House of Lords
Monday, 23 November 2009.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.
Scientific Advisory Committees: Codes of Practice
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will review the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees, published in December 2007, and the Code of Practice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, last reviewed on 22 September.
My Lords, I am currently working with the Government’s chief scientific adviser, colleagues across government and the wider scientific community to develop a set of principles to underpin the relationship between the Government and independent scientific advisers. We will consider in the light of this work whether there is a need to review the code of practice for scientific advisory committees.
It is for the ACMD to consider whether its own code of practice needs reviewing.
That sounds encouraging, and I am grateful to the noble Lord. He must recognise—who better than he?—the profound dismay that was caused in the scientific community around the events affecting Professor David Nutt. Is he aware that neither of the two codes referred to in the Question deal expressly with the particular problem that arose in that case? Is he also aware that I am delighted that he is looking at this in two ways: at the role of the scientists and the scientific advisory committees; and at the role of Ministers receiving advice, because that is what went wrong in that case?
The noble Lord is right that the particular circumstances in the case of Professor Nutt caused concern in certain parts of the scientific community. That is why it is so important for the Government to reiterate the importance of the independence of scientific advice, and to have clarity between the scientific community and the Government on the rules of engagement between the two. We regard the set of principles that have been proposed as an excellent starting point to look at this matter further and why we are consulting widely. We take this matter very seriously indeed.
My Lords, many years ago I was invited to give some scientific advice to the Government, not least as a member of the Southward working party on BSE. Does the Minister agree that one of the principles that should be embodied in the new guidance is that scientific evidence is the subject on which individual scientific committees and their members give advice to the Government? If it turns out that the evidence is contrary to the Government’s view on a particular topic, may we be assured that the Government will not take punitive action against a scientist who happens to disagree with their view?
My Lords, it is important for me to restate the Government’s position. It is absolutely the case that the Government recognise the central importance of the independence of scientific advice, and where that advice is taken. If the Government decide to go against that advice, and unless there are grounds, say, in the case of national security, they should explain why they have come to a different conclusion. That is one of principles proposed and it is an aspect on which we are consulting further.
I welcome the Minister’s reply but could the Government not accept the guidelines and principles that have been put forward by 20 very eminent scientists, including the noble Lord, Lord Rees, who is president of the Royal Society? It is essential to make it clear that somebody who is a member of an advisory committee may publicly declare his views, and that if they contradict government policy they will not be sacked.
My Lords, as I believe I have already made clear, we regard these principles as an excellent framework. The majority of the principles are already enshrined in the code of practice which scientific advisers adhere to when providing advice to the Government but, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has already highlighted, certain aspects are not covered by the principles. We believe that the principles provide an excellent framework. They again set out some important pillars that underpin the relationship between science and government, but we believe that they need to be taken further. That is why we are working on consultation and will be making a statement on those principles before Christmas.
My noble friend makes an important point. The scientific community and the Government have to work effectively together. That requires absolute clarity about scientists’ ability to give their independent advice and to talk about the advice that they give unless, as I say, there are security considerations. But in return there has to be understanding within the scientific community that Ministers make decisions based upon a number of elements of advice of which science is but one. Where that advice may differ from the decision, it is therefore incumbent on Ministers to explain why a different decision has been reached.
My Lords, we do not believe that it is in the interests of good government and good decision-making for such advice to be suppressed. That is not our policy. In the increasingly sophisticated world in which we live, which depends on so many matters of science, it is extremely important to ensure that the Government can access the best possible scientific advice. That means that we have to ensure that there is academic freedom and clarity on these matters. That is why our support for the principles is an excellent starting point for this debate.
My Lords, I completely agree with the basic principle enunciated by the Minister—namely, that there must be total independence with regard to the advice given and that it must be given straight from the shoulder. However, is there not the complicating factor that the person giving that advice should have some freedom perhaps to advocate a policy that is somewhat different from that of the Government, even to the point of proselytising that policy? Is it not in respect of that second matter that the real problem arises?
My Lords, here we get into a detailed discussion of the definition of the nature of advice and the ability of scientists to go about their normal practice as academics. In the majority of cases, scientists have been able to work effectively with the Government under the code of practice. However, there is an important principle in that the scientists have often spent the whole of their careers developing their scientific expertise in an area. Therefore they have to be able to publish, to give lectures and to talk about the science that they do, subject to the considerations that I have already mentioned relating to defence and other security measures.
It is not for me to comment on the quality of the scientific advice that Professor Nutt has given; that is for scientists in the field, and I am not a scientist in that field. Notwithstanding that, I think that the point at the heart of the noble Lord’s question is whether it is possible for government to take decisions that contravene advice from scientists. Of course it must be possible for government to do that. However, government must do that in a way that provides clear separation between that scientific advice and the decision by Ministers. That is the principle to which we adhere.
My Lords, we are concerned about food shortages and strongly encourage North Korea to allow the relevant UN agencies access to undertake a full needs assessment. We continue to have grave concerns about human rights in North Korea. The upcoming UN universal periodic review offers an important opportunity to increase dialogue on international obligations. We urge North Korea to allow the UN special rapporteur to visit and assess the human rights situation.
My Lords, should the House not be wary of disinformation from North Korea about the levels of famine, given that 2 million people died there during the 1990s? Last week, the World Food Programme estimated that North Korea is 1.8 million tonnes short of the food that is necessary to feed the population and the UN rapporteur on human rights, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, has estimated that some 300,000 people are languishing in its prison camps. Should we not do all we possibly can to encourage China, which has already promoted a helpful initiative about North Korea over the course of the summer, and Stephen Bosworth, the United States special representative on North Korea, who will be travelling there in two weeks’ time, to link these human rights and humanitarian questions with the security issues that are so important to us all?
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord on his work in this area and offer broad agreement with both the assessments he makes. As the North Koreans will not allow a food assessment to be made, we cannot accurately assess the food shortage. They optimistically say they had a better harvest than last year, but some international evidence suggests that weather conditions do not allow that to be the case. We have a requirement to look to the people of North Korea, not the Government of North Korea, to assist in humanitarian aid. There is nothing that North Korea can be proud of on its human rights record. We think China can be a key player in this area and continue to discuss with it UNHCR access to the border areas. My ministerial colleague Ivan Lewis raised it with the Chinese Government. We will continue to put pressure on all those in the area on human rights and on access to food.
My Lords, are the Government aware that international policies designed to bring defective states into line inevitably impact most seriously upon the most vulnerable in those societies, particularly children? I draw attention to the pledges in the Queen’s Speech,
“to promote equality, narrow the gap between rich and poor and tackle discrimination”,
and the Government,
“continuing to enshrine in law its commitment to abolish child poverty by 2020”.
Are the Government aware of the need for some joined-up thinking in this area?
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for the point of view he offers and am broadly in agreement with him. I do not think there is a lack of joined-up thinking. When it comes to security, nuclear weapons and the threat in certain parts of the world, we take a strong line against Governments who are in a position to ignore the human rights of, usually, their own people in pursuance of an international policy by which the world is endangered. On the other hand, we are very clear that humanitarian aid, whether to Zimbabwe or to North Korea, should continue to ensure that we do not have a situation where the poor, the young and those who are already victims of dictatorship are put to greater hardship by international activity.
My Lords, we all recognise the immense complexity of dealing with a regime that uses nuclear blackmail to try to force the rest of the world to give it things that it cannot or will not provide for its own people. Can the Government tell us which multinational framework is now most useful for dealing with the problem of North Korea? Is it the UN or the six-power group? Where are Her Majesty's Government finding it most useful to exert pressure?
My Lords, the broad answer is that the United Kingdom Government seek to put those pressures that will be most appropriate in the most appropriate areas, so clearly we put them within the UN on human rights and we urge the Government of North Korea to return to the six-party talks. We support the intended visit of Stephen Bosworth, the US special envoy to North Korea, towards the end of this year. We were encouraged by President Obama’s speeches in relation to his visit to the APEC summit. The broad answer is that we seek to influence in all the fora we can.
Iraq: Camp Ashraf
My Lords, we encourage the Iraqi authorities and the Camp Ashraf leadership to find a lasting and acceptable solution for the future of the residents. We have relayed this message to the Iraqi Government at the highest levels, including to the Iraqi Prime Minister. Camp Ashraf is in a sovereign and democratic Iraq and, ultimately, decisions on the future location of the camp are for the Iraqi Government to resolve.
Will my noble friend confirm that the United Kingdom supports the views of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, the ICRC and the UNHCR that it would further breach international humanitarian law if Iraq carried out its threat to again use violent force against defenceless Iranian refugees at Ashraf, so adding to the toll of 11 dead and hundreds injured in its July assault? Will the Government join efforts to persuade Iraq to accept a UN monitoring force at Ashraf to help talks between Iraq and the residents on their future to continue in a calm atmosphere?
My Lords, in light of the tragic deaths of 11 people and many others injured at Camp Ashraf on 20 July, the Government have raised the issue with the Iraqi Government seeking a review of the event. We also raised the question of a UN presence in the camp. That was acceded to in discussions between the PMOI and the Government of Iraq and is now established, with a mission that is monitoring human rights and the humanitarian situation at Camp Ashraf, liaising with American and Iraqi counterparts as well as with the PMOI, regularly reporting on the situation to the SRSG and the OHCHR in Geneva, and assessing the possibilities and the presence of enabling conditions by the GoI—the Government of Iraq—for a later deployment of UNHCR staff and other actions as required.
Perhaps the noble Lord can help on this. Did Her Majesty’s Government make representations to the Iraqi authorities about the blockade of Ashraf, subsequent to the attack in July, and about the outrageous situation in which the authorities prevented even doctors from entering the camp to look after people who had been injured in the attack, or are Her Majesty’s Government washing their hands of the whole matter and saying that they no longer have any real responsibility for the people of Ashraf as protected persons under the Geneva conventions? If it is the view of Her Majesty’s Government that they have no responsibility in that regard, how did they come to that conclusion?
I refer the noble Lord to an answer that I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, when I dealt with the whole question of the immunities that people believe exist but which do not exist in relation to Camp Ashraf. It is in sovereign Iraqi territory—a democratic state. On the other hand, we do not resile at all from trying to ensure that humanitarian conditions exist and that assurances are kept that no one will be transferred from that camp to a country in which their lives are in danger. In that sense, we are clear about the issue. We are less clear about accusations, for which we have no independent authoritative evidence from the UN or anywhere else, that people are being prevented from having medicines and other things. If there is any hard evidence, I would be more than delighted to refer it to my Foreign Office colleagues for investigation.
Why is no European nation, or North America, willing to accept any of the residents of Camp Ashraf? May it have something to do with their previous activities? Is the Minister absolutely determined either to prove that the Camp Ashraf residents cannot return to the Islamic Republic of Iran or to press European nations to bring them out? What responsibility do the Iraqi Government have to keep these former enemies of the Iraqi people?
The noble Baroness raises a question that has undoubtedly been the subject of considerable discussion in Iraq. People in the camp probably find no favour in the country from which they came and little favour in the country of their adoption, given their previous adherence to the regime that has now been removed. The short answer is that no one outside the country seems to show any great enthusiasm for bringing in people in Camp Ashraf. Many of them may be innocent, but there are people in that camp with a clear history of attacks in Iran—attacks which they may have now abandoned—that makes them unpopular in that country and of support for a dictator that makes them equally unpopular in Iraq.
My Lords, is my noble friend not aware that these people have protected person status under United Nations law? That being so, would it not be possible to persuade EU countries to provide these people with refuge? These are genuine refugees who deserve protection.
Alas, it is not the case that people in Camp Ashraf have protected person status under the Fourth Geneva Convention. That has ceased to apply. That view is shared by the United Nations, the Government of Iraq, the United States and us. It is a mistake to believe that there is international protection for these individuals. However, that does not mean that we should abandon them to be subject to inhuman treatment or to be transferred to regimes in countries where their lives would be in danger.
My Lords, I appreciate the clarification provided by the Minister regarding the status of these people in Camp Ashraf. However, in light of the Iraqi Government’s pledge that these people will not be forcibly repatriated to Iran, have Her Majesty’s Government been in any discussions with the Iraqi Government as to whether they might be given political asylum in this country?
As I said, the UK Government have no locus in Iraq in relation to these people. The discussions have been held internationally through the United States, which had control prior to the ending of the Geneva Convention status. That status was given in the first place only because the Americans chose to accept and adopt it, rather than because there was any international obligation. It is clear that there is no nation—alas, it might be said—for these individuals outside the country that they are in, albeit that they are very reluctantly accepted; no other country is prepared to give residence status to them.
My Lords, following the violence that was perpetrated on residents of Camp Ashraf, Members of the House of Lords met the Minister, Ivan Lewis, who promised to make representations when he visited Iraq and to convey our concern. The Minister has given the answer in relation to making representations, but what was the response of the Iraqi Government?
The Iraqi Government agreed to put in place an inquiry, the results of which we do not know. My ministerial colleague Ivan Lewis will visit Iraq in December and will no doubt keep the promise that he made to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and colleagues to raise this issue at the highest level.
My Lords, there are many settlements around the world of people who are unwelcome in the country from which they have fled and unwelcome in the country to which they have fled. The United Nations does a considerable job in getting them settled in third countries. What steps are we taking to assist that effort in this case?
The United Nations is seeking a solution to the problem but, as I hope I have explained, it is not easy when the country of origin sees the individuals as people who attack them and the country that they are in sees them as people who attack them. In that sense, we are protecting the humanitarian support for these individuals where they are and trying to ensure that they are humanely treated and not transported to other countries. But we have a very limited locus in this matter.
Rwanda has made progress towards meeting the Commonwealth's core values, in the areas of democratic process; rule of law; good governance; protection of human rights and equality of opportunity; and economic policies aimed at improving the welfare of the public. While much remains to be done in all these areas, the Government assess that this progress is sufficient for the UK to support Rwanda’s bid to join the Commonwealth.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Have the Government had any discussions with their Rwandan counterparts about implementing the recommendations made by the EU electoral mission after the 2008 elections in that country? Have the Government received any assurances from the Rwandan Government, given that the fundamental shortcomings identified by the EU mission will be eradicated before future elections? Finally, will the Government take such matters into consideration when the application by Rwanda to join the Commonwealth is considered at this week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad?
My Lords, we are concerned about and anxious to discuss with our colleagues the outcome of the observer review of the 2008 elections and the lessons to be learnt for the 2010 presidential elections. The question of Rwanda’s access to the Commonwealth will be based on a report from the Secretary-General and will be discussed towards the end of this week. We cannot predict the result because it is a decision for all the Commonwealth nations, except to say that at this stage we know of no opposition. We want to see Rwanda in the Commonwealth so that we can carry on encouraging the Government there. Membership will help Rwanda to overcome its weaknesses in areas such as press freedom and political space. The Commonwealth and its values will be of help in those terms.
My Lords, undoubtedly Rwanda has made great strides since the genocide of 1994, but it was a Belgian colony and mainly Francophone. I understand the President of Mozambique, but is it still relevant to have to have had some form of historic connection with this country before becoming part of the Commonwealth?
My Lords, in 2007, the Commonwealth amended the status of its application requirements from being an historical part of the Commonwealth to include countries that are in close association with Commonwealth countries. In Rwanda, that is the case with at least three other countries that are part of the east African economic area and therefore there is a clear relationship which can be encouraged. These issues are judged on a case-by-case basis against the same criteria that we apply to every other nation in the Commonwealth, and those embrace the values of the Commonwealth and all they imply.
My Lords, perhaps I may come to the support of the Minister in his heavy workload at the Dispatch Box this afternoon by agreeing with him that while obviously each applicant for membership of the Commonwealth must be evaluated and judged strictly on the standards set by the Commonwealth, and that that must apply to Rwanda as it does to everywhere else, is it not interesting that Rwanda is one of four or five countries now applying to join, which indicates that the Commonwealth is a most attractive platform in modern, 21st century conditions? Does that not confirm and indeed strengthen the view that HMG should pay as much attention as possible to a full, lively and active membership of the Commonwealth in promoting the interests and foreign policy of this nation?
I thank the noble Lord for his support. I concur that the Commonwealth is quite possibly the most popular international body that other countries are seeking to join, and that we should encourage that where it is appropriate to do so. I would not accept that the Government are not doing everything they can to support and encourage the Commonwealth. Indeed, it has to be said that one of the attractions of the Commonwealth may well be that, unlike the European Union, SADC and Mercosur, covering the horn of South America, it is not an economic trading body, which can cause certain problems in other circumstances.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that bringing Cyprus into the EU before any agreement was reached between the northern and southern parts of the island was rather premature? Are there not some parallels here? In the light of, for example, the report of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, is it not right that Rwanda should make far more progress in terms of human rights, press freedom and the actions being taken by Rwandans in the neighbouring DRC? Should not all those issues be addressed before Rwanda is admitted to the Commonwealth?
My Lords, I believe that those issues will be considered as part of the Secretary-General’s report to CHOGM. The report referred to by the noble Baroness was rather sweeping, and I personally did not think it took sufficient account of the tremendous progress that has been made, such as the abolition of the death penalty. Uniquely in the world, the Rwandan parliament has a majority of women members. More needs to be done, but a lot has already happened, and the genuine criticisms made in that report about press freedom and political space could be better addressed by Rwanda’s admission to the Commonwealth than by its exclusion.
My Lords, I listen to the noble Baroness’s wise words in the knowledge that she has visited that country as part of a parliamentary delegation and has seen it at first hand. I am sure that she is right: if there is a great value in the Commonwealth, as has been indicated from opposition Benches and supported around the House, it is that it brings people together in dialogue without necessarily some of the other constraining features. I am sure that Rwanda’s accession to the Commonwealth, if it happens this week, will be a boost both for that country and other countries in the region.
My Lords, the Minister may well be aware that Mr William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary in another place, has given his support for countries interested in joining the Commonwealth, including Algeria and Yemen. Have Her Majesty’s Government done a thorough assessment of how far Algeria and Yemen support the Commonwealth’s shared core values?
My Lords, notwithstanding some of the shortcomings in Rwanda, 1 million people died there during the course of the genocide. Should we not do all that we possibly can to help Rwanda make progress for the future? Is not one practical thing that we could do now to bring to justice those genocidaires living in this country who are now eligible for prosecution as a result of the amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill moved by my noble friend Lady D’Souza, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, me and others? Can the Minister give an assurance that he will report back to the House, as soon as is convenient, on what progress we have made in bringing to justice those living in this country who are responsible for many of the deaths in Rwanda?
My Lords, I must be very careful in what I say. There are cases which are subject to appeal and therefore it would not be appropriate for me to make any individual reference. Justice and reconciliation are essential parts of bringing together countries which have been torn apart by ethnic, religious or other issues. I shall take note of the noble Lord’s question and consider it.
Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision about the rights of third parties against insurers of liabilities to third parties in the case where the insured is insolvent and in certain other cases.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Bach, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Patient Transport Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision in respect of transport of patients attending National Health Service hospitals and healthcare facilities.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Greengross, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Health and Social Care (Independent Living) Bill [HL]
A Bill to impose duties upon certain persons and bodies in respect of disabled persons, to confer certain rights upon disabled persons for independent living, to amend the Mental Health Act 1983, to amend the Health and Social Care Act 2008 and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Ashley of Stoke, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, immediately after the three opening speakers in the debate on the Address, I will repeat a Statement on the flooding in Cumbria. There are 45 speakers signed up for today’s debate. If Back-Bench contributions are kept to seven minutes, the House should be able to rise this evening at around the target rising time of 10 pm.
Debate (3rd Day)
Moved on Wednesday 18 November by
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to be opening today’s debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, not least since it is usually the lot of Ministry of Justice Ministers to close this debate. Today, we discuss the Government’s proposals on home affairs, justice and constitutional affairs for the final Session of the Parliament.
Such Sessions can often seem to generate more heat than light. Our contention is that the Bills we are debating today show that the Government remain as committed as ever to delivering a fair and just society.
Noble Lords will recall the series of books by the late, great journalist, Mr Anthony Sampson, entitled The Anatomy of Britain. This series was periodically updated and the last edition, published in 2004, was called Who Runs this Place? The Government’s answer to this question is unequivocal: the UK belongs to its people. The legislation that this House will consider during this Session and debate today says that loud and clear, putting power into the hands of the people and helping to make our communities safer and more secure.
Today, we are considering two major pieces of legislation: the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill and the Crime and Security Bill. In addition, we are looking at two other Bills, less contentious perhaps but none the less valuable for that: the Bribery Bill and the Third Party (Rights against Insurers) Bill. In another Bill, the Children, Schools and Families Bill, there will be clauses dealing with the transparency of family proceedings in court.
If the House agrees, the Third Party (Rights against Insurers) Bill will follow the new procedure for uncontroversial but worthy Law Commission Bills. It has already been used successfully on one such Bill.
I turn to the Crime and Security Bill. I am proud to be part of a Government who have had such a positive impact on the criminal justice system. Crime is down by more than a third since 1997. The chances of being a victim are at their lowest since records began in 1981. Reoffending is down by 20 per cent since 1981 and youth reoffending is down by nearly 24 per cent.
We have reformed the penal system, with 75 per cent more serious and violent offenders in prison and a modernised prison estate with nearly 25,000 more places. We have continued to put the needs of victims at the centre of the criminal justice system. We have trebled the money that we provide to Victim Support, introduced new protection for victims of forced marriage, appointed Sara Payne as the first independent Victims’ Champion and published her report, which we are studying carefully. We have also announced proposals for a new national victims’ service. Eighty-three per cent of witnesses and victims have expressed satisfaction with the criminal justice system.
We are better engaging communities in criminal justice by giving them a say in the types of community payback projects that offenders carry out and allowing them to see justice being done through the use of high-visibility jackets. In 2008, 8.4 million hours of free labour were provided to benefit communities by offenders sentenced to unpaid work. Such work was valued at £48.7 million.
The Crime and Security Bill builds on these reforms. It will protect communities by making parents take responsibility for their child’s anti-social behaviour. The Bill will introduce new powers to help victims break the cycle of domestic violence.
It may assist the House if I summarise the main provisions of the Bill. It will help to make our communities safer, first, by making families take responsibility for their children’s anti-social behaviour by assessing parenting needs for young people aged 10 to 15 years and imposing parenting orders where they have breached their ASBOs. Secondly, gang injunctions for under-18s will make our communities safer and prevent young people from being sucked into a life of crime. Furthermore, it will prevent crimes against vulnerable people by tackling domestic violence with orders issued by police officers requiring alleged perpetrators to leave their premises for a fixed period of time, so victims feel safer in their own homes rather than seeking refuge elsewhere, as well as making sure that airguns are safely locked up and out of the reach of children.
It will also provide for criminal and exploitative markets to be closed down by preventing the use of unauthorised mobile phones in prison and so stopping organised criminals and terrorists from being able sometimes to continue their criminal enterprises from behind bars, as well as having licensed wheel clampers to prevent unscrupulous companies from exploiting their position by imposing exorbitant fines. Moreover, it will ensure justice for victims and families by protecting the public by making sure the right people are on our DNA database by indefinitely retaining the DNA records of convicted offenders and holding the DNA of those who are acquitted for a proportionate amount of time. Furthermore, we will retrospectively collect DNA from serious violent and sexual offenders, allowing us to take DNA samples from sex offenders returning to the UK following conviction overseas and to collect DNA from convicted offenders who are back in our communities.
I turn to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, already progressing in the other place and carried over from the previous Session. The Bill is a key package of measures designed to rebuild trust in our democratic and constitutional settlement by reinforcing the principles of transparency, accountability and probity across government. Noble Lords will hardly need to be reminded that a draft Bill was scrutinised in depth by a Joint Committee of both Houses and other Select Committees. I put on record again the Government’s gratitude to the members of the Joint Committee for their work, especially Mr Michael Jabez Foster MP, the chair, and the Members of the other place and this House who took part in the committee. We look forward to hearing the contributions this evening from the noble Lords who served on it.
The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill continues the process of constitutional reform and further strengthens the role of Parliament in relation to the Executive. The Bill will do this by enshrining in statute the key principles by which the Civil Service must function: integrity, impartiality, objectivity and honesty. Secondly, it will provide greater clarity in how the Government conduct international relations by placing in statute the process by which Parliament has its say about the ratification of international treaties. Part 6 of the Bill will provide protection for the salaries of judicial office holders in certain tribunals and make provisions for a new method of obtaining medical assessments for candidates for judicial office. The Bill will also provide Parliament with more consistent and transparent information about public spending.
Your Lordships will no doubt take a particular interest in the important measures to ensure that there is a robust disciplinary regime in the House of Lords. The Bill will allow Peers to resign, or to be expelled from this place. It will also allow Peers to disclaim their peerage after resigning or being removed from the House. I also underline the Government’s firm commitment to abolish the hereditary by-election process in the House of Lords. Doubtless, noble Lords will wish to reflect on them in particular detail, but I underline the fact that those hereditary Peers who are currently Members of the House will not lose their seats. The Bill abolishes only the mechanism which allows further hereditary Peers to enter this House solely on the basis of their hereditary title. It does not seem to serve any of us to have a seat in Parliament decided by such minuscule electorates. We do not believe that the current situation is tenable. In this day and age it is not appropriate for new Members to join this House solely as the result of a hereditary title. No doubt we will debate this in due course.
As the gracious Speech made clear, we will be publishing draft provisions on comprehensive reform of your Lordships’ House. It seems self-evident that as we move towards a second Chamber more aligned with a modern democracy, it is unacceptable that one House should be supplemented with further hereditary Peers, however much we value—and we do—the contribution that the elected hereditary Peers continue to make to this place. The publication of a draft will also maintain the momentum towards comprehensive reform, to which the Government are as committed as ever.
There is a more general point here. The Bill is before us at a time when it is more important than ever that we make every effort to rebuild trust in our democratic and constitutional settlement. Continuing reform of your Lordships’ House is at one with this priority. I therefore look forward to the debates on that Bill with some interest.
I turn to the Bribery Bill, which was introduced into your Lordships’ House at the end of last week. It is part of a longer-term strategy for addressing bribery. The Bill is a revision of the draft Bill published in March, itself formed around a set of recommendations of the Law Commission and subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses. The Joint Committee on the draft Bill published its report in July. The Bill reflects the Government’s response to the report of the Joint Committee, which was published alongside the Bill last Friday. I record my gratitude to the Law Commission. We are also indebted to the Joint Committee, chaired by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, for its thorough examination of the issues and its helpful recommendations for improving the Bill. I note that three of the members of the committee—the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Williamson of Horton, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate—are down to speak in this debate. We look forward to hearing from them on this matter if they choose to speak about it.
Bribery is a global problem that is an insidious threat to ethical standards in public life and in the commercial field. The fight against bribery internationally is the fight for fair trade and overseas development, supporting access to justice and to open markets.
In recent years, we have seen some progress in the fight against foreign bribery. The United Kingdom ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2006. The number of bribery investigations taken up by the SFO has increased, assisted by a properly resourced City of London Police overseas anti-corruption unit. We have seen recent successful prosecutions for foreign bribery of both individuals and corporate bodies. But there is no room for complacency here. As the challenges evolve, we need to develop the right tools to tackle them effectively. The Bill will provide a modern and consolidated criminal law of bribery, and I hope that it is supported on that basis. We believe that that law will provide our investigators and prosecutors with the tools they need to address bribery in business and public life and at home and abroad.
Modernisation of the law in this field is a priority, not only to deal effectively with those who offer bribes on the one hand or accept them on the other in our business or public sectors, but also to reinforce transparency and accountability in our international business transactions. It is vital that we work with our international partners to eliminate the corruption that undermines economic progress and development around the world. The offences of bribery of a foreign public official and the failure of a commercial organisation to prevent bribery reflect these priorities. However, I argue that business has nothing to fear from these provisions—indeed, it has much to gain. Clarity of the law will assist commercial organisations in assessing the suitability of their systems and should bring efficiency savings through, for example, reducing the cost of risk assessments. The enhancement of the UK’s reputation as a consequence of our reforms should allow UK business to compete more successfully in international markets. The Bill sends out a clear message that the UK is taking the necessary measures to empower our investigators, prosecutors and courts to tackle bribery effectively wherever and in whatever context it occurs.
I shall say a few words about the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Bill. This is a modest technical Bill, which replaces the current legislation covering that area that dates from the 1930s. The Bill will modernise and simplify the procedure by which claimants can recover money from the insurer of an insolvent wrongdoer. By agreement of the usual channels, the Bill will be introduced as the second Bill in the trial of the new procedure in this House for suitable Law Commission Bills. I am grateful to all sides of the House for their support for the use of that procedure for this Bill.
The three main benefits of the Bill are: first, that legal costs and delay will be reduced by enabling the claimant to sue the insurer direct without first suing the wrongdoer; secondly, that claimants will have better rights to obtain information about insurance policies earlier in the process; and thirdly, that it will include a wider range of insolvency and insolvency-type situations than the present law allows for.
This will be a short Session, and the legislation I have outlined today will give us plenty to get our teeth into. I have no doubt that the House will wish to consider and scrutinise the Bills that we introduce with its usual care and attention. But short though the Session may be, the legislation that we will introduce is part of vital reforms to continue our work of the past 12 years. We are attempting to make our communities more secure, enhance our democracy and rebalance how power is held and by whom. We look forward to hearing the contributions of noble Lords today and in our debates in the coming months. If I may pick out two speeches that we anticipate with more interest than any others, they are perhaps the two maiden speeches that we will hear today—the first from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and the second from the noble Baroness, Lady O'Loan. We look forward to their speeches.
My Lords, it is a privilege to reply to the Motion on the humble Address. Earlier this year, the noble Lord, Lord West, made a comment that characterises this Government. When in your Lordships’ House there was a response to the updated national security strategy and the cybersecurity strategy, which were published in March, he said that he was impressed by the speed with which I and colleagues in this House had managed to read and absorb those documents. What does that tell us? Sadly, I fear that it does not say anything about our capacity for speed reading. Short Session or no, it is the paucity of the Government’s policy in important areas that allows us to absorb the Government’s proposals and legislation so quickly.
Related to that, in some areas the Government are taking their cue from these Benches. That is very flattering, but they are not doing a very good job of it. Why do I say that? Before I go on to talk about the Crime and Security Bill in particular, I should like to say that my noble friend Lord Henley will cover the justice and constitutional issues later.
The Crime and Security Bill is an example of the Government following our lead, but not doing it very well, and tidying up problems that they have caused in previous years. Take, for example, the proposals to reduce police bureaucracy. In January last year, we on these Benches said that we would scrap the stop and search forms in their entirety. The Government are trying to follow suit but, as ever, are not quite meeting the target that we set them. In July 2008, the Prime Minister pledged the following:
“We are clearing the decks, cutting the red tape, cutting back on bureaucracy, making it possible for policemen and women to spend far more time on the beat answering people’s inquiries, in touch with local communities—a visible presence on the beat so that more and more people will see a policeman or woman there and able to help them”.
How very desirable; no one disputes the desirability and importance of this. However, the Government’s own figures show that just 14 per cent of all police officers’ time is spent on patrol compared with 22 per cent of their time spent on paperwork. It was recently revealed that more than a third of all offences reported to the police are not investigated; they are dismissed as unsolvable in a process of screening out, which decides what crimes are worthy of attendance and action. One has the impression that form-filling to screen out an investigation is a higher priority than getting on with solving a crime.
In September, the Home Secretary told the Police Superintendents’ Association that the Crime and Security Bill,
“will take the first steps towards radically slimming down the form”,
for stop and search incidents. He said that the information that officers are forced to record when they stop and search a suspect could be reduced from 10 points to just two or three. He added that the changes could save up to 200,000 hours of police work every day. But in fact this Bill will reduce reporting requirements only at the margin; seven rather than 10 items of information will still have to be recorded, a reduction of three only. This means that the number of hours saved will be evidently much fewer than the Home Secretary’s projected 200,000. Why are the Government introducing a half measure rather than abolishing the forms completely? The Home Secretary’s calls for the police to visit every victim of crime sound hollow. I do not dispute that the public may indeed welcome the police visiting them, but what they really want is a proper and successful investigation.
There is a more fundamental problem with the Government’s programme. Over what will have been 13 years in power, Labour has allowed a society to develop that is characterised by national and personal insecurity. It has tried, and continues to try, to tackle this insecurity by developing an intrusive state and focusing on technical fixes. It does this rather than dealing with the root causes of insecurity: societal breakdown and a lack of national cohesion.
The lack of national cohesion brings me on to the terrorist threat. It is a threat that is still real. Although there was a reduction in the threat level earlier this year, for the first time since the appalling attacks of 7/7, this was a reflection primarily of the work to address the physical vulnerability of areas such as crowded places and the successes of our intelligence and security agencies, which I congratulate, in disrupting plots and networks; it was not because of a reduction in the drivers of terrorism. The real problem was, and remains, radicalisation.
One of the reasons why people are vulnerable to radicalisation and extremism is that the Government have failed to promote shared values and to make it clear that citizens have responsibilities alongside their rights. This is exemplified year on year by the increase in anti-social behaviour, domestic violence and other crime. In his opening remarks, the Minister mentioned some crime statistics, but he did not mention the figures relating to violent crime, which is still on the rise. There has, for instance, been a 68 per cent increase in recorded drug offences, which relate to and often involve violence. Domestic violence accounts for 14 per cent—I repeat, 14 per cent—of violent incidents. It also involves more repeat victims than any other crime. One can hardly imagine what goes on in some homes. There also has been an upsurge in alcohol-related violent crime.
In 2005, the then Home Secretary said that his party would “eliminate” anti-social behaviour by 2010—next year. Why does the Government’s own crime adviser say that they have let people down on anti-social behaviour? Why has the current Home Secretary said that the Government have coasted on the problem? Why do fewer than half the adults surveyed for the British Crime Survey believe that the police and local councils are dealing effectively with anti-social behaviour? How can there be community cohesion or inclusivity in such a context? It is an appalling commentary on what Labour has achieved—on the nature of the society that it has allowed to develop, if not encouraged—that many of the measures in the Bill are actually needed.
There have been no fewer than 27 policing and crime Bills since this Government came to office. Clearly, Labour did not get it right first time. Since then, delivery, compared with legislation—and there is a very legislative-rich approach—has been far from satisfactory. So much for Tony Blair’s pledge to be,
“tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime”.
It is not just the Government’s failure to deliver against previous pledges that makes us question whether what is being proposed will ever be implemented properly. I return to my previous point that there is a more fundamental problem with the Government’s approach, which is that it does not tackle the root causes of insecurity—this business of the “causes of crime”.
In some ways, the Government recognise this and are trying to backtrack, realising that the existing system of anti-social behaviour orders, for instance, is not up to the task initially set. We on these Benches have pointed out numerous problems with this system. For example, it takes months for an order to come into force, orders are in place only after reoffending and they rely on appropriate parental authority and support for enforcement when, obviously, this authority and support are not always present and forthcoming. We know that unchecked minor crimes and signs of disorder lead to more anti-social behaviour and more serious crime. Small crime tends to lead to big crime.
How do we fill the gap in the existing system? Quick action is needed, which is why we on these Benches have proposed that the police be given new powers, such as the ability to put in place curfew or grounding orders, removing young troublemakers from the streets rather than simply dispersing them, or confiscating temporarily a young troublemaker’s possessions, such as their bike or mobile phone. We welcome the fact that the Government are approaching this issue, but it is too little, too late.
More should be done on this overall approach. For some time, research has shown that family circumstances can drive people to crime. There is a clear correlation between the propensity to offend when young and the likelihood of committing crime later in life. This is all part of the pattern of smaller crime leading to bigger crime. Why has it taken the Government so long to realise—it is welcome that they realise it—that giving a child an ASBO is likely to indicate a problem with family circumstances and parenting? One has to ask why these assessments have not happened before. It is not just family breakdown that can set young people on the conveyor belt to crime; it is also things such as education failure and welfare dependency. What is missing from the Government’s proposal is a comprehensive partnership approach with all the different groups and organisations that have a role in preventing criminality from arising in the first place.
Closely related to the issue of anti-social behaviour is that of gang-related violence. Young people committing anti-social acts of minor criminality may well be those who later become integral members of more serious gangs—another case of small crimes leading to bigger ones. Gang-related violence was discussed extensively during debates on the Policing and Crime Act that we have just passed. The new Bill seeks to extend the existing provisions to cover people under 18. One wonders why it could not have been done all in one.
I have two further questions. First, should it not be possible to tackle gang behaviour under, or by applying common sense to, the plethora of existing laws? One wonders why we have to put everything in statute. Secondly, any effective policy aimed at curbing gang activity must take account of the spectrum of gang organisation in the UK, which ranges from peer groups, through relatively durable groupings, to organised crime. I am not sure that the Government’s proposals will tackle the whole spectrum. I would be grateful if the Minister would comment on where the focus of the Bill lies and whether it will cover the whole spectrum that needs attention.
There are similar problems with other proposals in the Crime and Security Bill. For example, domestic violence protection orders are long overdue, but they are only temporary. I come back to the point that the extent of domestic violence in this country is very serious. There are real questions about how the orders can be effectively enforced. We will watch the Government’s trials closely to see what happens when the temporary orders expire—what is the next act? More important, how will the Government tackle the causes of domestic violence? I come back to the issue of needing to get under a situation that leads to the commission of violent acts.
We may in this Session be dealing with some symptoms of a broken society, but in other areas action is long overdue. I give as an example the new offence of possessing an unauthorised mobile phone in prison, which the Minister mentioned. It must be common sense that this should be an offence. It is already an offence to smuggle a mobile phone into a prison. Some prisons have rules against their possession. Therefore, how can it be that it is not already an offence to possess a mobile phone in a prison? Have the Government made an assessment of what the value of the new offence will be and, particularly as the existing offence has not stopped phones getting into prisons, how they will ensure that this now happens? Would it not be more effective to jam mobile phone signals in prisons, preventing the use of phones entirely, as has been suggested by the chairman of the Wandsworth prison independent monitoring board? It would make phones pointless if they could not get a signal.
In other areas we are dealing with a by-product of the Government’s tendency to treat people as guilty until they are proven innocent—the result of Labour’s desire for technical fixes to our insecurity. It is telling that half of all offences go unreported because people believe that nothing can or will be done or—I stress this point—because they believe that they may end up entangled with the police.
The DNA database is a good example and one that has been debated extensively in your Lordships’ House. It is well known that the Conservatives would follow the Scottish system, in which samples would continue to be taken from those suspected of a crime and retained throughout the course of any investigation. When an adult is convicted of a recordable offence, DNA should indeed be retained indefinitely. However, no DNA samples or profiles should be retained where criminal proceedings initiated against an adult did not result in a conviction. The only exception to that general rule would be where a person was charged with a serious offence comprising certain crimes of violence or of a sexual nature. In these cases, DNA would be retained up to a maximum of five years. It is not clear why, for example, there is a difference of one year in certain of the Government’s new proposals.
I should like to probe the Government’s proposals in one other respect. What is the evidential base for them, and has this been peer-reviewed, as in the case of the Scottish system? I understand that the evidence that informed the proposals is based on an analysis of arrests to arrests, rather than arrests to convictions. It would be helpful to know whether that is the case and why the result comes out as it does with a difference between the Government’s proposals and the Scottish system. I also understand that there is some uncertainty about the retention time of six years proposed by the Government and, indeed, whether that proposal will be compliant with the S and Marper judgment of the European Court.
Finally on the DNA database, I take issue with the Government’s suggestion that the proposals will mean that the system is more transparent and more open to appeal. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that my understanding on this is correct, but, if an application for removal is subject to a £200 fee, it seems to me that many individuals will be prevented from making any appeal or getting their names off the database. As I said, perhaps the Government are using the right of individuals not to be on the database to help to fill the big public sector deficit.
If the DNA database is one area where the principle of innocent until proven guilty is obscured, another is how cowboy wheel-clamping practices have spiralled out of control. I have some doubts about whether the Government’s proposals in this area will work in practice. They rely on the Security Industry Authority, which has failed to fulfil properly even its existing functions. What measures have the Government taken to improve the effectiveness of the SIA before deciding to give this organisation further and somewhat different duties? Based on the Government’s record of delivery to date, how effective any of these proposals will be is open to question.
There are also other areas where the Government should be taking more action but are not doing so. These include the policing gap in tackling serious and organised crime, public trust in policing, the resilience of critical infrastructure in relation to natural hazards—current proposals are limited only to flooding—the interoperability of the emergency services and tackling the country’s cyber-insecurity. All these are priority areas and they should all be the focus of attention. However, while this has been a legislative-rich Government —indeed, there has been legislation overload—not all priority areas, some of them very important, have been properly addressed.
I have two final points. The first is that the Government’s approach has not been to focus on providing security where only they can or should, which is the principle that should guide any Government. The second is that Labour focuses on dealing with the symptoms of wider problems. It has failed to realise that it cannot tackle the country’s insecurity with more technical fixes through legislation. It needs a reform platform to fix a broken society—one that tackles the root causes of insecurity by involving and working with individuals and communities. However, that can come only from a new Government.
My Lords, I want to say something about the proper sphere of the law. The law is not about government statements of intent, policy declarations or general exhortations. It is not a branch of the media or of the postal services for this or any other Government to send messages to the general populace—and certainly not to the voters.
In the legislative programme outlined in the Queen’s Speech, the Government propose to introduce the Fiscal Responsibility Bill,
“to require reductions in the deficit, with the aim of ensuring that the national debt returns to a sustainable path in the medium term”.
The purpose is stated to be to,
“put the Government’s deficit reduction plan on a statutory footing, in order to halve the deficit over four years and put debt on a sustainable path in the medium term”.
What is the purpose of a statutory footing? What happens if the targets are not met? Will it be justiciable by an independent judiciary in the courts? A Government cannot sue themselves. Is it conceivable that an Opposition, the Governor of the Bank of England or anyone else could take a future Administration before a judge and ask for an order to compel them to act in accordance with this legislation? It is patently absurd.
The noble Lord has my point exactly.
The Government also present us with the Children, Schools and Families Bill. Its purpose is stated to be to,
“provide guarantees for parents and pupils setting out what they can expect from the 21st century schools system. These will equip every child, every family and every one who works with them to meet the challenges ahead, and so help secure this country’s success now and in the future”.
This means, we are told.
“through new pupil and parent guarantees the Government is committing for the first time series of specific entitlements for all and providing a means of redress if expectations are not met”.
What is this “means of redress”? Will a parent who feels that a guarantee has been broken or a specific entitlement not given—for example, a place in a particular school, or specialised or one-to-one teaching—be able to obtain an order from a judge by way of judicial review to enforce that statutory guarantee? I do not think so. I suspect that we will see some watered down, bureaucratic system of complaint put in place—a complaint to be made to the very government department that is responsible for implementing these so-called guarantees.
The Government promise “21st century schools”; I should like to see them promising 19th century schools. They say:
“Building on over a decade of increasing school standards, this Bill will deliver the building blocks for a world class 21st century schooling system that meets the needs of every pupil so that they can achieve their full potential”.
Really? A piece of legislation—a Bill—rather than a body of competent and active administrators—will deliver building blocks to meet the needs of every pupil? Will that be justiciable in court? Pass a law and the thing is done? It used to be said—I always thought it rather unfair—that those who can, do and those who cannot, teach. Now we have a Labour gloss on the administration of government. Those who can, do and those who cannot, push a useless piece of legislation through Parliament.
The proposed Child Poverty Bill proclaims not a guarantee but an “accountability framework”. It will ensure that,
“for the first time Governments will be held to account on the success of their strategies to end child poverty”.
How? This time the blurb is specific—not through the courts but through annual reports to Parliament. Big deal. That will put a lot of money in a lot of people’s pockets.
Why do the Government not simply set out their policies, put them before the public and, if elected, do their best to achieve them? That is the point that the noble Lord was making a moment ago. Or is the purpose of this charade to set out targets in an attempt to bind a future Administration of whatever party, or combination of parties? These Bills will debase the statute book. A political manifesto is masquerading as a serious addition to the enforceable laws of this country.
We are promised a number of Bills. The constitutional renewal Bill will be dealt with by other of my noble friends. However, I was somewhat amused to hear the noble Lord say that this Bill is going to maintain the momentum of the reform of the House of Lords by the abolition of the by-elections for Peers. Back in 1964, when I fought my first election against Nigel Birch in West Flint, the Rhyl Chronicle contained my promise for a Senedd—an Assembly for Wales—proportional representation and the abolition of the hereditary principle in the House of Lords. This Government have really a great deal of momentum behind them, haven’t they?
To be fair, however, there is one Bill promised that stands out like a beacon, and that is the Bribery Bill. Unfortunately for the reputation of this country, it is 10 years late. The United Kingdom, rather reluctantly, became a signatory to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development anti-bribery convention in 1997. But, unlike all the other 36 signatories, we did nothing to modernise our law. In late 2001, an obscure section of the emergency legislation, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, prefixed the word “foreign” in the existing references to “public officials”, “public bodies” and “agents” who are capable of being bribed in the Victorian legislation that we have.
When monitoring was carried out by the OECD working group in 2005, it was found that not one individual or company had been indicted or tried for bribery of a foreign official. The inadequacy of the current law, based as I have said on statutes passed between 1889 and 1916, was highlighted when the Al Yamamah investigation was dropped in December 2006. As your Lordships will recall, the Serious Fraud Office said that it was,
“necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest”.
However, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said that it was not likely that a prosecution under the existing law would be successful. The reason was that it would be difficult to prove, as is necessary under the present law, that the person who banked the hundreds of millions of pounds paid in commissions by BAE did not have the authority of his principal, the ruler of the state in question.
As a result of that fiasco, the Law Commission was put to work, and it put out a consultation paper in late 2007. In November 2008, it produced its report and a draft Bill. The Government's own draft Bill was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses under the chairmanship of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and I served on that. A wide body of evidence was considered by that committee and it produced its report in July. The Government have now produced their considered response, accepting most of the recommendations.
So we have a piece of legislation coming before your Lordships that amends a hopelessly out-of-date and inadequate law and finally fulfils our international obligations in the criminal law. The issues have been fully considered by the Law Commission. There has been full cross-party scrutiny and evidence, and submissions have been received from all interested parties. Above all, it reforms a discrete part of the criminal law and is not the ragbag of criminal legislation that we have been accustomed to over the past few years. It is quite unlike, for example, the amendments to the law of provocation—to keep open an old wound from the previous Session—where there was criticism from all sides, including from the Law Commission. However, the Government cannot leave it alone. We have another pick-and-mix Bill to contend with: the Crime and Security Bill. The flagship provision appears to be to send parents to prison, or at least to punish them, for what their children have done: it will be not an ASBO, but an ASPO—an anti-social parenting order. Again, no doubt, the pernicious device will be employed of obtaining a civil order not only with a lower standard of proof but with the acceptance of hearsay evidence. That will lead to imprisonment for conduct that is not itself a criminal offence, as has been the effect with the ASBO.
While the Government surround us with legal guarantees and add new criminal offences to the 3,000 offences they have introduced in the past 12 years, there is nothing in the measures put forward to deal with the crisis in legal aid, particularly in family cases, and the 23 per cent cut that the Government propose in publicly funded criminal defence work. In their outline legislative programme last June, the Government referred to the value of professional services and their intention to sustain investment in public services. This year is the 60th anniversary of the Legal Aid and Assistance Act 1949, which was passed,
“to provide legal advice for those of slender means and resources so that no one will be financially unable to prosecute a just and reasonable claim or defend a legal right”.
That flagship Act was passed by the brilliant Labour Government of 1945. That guarantee has now gone and is weakening all the time. Access to justice is an essential part of a free and democratic society.
Looking back over the past 10 years, it cannot be said that the flame of freedom has burnt brightly in the souls of this Administration. Consistent attempts have been made to weaken the right of jury trial, to undermine the presumption of innocence and to strengthen the powers of the state to conduct surveillance, to retain the DNA of innocent people and to create a database state with the collating and co-ordination of information about each citizen, the apotheosis of which was the attempt to introduce compulsory identity cards. Security means not just protection from those who wish to do us harm; security is necessary to protect our way of life and the values by which we live our lives.
Flooding in Cumbria
My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall repeat the Statement made by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the flooding in Cumbria.
“With permission Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the serious flooding in Cumbria and other areas of the country in the past few days. I have to report that PC Bill Barker lost his life in the floods in Workington while protecting the public. I know the House will wish to echo the tribute paid to PC Barker by the Prime Minister on Friday. He was a very brave man. I also have to report that Michael Streeter, a contractor working for the Environment Agency, died following an accident on Selsey Bill in West Sussex, where he was maintaining defences. There has been one other fatality, Mr Chris Wheeler, a canoeist, and a woman is missing in Wales. Our thoughts are with all their families and colleagues.
The flooding was caused by sustained rainfall from Wednesday evening onwards. Some parts of Cumbria saw unprecedented amounts, totalling over 300 mm, which is over 12 inches, in 24 hours, The worst affected areas were in west and central Cumbria, and around 1,300 or more properties have flooded, mainly in Cockermouth, Workington, Ulverston, Burneside, Kendal, Keswick and Eamont Bridge, as well as in a number of small villages.
As the forecast heavy rain arrived, silver and gold commands were quickly set up and many residents were evacuated, some by helicopter. Some went to stay with family and friends; others have been housed in reception centres set up in Kendal, Cockermouth and Keswick. Many local roads have been affected, the west coast main line was temporarily suspended, and six bridges have collapsed due to the force of the water. Workington has lost Northside Bridge, and the Calva Bridge has been seriously damaged. Councils are making arrangements to ensure that residents can get access to essential services. More than 1,000 properties lost electricity, 40 were without mains water, and 12,000 properties were left without landline phones. Efforts are being made by the utility companies to restore supplies.
I saw for myself on Friday and Saturday in Cockermouth just what an effect the torrent of water had on homes, businesses and communities. It is utterly devastating, and the House will wish to express its sympathy to all those affected. The House will also wish to pay tribute to all those who have been involved in responding to this emergency, in particular those who worked so hard throughout Thursday night and into the weekend, led by Chief Constable Craig Mackey. This includes the staff of the fire, ambulance and police services, the RNLI, the RSPCA, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, mountain rescue, our Armed Forces, local authorities, the Environment Agency, the voluntary sector and, of course, the communities affected: neighbour once again helping neighbour and showing the best of human spirit. I also thank all the MPs in Cumbria who have been working so hard to look after their constituents.
The Government and local councils will do everything possible to help people rebuild their lives, although we know that it takes time for homes and buildings to dry out. Council homeless teams are arranging longer-term accommodation for those who need it. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government activated the Bellwin scheme for the worst affected areas on Friday morning. This helps local authorities with the cost of emergency assistance and clean-up. In recognition of the exceptional nature of these floods, he has also extended the scheme to allow authorities to claim 100 per cent of the costs incurred, as in 2007. The Prime Minister announced on Saturday during his visit £1 million of community recovery grant, matching the amount that is being given by the regional development agency to support the many small businesses that have been severely affected. The Department for Transport will also provide emergency funding, as it did two years ago, to help with repairs to bridges and roads.
Cleaning up the mess has now started, and Cumbria County Council is leading the local recovery effort. There will be a ministerial meeting later this afternoon to look at what more needs to be done to help. However, I advise the House that further heavy rain is forecast overnight. The Association of British Insurers has urged people who have been flooded to contact their insurance company as soon as possible. Its first priority is to ensure that every claim is dealt with quickly and it will do everything that it can to help customers recover.
As with all major flooding, there will be lessons to be learnt, although I have to say that the response of the emergency services was very impressive. We will work with the Environment Agency and others to ensure that this happens. In the two years since the 2007 floods, the Environment Agency has completed 106 flood defence schemes, protecting more than 63,000 additional homes in England and Wales, including in Carlisle. The new £40 million flood defence scheme there, which was built after the 2005 floods, helped to prevent flooding to around 3,000 properties last weekend.
The House will know that in the decade to 2007 we more than doubled spending on flood and coastal erosion defence. We are investing a record £2.15 billion over the current three-year spending period. We have also responded to the Pitt report by setting up the Flood Forecasting Centre to provide better early warning of flooding; invested £2 million in improved flood rescue capability, including improving the co-ordination of rescue boats; set up a £5 million scheme for household flood protection; and encouraged 140,000 additional people to sign up to receive flood warnings in England and Wales.
We have also introduced the Flood and Water Management Bill that is before the House. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the EFRA Committee for its scrutiny of the draft Bill, and I am sure that all sides of the House will help in getting this important Bill on the statute book. Although we cannot attribute this particular event to climate change, we can expect to see more extreme weather in the years ahead. This is a future for which we must prepare. I will, of course, keep the House informed of any further significant developments”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for repeating this sombre Statement and I am grateful for the advance notice that he gave me. The Statement pays proper tribute to those who have lost their lives, in particular PC Bill Barker. From these Benches, we send our sympathy to their families and colleagues, and I am sure that all sides of the House will wish to join in these tributes. People have been affected all over the country and some noble Lords may have experience of this latest bout of bad weather. The severe weather warning was all too accurate. Minds are focused particularly on the Lake District, an area I know well, and communities such as Cockermouth, Keswick and Workington, as well as many of the smaller communities.
Those of us who have had to rely on television pictures can but imagine the chaos and disruption that has been visited upon these towns, villages and hamlets. I should like to record a further tribute to the emergency and support services. The Minister repeated the list of the many who have been involved, including mountain rescue, which has done a fine job. All those who have helped to move people to safety deserve our thanks. Many are volunteers and we pay tribute to their involvement, courage and determination to help.
Now we must concentrate on the future. The Government must ensure that people are back in their homes as soon as possible. I do not underestimate the difficulty of this task. Some 18 months after the summer floods of 2007, some people still are out of their homes. Lessons should have been learnt as to how to avoid such delays. I am pleased that the Government have already been in dialogue with the Association of British Insurers. Last time, the co-operation and assistance of the ABI were vital in bringing people’s lives back to normal. Meanwhile, it has been heartening to see how communities have been brought together by these devastating floods. There are lessons for the Government in recognising this important asset at all times, but particularly at times like this, and how important it is for government policy to support communities, particularly those in rural areas.
In repeating this Statement, the Minister tells us of the damage done to infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. Troops have already been involved and I hope that the Royal Engineers will be called on to set up temporary crossing facilities, Bailey bridges and the like. This is not easy country and the river systems cut and divide people from work, school, shops and care services. The full reconstruction of some of these bridges will take time. In the mean time, we must all support the establishment of normal life.
I note the ministerial meeting to be held this afternoon and I hope that the cross-government co-ordination will continue into the recovery phase. We will shortly have the opportunity to consider the Floods and Water Management Bill. We will talk about it in the debate on the humble Address tomorrow. We welcome the Bill. The events of the end of last week have made its enactment even more pressing. By implementing the Pitt report, the Government can at least make sure that while they cannot prevent flooding, they can ensure that proper protection is in place and that the threats faced by so many are reduced. I expect noble Lords on all Benches did not need the wake-up call of the events of this past weekend, such as the catastrophic floods in Cumbria, to agree with that objective.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement on the flooding incidents in Cumbria. My heart goes out to the people who have been affected because I was brought up in a house which flooded every three or four years. I know about the mayhem that floods bring to families; it is most distressing. The Cumbrian towns of Cockermouth and Workington appear to have been particularly badly hit and we extend our sympathy to all those affected, as well as acknowledging the bravery and courage of all the emergency services. Particular sympathy is extended to the family of PC Bill Barker, who of course was washed away when the bridge in Workington was destroyed. We remember also people who have been affected elsewhere in the UK. In my former constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire, we have lost through drowning in the floods a young lady. Our condolences go to her family as well.
The immediate response of the rescue services in Cumbria was excellent and fully deserves the praise of this House. However, apparently in south Cumbria the flood watch call system did not operate as well as it might have done. In some cases, residents were informed some six hours after the incidents were apparent. Can the Minister assure us that more immediate assistance will be provided for homeowners and especially businesses that have been affected in Cumbria? The people of the region are anxious to let us know that they will be open for business as soon as possible, which is important given the area’s dependence on tourism. I am sure that the local authorities concerned need assistance in order to get people back into their homes, and businesses need to be supported. As has already been said, help has been provided to repair the infrastructure so that people can get back to work and children can go to school in the emergency situation. There is no doubt that the Army could be more involved in this. It has already been suggested that the skills of the Royal Engineers could be used to build temporary bridges that are particularly needed at the moment. There are military establishments in the area which could provide support. Indeed, we saw the superb support given by the Army in Cumbria during the foot and mouth outbreak crisis in 2001-02.
The question to be asked is this: is the sum of £1 million for assistance in the recovery adequate? I hope that that sum is only a start because the bills to residents and businesses in the region could run to tens of millions. Will there be a further Statement once today’s meeting of Ministers has taken place to tell us about the overall co-ordination of the response to the emergency, detailing how all available resources are to be brought in?
My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for the constructive way in which they have addressed this sombre Statement, and in particular for joining in with the tributes to those who have sadly lost their lives in these events. It is certainly the case that we needed to learn lessons from the 2007 floods, and we have been aided in that by the excellent Pitt report which has guided us on the legislation now before the other place. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for indicating that the Bill is necessary and that we will have co-operation as and when the Bill passes through this House and goes on to receive Royal Assent. There is no doubt that it contains recommendations and proposals on which there is broad agreement, and which we already knew were essential before the disaster in Cumbria this weekend. It has not been a wake-up call but it has reinforced the Government’s determination to ensure that action is taken as rapidly as possible.
I accept the point of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, about the role of insurers. The ABI has responded already and indicated its eagerness to play its part. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, referred to the resources which will be necessary to repair the damage to property and business. Government resources, of course, are overwhelmingly concentrated upon infrastructure and restoring the capacity of communities to rebuild themselves. Private insurance will have to come into play in relation to businesses and homes and we are grateful that the ABI has indicated that it will deal with claims as rapidly as possible.
We are considering the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, in regard to the flood warning for the southern part of the Lake District and Kendal. The warning system worked elsewhere where it was in place. However, for reasons that we have not yet been able to identify, it does not seem to have worked as effectively as it ought to have done in Kendal. I can assure the House that we are looking at this as a matter of urgency.
The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, indicated that help will be needed by local authorities. I have indicated two sources of help: the money that will be available through the regional development agency from the resources of the Department for Business; and the Prime Minister identified £1 million which he wanted to see devoted to assistance in recovery. However, it is a major task. Given the geography of the Lake District and these areas, water sweeping away bridges will destroy effective communications. The Royal Engineers may well have a part to play, but any such action would be of a limited kind and it will be some time before all communications are restored. It will be a major priority, but the House will appreciate the severe amount of damage caused by the destruction of so many bridges by the force of the water. I am grateful to both noble Lords for their constructive response to the Statement.
My Lords, I should inform the House that Workington, Cockermouth and Keswick are in my former constituency.
Does my noble friend accept that what the Derwent Valley, and in particular Keswick, where I have a home, need is for Thirlmere Lake, which supplies water to Manchester, to be placed at the heart of a new flood alleviation programme for west Cumbria—enforced by the Environment Agency, which has the powers—a programme which requires redesigned, increased capacity water release valves on the dam at Thirlmere; reconfigured spill arrangements; an end to United Utilities resisting reductions in water levels on the dam in high rainfall periods; and an end to the delay in the funding of flood protection measures on west Cumbria rivers, in particular the Greta in Keswick? The people of Keswick are fed up with the dithering of United Utilities, which defends the Thirlmere water assets for its shareholders while it is the people of Keswick and west Cumbria who are paying the price.
I place on record my profound appreciation of the work of all those in west Cumberland who have given so much time over the recent days in helping everyone in the community. In particular, I thank the Prime Minister for coming to west Cumbria to give the reassurance that he did to the local people.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the generosity of his last few remarks. As for the earlier part of his contribution, I know that he has enormous and detailed knowledge of that area of the country gained from his long years as a Member of Parliament. It may not be unparalleled, but it is certainly not paralleled by mine. I am therefore not in a position to go into the same degree of detail as he did with regard to Thirlmere Lake and the proposals that he put forward. He is certainly right that the Environment Agency has the necessary powers and will look seriously at the issue.
With regard to United Utilities, my noble friend may well have justified criticisms on the issue of Thirlmere Lake, but I think he will appreciate at this time the extent to which the utilities have responded to the crisis with prompt and effective action in so many cases. My noble friend may therefore be asking me to consider a matter for the future, but not the immediate future.
My Lords, as somebody who lives extremely near to Cockermouth, I thank my noble friend for having repeated the Statement and place on record the appreciation of the local community for the way in which the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister so speedily visited the area.
Does my noble friend agree that it is difficult to exaggerate the trauma of finding the main street of Cockermouth turned into a river eight feet high and moving at 25 knots, and the way in which it smashed into shops, sweeping their contents into the street and causing immense economic havoc? Does he also agree that, in the face of such an onslaught, the courage and resilience of the local community have been outstanding? As my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours has just said, the teamwork and courage of those operating in the rescue services demand the respect and gratitude of us all. Of course, the tributes to PC Barker are immensely important in this respect, as are our feelings for his family.
Will my noble friend accept that, while there are short-term demands, the most trying and difficult period will be when the television cameras have gone, and the years it will take to reconstruct and psychologically to restore the community from what has happened, and that solidarity and sustained support over those years will be crucial? Can my noble friend assure us that the Government will be second to nobody in making certain that this support is forthcoming?
I had a long conversation with the leader of Allerdale council this morning. He emphasised most strongly the disruption of transport in the area. Children have to travel as far as 30 miles to their local school and people in some cases face journeys of up to 80 miles to get to work. With bridges down and others threatened, there is an urgent need to restore the transport system not only for human needs but also for the economic well-being of the community.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I am aware that he knows the area intimately and is able therefore to appreciate fully the devastation that has been wrought. I think that all of us who know Cockermouth at least for being the birthplace of William Wordsworth realise what a tragedy it is that the devastation has occurred in that particular town. It highlights the fact that the Lake District is one of our prime tourist areas and that the restoration of its facilities is therefore enormously important to everyone.
I am grateful to my noble friend for emphasising the issue of transport. He is absolutely right that the devastation wrought to the bridges and, therefore, the highways, is particularly worrying. The issue of schools relates to the safety of children, but there is no doubt that as soon as we can get children back to school the better it will be for everyone.
I have been reassured that access to a main hospital is guaranteed. That is a tribute to the emergency services and to all those who have worked so hard to make this possible, because we all recognise the desolate circumstances that people would be in if the breakdown of communications meant that anyone who was seriously ill or in real need of hospital treatment could not get into Carlisle hospital. I understand that that situation is resolved.
My Lords, as one raised on water from Thirlmere—and I have never enjoyed better water in my life—and who met his wife in that part of the world some 60-odd years ago, I find it particularly horrific that this situation has arisen.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, raised the question of Bailey bridges. Do they still exist? How many have we got in the country? There will be an awful lot of Bailey-type bridging required in this period, but that is only a temporary measure. The existing bridges are very often not piled. They are Victorian structures and the scouring of the water has completely undermined the piles of many of these bridges. Are the Government aware of the likely investment necessary to provide new bridges? I do not think that the existing bridges can be repaired in many cases. What will be the cost of building new bridges to replace not only these but the ones that are still standing but are in danger of being brought down in subsequent flooding?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who is also very knowledgeable about the Lake District. It is the case that 10 bridges have been closed, six of which have collapsed, so none of us can underestimate the challenges that lie ahead. As I said earlier, the Army can give some help—and we will see what help that can be with regard to the limited bridge capacity. I do not have the figures for how many bridges there are, but of course they have that capacity—it goes without saying. This is a major problem. As the noble Lord said, the permanent restoration of bridges is the challenge. He is absolutely right that the particular architecture of Lake District bridges is such that they have suffered very severe damage. I was astonished to learn that it is not only that water is pressing at the base of the bridge or sweeping the bridge away. Water lifts the bridge and destroys it, because of the way in which the superstructure rests. That indicates how very significant damage can be done by torrents of water going through the rivers at the rate that has occurred this past weekend.
My Lords, it must be appreciated that not every householder or owner of a business will be insured. The Minister referred to the point made by the ABI. Are we giving any consideration to providing financial help to householders and owners of businesses who are not insured? That result would be long-lasting.
My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Some people will not be insured, despite the extent to which that issue was emphasised after the floods in 2007, when a considerable number of people found themselves in distress because they were uninsured. Of course we will look at the question of support for those in greatest need, but I know that the noble Lord, with his great knowledge of the insurance industry, will appreciate that we look to that industry to be prompt in its response to those whom it can help.
Will my noble friend seek to establish why on the day before the floods, at a time when Cumbria was on flood alert, the River Greta was allowed to drop more than one metre when it should have been running at full spate and releasing water from Thirlmere, thereby easing the subsequent flooding problems in west Cumberland? Will Ministers seek to establish what the position is on this important matter?
My Lords, I imagine that we can never have enough support in those terms. We are well aware of the fact that a whole range of the emergency services always look for support. I am thinking in this instance of the RNLI, which has often pressed for the resources that are necessary for its work. On this occasion, it is clear that they have all co-operated and done a wonderful job. There has been wonderful leadership from the chief of police with regard to the emergency services, the co-operation has been of the highest level and we should recognise that achievement.
My Lords, there has been reference to the insurance issues that have arisen in this disaster. Is my noble friend aware that one of the big anxieties among the local population is whether some people will ever be able to insure their houses again and whether insurance will be available? Will he assure the House that the Government will get together with the insurance industry and others to look at this problem, which is an acute worry for people in that situation at the moment?
My Lords, the Government are all too aware of the risk of flooding. That is why we have in place the legislation that we are proposing, why we commissioned the Pitt report and why we have learnt the lessons of 2007. My noble friend is right that the issue of insurance is an important dimension of this situation. He may rest assured that the Government are fully seized of the importance of the matter.
Debate (3rd Day) (Continued)
My Lords, I return to the debate on the Address on home, legal and constitutional affairs. I begin by declaring two interests: first, as the former chairman of the inquiry into ethical conduct at BAE Systems; and, secondly, as a former chairman of the financial markets law committee at the Bank of England, whose task is to identify legal uncertainty. I should also mention a further capacity where I have an interest. Lord Chief Justices, for a considerable period now, have pleaded that the Government should cease their incessant legislation that affects the criminal justice system. When we have so little time available in this Session, it is a matter of regret that we have yet another Bill in that sphere. From a purely practical point of view, for those working to deliver justice in this country, whether as magistrates or senior judges, the torrent of legislation is causing problems of a severe nature.
I turn to the new Supreme Court. A member of that court will, within a very short time, have to retire at the age of 70. He is one of the first judges to reach the final Court of Appeal in this country and be subject to the new age limit. I would have hoped that, as part of the constitutional considerations that led to the Bill dealing with that subject, it would have been possible to include a short statutory provision indicating that, at least for judges who reach that seniority, the retirement age should be 75. The distinguished former Lord Chancellor who was responsible for bringing in the change in the law to reduce the age to 70 is on record indicating that, so far as that category of member of the judiciary is concerned, the present situation is unsatisfactory. It cannot be right that a judge who at the age of 68 should be decided by a new appointments commission to be fit to join our final Court of Appeal should, only two years later, be what I and others have described as “statutory senile”.
I now consider two Bills, one of which, the Bribery Bill, has already been referred to. Despite what I said about the torrent of legislation, like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I regard this Bill as long overdue and one that certainly should have been included in the Queen’s Speech. The Bribery Bill does, as is recognised, what has been needed for at least 20 years. Its absence has made this country the subject of serious criticism from many of the most respected independent international bodies working in this field. They have suggested that that absence indicates the unwillingness of this country to join in the global fight against corruption, which is holding back development in many parts of the world. It is hoped that the time available will ensure that this piece of legislation reaches the statute book so that its provisions—the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has referred to them, so I do not need to mention them again—will make it clear that we have the powers needed to enforce the law of bribery in respect of acts that occur not only in this country but abroad as well. Furthermore, it makes it clear that acquiescence can be the basis of a criminal offence.
Finally, I turn to a Bill that at first sight may seem rather inappropriate, considering the title of this debate. I refer to the Financial Services Bill, because in my view its provisions relating to the possibility of forfeiting the salaries of bank employees raise constitutional issues. As the Bill is drafted, the delegated legislation provisions—they appear in a form with which we are unfamiliar—give powers to the Financial Services Authority to take action that could interfere retrospectively with the private contractual rights of employees without providing any backing for that in primary legislation. I submit that this is not an appropriate use of delegated legislation. In my experience the provisions are unprecedented and should surely have been the subject of very careful consideration.
The relationship between an employer and an employee with regard to salary is a matter of great importance to the individual concerned. If interference in that relationship of the sort contained in the Bill is to be undertaken by an authority, it should be done only through very clear and specific provisions contained in primary legislation. We are told that the rules may,
“(a) prohibit persons … being remunerated in a specified way;
(b) provide that any provision of an agreement that contravenes such a prohibition is void; and
(c) provide for the recovery of any payment made, or other property transferred, in pursuance of a provision that is void”.
However, we are not told how and when this is going to be done. The powers will enable the FSA to make rules that authorise it to take action that is clearly penal in nature. As arrangements that lead to the payment of bonuses normally cover a continuing situation, there is clearly a risk that they could be retrospective in effect. I suggest that this aspect of the Bill needs careful examination, particularly in view of the fact that there is no provision in the Bill to enable action taken to be subject to any form of appeal process and that any resort to the courts would have to be through judicial review.
My Lords, in this briefest of parliamentary Sessions, among the most important things on which we need carefully to reflect are the constitutional issues raised in the gracious Speech. Noble Lords have had a number of opportunities to debate the issues raised in the Government’s White Paper on Lords reform. We on these Benches wish to continue to participate wholeheartedly in these debates, bringing to them an unswerving concern for the flourishing of our national democratic institutions, particularly for the effectiveness and reputation of Parliament when the allowances issue has had the most damaging and devastating effect on public confidence. In this responsibility, we shall seek to build on the important work of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, now retired from these Benches, during his membership of the Lord Chancellor’s cross-party group. In his response to the White Paper last year, he enunciated on behalf of the Church of England several principles which bear repeating. First, any reform of this House should not lead to any reduction in the legislative powers or functions of the current House and, secondly, increased representation of other denominations and faiths would be welcome in a reformed second Chamber.
It will fall partly to me, as the newly appointed convenor of the Lords Spiritual, to take on the mantle from the right reverend Prelate and to remind your Lordships from time to time of the fundamental principle that national constitutions are the property of the nation, not only of the Government of the day. That sound principle suggests that changes to our constitutional arrangements should follow a period of discussion, with a view to establishing a measure of support that is not narrowly based. It also suggests that, in the few remaining weeks before a general election, an overhasty attempt to establish fixed positions on the wider issue is unlikely to provide a basis for wise decision-making. Nor is it likely that greater political wisdom will necessarily or automatically derive from the greater electoral authority that a wholly elected second Chamber would command.
Lord Hailsham wrote in the 1970s of his concerns about what he called “elective dictatorship”. He wrote that,
“the powers of our Parliament are absolute and unlimited. And on this we are almost alone. All other free nations impose limitations on their representative assemblies. We impose none on ours. Parliament can take away a man’s liberty or his life without a trial … We live in an elective dictatorship, absolute in theory, if hitherto thought tolerable in practice”.
We may feel that his concerns have been mitigated somewhat in recent years by the growth of judicial review, the Human Rights Act and the more zealous scrutiny exercised by this House. Nevertheless, the massive weakening of the powers of local government, allied to successive Governments’ tendencies to use Parliament as a legislative production line in which legislation is routinely guillotined, is little less than scandalous. That is why the Church of England, in its response to the document The House of Lords—Completing the Reform, wrote in 2002:
“Given the ‘complementary’ function of the Second Chamber in relation to the role of the House of Commons, we believe that an important test of its distinctiveness should be its ability to enrich the parliamentary process and our national discourse”.
That is the acid test for our future debates. Will reform lead to a more effective revising Chamber? That must be very doubtful if, as seems to be inevitable, a wholly or mainly elected Chamber comes under the control of the party machines.
I am glad, therefore, that every recent document on Lords reform includes reference to the Government’s support for the established position of the Church of England. It is from that position that we on these Benches will wish to draw attention—from the tradition that we represent of the legitimacy and the limitations of government. Government is limited by the existence of other human authorities—the church, the family and the individual—and by the means at its disposal. Therefore, some of the wisdom in our parliamentary institutions is needed to act as a constant reminder of the core question confronting every politician every day: what is the unique role of government in society and how may it better discharge that role on behalf of its citizens? In the bear pit of political campaigning, the scramble of coalition building, the twists and turns of policy-making and the complexities of managing some small corner of labyrinthine bureaucracy, where are the principles, values and vision that shape our work? There is a special role here for this House and these Benches to point to the sound intuitions and deep motivations that should guide our work. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York said in the debate on the constitution in March 2007:
“The aim of your Lordships’ House has always been to provide a wise check and balance for the nation using the diversity of skills and experience in revising legislation, delaying ill thought out or hasty legislation, being deliberative and acting as a bastion of democracy by not allowing a party in government to extend its life beyond the timetable set in the Parliament Act. That is the role of this House. Your Lordships’ House has always been in the interests not just of democracy, but of that higher freedom which supports our values and the culture of this nation”.—[Official Report, 13/3/07; col. 580.]
It is on that higher freedom that we on these Benches shall focus our energies in the years ahead.
My Lords, without any conspiratorial intent, I, too, will address the constitutional aspects of reform of your Lordships’ House as a means of strengthening Parliament against the Executive. In some ways the House seems reluctant to change; and yet, long before I came here, the House was four or five years ahead of the other place in the televising of Parliament—something for which credit has never been given.
How do we change anything here? There is no mechanism for a Member or Members to seek change, and I am reliably informed that the Procedure Committee is not the route to change. I have a few small suggestions. My initial point, which underpins them all, is that we should try change. We could adopt all my suggestions for six months or a Session and, if they do not work, we could reverse them.
My first suggestion concerns Question Time. It must be better managed and we must complete the process of change that started some time ago. Four Questions in 30 minutes can put a Minister under real scrutiny compared with the Commons: it is almost like a mini-Select Committee. However, self-regulation militates against this. Long-winded supplementary questions off the subject, long-winded supplementary answers and arguments over who asks supplementaries are all negative and to the advantage of the Executive. In addition, it must be unique for a Parliament anywhere to have the referee of any dispute on the government Front Bench.
I was in this role for two years, from 2005 to 2007, when the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, was Leader of the House. On a trial basis, the Lord Speaker should both call supplementary questions and insist that they are taken in order, as should be the answers. It would change Question Time. I have not done a massive analysis, but we hear a lot from the same noble Lords at Question Time. I ask myself why. I know many noble Lords who do not wish to get involved in a slanging and shouting match in order to get the Floor, but who would stand up to be called by the Lord Speaker if that was her role; they have a contribution to make that they are not prepared to make at present.
My second suggestion—none of these is original, by the way—is that Committee stage should be taken off the Floor and into Grand Committee for a pilot. If we have a dispute, we could start splitting Bills; but we should do it as a regular process.
My third suggestion is that any Bill starting in your Lordships’ House should always go via a Select Committee. We could pilot this. These are Bills that have not been in the Commons. We are not revising them. We kid ourselves, but we are not revising Bills that start here. We need some evidence before we start our process, and the Select Committee is the route to this.
I will give two examples of Bills that I was involved in, and which were not my day job. When I was at the Home Office, the Police Reform Bill in 2001 started in this House, as did the Climate Change Bill. In both cases, it would have benefited our debates and deliberations if we had had more evidence. We did not have the evidence from debates in the other place.
I suggest also that for Bills that come from the Commons, we should decline to take any amendments on Third Reading. This avenue leads to a slipshod approach to legislation. When I was a Minister and there were arguments in departments, I would so often hear somebody say, “Oh, don’t worry, we can leave it until the last stage in the Lords”. That is a route to slipshod, last-minute legislation that later turns out not to do what we intended. I think that we could pilot a Bill on advice from parliamentary counsel, which is, after all, responsible for the drafting in the first place. That would give parliamentary counsel more influence in obtaining clear policy direction from Ministers, because the root cause of the problem is that the policy directions are not clear. If, for Bills coming from the Commons, we declined to take amendments at Third Reading, that would be a catalyst for change: this would be a second Chamber with slightly fewer but more targeted opportunities for amendments, which I think would send a wake-up call to Whitehall.
My fourth suggestion is also very simple. We should insist that when a Bill arrives from the Commons, the Chamber of primacy, it is accompanied by a simple certificate listing the clauses and schedules that have not been scrutinised. We should not require reasons to be given—that would be revolutionary—but simply require a certificate with a list of the clauses and schedules not debated. Again, we could pilot that.
My fifth point relates to the scrutiny and governance of departments. The Commons has departmental Select Committees, which in the main concentrate, rightly, on the big policy issues. There is no question but that that is what they should do. However, they do not systematically review the work of regulators, for example. There are a few dozen of these, and I declare my interest as the chair of one, the Food Standards Agency, which is a non-ministerial department whose prime role is regulation. There is a strong case for this House, via a Select Committee, taking on the role of systematically scrutinising the regulators. I am not suggesting that it should scrutinise every regulator every year but, having discussed it informally with some of them, I believe that they would welcome the opportunity to speak to Parliament. They are all governed by primary legislation. It is never a priority to make minor changes to improve the working of the system but I think that a Select Committee in this House with oversight would get the big picture, spot the gaps, and check the overlaps and shortcomings—perhaps some over-regulation. The policy issues, however, would remain with the Commons. I think that that would be an ideal role for this House. Such a committee would be akin to our Merits Committee, which gets praise from all quarters. It would be a new role and one that is currently not undertaken.
I believe that without any major legislative change the House could adopt all these modest suggestions. I do not think that any of them require approval from the Commons or the Executive and they could all be piloted. They all fall within the conventions of how we work, which brings me to my final suggestion: conventions.
In the light of what has been said recently by lots of different parties, I think that we should look again at the joint report on conventions of the UK Parliament from 2006. As the report said, we should revisit the issues when the composition of this House is again on the agenda. The report’s conclusions specifically applied to the present circumstances and not to future ones if the composition should change. All I seek is a debate before the general election. We will all be here afterwards, and I think it would be useful if we could send out reminders to new Members of the other place about the way that this place functions with regard to the conventions.
There is nothing revolutionary in what I have said but I believe that a modest package of changes such as these, which could be implemented quite quickly, would strengthen Parliament. That was my starting point.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow what the noble Lord has just said because it fits in with my own approach to this subject, and I think that we should return to examine his suggestions in some detail. I agree, too, with the note struck by the right reverend Prelate in his contribution.
One thing that characterises the atmosphere at the moment is that, in many respects, we have been living in a period of diminished confidence in rather too many organs of government—this, to some extent, being one of them. The noble Lord who opened the debate for the Government pointed out that the provisions in the gracious Speech, on which legislation will be forthcoming, are designed to meet that.
Some other people seem to react to the present situation in a rather more self-satisfied way. I have in mind some observations made recently by the present holder of that rather tattered office of the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw. In an article in the House Magazine on 12 October, he wrote:
“Over the last 12 years the government has overhauled Britain’s constitutional landscape”,
and that this “quiet revolution” was not over yet. There is a degree of self-satisfaction about that and a degree of threat of further impulsive attitudes. Far from the quietude implied by his description of what has been going on, we have seen the extent to which we have had to experience in many different areas a frequently reckless torrent of often ill considered institutional upheaval. The noble and learned Lord, the former Lord Chief Justice, drew attention to the impact of such haste on the criminal law.
Another area of that kind of rapid change followed by further and yet further change has been in the field covered by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles—the NOMS aspect of criminal justice—when change has followed other change in a rather reckless way. If the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, were here, I am sure that he would be pointing out the massive frequency of upheaval of almost every institution in the National Health Service without sufficient consideration.
There are some examples that have hardly been noticed because they took place in a rather disorderly fashion. Looking back on it, the transfer of the whole of our alcoholic licensing legislation from the magistracy to local authorities was an important and insufficiently considered step. So, too, was the transfer of the control of gambling—licensing and other controls—from the magistracy to local authorities. Together those changes significantly undermined the value and the role of the magistracy. One has to recognise that not only the present Government have inclined in that direction. I have to confess to being rather disturbed by the proposals being canvassed by my own party for the change in the management of our police authority and for the provision of elected police commissioners. That would be a dangerous step. To introduce electoral conflict into that field and to dismiss the valuable role of the magistracy would not be very sensible steps.
I am anxious about hasty legislation and hasty decision-making, not only in the public sector but elsewhere. As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, pointed out, Parliament itself is far from immune from similarly unconstructed change and is not apt to adjust itself as it ought to do. I fear that as a result of the recent upheavals about expenses in the other place, there is a steady erosion of the independence of that House and its collective self-discipline, by transferring responsibility to agencies outside its own remit. The suggestion that membership of the House of Commons should become a “full-time job” is another restrictive and ill considered change, coupled as it seems to be with an obligation to register hours spent out of the House, and worse still, to register earnings outside parliamentary activity. All those changes will diminish the breadth and resourcefulness of the other place. Those of my colleagues in this place today who remember what it was like way back in 1964 and 1970 know that there was a diversity of people with continuous involvement in the real world outside the House of Commons. When I was lucky enough to be appointed Solicitor-General, I was one of at least half a dozen Queen’s Counsel on our side of the House. There were not just QCs around, but trade union leaders, business leaders and people with a much wider base than the House of Commons now has.
So, too, the other place has lost the control that it used to have over changes in our electoral law. Whatever happened to the Speaker's Conference, which used to consider these changes in a more leisurely way? That responsibility is now handled by the Electoral Commission. There seems to be a constant flow of changes, followed by changes, being proposed from that quarter, with little impact on the Commons itself. I do not find that acceptable.
So, too, in this House, we have once again to look at the legislation, both in the constitutional renewal Bill but also in the legislation promised about the future shape of this House. On that, I am afraid, I must return to my regular song. Of course I do not oppose the changes which are necessary that are in the Steel Bill. A number of them are already in the constitutional renewal Bill. But we have looked in vain so far—and I think for ever—for evidence to justify the most fundamental change: the introduction of elected Members into this House. I am anxious about that because of the extent to which it would seriously diminish the independence, diversity and expertise of this Chamber. It will have a negative effect, reflecting the right reverend Prelate's observation about the electoral dictatorship. The Public Administration Committee of the other place—a very effective Select Committee, under the leadership of Mr Wright—warned that the risk of electoral majority in this Chamber, or even electoral minority, was that the,
“dominance of Parliament by the Executive would be increased and not reduced”.
When the same question was considered by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, in his royal commission years before that, the conclusion expressed was that it would,
“in practice mean that British public life was dominated even more than it is already by professional politicians”.
It is of the utmost importance for that pace to be maintained when we look at the future of this House; to take a rash step in that direction would be very unwise. So if I may echo a phrase that I have used in other contexts, if a politician nowadays goes to any staff boardroom in a hospital, school or company and says, “What would you like me to do next?”, he will get from everyone the same response: “For God’s sake, leave us alone”. In my judgment, for the sake of the continuing efficiency of this House and for the sake of the continued governance of this country, that is a message that ought to be heard and taken seriously. Do not let us destroy this place; let us, for God’s sake, give ourselves a chance of surviving with the effectiveness that we now have.
My Lords, I am particularly grateful to be here to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, because both are very respected parliamentarians. I think that they will agree with me that there is now a real crisis of confidence in our parliamentary democracy. Both Houses have to accept this collapse in confidence. There may be legitimate complaints and concerns about the way in which this has happened and about the behaviour of certain journalists, but there can be no dispute about the extent of public dismay and disgust or about the disincentive to participate in our political life. Addressing this disenchantment should surely be our top priority in this truncated parliamentary Session.
So why are we wasting time on what is effectively the Government’s belated legislative wish list, when everyone knows that—as night follows day—dissolution will come before Royal Assent for many or possibly all of these Bills? The Prime Minister has fundamentally mistaken what needs law and what needs resolve. He says, for example, that he wants to have a recall power for constituents to sack errant Members of Parliament, but his resolve—just saying it—is not enough. On the other hand, he says that he wants to halve the deficit. Even a short and simple Bill is, as my noble friend Lord Thomas indicated, unnecessary. He should just get on and do it, not seek to legislate it in a totally artificial way.
The electorate are not fooled. They know that very few controversial or complicated Bills can possibly reach the statute book by the middle of April next year. In the previous Parliament only four got there by that time, and two of those were routine Consolidated Fund Bills. Raising expectations that the world can be put right in a few months by passing laws is simply going to encourage people to think that we are incapable of genuine legislative intention. However, setting in motion the biggest repair job on our political system for generations in order to leave the next Parliament with a legacy of genuine democratic reform, rather than dismal financial disgrace, could, of course, restore public confidence in our system.
I contributed to the debates in your Lordships' House on the Parliamentary Standards Bill. Throughout the consideration of that Bill, Ministers kept trying to reassure us that its provisions could not, and should not, apply to your Lordships' House. That was nonsense. Of course it will eventually apply, and perhaps sooner rather than later. It was absurdly naive, or perhaps a misguided attempt to reduce opposition to that Bill, to say anything different. In those circumstances, we have to look very hard at the consequences of that legislation. The Leader of the House has stated in correspondence with me that judicial review is now quite possible for IPSA. It will be justiciable. In those circumstances, we could find this whole sorry saga dragged out for months ahead as issues are taken through the courts. The very least we should expect from Ministers today is that they should explain what they intend to do to prevent significant judicial distractions of that sort.
I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, because he has saved me not only a page of my notes but possibly a minute of my precious time. I agreed with what he said, particularly about Question Time. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, made an interesting intervention the other day, given his background, when he pointed out that it is mad for the person responsible for determining the next speaker to have their back to half the audience. I do not think he used that phrase, but that was the implication. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, made other suggestions, and they are all things that we could do without legislation. We could do them ourselves, and we could give people new confidence in the way in which your Lordships' House deals with our primary purpose of serving the public in scrutinising legislation and holding the Executive to account.
It is important that we use our time more carefully. The other House clearly does not have time to do some of the things that it attempts to do. I hope that Ministers will accept that when it comes to international treaties and agreements, this House should have a sifting committee to come forward with proposals about which international treaties should be looked at more carefully by both Houses. The same is true of the work that is done in joint committees, and I have had the privilege of serving on several, not least on the sadly and woefully delayed draft constitutional renewal Bill, which has now appeared in your Lordships' House as the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. It has 56 clauses, so it is not a jot of legislation, but will it make a jot of difference?
Your Lordships may recall that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, described the previous Bill as the constitutional retreat Bill. The present Bill before us is actually more of a retreat than the previous Bill. Had the Government moved swiftly when our committee reported last July, we might have completed its consideration by now, in which case we would have dealt with the very important issue of the Civil Service, which is the most important part of the Bill. However, even now we are not dealing with important issues of potential corrosive effect, such as the huge sums of money in our political system or the attempts by foreign millionaires, or even, as revealed by Peter Oborne in his “Dispatches” programme, apologists for the Israeli Government, to buy the next election, which knock for six minor scandals over expenses at the other end of the building.
The Lords reform Bill is still in drafting. I wish I could comment on it. I know that a number of my noble friends will be commenting on the failure to deliver on promises for Lords reform and voting reform. However, I shall say one thing on this issue: I hope the Government will take the opportunity now offered by the arrival of Sir George Young on the Conservative Front Bench in the other place, because he takes a very proactive view about what the Conservatives should do, and it is very close to ours. He wants an 80 per cent elected House, an STV system of election and a transition from patronage to democracy in clear tranches and suggests term peerages rather than new life Peers so that next year we do not have a huge new entry of life Peers. In those circumstances, surely the good news is that consensus is now possible. I have no doubt that the Conservative Front Bench in your Lordships' House will wish to endorse his conclusions because they will wish to have collective responsibility for the Conservative programme.
We must try to make real use of the few months ahead of us to do something really important: to deal with the problems that have arisen in recent months and that have undermined confidence in both Houses of Parliament. Frankly, I doubt that the Queen's Speech has anything serious in it to remedy this parlous situation. Not a single fear will be assuaged or a single constituent reassured, but there is still time to put the posturing to one side. Let us put it on the shelf marked “Election Manifesto” and instead bequeath to the next Parliament a system of election, scrutiny and remuneration for MPs that has real clout and real credibility for the public. So let us get on with it.
My Lords, I shall follow the road down which the House has been led by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Tyler, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon. The consensus is remarkable.
On 10 June, at the height of the uproar about expenses in another place, the Prime Minister announced his support for the proposal by Dr Tony Wright, chairman of the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, to set up a new committee to consider the reform of the procedures of the House of Commons. The avowed purpose was to achieve the stronger accountability of the Government to Parliament through a larger role for Back-Benchers and for the wider public.
The relationship of this issue to the expenses scandal is obvious. The public not only responded angrily to what they saw as the abuse of the expenses system but needed persuasion that parliamentarians were doing the job that they expected them to do in holding the Government to account. There is a widespread view among the public that Parliament should do more to represent their voice in resisting so much ill prepared and ineffective legislation to which they have been subjected and to which, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has said, they are about to be subjected again. That feeling is clearly reflected in another place. It took from 10 June to 20 July, the night on which the House rose for the Summer Recess, for the Government to come forward with a Motion to implement the Prime Minister’s announcement. The Motion was moved in another place at 10 pm and debate was limited to one and a half hours. Nevertheless, 250 Members of the other place were present and would have carried on the debate if the Government had not applied the guillotine.
Dr Wright’s Select Committee report is to be published tomorrow. It is rumoured that the committee will recommend the election by secret ballot of the chairmen and members of Select Committees in another place, a more open system for scheduling business and more opportunity for issues of current public concern to be debated. If the rumours are correct, these are genuine advances, although they do not go nearly far enough. Two task forces that I have advised—the Better Government Initiative, in which members of all political parties, including many distinguished Members of your Lordships’ House, have participated, and the Conservative Party’s Democracy Task Force—have proposed further practicable measures to reinforce Parliament’s powers to insist on well prepared legislation while, importantly, preserving the Executive’s power to get its business through. The two are reconcilable.
If I were a Member of another place, I would feel ashamed of the inadequate way in which that place peruses legislation—and I know that many Members of the other place do feel ashamed. I do not believe that Members of this House have a similar need to feel shame. This House does a good job in scrutinising the Government’s legislation and in holding them to account generally and the nation has every reason to be grateful for that.
However, in one respect the other place has got ahead of us. It has at least set up a committee to propose reforms in the two limited areas covered by its terms of reference. We have to assume, and to hope, that in the remainder of this Parliament those reforms will be carried through. While I believe that your Lordships’ House does a far better job in scrutinising legislation—I think that that is undeniable—none of us is so complacent as to say that our own procedures are incapable of further improvement. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has made a number of positive, helpful and persuasive suggestions about that. Reforms have taken place in this House. In due course the Government will review the role of the Lord Speaker, but that is not to be immediate.
I should like to ask the Minister what plans the Government have to consider this House’s procedures and whether we can learn anything about them from the recommendations of the Wright committee. I echo the request made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that this House in the remainder of this Parliament should be given a chance to debate the implications of that report and to discuss in the light of it ways in which our procedures might be made even more effective. I particularly hope that the Government will take account of what I regard to be the remarkable degree of unanimity in the succession of the last few speeches.
My Lords, it is with a real sense of privilege that I stand among you today, although I confess that at this very moment it feels a little intimidating. You might well be forgiven for thinking that 30 years in the Church of England would well prepare someone for an institution in which you discover the rules only after you have broken them. As a newcomer to the conventions and customs of this noble House, the same threat seems close to hand. Perhaps I may begin by thanking those of you whom I have met for the warm and generous welcome you have offered. I would also like to thank the staff of the House for all their help in ensuring that my induction has gone as smoothly as it could.
The diocese of Bristol, which I serve, runs along the west to east axis, incorporating the conurbations of Bristol in the west and Swindon to the east, a vibrant town with much local industry. The city of Bristol is a major player in the south-west region, but some of us feel that the present eccentric city and county boundaries are somewhat limiting in the ongoing development of the commercial and educational life of the city and the region. In the past, the inhabitants of the city of Bristol have certainly not shied away from making their views clear to obstructive prelates. In 1831, my learned predecessor, Bishop Gray, had his palace burnt to the ground when he and all the Lords Spiritual refused to support the Great Reform Bill. Thankfully, in case one day I accidentally overstep the mark here, the new see house has a fire alarm.
The churches of the diocese still play their part via their extensive infrastructure in serving all sections of society, with a particular concern for the urban and rural poor. As a diocese, we exist to build and, where necessary, to rebuild community. Indeed, our own version of social cohesion is that we are committed to build communities of wholeness. Bristol has a higher than average proportion of single person households and I am sure that many noble Lords share my anxiety about the loss of community and social support in our increasingly privatised and individualised culture.
It is against that backdrop that I should like to make a few comments in relation to the gracious Speech, and in particular on the Crime and Security Bill. As this is a maiden speech I shall seek to be brief, and recalling my learned predecessor for today at least, non-controversial. There is much in the Crime and Security Bill that I feel able to support in relation to the focus on parenting. I support the objective of seeking to ensure that parents take responsibility for their children’s behaviour, but whether making parenting courses a part of the criminal justice process, replete with sanctions, is the best way forward may be something we wish to reflect on further.
It seems to be true that attempts to modify behaviour generally benefit from early intervention. This raises the question of whether we should put more effort into educating and supporting parents and families through mainstream services rather than waiting for a child to be issued with an ASBO, by which time much of the damage has been done. My understanding is that all the evidence suggests that families in difficulty find training and support really helpful, but it requires sustained engagement rather than short, sharp programmes, and that a context of stigma and coercion greatly reduces the likelihood of co-operation. As I say, there is much to be grateful for in this proposal, but also much to discuss further.
The Government’s desire to take more effective action against domestic violence is clearly to be supported. I particularly endorse the principle that the perpetrator of violence should be removed from the home rather than the victim or victims. This arrangement would limit the need for children to be cared for in refuges. I suppose what I want to reflect on is that where violence is alleged rather than proven, how will due process work and how is it to be balanced against safety for victims? A final anxiety relates to how it is intended that the victim of violence is to be protected when the perpetrator knows exactly where the victim is. My understanding is that victims are most at risk when they report violence or initiate a process of separation.
Finally, and obviously, the use of DNA in solving serious crimes has been a remarkable development in policing. We must all be heartened to know that justice has been done in a large number of old and previously unsolved serious cases as well as some serious crimes in the present. The key issue that the Government are wrestling with following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights is the collision between civil liberties and crime detection through retaining the profiles of legally innocent people on the national database. This is clearly a matter that will require further discussion. For myself, I support retention in principle but question whether the proposed periods of retention are potentially too long and on what basis they have been determined.
In summary, a key criterion for me is how this Bill, together with others outlined in the gracious Speech, will assist in building and rebuilding communities. I sense that if we can successfully rebuild communities, a lot of the statutory interventions that we make at present will become less necessary. That is because when communities work well, a lot of other things start to work well.
I very much look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply on these issues. Having made what I hope is a non-incendiary contribution to the debate, I look forward to playing as full a part as I can in the work of this House.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to be the first speaker after the maiden contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol. I listened with great interest to his clear affection for his diocese and his comments on poverty which many of us will want to hear more about in the future. It was a very thoughtful speech to which the whole House listened attentively. However, I have to say that the thing about people, apart from their speeches, which always interests me is what is commonly called these days their hinterland. I have taken the precaution of checking with one of the right reverend Prelate’s friends a little about his hinterland, and it is a rich one indeed.
I can tell the House that he is an accomplished performer on the electric guitar, which is something we should heed. I can barely accept whether the following is appropriate for this place, but before the right reverend Prelate was ordained, he used to spend some time performing as a stand-up comic. He will have plenty of competition in this House for that one. What I also admire about him is that he is a real sportsman in the sense that at one stage in his career he was a semi-professional footballer and, having been brought up in Manchester, is a lifelong supporter of Manchester United. No one is perfect, of course, but I look forward very much to hearing from him in the future and it has been a pleasure to listen to him today.
I shall confine my few minutes in which to speak by talking about an issue that a number of other speakers have already addressed, which is the part of the Queen’s Speech that deals with constitutional reform, particularly reform of the House of Lords as set out in Part 3 of the Constitutional Reform Bill, and the promise of draft legislation on Lords reform. A good deal of time will be saved if I say that without hesitation I agree with everything that was said by my noble friend Lord Rooker. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, was about to say much of what was set out by my noble friend. However, I agree with pretty much everything he said, and it is not the first time in the past 35 years that I have been able to say that.
I shall confine my remarks to two areas. The first is the question of a draft Bill being published that will provide for a wholly or substantially elected House of Lords. I am well aware that those of us who have doubts about that are described in various ways as opposing change of all sorts, but I do not think that that is either fair or true. Many of us would like to see lots of changes in this place, some of which have already been spelt out by my noble friend Lord Rooker. The real problem, the one the Government simply have not addressed—and if they do not do so then we should be very wary of publishing any form of draft Bill—is the question at the heart of the issue that has bedevilled Lords reform for 100 years. How do you establish a directly elected second Chamber without fundamentally altering the balance of power between the two Houses? The popular way of putting it, at least in my view, is simply to ask the question: how can what is basically a replica of the House of Commons be anything other than a rival to that House? That seems to me to be a bad constitutional structure. The Government have failed completely to answer that question, even though some of my best friends are Members of the Government.
The answers to that question are twofold, and I have heard them repeatedly; indeed, I might say ad nauseum. The first response is to say, “Of course we can do it because it is no problem. They do it in other countries”. The answer to that is staggeringly simple. Every other country, almost without exception, started with a blank sheet of paper defining the powers of the two Chambers before they were set up. If we were doing that, it would be a doddle, but we are not. We are dealing with a House of Lords which already has very substantial powers—indeed, powers equal to those of the House of Commons in pretty much everything aside from financial matters—but which chooses not to exercise them. If anyone thinks that a democratically elected second Chamber would choose not to exercise its powers, all I can say is that they do not know much about democracy. So I reject entirely comparisons made with countries overseas.
The other common explanation for saying, “We can deal with all this” is, “We have the Parliament Act which clearly establishes the primacy of the Commons over the Lords”. Again, anyone who knows anything about the daily operation of this House will know that the Parliament Act is irrelevant to its operation. People do not make decisions based on the risk of Bills becoming subject to the Parliament Act; they make day-to-day decisions and assert their rights as an elected House would do. We need far better answers on those questions than we have so far received.
Let me repeat the quotation from the Joint Committee that my noble friend Lord Rooker has already given. It states:
“If the Lords acquired an electoral mandate, then in our view their role as the revising chamber, and their relationship with the Commons, would inevitably be called into question … Should any firm proposals come forward to change the composition of the House of Lords, the conventions between the Houses would have to be examined again. What could or should be done about this is outside our remit”.
That was the view of a Joint Committee of the two Houses whose recommendations—I think uniquely—were unanimously accepted by both Houses. Until these unanimous recommendations are changed or rejected, it is the duty of the Government and of any future Government to explain how they are going to comply with them. This is of fundamental importance and I ask the Government to ensure that they do so and to promise that any draft legislation will deal with the problem.
Having been negative I shall now try to be positive. Part 3 of the Bill on the constitution, in effect, brings into operation a large section of the Private Member’s Bill introduced to this House by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. We owe the noble Lord a debt for bringing forward his proposals, which had widespread support. The Government could have adopted the Private Member’s Bill, but that would have been too simple.
However, I have a couple of requests. First, in addition to the obvious things which need to be done and which are included in Part 3, there should be a mechanism to allow people to be expelled or retired from the House. There should also be a mechanism—this will not be universally popular—to allow us to do what applies in most assemblies and certainly in local government. Persistent non-attendance at the House should lead to removal from the House unless there is a perfectly good reason for the non-attendance—for example, on health grounds or because of duties that make it impossible to attend. That would be one way of reducing the numbers and should be included in the Bill. I hope the Government will be willing to introduce it.
I should also like to include an additional duty on the list of my noble friend Lord Rooker. This House is wonderfully equipped to fulfil a role that is missing from our constitutional arrangements—that of post-legislative scrutiny. There ought to be a mechanism for discovering five or six years after an Act of Parliament has been passed whether it has fulfilled the objectives for which we spent long hours considering it. That should be done, and could be best done, by this House.
I hope that those constructive comments will be considered favourably by the Front Bench. However, the most constructive comment I can make on the overall question of a draft Bill on House of Lords reform is that unless you can get it right, do not bother with it. Not bringing forward a draft Bill would save parliamentary counsel time and it would save the House having to listen to any more speeches like this one from me.
My Lords, despite the final comment of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, I agree with the primary points that he made in the first half of his speech. It was a pleasure to hear those points so effectively and clearly made.
I shall observe a self-denying ordinance and simply make one point on a matter that has not yet been touched on. It may be thought not to be important but it is worth considering and could find a place in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill if the Government so wished. My point arises from the case of Mr Al Megrahi, the gentleman who was released by the Scottish Administration and enabled to return to Libya. In referring to this case, I shall leave aside most of the factual matters; I shall not discuss the gentleman’s state of health and I shall not speculate as to what the Government’s role in this matter was. For the purpose of these observations, I shall assume that the Government’s position was as stated—that it was a matter for the Scottish Administration and that Her Majesty’s Government could do nothing about it.
When the problem arose, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, made the point that this was not simply a matter of the release of a prisoner in Scotland; as he said, it had a considerable impact on foreign affairs and the position of the United Kingdom and Scotland in the eyes of other people in the world. Foreign affairs, of course, are not a devolved matter. We need to consider this issue.
It is quite common to find issues that relate not just to one thing only. This is not dealt with effectively in any of the devolution arrangements—whether for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. We need to bring about some form of co-determination between the devolved Administrations and Her Majesty’s Government on matters that impact on issues of national importance. I shall not speculate on what form that co-determination should take, but it would probably be sufficient if, for example, there was a power for Her Majesty’s Government to require a devolved Administration to consult them when dealing with an issue that is considered to be of major national importance to security or foreign affairs. If it is a matter of consultation, Her Majesty’s Government have sufficient influence with regard to the financial position and the power of this place to legislate over the head of the devolved Administration to ensure that the Administration takes account of their views.
In a situation of considerable importance to the standing of this country, which could cut across the Government’s foreign policy, it would be undesirable to again find the Government placed in a position where they are reduced to saying, “We can do nothing about this; we have no power on the matter”. That position was greeted with ridicule in some foreign quarters. It needs to be changed. Such a situation could arise with any of the devolved Administrations in the future. It is potentially of importance and I want to draw attention to it and underline the need for some action.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to speak for the first time in your Lordships’ House and to contribute to this debate. Before I do anything else, I, too, express my gratitude to all noble Lords who have welcomed me so warmly and to all the staff, who have been so helpful as I have sought to find my way around and to comply with all the conventions of this great House. I have long watched with interest the splendid, detailed and often very challenging work of the House, involving the contributions of noble Lords with great expertise in areas such as human rights, justice and ethics, in which I have a great interest. It is a huge privilege to be given the opportunity to serve in this House.
Her Majesty stated in her Speech:
“My Government will continue to work closely with the devolved administrations in the interests of all the people of the United Kingdom. My Government is committed to the Northern Ireland political process and will continue to work with Northern Ireland’s leaders to complete the devolution of policing and justice and to ensure its success”.
The House is well aware of the decades of violence that have blighted the lives of so many in Northern Ireland, in the rest of the United Kingdom and further afield. The years of conflict were very difficult, but for many years now there have been those who have worked valiantly seeking to bring peace.
The road to peace has of course been rocky. Since the Good Friday agreement we have seen bombs, shootings and other paramilitary activity. Only four months after the agreement, dissident republicans planted a massive bomb in the centre of Omagh on a glorious day, 15 August 1998. That bomb killed 29 people and unborn twins. Just last Saturday night—two days ago—a 400-pound bomb was left at the headquarters of the Policing Board and an attempt was made to shoot a police officer. This year, we have seen the terrible murders in Antrim of two young soldiers awaiting deployment to Afghanistan: Sapper Mark Quinsey, who was 23, and Sapper Patrick Azimkar, who was 21. Both were serving with the 38 Engineer Regiment. They were murdered on 7 March. Just two days later, on 9 March, a young constable, Stephen Carroll, was responding to a call for help when he, too, was murdered. As we contemplate all that has been achieved in Northern Ireland, we remember them and their families, as well as all the victims of the Troubles.
I moved from England to County Antrim some 33 years ago. The Northern Ireland in which I now live is unrecognisable by comparison with what we knew. There is a sense of hope and much more stability than we had. The establishment of an infrastructure to support peace and to enable progress has been a complex and lengthy process. We have many new institutions of governance and I was privileged to be appointed in 1999 to establish one of those institutions, the office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.
My remit was to investigate alleged police wrongdoing. Under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998, I was charged with establishing a police complaints system in the manner that I thought most likely to secure the confidence of the police and of the people in that system. As noble Lords will be aware, it was a very challenging role at a very delicate time. With the assistance of a dedicated and professional staff, we dealt with more than 30,000 issues during my tenure as Police Ombudsman. Our complainants came from right across our divided community: from police families, military families, prison officer families and from Catholic and Protestant families. In doing this work, we consistently acknowledged, as I do now, the bravery and professionalism of so many police officers, some of whom, such as PC Stephen Carroll, laid down their lives in the service of policing. By the end of my term as Police Ombudsman, 84 per cent of our community believed that we were fair and 83 per cent of police officers who had been investigated also thought that they had been treated fairly. It was a privilege to be involved and to be able to make a contribution at such a seminal time in Northern Ireland’s history.
There is of course a bitter legacy from our Troubles: a legacy of bereavement, of ongoing injury, of loss, trauma, fear, division and sectarianism. Our challenge is to continue to build a society in which we have a shared future and shared hope. As the great African-American poet and civil rights activist, Dr Maya Angelou, wrote:
“History, despite all its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again”.
One particular legacy of the Troubles must be resolved. Between 1972 and 1985, a number of people, aged from 17 to 55, were abducted by paramilitaries and were never seen again. Their disappearance has been the cause of immense grief to those who loved them. In five cases, their bodies have been found; they were Eamon Molloy, John McClory, Brian McKinney, Jean McConville—a 37 year-old mother of 10 children—and Danny McIlhone. Those whose bodies have never been found include Kevin McKee, Seamus Wright, Peter Wilson, John McIlroy, Columba McVeigh, Captain Robert Nairac, Brendan Megraw, Gerry Evans, Charles Armstrong and Seamus Ruddy. I am sure that noble Lords will agree with me that it is vital that those who abducted and murdered these people, and anyone who has any knowledge about their disappearance or murder, provide the information that will enable their families to recover their bodies and lay them to rest at last. By actions such as these will our peace be made real for those who have suffered so much. It is imperative that we sustain and build our peace. The devolution of policing and justice will be part of that process.
I look forward to participating in the detailed work of the House in the days ahead, to engaging in debate and to learning much. In closing, I thank noble Lords for their courtesy in listening to me today.
My Lords, it gives me enormous pleasure to congratulate on behalf of the whole House the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, on her first speech in your Lordships’ House. She has shown us the incredible depth and breadth of her knowledge and experience, especially in the field of human rights and ethics and in her moving reminders to us of the tragic past in Northern Ireland, especially of those who have lost their lives and those who have disappeared.
Educated as a lawyer at King’s College here in London, the noble Baroness became a solicitor of the Supreme Court, a law lecturer, senior lecturer and honorary doctor of laws and visiting professor at the School of Law at the University of Ulster, during which time my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton was vice-chancellor. She was also the Jean Monnet chair of European law from 1992 until 1999. In between her academic career and her more political career in Northern Ireland, she raised a family of five sons and lived in Kenya for a number of years. In 2008, she was made a dame.
However, I first met the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, in her extraordinary work within policing. She brings to this House a deep knowledge of the effects of a divided community, where she bravely maintained the independence of the office of Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland for seven years. This vast experience she puts to good use in other troubled parts of the world where she advises on conflict resolution. She was made UN special envoy on women and peacekeeping earlier this year. I know that your Lordships will join me in saying how much we have appreciated her first speech and look forward to her future contributions in the House.
I shall focus my remarks today on policing and Northern Ireland. I should first declare an interest in that I was chair of a police authority for a number of years and I am currently a vice-president of the Association of Police Authorities. What has struck me during the past 10 years of dealing with Bills in which policing and police authorities have featured—I think that it is well over 20—is how little advice and help the Home Office has accepted when faced with amendments to improve those Bills. This advice, so freely given, has been offered from a platform of specific, practical knowledge and application, but much of it has been ignored. I can only hope that a future Government might be more amenable to listening a little more carefully and taking a little more notice when amendments designed to improve legislation are proffered.
Now we are to have yet another Bill that involves some aspect of policing. The Crime and Security Bill will deal with a wide-ranging list of proposals, as we have already heard. The part of the Bill in which I will have a specific interest are the proposals to change how the police report stop and search. The detail we have yet to examine, but any legislation that attempts to water down the requirement to monitor ethnicity will be vigorously opposed by these Benches. The research report Just Justice, published by the Children’s Society in 2006, found that one of the most persistent criticisms of the police relates to the way in which they exercise their powers in relation to stopping and searching young black people in the street.
We are told that police community support officers are a crucial part of policing. Reading this month’s edition of Police, the magazine of the Police Federation, I came across an interesting article by Professor Martin Innes, director at the Universities’ Police Science Institute. The original concept of PCSOs was that they should become the eyes and ears of policing to reassure, and be visible in, communities. Under this Government, that concept has crept inexorably into areas meant primarily for warranted officers, who have not felt as warm and cuddly towards PCSOs as might have been expected. The article states that,
“too often PCSOs have been cast as surrogate cops and deployed into situations that really warrant the presence of a police constable. These are problems that have been compounded by the lack of guidance provided in terms of how to engage with communities effectively in order to diagnose what their key drivers of concern are … At the Universities’ Police Science Institute we have been working for several years on refining a systematic community engagement methodology that enables police to obtain a strategic and tactical intelligence picture of what really matters across different neighbourhoods and communities in terms of shaping levels of security and confidence in the police”.
One of the “transformational results” has happened in Merthyr Tydfil, where we are told that,
“residents were telling PCSOs the names of Class A drug dealers and their dealing habits, because they were being interviewed properly about their concerns. The South Wales approach is effectively establishing a much clearer distinction and division of labour between the roles of PCSOs and constables. Rather than seeing PCSOs as ‘policing-lite’, and expecting them to be omnicompetent, they are being re-defined as a resource specialising in community engagement and support. Thus freeing up other officers to perform their tasks”.
I hope that this challenge will be addressed by all forces.
I turn to Northern Ireland. It is difficult to see how and when a devolved police service will become a reality. There is an interim agreement—we have heard that there is—so why cannot all parties go the whole way and agree to devolution of policing now? After the terrible events over the weekend, it is now even more imperative that this takes place. Too much of the legacy of the past continues in Northern Ireland. Racist attitudes, sectarianism and ingrained segregation all still need to be addressed before the shared future can be realised, as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, has just reminded us. Everyone in Northern Ireland has a responsibility to make that future a reality, starting with the politicians, who together could work towards that goal.
Policing in Northern Ireland is a very difficult and dangerous job. It has always been so. There was a general feeling, before the events of this weekend, that all was well in Northern Ireland. We now know that it is not. On reading the 22nd report from the Independent Monitoring Commission, we learn that the overall level of dissident activity is now much higher than the commission has seen since it first met in 2003. Its concern is that these groups have demonstrated an ability to plan and organise on a much higher level now and that they pose a major challenge to the police and other agencies on both sides of the border. Two groups in particular, RIRA and CIRA—the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA—are still recruiting, not only inexperienced young males, but in some instances former republican terrorists. Their targets tend to be members of the security forces, including members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and their families, and their aim is to intimidate and control communities.
There are, of course, a number of other, perhaps less well known groups also involved in serious organised crime. They are a very real threat to a stabilised and peaceful Northern Ireland and it is to be hoped that the money promised to the PSNI on the devolution of policing to Stormont will be sufficient for it to fulfil its role of protecting the whole of society in Northern Ireland.
Loyalist groups likewise remain mired in serious organised crime. However, some arms decommissioning has taken place, which is to be greatly welcomed and encouraged. The deadline for decommissioning is February 2010. There is still much to do to achieve this timescale. Some groups, notably the UVF and the RHC—the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando—have decommissioned a substantial quantity of firearms, ammunition and explosives. The report praises in particular the leadership of the UVF for moving the organisation away from paramilitary activity. However, it warns that there are still individual members who clearly pay no attention to their leaders and go on to commit the sort of brutal acts that we had hoped never to hear of again.
In a small part of this country, it is unacceptable to have three paramilitary murders in the six months of the report’s review. It is unacceptable that the numbers of casualties, republican shootings and loyalist assaults were the highest for six years and four years respectively. I urge your Lordships to read the report. We have come a long way in Northern Ireland in recent years and it is unthinkable that it might return to the tragedy of the past. However, it will require clear political will, leadership and courage to take the steps necessary for all politicians to show the way to that shared future that Northern Ireland so desperately needs.
My Lords, after these large constitutional issues, I turn to a series of small legal and administrative issues, which range across rather a wide spectrum of ministerial responsibilities. What links them is that they all affect the churches and, with one obvious exception, the wider charitable sector, with the important contribution that it makes to community health and cohesion. In that context, I declare a non-pecuniary interest as the new chairman of the Churches' Legislation Advisory Service.
The first issue is surface water drainage. I warmly welcome the fact that the gracious Speech included reference to the Flood and Water Management Bill. As we noted earlier this afternoon, events in Cumbria over the past few days have underlined how much this measure is needed. I add the tributes of these Benches to all those public services that have worked so hard to respond to the flooding there, and express condolences to the family of PC Bill Barker and others affected by these events.
The surface water drainage problem can be solved only by primary legislation, so we hope that it will be a major legislative priority and not allowed to fall by the wayside. However, while the Bill is important, community groups have argued for some time that the recent change, in some areas, in the basis of charging for surface water drainage has borne very harshly on churches, village halls, scout groups, amateur sports clubs and other charitable organisations. The Secretary of State agreed, and during the recent Labour Party conference said, that he would introduce legislation to allow the utility companies to run concessionary schemes for community organisations. This we welcome. Charities and churches are not asking for a free ride, but rather that they should be assessed proportionately to their ability to pay, thus enabling them to continue to go on making their own distinct contribution, not least in times of need.
Noble Lords will recall that during the passage of the Planning Act 2008 the Government introduced a framework provision in your Lordships’ House to give exemption from the community infrastructure levy to charities and similar bodies constructing buildings for their own purposes. We have now had a chance to look at the detail in the draft CIL regulations and we are not at all happy about what we see. The voluntary sector as a whole has made numerous responses to the consultation and I do not propose to repeat them here at length. One particular issue, however, that seems to concern officials is whether an exemption would breach the European state aid rules. We simply do not understand why the Government are making such heavy weather of this. The state aid rules apply to undertakings and distortion of intra-EU trade. Very few charities are undertakings and, in any case, very few are involved in trade, still less in trade that puts them in Europe-wide competition. We think that this is a massively overcautious interpretation of the rules.
Then I have three linked issues that are primarily for Treasury Ministers. The listed places of worship grant scheme is due to cease at the end of March 2011. At the ECOFIN meeting in March this year, the Government put forward the case for a reduced rate of VAT on repairs to listed places of worship and the construction of memorials, but it was rebuffed. We were subsequently given to understand that at some time in the future the Government would review the current arrangements and decide whether they should be extended. The scheme now has little over a year to run; and if it is to be extended after 2011, the Chancellor will have to start considering the matter in advance of the next Budget and, possibly, the next Finance Bill.
I cannot overemphasise how important the scheme is for the churches. Since its inception it has returned some £96 million against the VAT levied on repairs. I have to declare an interest: about 90 per cent of that has gone to the Church of England, but that merely reflects the fact that we care for 85 per cent of all listed places of worship in England. We very much hope that the necessary resources can be found. The decision of English Heritage to close its cathedral grants scheme will increase the financial pressures on the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, and the continuation of the listed places of worship grant scheme would provide a welcome degree of relief.
Next, I turn to the expectation that the UK Payments Council is going to recommend the phasing out of the cheque clearing system some time after 2018. We all know that cheques are expensive to process, and their use has declined dramatically. Churches and charities encourage people to give by standing order where possible and to sign Gift Aid declarations if they are taxpayers, but, at least unless something acceptable is put in its place, the abolition of the clearing system will potentially make life more complicated for people who cannot get to grips with IT or who live in remote rural areas, and, ultimately, for charities that depend on their donations. There are also those who refuse to use electronic banking or online payment systems because of security concerns, and their view needs to be respected.
We have had helpful correspondence with the staff at the Payments Council, and they are certainly aware of the problem, but Ministers need to keep this matter under careful review. If the clearing system is going to be phased out, for some considerable time there will have to be an effective and, above all, simple way of making payments that does not require access to a computer.
Finally, Gift Aid is crucial for the entire voluntary sector. The current transitional relief runs out at the end of March 2011. Everyone in the sector is anxious to persuade more donors to Gift-Aid their donations. There has been continuous dialogue between the Treasury, HMRC and the voluntary sector on Gift Aid simplification, but progress is painfully slow, not least because charities have not come to a common view on the reforms that they may wish to see. In the mean time, I gently suggest to Treasury Ministers that they should not be embarrassed about making small, helpful reforms in areas such as the requirements for declarations and reducing the complexity of the audit trail. The fact that there is an argument within the sector about the treatment of higher-rate tax should not obscure the need for incremental simplification to enable charities—these include many voluntary emergency services, which were referred to earlier—to continue to develop the public benefit that is rightly expected of them and, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, to provide opportunities for people to exercise responsibilities alongside their rights.
My Lords, I shall not follow the right reverend Prelate, my West Country neighbour, very far down the track that he has made central to his speech, except to say that he mentioned the Roman Catholic Church, and my daughter, who works for a Roman Catholic charity, CAFOD, would think it remiss of me if I did not say “Hear, hear” on behalf of Roman Catholic charities to much of what he said about the needs of the charitable sector. I congratulate him on his excellent speech.
That said, to matters secular. In declaring all my business interests, I shall say also that my speech will be one of two halves. The first half, on the Bribery Bill, will be a bit bipartisan and cosy, but, for fear that my noble friends on the Front Bench will think that their Back-Bench supporters are getting a bit soft, the second half, concentrating on the tragically missed opportunity to deal with the nation’s cybersecurity problems, will be much less obliging to Her Majesty’s Government, with their clear-cut policy of simple strategic dithering over cybersecurity and the serious threats that we face from it.
I turn first to the Bribery Bill. I welcome the fact that at last, after nearly 13 years, Her Majesty’s Government are suggesting that we should meet our obligations internationally to, for example, the OECD in respect of introducing a specific offence of bribing a foreign public official. Happily, according to public opinion surveys conducted by organisations such as Transparency International, the UK is perceived generally to be one of the least corrupt countries on the globe. That is good because bribery at home or abroad undermines the rule of law, attacks the principles of fair competition and is a morally and economically destructive crime that often has devastating effects on the poor and on human rights.
Changing the law by itself, however, will not be enough, important though the impact on British boardrooms will be, for they will become increasingly aware of the new corporate offence of failing to prevent bribery, the kind of sin of omission that I recall the Jesuits trying to beat an understanding of into me in earlier years. Doubtless my learned friends all around the Chamber will have great fun in Committee with the concept that companies will have to demonstrate that they have adequate procedures in place in order to seek mitigation and avoid corporate liability.
These new boardroom procedures must not be allowed to be box-ticking formalities. Instead, they should rest on the ability of UK companies to show a demonstrable continuum of good corporate behaviour and culture that goes back for years. In other words, corporate adherence to the law must be paralleled by necessary changes in corporate culture, the true nature of which is demonstrated, it was once explained to me, by what people get up to when they think no one is watching.
In my experience of observing other companies, the use of bribes is usually the worst visible manifestation of a simply bad corporate culture, too often identified with what could be termed a “we must win at all costs” mentality, which is characteristic of the sort of company whose reaction to, let us say, proprietary information from a competitor falling into their hands is not to send it straight back unread, as they should do, but actually to use it to try to win that desirable contract to supply a product, a service or some consultancy; the sort of company that spins alleged good news in an extreme way that would make even this Government blush; the sort of company that either covertly or in its public statements tries to damage a competitor with wrongful and hurtful assertions about quality or, worst of all, about safety. In this country, alas, there have been one or two recent examples of this sort of behaviour, which seems endemic in a few companies where it has grown up over decades. Here, directors, particularly non-executive directors, have a particular responsibility to stop such behaviour and bring about rapid cultural change.
I turn to my second point. I am disappointed at the lack of a coherent approach to the cybersecurity of the United Kingdom. The Government have shown precious little sense of urgency and absolutely no coherence in their approach to protecting everything from the national grid to the financial structures of this country. No one is in charge. Instead, we have a positive barrel-load of chattering acronyms. Just listen to the little list that I have assembled, and I have probably missed a few. There is the CESG, part of GHCQ, providing information assurance. There is GovCertUK, whose job is to try to prevent IT attacks on the public sector. There is CPNI, allegedly leading efforts to prevent attacks on the internet world of cybersecurity around their networks. Then, reflecting the interests of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, there is SOCA, working with ACPO on e-crime.
To these has recently been added, for those of your Lordships who might just have missed these important announcements, the OCS, the Office of Cyber Security, last June. Also that month the Government gave us the CSOC, or Cyber Security Operations Centre. This last entity is apparently to be charged, in the profoundly unlovely language of the Cabinet Office, with the role,
“to actively monitor the health of cyber space”.
The Government have published a self-styled Cyber Security Strategy for the UK. On pages 23 and 24 of Annex A to this document, which I read with some care, there is a list of frequently asked questions of such triviality that I wonder who actually did ask them—or are they simply what philosophers would term “a figment”? One FAQ is certainly missing, and that is the question that my noble friends have frequently asked and I repeat now: who is in charge of this area of policy? To add to the telling question asked back in June by my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones when she queried exactly how the new bodies such as the OCS, the CSOC and all the other acronyms fit into our existing national security structure, precisely what is the chain of command? Who is in charge, for example, of the cyber threat to the 2012 Olympics? I declare myself a member, unlikely though it may seem to your Lordships, of the advisory board of the British Olympic Association. In this context, it is interesting to learn from a little-known speech made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord West of Spithead, which was reported by the Press Association, so it must be true—
I love being interrupted by my noble friend Lord Ferrers and will give way to him at any time to receive correction on these nuances. Nevertheless, it is sometimes helpful to flatter in the hope of getting a decent answer from someone who has delighted in calling himself “a simple sailor” in so many interviews that he has given. With the list of acronyms that I have given, he could well be forgiven for calling himself a confused sailor, but I certainly regard him as gallant for the service that he has given from the Front Bench in defending the Government.
According to the Press Association on 13 November, the noble and ungallant Lord, Lord West of Spithead, told a conference at the end of that week in London that the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics pose the “greatest security challenge” that Britain has faced since the Second World War; yet we have no idea from anything that is published how on earth this challenge, including cybersecurity attack, which could bring ticketing and the rest of the Olympics and Paralympics to their knees, will be handled. It is clear that no one is in charge of this area. The sooner we have a body, as proposed by my party, to deal with cyber and all the other security issues, which has overarching responsibility and clear leadership, the better.
My Lords, this is the last gracious Speech before we head for the general election next year. It is less tempting to speak on what is proposed in the Queen's Speech than to look back to the general election of 1997 and take stock of the Government's record on crime and justice matters since then.
The Government can produce the statistics to justify their record, but the fact remains that fear of crime now is greater than the crime itself. It is also a fact that a plethora of unremitting and unending criminal justice legislation has done little to build confidence in the system. Again, public confidence is shaped by the quality of the legislation and not by following the hysteria on crime generated by the tabloids.
Talking about tabloids, their naked bias often comes to the surface. I am not talking about immigration or asylum matters, nor Islamophobia. Just look at the example of the deplorable way the Prime Minister was treated over the letter he wrote to a bereaved family. There is a proverb in my country and it is applicable to the Government. It says, “Don't keep snakes as pets because one of these days they’ll bite you”.
We have seen evidence of unsettling times in the Home Office. We have seen the coming and going of six Home Secretaries and accusations that the department was “not fit for purpose”. That cannot be a confidence-building exercise among staff, let alone the general public.
Over the 12 years since the Labour Government were elected in 1997, I have spoken in debates on every Queen's Speech. The Government have made changes that I have welcomed—for example, the formation of the Youth Justice Board and youth offending teams, new targets for the prison and probation services to get more offenders into work and accommodation, an increase in resources for drug treatment programmes, and most recently the establishment of the new Sentencing Council. Overall, however, looking at the state of our criminal justice system today and comparing it with 1997, I am struck by how little has changed for the better.
The prison system is still seriously overcrowded— 82 out of 140 prisons are holding more prisoners than they were built for and 19,000 prisoners are held two to a cell designed for one person. This country has 151 prisoners for every 100,000 people in the general population compared with 96 in France and 88 in Germany.
Overcrowding produces inhumane conditions and increases the risk of self-harm and suicide. It makes it harder for prisons to provide rehabilitation programmes for all their inmates and it increases reoffending on release. The pressure of numbers results in prisoners being moved from one prison to another part way through education or rehabilitation courses that could help them to avoid further crime on release. It causes many prisoners to be held in prisons far from their home areas, making it hard for relatives to visit and increasing the risk of family break-up, yet support from a family can be a crucial incentive to avoid reoffending.
Over the past decade, the Government have built an extra 20,000 prison places, yet the system remains as overcrowded as ever because the prison population has increased even more sharply. As a result, the Government are now committed to a further large programme of prison expansion. That will absorb ever-increasing resources that could otherwise be spent on prisoners' resettlement, alternatives to custody, crime prevention and victim support.
What should the Government have done to improve the penal and criminal justice system? First, they should have introduced legislation to make sentencing guidelines take account of the prison system. When David Blunkett was Home Secretary, the Government committed themselves to doing that, but they then regrettably abandoned the idea. The Government should have prohibited courts from using prison except for dangerous offenders unless they had first tried an intensive community supervision programme. They should have compelled health authorities to devote adequate resources to diverting mentally disordered offenders from prison into health and social care. Successive Home Secretaries and Ministers of Justice should have adopted a sustained, high-profile strategy to "talk down" the prison population by explaining the benefits of replacing prison sentences with rigorous community sentences.
The Government could have introduced measures to reduce the imprisonment of people who have breached community supervision, for example by missing or being late for probation appointments. The number of people jailed for breach has escalated alarmingly as probation officers' discretion over breach proceedings has been progressively restricted. That has made a significant contribution to the overcrowding of local prisons. The Government should have introduced a graduated scale of punishments for breach of supervision, with prison being used only when less severe penalties have first been tried.
The Government should have introduced legislation to reduce the use of custody for young offenders. Although there has been a recent fall in the number of juveniles in custody, the number is still much higher than it was in 1997. That is partly because the Government have passed legislation making it easier for the courts to detain children at increasingly younger ages and for less serious offences. As a result, most of the Youth Justice Board's budget is now absorbed by the cost of custody. Those resources would be far more effective in reducing youth crime if they were spent on strengthening and expanding community supervision programmes. The Government should have copied Canada, which in 2002 introduced legislation restricting the use of custody for young people, resulting in a reduction of more than 30 per cent in the number of young people sent into custody.
It is particularly distressing to see that the position of minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system is now worse than it was when the Stephen Lawrence inquiry reported. The disproportionate use of stop and search is now even more extreme and the proportion of the prison population made up of racial minorities is now higher than it was in the late 1990s. The Government should have placed a clear statutory duty on all criminal justice agencies to adopt numerical targets for reducing racial disproportionality in their operations.
The Government should also have done much more to tackle the lack of help or supervision for short-term prisoners. Most imprisoned offenders receive sentences of less than 12 months. These prisoners do not receive supervision by the probation service and their reconviction rates are much higher than those for other prisoners. They are responsible for much of the high-volume offending which causes such distress to people living in high-crime areas. The Government passed legislation in 2003 to fill this gap with a new custody plus sentence, which would have provided post-release supervision for short-term prisoners. However, this was never implemented. The Government should have done something else to fill the gap, such as establishing a national resettlement service for short-term prisoners. Such a service could have been commissioned from voluntary organisations, which play such an important and useful role in this country. I declare my position as president of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders.
The Government should also have taken more radical action to reform the way women offenders are dealt with. Most imprisoned women are neither violent nor dangerous and the majority have few previous convictions, but they have particularly high rates of mental disorder, histories of abuse, problems of addiction and personal distress arising from separation from their children. The Government should have established a women's justice board with a similar remit to that of the Youth Justice Board in relation to young offenders. A women's justice board could set standards for meeting women offenders' needs for resettlement and rehabilitation, mental health services, family contact and culturally appropriate support for foreign national women, and it could set targets to reduce the damaging use of custody for women offenders.
The Government should have legislated to reform the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for the considerable advice and help that I received from him on that legislation. However, I need much more assurance as regards the Government’s intention on this matter. The important thing is that the Government recognised the problem and promised reform but have not done much since 2002. A Home Office review group recommended reform of the Act by shortening the very long rehabilitation periods that must elapse before offences become spent. Such a change would greatly reduce the scope for unfair discrimination.
In conclusion, if the Government had used the past 12 years to introduce the measures I have outlined, it would have needed political courage, particularly as regards educating the public on the need to reduce the use of prison, but in my view these measures would have done a great deal to reduce crime and reoffending as well as moving us away from the unenviable position of having the highest prison population in western Europe. If there is one lesson we should all learn, it is that there is a need to give leadership at the top. No longer should we succumb to the popular press and focus groups as a basis for our criminal justice legislation. It is a tough challenge and it is still not too late for others to learn the lessons of the past 12 years.
My Lords, I still feel a bit of a new boy in your Lordships’ House. As an entrepreneur and practical person I am still trying to understand the inner workings of this place, but I am getting there, at least a little. However, when it comes to the constitutional issues mentioned in the gracious Speech, I am an absolute beginner, but naivety and inexperience in this area might be no bad thing, particularly if they encourage us to look again at some of the basic arguments and practice that underpin the present constitutional debate.
I have a bit of a reputation, I think, as a moderniser of public services and for taking outdated health and education systems and applying to them entrepreneurial thinking and practice. My colleagues and I, both in east London and nationally, have produced results over the past 30 years which demonstrate some success. At the core of this work has often been the empowerment of disfranchised local communities and individual citizens so that they might take more responsibility for their personal lives and families and their local community. This is what citizenship is all about. In the eyes of local people you become a good citizen not through which committees you sit on or what you talk about but by what you do to improve local people's lives. Doing this work has taught me a little about empowering communities and organisations in an area of the country where the majority of people had almost given up on the democratic process altogether.
There is not time today to delve into the detail of what we experienced at a local level when we stayed around to observe the long-term consequences of all the attempts at restructuring. Suffice to say that many of these local attempts at democracy and empowerment have been far from successful. In many of the projects with which I have been involved we have often felt smothered in red tape and disempowered by countless practical attempts to be more democratic. Far from empowering local people and delivering more practical change in poor local communities, they have often hindered our work and drowned us in endless meetings and processes that many locally found very confusing indeed.
What lessons have we learnt over the years from the front edge? First, our experience is that we can create whatever political structures we want but if we do not have the right people in the right places running them, little will change in practice. Indeed, it may get worse—an obvious point. Real change is not about structures, systems and processes, it is all about the quality of the people who run them and the relationships they have with those around them. However, you see this only if you stay around long enough to witness the long-term consequences. Secondly, if our core business in this Chamber is the scrutiny of legislation and holding the Government of the day to account, will the new representative world that is being proposed bring to this Chamber and to this task people who have more experience than those who are already here? I doubt it. Thirdly, our ability to empower a neighbourhood in east London, which has had countless promises made to it over the years by politicians of different parties, many of them good people, did not come about by setting up new social and political structures but by building on what we know works in practice and by growing a reputation for doing what we said we would do. Integrity was the name of the game.
Our local East End community has been offered countless new structures and processes by successive Governments over the years. I have lived through at least 19 restructures of the NHS alone. When you stay around for a quarter of a century in one place and you watch the cumulative effect of this endless democratic merry-go-round, you see not a reinvigorated democracy but apathy, indifference and an increasing unwillingness to engage with the democratic process. If we want to empower the citizens of this country, as I think we must, I humbly suggest that the next Government, whoever they are, spend a little time at a local level with those who have turned aspirations into real practical results, examining in detail what actually works in practice. There is considerable confusion out there on all sides about the words “delivery” and “democracy”. Let us start by getting clear what we mean and what we want.
Unless we understand the micro level in more detail—the practical lessons learnt locally—I fear we will rush to usher in change at a macro and national level which will confuse the life out of those who live on the estates where I have worked, and thus dampen yet further what little confidence there is in the democratic process. What are the local lessons for the renewal of the constitution? The first lesson is that it is all about having the right calibre of people in the right place. Is there any evidence that the constitutional changes that we are proposing embarking upon will ensure that the right people with the right skills end up being in the right places? This is the crucial question we must ask.
The second lesson is to make sure that what you say and what you do are the same. Integrity matters to local people. Too many promises have been made that came to nothing. Will the proposed changes make your Lordships’ House more effective at what it does? We should change the rules only if we can demonstrate that they will. Thirdly, will such changes enable us to build upon what we know works, and thus strengthen the hand of the calibre of people who inhabit this House? What counts with local people at the end of the day is what works in practice. The working out of theories is irrelevant. In my experience, you work out what really works only through many hard years of practice—hard-won practice that your Lordships’ House already possesses. It is practice that makes perfect. We must be careful that we do not undermine it.
My Lords, the seven-minute limit on speeches is, of course, purely advisory. However, at the moment we are averaging about eight minutes, which means that the winding-up speeches will start at about 9.45 pm and that we are unlikely to rise before 10.30 pm. I also remind noble Lords that all Members who speak are expected to be present for all winding-up speeches.
My Lords, two very important events will take place during the period that the gracious Speech covers. The first is the effort to come to an agreement in Copenhagen next month. No doubt speeches in your Lordships’ House will cover that with great effect in the coming days. The other important event, which was touched on in the speeches last Thursday, is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May 2010.
I know that the Minister will be as concerned as I am about many of the ramifications of that treaty regarding its ability, for example, to deal with the proliferation of fissile material, the proper funding of the IAEA in the future, and all the ramifications, not just as regards the proliferation of weapons but dealing with their effect on terrorism. It is an incredibly important moment for the world, but as was pointed out last Thursday, it comes at a difficult time for this country, because the conference will be held in May 2010. As a country, we are likely to have our eyes on the elections. It concerns me, as it concerned my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, that a high-level eye should be kept on that ball by the Government and opposition parties in the run-up to that review conference. I was dismayed by the response of the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, who did not reply in detail to the points they made. I want to highlight the importance of political will in getting things right for that conference. I am sure the Minister accepts that.
Set against the negotiations on those dramatic international treaties, it is hard to refocus one’s eyes on some of the more detailed points that must be addressed in the Bills proposed by the Government in the gracious Speech. I wish to touch on two. One is the draft Immigration Simplification Bill which is unlikely to come before us as legislation before May. The Government have said that they are putting the Bill out for consultation but at the moment it fails to address the need for a route to safety for refugees. For far too long in this country, our perception of economic migrants has been conflated with asylum seekers. It will be a disgrace if the consultation on asylum support suggests that the Government are determined just to make life more difficult and miserable for asylum seekers.
The draft Bill refers to a new streamlined power of expulsion to replace the current powers of deportation and removal. I look forward to hearing more detail on that and, no doubt, the Government will organise meetings on the draft Bill over the coming months. It is a matter of enormous regret that we are discussing a draft Bill of such sensitivity in the run-up to an election. It would be a great mistake if it was used for election headlines. It was particularly telling that when last Tuesday evening Channel 4 screened the film “No Way Home”, about children travelling on top of a train through central America to the United States, the TV critic for the Times, Andrew Billen, made the same point that President Eva Morales of Bolivia has been making for some time, that it is difficult to imagine a world where free trade is everything but there is no free movement of labour. We should also bear that in mind in forthcoming trade talks.
My last point relates to the Digital Economy Bill. It has been suggested that a more appropriate name for it should be the “Internet Policing Bill”. It would place a duty on internet service providers to intercept the web traffic of users to see whether they were illegally downloading. Given that we are subject to infraction proceedings by the European Union regarding the illegal trials by Phorm and BT of interception of web traffic, there is much to be discussed in the Bill. Some of it relates to the Home Office. There are many precedents for young people who share music. I am sure that all your Lordships used blank tapes to record LPs when you were young. I accept that the commercial scale of downloading—
I sympathise with the noble Lord for having had relatively dull teenage years. However, I hope that the Government, given the scale of the powers that they are considering—some through secondary legislation through the Bill—will ensure that the powers are proportionate. On these Benches, we shall certainly scrutinise them to ensure that they are not on the scale threatened.
My Lords, I welcome the provisions of the gracious Speech dealing with home and constitutional affairs. It is my intention to touch on two or three aspects of the proposed Crime and Security Bill.
Over the past 11 years during my time in your Lordships’ House, we have tended to legislate too much, when all that was required was a light touch on the tiller. When I look around me, whether here in the capital city or back home in Durham, I see activities which are clearly illegal under existing legislation, whether it be dropping litter, graffiti, cycling on paths or through red lights, or gangs of youth intimidating decent people—often the elderly—going about their daily business.
New legislation is not required to deal with this behaviour; the law needs to be enforced by the police or other enforcement agencies. When it is enforced, the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts and, most importantly, the public, need to give the police their full support. Unless they are given this unequivocal support, there is a danger that the police will shy away from doing their duty. A recent HMI report found that the police were becoming risk averse—unwilling to risk criticism or censure. It has become easier for them to look the other way. Unless and until the police once again take control of the streets, matters will only get worse.
Not only must the police be given support, but members of the public who report anti-social behaviour or, even more importantly, intervene to challenge and prevent it, should be honoured and celebrated and not risk arrest or even court action because they might have overstepped the mark and injured a burglar, mugger or gang member. People who break the law are the authors of their own misfortune and should take the natural consequences following from the reasonable intervention of a brave passer-by. The passer-by is unlikely to be convicted—juries are usually too sensible for that. However, people who do their duty and intervene should not be subject to arrest, a night in the cells and a court appearance. Matters can be investigated in a civilised manner without the full rigours of the law being applied. This does not require legislation. I am talking about a dose of good old fashioned common sense from the police. There is too little of that these days.
I commend to noble Lords the new film “Harry Brown”, in which Michael Caine plays a pensioner whose friend is harassed, intimidated and eventually murdered on a sink estate in London by a gang of drug-using and abusive youths. The film illustrates well the reality of daily life for some of our elderly citizens who have given their lives to their country and yet are shown no respect whatever. Who could not have been horrified by the case of Fiona Pilkington, who recently perished in her blazing car with her severely disabled daughter? She had made numerous calls to the police about harassment, intimidation and violence by local youths, but nothing was done and she decided to end their lives.
I am a firm believer in the broken windows philosophy. It is a simple theory that suggests that if you repair rundown areas and vandalised buildings, and deal firmly with minor breaches of the law, this nips anti-social behaviour in the bud. New York police chief Bill Bratton, who was appointed by Mayor Giuliani, said that if a mugger or robber was going to commit a crime on the metro system, he was unlikely to pay for a ticket. If we catch him for the minor infringement, we are likely to prevent the more serious crime. He applied this philosophy in New York very successfully and the homicide rate plummeted.
We are back to the police doing their job of enforcement and not being risk-averse or frightened of accusations around political correctness. I therefore fully support the provisions in the gracious Speech to make the streets safer, to prevent crimes against the vulnerable and to get justice for victims and their families. In what way will the Bill do this? I shall take gang-related violence as an example. I spent some time with the FBI in the USA when I was a serving detective. I saw at first hand how the use of civil injunctions in California cut crime in some communities by between 33 and 85 per cent. Sergeant Earl Moss, a local police chief, said that his department had seen a 50 per cent reduction in gang-related crime in his area since the injunction was used.
Some people are opposed to such action against gangs, arguing that it is an infringement of the gang members’ civil liberties. I, too, am a strong supporter of civil liberties, particularly the liberty to go about your daily life in the community without being intimidated, harassed or subject to threats and violence—the conduct illustrated so well in the Michael Caine film “Harry Brown” that I referred to earlier.
I had dinner recently with an ex-member of the Flying Squad, who stated that he would no longer challenge wrongdoing on the streets, not because he was frightened—he is a large ex-policeman—but because he thought that he would not get the support of the authorities if somebody complained. He felt that he might well be the one who ended up in court. What kind of society are we producing when the good guy throws in the towel? It was Edmund Burke who said that all that it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. That is as true today as it was then.
I firmly welcome the retention of DNA on the national register for six years, to allow matters to be fully investigated even though the suspect has not been charged. Does the Minister have a figure for the number of people convicted of serious crimes who would not have been caught if their DNA had been destroyed because they had not been charged? DNA is a wonderful tool for justice and we should use it to the full, within the parameters laid down by the European Court of Human Rights.
Finally, not enough people are going before the courts. The police are issuing too many fixed-penalty notices and cautions. In my day as a police officer, one of the greatest deterrents was the fact that the convicted individual’s name appeared in the local paper and they suffered the disapproval of their peers. Fixed penalties and cautions should not be given for serious matters such as assault, dishonesty or domestic violence. They do not have a role in every case. I recall an ex-colleague of mine who was working his last shift as a traffic officer before retirement. He saw an old Ford travelling extremely fast in a built-up area. He followed it with his blue light on as it went faster and faster. Eventually he stopped it and found that a very elderly gentleman was driving. Not wanting to go to court after he had retired, he said that he would give the driver a caution if he could provide a unique excuse for his transgression. The old man looked pensive and said: “Well, officer, my wife ran off with a police officer more than 30 years ago and when I looked in the mirror and saw the blue light I thought he might be bringing her back”. Needless to say, my colleague thought that that was well worth a caution. I welcome the provisions of the gracious Speech.
My Lords, on the “Today” programme of 12 November, John Humphrys rather contemptuously said: “Who on earth would want to be a Member of Parliament?”. Sadly, it is a sentiment that one hears repeated all too often by ex-MPs and by many Members in the other place who are decent and worthy people with a strong commitment to public life, service in Parliament and their constituents, but who now question whether the family and financial sacrifices involved make the job worthwhile. This is becoming an important constitutional issue.
As with any other occupation or calling, there will always be applicants for the job; but that misses the point. In the media furore over allowances there are a few still, small voices of reason. One was in the Times editorial of 5 November on the Kelly report, which stated:
“Ensuring that the conditions of office attract and retain people of high professional standing did not feature. It was a revealing omission”.
The Times was right about attracting and retaining people of high professional standing.
I make it clear at the outset that I do not condone abuses of the second home allowance, and if fraud is proven in a tiny number of cases the law must take its course. Of course, the damage of the expenses issue has been great; but I fear that, unless we draw the right conclusions, the long-term damage will be much greater. The single point I will make tonight is that, if the Kelly recommendations are implemented in full, it will be essential—somebody has to say this—that there is a much more realistic salary for MPs.
The rot set in, and the time-bomb started ticking, when MPs voted—I think in 2003—for a 40 per cent increase in allowances over and above what the SSRB had recommended. This was in part because many new MPs had faced a considerable drop in income on entering Parliament. It also reflected the fact that there is never a right time for Governments to accept increases in MPs’ salaries much beyond inflation. The covert solution—wrong because it produced the ticking time-bomb—was to substantially increase allowances.
When I re-entered commercial life, I was astonished at the disparity that had grown over the years between parliamentary salaries and those that I was now seeing around me. It is ironic because, until the second homes furore, most informed media comment and public debate in recent years had concentrated on two points. First, a too-high and increasing proportion of Members in the other place have devoted most of their lives to a political career—university politics, research assistant and then MP—and not enough have had careers in the so-called real world from which they can bring their experience and expertise to the Commons in the same way as the experience and expertise of noble Lords so conspicuously benefits your Lordships’ House. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon made that point. The second point is that the authority of and scrutiny by Parliament over the Executive have been steadily eroded, but the proposals in the constitutional reform Bill do not go to the heart of this.
It is a supreme irony that the current populist clamour, and the recommendations that may follow from it, will deeply reinforce both those trends. I draw particular attention to the second point—that an even more weakened Parliament, if Kelly’s recommendations are not accompanied by a proper salary, will substantially increase the power of the Executive. From a very important vantage point the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, made something of the same issue from a different perspective.
Perhaps I may briefly make the case. First, one does not go into politics at any stage unless one is deeply dedicated to public service and has a strong commitment to help one’s constituents and a willingness to work very long hours not only on weekdays in Parliament but every weekend in one’s constituency. Secondly, what Parliament does deeply affects the industries, the jobs, the freedoms, the standard of living and so on—possibly even life itself—of everyone in the country. Of course, large numbers of citizens have highly responsible jobs elsewhere, but I believe that the responsibilities of MPs must rank very high on the scale.
Thirdly, and in some ways most importantly of all, the great majority of Ministers are drawn from the House of Commons. Ministerial responsibilities and workloads are enormous. We need people of calibre and high stamina to do them. Of course, in many other professions one gets exactly the same commitment and quality, but the rewards now are vastly different. Nearly 50 executives in the BBC are paid more than the Prime Minister and one could produce legions of examples elsewhere. Of course, if financial reward were your motivation in your career, you would never dream of entering Parliament. Many moving up the ladder in outside careers accept that they make financial sacrifices in seeking election and they do so because of the fulfilling nature of the job. However, there are limits and if, on top of the financial and family pressures, the job is so devalued by continuous public calumny, for many it will be a no-brainer.
Next, for most a second home is not just essential for doing the job but pretty well a requirement. Most constituencies expect their MPs to have a home in the constituency. Frankly, the Kelly proposal for small purpose-built or purchased flats in Westminster is demeaning and would make normal family existence almost impossible. Philip Stephens, writing in the Financial Times recently—a second still small voice of reason—asked:
“Does Britain want a parliament peopled by the rich, the retired, the young and the childless—perhaps with a few party hacks thrown in? That is the way it is heading by stripping MPs of their allowances”.
Finally, to make matters worse, it is a highly precarious career. Many MPs will be able to serve only one or two Parliaments, but in this day and age it is extremely difficult for many to pick up the threads of a career outside after 10 years’ absence from it. I was involved in a poll of MPs who lost their seats after the 1997 election, many of them unexpectedly. A year after, not many had been able to find the sort of jobs that they would probably have continued to have had they not had a spell in Parliament.
Those are all reasons why, if the Kelly recommendations are accepted, there must be a more appropriate salary. After all, GPs are in general, I believe, now on £100,000 a year; young accountants in the City after qualification, still well below the age of 30, are on £60,000 to £70,000 salaries, with bonuses of up to 30 per cent on top; and lawyers earn even more, with huge prospects of increases thereafter. Senior executives in local authorities are now paid much more—often double, treble or even more—than MPs, which was not the case for much of my parliamentary career. Middle-ranking people in industry are the same, and so on and so on. Even journalists—I say no more. It will be unpopular, but it is right.
I have a final quotation from my weekly indulgence, Country Life. Early on in the furore, on 20 May its leader page led with, “What to do about these wretched MPs’ expenses”. I started to read it with trepidation, thinking that even it had got on the bandwagon. But it was an excellent analysis and concluded:
“So no half measures: make the salary … a year”.
I hardly dare mention the figure; it was so much higher than the present one. It went on:
“The scandal is not MPs’ expenses but the hash they have made of Iraq, Afghanistan and the economy, not to mention the failure of the back benchers to hold the executive to account”.
The key point was:
“For quality decision-making, we need quality people in Parliament: the present system puts them off”.
Country Life’s salary figure may be surprisingly high, but its sentiment is absolutely right.
My Lords, in his opening remarks the noble Lord, Lord Bach, made much of the Government’s emphasis on making communities safer through the various provisions in the gracious Speech. In fact, the word “security” does not appear at all in the gracious Speech, although the concept of security is evoked almost daily by the Government in the context of what is happening in Afghanistan and Britain. Indeed, if one listens to the Prime Minister’s various statements, then events in Afghanistan and Pakistan are critical to our domestic security here on the streets of Britain. That shows that it is clearer now than ever before that the architecture of national security rests on the twin pillars of domestic legislation and foreign interaction.
Despite the omission of the mention of national security in the Minister’s remarks today, I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, is in his place and am therefore comforted that he will indeed be able to deal with my remarks in winding up. We had the spectre, earlier this month on 4 November, of the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee telling us through the pages of a national newspaper that in his view we ought to build a fortress Britain. His vision is of a Britain buttressed by a surveillance society in which citizens forfeit their long-standing civil liberties, our borders are sealed, international commitments and treaties are renegotiated, and the free movement of people is re-examined with our partners.
On the same day, the immigration Minister explained to the Commons Home Affairs Committee:
“An argument that is not aired strongly enough in my view is the benefit of the presence of our armed forces and other countries”,
to help us control immigration. He was referring to the presence of our troops in Afghanistan. When we get senior people in government telling us that our national security strategy is really deeply flawed as it cannot keep us safe, hence we need to withdraw from Afghanistan, nor on the other hand can the UK Border Agency control immigration, hence our presence in Afghanistan, then we are in trouble indeed. Will the Minister be able to explain to us what exactly the Government’s thinking is on the threat from al-Qaeda, which appears to be the focus of all pronouncements at the moment? Will he also explain whether the threat from violent extremism at home, and the national security strategy, still stand in light of these messages?
I turn briefly to the contents of the Crime and Security Bill. Once again, we have a Home Office menu of disparate and unrelated projects. The very different needs and priorities of improving stop and search, the rationalisation and reduction of the DNA database, gang-related violence, parenting orders and licensing private security businesses are tied together in a Gordian knot to be untied against the ticking clock of a forthcoming general election. So we prepare for legislation knowing that much of what appears in the Bill does not have the Government’s authority behind it. If the measures did, they would have come before Parliament earlier. Rather, they are campaigning pledges to titillate the voters in a few months’ time.
The proposals to give additional powers to the police for fingerprinting and the retention of DNA are controversial and will merit close scrutiny. So, too, will proposals for gang-related violence and ASBOs. Here, the general approach is consistent with the philosophy of the Government: plenty of popular pledges, backed by few resources to support the various agencies working in these areas, and a general belief that virtue can be created by statute. If only the blunt tool of law were as successful at changing behaviour as our Prime Minister believes, the courts could wind down and here in Parliament we could really be gainfully employed.
Apropos the force of law, we saw the gracious Speech replete with references to the enforceability of the Government’s pledges, particularly in the areas of education and health. Indeed in their draft legislative programme set out in June 2009, Building Britain’s Future, the Prime Minister tells us in his foreword that,
“in the future, patients and parents must drive the system, with real rights of redress where their entitlements are not delivered”.
Yet just nine pages later, in the same report, at paragraph 47 we are told:
“We do not want this new system of enforceable entitlements to mean people taking public services to court”.
I wonder whether the Minister might be able to explain which version of the paper is the one that the public can rely on—the Prime Minster’s declaratory phrase with an eye to the election, or the retreat from that later. Furthermore, if these guarantees are justifiable, can the Minister tell us whether public funds will be available for those seeking judicial review? There is much in public policy that needs to be addressed, but these measures in this gracious speech leave most of those unresolved.
My Lords, I am conscious that since the devolution of power to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2007, there have not been many opportunities to look at issues that concern the Province. However, it is only correct that noble Lords should be kept informed of some aspects of progress in Northern Ireland.
The major problem is that the Executive is a mandatory coalition and individual Ministers seem to consider that they can pursue any policy they like even if it is not accepted by the rest of the Executive members. Today, as an example, I will consider our relationship with the Irish Republic and its support for a project which affects us.
Over the past few years a proposal has arisen that is being promoted by the Minister responsible for regional development, called the western transport corridor. The concept is to build a new motorway from the Irish border near Dungannon that will run for 60 miles to Londonderry. This would provide quick access for those in Donegal, in the Republic, to their capital city of Dublin. While the 60 miles is in the United Kingdom the Irish Government claim to have ring-fenced half a billion pounds as their part of the cost. The rest is to be paid out of UK taxpayers’ funds—an issue that I will return to later. This proposal is an environmental nightmare which will not be ready for at least 10 years and, in my view, will make Northern Ireland the laughing stock of Europe. At a time when countries are ceasing to build multi-lane highways, are we to take the expensive step of driving a motorway through some of the very best farming land in the Province with all the attendant pollution problems?
The concept of creating a corridor for fast transport from Londonderry to Dublin is understandable. However, there is an alternative which is supported by environmentalists throughout these islands, an increasing number of people in the area and a cross-section of Assembly Members at Stormont. In 1965, much to the dismay of many of us, a trunk railway line from Portadown to the Maiden City was closed. The track bed from this line is still available and its junction at Portadown provides access to the increasingly faster service from Belfast to Dublin. So why can it not be relaid, updated and function once again? The arguments for the railway solution are many. For example, with the use of EU funding for rail interstate transit, the cost to each Government would be reduced to less than half of the motorway.
The amount of CO2 emissions in the area of the route would be reduced by 60 per cent. Rail is less of a pollutant than road transport. The journey time by rail as opposed to the time for an express bus to travel from Londonderry to Dublin would be up to one-and-a-half hours less. Facilities on the trains could include dining and more luxurious accommodation. Importantly, rail transport is estimated to be 27 times safer than road. There is an appalling record of death and injury on our roads every year. The renewed rail link would have arrangements for freight with depots at Portadown, Dungannon, Omagh, Strabane and Londonderry. This alone would take a considerable number of large trucks off the roads. The rail link could be extended in due course to Letterkenny, Enniskillen and possibly even to other places.
Energy-efficient rail consumes up to 80 per cent less oil than road transport. The line could even be electrified in time. The amount of land required for a railway is only 15 per cent of that for a motorway. Also, we should remember that the course of the line still exists. If the proposed motorway is built between Strabane and Londonderry, most of it will be on embankments eight feet off the ground. It is an area with particular drainage problems, and such a construction would make more than 1,000 acres of prime land unusable with no compensation for the farmers. These embankments will be a major eyesore in the beautiful Foyle Valley. The outcome of the proposed environmentally unfriendly A5 scheme will be that citizens of the Republic will dump large amounts of CO2 in a part of the United Kingdom, increasing our pollution problems. Are we to become a world dumping ground for another country?
The number of passengers estimated to travel from Londonderry to Dublin is a considerable 660,000 a year. However, it is also expected that there would be many intermediate journeys such as Strabane to Dungannon. There is little doubt that the programme of upgrading the current road system in the area must continue, but the railway project would be quicker to build and to travel on, and it will not disturb the natural farming land and associated environments for wildlife. Possibly the biggest reason for the renewal of the rail link is that this is happening all over the UK and Europe.
Scotland is a fine example when it comes to reopening and upgrading lines. It is not the policy of either our national Government or of the EU to support the building of a motorway when a railway option is available. There is also the difficulty of cost. It is suggested that the UK contribution is also ring-fenced, perhaps as a result of a separate deal done with the Irish. I would like the Government’s view on that. No Government in this economic climate can afford to spend large amounts of funds when it is clearly not necessary. There is strong opposition to this proposal from all sides.
I point to two strong advocates of rail over road as the cheaper and cleaner option. Tom Elliott, the MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, has spared no effort in bringing together a coalition of groups opposed to this waste of resources. Mr Elliott’s support and work for this campaign to protect the environment is vital. I also highlight the considerable work carried out by a Member of your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, who is also an MLA for the same area. He has been working hard to put the case for many farmers who will be uprooted if this environmentally incorrect proposal goes ahead. This campaign will succeed only with his support and that of his party. I look forward to supporting their work and that of others in this battle to preserve the beautiful countryside in Tyrone and Londonderry. The motorway may be the idea of only one Member of the Executive but for the sake of our children it must be stopped.
My Lords, Sherlock Holmes famously referred to the dog that did not bark. The dog that did not give much of a bark in the gracious Speech was constitutional reform.
By general account, the Government have participated in winding up the old British constitution based on Parliament and a central Executive headed by a Prime Minister who rules through majority power. The old revered constitution of Bagehot and Dicey has gone. Big Ben chimes out over the debris. We now have a hollowed-out constitution in which Parliament is restricted externally by the EU and internally by devolution, the power of judicial review and referendums. There are fundamental laws that Parliament cannot repeal. The Cabinet has become almost a dignified, not an efficient, part of the constitution. Elected Ministers are being replaced by myriad non-elected regulatory agencies. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, spoke fascinatingly about the alphabet soup that has resulted.
The state seems at the same time both much weaker and much stronger, with more power agglomerated by central government. The system seems more democratic in an era of devolution. At the same time, it is seen as much more remote by the people, who—as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor—show almost a contempt for Parliament that goes far beyond bath plugs and duck houses, whatever they may be. There is a crisis and yet the dog did not give much of a yelp.
In some ways, where we are is very much to the Government’s credit. They have asked fundamental questions. They have passed very important reforms that should be taken further. With regard to the House of Lords, they have of course made very significant changes. I was in the small minority—the late and much lamented Lord Williams of Mostyn was in it as well—who voted for an all-elected House. I was confirmed in that view by reading the remarks last week by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who sounded as if he was actually opposing Lloyd George’s People’s Budget, and he seemed to have turned, as it were, into Mr Cameron’s poodle. On the other hand, I agree that it is pointless that the House of Lords should become simply a clone of the House of Commons. We could avoid that with a proper electoral arrangement.
The Human Rights Act is a great civilising breakthrough and one would like to see the Government observe it less reluctantly and more robustly and be proud of it. They should also engage with the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, from which we have opted out.
We have the great achievement of devolution in Scotland and Wales. That should be taken further. In particular, we now have the Jones Parry report proposing that the Welsh Assembly be given the powers of law-making possessed by Scotland. I would be grateful if the noble—though apparently not gallant—Minister could demonstrate his knowledge of Welsh matters when he deals with the Jones Parry report.
All these things are considerable improvements on what went before and the Government should be commended for them. Other things are less to their credit. Gordon Brown began as Prime Minister with a powerful statement on constitutional reform but in fact the approach has been fragmentary and incoherent. I served on the Joint Committee that considered the previous Constitutional Renewal Bill and it just seemed to us a very miscellaneous measure dealing with all sorts of matters, from demonstrations in Parliament Square to the right to make war. Of the proposals that were valuable, some, such as the war powers and the role of the Attorney-General, have disappeared from the new Bill. The new Bill does not seem to be up to meeting the challenge that is required. There are of course some valuable pieces, on the Civil Service and the approval of treaties, but in the famous phrase of Sir Winston Churchill,
“This pudding has no theme”.
There are no obvious central arguments and what is left is what one academic has recently called a state of “constitutional anomie” in which the Government contradict themselves. They have concentrated on the dispersal of power and yet they have at the same time ratcheted up power with controls imposed over civil liberties in ways that we have heard, in relation to DNA and other matters, which seem to be very much at variance with what we heard earlier about Tom Paine and John Stuart Mill.
Our democracy, I believe, is in acute crisis. People are losing faith in it. Specifically, what we should do, in my view, is to relate constitutional reform not to the internal, circumscribed political class but to the people. There is an enormous democratic deficit. Ironically, there is a deficit in Europe. I strongly support our membership of the European Union, but the democratic deficit there was shown almost to an absurd degree by the recent appointment of a President. In an earlier era, critics of Europe such as Michael Foot claimed that the British system was more open, better and more democratic—well, perhaps not any more. It needs to be democratised. The Commons as well as the Lords should be democratised. We should have the popular will asserted in our constitution, in the choice of candidates, in primaries, in the power of recall of inadequate Members of Parliament and in more frequent recourse to the popular will.
Proportional representation is advocated by many but I think that too much can be attributed to it. Too much can be claimed. However, I regret the fact that the gracious Speech did not refer at all to proportional representation at a time of such widespread public disaffection. It should have seized the initiative. However, I enormously welcome the views that I read the other week in Progress by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who seems to be a wonderfully innovative Minister in so many cases. He argued the case for elected mayors and for the need to decentralise and open up the system. I quite agreed with what the noble Lord said about Ken Livingstone having been a considerable pioneer in this respect.
Britain does not embody popular sovereignty; we have a very limited sense of citizenship compared with other countries. We are subjects of the Crown. We still have the tattered vestiges of the royal prerogative. I well acknowledge that having a formal written constitution would absorb a huge amount of time. What we should do, I think, is be incremental and build on existing legislation.
Finally, I hope that the Labour Party will take the initiative in these matters, as it should—with the support, I trust, of the Liberal Democrats, despite the rather right-wing observations from their leader over the weekend. The Labour Party was built on the idea of democratic socialism. For people such as Keir Hardie, the democracy was quite as important as the socialism. The main party opposite has resisted every change. It is an unsatisfactory instrument for reform, with a paranoia over Europe. I think that building a healthy people’s democracy depends on the power of progressives.
My Lords, I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, fascinating and indeed I would like to continue in that vein by referring to the constitution, although I fear that my contribution will be very much less erudite than his. I am also bound to say that I found it hard to agree with him in a few of his winding-up remarks at the end.
What worries me is that there has been a great crisis of confidence in the parliamentary system, which destabilises the constitution. The country is lacking in trust. It is lacking trust with Parliament, with the legal system, with officialdom and with one another. That is bad and it is divisive.
On top of that, the Government seem to be encouraging not only the nanny state but the police state. “Get out of the bus lane. Fine: £100. And I have a camera in the back of a bus to photograph you. Sneak on your neighbour if you think that he is cheating on social security benefits, and there is a hotline so that nobody need know that it is you who are ringing. Watch what you put in your wheelie bin; otherwise we will photograph it or weigh it”. All that is a sharp, bad turn for the worse. It really is the way in which society has been going for the past 10 years. In that time, of course, your Lordships’ House has seen the removal of most of the hereditary Peers, the Lord Chancellor and now the Law Lords. The remainder of the hereditary Peers and the Bishops are now under threat. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, gave us a whiff this afternoon of what might come.
At the moment, the two Houses have separate compositions, separate rules and separate responsibilities. Each House has a different task and each is complementary to the other. However, make them similar—with the second Chamber saying to the other, “We have been elected, too, and we have just as much right as you do, House of Commons, to have our way; our views on legislation have equal weight to yours”—and you will end with bitterness and discord between the two Houses of an undreamt of nature.
In common with most noble Lords, I am sure, it breaks my heart to see what has happened, and is happening, to another place. No one approves of Members of Parliament breaking the law. If they do, they are subject to the law of the land just like everyone else, but many Members of another place who are at present being pilloried do not fall into that category. I was so glad that my noble friend Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market said what he did about Members of the House of Commons because so many of them are honourable people.
Most Members of another place are good, honest people. In my view, it is largely the rules that have been at fault. If the rules say that you are entitled to this or that, it is not good enough for someone to say, “Oh yes. You may be entitled to it, but morally you should not have claimed it”. It is like saying that you are entitled to a first-class railway ticket but you ought to have bought an economy one because the country would have been better off if you had. I venture to suggest that, if there has been improper payment, the Fees Office, which, like the Inland Revenue, is the guardian of public funds in its area, should have had more control over the disbursements.
Some Members have been accused of claiming for things for which they did not claim. The right honourable gentleman Mr Hogg was accused of a claim for a “moat”. There was no moat; there was a ditch. He was paid nothing, yet, like many respectable Members, he has had his character assassinated and is leaving Parliament. I find that devastating. The honourable gentleman Sir Peter Viggers has been lambasted for claiming for a duck island. A pretty, quacking duck makes a lovely picture on any newspaper, but he never received a penny. However, that does not stop everyone being quite convinced that he did and it does not stop him being reviled and having to stand down as a Member of Parliament. His mistake was to have asked the advice of the Fees Office and to have put it in writing. The letter got on to the disk that was obtained by the Daily Telegraph for £300,000 and the Daily Telegraph milked it as hard as it could. I do not know whether that says an awful lot for the responsibility of newspapers.
Some chivalrous-minded gentleman decided to dig up—not dig—the garden of the honourable gentleman Mr Duncan. Some time later, in order to try to let bygones be bygones, the honourable gentleman asked his new friend to have a drink with him on the terrace of another place. Having gone through all the security, as he was removing his bicycle helmet the new friend withdrew something from within the earpiece of his helmet and put it up his sleeve. With that, he filmed and recorded what was supposed to be a convivial private conversation. What was the result? The honourable gentleman was removed from the Shadow Cabinet. However, the significant point is that no one ever reprimanded the person—or even expressed disgust—for having suggested and engaged in one of the most dishonourable and despicable of all practices: entrapment. Justice seems to have become upended. With this virtual wall of water of public fury, people do not wish to hear the truth or even a defence. The fact is that, as we all know, a lie gets half way around the world before truth has got its boots on.
The Speaker said that there had to be some rough justice. If I was on the receiving end of that kind of rough justice, I would think that it was grossly unfair. Most Members of another place are still honourable Members doing their best for the country and for their constituents and I salute them for that. The powers that be seem to have lost their judgment and their sense of direction over all this. The Government’s answer is, as always, to set up another quango, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, to control what Members are paid. The chairman is to be paid double what a Member of Parliament is paid. Is that right? It is unbelievable.
Some say, with justification, that this is the nationalisation of Parliament, but do we want Members of Parliament looked over by rules, commissions and quangos, theoretically cleaning it all up but actually creating more traps for people to fall into, more authorities to judge and more punishments to be dispersed? Do we really want to discourage Members of Parliament from having interests outside the Palace of Westminster and thereby being alert to what is happening in the mad world outside Parliament? I do not think that we do. Do we really want to know how much they are being paid for their outside interests? Do we really want to know how many hours of work they are putting in? Put in 20 hours, and it is bad for your firm; put in 200 hours, and you are not doing any work for your constituents.
There is no winner in all this other than the rigid manacle of bureaucracy. It is a convenient way of saying, “No remuneration from outside Parliament from now on”. That will be hugely detrimental to getting the right people into Parliament and to Parliament itself. Members of Parliament were elected to run the country in the best way that they can and, if what they do does not have the approval of their constituents, they can be removed at the general election. They were never elected to be dictated to by some higher, better remunerated and unelected quango.
In my view, another place is making far more of a mess trying to get out of the mess than the original mess itself. If another place is going to clear itself up and be a place of authority again, it needs to be led by a Speaker with authority, who speaks with authority, who conducts himself with authority and who dresses with authority. I am sure that I am not the only one feeling a sense of sorrow that the Speaker chose the majestic State Opening of Parliament, where everyone symbolically represents the office of which he is the temporary holder and not himself, to fall out of line and not wear ceremonial dress to represent the full panoply of one of the highest offices in the land. Perhaps I may put it thus, I hope not offensively: Mr Speaker means everything; Mr Bercow means nothing.
Parliament has not been assailed by such distrust and by such a demise of power over the Executive for 300 years. My fear is that the anticipated cure for it all is going in the wrong direction. It is giving less power and less independence to Members of Parliament when what is wanted is more power and more independence for them and more trust.
My Lords, I am very happy to share something with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers; namely, a wheelie bin in Warwick Square. I hope that he does not feel the necessity to consign my remarks to it, but I promise him I will not supervise what he puts in it.
I thoroughly agree with the noble Earl’s view about the discontents of our country not beginning with the much published actions of the Members of another place recently. It is quite clear that for more than a decade this country has been conscious of the anachronistic elements of our constitution. The fact that successive governments have not delivered what they have aspired to and that the system is, at least in part, due to that. At this time in a Parliament it is unreal to expect all the identified defects to be tackled in a monster constitutional Bill.
This debate has gone in two directions. There have speakers who, like the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, have made extremely practical suggestions. He made seven proposals, to which most of this House would give assent, about how we can reform ourselves effectively without an Act of Parliament. Other speakers have had a wider view, and I fall into the latter category for the purposes of this debate. Consequently, I shall not expect the noble Lord, Lord West, to philosophise about what I say.
I recognise that the undertaking in the gracious Speech that legislation will continue to be taken forward on constitutional reform is not to be dispensed with lightly, despite the considerable limitations of the Bill that flows from the earlier Constitutional Renewal Bill which, like the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, and a number of other speakers in this debate, I considered in the Joint Committee of the two Houses. That Bill was not adequate in the view of the Joint Committee. There was a certain discontent among many members about the proposals for the Attorney-General, so I am not entirely surprised that the Government have dropped their proposals on that subject.
Similarly, there was quite a degree of dissatisfaction with the proposals for war powers and the fact that the Prime Minister’s prerogative to take this country into foreign hostilities was not frontally dealt with. Remnants of that Bill are in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, which in at least one case seem to be most worthy of our attention. Part 1 of the Bill deals with the Civil Service. One hundred and fifty years after the Northcote-Trevelyan report, we will put the Civil Service on to a statutory basis. This House should congratulate itself on that, notwithstanding the time that it has taken to do so. This is particularly timely in view of what the Conservative spokesman on the Cabinet Office, Mr Francis Maude, has been saying about Conservative proposals for the Civil Service. He is reported by the Times, in a colourful article, to have indicated Conservative,
“Plans to let ministers chair departmental boards and appoint ‘chums’ from the private sector to get rid of permanent secretaries”.
In the light of that, we need to do something to secure the independence of the Civil Service. We shall watch the progress of that Bill with great interest. If the rest of it is jettisoned, the country will not be much the worse off.
The mountain of constitutional reform to be climbed is formidable if the Government are to meet the aspirations of the British people for the delivery of their objectives. Climbers sometimes take comfort and encouragement from looking down the hill at what they have surmounted, and there have been significant constitutional advances since this Government were elected in 1997. The enactment of the Freedom of Information Act has greatly improved the transparency of Executive action, and the Human Rights Act has given individuals a much speedier route to redress than they enjoyed when they had to take their case before the European Court of Human Rights. Scotland, Wales, London and Northern Ireland have all benefited from some decentralisation of power. We wait with interest to hear whether the Calman and Jones Parry reports will be acted on.
The central weakness of the British constitutional arrangements, which none of these things really addresses, is the growth in the power of the Prime Minister. I do not expect the Minister to address that in his winding-up speech. None the less, it is important, because Cabinet government has clearly been replaced by overloaded responsibility at the centre. You cannot expect anyone to deliver on such a broad front when fingers are in every pie. The comparison between this Labour Government and the Labour Government of 1945 is not so much that there were giants in the 1945-51 Government and there are pygmies now but that the media have treated successive Prime Ministers as celebrities who, as a result, feel they must have the last, and indeed the first, word on everything. Candidly, that operates to the disadvantage of our sense of a people’s democracy. We are moving inexorably towards an American presidential system but without its proper checks and balances, and I hope that there will be time in what is left of this Parliament to look at how we can fortify those checks and balances.
My Lords, I intervene briefly in this debate to join noble Lords who have spoken in favour of the retention of the House of Lords that we know. The Queen’s Speech stated that the Government will publish,
“draft legislation on proposals for a reformed second chamber … with a democratic mandate”.
A democratic mandate, in this Government’s vocabulary, must mean an elected Chamber and thus the abolition of the House of Lords that we know. However, the Leader of the House does not appear to favour this particular prospect. In her excellent speech last Wednesday, she told us how much she values this House as it is. She said:
“we know that we have a House of Lords which is informed, reasonable, wise and valuable. It is a House of Lords which is a central part of the legislative process and of Parliament, and it is a House of Lords which is one of the essential checks and balances of the constitution of our country … I love this House: what it does, how it does it, why it does it, what it is for”.—[Official Report, 18/11/09; col. 24.]
She is a great lady and I agree with everything she says. I trust that she will resist her party’s plans for an elected Chamber. I still fail to understand how any Member of the House of Commons can be in favour of an 80 per cent or a 100 per cent elected upper House. As other speakers have said, it would inevitably threaten the primacy of the House of Commons that we in this House of Lords are happy to acknowledge.
The arguments in favour of the present appointed House of Lords are well rehearsed. The life Peers have all made an impact in the field of activity in which they have been involved; thus the House is a unique reservoir of expertise and experience that is available for the scrutiny and improvement of parliamentary business. Few if any of its Members would be interested in standing for election, so this expertise and experience would be lost. It is also important to remember that the House of Lords costs about one-fifth of the House of Commons, which would no longer be the case for an elected upper House.
A number of reform measures are of course desirable. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, will refer to some of them shortly, and no doubt we will debate them in the weeks to come. What is important now is that we all stand together and fight for the survival of this great House, which, like the Leader of the House, I am sure we all love.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, I propose to deal with only one topic: the part of the Government’s Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill that deals with the reform of the House of Lords.
As we move into 2010, we shall be celebrating the centenary of the first promise by government to replace this House with an elected Chamber. It is, as far as I know, the only political promise that is eligible to receive a telegram of congratulation from the Queen. Were she to send such a message, she would be fully justified in wishing it many more anniversaries, because I do not believe that this will happen in the near future. In fact, I am astonished that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, could read out the interim proposals from the Bill with a completely straight face, given that his colleagues on the Front Bench spent so much time if not actually obstructing then stonewalling the very same proposals in the Bill that I presented on behalf of so many Members in all parts of the House.
I will recap again the four proposals in my Bill. The first was the appointment of a statutory appointments commission. That is the one bit which the Government have not taken on on the spurious grounds that, as they are going to propose an elected Chamber, there is no need to have a statutory appointments commission in the mean time. That, of course, assumes that they win the next election and will introduce an elected Chamber.
The other three proposals, however, are taken over lock, stock and barrel: ending the by-elections for hereditary Peers; enabling retirement from the House, which is the most important part simply because of the size of the numbers in the House and the fact that so many do not come to it—this is long overdue and I am very glad that it is in the Government’s legislation—
That could not occur according to the wording in my Bill, but I agree that the wording in the Government’s Bill is slightly ambiguous. That is certainly not the intention in the proposal as I put it forward, but there is some argument about the drafting, to which we will no doubt come when the Bill reaches us. The final item was to deal with the expulsion of serious wrongdoers from this House on the same basis as happens in the other place. It is wrong that legislators should be serious lawbreakers.
The three proposals which have survived from my Bill are taken over by the Government. I say with some irritation that it is a great shame that they did not accept the offer I made so many times for them to take over the Bill as I presented it. If they had done that, it could have been in law by now. It was clearly overwhelmingly supported in all parts of this House. Instead, we now have simply the current legislation, to which I shall return later, plus the offer of a draft Bill which will propose an elected House. The Government are going forward with that on the basis that it will be a firm manifesto commitment. I do not want to go back over previous manifesto commitments, but this Government have had manifesto commitments on Lords reform which have simply been ignored at election after election. Why should one place any more faith in a new one?
As for the Conservative Party, we remember on the last occasion when we debated my Bill a moving speech from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who said that he was off to see Mr David Cameron to make sure that this matter would receive priority attention. We were all deeply moved by this. There has been a deafening silence since and the press continues to report Mr Cameron as saying that he regards it as a priority for his third term. I have great scepticism about whether this elected Chamber will ever be legislated for. Political history demonstrates that my scepticism is worthy.
The last White Paper presented by Mr Straw on this subject was the fifth substantial document on Lords reform since the Government took office. It still leaves major issues undetermined. Will the House of Lords be wholly elected or partly elected? What will the electoral system be? They are not minor issues. Mr Straw has changed his mind so often from 50 per cent elected to something else that he has appeared like a man who says, “These are my principles and if you don’t like them I have others”. I ask the Minister: will these unresolved issues be firmly put in place in the draft Bill or will it simply echo what is in the present White Paper? If so, it is hardly worth pursuing at all.
When the Minister winds up, I would press him to answer this: when this train load of legislation hits the buffers, as it inevitably will when Parliament is dissolved in a very short space of time, will he rescue from the wreckage this part of the constitutional Bill and make sure that it goes through before the Parliament comes to an end? At least when we come back after the election, whatever the result, we will have a House of Lords which has moved with the times.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to contribute to the debate on the gracious Speech. I should like to join others in congratulating the new Members to our House, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, on their exemplary maiden speeches. This House will undoubtedly be enriched by their presence and I welcome them both.
I know that my friends on the Front Bench often wait nervously when I get to my feet. Indeed, both of them separately have told me that they were bracing themselves for blows. I think they called it friendly fire. Their Lordships will be happy to hear that I am not going to depart from tradition. But let me start with praise. Like everyone, I want to congratulate the Government on the introduction of the Bribery Bill. The United Kingdom was criticised for what was seen as a sort of tolerance of this kind of corruption. It may have been somewhat unfair, but certainly it was seen that modernisation was needed, which this Bill meets. In particular, I congratulate the Government on their speed of response and on listening to others about ways in which it could be improved. That was an excellent way of working. It will be crucial to cleaning up commercial malpractice.
I have one concern which goes back to the Attorney-General’s ability to stop a prosecution. After the scandalous abandonment of the BAE Systems case, there remains that whole question of whether national security should be used to trump due process when it comes to corruption. There seems to be some opaqueness at the moment as to whether the Government are still going to take that position. It will be interesting to hear their view because it really disappointed other nations as well as lawyers internationally that this excuse was given in the BAE Systems case.
I turn now to the Crime and Security Bill. One of the themes of the Government over the past 12 years, which has been a source of great disappointment to me and others in the legal profession, has been the development of parallel legal processes. Instead of going for traditional due process and taking people before the courts, there has been a way of avoiding that by introducing other kinds of process which do not have the protections and safeguards that are vital to a decent system within a democracy. I put into that category the whole range from ASBOs onwards and we will introduce more in this Bill. Control orders fall into that too. It involves the lowering of standards of proof and a way of circumventing the system which we have developed over generations and hundreds of years. I regret that greatly. I say to the Government that we should be putting a full stop to this way of practising.
I particularly want to draw attention to the Government’s response to the Marper judgment on DNA, which came from the European Court in Strasbourg. The changes in the Bill are far too grudging. A six-year retention period for innocent people is still too long and should be amended. I hope that the Government will do that before this Bill comes before the House. In 2006, the Scottish Parliament rejected proposals to bring Scotland into line with England and Wales, and I think that they reached a sensible position; that is, the destruction of DNA of those acquitted of a crime. A limited exception was made to those serious crimes which involve physical or sexual violence where the maximum period of retention is five years. There is also a right of appeal in relation to that. We should be looking at ways other than the one suggested at the moment.
I also have serious problems with the Digital Economy Bill in that it proposes cutting off the internet access of alleged file sharers. Internet access in a modern world is a utility like the telephone and electricity. Cutting off alleged file sharers without a court process is a breach of the fair trial/due process provisions of the Human Rights Act and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and a disproportionate interference with the right to receive and impart information under Article 10. On previous occasions, I have—I did it with DNA 10 years ago—advised the Government that they would end up before the European Court if they did not get this right. I feel that this is another of those areas where I ask the Government to look again. If illegal file sharing is a problem, the proper course is to prosecute alleged offenders, rather than rely on an administrative penalty. We are seeing far too much of this wily avoidance of proper procedures, to the grave disadvantage of citizens.
I now turn to some of the comment made by my noble friend Lord Morgan. This is one of the ways in which a Government have on the one hand on occasion given power away, yet on the other hand have drawn more power to themselves. In taking on these new systems of procedure, you end up giving more power to the state, which should be resisted.
Before turning to constitutional reform, I want to deal with the assault on legal aid. The only other person to mention it was the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I do not know whether anyone understands just how serious the position now is with regard to legal aid funding. A crisis is taking place and the cost in years to come will be enormous in terms of what it will do to our justice system. Access to justice is essential in a democracy, but it seemed like an easy way of making cuts—who cares about criminals and lawyers? However, it is not about lawyers, but about the quality of what is on offer and outcomes in terms of the suffering for families and individuals if they are not well represented. The evisceration of criminal and family legal aid will be a great cost to our society. It affects the quality of a system that we have long been proud of, but I am afraid that we will see a real deterioration in years to come if we continue along this road.
On constitutional reform, I want to say only that some of it is sensible, proper and in the interests of good governance. I am glad to see the removal of the role of the Prime Minister in the appointment of members of the Supreme Court. I was always leery about the retention of that power. I am also happy to see new provisions for the regulation of this House. I am glad to see the changes proposed to the ratification of treaties. How did we get into a situation where extradition to the United States became a treaty under which we hand over to the United States but it does not hand over to us? It was another of those craven acts of obeisance to the Bush Administration and it was unforgivable.
What I feel real regret for is that with all this on our plates, we might not end up doing the thing we ought to be doing, which is clawing back the right to demonstrate in Parliament Square. That was a disgraceful change in the law introduced by the Government and it led to the arrest of Maya Evans, who as we all remember was the woman who read out the list of the war dead. We are going to change that law and I am glad that the prodigals are returning to the fold. There is nothing we like more in this House than a sinner who repents, and I hope that we make time to get it through.
Finally, I am really disappointed that after 12 years, we have missed a great opportunity here at the end. What happened to the idea that Labour is best when it is bold? The Westminster system has totally lost the confidence of the general public. As others have said, our democracy is in crisis. What people want is proactive change. In the autumn, the Prime Minister promised to give voters the right to recall a corrupt Member of Parliament. He committed himself to a referendum on reform of the voting system. What happened? We have not a word in the gracious Speech in response to the expenses crisis. What the people want after the general election is a reforming Parliament, one that will restore trust in our democracy. There is a yearning for that, and I am afraid that what is on offer at the moment is not going to satisfy the real feelings of unhappiness among the general public. I urge the Government to think again about some kind of democratic reform, particularly of the electoral system.
My Lords, the general tone of this debate suggests that in what we must hope is the aftermath of the traumatic events which have affected Parliament recently, the time is ripe not only for specific reforms but also for a general review of the way in which our procedures may be improved. I support enthusiastically the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, that we should look at how we in this House might follow the lead set by the Select Committee on Public Administration in another place to improve how we operate.
I have had the privilege of serving on two committees, one on the Speakership and the other a Joint Committee on the conventions between the two Houses, the first chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and the second by the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham. I would like to say that the duties which the first committee on the Speakership laid on the holder of that office have been admirably and imaginatively fulfilled by the present Lord Speaker, but it was also the case that the committee was strongly against the idea that we should have a House of Commons-type Speaker. I believe that that is still so, but I detect some feeling that perhaps it would not be stretching matters too far if the Lord Speaker were to fulfil the functions which at present are carried out by the Whips at Question Time.
It is important that the Questions should continue to rotate around the House, but it should be possible for the Lord Speaker to intervene without making any fundamental change in how we operate. What is absolutely crucial is that we should not follow the House of Commons in how it organises Question Time. It is much better to have half an hour with only four Questions because it is far easier to pin down a Minister than it is in the other place where the moment someone gets the Minister on the run, the Question changes to the next one. That our system is better was revealed very clearly the other day when the Minister was determined not to say yes or no, but eventually was forced to say one or the other and in fact got it wrong. Be that as it may, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, among a number of good suggestions, seemed to indicate that we might go along this route. I think that it would be at the very least worth considering.
The second committee I served on looked at the conventions between the two Houses. We need to reappraise the position, not only in the sense of the conventions but more widely. The reality of the situation is that many Members of this House have great experience of the other place, but the level of ignorance over there about what goes on here is quite appalling. It is rare to see a Member of the other place at the Bar of the House; indeed, the only occasion when one normally sees them is at the State Opening. In the light of their experience, it would not be surprising if they believed that we are in robes all the time surrounded by ladies in tiaras. Alas, I am afraid that it is also the view of the public. Despite the efforts of the Lord Speaker’s department to provide members of the press with photographs, they continue to publish pictures of the State Opening, describing it as the “House of Lords”. It is very misleading in terms of how we operate.
There are other, more important issues to consider in the relationship between the two Houses, in particular the whole question of programming. Before 1997, if the Government felt that the Opposition was filibustering or if something was really urgent, they would put down a guillotine motion. It would be debated for half a day and a vote was taken at the end. Only four or five times a year at the most did they go through this procedure, which was a considerable sanction. But since 1997, everything has been programmed and the time available has not been sufficient for the House of Commons to debate matters properly. MPs have been prevented by the Government from doing their legislative job. Bills arrive in this place completely unscrutinised, with large parts ignored. The result is that we are not really a revising Chamber; on many Bills we are the primary legislative Chamber. We pass a huge mass of amendments; they go back to the other place and all but a handful are immediately accepted. It is clear that scrutiny ought to have been done by the House of Commons in the first place.
I hope that the committee to which I referred earlier, under Dr Tony Wright, will say simply that programming must stop. It is particularly appropriate that it should do so at this moment because programming is very popular with the Government—it makes life a great deal easier—and it will be a temptation for whichever party is in power after the next election to continue programming. A strong recommendation from the committee in the other place would be helpful in avoiding that. At the moment, it has totally distorted the workload balance between the two Houses.
A proposal has been put forward to publish yet another draft on House of Lords reform. It is very sad that we did not manage to get through in the previous Session the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which dealt with what needed to be done. However, the Government are still determined to press ahead with proposals for an elected or partly elected Chamber on the basis of a vote which they said at the time would be an indicative vote. They have now taken it as a definitive vote, overlooking the fact that the official policy of the Labour Party was not supported by a majority of Labour Members in either House, and that the official policy of the Conservative Party was not supported by a majority of Conservative Members in another place and was overwhelmingly opposed by a majority in this place. The Government are acting as though that situation justifies entirely pressing ahead with the proposals they would like to see. I hope that does not come to pass.
Finally, the Joint Committee on Conventions spent an enormous amount of time discussing the Salisbury/Addison convention in regard to manifestos. On reflection, I think we reached the wrong conclusion on that, although I supported it at the time. The doctrine of the manifesto is now absurd. I tried to table a Question today on how many manifestos were printed and how many were sold. It took me in the last election five days even to get hold of a Labour Party manifesto. The idea that they are all read avidly and everyone signs up clause by clause, not as it used to be for a page and a half but for a volume of proposals, is absurd. The Government say, “It is the will of the people; we must go ahead”. It is high time we treated the doctrine of the manifesto with the contempt it probably deserves.
My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for my absence at the start of the debate. I was plunged into the crisis in Cumbria in order to respond to the Government’s Statement at that time.
I wish to concentrate on eight words from the Queen’s Speech. They are:
“will continue to devolve more powers to Wales”.
I ask the questions: how and when?
Devolution in Wales is undoubtedly a success and the current opinion polls confirm it. I have been involved in campaigning for a Welsh Parliament since the 1950s and I took part in the 1979 and 1997 referendums. Progress was so slow, frankly, as to be painful. Indeed, it was only the door opened by the agreement between my noble friend Lord Maclennan and Robin Cook which produced the possibility of a referendum on an Assembly for Wales. The Government of Wales Act 1998 was embryonic. There was no separation between the Assembly and the Executive but, in their coalition with Labour, the Liberal Democrats advocated a commission to investigate this. The Richard Commission under the noble Lord, Lord Richard, produced a splendid report containing an ideal template for a Welsh Parliament, with primary legislative powers, an 80 Member Assembly and election by single transferable vote.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on the wonderful work that he did at that time. Unfortunately, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Wales Office lacked the courage to incorporate those principles into the Government of Wales Act 2006. They settled for a compromise with the Welsh Labour Party, some Labour MPs being opposed to more powers and some in favour. The current system of legislative competence orders is cumbersome and time-consuming, and subject to veto by the Secretary of State. It should be a fundamental principle that powers for domestic legislation should reside in Wales, not in Westminster. If we have a Welsh legislature, why does it not have the competence to legislate for functions in Wales without seeking approval for every dot and comma of a legislative competence order—for such things as rubbish disposal and education—from Westminster? It is demeaning.
We must now, 10 years after the Assembly’s creation, introduce the Scottish model of governance, whereby certain domestic functions are written into the competence of the Welsh Assembly, as specified in the Government of Wales Act 1998 and reinforced by the Government of Wales Act 2006. Education and other important matters should surely be within the total competence of a Welsh Assembly, with certain functions being excluded as in the Scottish model; for example, foreign affairs, defence, social security and other matters. It is crucial, too, that the Barnett formula is resolved on a basis of needs. The Barnett Formula Select Committee in this House has endorsed that. We believe that it should go ahead, and I hope that it will.
The current position creates economic disadvantages for Wales. Its gross domestic product has fallen to less than 80 per cent of the UK average. Its average income is £4,000 less than that of the UK, and much less on a family basis. The resolution of these financial problems is vital. We need economic and infrastructural support which we do not have.
We should introduce a Bank of Wales. There is no better time to do it because the Government own two banks. Such a move could be greatly advantageous, because we have a public sector-based economy, with many people reliant on it. When the cuts come after the general election, we fear for our employment in Wales. Wales is crying out for private sector employment. Progress on making available risk capital and working capital for business start-ups has been lamentable. The encouragement of local entrepreneurship is vital. Far too many branch operations in Wales are far too easy to close down. Wales needs its own banking sector to help create Welsh-based industries. The Labour Government have missed out in their inability to deploy sufficient Objective 1 capital into the private sector. However, Wales also needs co-operative enterprise and companies with employee share-ownership. It is no fluke that the original John Lewis was a Welshman. We need legislative powers to create that kind of economy.
We now have an opportunity, because on the same day as the Queen’s Speech, which devoted a mere eight words to Wales, with a vague reference to devolving more powers, the report of the All Wales Convention was published. That substantial document, produced by a convention group chaired by Sir Emyr Jones Parry, came out unanimously in favour of more powers for the Assembly and concluded that a referendum, provided for in Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, could be won. What more evidence do the Government require? The report states at the beginning that the choice for the public debate focused on two issues:
“Firstly, the current arrangements, where the National Assembly for Wales acquires powers to make laws step by step, with the permission of the UK Parliament”—
which is the current situation—
“Or for the National Assembly for Wales to get powers to make laws in all 20 areas all at once after an affirmative vote in a referendum”.
That is backed by the Jones Parry report.
A referendum should be held in the autumn of 2010. I believe that it will be won and that Wales will get a legislature with full primary law-making powers based on the Scottish model. Now is the time for boldness to secure justice for Wales.
My Lords, I am glad to follow my noble friend Lord Livsey of Talgarth, who knows a great deal about Wales. I recollect his famous campaign for election to another place—the Brecon by-election in 1984. I led the forces ranged against him and failed.
As our three British party-political leaders ponder how much further devolved government they wish to offer the Celtic nations, I hope that they have pondered the implications for British governance of the Scottish Government’s decision to repatriate the Libyan Lockerbie terrorist. The Scottish Government had their way; they were not deflected. They did what they set out to do, notwithstanding the strong feelings and furore across Britain. Arguably, it was the first major test of a devolved Government. The Scots passed the test, it seems—but what of British governance? The consequences were major for relationships between London and Washington. The actions of the Scottish Government impacted on the so-called special relationship between Britain and the United States, and Washington will not forget the matter. A British Cabinet, consequent on its own actions, appeared rendered unqualified on an issue of high British foreign policy. An Edinburgh Government had their way, according to law. But did Britain gain?
As the general election approaches and the devolution policies are fashioned and fleshed out in a highly competitive atmosphere by party leaders, can we be sure that for the sake of good future British governance the lessons of Libya and Lockerbie have been learnt? So far, in terms of delivery, devolved government has been a success in Britain—certainly in Wales. Importantly, proportional representation was factored into the devolution settlements with the Celtic nations, so today—astoundingly—the nationalist parties of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are in office, controlling or sharing power.
As a Minister campaigning in the 1979 referendum for a yes vote, one would never have believed that there would be additional parliaments in the 21st century overseeing complicated public services and colossal, unimaginable budgets of billions. Indeed, in Wales, so decisive in 1979 was the referendum no that the then Secretary of State for Wales ruefully remarked post-referendum that you cannot ignore the elephant on your doorstep. To set up the new Wales Assembly, the then Welsh Office and British Home Civil Service performed wonderfully well. The Wales Assembly Government took their opportunities sure-footedly; the first Ministers, Alun Michael and, subsequently, Rhodri Morgan, have much to be proud of. They made national history.
Your Lordships may know of our great national hero, Owain Glyndwr, who led a Wales-wide rebellion against the Lancastrian Henry Bolingbroke—that is, Henry IV. Glyndwr actually set up a parliament in the Merioneth fortress at Machynlleth. He called for a university in the north and in the south and proposed bishops for Wales. King Henry railed at the allusive guerrilla tactics of Owain Glyndwr, whom in royal frustration he described as “the magician”. It was, however, not to be. The insurrection failed.
For Wales to gain a semblance of self-government took 600 years. It took the historic 1944 Education Act; it took Wales-based radio and television, the BBC and ITV in Wales; and it took Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s establishment of the Welsh Office, led by the great Secretary of State for Wales, James Griffiths, the then Member for Llanelli. These were the platforms on which the advance to devolved government in Cardiff was secured.
How far should the Wales Assembly go? Is Britain on a de facto road to federalism? Do the Government know that? Do they perceive that? I hope that our Westminster Government are considering the next moves carefully, with some wisdom and over time. They have certainly proposed a sound gracious Speech. As my noble friend the Minister has said, they are a Government seeking a fair and just society.
My Lords, I wish to speak briefly on the Bribery Bill. I support it strongly in principle but it raises several problems and it is important that it is properly scrutinised by Parliament. I was a member, along with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, of the Joint Committee that carried out pre-legislative scrutiny between May and July. I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, on his excellent chairmanship, which managed to get us through. However, as the Government admit, it was a very rushed timetable and the fact that by tradition such Joint Committees produce so-called “unanimous” reports should not cause us to think that there are not serious issues still to be debated.
It may be said that the draft Bill in different forms has twice been considered by the Law Commission, which has done valuable work, but it is Parliament that is responsible for getting legislation right and which collectively has far more legislative understanding than any external body. One of the things that has been lacking over recent years has been any Minister or law officer who has taken a personal grip on the Bill. I urge the Attorney-General now to do so.
In the few minutes available, I wish to make two points. The first is that the definition of “bribery”, which takes up the whole of the first three clauses of the Bill, is unduly complex. In its report, the Law Commission rightly said that 95 per cent of the population—remember, that is more than 11 out of 12 of a jury—know instinctively what is meant by “bribery and corruption”. The Director of Public Prosecutions, although he says that he supports the Bill, has written to the Joint Committee confirming that his inquiries show that in the past 15 years the straightforward words of the present legislation have caused no practical problems for prosecutors, and I can say from my personal knowledge, which goes back to 1979, that they caused no problem throughout that period. While overseas is a little different, the challenge with regard to bribery in this country has been not the legislation but the difficulty of getting hold of the necessary evidence and the need for fraud investigation group—that is, the Serious Fraud Office—type skills in presenting it.
My point is that the long definition in the draft Bill is unnecessarily complex and in terms that only an experienced lawyer can disentangle. In defining one of the nastiest non-violent crimes on the statute book, it makes no mention of dishonesty. Its key ingredient is “impropriety”, a word that in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary has around a dozen different meanings, only one or two of which approach criminality. “Improper” and “impropriety” are then subdivided in the Bill into a series of subcategories—good faith, impartiality, breach of trust, breach of a relevant expectation—all of which may indeed be criminal provided that dishonesty is present, but otherwise may fall short of criminality. Indeed, some, such as impartiality, may be perfectly proper, or at least within expected norms, such as a supermarket planning application that offers a more generous planning gain than its competitor.
The second point concerns the effect of a conviction on an international business and the case for or against prosecutorial guidance. We received some evidence on that in committee. The harsh reality is that, quite apart from the proper desire to stamp out corruption, one of the major driving forces behind the real changes introduced by the Bill concerns international competition and the immensely competitive world of international trade, including the international arms trade in which we cannot escape the fact that the UK, the USA, Germany, France and others are very big players. Other major areas of business such as banking, mining, computers, medical exports and high-tech exports generally play a part.
Pressure for this Bill comes rightly from those, and I am one of them, who deplore and wish to stamp out the huge amount of bribery that is alleged to have gone on in those fields. Pressure also comes from the USA, which led the world with its unfair commercial practices Act 1977, and from others, who can see us as trailing behind. But the OECD resolution to which we are signatories and our obligations under EU law that incorporate that resolution into our own law—it was sadly abused by Tony Blair when he intervened in the BAE Systems case—provide that any individual or business that is convicted of the bribery is thenceforward forbidden even to bid for such contracts, even if the conviction is the result of its voluntary self-accusation, which is encouraged.
The USA and Germany have both devised schemes to avoid or at least reduce that effect either by so-called pre-contract clearance by prosecutors, as in the USA, or by a system of deferred judgment by the courts, which operates in Germany. How do the Government propose that the United Kingdom should tackle this issue to achieve a level playing field? I look forward to the Minister or the Attorney-General replying on those two issues and ask him or her, if they are not sufficiently briefed immediately, to write to me and to others interested in this Bill setting out the Government’s response. Those are only two of a number of important issues raised by the Bill. I hope to try to help in their resolution at Second Reading, in Committee and at later stages of the Bill.
My Lords, there is once again reference in the gracious Speech to penal matters, and on this occasion it is in relation to ASBOs and linking them to parenting orders and knife crime. Putting these issues together in isolation from their particular context is characteristic of how penal affairs have been dealt with in the past few years when we have had multifaceted bills which lack an overall cohesion, but include piecemeal responses by the Government to specific issues which have recently hit the headlines, as seems to be the case here, too.
This use of legislation raises worrying questions about the lack of a coherent, consistent vision of what the Government are trying to achieve, which in turn undermines wider confidence and trust in what the Government are doing to make Britain a safer place both now and in the future. That is particularly true of the Government's approach to custody.
Government policy on the use of custody for people found guilty by the courts is very clear: only the most dangerous, violent and prolific offenders from whom we need protection should go to prison, and all the rest should be dealt with by means of community-based disposals. What is actually happening, however, is a contradiction of that policy, with the prison population now at an all-time high of 84,500 people, resulting in unprecedented and unacceptable levels of prison overcrowding, making it impossible for the Prison Service to do the good job for which it was designed.
Who are these people causing the prisons to burst at the seams? Can they all really be so violent, dangerous and prolific as policy states they should be? Of course not. In 2008, nearly 29,000 people were serving only three months or less, and still more were sent to prison for six or 12 months. These are not dangerous and violent offenders from whom we should be protected, but in large part they reflect the dozens of Bills and thousands of offences which have been created over the life of this Government. This is enormously costly—in 2008, prisons expenditure was £3.8 billion and rising—and does considerable damage not only to society at large but to the thousands of prisoners and their families inappropriately caught up in the custodial net. The social cost is incalculable. Yet, amazingly, over the life of this Government the number of people found guilty by the courts has actually fallen, while the prison population has soared. Quite simply, ever more people are going to prison for less serious offences and for longer.
Meanwhile, what about the other part of the Government’s policy; that community-based disposals should be used for the great majority of non-violent, non-dangerous or prolific offenders? The truth is that this excellent, effective policy has been systematically undermined by the Government's own lack of committed, focused or remotely adequate investment, development or support for the providers of these disposals. This includes the probation service, which is the national agency with responsibility for the management of offenders in the community and is now enormously stretched, a great range of very able third sector organisations and the private sector. A great deal of evidence has accumulated that community-based alternatives work better. Not only do they do less damage to society as families are kept together, people’s homes are not lost and jobs are retained, they are far cheaper to deliver and, most importantly of all, reoffending rates are significantly lower. This is what really matters as it is the official criterion used to measure the success of any intervention and is an indication of how society is being made safer.
In fact, just under half of all prisoners reoffend. In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, announced a drop in reoffending—that is true—but failed to put it in the context of a drop from an unacceptable high to a still unacceptable level. This includes up to 60 per cent reoffending by those who serve less than 12 months. Among our youngest, most troubled young children, who we also think fit to incarcerate, the figure is as high as 80 per cent—they just do it again. Yet Rethinking Crime and Punishment, which I chaired for seven years, published a booklet last year describing just some of the pockets of outstanding community-based work going on the length of the country which had won prizes for good practice awarded by the Howard League. The results speak for themselves. They work, with rates of people who do not reoffend as high as 75 per cent and 80 per cent—or rates of 25 per cent or 20 per cent who reoffend. It is heartbreaking to note that this valuable and important part of government policy is not being prioritised, but is undermined in the quality of delivery and in the minds of sentencers by the lack of adequate resources for the Government’s own policy.
In these days of economic downturn, all departments of the Ministry of Justice under NOMS, including the probation service and prisons, have to find savings in their operations amounting to some £171 million. Somehow we expected that. But, at the same time, we did not expect Jack Straw to announce that £1 billion is to be allocated to the new prison building programme. Why £1 billion is not being put into the positive, cost-effective and infinitely less socially damaging part of the Government’s policy which actually works, and would in turn make it possible to reduce prison numbers far quicker than it takes to build a new prison, and reduce the need for any building, is utterly baffling. It demonstrates a government policy which is incoherent, inconsistent, incomprehensible and wrong.
Apart from this evidence, the Government naturally want to respond to public pressure and demands. Here again it appears that the Government are getting it wrong, because the evidence of public opinion, through a range of studies, shows that while the public finds it difficult to believe that crime is falling, only 11 per cent think that a greater use of custody would do most to reduce crime. The public is not nearly as retributive or punitive as the Government appear to believe. Instead, the influence of the red-top newspapers has had a greater impact on what the Government believe, with lurid reporting extolling prison as the only real punishment and dismissing alternatives as a soft option. Offending which is not dangerous, violent or prolific is much less likely to recur when offenders have served a sentence in the community. If the Government want to show that they can be tough on crime, they must realise that prison for the majority of offenders is not effective toughness, but rather it is the toughness of sanctions that reduce reoffending that the public want implemented. So far, we have yet to see policies which are consistent or able to deliver just that.
My Lords, as we know, the gracious Speech refers to a draft Bill on reform of the House of Lords, but more experienced political pundits than myself tell me that it has absolutely no chance of getting through. First, this is a draft Bill and there is no chance of an actual Bill getting through in this Session. If the Conservative Party gains power, I am told that it will not bring forward proposals for House of Lords reform until its third term. As we all know, the policy of the Conservative Party in no way reflects the views of Members of the House of Lords, let alone the country. The kind of strong arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, are widely shared across this House and the country. If the Labour Party remains in power, it will be with only a small majority. It will not use up a huge amount of energy to drive House of Lords reform through this House against the opposition that has previously been shown.
Does that mean that House of Lords reform will be stalled for another 100 years? Does this matter? Many of us believe that the House is working quite well—perhaps better than it has done before. Nevertheless, I wonder whether, like me, noble Lords have one or two worries. First, there is the sheer size of the House of Lords. If the Conservative Party wins the next election, at least 25 new Peers will have to be created to ensure a majority over the major opposition party. We are all living longer, so the House of Lords is inevitably getting bigger, with more Peers coming in. Is the size making it unworkable?
Secondly, some noble Lords who were here on Wednesday will remember the remarkable speech by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. He coined a new term, which should be accompanied by gestures, when he said:
“‘Pouffe’ is what happens when a notable talent joins the Prime Minister’s Government ... They appear at the Dispatch Box; we all admire them—and then ‘pouffe’. The noble Lord, Lord Jones—‘pouffe’. The noble Lord, Lord Carter—‘pouffe’”.—[Official Report, 18/11/09; col. 15.]
And so it went on.
I am all in favour of talent being brought in to the House of Lords, and I am very glad to see the noble Lord, Lord West, because we very much admire his talent and are very glad that he is here. Long may he remain here and long may he remain on the Front Bench. However, the problem, as we know, is that some Ministers are here for a year or two and then suddenly disappear. It poses the question of whether noble Lords should be appointed for life.
Given that we seem to be totally stalled on major reform of the House of Lords, we should return to the Wakeham report. The Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords, chaired so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and on which I had the great privilege of serving, made a number of proposals that could be taken very seriously even now, when radical reform appears to be stalled for a long time.
The first suggestion—I know that this is shocking—is separation of the membership of the second House from the peerage. One proposal of the Wakeham report was that possession of a peerage should no longer be a necessary qualification for membership of the second Chamber, and that new Members should not necessarily be offered a peerage. People could be offered a peerage, but they would not have to be offered one.
The second proposal that I shall draw attention to is in some ways no less radical. It is that membership of the second Chamber should be not for life, but for 15 years. Whether a person comes into the second Chamber by election or appointment, it should be for 15 years and not for life. It was interesting that although the members of the commission, when they started, had totally opposed views about whether the second Chamber should be appointed or elected, all were unanimous about these two proposals—separation from the peerage and appointments not for life but for a long term, say 15 years, with the possibility of renewal under exceptional circumstances.
Although House of Lords reform has been stalled now for 100 years, there have been significant incremental changes over that period, such as the Parliament Act of 1911, the Salisbury convention, the Life Peerages Act 1958, the gradual phasing out of the hereditaries and the creation this year of the Supreme Court. My proposal is simple. Given that radical reform seems to be stalled, we should think in terms of more incremental reforms if we are not to wait for another 100 years. We need to look again at the Wakeham report. Whatever the House of Commons finally decides about composition—whether it is by election, appointment or some kind of hybrid as the Wakeham commission recommended—it will be compatible with separation from the peerage and appointments for a long term, say 15 years, rather than for life. These two proposals in the Wakeham commission report should be looked at again, given the fact that radical reform looks to be stalled for the next decade or two.
My Lords, it is a sheer privilege and pleasure to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, who enlivens the House. I agree with everything that he said, albeit that I have been here for 20 years and am 92. I accept totally what he says about 15-year terms, although I am a bit over the limit.
I was going to speak about the separation of powers and how it impacts on and affects the governance of the realm by the introduction of Bills—not only the Bills in the gracious Speech, to which I am not speaking, but other Bills too. The separation of powers involves setting up a constitutional court on the extended jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, which has been spoken about by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers. This is in a sense a revival of the spirit of the Pilgrim Fathers and Thomas Paine. It is a new dawn for all Her Majesty’s subjects of whatever political persuasion or none, and it could well affect the acknowledged function of your Lordships’ House as guardian of the constitution to divert the exercise from amendments to delay a Bill towards an application to the constitutional court for approval of what would have been the substance of such putative amendments. It is entitlement of a totally new dimension.
A constitutional court devises its own procedures to afford the requisite flexibility. It may reform or shield our constitution from political junketing and from the imposition of prime ministerial decrees, which erode, and perhaps debilitate or even destroy, the constitution, as they are made without consultation with either Parliament or the Government. It is a new hope for all those subjects of Her Majesty of whatever political persuasion or none.
I do not suppose that anyone is very interested but I shall try to be short about what I have to say. This is, to my mind, a crucial subject—it concerns the awakening of an entitlement to a better way of governance. A couple of amendments that have been lying around and have been spoken to in your Lordships’ House could well qualify for reference to the constitutional court. One is the segregation of the combined appointment of the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Justice. The other concerns the restoration of the entitlement of the Lord Chancellor, at the conversion of policy into law, to advise the Cabinet and the Secretary of State as to the withdrawal or amendment of a Bill for want of conformity to constitutional principle and the rule of law. Nobody—even here—could say that that is not relevant to the governance of the realm.
The constitutional court’s decisions are not subject to the supranational jurisdiction of the federal Supreme Court as they are concerned with unwritten, ever- evolving constitutions of a constitutional monarchy. They cannot apply to the written constitutions of the EU member states, so we cannot be subservient to the jurisdictions of that court.
There is not much time to deal with what my noble friend Lord Kingsland said about the two issues to which I referred, and which I know the Minister knows. With seven on the clock, I shall just give the reference, which is Official Report, 18 November 2008, cols. 1123-24. Everything that my noble friend said is there. He was a veritable master of the esoteric art of forensic persuasion, and he did it much better than I can at this hour.
If the Lord Chancellor’s entitlement, which was slighted into abeyance by the setting up of a combined appointment, were to be restored, first it has not been abrogated by statute; secondly, there would be no need to have any conflict with extant statutory provision; and lastly, by virtue of the statutory retention of the Great Seal—it was the only amendment accepted by the Government of my many amendments to that Bill. It was accepted and maintained the office of the Lord Chancellor that the then Prime Minister sought to abolish in June 2005. I conclude with deference to the Supreme Court, the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, which I respectfully suggest would have to make applications to the court, and to my noble friend Lord Kingsland.
My Lords, in 1964, there was a change of Government after the Conservatives had been in power for 13 years. The Labour Party under Harold Wilson had campaigned on the message of change using the slogan “thirteen wasted years”. We are now approaching a general election some 13 years after the current Government were elected.
When it comes to constitutional changes, I could not go so far as to suggest that the entire period since 1997 has been wasted. We now have the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the London Mayor and Assembly. All of them, including our Members of the European Parliament, are elected by better means than first past the post. However, on the key constitutional issues of giving voters the power to choose how their MPs are elected and the power to choose Members of your Lordships’ House, it is clear that three large majorities in three Parliaments have been wasted over these 13 years. The lack of measures in the gracious Speech to implement real political reform means that many of the high hopes from 1997 have finally been dashed.
In 1996 and early 1997 I served as the joint secretary on a consultative committee established between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats to consider the process of implementing constitutional reform in the likely event that the then Conservative Government were defeated. The committee was jointly chaired by my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart and the late and much missed Robin Cook. My opposite number was Pat McFadden, now an MP but then Tony Blair's adviser on constitutional affairs. Its membership included the present Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, the late Donald Dewar, the noble Baronesses, Lady Symons and Lady Taylor of Bolton, the noble Lords, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Lord Plant, together with my noble friends Lord McNally, Lord Lester and Lord Wallace, and others including my good friend Nick Harvey and several constitutional experts.
A number of proposals were agreed by this committee and outlined publicly prior to the general election, on the basis that constitutional change was best brought forward by more than one party, and not simply on the basis that a party could be accused of manipulating change simply for its own benefit. Key among its recommendations, it was agreed that the issue of which proportional alternative to the present first past the post electoral system was to be determined by a commission established soon after the general election. This agreement was included in the Labour Party manifesto of 1997, which stated:
“We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed early to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system”.
That commission was created and it was chaired by the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, and it included the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, the late Lord Alexander of Weedon and Sir John Chilcot. They did their job. But the Government have not done the job that was the basis on which they were elected.
The gracious Speech again showed that this promise would not be delivered in the 13 years in which this Government could have acted. It need not have been so. The current Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, called in the Times in May last year for the referendum to be held on polling day in the general election, so that the issue could be considered in the same way as it is in many other countries. He argued:
“The adoption of AV+ would shift the political focus currently concentrated almost exclusively on a few swing voters in a handful of marginal seats. It would end the perversity of the party with the most votes nationally forming the opposition rather than the government, as has happened twice since the war”.
With respect to reform of the system for choosing MPs, it has been 13 wasted years, and the gracious Speech was another disappointment. This period, however, is relatively short compared to the hundred years or so of waiting for both Labour and Conservative Governments to complete the reforms of your Lordships’ House begun by a great reforming Liberal Government in 1910.
I suspect that many of us enjoy entertaining guests in the Palace of Westminster and conducting them on a tour. As my guests arrive at the Peers’ entrance, they often ask me about the process of reform of the House of Lords, and I begin the tour by showing them how, when I first arrived in this House in 1999, we had to share coat pegs in the cloakroom. It was one coat peg between two. With the reform of the House of Lords and the removal of most of the hereditaries, we now have our own coat pegs. That is how I illustrate the progress of reform of the House of Lords.
However, much more significant reform should have been expected and it should not have taken a further 10 years to end the hereditary principle altogether. We should by now have seen elections for at least a substantial element of the membership of this House. In any event, the House should be much more representative of the voting opinions and the composition of the country than it is today. Women have been appointed as life Peers since 1958 and more than half of your Lordships’ House has been appointed since 1997, yet the proportion of women in your Lordships’ House is just one in five. In any legislature in the 21st century, that is a disgrace. The promised publication of a draft Bill on Lords reform is simply a reflection that so much of the past 13 years has indeed been wasted. People seeking real reform of our political institutions should take note of those failures in the forthcoming general election.
My Lords, I break with my personal tradition by not speaking on European affairs in the debate on the Address this year. I shall speak on constitutional affairs, although I shall make one exception under a legal heading and congratulate the Government on the introduction of the Bribery Bill. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate, indicated, it is a difficult, but necessary, Bill that will deal not only with international bribery but with the home-grown variety, which needs to be dealt with in legislation of this kind. It is traditional to range widely during the debate on the Address but, as the 40th speaker, I shall finish in time for the all-night bus.
At the outset, I shall refer briefly to some of the important constitutional changes that the present Government have brought about during their term of office. Recently, the Secretary of State for Justice and the Minister have claimed credit for the Government for those changes, and it is fair to do so because they are significant. The creation of the Supreme Court separate from the House of Lords and the major devolution of government to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are changes of the highest importance. Furthermore, the gracious Speech commits the Government to greater devolution by stating that the Government will take forward proposals in the final report from the Commission on Scottish Devolution, will continue to devolve more powers to Wales and will continue to work with Northern Ireland’s leaders to complete the devolution of policing and justice there. Since most of us do not see our constitution as a single entity, these changes have been seen as individual events but, in reality, they create what is, in a sense, a new constitution with a federal element for, while retaining our single national identity, we are closer to the model that prevails widely in the developed world; for example, in Canada or the Federal Republic of Germany.
The open questions that remain are, first, the extent to which locally elected government in the English regions can be given greater powers and flexibility, not, in my view, by administrative change—I share the view of my noble friend Lord Mawson on this point—but by ensuring less tight control by central government; and, secondly, the relationship between Government and Parliament. Recent events on expenses in the House of Commons have obviously affected the people’s trust in their Parliament, but I remain a strong advocate of the view that the role and powers of Parliament should be increased. That is, of course, what the Government are proposing in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, but in one or two respects, it does not go far enough.
Although we shall have a chance before long to examine the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in detail in this House with a view to its passing into law before the general election, as I believe is likely, I will comment selectively on some of its constitutional elements. I leave aside subject matter that is favourably looked upon in this House—namely, the future of the House of Lords—although I very much welcome the fact that the Bill contains the practical changes that were in the Private Member’s Bill presented by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, and which are now in the Government’s Bill.
I was a member of the Joint Committee of both Houses that examined the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill—it had another title then, but it was much the same—and produced an excellent pre-legislative report. Many said at the time that it was a mixture of many different elements and there was not much of a common theme. Well, so be it. That remains true and it would be quite wrong to consider it a complete constitutional Bill, but it contains some welcome proposals for real constitutional changes that may deserve more attention than they have received so far.
First, the Bill contains the substantive Civil Service Bill—I declare an interest as I was a UK civil servant for many years. Many thought that this would never arrive. However, it has arrived. As we know, it is 155 years since Northcote-Trevelyan recommended a statutory basis for the Civil Service, but 155 years is not long in the history of our country.
The Bill proposes a statutory basis for the management of the Civil Service and gives Parliament a role in the new system. Its formula is quite simple and, in my view, good. It requires the Minister for the Civil Service to publish a code that will be laid before Parliament and that will form part of the terms and conditions of service of any civil servant whom it covers. Similar provisions apply to the Diplomatic Service code which the Secretary of State must publish and lay before Parliament.
Perhaps more controversial is the treatment of special advisers and in particular their numbers. The Joint Committee suggested in paragraph 296 of its report an indirect method of limiting the total numbers—an issue that could be dealt with satisfactorily in the Bill. I wanted to signal the importance of this point about the Civil Service in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, and I am surprised that it has not had greater attention publicly.
Briefly, there are two other areas in which the role of Parliament should be increased. One, which relates to treaties, is in the Bill; the other, which relates to war-making powers, is not. I support the proposal that a treaty should not be ratified unless it has been published and laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days, during which time either House could resolve that it should not be ratified. The clauses in the Bill do not put an absolute lock on government action, for example in exceptional cases. None the less, this is a significant step forward in formalising a statutory role for Parliament in treaties. The definition of a treaty may prove to be a bit difficult, but I definitely consider it a step forward, as I said.
My final point relates to something that is not in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill: Parliament’s control over war-making powers. I raise the point because it was considered by the pre-legislative scrutiny committee and has been considered earlier in the context of this type of legislation. The Joint Committee on the Bill, like the Constitution Committee of this House, concluded that the Government’s proposal for a detailed war-powers resolution was the best way to proceed. I understand that point, but I bear in mind that we are legislating not for the past but for the future, and the public, following the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan, will look to Parliament for the strengthened surveillance of any proposed conflict decision and deployment of our forces.
In the Government’s document CM7690, they state that,
“the Government does not rule out legislation in future”,
I hope that that is not an empty phrase; but shows that this vital issue for our country will be regularly reviewed and will take full account of the effective role for Parliament, the effective voice for Parliament and public unease on these issues.
My Lords, I also share the disappointment of my noble friend Lord Rennard that there is no mention of a change in the electoral system in the Queen’s Speech. We are still living in an age with a system that goes back 200 years. We are trying to run a modern democracy on a dinosaur of a system. In 1832, the Great Reform Act doubled the electorate from half a million to 1 million, which is all that it did. In 1867, the electorate was increased to 2.5 million. In 1884, agricultural workers were added and the electoral total went up to 5 million. In 1918, the great leap forward came when women aged over 30 were given the vote and the total electorate became 21 million. In 1928, women and men aged over 21 could vote and the number increased to 28 million. In 1960, 18 year-olds were added and today the total electorate is in the region of 45 million.
We are using a system devised for half a million people for an electorate that is now 45 million. The system goes back to the two-party set-up—Whigs and Tories, later Liberals and Conservatives—which meant that there were straight fights in every constituency. So, if you had more than 50 per cent of the vote, you would fairly be elected. The number of unopposed returns surprised me. In 1900, there were 243 unopposed returns. In 1918, there were 107 and in 1935 there was the last large number of unopposed returns—40. In 1910, Wales had only one three-cornered fight, which was in Swansea. Otherwise, it was straight fights all the way. Perhaps I may suggest that a system devised for two parties is not fit for purpose in a multiparty situation.
From 1922, with the formation of Labour, three-cornered contests became the norm. Now you did not need 50 per cent to win a seat. As time progressed, Scotland and Wales, with the addition of nationalist candidates, had four-cornered contests. In 1992, my late colleague, Lord Russell-Johnston, won Inverness with only 26 per cent of the votes. As we know, England now has many seats where there are four, five or more candidates. A system devised for just two parties, with one certainly getting 50 per cent of the votes, is now completely untenable. In 2005, only 47 per cent of electors voted for a candidate who won. Therefore, more than half—53 per cent—voted for candidates who failed. Of the Members of Parliaments returned, 426 gained less than half the votes in their constituency. The system is clearly unfit for purpose.
The Labour Party and the Conservative Party admit this when they elect their own leadership. They never elect a leader on a first-past-the-post basis. They will go to a second and a third vote. If necessary, they will go to a fourth vote. If a system is not satisfactory for their own elections, why do they maintain its use for parliamentary elections to Westminster?
I know that there is opposition to electoral reform and that some of my warmest colleagues tonight take an entirely different view from me. But it was the new system in Wales and Scotland that saved the Conservative Party from oblivion. In the first elections held in 1999, without a top-up system there would not have been a single Conservative in the Welsh Assembly and only one in the Scottish Parliament. So if it is useful to have a different system for the Parliaments of Wales and Scotland, why do we continue to reject such a fair voting system for the Westminster Parliament?
We are living in a country that is far more diverse than it was 200 or even 50 years ago. We are multicultural, multifaith and multinationality. Should we not ensure the fair representation of such a wide range of communities? With one member for each constituency, we are not going to get that fairness. One party will take the whole victory. If we want harmony between communities, to reflect electoral support and to foster a sense of belonging in all members of those communities, we need a system that reflects them. That means a multimember system, and I do not see any alternative. There are many ways of doing it, and we can discuss them. Even in Northern Ireland, Members of the European Parliament are elected using a PR system so that no one is rejected because they feel that they are not represented. Unlike in Inverness in 1992 where 26 per cent of the people elected the Member of Parliament, STV would mean that 70 to 80 per cent of the electors would cast an effective vote. Surely that is a fair system for these times, one where people generally feel that they have a stake in Parliament, which they do not under the present system. They would under a fairer one.
I shall quote from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights where it states:
“Everyone has a right to take part in the government of his country”.
Nobody is left outside and nobody is in a minority. At the moment we are engaged in a campaign in this House to make sure that all members of our Armed Forces, whether they are serving at home or overseas, have an effective vote in the coming general and local elections. I hope that we will be able to devise a system to ensure that. But it would be sad if, having got ballot papers out to Afghanistan or wherever else it might be, those votes did not count in the end. I know that there are long-standing prejudices to this sort of new electoral system, but it is essential in a much enlarged constituency and a multifaith country that some change is made that is meaningful in the 21st century.
My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend Lady O’Loan on her maiden speech. I worked with her when she was the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and I think that her arrival in this House will be a great advantage to us.
Recently at dinner I sat next to my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who is not in his place this evening. He gave me a ticking off, saying that I had not been speaking often enough in your Lordships’ House. I might say that that was not my first reprimand. As a junior intelligence officer, I was ticked off by him more than once when he was the commissioner under the Interception of Communications Act 1985 as to why I had sought an interception warrant, what it was producing and why on earth it continued to be justified.
Chastened by the reprimand, I read the gracious Speech with care. I looked for legislation on terrorism on which I should comment and I was delighted that there was none. I want to applaud the Government for this particular void. Let me explain why. We have had a good deal of legislation in recent years designed, sometimes clumsily in my opinion, to help to reduce the threat to our society that terrorism offers. To be clear, I believe strongly that counterterrorist activity needs to have, as it does, a proper statutory basis, but I am suspicious of arguments, which I have heard often, that the law itself provides the solution to terrorism. The rule of law, political process, hearts and minds, economic well-being and good and co-ordinated police and intelligence work are what matter.
I welcome the fact that our legal system has coped for many years with the prosecution of complex terrorist cases with the minimum of recourse to special arrangements. The most obvious exception is control orders, which were conceived by the Home Office as a kind of terrorist ASBO in 2005. Now is not the time, at this late stage in the evening, to reopen that debate, but I look forward to speaking on control orders when the House returns to them, as it will.
On the constitutional side of the debate, recently I asked a taxi driver to bring me to the House. He said, “Are you one of those?”. I had a St Peter moment and was tempted to lie but recognised in time that that would only prove his point. I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House only for a short time and do not fully understand it or its arcane procedures, but I have been impressed in particular by its detailed scrutiny of legislation, by the quality of some of its debates—this evening’s debate has been no exception—and by the detailed and thoughtful scrutiny work of some of its committees.
However, I do not always want to have to travel on the Tube to avoid tiring rants about this House and Parliament. I want to continue to be proud to belong to this House. That means substantial reform. The recommendations of the leaders’ group under my noble and right reverend friend Lord Eames, which we are to discuss next week, the forthcoming recommendations of the Senior Salaries Review Body under Mr Cockburn and the minor changes in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill are an important start but not the end of the process.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in such a wide-ranging debate—I shall not attempt to summarise it—which included two notable “maidens” who will clearly contribute much to the work of the House.
I start by thanking two people. First, my predecessor, my noble friend, and friend, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, who I know I will not be able to match. I do not wish to suggest that she has had her final word; she will simply be speaking from a little further back for the time being. Secondly, I thank Tim Oliver, who has given me outstanding help in his time in the Liberal Democrat Whips’ Office. I understand that at his interview for a teaching post at Sandhurst, when asked about coping with a class of soldiers weary and apt to fall asleep, he needed only to say that he works in the House of Lords. I thank him for his effective and patient assistance. Those on these Benches and those in the House with whom he has dealt on our behalf will miss him.
I do not yet know how much of a culture shock it will be for me moving from the CLG brief. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for this trailer. On Wednesday, he said:
“Not all occasions are as splendid or inviting as the State Opening of Parliament—just try day four in Grand Committee on the local democracy Bill with the Liberal Democrats at the crease”.
I accept that my noble friend Lord Greaves and I do not do pageantry—but we do do scrutiny. We are bowlers rather than batsmen perhaps. The role of this House is largely holding the Government to account and scrutinising their decisions and actions, among which is legislation. So—no apologies for doing the job thoroughly.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, always urges pilots, and I welcome his ideas to increase our effectiveness. The noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, made the right points about the House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, also spoke of the readiness of Peers,
“often to make sacrifices to attend”.—[Official Report, 18/11/09; col. 11.]
As this debate covers constitutional affairs, I will comment that it may be that the Executive, the Government, are about to make that task much harder for many Members of this House. I refer of course to the rumoured proposals for reduced financial support for those colleagues whose homes are not in London and who may find it hard, perhaps too hard, to come here to contribute to the public service which the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, described in moving the Humble Address. I am not suggesting profligacy or impropriety, but it seems that the demands of the Executive, specifically No. 10, will affect our ability to hold the Executive to account. That is a constitutional matter.
I know that I shall find similarities with the local government brief which I have held. I recently put into chronological order the statutes resulting from Bills on which I have worked over the years—it turned out also to be size order. The “torrent”, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, put it, of Home Office Bills, too, seems to get bigger by the year. The Government also legislate repetitively for aspirations, on matters of culture or, frankly, just to state the bleedin’ obvious.
Perhaps there is one benefit in there being so little likelihood of much of the Government’s programme making it on to the statute book. New laws seem so rarely to be allowed to settle and be assessed before they are tinkered with. I have not spent long looking at the Crime and Security Bill, but I cannot help noticing that it seeks—I use the term deliberately; the Government can expect trouble on this—to amend the Policing and Crime Act, passed a matter of just a few days ago.
It must be very dispiriting for officials to have to draft legislation which has no future or is clearly nonsense. What is the penalty for failing to halve the budget deficit or to provide good government? Our prisons are already under great strain—our noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lady Linklater referred to it—so is it to be tagging and curfew or the naughty step? I wonder whether this sort of abuse of officials is something that the proposed Civil Service Commission will consider.
The target culture is also familiar, and not just through my CLG brief. It is likely that it was the need to add to the numbers of white, middle-aged women drivers that led to my being stopped and searched under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act a while ago. My respectability might just have been confirmed by the police finding in my boot a report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Travelling is hazardous for your Lordships. I, too, have had eventful taxi journeys, but now that I do not have to travel between Ken Livingstone’s City Hall and Parliament, they are a little quieter.
Peers can look after themselves, but I share the concern of the Children’s Rights Alliance that reduced reporting requirements may weaken safeguards for children—sometimes very young children—who are subject to stop and search. In London, there was an 80 per cent increase over the year to March in the number of 10 year-olds stopped and searched. We must be alert, too, to the dangers of stopping and searching disproportionate numbers of members of ethnic minorities, as my noble friend Lady Harris said. Again in London, children from ethnic minority groups were proportionately overrepresented. Releasing the police from overly bureaucratic systems is important, but it needs care.
Targets mean ring-fenced money and lots of report-writing. These Benches support local discretion and the work now going on to look holistically at all public spending in a geographical area to ensure the most bangs per buck. The Local Government Association has just published a report reminding us that every new initiative from central government has a cost in terms of the burden it places on local government. The announcement from CLG on funding to tackle anti-social behaviour will mean that the authorities granted extra funding will receive only between £40,000 and £70,000, to be spent by the end of the year. The benefit, even if projects can be found to spend it on at short notice, will be reduced by all the paperwork.
If local authorities and their partners, including the police, had greater local control over priorities, and therefore over spending, costs would be reduced and more money would be available to be spent on making neighbourhoods safer. The ultimate accountability—the assurance test—would be provided by the voters. I say that but, of course, there is a major flaw in that argument for local accountability, the same as at parliamentary level. This year, voters in Kent saw Conservatives elected in 74 out of 84 seats on 47 per cent of the vote. In Essex, the Conservatives won 80 per cent of the seats with 43 per cent of the vote. In Leicestershire, a BNP councillor was elected, despite more than 72 per cent of the votes being cast against him. I could go on. I was myself once part of an administration with 92 per cent of the seats on 49 per cent of the vote; I did not think that it was right then, either. How can anyone continue to defend the first-past-the-post system? When we call for fair votes, we mean fair to the voters.
One financial pressure will be on neighbourhood policing. Local authorities generally welcome being able to add to the number of PCSOs out of local authority funding, augmenting central government funding. Given the budget problems that both councils and police face, the LGA advises me that unless there is certainty in the longer term over the funding of PCSOs, there is a real threat to the ability to sustain neighbourhood policing into the future. Both police and local authorities have a major role in preventing crime. That needs more than lip service. I have been impressed, to take one example, by the work of Groundwork and of commercial organisations in conjunction with local authorities in building play and sports areas, which can really contribute to reducing anti-social behaviour. Schemes designed from the bottom up are clearly best.
I am considerably less enthusiastic about the Crime and Security Bill's provisions about anti-social behaviour and parenting orders. The Government have such a tendency to criminalise. There is parenting support, yes, but not until crisis point. My first question is what evidence the Government have on which to base the provision. For instance, to take a similar existing provision, what is the effect of the possibility of imprisonment of the parent of a truanting child? Is the breach rate for ASBOs accelerating children into custody? An ASBO is a civil matter; breaching it is criminal. There is a tendency to criminalise and to blur the lines between the civil and the criminal. I mentioned changes being made to the Policing and Crime Act, before the ink is dry, regarding the criminalisation of more young people and the imprisonment of more young people.
We do not buy the Government's implicit argument that legislation is the answer to every problem. On domestic violence, while we welcome any measures to protect women—usually it is women—let us not lose sight of the underlying issue. How does such violence come to be? We must also consider those women who bring themselves to complain, to let anyone know what is happening in their own homes. For many years I was a member of the board of Refuge, the domestic violence charity. The noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady Neville-Jones, also have associations with it. I do not think I ever attended an event where its work was explained without being aware of at least one woman in a corner of the room whose expression and body language indicated her personal experience of abuse.
As well as a tendency to criminalise, the Government have a tendency to treat every citizen as a suspect. That is why we cannot support their approach to DNA. There are over 1 million people on the database who have no record on the police national computer— 44 per cent of the male black population and 6 per cent of the white population. We are with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester—although I was distressed about his reference to Manchester United—in saying that the Government have not found the right balance between dealing with crime and individual liberty.
One reason I was keen to take on the home affairs brief was because I am very conscious that it is not so very long since my family arrived in this country—as immigrants, not refugees. There is, indeed, a difference. I share that, I am sure, with many of your Lordships. Comparatively few of us, in or outside the House, are Ancient Britons. It must take enormous guts to move to a new country and a new culture, and it must be one of the jobs of politicians—a leadership role—to talk up the benefits of immigration, to say loud and clear that an ethnically mixed society that works makes for the greatness in Great Britain. Sadly, politicians are not currently regarded as role models, but that should not stop us continually making the point as well as seeking to address the fears of immigration through addressing the services that too often “they” are said to be taking from “us”. Housing is an obvious example. Making it more difficult for immigrants to access language teaching does nothing for cohesion, and making immigration more difficult—or “tough”, I suppose, in the jargon—may lead to businesses relocating to more immigration-friendly countries. That comes from a CBI survey.
The moral high ground must be linked to the practicalities and the debate should be based on facts, which often seem to be in short supply in the competition for the most alarming headlines. An Immigration Simplification Bill is not the same as a badly needed consolidation Bill, and simplifying does not mean that the provisions are automatically right.
At this stage in the debate, more brownie points are likely to be gained by sitting down than by going on, and I knew that the 12 Liberal Democrats who preceded me—notably in greater numbers than on the other party Benches—would cover a huge amount of ground, as have all your Lordships. I look forward to continuing to contribute to the work of your Lordships’ House in home affairs because, and I wish I had coined this phrase, for all Liberal Democrats, civil liberties are in our DNA.
My Lords, I start by echoing the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in offering my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, on their maiden speeches. From these Benches we look forward to hearing them on many more occasions.
I also offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead—I know I must not call him “and gallant”, because I will be ticked off by my noble friend Lord Ferrers—on sitting pluckily through every single speech in the debate, bar one quick trip outside, no doubt to get some refreshment. It brought to mind, if I may make another naval reference, the lines about,
“The boy stood on the burning deck,
Whence all but he had fled”.
His Benches did look rather empty at times. We offer our congratulations to him on at least staying there and listening to everything that has been said in this pretty wide-ranging debate, which has gone beyond the Queen’s Speech, as is right and proper on these occasions.
Looking at the brief notes that I took down, I see that a great many people have spoken on the subject of the House of Lords, some in detail on Lords procedures. We had interesting suggestions from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on that topic, some of which were quite sound, such as the suggestion that Bills coming from the Commons should be marked as to whether they had been considered in certain parts by the Commons and whether we should therefore not be revising but looking at them as new. Other suggestions I was not quite so happy with.
We have covered a great deal of ground—House of Lords reform, al-Megrahi, policing, flooding, MPs’ expenses, the growth in the power of the Prime Minister—and there was a general feeling from a great many, which was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, that there was too much legislation coming out of this Government, a lot of which was very ill considered. That was highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, when she reminded the House that pieces of the new Crime and Security Bill amend the Policing and Crime Act that was passed only last Session. No doubt large chunks of that Act have not yet been brought into effect, as is true of a great many other Bills that have emanated from the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice; and if they are brought into effect, they will be amended or removed by later Bills. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said that there was a veritable torrent of ill-considered legislation, which is something that we should look into.
I raise that particular point because, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, reminded us at the beginning of the debate, this is a short Session. To assist him, I remind him that we probably have fewer than 40 days that can be given over to legislative business between now and the last possible date at which the Government can call an election. We all know that they could even call it before then, so 40 days is an optimistic estimate of the amount of time the Government have.
The Government have brought forward in the Queen’s Speech some 13 or 14 new Bills and draft Bills as well as a number of Bills that have been carried over, which we will get to later when we come to the Constitutional Reform Bill. Will the noble Lord, Lord West, tell us what the Government’s priority is in terms of the Bills they want to see on the statute book? We already know that some will start in this House and some will be carried over. However, it is right and proper for the Government to tell us not only which of these Home Office and Ministry of Justice Bills they want to see on the statute book but all the Bills that are before us. Those of us who take an interest in Home Office and justice affairs have had four Bills highlighted before us today that we will have to deal with, but they will be competing for space and time with a whole host of other Bills coming before Parliament.
I start with those four Bills. The first of those is the Crime and Security Bill. We have not heard anything about it in this House, so I presume that that Bill will start in the Commons. My noble friend Lady Neville-Jones has already spoken about that so I will not go on in any detail, but I have one question for the noble Lord. What number of Home Office Bills have we had since 1997? Could he add to that not only Home Office Bills, but Bills that have emanated from the Ministry of Justice, and the number of Bills that dealt with criminal justice, crime, penal matters, custodial matters and a whole host of things that those of us who are concerned about these matters take an interest in?
I see that the noble Lord is taking some advice from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on that matter. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, and I do not really agree about the number of Bills that have been before us, but I put it to the noble Lord that it is a very large number of Bills. As I made clear earlier, a lot of them have been amending other Bills and many have not been discussed properly in the Commons. A lot of them have not been given the time that they need. If we are going to see the Crime and Security Bill on the statute book, and we will allow that to happen only if it has been properly considered by both Houses, it behoves the noble Lord to try to answer that question.
The second Bill—I am taking them in a slightly different order from the noble Lord, Lord Bach—is the Bribery Bill, which has been covered by a large number of Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, sat on the Select Committee with my noble and learned friend Lord Lyell of Markyate and looked at the Bill when it was in draft form. At this stage, I should declare an interest in that the chairman was my former pupil master, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Cullross. I hope that in due course he will take an interest in that Bill when it goes through this House. I do not need to say more about it at the moment because we know that it will come to this House in only two weeks’ time. We will have a good and busy Second Reading. The Bill is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, said, long overdue. No doubt it will get the proper scrutiny that this House deserves to give it in the short amount of time that we have.
The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill is, again, a rather large Bill that was carried over from another place. Therefore, it was not technically in the Queen’s Speech but it will take considerable time to discuss. We should be interested to know from the noble Lord when he responds how much of that Bill he hopes to see reach the statute book and how much time it will take up alongside the other Bills coming through from the Commons, such as the Equality Bill, which is almost as thick as any Bill I have seen come before this House.
As regards the Civil Service provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, the noble Lord will know that we have called for a measure of this sort for some time. If such a measure had already been passed, it could have helped prevent some of the damaging politicisation and downgrading of the Civil Service which has occurred over the past decade, and greater control could have been exerted over the armies—they are armies—of special advisers who have grown up over the past few years. I want to put a number of questions about the Bill to the noble Lord, which I hope he will be able to answer in due course. First, why do the provisions relating to the Civil Service not include quangos and other quasi-governmental bodies? We shall want to explore that when the Bill comes before us, bearing in mind that the total cost of such bodies seems to be something of the order of £43 billion a year. I should be grateful for guidance on that from the noble Lord and further guidance on what controls the Government hope to bring in for quangos. Will there be openness about appointments? We know that a great many of the appointments that have been made to quangos over the past few years have been drawn from the Benches opposite. We see noble Lords sitting on the Benches opposite move temporarily to the Cross Benches on the ground that they are no longer technically members of the party while they sit on or chair the relevant quango for a rather large salary. I should be very grateful to receive guidance from the noble Lord on that point.
Will the Government explain where they are at on the Kelly proposals? No mention was made of Kelly in the Queen’s Speech or in the Bill. However, it has since been suggested that it might be possible to include his proposals in a measure and that the Bill might be a suitable vehicle for so doing. It is not clear to me how that would be included within the Long Title of the Bill, but I would very much welcome advice from the noble Lord on that matter.
The parts of the Bill dealing with the House of Lords have been covered by a great many speakers during the debate. We understand that a Bill dealing with general reform is to be published—that is, the draft Bill referred to in the gracious Speech—but before we see that, what is the appropriate way to legislate when we cannot agree on what should be in this Bill and what should be in the proper Bill? Indeed, certain changes in Part 3, notably the progressive creation of an all-appointed House of Lords by stealth through not replacing the hereditary Peers when they die, are a direct breach of the undertaking given by a privy counsellor, the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, to the House on 30 March 1999, which was accepted by both Houses as the basis of the passage of the 1999 Act as a stage one reform. Why is there a direct breach of a commitment given by a privy counsellor, the then Lord Chancellor, for the passage of that Bill?
We shall deal with other matters on that and other Bills, but I end on a much less controversial note concerning the fourth Bill coming before this House that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, mentioned: the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Bill. That Bill was recommended by the Law Commission and follows the new procedure that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, will remember we followed when we dealt with perpetuities and accumulations. That was a sensible procedure, which allowed legislation of extreme complexity to be dealt with conveniently by the House. I can confirm to the noble Lord that we on this side have agreed to accept the new procedure for dealing with Bills such as the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Bill. I hope that it is slightly simpler than the Perpetuities and Accumulations Bill.
I repeat my question to the noble Lord about the number of Bills and which the Government will give priority to. We know that they are wasting a great deal of legislative time on Bills such as the Fiscal Responsibility Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, explained so well, supported by my noble friend Lord Lawson. We know that the Government want to waste time on Bills that are meaningless, pointless and serve no purpose whatever, but which Bills do they think are important and want the House to devote its expertise to, to ensure that they receive proper scrutiny? I look forward to the noble Lord’s reply on that.
My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging and knowledgeable debate. We have gone from nuclear proliferation, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, through groundwater, mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter, through MPs’ pay, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, rail routes in the emerald isle, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, and so on. The debate has been fascinating. Noble Lords spoke with great depth of knowledge on an immense range of subjects, most of which were not in the Queen’s Speech but which noble Lords perhaps thought should be in it. That is reassuring and the wide coverage shows that there was general support for the small number of specific measures that I am talking about today.
I have been called “ungallant”, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Patten. I am sure that he did not mean that. Calling me “gallant” may not be allowed, but I do not like to be called “ungallant”. I was also called a pigmy by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, and quotes from Casabianca have been thrown at me, including:
“The boy stood on the burning deck”.
It has been quite an evening for me, as noble Lords can imagine.
We were aiming primarily for a debate on the Bills of two government departments. They are vital to the protection of our communities, but I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if, in the time available, I am unable to answer every question on every issue that was touched on.
I welcome both maiden speeches—those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan. Having commanded HMS “Bristol”, I have a soft spot for that great city. Both noble Lords will add their huge depth of spiritual and temporal experience to this House. It is remarkable that each has five children. Bravo! It is good to have them here.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, referred to a broken Britain and a broken society. I do not recognise that description. I know that in this great country of ours there are some horrible areas where some horrible things go on, but to pretend that we have come out of a golden age is absolute rubbish. Actually, a huge amount has been done to make these areas better. I live in Hackney, which today is dramatically better than it was 20 years ago; there is an unbelievable difference. This constant statement that we have a broken society is damaging and wrong. It is not true of this country.
This is a remarkable country, which is partly why so many people wish to come here. The noble Baroness mentioned immigration and the value of immigrants, which should be said more often. I absolutely agree with that. Noble Lords need only look at Hansard. I have said in the House on a couple of occasions how valuable and important immigrants have been to this country, but we have to have some controls and checks. It is nonsense not to have them. Millions of people would like to come here because this is such a wonderful country. If we were a totally broken society, they would not want to come here, but they do and, therefore, we have to have some controls.
The noble Baroness mentioned ASBOs. There have been considerable debates about civil and criminal penalties, but ASBOs work. People in local government like them. Sixty-five per cent of people who are given an ASBO, 85 per cent of people who are given a second ASBO and 93 per cent of people who are given a third ASBO do not reoffend. ASBOs are very successful and they work, so it is important to have them.
I was glad that the noble Baroness supported parenting orders, which are useful. She also talked about our counterterrorist programme. She alluded to its being a success, as I believe it is. The most difficult area is that of radicalisation and what causes it. Without a doubt we have the best prevent strategy in the world. It is a huge success and I am very pleased with it. That does not mean that we have solved the problem; we cannot rest on our laurels. However, we have done a lot of good work in that area.
The noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, touched on counterterrorist legislation. I agree that there is none in what we are talking about today. When I arrived in my post, a counterterrorist Bill was going through, but no new counterterrorist legislation has been put in. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, is aware of that. She is absolutely right that it is the package in its totality that makes the difference. We have done well in those areas.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, talked about mobile phones. This measure in the Bill is important. Using technology to stop mobile phones working in prisons is problematic. Without going into detail, if you jam the signal it is sometimes difficult not to stop everyone outside the prison using their mobile phones, which causes a problem with the locals. It is a bit tricky. The noble Baroness also mentioned DNA. I will come back to that, as a number of speakers were very taken by the issue. I understand that emotions run very high and I will be happy to talk about it later.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, also asked why stop and search was not being scrapped because of the amount of paperwork and administration involved. There is a need to balance reducing paperwork with the ability to hold the police to account. This was touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. We must hold the police to account on a number of things. Three of the seven recording requirements that were talked about can be met by using our new Airwave radio technology and we are doing a lot to reduce the administrative load. This was picked up in the Green Paper and we have been applying the provisions. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, asked about the amount of ethnic monitoring that is going on. I give a firm commitment that we will not reduce ethnic monitoring because it is important to measure what is going on.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about being Section 44-stopped. The same thing happened to me the other day. What was most remarkable was that, as the questioning went on and the incident continued, the level of seniority of the officers kept on rising.
I very much enjoyed the meanderings of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, if I may call them that, as he covered almost the entire Queen’s Speech. He showed his knowledge of a number of issues and in particular was interested in constitutional affairs. I am pleased that he supports the Bribery Bill, because it is a good Bill and it is important that we go down that route. When we look back historically, we can see that it is bad that it has not happened before.
The noble Lord mentioned security and talked about it meaning the protection of people. He also talked about data collection. Security is about the protection of our people and in the modern world you cannot do some of these things without certain amounts of data. Whether the data are on your passport with a photograph that is effectively a piece of biometric information, or whether they enable you to get your car licence, we are in that world and cannot get round it. It is no use trying to uninvent it; it is reality. We have tried to address that and are better at looking after people’s data than in the past.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, asked about the retirement age of senior judges. I used to think that people of 70 were so old that they ought to be replaced. I have changed my view dramatically as I have become older and now consider that the figure should be revised upwards. This is something that is kept under constant review, but I cannot state that anything will happen. The noble and learned Lord referred to a torrent of legislation but then said that he thought that the Bribery Bill was marvellous. It is amazing how some legislation seems not to be a torrent whereas other bits are, but I was very glad that we had that support. I acknowledge the noble and learned Lord’s concern regarding the Financial Services Bill. I will raise it with the appropriate parties and it will be looked at.
A vast number of noble Lords spoke about the House of Lords. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester talked about the status of the House, and it was also referred to in the speeches of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. My noble friend Lord Grocott spoke on the subject very eloquently. My noble friend Lord Rooker came up with some brilliant ideas, which perhaps need to be discussed. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, also talked about it and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, touched on it. I shall not go into great detail on this but I think that the measures in the Bill are a sensible way to move forward. I acknowledge the input of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and take his point on this issue. A lot of noble Lords picked up on points that were raised in his Bill and I can understand his annoyance about some aspects of that. However, as I said, I think that the measures are sensible and that it is a sensible way to move forward. The larger issue is something on which we need more debate. Without doubt, this is a huge issue and it needs to be properly and fully debated.
My noble friend Lord Rooker mentioned certain things that we can deal with ourselves. I believe that there is an awful lot that we can do ourselves and perhaps we should have a debate about that. I do not see why we cannot have a debate about them and why we cannot make decisions on certain things—not statutory things but some of the other issues that my noble friend mentioned. I think that there is scope for that. Sometimes the power to do these things is in our own hands and we should do something about them. I shall probably be told off for this afterwards but I think that a debate on those specific issues would probably be a jolly good idea. They are very important issues that have a huge impact on our nation and they need to be addressed.
I share the view of everyone who spoke about the admiration for this Chamber and for the way that it looks at and refines legislation. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and a number of other noble Lords said, one sometimes wonders whether the other place really looks at some of this stuff, and that is a bit of a worry. It is not the fault of Members of the other place because they are under huge pressure, but it is a bit of a worry and it is important that we get things right here.
The noble Lord, Lord Butler, asked about the Wright committee on reform of the House of Commons. I confirm that we eagerly await the publication of the report, which I think is due out tomorrow. As the noble Lord mentioned, the Prime Minister has given his support to the committee’s work, and it will be for your Lordships to consider whether any of the report’s findings read across to the procedures of this House. As I said, I think that we should have, and could well have, a debate on the specific issues raised by my noble friend Lord Rooker. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, also touched on this issue as being of importance.
As I said, my noble friend Lord Grocott spoke very eloquently about this House and raised a lot of points to think about. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, who raised the Megrahi case. That was an interesting issue and something that we may need to think about. I shall certainly go away and have a look at it. That important and interesting point was also raised by a couple of other noble Lords.
The noble Lord, Lord Patten, got into a debate about whether or not one was gallant. I thank him for what he said about bribery, but I am afraid that he totally lost the plot when it came to cyber security. I can tell him who is responsible for cyber security: I am the cyber security Minister, although I do not dress like Flash Gordon when I am in that role. A man called Robert Hannigan reports to me on this issue. Below him is a man called Neil Thompson, who runs the Office of Cyber Security. He came up with a great pot mess of acronyms, as I am afraid nowadays is the case in almost any area of endeavour. It is easy to do that but I can tell noble Lords that there is a rational system there. We have done a huge amount of work this summer. Indeed, I was talking to Neil Thompson for an hour this very morning. The direction in which we are going is very clear. There are clear issues which are being delivered and which we are working through, to the extent that we have been asked by the EU to do certain things to sort out this matter, and we are now getting it online.
The Office of Cyber Security—I shall try not to use acronyms—is fully manned. I would probably like to have a few more people, but it is fully manned. I hope to have a full strategy in place before Christmas, which is what I have told it to do. The noble Lord referred to another organisation, which is in Cheltenham—we talked about the CESG and the COCS—and which does the nuts and bolts and the detail. The OCS has overall authority. The people who look after the national infrastructure lie within Millbank House, but they are partly responsible to me in the Home Office. They are all co-ordinated, and we are going from a position where we were not well placed. We have done a huge amount in the past couple of years. I am very pleased with that, but we still have a long way to go. It is far from the picture that was painted by the noble Lord, Lord Patten.
On the Olympic issue, we have a clear strategy. We have an Olympics CONOPS. We are doing it on a threat and security basis and I believe that that is going extremely well.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia asked about the absence of the reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and this was touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, as well. I assure noble Lords that the Government remain committed to such reform. I also assure the noble Lord that we will support the principle contained in his Bill and will study the details carefully and sympathetically. My noble friend Lord Bach has asked me to say that he looks forward to an early opportunity to debate this. I cannot say much more than that.
I much enjoyed listening to my noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate. He asked specifically about the number of crimes detected because of the DNA database since 2001. More than 150,000 crimes have been detected. Between 1,300 and 2,000 were for murder, rape and manslaughter and 6,500 were for other sexual violent crimes. He is right to say that DNA retention brings justice to victims and their families. The difference between where we now stand and the Conservative position is not very great. We are dancing on a pinhead. I believe that we should keep these data. A number of people in this House have said that they would not care if they were on the database and kept there. What does anyone know about it? You are just there; no one else knows. It would never come up unless you commit a crime. We do not keep the real DNA any more; it is just the code that is kept, so it could not be used or manipulated in genome stuff or anything like that. We need to be careful about this. It is a fantastic tool in looking after our safety and security. I do not believe that it impinges on people. As I say, we are happy to have passports with a biometric photograph of ourselves, and we need to think this issue through carefully as I believe that it is important.
My noble friend also talked about the use of common sense, and I could not agree more. He is absolutely right. In a sense people do need to regain the streets. It is difficult, as I know that when something happens, people are scared. If the automatic reaction of people in this country was to respond by not allowing thugs to do things, we would be in a better place, but it is a difficult issue. One has to make a judgment when it happens, but it has certainly never stopped me doing it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, talked about contest, a counterterrorist strategy and who is our real threat. The biggest threat to the country is AQ and AQ-related terrorism but there are issues of Northern Ireland terrorism coming back as well as other terrorist groups. I am aware of her concerns, but I believe that we have a sensible balance in our counterterrorist strategy.
The noble Lord, Lord Laird, asked a question about the proposed route from Londonderry to Tyrone. It was a very sensible question at this time of severe economic pressure and I am sure that my noble friend Lord Adonis will be examining all available options. Perhaps something will come of that.
My noble friend Lord Morgan mentioned that the constitutional reform Bill lacks coherence and direction and asked what overarching principle was behind it. I do not believe that it does lack coherence and direction. I think that the principle behind the Bill is clear and significant. It aims to rebuild trust in our democratic constitutional settlement by reinforcing the principles of openness, transparency and accountability. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, was realistic about the reasons why a couple of things have been withdrawn from that Bill—as was the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, when he spoke on that specific subject as well.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy—who is looking a little like a bird of paradise behind me—talked about bribery and the Bribery Bill, which she supports. She also went through a number of issues that felt rather like a rapier thrust through the heart. The only one of those issues that I shall refer to is Parliament Square. It is absolutely right that we are removing that legislation and allowing people to demonstrate around Parliament Square. Just to show the difficulty, however, I should point out that there are an awful lot of people in the other place who want to be more draconian about it. One always has terrible difficulties in balancing these things out. But I am glad that we are moving down that route and trying to do that.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, raised a couple of concerns about the Bribery Bill, one of which was that he felt that the Attorney-General should show more personal interest in it. I will talk to the Attorney-General about that and say exactly that. I know that the noble and learned Lord feels that the definition is far too complex. I had a response from the Box saying that it is not, but I do not think that the statement saying so was quite clear enough. So I shall talk to the Attorney-General about it and we will see what we can do about that, if it is something that can be done easily. However, I do not make any promises. Clearly it needs some debate.
As for the level playing field, that is a very good point. I have a long and complex answer on it; I do not really have time to go into it now, but we do have an answer. It is an absolutely valid point. From my time spent going round the world as a military officer and sometimes seeing some of the countries that are meant to be above and beyond bribery, I can say that it would make you laugh to see the pots of money that they were stuffing into people’s pockets. So I do think that we need to have a level playing field on some of these issues.
I am taking overlong in replying and I will be told off about it in a minute—I can see that. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, was very positive, as were a number of other speakers, about the recognition of the Civil Service and putting it on a statutory footing. I thank noble Lords for that. It is remarkable that this should take more than 155 years. I also thank noble Lords for their support on the ratification of treaties. On the aspect of the declaration of war, that will be kept under constant review. A noble Lord asked whether that will be done. It will absolutely be done.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, talked about electoral reform, as did a number of other speakers. It seemed to me that he was saying that it is a means of giving the Conservatives seats in large tracts of our country. I must have missed the point of what he was saying. But, joking aside, the Prime Minister has said that in Labour's next manifesto there will be a commitment for a referendum to be held early in the next Parliament for people to decide whether they want to move to the alternative vote.
I have already touched on the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller. As for the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I think that I have, as I said, touched on the issue of being stopped and searched. I think that there was a feeling that some of the financial aspects and some of the rules for this House, and perhaps for the other place, are the responsibility of the Prime Minister. I do not think that that is really fair. That is not his responsibility. It is a corporate responsibility and the other place needs to sort its act out. We have people such as the SSRB and others helping them with it. But I do not think that it can really be put at the Prime Minister's door.
On immigration, I think that I have always said how valuable it has been for our country. As for the issue of civil liberties and DNA, I honestly believe that all of us in this House believe in civil liberties. We might have different views about how we do it, but everyone in this House believes in civil liberties. We all think that they are important. The way in which this House behaves often shows that that is the case.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred to the number of Bills. I am afraid that I do not have the precise number. I asked my noble friend Lord Bach for advice. He said, “It’s less than the Tories did during their time in government”, but that does not help very much, so I shall come back when I have a proper list.
On our priorities, all I can say at this Dispatch Box is that my priorities are the Bills that I am speaking to tonight. They are not a torrent. They are quite sensible. By the way in which the debate has gone, they have been shown to be quite sensible. The time taken up by the home, legal and constitutional affairs Bills will be small because in tonight’s debate we have seen that people have not gone to town on any of them.
On the Civil Service issue, it was said 155 years ago that this would be done. For the vast majority of that time, the Tories were in power, so I do not think that we have been too slow at getting this done. However, people are always willing to grab, accept what is given and then go for the next thing.
I had an answer on the Kelly proposals, but I do not have it at my fingertips. I shall get back in writing on them.
The Bill will address some of the public’s key concerns about crime. It will introduce measures to prevent a range of threats, anti-social behaviour, youth gang violence and financial exploitation. We are taking action to prevent crimes against the most vulnerable members of our society. We are shutting down opportunities for criminals during this economic downturn by things such as stopping wheel-clamping businesses doing exorbitant things. These are good measures, which will be widely well received.
The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, finally agreed that we have not wasted our years here in relation to constitutional reform. Since 1997, we have introduced devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and made it a practical reality and we have taken forward reforms in the Human Rights Act and on freedom of information. I think that we have done jolly well; a lot has been done. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, nodded to that and to the fact that we have a continuing commitment in this area.
I think that I have spoken for far too long. I thank noble Lords again for their valuable contributions. This was a valuable, wide-ranging debate. I believe that the reforms that we are introducing in this short fifth Session will build on our successes over the past 12 years and enhance our democracy. I commend the programme to your Lordships.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.
House adjourned at 10.23 pm.