claims based on the state of the labour markets and, of course, the very high rate of growth of the money supply. Although there is a connection between inflation and the growth of the money supply, this is not the certain relationship that some used to consider inevitable. It used to be felt that it was an essential connection between the two, but we have disproved that in the past 10 or more years.
The Governor of the Bank of England has said that the biggest uncertainty in the relationship between supply and demand is the size of the labour force on the supply side. There is undoubtedly a very big gap in our understanding of supply and demand in projecting the future of the economy. The particular gap is that the statistics of supply cannot deal adequately with those who do not qualify for benefit, and the figures point to a tight labour market, with the pressure of demand on capacity. The large numbers of people coming into this country are not wholly detailed, so the figures are quite unreliable. Given the new economic situation and a more united Europe, whereby immigration is under much less control than it has been for many years, we have to accept that, although we may be able to lessen the uncertainty, it will still be there.
The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, referred to the external appointments of the Monetary Policy Committee. I am concerned about the method of appointment. The Bank of England has done so well in the past 10 years, whereby so much has depended on the ability and expertise of its members. External appointments have successfully been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has brought in people with great expertise and understanding of these matters to consider these areas. The Governor said that it was not for the bank to make suggestions but that it was highly proper for the Government to do so. I am not sure about that; I feel a bit uneasy about it.
External members of the bank, taking part in the determination of short-term interest rates, are in a position of major economic importance. Their expertise and experience must be of great importance. Professor Goodhart has made the point very successfully that highly technically expert members are needed and that they should be reasonably expert in the relationship between interest rates and incomes. That is their task. Professor Goodhart also points out that members without prior monetary experience would need a long learning period of four to five years, about which I am not very happy. The initial stages will be just learning. We want members to come in and take action based on their knowledge and understanding of these matters. I would much prefer to select members with experience as well as ability. I look forward to this matter being looked at again.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, for his admirable and jargon-free chairmanship of our committee, which was particularly helpful for me, as I am not an economist let alone a monetary economist. For me, downloading the minutes of the Monetary Policy Committee bears more than a passing resemblance to a visit to the Delphic oracle. My observations are simply those of an interested but slightly bemused businessman, and they will be short. I shall briefly reinforce a few points made in our report and add an afterthought.
Three issues in the report especially bemused me. The first is the uncertainty over the size of the UK population, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, said; what proportion of it is in work at any given time; and the impact of migrant labour. Even to the layman it is a concern that an important element of the understanding of the supply side of our economy seems clouded in uncertainty. I suppose that the business analogy would be not knowing how many people you have on your payroll or who turn up for work, a state of affairs you would not want to live with for very long. Obviously, this needs to be addressed, as our report recommends.
The second issue is the uncertainty over the relationship between consumer spending and asset prices, particularly with respect to housing. I can appreciate that the relationship must be difficult to understand, which was made clear in the oral evidence we received. Yet, given the country’s intense preoccupation with housing and the proportion of family wealth tied up in it, intuitively it feels like a key factor in an analysis of what is going on in the UK economy. So, once again, it is a matter of concern that the relationship is so uncertain. The business analogy, perhaps, is that of having to settle for an inadequate marketing analysis of what motivates your customers to buy your products. Again, this is a state of affairs you might not want to live with for very long. This, too, needs to be addressed, as our report recommends.
The third issue is the opaque procedure for appointing external members to the MPC, as noble Lords mentioned. Gone are the days in the business world when the chairman simply chose the non-executive directors on his own, behind closed doors, against an unspecified statement of the required qualifications. The normal procedures for public appointments would not allow that either. There is more than a little catch-up for the Chancellor to pursue here in making appointments to the MPC.
Now for the afterthought: looking beyond the immediate past and future to the inevitable time when the world economy becomes more turbulent, the MPC’s task of controlling UK inflation using the single lever of short-term interest rates is bound to become more demanding. The Governor, in his oral evidence, made it clear that in his view inflation is made at home and can be controlled at home. I hope he is right; but I am sure that he would also acknowledge that interest rates are influenced by what is happening elsewhere in the world and that the MPC’s understanding of the impact of the global economy on the UK is key to the effective use of the one lever the committee has at its disposal.
Others more economically literate than me can no doubt explain the combined effect that low interest rates in the US, Europe and Japan together with unprecedented savings rates in Asia, the Middle East and Russia have on global liquidity, asset prices and inflation. The only point I would make is that, while the tide of this liquidity is running in a discernible direction and at a discernible pace, steering the UK economy and its inflation rate may be relatively straightforward, but tides of this kind do not run on for ever and it is when they turn that we all become more vulnerable, nationally as well as globally.
The issues that will arise at that point are for the most part beyond the remit of the MPC. More worryingly, they look to be beyond the remit of any other institution. The track record of the international community in handling the major global issues of the day is unconvincing. We have only to look at the fortunes of the current WTO trade round or to the ineffective international response to climate change to see that. On current form, the same will hold good when it comes to managing a turning tide in global liquidity.
As we are reminded this week, the institution that might have taken this sort of issue in hand in the past, the G8—with four western European members but no China, India or Brazil—is an anachronism no longer truly fit for purpose. So my afterthought is something of a cry in the wilderness. Now is the time, while the global economic environment is relatively benign, to be thinking of what institutions and processes will be needed when inevitably the tide of liquidity begins to turn.
My Lords, I join other speakers in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his committee on their excellent report on the current state of monetary policy. However, I have to express my disappointment that, through no fault of the committee, the report is being debated so long after its publication on 18 December last year. A lot has happened since then, and I make no apologies for tackling this area first in my contribution. For a start, interest rates are now 0.5 per cent higher, at 5.5 per cent. Also the consumer prices index rose above the top end of its band, to 3.1 per cent in March, although it has fallen back a little since then. This meant that the Governor of the Bank of England had to write an open letter to the Chancellor explaining the reasons for the inflation overshoot and what measures, if any, the bank proposed to bring it back under target. Thus the conclusion to the report now needs to be re-examined. Certainly the committee cannot be criticised for saying last December:
“In our view, the Bank has continued to conduct monetary policy with considerable success”.
Indeed, the MPC has done a fine job over the past 10 years. However, events since last December may have altered the picture and put up some amber signs.
What has changed? Are there just temporary factors which have caused this overshoot, or is something more fundamental happening to inflation? I am not an economist, but it is interesting to examine the content of the Governor’s letter to the Chancellor in a little detail. In his letter the Governor outlines some of the reasons behind the inflation overshoot. First he mentions the unexpectedly sharp increase in domestic energy prices, such as electricity and gas, more than offsetting the then recent reduction in fuel prices. Secondly, he identifies a rise in food prices caused by weather-induced reductions in global supply. Thirdly, he highlights strong domestic spending, notably five consecutive quarters of robust GDP growth. Fourthly, he refers to capacity pressures in the economy, and finally he suggests that businesses are more confident that they can raise prices to increase margins and thus to recover some of the effects of the doubling in oil prices since 2004.
In looking at each of these areas in more detail, I shall cover domestic energy prices first. It is quite logical to argue that big cuts in gas and electricity prices will help the inflation numbers over the rest of the year. However, balanced against that is the continued high price of oil, not helped by Middle East tensions. Considered overall, though, lower energy prices can be viewed in the short term as a positive indicator for inflation. This has been emphasised by Peter Spencer, the chief economic adviser to the Ernst & Young ITEM Club. The question remains, though, whether the era of cheap energy that UK consumers enjoyed in the first half of this decade is over as our dependence on imports increases. I fear that it may be.
The second area covered is food prices. We have been used to cheap food for such a long time that it is easy to be complacent about the global aspect of this area. I will go overseas to highlight a recent article in Newsweek about Chinese food prices. It reports that pork prices were 71 per cent higher in April than a year ago. According to Chinese Ministry of Agriculture statistics, consumers are now paying 29.3 per cent more for pork products and 30.9 per cent more for eggs. In recent weeks, the Chinese media have chronicled steep price rises for beef, fish and chicken.
“So what?”, you might ask, and you could easily dismiss this overseas problem in the same way as the Governor of the Bank of England, who in response to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, at question 28 of the report, stated:
“Inflation is made at home”.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Vallance, I hope that he is right. But if the Chinese are paying a lot more for their basic foods, this will lead to a rise in wage demands, which in turn will increase the cost of goods we import from China. The lower cost of these Chinese goods compared to when they were manufactured here was until recently helping to keep inflation down.
Back at home, the Scotsman, in an article of 3 June, describes another, albeit less serious, food problem in the UK. There is now a UK strawberry crisis. Prices are rising because there is a shortage of strawberry pickers. The article continues:
“The EU migrants of recent years are staying at home as Eastern European wages have surged”.
The Chinese crisis and the UK problem to which I have referred matter also because they are part of an increasing problem faced by Governments across the world; that is, a persistent and continuing rise in food prices. There is not time to go into the causes of this in more detail, but the switch to biofuels as an alternative to oil due to the high oil price has taken land-produced food out of production. This is an important cause: the reduction of food supply, leading to higher food prices.
Rising food prices have brought a new term in global economics: agflation. Food input prices are putting more pressure on producer inflation than at any time since the 1980s. Between March 2005 and March this year, the price of US wheat rose by 34 per cent, corn by 47.4 per cent, barley by 59.4 per cent and cattle by 41 per cent. This is working its way through to the retail level round the world. For example, in the US, food prices rose by an annualised rate of 7.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2007. In the UK, food price inflation is running at about 6 per cent, more than double the CPI figure and the highest rate of increase for some six years.
Food items, I understand, account for some 10 per cent of the CPI inflation basket. Between 1998 and 2005, food items in the CPI basket were recording lower than average inflation, an annual increase of 0.1 per cent a year. This had the effect of absorbing higher inflation in other areas. Today, food prices, far from acting as a shock absorber, are running well ahead of the basket average.
Strong domestic spending, the Governor’s third point, can of course be influenced by higher interest rates, so I do not wish to cover that in any more detail, except to mention the latest report from the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, which suggested that many people are reluctant to spend on larger items after recent interest rate rises.
The Governor’s fourth point is capacity pressures in the economy, meaning that the supply of workers is becoming tight, with the possible consequence that wages are pushed up. The Economic Affairs Committee report, at paragraphs 6 to 10, demonstrates considerable uncertainty by the Governor about this area. The report and the Governor seem to overlook—except for a brief mention in paragraph 6—the effect of the high level of RPI inflation, which stood at 4.5 per cent in April, and the anecdotally even higher individual inflation rate, which is influenced by items such as council tax and school fees.
Overall, and the report refers to this in paragraph 10, the level of immigration from eastern Europe has proved a one-off benefit in keeping down wage levels. If that is coming to an end, coupled with the public sector’s unfavourable reaction to limiting wage demands to 2 per cent, wage inflation will become a much bigger problem than suggested in the report.
The Governor’s final point is that businesses are more confident about raising prices. According to the Financial Times of 1 June, the latest reported survey from the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply showed that the index of manufacturing activity is at its second highest level in the past two and a half years. Manufacturers reported rising inflationary pressures, with the prices of goods sold reaching their highest level since the series began over seven years ago and goods purchased by manufacturers at an eight-month high. Such a trend has also been noted by the latest CBI manufacturing survey. How much of a permanent problem that is, I am not sure.
My noble friend Lord Wakeham’s report has an interesting section on inflation and monetary growth. The committee holds a similar view to the Governor, that the growth in M4 money supply is not a problem because it has not caused inflation so far. I remind noble Lords that, while I emphasise that I am not an economist, I well remember how the M3 broad money supply growth in the late 1980s preceded by about two years the major increase in inflation that caused such large interest rate rises.
The report has an interesting section on inflation and asset prices that becomes a bit too technical for an amateur. One additional factor that could have been mentioned in connection with house prices is the shortage of supply. That, together with the extra demand from overseas affecting London in particular, has had a major effect on prices that, anecdotally, it would take quite a rise in interest rates to stem.
On monetary and fiscal policy, I note in particular the comments in paragraphs 22 and 25 of the report that the Treasury’s forecasts for economic growth have been too high for the past five years. That has led to consistent overestimates of tax revenues, and hence underestimates of the budget deficit and borrowing requirements. The government response to the report disputes those GDP observations, producing a table of GDP growth covering that period. Apart from in 2005, when their GDP forecasts were very inaccurate, they seem to have some justification for their challenge. It is the Government’s budget deficit figures that have been inaccurate, and which the report rightly focuses on. The government response does not cover that area at all, and as a whole, as my noble friend Lord Wakeham said, is most unsatisfactory in its lack of detailed comment on this excellent report.
The last section of the report concentrates on external appointments to the MPC, as all previous speakers mentioned. The views in those paragraphs should be taken very seriously by the Government, particularly in paragraphs 27 and 30. It is clearly a great concern if the external members lack experience in monetary economics. As the report highlights in paragraph 27, external appointments to the MPC are made by the Chancellor. How the appointments are made is shrouded in mystery. I agree with paragraph 30, which says that the appointment should be for a single term of four or five years. I also agree that greater transparency in the selection of appointees is desirable.
Overall I welcome this authoritative report on the current state of monetary policy. I end with a plea—and I know I am not the first to do so—that these reports are discussed much sooner after they are issued so that the House may gain the maximum benefit from them.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, made a good point and illustrated it well by speaking about market movements in the six months since our report was published.
Two main themes have emerged from the debate and I propose to deal with them in turn. They are the influence of asset prices on inflation and appointments to the MPC. I remember well our discussion when the Governor of the Bank of England came to speak to our committee. In response to a question from me, he explored the reasons why house prices had increased, asking whether it was because people felt that incomes in future would be higher or because long-term real interest rates in the world economy had gone down. He was probably at his least convincing at that point, although obviously none of us knows the answer. However, it is clear that the influence of asset prices on inflation is greater than we previously thought. Our report’s recommendation that the Bank of England undertake extensive research on the issue is timely and I hope that the bank will take note of it.
We now have a wide and fluctuating gap between the CPI—perhaps one could call it the “Chancellor’s pet index”—and the RPI, which most people regard rather more as the “real prices index”. I am a recidivist member of the committee. When I sat on it a few years ago, I remember having a vigorous discussion with Ed Balls on his assurances that the gap between the two indices would stay at between 0.5 per cent and 0.75 per cent. It has not turned out that way and we were right to be sceptical. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, I see no reason why we cannot add a housing element to the CPI, even if we have to wait a few years for the European joint index.
I liked the analogy used by my noble friend Lord Vallance. He said that, in a business, if you did not know what made your customers buy your products, you might not want to live with that for very long. As a rather smaller businessman than perhaps he was, I must say to him that some businessmen these days would not be able to live with it at all.
Appointments are a serious issue, which we on the committee have been raising for many years. It is a very proper issue for the House of Lords to raise. Our committee made much the same point strongly in 2003 and received no proper reply. I well remember that the argument that was produced—now no argument at all is produced—was about market sensitivity. I am pleased to say that Eddie George, when he met us, knocked that argument down. Terry Burns, whom your Lordships may remember as a former professor at the London Business School and a former Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, was dismissive of it, too. The idea that it would be market sensitive if one of out of nine names being considered for appointment were to leak is laughable.
We should consider seriously the points made by Professor Charles Goodhart from his great experience. He suggested that appointments should be made for a four-year or five-year, and preferably non-renewable, term. He said:
“In part because of the opaque nature of appointment (and re-appointment), and in part because of the possible penchant of Chancellors to appoint like-minded externals,”—
that is a very delicate way of putting it—
“I do think that appointments of externals ought to be for a single-term. I do not believe that any MPC member … has actually been influenced in his/her decision by a concern about what the Chancellor might currently want, but it would be as well to get rid of any perception that it might ever be so”.
I am afraid that I am rather more cynical than the professor, but his conclusion is incontrovertible.
I quote from an article published this week on the point in Private Eye:
“If you want a rough idea how Gordon Brown has been controlling the domestic policy agenda for some years now, look at what is happening to the planning system.
Ever since ... the mid-1990s, the supply of ‘undeveloped land’ to developers has been increasingly restricted—much to the outrage of economic policy wonks at the Treasury, to whom any interference in the right of business to build anywhere it chooses is anathema ... The chancellor responded by using his normal method for influencing policy in areas that don't immediately appear to concern the Treasury: ordering an external adviser to conduct a policy review which, oddly enough, ends up reflecting almost exactly the views of Gordon Brown and the Treasury.
In the case of planning, Kate Barker—an economist with a CV that included a long stint at the CBI ... was commissioned, firstly to review housing supply and, more recently, the planning system”.
Then she was reappointed as a member of the MPC. That is putting someone in a conflict of interests. Gordon Brown should not appoint a member of the MPC to what could be highly political task forces, nor should she accept such appointments. That is a timely example of why the process should be much more transparent and not personal.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, very much on behalf of the whole House for chairing our committee so admirably and for his robust defence of our rights and powers. If I may say so, his opening speech seemed rather mild when you look at the so-called response from the Government. We argued with considerable evidence,
“in favour of a single term of four or five years”,
“at least two of the five external members”,
“considerable prior knowledge of macro and monetary economics”.
That was a serious proposal and it should be considered. What do we get from the Treasury? We get:
“The Treasury welcomes constructive parliamentary opinion on the monetary policy process”.
Could the Minister favour the House by telling us whether the Treasury regards our opinion as constructive or not? It is insulting, frankly. The Treasury must take both Houses of Parliament more seriously. I have seen quite a few of these responses, but this one plumbs a new low of contempt for Parliament.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome the report of the Economic Affairs Committee and pay tribute to the committee and the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Wakeham. It has been another stimulating report. As several noble Lords have already pointed out, the report charts monetary policy until broadly the end of last year, and hence misses some interesting events this year, notably the escape of inflation from its target range and interest rates being on the move upwards, certainly at present. If the committee had been writing it now, I am not sure that it would have been as bullish about the prospects for inflation as it was in paragraph 31. That is not a criticism of the report, because things have clearly moved on, but it underlines how difficult it is to make judgments about how well inflation is being kept under control.
Several noble Lords referred to the divergence between the CPI, which is used for the current target, and RPIX, its predecessor. RPIX has continued to be above the 0.5 to 0.75 per cent that the Governor advised the committee was to be expected. Admittedly, it is not much above that range, but when the CPI was first substituted for RPIX in the Bank of England’s target, people talked about a difference over time of 0.5 per cent, not 0.5 to 0.75 per cent. If you look at the historical record of CPI versus RPIX, you will find that it is much closer to 0.5 per cent over time. We have had a persistent larger difference for some time, which has to lead to the conclusion that monetary policy has been loosened in the past couple of years. I suggest to my noble friend and his committee that they might want to look at that further.
A number of people referred to how the CPI completely ignores housing costs, which is a major weakness in it for current use. That is why the CPI is largely ignored for any practical purposes, and particularly in wage bargaining. We have been lucky with wage levels being relatively subdued—relative, that is, to the RPI, which runs currently at 4.5 per cent with wages at 3.6 per cent. The RPI is much closer to the inflation experienced by ordinary people, though understating inflation as experienced by the poor, including pensioners.
When the Chancellor replied to the Governor’s letter in April, he said that his contribution to keeping inflation down was to keep public sector wages down to the CPI target of 2 per cent. I have asked the Minister before how he thinks it credible that public sector workers will take a real pay cut—that is, 2 per cent versus an RPI of 4.5 per cent—and I have never had an answer. I am hopeful that perhaps I shall get a straight answer from the Minister today.
It is clear from all these factors that there will be much to continue to be looked at by my noble friend’s committee on monetary policy. I hope that the committee returns to that matter in the not-too-distant future.
To say that I was disappointed by the Treasury’s response to the committee’s report is a massive understatement. It displays an arrogant lack of respect for the work of this House, and I support the remarks of my noble friend Lord Wakeham and the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, in that regard. The Minister should go back to the Treasury and make the point that government responses to the carefully worked-on reports of your Lordships' House deserve better.
As has already been pointed out, the Treasury response largely focuses on one small comment in the report on the Treasury’s GDP forecasting record— and my noble friend Lord Wakeham has already robustly rebutted that. Whatever the truth of the overall record, at least the Minister would accept that the Treasury got it spectacularly wrong in 2005. My noble friend Lord Northbrook has already referred to this. The Chancellor stuck obstinately to an estimate of 3 per cent to 3.5 per cent, right up until the end of 2005—and it was only in December 2005 that he admitted that inflation for the whole of 2005 would actually come down to 1.75 per cent.
The Treasury should be wary of bragging about its forecasting record, most notably in relation to its budgetary deficit and borrowing forecasts. My noble friend Lord Northbrook has already pointed this out. The Government’s response, at paragraph 6, spins the forecasting performance on one-year-out borrowing, but the plain fact is that the Treasury has consistently underestimated its borrowing requirement one year out. Over a longer time-scale, the record is very much worse. Five years ago, the borrowing forecast in 2006-07 was £18 billion and the outturn was £34 billion. Four years ago, the budget forecast for the current year was £22 billion, while this year’s budget says that it was £38 billion. I could go on. So let us not have the Treasury claiming any prizes for forecasting. The only prize that the Treasury can justifiably claim is for creative accounting, as it has with remarkable determination of purpose changed both the rules and its views of the economic cycle to prove that the Chancellor has met his golden rule. Fortunately, however, that has fooled no one, because no respectable economist takes it seriously any more.
The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, has already referred to the extraordinarily dismissive paragraph 8 of the response that,
“the Treasury welcomes constructive parliamentary opinion”,
in relation to the appointment of MPC members. It might well have added, “which we comprehensively ignore”.
The response completely fails to address the committee’s point that the process should be made more transparent. The truth is that the Government know that the process for MPC members is so far removed from good practice that it is indefensible, which is presumably why they did not even reply to the point in their response. I shall be interested to see whether the Minister attempts to put up a defence on that today.
The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, referred to Ms Kate Barker. She has recently been reappointed for a second time and therefore will serve an unprecedented three terms. What process did the Treasury follow when deciding to do that? What alternatives were considered? The Minister will be aware that it is suggested that there is more than a hint of political bias in the appointment. The Government have to understand that if they allow that kind of thinking to take hold, they will diminish the status of the MPC, which would be an appalling outcome for the credibility of monetary policy. Our policy is very clear—when we return to power, we shall make those appointments more open and transparent.
As has been pointed out, the committee’s report also dealt with some interesting areas which the Government’s response did not even deign to consider. That response did not even mention the extraordinarily difficult relationship between asset prices and inflation. Admittedly, the report concluded that the Bank of England should do more research, which is the proper conclusion, but do the Government not even have a view? Similarly, in paragraph 34 the uncertainties surrounding labour market data, particularly in relation to immigration flows, are noted as an issue which must be resolved quickly. Do the Government have no view on that, or is their view circumscribed by the fact that the statistics on those areas are produced by the Office for National Statistics, which as we know is the subject of a budgetary squeeze and a forced relocation to Newport, which is accounting for some of the problems with some of the statistical output? Perhaps that is why the Government chose simply to turn a blind eye to that recommendation.
I look forward to many more reports from my noble friend’s committee on monetary policy and I hope that in future the Government will take them more seriously.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, both for his opening speech and for the role that he plays as chairman of this important committee.
Of course, I refute the contention that the Government fail to respect the committee’s work. We are all too well aware of its expertise. How could we not be, given the distinguished names that feature in its membership? The Government produced as full a response as was possible. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, that I hope that we can improve liaison between the committee and the Treasury before the work is completed. I certainly expect the Treasury to talk as necessary with the special adviser and, indeed, with the chairman, who may consider that improvements could be made in that regard. I am only too willing to give that commitment from the Dispatch Box.
The brevity of the response was certainly not intended to cause offence. We believe that we have accurately addressed the report’s conclusions. I refer to a theme that has run through a number of contributions. I think that every speaker, including the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, referred to appointments to the Monetary Policy Committee. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, say that he regards any concept of market sensitivity as an insubstantial argument in the current process. We shall have to differ on that point, as we have done in the past on such questions. Of course, I welcome the advances that have been made and the greater openness that exists in company non-executive appointments, but I say to the noble Lord, Lord Vallance, that there is a difference between their work and obligations and those of the Monetary Policy Committee. I think that the noble Lord would recognise that. There is an advantage in members of the Monetary Policy Committee extending their terms of appointment.
There was a slight contradiction in this debate between demands for a greater understanding of the relationship between movements in asset prices and the question of housing—a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Vallance, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. There is a contradiction in emphasising that housing should play a greater role but not recognising that Kate Barker has expertise in this area, so I am not so sure that the arguments against her reappointment are valid.
My brief is a good deal better than the one to which the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, alluded. Any imperfections are in my delivery and not in what has been put before me. However, it probably is defective in the following respect. Had I been responding to questions concerning the Monetary Policy Committee at any other time, I would have felt obliged to press officials further in order to meet the points that have been made today, which were readily to be anticipated.
The Chancellor will appear before the Treasury Select Committee next week and there is not the slightest doubt that this matter will form a significant part of their discussions. The House will recognise that, however significant the committee and however significant the role that I play in this House as Treasury spokesman, it scarcely behoves me to pre-empt what the Chancellor will say in front of the committee next week. In this respect, I ask noble Lords to show an element of patience: they will get a response to many of the points about the MPC and its appointments from the Chancellor himself next week.
My Lords, I am grateful for that explanation, but can the noble Lord tell us when he next expects the Chancellor to appear before our committee, as he always used to do?
My Lords, I do not think that I can promise that this particular Chancellor is likely to appear before the committee in the future, but I hear what the noble Lord says. His request will be duly forwarded and I shall do my best to see that it is taken into account.
The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, identified Treasury forecasts as an issue and several other noble Lords emphasised the same point. The Treasury is right to have some pride in the forecasts that it has made over recent years. On average, it outperformed the independent consensus in both current-year and year-ahead GDP growth forecasts in a sample of prominent forecasters, including international institutions such as the OECD, the IMF, the European Commission and City banks. Treasury forecasts have compared well with those of independent forecasters since 1997, and therefore there is a degree of confidence in what is being projected at present, as there is with regard to the work of the Monetary Policy Committee.
For the first time, that particular year, it was necessary for a letter to be written because inflation had gone above the stipulated figure by one percentage point. The system was tested and it met the tests. The Chancellor replied by letter to the Governor, so there is proof that we have an open system with regard to the MPC, and it is widely respected. Although the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is entitled to express doubts about the future—I am not sure how reliable they are—she cannot suggest that the record of the past 10 years is anything other than exceptionally different and exceptionally superior to the period of time when the previous Administration were in office. She will know that inflation rates have been half those that obtained between 1979 and 1997.
I hear what is said about the appointments to the MPC, but it has an excellent record and is held in high repute, as is the process that underpins it, which has stood us in such good stead over the past decade.
I emphasise that the debate on the relationship between monetary supply and inflation will continue among economists and all of us who practise in public life and who have an interest in the economy. My noble friend Lord Sheldon anticipated that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, might return to that theme and suggested that the issue of monetary supply is crucial as regards inflation. I agree with him that that attempt to forge such a close link between the two concepts—cause and effect—has proved to be a barren concept in the past and it is not one to which we subscribe now. As regards the extent to which we have seen steady growth in the economy over the past decade and controls on inflation, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, expressed a number of anxieties, not just about forecasting, but about what he thought were movements on prices. I do not agree with all the points that he makes. He has indicated where certain world prices are moving in a particular direction on food. In Britain, over the past year, we have not seen a massively substantial increase in food prices, and other prices have corrected themselves. The reason why we ran into a position in which the Governor was obliged to write his letter was partly to do with increased food prices last year, but it had rather more to do with energy prices. We all recognised the spike that occurred with regard to the energy crisis last year, which has been corrected by falling energy prices over the past few months, which gives us hope for the future.
I appreciate that the committee has homed in on specific points to which the Government must pay attention. No doubt one of the major points will be addressed next week at the Treasury Select Committee and I doubt whether any of the other points will be included in the agenda that day, when questions will be addressed to the Chancellor. I assure the committee that its work is, of course, taken seriously. How could it be otherwise, given its quality? I apologise for the slightly longer interval before the reply on this occasion, but we will seek to respond to the committee’s work as positively as we can in future. It will be recognised in all parts of the House that, although we should address our anxieties about certain parts of the economy and the committee is well placed to point out warning signs on the conduct of economic policy, the record of the basic structure in this country—under the Monetary Policy Committee, the independence of the Governor of the Bank of England and the judgment of the Chancellor and the Government over the past decade—speaks for itself.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short but useful debate. I particularly thank the Minister, who has a personal charm which the House appreciates, helping him whether he has a good or bad case. That is no bad thing. Today he made one or two points about consultation which the committee will appreciate very much.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 6.51 pm.