House of Lords
Tuesday, 8 November 2011.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.
Crime: Self-defence Homicide
My Lords, the Ministry of Justice is working with the Home Office to update the code of practice made under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to give the police further such guidance. A revised code was published for consultation on 1 November. That consultation will end on 24 January.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he agree that when burglars enter an occupied dwelling by criminal trespass and as a result one of the burglars is killed or seriously injured by a householder who is clearly defending himself, the public reaction generally is that the burglar deserved everything that he got? It is clear that this matter has to be seriously investigated, but is it really necessary, except in serious cases, for the police formally to take the householder into custody and arrest him with all the consequences that that involves, including searching, placing in cells and so on? Is it not possible for the police to use their discretion more often and to investigate the matter by inviting the householder to co-operate without formal arrest? After all, he is hardly likely to abscond. Does the Minister also agree that recent, highly publicised decisions do not capture the public mood? After all, liberty is precious and should not be removed lightly, particularly from an innocent victim.
My Lords, I fully appreciate many of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, made in that question, which echoed a number of points that were raised in a debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Blencathra on 20 October. Following that debate the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, wrote to me to meet some of the points made in that debate by the noble Lord and other Peers. The director made the point that the CPS had explained that in certain circumstances the police may be advised that an expedited, streamlined file is required following initial investigations by the police. However, he made it clear that the CPS reserves the right to ensure that adequate time is allowed to conduct a comprehensive review of all the evidence available, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
Does the Minister accept that the principle of self-defence, whereby a person is entitled to defend himself or any other person from unlawful attack by using no more force than is reasonably necessary, is well ensconced in our law, well understood by juries, and is fair and clear? Furthermore, does he accept that the common law has enshrined this principle for a very long time; that it was spelt out in detail in the case of Palmer 40 years ago, and, indeed, enshrined in Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008; and that any doubts that exist exist more in the minds of tabloid editors than of judges and lawyers?
My Lords, as always, there is a great deal of wisdom in what the noble Lord says—and a great deal of accuracy as well. We intend to provide greater clarity with this new guidance and through the clauses in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which will be coming before this House shortly. It is certainly true that, in so doing, we will be bringing into statute what is already a very fixed principle in our common law.
My Lords, Clause 131 of the Bill that the Minister just mentioned is the one clause that deals with this issue of self-defence. However, what is not clear about the law as it exists at present? That feeling is quite widespread across the House. Why does it need another clause in another long Bill?
I think that the answer to that was indicated in the previous question and by the fact that the noble Lord has tabled this Question today. There are newspaper articles and general assertions made about what is right or wrong. Under our common law, home owners, small shopkeepers and householders can use reasonable force to defend themselves or their properties and will not be prosecuted. My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor has made clear that he believes that the current law is broadly in the right place. However, we believe that it does no harm, in the light of a lot of these questions and articles, to make it clear in the forthcoming Bill. I think that it will do a lot of good in establishing where people, including the police, are positioned in this. It will also deter any thought that we are drifting towards any kind of endorsement of vigilantism or keeping a six o’clock special under the pillow. This is a consolidation measure to clarify the law.
I think that I have made that clear. We are consulting on guidance. However, the trend of the Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, was that somehow policemen could make an instant judgment. Circumstances are very varied in these situations and the Director of Public Prosecutions has made it clear—and I think that the draft guidance implies this—that although police are invited to use common sense and discretion when assessing circumstances, the Director of Public Prosecutions cannot abandon his responsibilities in examining whether or not a crime has been committed and should be prosecuted.
Economy: Monetary and Fiscal Policy
My Lords, the independent Monetary Policy Committee has operational responsibility for monetary policy. Fiscal policy is a competence of the Treasury. When making its monetary policy decisions, the MPC takes into account fiscal policy, among other factors, when judging the outlook for growth and inflation. A non-voting Treasury representative attends monthly MPC meetings and plays a key role in ensuring the appropriate co-ordination of fiscal and monetary policy. This includes, when appropriate, briefing the MPC on the Budget.
I thank the Minister for that. Bearing in mind that the monetary policy of the Bank of England is failing in its statutory duty to hit the inflation target set by the Government and does not even seem to be trying, and that fiscal policy has got us nowhere near full employment or a sustainable rate of real growth, is it not the case that far from there being co-ordination of monetary and fiscal policy, what we see on the part of the Government is simply an utter shambles?
My Lords, the Bank of England is completely sticking to its statutory responsibilities and to the letter setting out its monetary policy mandate. If the noble Lord, Lord Peston, would care to look at the latest commentaries in the Bank’s quarterly documents —he is nodding—he will see that they identify the risks to inflation on the undershooting rather than the overshooting side. They identify a number of factors that will reverse the trend in inflation early in 2012. That is why the Bank decided to recommend increased quantitative easing to the Treasury to ensure that there is no risk of an undershoot on the inflation target.
My Lords, it is completely the case that the Chancellor of the Exchequer sets the inflation target for the MPC. I am sure my noble friend is not suggesting that we should go back on the previous Government’s decision, which I applaud, to give the Bank of England independence in this area. Monetary policy should be the first line of defence in the face of economic shocks.
My Lords, monetary policy should be the first line of defence against the ravages of inflation. I put it to the Minister that the Government's fiscal policy, draconian as it is, is forcing the Bank of England to adopt a highly accommodative monetary policy with a disregard for the inflationary consequences, as is evidenced in the Bank's quarterly report in its failure to achieve any of its inflationary objectives over the past five years.
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, is not here, because we have not had anything from his quote book for quite a time. I offer the noble Lord, Lord Myners, this from another place on 23 November 1978, when the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, was asking for cross-party support on inflation. He said:
“I had hoped to have the support of the Opposition instead of the carping criticism that we receive constantly … We intend to make our counter-inflation policy work”.—[Official Report, Commons, 23/11/78; col. 1468.]
Well, as it was in 1978, it is now. We should let the Bank of England get on with it.
My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that opinion polls show that a vast majority of voters believe that the deficit is the same as the debt? Can I suggest to him that, in order to get across the difficulties which the Government are facing because of the size of the debt, which is still growing, he should consider putting on the Treasury building a large screen that shows how the deficit is going up every day?
The debt is going up. Far be it from me to criticise my noble friend, who quite rightly makes this point. If the deficit was running at the level that we inherited from the previous Government, of 11.1 per cent a year—the highest deficit level in our history—it would not take very many years before our debt got up to the level of the Italian and the Greek debt. That is why we will continue to keep our deficit policy on track and keep our interest rates low. I entirely agree with my noble friend that we must be reminded about the level of debt as well.
My Lords, I will let the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, read the actual words in Hansard tomorrow. [Interruption.] No, I am not changing anything. The MPC has to take account of the prospects for growth and inflation when it is judging how to set the direction of monetary policy. Its target is an inflation target, but it needs to take account of a wealth of other factors when making its decision, so that is what it does.
My Lords, I certainly agree that different countries should be taking different tracks, depending on their particular deficit and debt positions. I can only quote the concluding statement of the IMF, in its recent assessment, that:
“The current policy mix of tight fiscal and loose monetary policy remains appropriate”.
My Lords, the Bank of England is patently seeking to foster growth with its very low interest rates and record QE, but the Government are actually depressing growth to virtually zero with their policy of public expenditure cuts that are too far and too fast. Is it not patently obvious that there is absolutely no co-ordination in the national interest at all?
My Lords, I know that it is not for me to ask the questions this afternoon, but I wonder how much more expenditure and deficit the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, would advocate before we risk getting into interest rates that are at the level of France, let alone of Italy. Last night the UK had 2.3 per cent 10-year interest rates, and Italy had 6.6 per cent heading for 6.7 per cent. Which would the noble Lords opposite like? We will stick to our deficit reduction plan, because that is what keeps interest rates low, and that is what our households and our businesses need.
My Lords, if the Minister insists that there is no case for altering the configuration of monetary and fiscal policy, may I draw to his attention another suggestion? Will the Government respond positively and energetically to the proposal put forward by the Society of Pension Consultants that a proportion of the vast resources held under management by pension funds could safely and sensibly be mobilised to lift investment in infrastructure and, through appropriate provision for early access to pension lump sums, to lift personal spending?
I certainly agree with the noble Lord that infrastructure is one of the themes and priorities of the forthcoming growth review. The Government are looking at encouraging anything that encourages a further source of investment into our infrastructure from pension funds and others, so I certainly take his suggestions on board.
Devolved Administrations: Financial Flexibility
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced on 18 July that the Treasury has agreed with the devolved Administrations that a modified version of the budget exchange system will apply to their underspends during the spending review period. The devolved Administrations will be able to carry forward DEL underspends up to a maximum of 0.6 per cent of resource DEL and 1.5 per cent of capital DEL from one year to the next.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is much more prudent for the devolved Administrations to carry forward, as a capital sum, any money that is unspent at year end rather than to rush to spend it? Given that the Assembly Ministers, as he said, have agreed with the Treasury a formula for devolved Administrations to carry forward underspends within these defined limits, why was the Treasury insisting on denying to Wales, and to the National Assembly, some £400 million of accrued underspends in Wales, money which Parliament had voted for use in Wales and which had been accumulated on a formula previously agreed with the Treasury? Will the Minister now discuss with his Treasury colleagues the possibility of releasing that sum over the next two years to augment the National Assembly’s much depleted capital resources?
My Lords, sadly, the previous Government left us with a pot of money of some £20 billion which had been unspent by departments, which, if now spent, would simply increase our deficit; it would increase the stock of debt by £20 billion. It was necessary for the Government, as part of our deficit reduction strategy, to cancel that EYF, but the stock of cancelled underspends in the devolved Administrations was 8.4 per cent of the total, compared with 15 per cent of expenditure, which the devolved Administrations represent, so what they were prevented from spending was rather less proportionately than applied to the United Kingdom as a whole.
My Lords, the decision not to allow the EYF for Wales was something which took many people there by surprise. Can the Minister tell us whether it took the Government of Wales by surprise or were there discussions with the Government prior to the decision by the Treasury at the time of the Budget?
My Lords, as I have already explained, the Government inherited an extremely difficult deficit position. We took decisions that affected the whole of the United Kingdom and this one was consequential on decisions that needed to be taken to bring the deficit position under some sort of control so that departments were not completely without controls on their expenditure. After that, there were detailed discussions led by my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary, which led to the proposals which are the subject of this Question.
My Lords, the £400 million, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, referred, could certainly help to sustain public services in Wales and boost the economy. Parliament has voted that money for the Welsh Assembly. Does the Minister not think that it is arrogance on the part of the Government to ignore the will of Parliament?
My Lords, a lot of factors have to be taken into account in setting expenditure for the devolved Administrations, not least our favourite Barnett formula, but the fact remains that expenditure on a head-count basis in Wales will, in the present period, be some 12 per cent higher than the per head expenditure in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, would I ever be so bold as to criticise the Barnett formula? The Barnett formula has been widely questioned, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, himself. However, the Government’s priority has to be stabilising the public finances. If, in due course, the formula is to be superseded, the challenge is that there is no consensus on how to measure needs, which would be required to bring in some needs-based formula.
My Lords, on the contrary, I would suggest to the noble Lord that there is plenty of research on how to bring in a needs-assessed formula, given that both devolved Administrations distribute their money down to local authorities on precisely that basis. Would the noble Lord therefore accept that Wales is indeed underfunded, that the Barnett formula effectively misspends and overspends by £4 billion and that a rectification of that would surely help the Minister to address the deficit?
My Lords, the Minister brings considerable private sector expertise to his role, including at Union Bank of Switzerland. Can the noble Lord tell the House whether in his private sector experience he has ever come across a situation where companies say that if you do not spend the money, it will be taken away from you? What prudence does that encourage?
My Lords, I believe that it was under the previous Government in 2006—the noble Lord will remember this better than me—that the health service overspent its budget and reserve by £182 million, and the previous Government stopped the EYF system. So I really do not think that we need lectures about me and my experience; it was the noble Lord’s Government who stopped it.
My Lords, we are discussing the Kenyan military intervention in Somalia with many of our partners, including the EU and other organisations. The UK supports Kenyan action so long as it is undertaken in co-ordination with the Transitional Federal Government, and so long as it complies with international law. We will work with Kenya, the TFG, the EU and other organisations, such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, to ensure that any action does not impede humanitarian operations and is consolidated by stabilisation and the development of credible, accountable governance structures.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Will the Minister join me in regretting the under-reporting of what is a rapidly developing crisis that threatens to escalate into a major military conflict with consequences, as the Minister has said, that inflict further tragedy on the people of Somalia, many thousands of whom are starving and urgently need humanitarian aid? Is it not likely that this Kenyan incursion will perversely bolster support for al-Shabaab and that it will carry out vengeful reprisals in Kenya and beyond? When US drones based on a remote airfield in Ethiopia are flying over the area and the French navy has been active to the south of Kismayo, can the Minister give a clear assurance that Her Majesty’s Government do not intend to undertake a similar involvement and instead will work for a diplomatic rather than a military response?
I totally agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, about under-reporting. It is extraordinary how little coverage there has been of a very serious situation affecting the Indian Ocean nations of the coast of east Africa. As for vengeful retaliation, I am afraid that revenge is one of the currencies of the area. The Kenyan military operation is of course a response to the invasions into Kenya by al-Shabaab and other forces, and it is important to note that it is an attempt undertaken with the support of the TFG in Mogadishu, to bring some order and control to the situation. We have to face the reality that revenge operations may take place but there has to be a firm attempt to bring order and a better kind of control, at least to the border area between Kenya and Somalia. As to the noble Baroness’s last question, we support the Kenyan action on the conditions that I have clearly made: that it is important to ensure full compliance and that it is a legal operation under Article 51 of the UN charter.
My Lords, has the Minister seen the reports of 4 November from the United Nations that the number of Somali refugees fleeing war and drought to the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya has increased to a staggering 463,000 people, making it the largest refugee camp in the world? Catastrophically, the numbers are growing daily. Has he also seen the reports from Médecins Sans Frontières that it can take up to 40 days for a food card to be issued to refugees, including children, which is leading to levels of malnutrition and illness growing considerably in the camp?
I have seen some but not all of the reports. We have also seen reports that there appears to be pressure to reject refugees and to run down the numbers in that location. We have urged the Kenyan authorities to continue allowing refugees in from Somalia. We recognise Kenya's huge generosity in hosting refugees, which it has done over many years, and we will continue to support these efforts in the coming months. We certainly urge Kenya not to forcibly return Somali refugees over the border. There are obviously major aspects of administration and provision, to which the noble Lord rightly alluded. We will continue to help with what is an enormous imposition and burden on Kenya at this difficult time.
My Lords, do I understand from what my noble friend said that the Government consider that Article 51 confers an unrestricted right of self-defence under the charter against aggression by a non-state actor? Or does my noble friend rather consider that if a resolution comes before the Security Council we should attempt to impose some restrictions on the extent to which Kenyan troops may occupy large areas of Somalia, and that they should be circumscribed in a similar manner to that which applied to the NATO invasion of Libya?
It has not yet come before the United Nations, and there is strong evidence at the United Nations that an interest in the matter is not encouraged. Indeed, there are indications that if a resolution were pressed it might lead to further validation in precisely the opposite direction to the one that the noble Lord indicated. Of course, Article 51 does not permit unrestricted self-defence; it requires a real sense of challenge to national security and that the necessary defence should be proportionate. That is very important. That is what the Kenyan authorities will need to establish to satisfy our criteria for support.
My Lords, should not a key factor in our response be that a friendly Commonwealth country, Kenya, has been subject to intense provocation from the failed state on its borders, which has harmed its financial interests in terms of tourism as well as the major humanitarian matter? Is it not also a factor that the stability of the area might be increased if we were to encourage Commonwealth countries to move towards the recognition of the only stable part of Somalia; namely, Somaliland, the former British protectorate, which wants to join the Commonwealth?
The noble Lord is absolutely right about the challenge to Kenya. We all bear in mind the stories of the hideous kidnappings that have taken place, including the revolting story of the pirates or kidnappers who abducted a disabled lady and refused her drugs until she died. It is a repulsive story. He is absolutely right that there are grievous pressures on Kenya and indeed on all Indian Ocean and African states to do something. Co-operation between states—between Mogadishu and Nairobi in this case—must be a sensible starting point for action. As to the recognition of Somaliland, the problem is that this is not a country recognised by anybody in the international community. It would be a one-off development. We take the view that Somaliland should decide its own relationship with Somalia. We work very closely with it. Its administration is good, in contrast to that of the rest of Somalia, and we support it. However, we do not think that fracturing the area and recognising a single state individually would help matters. It might hinder them.
Procedure of the House: Seventh Select Committee Report
Motion to Agree
My Lords, there are two Procedure Committee reports on the Order Paper today, and I sense that noble Lords may find the second of these more interesting than the first. But the seventh report also raises important matters, so I shall take a few moments to outline the committee’s recommendations.
As noble Lords will be aware, the Localism and Public Bodies Bills have now been through both Houses, and are in the final stages of ping-pong. Both are likely to be granted Royal Assent in the near future, and in the case of the Public Bodies Bill in particular, that may be quickly followed by the laying before Parliament of a number of important draft orders.
Clause 11 of the Public Bodies Bill, which was of course inserted in your Lordships’ House, sets out the process whereby Parliament will scrutinise these orders. A key role is played by any committee which is charged with reporting on any draft order. In particular, if this committee recommends that a particular draft order be subject to an enhanced affirmative procedure, involving a longer scrutiny period, and an opportunity to make further representations to the Minister, then that recommendation will have effect unless the whole House agrees by resolution to overturn the recommendation.
The effect of the report before the House today will be to charge the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee with the tasks described in the Bill. This will involve some technical changes to the committee’s terms of reference, which are annexed to the report.
The provisions in the Localism Bill relate to orders akin to legislative reform orders, and our recommendation is that broadly the same procedure, of scrutiny by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, should apply. Again, this will require some technical changes to the committee’s terms of reference.
I hope noble Lords will join me in paying tribute to the work of both committees affected by this report, and our confidence that they will undertake their new tasks efficiently and fairly.
I hope this explains the background to the seventh report, and I beg to move.
Procedure of the House: Eighth Select Committee Report
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I beg to move that this House takes note of the 8th Report of the Procedure Committee.
This is an unusual Motion, since normally I would invite the House to agree the report, and the House’s agreement to the Motion would give effect to the committee’s recommendations. However, this report makes no recommendations; it contains a number of proposals, and each of these proposals is listed on today’s Order Paper as a separate Motion. In other words, the Motion that I am now speaking to is purely preparatory. It gives me an opportunity to describe the procedure for today’s business, but does not itself commit the House to anything. The substantive decisions will be taken when we come to the Motions on proposals 1 to 9.
The Procedure Committee’s report contains proposals arising out of the Report of the Leader’s Group on Working Practices, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad. The report was commissioned by the Leader of the House, and debated fully in the House on 27 June. As the report was made to the Leader of the House, it is for him to decide how to go about implementing particular recommendations. The proposals on today’s Order Paper were brought before the Procedure Committee either by the Leader himself, or by the Clerk of the Parliaments at the Leader’s request.
The committee has decided that, rather than express a view on the individual proposals, we should simply present them to the House in a neutral form, so that the House may take a view on them. Members of the Procedure Committee themselves have different views, and the committee did not attempt to come to a single view on the merits of these proposals.
What we did do was to try to put the recommendations into a clear, workable form. In some cases, therefore, we agreed modifications to the original Leader’s Group proposals. However, the committee’s agreement to these modifications does not mean that the committee agreed the proposals themselves.
The Procedure Committee’s report covers 10 distinct areas, which the Leader invited us to consider. The Leader’s Group made many other recommendations, and my understanding is that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will, in due course, bring forward more proposals, in a similar format, either to the Procedure Committee or to other committees of the House, such as the Liaison Committee.
But this is a matter for the Leader, not for me, and I would like to emphasise my own neutrality as Chairman of Committees and Chairman of the Procedure Committee. As I have said, the committee did not agree or even attempt to reach agreement on the proposals before the House today. I therefore have no mandate from the committee to speak either for or against them. My only job is to assist the House in coming to decisions. I therefore propose simply to move each Motion formally as it is called. In the case where there is an amendment down, that amendment will then be called. Even where there are no amendments on the Order Paper, noble Lords may wish to speak to particular proposals. I shall do my best to assist the House where possible but I will not address the merits of any of these proposals. Similarly, I shall not prevent the House from coming to a decision on these Motions by begging leave to withdraw any of them. Today is a day for decisions, and I shall move each Motion when the time comes. I beg to move.
Procedure of the House (Proposal 1)
Motion to Resolve
Moved By The Chairman of Committees
To move to resolve that the role currently performed by the Leader of the House or Government front bench during oral questions and oral statements be transferred for a trial period to the Lord Speaker, or in her absence the Chairman of Committees or another Deputy Speaker;
That the role thus transferred includes the responsibility to arbitrate between groups within the House, but not any responsibility to arbitrate between individual members by name;
That the trial begin at the start of the 2012–13 session of Parliament, and continue until the start of the summer recess 2012;
That following the completion of the trial, the procedure at question time and during oral statements should revert to its current form, pending a review by the Procedure Committee.
My Lords, I declare an interest in these matters. I am a member of the Procedure Committee, a former Leader of this House and the only living person who has been Leader both of this House and of another place—in fact, only the fifth person in British history who has ever held both jobs. I say all that because I think what I am going to say will be pretty disagreeable to a great many people in the House, and I thought that if I said it now, at least they could not accuse me of a lack of experience. My view is that proposal 1 is grossly unfair on the Lord Speaker, is bad for the House and would be the end of self-regulation.
First, the proposal is bad for the House. The working practices report seems to be based on a number of misconceptions. The Leader’s role is not to make decisions but to advise the House of what he thinks the will of the House is, and that expression of view can of course be challenged. The Leader, as is clear from the proposal before us, advises only which group or party he suggests the House may like to hear. That, of course, leaves a big gap regarding what happens, as is often the case, when two Peers from the same party rise to speak.
My Lords, it might be convenient if I intervene at this point to assure the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that the paper that we should be referring to is the Procedure Committee report and/or today’s Order Paper—and nothing that has been issued by anyone else.
If I may resume, the first point that I was making was that the Leader of the House does not direct the House but offers advice. The second point is that the proposal before us today deals only with which party or group the Leader thinks should have the next turn; it does not deal with the question of two Peers rising from the same Benches.
The third point on this matter, and in my view the most crucial, is that the working party committee completely omitted what is very clear in both the Companion and Erskine May: that the Leader of the Opposition and the Convenor of the Crossbench Peers have a role to play in the order in the House. That is very important. In my view, in the circumstances when two people from the same party or two Cross-Benchers get up, it should be for the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the government party or the Convenor to advise the House which of the noble Lords he thinks the House should most like to hear. It is these failures to implement self-regulation over recent years that have got us into our present difficulty, and the sooner that we get back to proper self-regulation, the better. In my day, the Leaders of the opposition parties, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who is not here, and the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, were both very helpful to the House over matters of order.
Secondly, this proposal is unfair on the Lord Speaker. When we set up the office of Lord Speaker, the House had the benefit of three separate Select Committees manned by some of our most experienced parliamentarians, taking evidence from virtually all the other experienced parliamentarians who were not members of the Select Committee. Those reports were very strong in saying that our unique system of self-regulation needed to be preserved and those conclusions from such an authoritative source should not be overthrown from a report which was based on misconceptions and did not in any case consider many of the issues, nor as far as I can see took any evidence from those with the appropriate experience.
The recommendations that the role of the Leader should be taken over by the Lord Speaker poses this problem for self-regulation: will the advice of the Lord Speaker be capable of challenge as is the advice of the Leader? It is not a comfortable thought. It would be disastrous if it were and the end of self-regulation if it were not. It would produce a regime for this House which is more restrictive than even the House of Commons which deals with these matters by points of order. So we need to think very carefully.
Secondly, we are asking the Lord Speaker to assume responsibilities not just from the Leader but also from the Leader of the Opposition and Convenor that are not even written down or clearly defined. There are also some very practical matters to be considered. I just wonder whether the lonely Woolsack is the right place for a Lord Speaker with these roles. When I was the Leader of the House sitting here, it was the nods and the winks from the Leaders of the other parties, plus, if I may say so, the mutterings of the Clerk, which were very valuable in making sure that I did not make mistakes. Even if we pass this Motion, the Lord Speaker stuck up there will not be in a position to administer it in any fair way. Therefore, my advice to the House is not to pass this Motion, and, secondly, to go back to self-regulation as it should be, because I do not believe that there are many people in this House who properly understand what self-regulation is.
My Lords, I did not expect to be intervening quite this early in this debate. When we last discussed the report by my noble friend Lord Goodlad, I used the expression that this recommendation was a “slippery slope”. I do not move away from that consideration. I intervene with a decade of experience as a Deputy Speaker and very much in support of my noble friend Lord Wakeham. There are practical problems in this proposal. I will mention just one or two of them.
The first is that from that position it is impossible to see the original Cross Benches. You simply do not have a view. Earlier this year, my noble friend Lord Colwyn had a brilliant suggestion for resolving that: he would use his dentistry experience and get an elevated Woolsack. That had considerable appeal. More seriously, of course your Lordships will know that in another place—and I use that expression advisedly—the Speaker sits in an elevated position, so he or she is able to see the House. Believe me, from the Woolsack that is not possible.
The only other point I would like to mention is that if this proposal were agreed to, the Lord Speaker or the Deputy Speaker would be able to call groups. However, as my noble friend Lord Wakeham said, if three members of Labour Party—I am not picking on the Labour Party, but use it merely as an illustration—were to rise simultaneously, they would all have to sit down again as the Lord Speaker rose, so there would be confusion to start with. Secondly, if none of those three or only one gives way, there would be a confrontational position and the Lord Speaker would be almost obliged to start naming names. That is not in this recommendation and I would vote very strongly against it. This means that the Leader of that party or the Leader of the House would then have to nominate or suggest the Peer concerned. In that respect, we will have gone round in a circle and will be back to self-determination. I do not approve of this proposal and I will certainly vote against it if it comes to a vote.
We considered this question at very great length when we had the Select Committee on the Speakership of the House six years ago. My view then was, and still is, that intervention at Question Time is a job for the Leader of the House as leader of the whole House and not as a member of the Government. If the Leader is not present, then it would be a job for the Deputy Leader of the House as deputy leader of the whole House. It was never my view that it was a job for the government Front Bench and therefore I do not understand the terms of Proposal 1, which refers to the job being,
“currently performed by the Leader of the House or Government front bench”.
That is not the job that we conferred on the Leader of the House six years ago. To insert “Government front bench” at that point in the proposal seems either to beg the question or, at any rate, to muddy the waters.
The question for the House is quite simply this: have the present Leader of the House and his predecessors on this side of the House impartially performed the function that they were then given during the past six years? I believe that they have. My only criticism, if I may say so, of the present Leader of the House is that when everybody is shouting together to get in, he does not intervene quickly enough. It is very important that he should intervene as quickly as he can when that situation arises. If in future he does intervene quickly, I see no possible advantage in transferring the job from the Leader of the whole House to the Speaker and I see many disadvantages, some of which have already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. Inevitably it will, in the end, lead to a loss of self-regulation.
My Lords, I am not particularly happy with this proposal and never have been. My views have been somewhat confirmed by what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, has just said. However, I wish to take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, who has several times in recent times referred to the “slippery slope”. I simply do not buy this argument about the slippery slope for the following reason: in a properly self-regulated House, the House does not need to go anywhere it does not want to go. It has the power to say, “This far and no further”. Whatever changes might be made, they do not automatically mean that we are living in fear of a slide down a slippery slope because they can always be stopped.
My second point is that I am not very keen on trial periods. The trouble with a trial period is that the determination of whether that trial period has yielded positive or negative results is very difficult to judge and can be extremely contentious because we do not have clear criteria about how we judge whether they have been positive or negative. Making that determination could simply cause more problems for the House.
On the whole, I feel that the House works well enough with the system it has, provided, as the noble and learned Lord said, the Leader of the House and others on Front Benches take the responsibility necessary to make it work. If they do not, then you are inviting a tsunami of requests for some sort of reform which would probably in the end destroy the self-regulation of the House.
My Lords, I intend to support the proposal before us this afternoon. I am in a great minority of one in believing that this House is self-regulating. I have not found that to be so. I have found it alien to me that a member of a political party who sits on the government Front Bench, whichever party may be in power, as a Minister of the Crown intervenes, interferes and determines which group in this House should be next to put the question. That is not a decision for a Minister of the Crown—a political animal, if I may put it like that—to take. To me that is for the judgment of an independent body, and that is the Lord Speaker, in whom we all have confidence. We would abide by the decisions of that Lord Speaker. I would therefore like to see this for a trial period, and I favour the proposition that is before us this afternoon.
My Lords, I also had the privilege of being on the Select Committee on the Speakership of the House, which, as has been pointed out, came out very strongly indeed against the proposal which is before us this afternoon.
I would just make one other point, which has been touched on earlier, and which I would have thought might possibly have appealed to the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. In the House of Commons, the Clerks sit immediately in front of the Speaker and can lean backwards to give advice. It may be very often that the Speaker in the other place does not need that advice, but there are occasions which are highly technical and where such advice may be useful. It would be quite impossible in this House, as it is presently configured, for the Clerks to give advice to the Speaker without it being very apparent—it is not always apparent in the other place—that the advice has been given.
My Lords, I do not claim to have the unique experience of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, but having been a member in the other House for a number of years, like many people I think, I often compare and contrast the proceedings between both Houses. In many ways, the experience of being in the House of Lords is a very favourable one in that respect. However, for the reasons advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, I feel that it is worth at least having a trial period where we have these matters judged by the independent voice of the Speaker.
On this occasion, I would actually like to consider going further down the “slippery slope”, although I normally like the self-regulation approach very much. These days, however, I have to say that Question Time—certainly for me and, I think, some others—can be quite stressful when one is competing so much with very active and well prepared Members on one’s own side, as well as trying to intervene in Questions in relation to other groups. In many ways, we should consider the Speaker as having the ability in the future to call Members because I think that it would create a fairer distribution. Not all of us have booming voices or towering physical presences, and sometimes it is not pleasant competing with one’s own side. Therefore I would like further consideration of this matter in the future.
My Lords, for two years while the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, was the Leader of the House, it was delegated to me to perform the functions of the Deputy Leader. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, that the Lord Speaker can see more people around the House than the person sitting on the Front Bench can. There were a number of times when I had to be elbowed because I could not swivel my head to see other groups. That is a fact. On the other hand, the configuration of this House is not the same as that of the other place, where not only do the Clerks sit in front of the Speaker but the Speaker’s secretary usually stands alongside him giving tips if he does not spot something.
I take very much what the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said. As a government Minister, it is not appropriate to choose who asks questions of the Government. That is the fundamental principle we are dealing with here. That should not be the role of a government Minister, and we need to find a suitable way. I can understand those who do not want change. Those who did not want a Lord Speaker in the first place can see, in years to come, the neutral person in the Chair calling the supplementaries. That in itself would be an advantage. I do not have the statistics in front of me, but something like 50 per cent of the supplementaries are asked by 10 per cent of the Members. That is because they have the loudest voices. It is a bully boy’s tactic. We try to encourage people to come into this House in order to use their expertise, but when it comes to Question Time, they look at what happens and say, “I am not playing a role in this”. Doing it that way is not professional and there has to be another way. I think that this is just a small modernising step.
My Lords, I have been in your Lordships’ House for 38 years and I should just like to say that I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. I think that the Leader of the House should be on his feet rather more quickly when two people are trying to ask a question.
My Lords, I want to make a very short intervention because everything I have on my notes has been said by my noble friend Lord Wakeham and the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, so really there is little more to say but this. The question is: are we to retain a self-regulating Chamber? If so, why dabble with the concept of opening a gateway that can never be closed? To what end and where is the justification for it?
Last night I read the official reports on this. There is not a shred of evidence to support proposal 1. Whatever was said about the Leader of the House and the Convenor of the Cross Benches, it forgot to mention the interests of the spiritual Benches. They are all the people who will decide what to do; they have the authority. You cannot land this job on a Speaker who does not have the authority and should never have it. I am not criticising any person or Speaker; I am talking about how the House should be run. It should be run by the arrangement of consultation that was referred to by my noble friend Lord Wakeham.
The last thing is that this is a question of crucial importance which also relates to other outside concepts that would have to be considered in legislation. It is quite wrong that we should now, without justification or evidence simply to please some concepts, do away with the maintenance of self-regulation of the House. It is the same sort of problem that we will have later on with retention of the ethos of the House.
My Lords, I know the concerns that are being expressed principally, although not exclusively, on the other side of the House. They basically imply that we are in danger of ending up with a situation like that of the Commons Speaker. I sympathise with those concerns. We do not want a Speaker in the sense of someone who has to adjudicate constantly on points of order and decide on balance whether difficult issues should be debated and so on. We do not want to go in that direction for all sorts of reasons which I think are well understood. However, I strongly support the proposal because I do not think there is any risk whatever of that happening under this change.
Indeed, I would offer as a kind of reassurance to those opposite that all these kinds of anxieties were expressed five years ago when the Speakership in its present form was established in this House. It was pretty vehemently opposed in all sorts of ways, while all sorts of forebodings were expressed as to what it would result in. I put it to the House that those forebodings have simply not been fulfilled. The Speakership has worked extremely well. I think that should be of some reassurance to those who feel that something serious, even cataclysmic, will happen if we support this proposal.
My main concern for wanting to be assured that this proposal will go through, and why I support it, is the issue that has not been mentioned. We are here to serve the public and part of that is for our procedures to be intelligible. Let us leave aside the term “self-regulation” at the moment—if there is regulation in any debate or at Question Time, it comes spasmodically from the government Front Bench. That is totally unsatisfactory for the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and for the practical reasons given by my good and noble friend Lord Rooker that you physically cannot see. In no Chamber anywhere on this planet or at any time in this planet’s history has the person responsible for order had half the audience sitting behind them. We are an absolute one-off on that, which is the position that we are in at the moment.
I simply put it to the House that we should do as every other representative organisation that I, or I guess anyone else in this Chamber, have ever had any experience of by having the person with a kind of responsibility for easing things along sitting in the centre and at the front—so far as there is a front here—of the audience, which would make it immediately intelligible to people watching in this Chamber or on television. It is such a minimal change. It does not advocate any new powers; it simply says that the power should be transferred from somewhere that—let us be blunt—does not operate that wonderfully at present. I defy anyone to say that it is a model in how it operates at present that others should follow. It is a small change in the right direction without any fear that has been expressed or any likelihood of being justified in the exercise. I urge the House to support this unanimous proposal from a committee on which I was very proud to serve. It was a very diligent committee that took evidence from everywhere across the House, and we should let this proposal go forward.
My Lords, I suppose that all of us come to these matters very much with our own experience, so it is perhaps no great surprise that a very distinguished Leader of your Lordships’ House should take the view that things should stay with the Leader, and a very distinguished lady who was Speaker in another place should feel that the Speaker is the more appropriate person. I therefore confess to having a good deal of sympathy for what the noble Baroness said, as I found myself in that situation some time ago.
Of course, the way in which one conducts oneself as a Speaker is not identical in different Chambers. Whatever the sense of authority might be in the other place, in the place in which I served there was the idea that the Speaker should exercise authority over some of the Members of that place rather than facilitate and persuade them. I need only state that idea for noble Lords to understand my point. In fact, I took as my guide Speaker Lenthall, who when confronted by the monarch and asked to identify Members of the other place said that he had neither eyes to see nor lips to speak other than the House gave to him.
That is what we are talking about. We are not talking about an end of self-regulation because we are not talking about new powers for anybody. We are simply talking about an element of the responsibility that lies currently with the Leader of the House to be taken not by the Leader but by the Lord Speaker, who has been elected by noble Lords. It is not a change to the procedures, the authority or responsibilities. It is simply that a different person undertakes those responsibilities on behalf of the House and in sympathy with the House—not exercising authority over the House.
We should not think of this as an end of self-regulation or even a change to self-regulation. This is simply a question as to who is the most suitable person and in the most suitable place to undertake this. I have no criticism of my noble friend the Leader of the House, who conducts himself with great decorum and a good deal of subtlety and has helped us through the difficult expansion of our numbers and the pressure on the work of the House. I must say, however, that there are some points of difficulty in our work, particularly at Question Time.
I did not find it a particular difficulty in coming to your Lordships’ House to force my way to the fore to ask questions—with my background I had to pull myself back a little from time to time because I knew I was no longer competing with the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, and others in another place—
Never. However, I appreciate for many other noble Lords coming into the House from other places—many of them not political chambers—it is not a great encouragement to involve oneself in the business of questions. I take very seriously what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, says about the number of people who engage at Question Time not being entirely satisfactory.
We might, by this very, very modest change, be able to send a signal to ourselves and others that we want to see a greater involvement of the House as a whole. I accept that there is no ideal place to sit in this Chamber to see everyone. The Lord Speaker would obviously have some difficulty seeing those who are in wheelchairs but, as has already been observed, the Leader of the House has considerable difficulty seeing those who sit behind him, so there is no ideal place.
However, some things have been adduced in the debate that really do not apply and are actually a protection against the slippery slope over which noble Lords have great anxiety. There is no need with this particular change for technical advice to be provided to the Lord Speaker. There are no points of order, and no complicated questions of procedure apply in this case. Therefore the experience that I had to have, as indeed do Speakers in other places, of having a Clerk either in front or beside to give the kind of technical advice that is not easily facilitated in your Lordships’ House, simply does not apply with this very modest change. All that is being asked for—
I am very grateful indeed to the noble Countess for raising that question. I think my noble friend the former Leader of the House raised a very interesting question that I saw raised a few eyebrows. He indicated that that responsibility lay with the leaders of the groups. I am not sure that I have observed the leaders of the groups and the Convenor intervening in that way. That would be a move away from self-regulation of the Chamber as a whole. The Lord Speaker move that is being proposed would not change that question; it would simply change identification of the groups, not the sides of the House, whether we are talking about the Convenor of the Cross-Benchers, Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or indeed the Bench of Bishops.
However, if the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Wakeham and pointed to by the noble Baroness were to be adopted and it was for the leaders of the various groups to indicate which of their colleagues should address the House, it would become extremely inappropriate for the Leader of the House to undertake that as the leader of the Conservatives. If it were to be taken in that way—and I am not sure that we actually are in that position—it would be even clearer that it should be the Lord Speaker who undertakes that. However, I find myself somewhat doubtful that that really is the way the House sees itself functioning. I think it wants to hold to a degree of self-regulation whereby the House as a whole calls for the Peer they wish to hear. That is really the preferable position for us to hold to, but there does seem to be a little uncertainty.
I am grateful for the indulgence of the House. In conclusion, this is the most modest of changes, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, says, would be much more comprehensible to those outside—and we hope that an increasing number is observing our procedures—and would in no way take away from the self-regulation of this House.
My Lords, in the light of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I shall speak a little more softly than usual. I regard this proposal as a sad reflection of the decline in standards of courtesy, of self-regulation, of discipline and of brevity in this House, and I shall oppose it.
My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that the Speaker we elected has virtually the same powers as the Lord Chancellor, who was summarily dismissed by Mr Blair. The role of the Speaker is no different from what went before. When this House was discussing whether we should have an elected Speaker, one of the reasons given in favour of having an elected Speaker was that there would be no difference from the previous situation. One of the arguments against it was the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument: that although there would be no initial plans, there would be moves later on to give the Speaker more powers. And so it has happened, because that is what is proposed today. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, in one respect: the House should not vote for this proposal today. I do not agree with him about handing power to party leaders, which really would be a retrograde step.
When I came here 28 years ago and saw how the House of Lords worked, I said, “It simply is not possible that a Chamber like this can regulate itself”, but I quickly found that it could, and did, regulate itself, and that its self-regulation was good for democracy —much better than in the House of Commons. I really enjoyed it. That was in a House not of 823 Members but of 1,183 Members. It should be easier for the House to regulate itself now than it was when there were a lot more Members.
One of our present problems—and there are problems; there is a lot of shouting, which ought not to go on—arises from the fact that there is a coalition Government and that the House is not sure whether the Liberal Democrat party should have a voice apart from the coalition. Frankly, that has to be settled. The only people who can settle it are the political parties and the usual channels. I wish they would set about it, and then we would know who was entitled, and when, to speak, particularly at Question Time.
My final point is a personal point. All we have heard about is the political parties and the Cross Benches. Although I sit among the Cross-Benchers, and they are very kind to accept me among them, I am an independent Labour Peer. I have not yet registered myself as a political party and I do not want to have to do so, but if parties are going to be called rather than individuals—the recommendation is that people should not be named—I shall be in some difficulty. I shall have to register myself as a political party, the Independent Labour Party, the previous one having become defunct quite a long time ago. For all those reasons, including the personal reason, I believe that the House should vote against this recommendation.
My Lords, the House of Lords has a reputation for courtesy and good manners, as the noble Lord, Lord Wright, has already said. The basic system is very simple: speakers at Question Time and in debates rotate around the various political groups. I believe it is the responsibility of every Member of your Lordships’ House to understand this simple principle and to give way gracefully, as appropriate. That is what self-regulation means. It is also what good manners mean. I hope very much that your Lordships’ House will continue to operate in an effective and efficient manner without having to make this change.
My Lords, when I came here two years ago, I looked forward to asking questions, because as a Speaker I was not able to. Of course, in politics, many of us do not go and read a big book as to how things are done—we watch and we listen. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned the bully boys and those who get in more than others. I watched and listened, and the person that seemed to get in a great deal more than others was the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner; and she could not be described as a bully boy. I said to myself that I would take a good example as a good thing and listened to the noble Baroness and how brief her questions were. I would be delighted if a Speaker or the Leader of the House was able to help an individual by saying that a particular individual should be called. However, the proposal is not to call an individual; it is to say which section of the House should have their turn, which is very different. To me, that is not going to help the person who is quiet-voiced and quiet-minded. If the proposal did say that an individual would be picked, I might have a different point of view.
It seems shambolic, but, in a way, this place seems to work at Question Time. There is a fairness about it, such that the quiet person often does get called. We talk about the Leader of the House being a Minister of the Crown, but the Leader of the House in the other place is a Minister of the Crown. The Leader of the House, although a Minister of the Crown and a member of a majority party, still has an obligation to look after the needs of the House and to be fair. I have seen that fairness demonstrated by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when he has said whose turn he thinks it is. Correct me if I am wrong, but that is the term that is used: “I think it is the turn of the Cross-Benchers”; “I think it is the turn of the Labour Party”. That narrows things down such that when it gets to the stage of two Labour Members arguing with one another, they should have the good sense to allow someone else to get in; or to say to themselves, “Last week, I got in and perhaps I will let a colleague do it this week”.
I very much enjoy being able to ask questions, including about apprentices. I remind the House that I came out of engineering. One of the loveliest things that my old foreman used to say was, “Michael, if it works, don’t fix it”. I would leave things as they are.
My Lords, I go back to the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Wakeham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, because they raised two very important issues. They pointed to the need for the Front Bench to retain the role that it currently has. I will argue quite simply that it is impossible for the Front Bench to carry out that role. That has always been my position. In the correspondence that I had with about 500 Members four years ago, when 300 or so Members replied and gave their views on the matter, an overwhelming majority of those who responded said that they were in favour of changing the role of the Lord Speaker. It was clear that there was considerable concern about the role of the Front Bench—Labour was in government at the time—in carrying out that responsibility.
The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, both referred to the need to intervene earlier, but therein lies the problem, because the Front Bench cannot intervene earlier without appearing to be political.
The noble Lord opposite says, “Rubbish!”, but some of us, including the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, watch what is happening on the government Front Bench during Question Time. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, very effectively seeks to have some influence on what is going on in the Chamber and often talks among her colleagues on the Front Bench as to who should be called. We are pointed to by Ministers on the government Front Bench, almost inviting us or identifying us to intervene during the course of the debate.
This may be a hypothetical question, but it comes to my mind. When the noble Lord says that it should not be in the gift of the Leader of the House because of the political implications, would we now be granting those powers to the Woolsack if we still had a Lord Chancellor—because he was a political figure, too?
We do not have a Lord Chancellor; we now have an independent Lord Speaker. I am arguing that we should take that role away from the political and give it to the independent Chair of our proceedings, thereby enabling early intervention in a House which, during Question Time, is often unruly, and which has led to public criticism when people see adults on television standing screaming, shouting and bawling at each other across the Floor of the House. Anyone in this House who can claim that that is a dignified spectacle misunderstands what is expected of this House.
My Lords, I am absolutely staggered that any Member of this House who has served in the other place—or the House of Commons, I am pretty agnostic on what we call it—should be advocating greater authority for our Speaker. I fear that I do not remember the halcyon days of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. I remember her authority being constantly challenged on totally bogus points of order. You have only to pick up a Hansard from yesterday, which will be like any other Hansard from the House of Commons. It will show that after every Question Time, people leap to their feet with points of order which are not points of order. They are people who missed out on Questions—they have not managed to get in, so they ask their question anyway—or they bring up some constituency matter that happens to concern them. That is all completely bogus. The authority of the Speaker is constantly challenged in the House of Commons, and it will be challenged here if we give authority to our Lord Speaker. We do not want to go down that path; it is a very retrograde step. We should learn from the House of Commons and stay with a system that works very satisfactorily as it is.
My Lords, I am finding this a very strange debate indeed. I always thought that when we had a Leader’s Group, the Leader of the House was on the group and presented the report to the House. Then it went back to the Procedure Committee. The Procedure Committee then went through the report and then presented its report with recommendations which it unanimously backed. We knew precisely where we stood then and had very strong leadership. Times change, and the report has been presented today in a very different way, in a neutral fashion. I have been waiting to see who will speak on behalf of whom in defending the current position or advocating change. It looks as if we have a new style of neutrality, which we have not had before. In those circumstances—and I say this as someone who saw the House regulating itself well when I first came in, with civility, courtesy and discipline; and no doubt I am now as much part of it as anyone else—it has changed. We should recognise that we have changed, and move on. I have again heard criticism of the Leader today, saying that he does not intervene in the way that Leaders intervened in the past. I am moving then to say that I am going with the change, and I am hard pressed on this. I do not like the state that we have got ourselves into, and therefore if changes come, I have got to go with them—unless, of course, somebody will stand up firmly and say “No, we are stopping it. We are going back to what it was like before, and I am the individual who will ensure that that happens”. I do not know who that individual is in the House, and who is going to say it. But the question I pose to the Leader is: is he going to speak this afternoon?
My Lords, I have the feeling that our procedures work pretty well on the whole. However, the one area where they do not work well is at Question Time. All I would say is that a House that approaches matters with more dignity than the Commons becomes extremely undignified when we get to Question Time or questions on Statements, and I do not like that. Your Lordships will notice that everybody who has spoken is what I would call an old hand. I do not think that any of the newer Members have spoken. But I have talked to some of them, and they said that they do not like Question Time, and do not take part in it, because they feel that they do not get a fair share of it. They do not like having to outshout the bullies, and they feel that it is more dignified not to do that. That we should allow new Members to feel this way is a condemnation of our procedures.
I believe in the dignity of this House, and I do not believe that this change will make us become like the Commons. All it will do is transfer responsibilities from the Front Benches to our Speaker, who we voted for, and who we all respect. We are not going to challenge our Speaker if we do not agree with which groups she points to. We will accept her decision with good grace, as we accept with good grace what the Leader of the House does from the Front Bench when he points to one group or another.
There are, of course, other difficulties, which have been referred to already, and I would like us to go a bit further. It is all right to say which group or side is going to come next, but what about those who are not members of a group or of a side? What about UKIP or Independent Labour? How do they get a fair share? It is quite hard for them. In the Commons, the Speaker makes a point of ensuring that small minorities get a share, probably a bigger share, but there is no such safeguard here. Yes, we defer to the Bishops’ Bench; we do that because we do that, and we have always done it, and that is not a bad thing either. However, we have no tradition of knowing how to cope with UKIP or Independent Labour, or any individuals. Though the proposal does not go this far, I would have thought that the Lord Speaker, from the Woolsack, would be in a better position to be fair to all the Members of this House. This is a small but important step. It will add a bit to the dignity of the House and keep us as a self-regulating House.
My Lords, as a new Member who has not spoken, I would like to say a few words. Few of my friends would consider me a shrinking violet, but there is no question that, for new Members, speaking in this House is a steep learning curve. I have been fortunate to have two or three Questions at Question Time. One thing that is very surprising is that the Member who puts the Question often has less time to ask their question than do those who ask questions afterwards. Brevity is the key. It has been emphasised that some of us are able to keep our questions fairly brief. Self-regulation is not just about the Leader of the House determining who speaks and when; it is about the Members themselves recognising that they have 30 minutes in which to deal with four Questions, and that that can be done satisfactorily only if people keep to time and allow others to have a say as well. I do not think that there is a problem with the system as it stands. It is for us to look at how we behave.
My Lords, I have had the privilege of sitting in your Lordships' House for only 18 months but I have received the warmest of welcomes, particularly at Oral Questions. I have also learnt three unique characteristics of your Lordships' House. The first is that all noble Lords are equal. There is no stronger manifestation of that characteristic than at Question Time, when one has the privilege to be heard because it is the will of your Lordships that one should be heard. Secondly, this is a self-regulating Chamber and noble Lords hear from whom they want to hear in the context of the Question being discussed and the expertise that is present in the Chamber at the time of the discussion. Finally, I have learnt that there is a very important constitutional role for the Leader of the House which goes far beyond his responsibility as a member of the Cabinet and far beyond his responsibility as leader of the governing party in this House—the obligation to every Member of your Lordships’ House to serve their interests and to ensure that the will of the House is properly communicated and understood. To divide the Leader of the House from the specific responsibilities that we discussed at Oral Questions today runs the risk of removing this overall obligation which the Leader of the House has to all noble Lords.
My Lords, after the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I am very tempted to say—as yet another fairly recent Member of this House, having joined just over five years ago—that I am not entirely happy with the way in which Question Time is seen by the public. We do not behave as well as we should. However, I do not think that the current proposal would make it much better, for all the reasons that have been given. It seems to me that two things should happen. First, I think that the Leader of the House or the Chief Whip should occasionally make it clear whose turn he or she thinks it is. That is not always as clear as it might be. Secondly, it is time that we, as Members of this House, used self-regulation to mean self-regulation of each individual—we should behave better. We should sit down when other people are standing and hope that we will have a chance, but if we do not get a chance to speak, we should hope that we will have a chance next week. That is one of the reasons why I do not speak very often at Question Time. I feel that others have something to say and I want to speak only when I really have something to say. If we are proud of self-regulation, we have an obligation to regulate ourselves.
My Lords, I am for self-regulation but I think that the usual channels could help us a little. We could be clearer, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, said, about whose turn it is and what the rules are. I think that there is a blockage in the usual channels which should be cleared. It creates conflicts every Question Time, which is unnecessary. I also think that the leaders of individual parties should be much better at disciplining their own members—either those who speak too frequently and stop others speaking or those who speak at too great a length. I get the impression that there is no effective discipline in that respect. It would help if one knew that someone who sins will be dealt with afterwards.
I was very impressed with what my noble friend Lord Wright had to say and with what the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said about courtesy and observing other people. I think that this is a temporary problem. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that we are a smaller House than we used to be, but in fact an extra 100 people sit in the House each day, so there is more pressure on the House. We have had a sudden influx of people who do not understand the rules. I think that they are now bedding down, so the proposal is unnecessary, if not premature.
My Lords, I have a quick question of clarification. If this Motion is agreed, are we going to adopt the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, to actually raise the Woolsack? As the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, mentioned, you cannot physically see these Benches from the Woolsack. I would be grateful for the Leader’s response.
I should thank my noble friend Lord Stoddart—if I may refer to him as that—and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for what they said about the minority parties and independents in your Lordships’ House. I would comment further, however, by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and others who feel that we behave extremely badly at Question Time, and that this does not do us any good with the public, that I think that the public see a substantial difference between Questions in your Lordships’ House and Questions, particularly Prime Minister’s Questions, in the House of Commons. The members of the public who I talk to always say how well behaved your Lordships’ House is in comparison to the other place.
I simply cannot agree with the noble Lord. As someone who tries to get in on Questions quite a lot—only because I am interested in a subject which is quite topical at the moment—I would have thought that when noble Lords get up who have not spoken and do not speak very much, the courtesy in your Lordships’ House is definitely there, to hear the new person, to give them a chance and so on. So I think that this aspect of our bad behaviour—and I speak also as someone who gives way a lot, and I am very happy to go on doing it—is exaggerated.
I am not sure that this Motion on the Order Paper really helps us. As I understand it, the Lord Speaker would simply choose a group, whether the Conservatives, the Cross Benches, Labour or the Bishops—though we normally give way to Bishops in any case. Time would be taken because it would go to the leader of the chosen group to decide who was going to speak. I am not sure that, as drafted, this takes us forward at all.
Finally, I would ask the Leader of the House, if he is going to speak, if he could clarify a doubt which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, mentioned, and which is in the minds of many of us when we decide whether we are trying to get in at Question Time. Are the Government one group, and does each speaker from the Government count as a question asked by the Government, or are we in fact dealing with the Liberal Democrat party and the Conservative Party, and therefore do they each get a shot at Questions as the groups revolve around the Chamber?
My Lords, what an extraordinary debate. I have never seen the House so impeccably well behaved, gracefully giving way to each other without being asked and without any intervention from me or anybody else. If it were like this all the time we would never need to have this debate.
This debate has been in gestation for some years, since the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, published his initial report, which settled the position for two or three years. It has become an increasingly hot topic and I very much welcome the debate that we have had today and the report of the Leader’s Group. It is important that we have this discussion.
I ought to lay out my cards at the very start of this debate. I do not favour the proposal. If it is called to a vote, and I am sure that it will be, I shall vote against it. Why? I think that the Leader’s Group sought to find a compromise, and in that it may well have created the seeds of doubt. I do not think that it will work. Simply moving the powers that I hold to the Woolsack—and many others have made this point—will not make things any better. If there is a failure in the current way that I interpret the rules, I am not convinced that the Speaker will do it any better. Whether or not we want to change the role of the Chair, it is not the proposal that we have before us today.
Secondly, it is the start of the end of self-regulation. I very much pray in aid the brief speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, who said that we should pause and reflect before we let go of the ancient way of self-regulation that has served the interests of the House for so long.
Thirdly, as a result of that, it will lead us inexorably to the Lord Speaker being given the power of calling individual Peers, which in turn will lead us to the system of the House of Commons. I have never been a Member of the House of Commons. I have been to see it from our own Peers’ Gallery and I have watched it on television. Presumably, the House of Commons has its own ways of behaviour, customs and traditions. However, I wonder whether any fair-minded, reasonable citizen who sat in our Gallery and then that of the House of Commons would really believe that the House of Commons is better behaved. I think not.
A number of Peers, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, and my noble friend Lady Sharples, said that part of the problem was that I am not up on my feet quickly enough to bring order to the House. I will respond to that. I do not see my role as that of a Speaker bringing order. As others, including the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, said, I see my role very much as trying to guide the will of the House to put itself back in order. However, if the proposal is not agreed and the powers are retained by the Leader, I would not mind having my own little experiment of leaping to my feet with greater alacrity and seeking to guide the House more urgently.
The second criticism of my role was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Campbell-Savours, and others. They said that my role is essentially political as a Minister of the Crown and that these powers should not be vested in someone who is so clearly a politician. I understand the impeccable logic of that, but I still think that it is completely wrong. Ministers in all sorts of roles also have to be able to carry out an independent role of leadership, which is what I very much try to do as Leader of the whole House. I hope that the House can recognise when I am being nakedly political and also when I am representing the interests of the whole House, which is what I try to do at Question Time.
A number of questions were asked about my interpretation of the rules. The usual channels, through the Chief Whips, have decided and agreed that the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party at Question Time are treated as one group. Therefore, we take it in turns. That gives an advantage—contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, might believe—to the party of opposition. It is right that the party of opposition should have the lion's share of Question Time: after all, it is trying to scrutinise the Government. For instance, today there were 24 supplementary questions, of which 15 came from the Labour Party. I am bound to say that if this power were moved to the independence of the Woolsack and the Lord Speaker, I am not so sure that that arrangement would be maintained. One has only to listen to the speech of my noble friend Lord Alderdice to see that.
It is not so much a question of, “If it ain’t broke, don't fix it”; there is always room for improvement and for doing things better. In the first year of coalition, we had a substantial increase—more than 100—in the number of Peers in the House. There was a difficult sense of assimilation. There were certainly Members of another place, on all sides of the House, who thought that they had arrived in a House of Commons without any rules. That was not the case; it is not the case. As the first anniversary kicked by there was a sense of settling down in the House. I have noticed that the House seems to be happier in its skin, with new Peers and the coalition working together. The noble Countess, Lady Mar, was quite right in pointing that out.
The most difficult decision at Question Time is what to do, if I can put it as politely as possible, with the Bishops and the noble Lords, Lord Pearson and Lord Stoddart, who clearly represent a view—not the Bishops; I must not confuse the Bishops with the noble Lords—that is live outside this House. As an act of great courtesy, and rightly, the House always gives way to the Bishops. I think that we should maintain that, but I am not sure that this proposal allows for that.
I have learnt a lot from listening to this debate. I think that we have had a very good opportunity to air all the grievances and potential problems, and, I hope, also the benefits of the system that we already have.
Procedure of the House (Proposal 2)
Motion to Resolve
To move to resolve that the procedure adopted in early 2010, whereby Secretaries of State sitting in the House should answer three oral questions, on one Thursday each month, directed to them in their ministerial capacity, should be made permanent, with a view to its revival as appropriate.
Amendment to the Motion
My Lords, this amendment was originally put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, but as he is unable to be present today, I have put it forward in my name. I should like first to stress that I am strongly in favour of the proposal on the Order Paper today to make permanent an arrangement by which Secretaries of State answer questions in this House. The only issue raised by my amendment is whether 15 minutes are sufficient or whether the time should be increased to 20 minutes. We are speaking about a maximum time limit. We have plenty of experience in the House, for example, on the time limit for questions following a public Statement, when sometimes the full time is not used, but more frequently, questions are cut off by the time limit. In the case of a Secretary of State’s questions now being proposed, some part of the time would normally be taken by a question from the opposition Front Bench, and there would probably be a question from the Liberal Democrats, thus the time for Back-Bench questions would be very short indeed. I hope therefore that the House will look favourably on another five minutes, a fairly modest proposal in my view, so that a Secretary of State could answer questions for a maximum of 20 minutes, not 15 minutes, as was the case in early 2010. I beg to move.
My Lords, we should not be taking this issue at this time because we have no Secretary of State. There is no real probability that there will be a Secretary of State in this House before the next general election. It seems to me that it would make more sense to leave this for what is likely to be some years, then bring it back and consider it in the light of events as they then are.
My Lords, I disagree with my noble friend. This is an appropriate time because we do not have a Secretary of State. I have one other thing to add: I totally support the Motion and the amendment, but I wonder whether it should not be 20 minutes rather than 15 minutes. We can perhaps come back to that in the next Parliament.
Amendment to the Motion agreed.
Motion, as amended, agreed.
Procedure of the House (Proposal 3)
Motion to Resolve
To resolve that Members should read out the text of oral questions, using the formula “My Lords, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty’s Government” followed by the text of the question; and that there should be a mandatory word limit of 25 words (excluding the introductory formula) for all oral questions.
This is the most ridiculous idea that I have ever heard in my life. As far as I can make out, it is put forward as a time-saver: how on earth is it going to be quicker to say “My Lords, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty’s Government” and then another 25 words instead of saying “My Lords, I beg leave to ask the question standing in my name on the Order Paper”? It just does not make sense. Is it proposed, then, that the questions will not be printed on a list—or what?
My Lords, the noble Lady must have had a sheltered existence if this is the most ridiculous thing that she has ever heard. I must confess that I have heard a good deal more ridiculous things. My understanding is that this is not in order to be more efficient or effective in regard to time, but to convey to those outside of the House what they do not have available—which is the Order Paper. Rather than their being uncertain of the purpose of the Question, they would be clear about it. I accept entirely what the noble Lady has said—that it would take up a little more time—but, if it contributes to making our proceedings more comprehensible to those who are watching on the television or by internet, it is a reasonable enough proposition. The idea that the number of words might be restricted is a good one as well.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord and I confirm that that is the purpose. As everything is now televised, people must understand what is going on. We could get the time back by saying that the Minister may stand up when someone has been speaking and trying to ask a supplementary for 30 seconds and start the reply at that point. Quite simply, if one cannot get the question out in 30 seconds it is just bad luck.
My Lords, I believe that the present arrangement works extremely well. As far as I can see, this will actually slow down the proceedings, and, to try to get some of the time back, imposes a limit on the length of Questions to 25 words. One can see a number of Questions on the Order Paper now which are over 25 words and are by no means excessively long. I see no reason whatever to change the existing arrangement.
My Lords, I agree very much with my noble friend, but there is one thing that we could do—and I hesitate to mention this. There is one practice in the Commons that speeds it up: that the Member asking a Question gets up and says “Number One”, “Number Two” or “Number Three” or whatever. As the Question is printed on the Order Paper; as you can put texts on the television that viewers can read; and as every Member of your Lordships’ House can read and has an Order Paper, that is the way one could speed things up. However, in my view there is absolutely no justification for this particular suggestion.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. Clearly, we want to make the House intelligible to as many people as possible. However, given that we have Questions one month in advance on our green sheet and, on the day, we get two sheets with the Questions on, nobody should be in any doubt as to what Question we are going to be asking. Given that the Questions are well known in advance, the solution is to have the text on the television. That would achieve the two things that we want to achieve: first, to better inform the public; and, secondly, not to do the very opposite of what we are trying to do in many of these Motions, which is to save time. This goes completely contrary to the thrust of them.
My Lords, I am slightly agnostic about this. If I have to come down somewhere, I come down on the status quo. However, I am attracted to the limit of 25 words. We need more brevity in this House. I take myself to task, following on from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, earlier, that my colleagues and I on the Front Bench do not take ourselves and other noble Lords on our Back Benches to task when they ask long supplementary questions. I do not say that we must have it in writing, but as a consequence of this debate we all need to be more mindful about the length of supplementaries, both questions and answers. I hope that that is one lesson we will have learnt from today.
My Lords, perhaps I may pick up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. I, too, am agnostic about the particular form, but the example that 25 words would make is perhaps one that the House would take on board. A short question takes a lot of hard work to frame but is probably the greatest courtesy that any noble Lord can pay to the House. The more questions we have on any particular topic, the better the range of issues around that topic is covered. I know that frequently only five supplementary questions are put, whereas I must say, coming from the Commons, I would have thought that closer to 10 supplementary questions are put in an equivalent time. That would be appropriate. We should somehow absorb the self-discipline of not believing that it is necessary to lay out the full background to a question, and then because our questions are so important, to ensure that two or three are wrapped into what is meant to be one supplementary question. But that is going to require the Leader of the House, the Leaders of other parties and perhaps the Members of longest standing who have real influence in this House actually to enforce the process. Perhaps then newer Members, who very rarely get to open their mouths in this place, will have an opportunity genuinely to contribute where they have real expertise.
My Lords, the problem with that as a proposition is that it does not work. We have been arguing for that for the past 10 years. I can think of innumerable occasions where Members have sought to try to stop people asking long supplementary questions, but I can guarantee the House that tomorrow it will happen again, and that it will happen on Statements. It is because we simply do not enforce the rules of the House. It is a problem that this House will ultimately have to address.
My Lords, the time allowed for each Question is about seven minutes. When we had a smaller House, most of those who wanted to ask a question were able to do so, but now there are so many people who cannot get in on a Question. They might not always have something valuable to contribute, but sometimes they do. Is it not time, perhaps not today but very soon, that we sought to adjust the length of the Questions by allowing eight or nine minutes for each of them rather than seven minutes?
My Lords, I am all for paucity of words and the concept of limiting supplementaries to 25 words is thoroughly admirable, but that is not the point of this proposal. In that respect, I think that noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, has done the House a good service with her initial intervention. I certainly am not in favour of wasting the House’s time even further.
My Lords, I have a confession to make. I do not spend a great deal of time watching the Parliament channel or listen to “Yesterday in Parliament” and I do not know the answer to the question. Do those channels ever print the Question so that people can see it? It seems to me that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, is absolutely right. I am not concerned that the Questions should be on these screens because we can always get hold of the Order Paper ourselves. Indeed, that is one of the first things most noble Lords do when they come into the House. It is a question of whether people who are watching the proceedings know what the Question is. I do not want to have the Question read out in the House but we should follow this up through the Information Committee or whatever to make sure that the television channels print the Questions so that many more of members of the public who watch will know what we are talking about.
My Lords, I do not know whether noble Lords think that we should maybe come to a conclusion on this proposal. Before asking for the Question to be put, I will say that I will take back the question of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, on how much or what is televised. Otherwise, I move that proposal 3 be agreed to.
Procedure of the House (Proposal 4)
Motion to Resolve
To resolve that the following new guidance be added to the Companion to the Standing Orders: “Members should not take up the time of the House during question time by making trivial declarations of non-financial and non-registrable interests. Questioners should not thank the Government for its answers, nor ministers thank questioners for their questions.”
My Lords, I have one point to raise in connection with this, which comes back to courtesy in the House and which ran through the debates on the first proposal. If Members of this House were more courteous to each other, we would not have the problems that are perceived during Question Time. Often in Question Time, Ministers do not give Answers that merit any thanks whatever, but occasionally they give extremely helpful Answers. It seems to me that it would be improper that the Companion should debar the questioner from thanking the Minister for a useful Answer. While I am all in favour of stopping the ritual of thanking for Questions and Answers, the way in which this has now been expressed is wrong because it debars Members of the House from normal courtesy.
My Lords, as your Lordships know, I am completely neutral on these proposals and have no views. I therefore put the Question. I beg to move that proposal 4 be agreed to.
Procedure of the House (Proposal 5)
Motion to Resolve
To resolve that where a statement of exceptional length has been made in full to the House of Commons and made available in the Printed Paper Office before it is due to be repeated in this House, the Minister in this House may (with the agreement of the usual channels) draw the attention of the House to the statement made earlier without repeating it; and proceed immediately to the period for exchanges with the Opposition front benches;
That the text of the statement should be reproduced in the Official Report;
That the guidance in the Companion to the Standing Orders on backbench contributions on oral statements should be amended, to indicate that “ministerial statements are made for the information of the House, and although brief questions from all quarters of the House are allowed, statements should not be made the occasion for an immediate debate.”
My Lords, I am afraid that this proposal does not really make sense in practice. When a Statement is coming, it is normal practice that the Printed Paper Office does not release it until the Minister or Prime Minister in the Commons has sat down after making it. Under pressure of business in your Lordships’ House, the time between the Minister sitting down in the Commons and a Minister getting up here to repeat the Statement is often extremely limited.
Many of your Lordships who want to contribute by asking questions may be in other parts of the House and do not know when the Statement is coming—it is “at a convenient time” after whatever piece of business has been decided. By the time one gets here and gets into the Printed Paper Office to get hold of the Statement to read it, the Minister is very often several paragraphs down the track. It is rather useful to have the Statement from the Printed Paper Office to catch up with what the Minister has said that one has missed because one did not know it was coming. The monitors over at your Lordships’ House no longer ring the bell when a new piece of business is there, so if you are working in the Royal Gallery or wherever you happen to be, you have to keep a beady eye on the screen to know when the Statement is coming.
I do not feel that this proposal really works. I cannot see why yet again we cannot go on with the existing position. It cannot be taken for granted that, if one wants to contribute to the debate, one will have been able to have absorbed the Statement.
My Lords, I take slight issue with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. We had this problem fairly early after the coalition was formed. I raised the question on one occasion when the Leader was making a Statement that was not available to us because it had not finished in the Commons. The Leader was gracious enough to say that the rules of engagement in the Printed Paper Office should be altered and that the Statement should always be available as soon as the Minister got up in this House. I agree that the Printed Paper Office is not always consistent in its reactions. I had no difficulty in persuading it that these instructions had been given and the paper should in fact be released.
My Lords, I understand very well the case against reading out extremely long Statements. None the less, I believe that the repetition of Statements in this House is very important because very often they get much more detailed expert scrutiny than in the other place.
As far as television is concerned, it is rather regrettable. As far as I can establish they televise the original Statement in the Commons but virtually never show the Statement being repeated in this House. That is perhaps a point which ought to be taken on board.
Having said that, I think that there is also an important matter of timing—if it is an extremely long Statement, which is then going to be in the Printed Paper Office, one is going to need some time to read and digest it before the Statement is then bounced suddenly into this Chamber. At the very least, while one would not necessarily move a manuscript amendment, those dealing with this discretionary practice should certainly allow at least an hour and a half—and I would have thought two hours—between the Statement being available in the Printed Paper Office and it being taken on the Floor of the House.
My Lords, surely the most important work we do when a Statement is put before this House is to question it and scrutinise it. Making sure there is adequate time for that and that a full range of views is aired is absolutely central to our responsibility.
I have perhaps a personal prejudice. I find that speeches that are read out are extremely difficult to listen to and a second-hand speech is, frankly, even harder to listen to because no one can put any life into it. I am not sure that listening to the speech gets me a lot further in terms of understanding. Perhaps that also applies to other noble Lords in this House. If we need a time delay to make sure that everyone has had an opportunity to actually do the reading, surely that is something that can be organised. It seems to me that the precious time we have should be spent on scrutiny rather than on a second-hand regurgitation of a speech that is sitting on paper in front of us.
My Lords, further to what I said earlier, I accept what the noble Baroness has said if there were to be sufficient time to really scrutinise the Statement. Without boring your Lordships’ House too much, in the case of Statements on European Council meetings, one also has to read the European Council conclusions and compare them with the Statement because they are often very different. We need at least an hour and a half for that.
On the matter of saving time, I of course accept that our questions should be briefer, but perhaps this is another opportunity to say that if the answers from the government Front Bench could also be briefer, we would all save a lot of time. That goes for Oral Questions, too.
My Lords, I was a Minister in your Lordships' House for eight years, serving in both the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence. I know from my experience as a Lords Minister that you have to listen very carefully to what your Secretary of State is saying in another place, because Statements very often get changed from the last time you saw them in your department. It is very difficult for the usual channels to be able to anticipate that. Since we are talking of courtesy in this House, I think that it is courteous for this House to have the same opportunity as another place to listen to a full Statement. If we are talking about the importance of clarity for members of the public, it seems to me quite extraordinary to suggest that, on the one hand, we should have questions in full but that, on the other, that we do not need to have Statements in full. For members of public watching on their televisions, listening on the radio and sitting in the Public Gallery not to have heard a Statement in this House seems to lack the clarity that we have been so keen on elsewhere. For those three reasons, I think that this is a misguided proposal to put before your Lordships.
My Lords, the proposal refers to exceptional circumstances and I should like to remind the House of one. I remember a public expenditure Statement lasting an hour and a quarter being made in the House of Commons and then being repeated in full in this House on the following day, when everybody had had the opportunity not only to read the Statement but to read everything about it in the newspapers. I suggest that that is the sort of circumstance in which the time of the House should not be taken in repeating a whole Statement.
My Lords, the Leader of the House made clear what happens at Question Time as to which blocs there were. My understanding is that, at Statements, Liberal Democrats are a separate bloc from the Tories, the Labour Party and everybody else. Can he make the position clear?
My Lords, I think that the Leader’s Group is trying to be helpful, in part because of the example that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, laid out. The proposal is not for the generality of Statements; it is for the most exceptional circumstances; there is the safeguard of the usual channels. The example that the noble Lord gave, of last year’s Autumn Statement, when it was taken on the second day, is precisely the one that we all had in mind. To spend an hour and a half on the Minister reading out the Statement was, I think, a bit much for all of us. The proposal is not designed to deal with most Statements.
On some of what the noble Countess said about blocs during Statements, I am not entirely sure what the situation is. Perhaps I could discuss it with the Chief Whip and the opposition Chief Whip. I think that there is a slightly different system at Statements, with the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, Labour, Cross Benches and anybody else taken more in rotation than at Question Time.
My Lords, before the Leader sits down, perhaps I may ask him about the important point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, which is that most Statements are currently made available in our Printed Paper Office when the Minister sits down in the House of Commons. It would be extremely helpful if they were made available when the Minister stood up in the House of Commons.
My Lords, I think so, too. I shall see whether we can make this happen. There may be some extremely good, logical reason why the Statement is not made available earlier, but if it can be changed then I think that it should.
My Lords, I should like to add one point that I do not think has been mentioned. The final words of the proposal are almost the most important. They say that,
“statements should not be made the occasion for an immediate debate”.
If this proposal is carried, I hope that the House will bear that in mind.
Procedure of the House (Proposal 6)
Motion to Resolve
To resolve that, with effect from the start of the 2012–13 session of Parliament:
Members be limited to one Question for Short Debate in House of Lords Business at any one time;
Each Question for Short Debate should indicate the date on which it was tabled;
After six months it should be removed from the list;
The guidance in the Companion to the Standing Orders on the wording of Questions for Short Debate should be as follows: “Questions for short debate last for a maximum of 1½ hours and should therefore be limited in scope.”
Procedure of the House (Proposal 7)
Motion to Resolve
Procedure of the House (Proposal 8)
Motion to Resolve
To resolve that the practice of debating “motions for papers” be discontinued, and that in future all general debates not inviting the House to reach a positive decision should take place on “take note” motions, which should be short, neutrally phrased and not subject to amendment.
Procedure of the House (Proposal 9)
Motion to Resolve
To resolve that the House adopt the following practice in respect of appellations:
Members should address the House as a whole, and they should never use the second person when addressing other Members in debate. A Member may refer to any other Member, without specifying his or her title, as “the noble Lord”, “the noble Lady”, “the noble Duke”, “the right reverend Bishop” or “the most reverend Archbishop”. Members may also, if they so wish, use the appropriate rank—for example “the noble Earl” or “the noble Baroness”—but there is no obligation to do so. When referring to another Member by name, the correct form is “Lord W”, “Lady X”, “the Duke of Y”, “the Bishop/Archbishop of Z”. Members may also use the term “my noble friend” to refer to fellow members of a political party. When referring to a Minister of the Crown, Members may refer to “the Leader of the House”, “the Minister” or “the Secretary of State”, as appropriate.
My Lords, I did intervene on a previous occasion on this subject, and, as with the previous proposal, I have not changed my mind. I know that the proposal uses the most important word “may”, but I think it is a retrograde step to start changing an age-old custom, particularly when it comes to “noble and gallant”, “noble and learned” and “noble friends”. As I said on an earlier occasion, a right reverend Prelate shall ever be a “right reverend Prelate”.
If he does not mind, I will support what the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, has just said. The way we use titles at the moment is something that contributes to a lack of asperity in your Lordships’ House and to the dignity of the House. Just to get rid of it or to say that the correct form is now to talk about “Lord So-and-so”, “Lady So-and-so” or even “the Duke of Y”—although I think it would have to be “the Duke of M”—is a retrograde step and unnecessary. Can we not leave it as optional, without it having to be the correct form? This form of correctness will not help our image or our deliberations at all.
My Lords, I entirely agree. I very much hope that this is something that we will allow to evolve naturally. Preserving courtesy is a very important element of this House. I entirely agree that we should never use “you”, let alone the appellations recently used by Mr Berlusconi of Chancellor Merkel. Courtesy is immensely important but to formularise it merely means that people will trip over themselves and get called out all the time. That used to be the way it was in this House when I was first here—people would get terribly upset if you did not stick “gallant” where it belonged. We have got much more relaxed about that now. I find that very comforting and I do not want to go back to a formulaic system.
My Lords, I am particularly happy at this moment to be able to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for the first time in this century. I think he has got it right. If “honourable Member” is good enough for the other place, why can “noble Lord” not be good enough for this place? I do not mind whether eventually this becomes evolutionary progress towards a different system, but I do not think that we have to take the decision now that this change be made. Why chip away at the courtesies of the House—which we have been addressing for a long time this afternoon and saying how important they are—on this particular issue? It is unnecessary.
My Lords, those of us who have been here quite a long time have all had to take the trouble to learn the antiquated modes of address and of referring to people. Why cannot people who have not been here for so long learn them too? Is it laziness? I do not see why we should change this. I also think that if you have to pause for a minute and think about how you refer to or address someone, it gives you a moment just to cool down in case you were thinking of being rather rude about them; rather like counting to 10 before you say anything. I do not think we should change this.
My Lords, I completely agree with the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. However, we have gone past the era when we strictly enforced the use of the customary forms. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas that it is no bad thing that the use of language should be allowed to evolve. If one sits in the House, one hears a great variety being used, both the correct form and various amendments to it, including the language in the proposal. However, those wonderful people in Hansard always correct what we say in your Lordships' House and record it in the correct form. I, for one, would like that to continue.
My Lords, a very small step is being proposed. Therefore, I am sure that it will be rejected.
I strongly support the proposal. I felt that I had to speak today on this issue out of memory of my very good friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who was one of the most able Ministers I have ever seen in operation. I watched him when I first arrived, because you are always a bit diffident about making sure that you obey all the rules of the new institution, et cetera. I noticed early on that he never obeyed any of the details of the regulations laid out in the Companion, which frighten new Members to death. I am not normally anxious about those kinds of things, but it certainly caused me some anxiety to get the title absolutely right, to remind myself that it is only lawyers who are learned and that the rest of us are not, and that it is only field marshals who are gallant and those captains or corporals are not.
It is such a small change. Lord McIntosh of Haringey—my late noble friend—completely disregarded the rules from the start. If it was Lord Campbell-Savours, he would say “Lord Campbell-Savours”; he would not say “the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours”. Nothing happened. No lightning struck and everyone knew perfectly well what was taking place. Ditto with the proposal that we have just passed—I was amazed that it got through; Members must have been going for tea, or something. I refer to the one that states that we should no longer refer to the House of Commons as the other place. Just to confuse everyone, we have to call it the other place. What other place? It is the House of Commons, so why not say “the House of Commons”. We have already made that revolutionary decision, so all I am suggesting to the House is that we carry on in that revolutionary spirit.
Well, I am relaxed about what people do individually. All I am saying is that I really think that it would be helpful if we gave a clear indication to new Members, other Members and the public, who find some of the appellations completely bewildering, that it is perfectly in order to do so. Nothing untoward happens; it does not affect the courtesy of debate in the slightest. We are still referring to people in the third person—which is absolutely right; it is essential that we preserve that—but we can simply say “Lord Campbell-Savours” instead of “the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.”. That has no effect whatever on his nobility. We should cease to use the endless different gradations of rank and of title, which mean nothing to anyone outside. I infinitely prefer to refer to “the Bishop of Leicester” than to “the right reverend Prelate”. I like to know where he comes from; I like to know what his title is. I am a regular, practising attender of the Church of England, but I was only vaguely aware of what a prelate was until I came here. However, I know what a bishop is.
It is “noble Lady”. Well, whatever. It is a matter of supreme irrelevance as long as we can be reasonably courteous to each other. As far as I can recall, only moments ago she was arguing for brevity. Now I have to say “the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester”. I prefer “the Bishop of Leicester”.
All I am saying to the House is, for goodness’ sake, we could shorten the Companion if we did not have all these requirements. I shall be very tempted to put down amendments to extend the use of the word “gallant” to everyone who has shown courage on the battlefield, not simply to someone who has become a field marshal.
I know I am pushing water uphill. This is far too revolutionary a proposal for the House to accept, but none the less the opinion of the House should probably be tested on it.
My Lords, it may surprise people who have heard me speak on one or two other things to know that I am a complete reactionary on this, but for a reason that may also surprise them. The Order Paper says:
“Members may also use the term ‘my noble friend’ to refer to fellow members of a political party”.
Where does this leave me with my Liberal Democrat friends?
My Lords, I like to keep the traditions of the House going, but I must say that “the noble and learned Lord” really is a bit odd, is it not? We had two Nobel prize winners in this House at one time, but they were not “noble and learned”, they were just “noble”. That illustrates the futility of this whole business. Of course, “learned in the law” is what it says, but we do not say that.
I am reminded of perhaps one of the best put-downs I ever heard in your Lordships’ House. Lord Hailsham of Marylebone was on the Woolsack, and Lord Mishcon had spoken from the then opposition Front Bench. Lord Hailsham stood up afterwards and said, “I have listened with great interest to the speech of the noble and learned—oh, I do beg his pardon—the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon”. He might as well have walked across the Chamber and slapped him in the face.
In view of the admiration that my noble friend Lord Grocott has expressed for the late Lord McIntosh, who advertised his disdain for many of the matters of procedure when he arrived here, can he reassure me that I will not be diminished in his affections when I tell him that I have not the slightest intention of observing most of the nonsenses that have been agreed this afternoon?
I wonder whether the House thinks that we might now come to a conclusion on proposal 9. Before begging to move that, I must say that I have had a very interesting afternoon, as I am sure we all have. The House has conducted itself extremely well. I beg to move that proposal 9 on appellations be agreed.
My Lords, there being an equality of votes, in accordance with Standing Order No. 56, which,
“provides that the Question before the House shall be resolved in the negative unless there is a majority in its favour”,
I declare the Motion disagreed to.
Motion 9 disagreed.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, before my noble friend moves the Second Reading of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, perhaps I may highlight the fact that 29 speakers have signed up to speak in the debate. If Back-Bench contributions are kept to seven minutes, the House should be able to rise around the target rising time of 10 pm.
Protection of Freedoms Bill
My Lords, respect for individual freedoms and civil liberties is one of the cornerstones of our parliamentary democracy. It is the duty of the coalition Government, as it is of any Government, to protect civil liberties and hard-won freedoms. Of course, it is also our duty to protect the security of the public. It is undoubtedly the case that we live in a dangerous world. We have to contend with the threats posed by international and domestic terrorism, and by crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour. The most basic freedom is the right to live in our own homes, and go about our everyday lives, free from the fear of harm from terrorism or crime, but in responding to such threats and discharging the Government’s core responsibility for protecting the public, we must not make the mistake of undermining the very freedoms and civil liberties that we are seeking to preserve and uphold as a beacon to others.
There is a balance to be sought here and that is what we will be endeavouring to achieve in the course of the debate during the passage of this Bill. It is a balance which I am afraid to say the previous Administration failed to achieve. They went too far on a number of issues. I will list a few of them: identity cards and the national identity register; the ContactPoint database; the indefinite retention of DNA profiles of more than 1 million innocent people; hundreds of new powers of entry; a vetting and barring scheme that required the monitoring of more than 9 million, and at one stage possibly 11 million, people working with children or vulnerable adults; indiscriminate and poorly targeted terrorism stop-and-search powers; removing the right to a jury trial in serious fraud cases; and last, but by no means least, 42 days’ and 90 days’ pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects. We have already abolished ID cards and the ContactPoint database, reduced the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 14 days, and your Lordships’ House is separately considering legislation to replace control orders. The Bill deals with the legacy of many of the other measures to which I have referred.
I turn to the detail of the Bill. Part 1 introduces safeguards in respect of the retention and use of biometric material by the police and schools. There is no doubt that DNA and fingerprints are invaluable forensic tools in the investigation of crime. They help to convict the guilty and, equally importantly, can exonerate the innocent. It follows that the national DNA database should contain as many profiles of convicted individuals as possible; nothing in this part of the Bill changes that. Where a person has been convicted or cautioned for a recordable offence, their DNA profile and fingerprints will, as now, be retained indefinitely. However, it is not acceptable that, following arrest, the DNA and fingerprints of a person should be retained indefinitely, regardless of whether that person is charged or convicted of an offence. Few people would support a truly Orwellian universal DNA database, so we should not seek to build one by stealth.
Under the Bill, whenever someone is arrested and has their DNA and fingerprints taken, the police will still be able to undertake a speculative search against the relevant national databases. If they have committed an earlier offence, they should not be able to evade justice. Indeed, it was just such a check in 2006 that led to the link being made between Mark Dixie, who had been arrested in connection with a fight at the pub where he worked, and his rape and murder of Sally Anne Bowman nine months before. If an individual is not subsequently convicted of an offence, their DNA and fingerprints will only be routinely retained where they have been charged with a serious offence, and then only for three years, with the option of extending this to five years with the approval of a magistrates’ court. The police will also be able to apply to the new Biometric Commissioner to retain the DNA and fingerprints of a person arrested for, but not charged with, a serious offence in circumstances where the alleged victim was vulnerable or where retention is otherwise considered necessary for the purposes of the prevention and detection of crime.
These provisions will ensure that the National DNA Database, with over 5 million profiles, remains one of the largest of its kind in the world, continuing to support the police by helping to catch and convict serious violent and sexual offenders, but without in the process stigmatising over 1 million innocent people.
The provisions in this part also give effect to our commitment to prohibit the fingerprinting of children in schools without parental consent. It is properly a matter for schools to decide whether or not to use biometric recognition systems for such purposes as pupil registration, cashless catering and checking out books from the school library. However, schools also need to have proper regard for the sensitive nature of personal biometric information, so it is right that parents should be asked to make an informed decision about whether to accede to the processing of such information. It is also proper that pupils should have a say. Where a parent or child objects, schools will have to take reasonable steps to ensure that alternative arrangements are put in place to enable the child to access school services.
Part 2 deals with the regulation of surveillance. Closed circuit television and automatic number plate recognition systems play an important role in the prevention and detection of crime and anti-social behaviour, and in providing assurance to local communities. I fully recognise that many people want to see more CCTV cameras in order to help protect their neighbourhoods. However, as we saw with Project Champion in Birmingham last year, public confidence in the benefits of CCTV can quickly be undermined if the police, local authorities and others are seen to be imposing camera systems on local communities without proper consultation. In this regard, I look forward to hearing from the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, who assisted the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police as part of her review of Project Champion.
The Bill takes a measured and incremental approach to the further regulation of CCTV. It provides for a code of practice on the development and use of surveillance camera systems and for the appointment of a Surveillance Camera Commissioner to oversee the operation of the code. The police and local authorities will be required to have regard to the code of practice, and we would expect that other operators of CCTV systems will also wish to adhere to the code on a voluntary basis. However, if the need arises, there is facility in the Bill to extend the duty to have regard to the code to other such operators.
The need to maintain public confidence is also at the heart of the proposals in the Bill in respect of local authorities’ use of covert investigatory powers. The intrusive powers covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, known as RIPA, must be used proportionately. Public trust is undermined if such powers are used to pursue relatively trivial matters, such as to check whether parents live within a school catchment area or to tackle dog fouling or littering. The Bill therefore subjects the exercise of these powers by local authorities to judicial oversight and, separately, we will be bringing forward secondary legislation under RIPA to introduce a threshold test so that local authorities cannot use directed surveillance powers for trivial purposes.
Part 3 of the Bill deals with powers of entry and wheel clamping. There are now some 1,200 separate powers of entry, enabling a wide variety of officials to enter people’s homes and businesses. We do not for a moment suggest that all such powers are unjustified, but there should be a compelling case and clear safeguards before a state official has the right to demand entry into a person’s home. We intend to review all existing powers of entry. Following this review, the provisions in the Bill will enable us to repeal any powers of entry that are shown to be unnecessary or unjustified, and to add further safeguards to those powers that are to be retained. We will also introduce a code of practice governing the exercise of powers of entry.
In many ways, my noble friend Lord Selsdon can take credit for these provisions. In the last Parliament he repeatedly plugged away at this issue, introducing a succession of Private Members’ Bills. I am pleased to say that his tenacity has now borne some fruit.
Moving on from protecting people’s homes to protecting use of their vehicles, I have no doubt that a number of noble Lords will have suffered the fate of having their car clamped. While there are, of course, many reputable clamping companies, the industry is also afflicted with more than its fair share of rogue operators using menace to demand and extract excessive release fees from unsuspecting motorists. This is an area where regulation has failed to tackle the abuses in the industry. We have therefore concluded that, where there is no lawful authority, an outright ban on wheel clamping is the only tenable way forward. We recognise that for some car park operators and other landowners the ban will remove one of the parking enforcement tools available to them. We also recognise that no one has a right to park their vehicle wherever they want—motorists have responsibilities too. So the Bill extends the operation of keeper liability for unpaid parking charges, which already applies to parking enforcement on the public highway, to other land.
I move onto Part 4, which reforms key counterterrorism powers following the government review overseen by my noble friend Lord Macdonald of River Glaven.
The Bill enshrines in law our expectation that the maximum period of pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects should be no more than 14 days. That is an important advance on the position adopted under the last Government, when 28 days became the norm.
The Government recognise, however, that there will be exceptional circumstances where it may be necessary to increase the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 28 days. This view was supported by the Joint Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. As to the mechanism for achieving this, the Government reflected very carefully on the views of the Joint Committee but remained of the opinion that any increase to 28 days should normally be decided by Parliament and enacted through primary legislation. We accept that the option of recalling Parliament to pass fast-track legislation is not available during a period of dissolution. That is why the Bill contains a power to enable the Home Secretary to increase the maximum detention period by executive order in those very narrow circumstances.
Part 4 also puts in place the permanent replacement of the no-suspicion stop-and-search powers contained in Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. That these powers failed to meet the test of necessity and proportionality is best illustrated by the fact that not one of more than 600,000 stops in Great Britain under Section 44 resulted in a conviction for a terrorist offence. Instead, the Bill provides for a much more targeted power that the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC, described as a “real and substantial change”.
Part 5 gives effect to the recommendations of the twin reviews of the vetting and barring scheme and the criminal records regime. We have a duty to protect the most vulnerable in society, be they children or adults. The Government will do nothing to increase the risk of such individuals being exposed to harm. However, we need a safeguarding system that is proportionate and promotes responsibility by employers and voluntary organisations while not putting in place unnecessary barriers to employment and volunteering. The existing system fails to live up to these aims. At worst, it creates an illusion of security by encouraging a tick-box approach to safeguarding.
The Bill creates a more balanced approach, putting an end to the requirement on more than 9 million—or, as I said earlier, 11 million—people to be registered and monitored by the state. We are also scaling back the scope of regulated activity and therefore of the barring arrangements so that they cover only those in regular or close, unsupervised contact with children, or those who provide health or personal care for adults. In the case of those working with children or adults but who do not fall within the ambit of regulated activity, it will remain open to employers and voluntary organisations to require such staff to undergo a criminal record check.
We are also streamlining the criminal records regime, including by ensuring that criminal record certificates are portable between posts within the same sector. The fairness of the system will also be enhanced by affording the subject of a criminal record certificate the opportunity to challenge any conviction or other information contained therein before sharing the certificate with his or her employer or voluntary organisation. In addition, we will increase the efficiency of the reformed safeguarding system by bringing together into one new organisation, the disclosure and barring service, the functions of the Criminal Records Bureau and the Independent Safeguarding Authority.
Part 5 also rights an historic wrong. It is now more than 40 years since gay sex between consenting adults was decriminalised. However, men with a conviction for an offence involving such behaviour are still stigmatised by having to disclose any such convictions and seeing them recorded on criminal record certificates. The Bill puts an end to such indignity.
Part 6 has the twin aims of further promoting transparency, including by extending the application of the Freedom of Information Act to additional publicly owned companies, and by enhancing the independence of the Information Commissioner. Given the commissioner’s important role in regulating information rights, including data protection and freedom of information issues, it is critical that he should go about his duties without fear or favour. There is no doubt in my mind that the current commissioner and the previous holders of the office have done that, but the provisions in this part of the Bill will help remove any impression to the contrary.
Finally, Clause 107 is a culmination of the implacable stand taken by your Lordships’ House in defending the historic right to a jury trial of those accused of a serious fraud offence. In 2003 and again in 2007, this House defeated attempts to bring in judge-only fraud trials. Clause 105 consigns the thankfully uncommenced Section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to the legislative dustbin.
I appreciate that I have spoken at some length and that this undoubtedly is a diverse range of provisions. The golden thread running through them is a determination on the part of the Government to restore a proper balance between protecting our communities, including the most vulnerable, and our hard-won civil liberties and historic freedoms. It is this difficult balance that your Lordships’ House has striven to maintain when discharging its core role as a revising Chamber, and which we shall seek to secure as we debate further stages of the Bill. I commend it to the House.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive introduction to the Bill. We may hear many fine speeches today that will characterise the Bill as a choice between protecting historical liberties and the march towards authoritarianism. However, I agree with my right honourable friend the Member for Blackburn, who said in another place that this is more a standard criminal justice amendment Bill than a sweeping redress of the balance of freedoms in this country. Some parts of the Bill present us with a stark choice not between freedom and the Orwellian state but between tiresome, sometimes intrusive inconveniences and increasing the risks to public safety. Regulation of CCTV, limits to the DNA database and crucial changes to the vetting and barring regime all present us with such a choice, and we are deeply concerned about the potential impact that the provisions may have on some of the most vulnerable communities in our society.
I will begin with the positive aspects of the Bill. We give our wholehearted support to the provision to erase historical convictions for gay sex that for far too long have blighted the lives of many gay men. We also welcome the extensions to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, but I ask the Government to look at the needs of universities and other public research organisations in relation to research and progress. In addition, we support amendments to RIPA that aim to obtain greater proportion in the scope and use of powers, and we are very happy to allow people to get married whenever they desire. The reduction in the pre-charge detention of terrorist subjects from 28 to 14 days is another thing on which we can agree on the basis of evidence, and of course we support the restriction on stop and search powers.
We also firmly support the Government's intention to crack down on cowboy clampers who have bullied and harassed members of the public. However, we are disappointed that the Government are not also seeking to ensure that there is proper regulation of the private ticketing regimes that the Bill establishes as an alternative. In the other place, the Minister said that effective self-regulation by the parking industry was the way forward. However, this issue has arisen precisely because industry self-regulation has proved totally ineffective. We are concerned that the Government's best intentions will do little more than squeeze the balloon, turning thug into extortionist as rogue clampers turn into rogue ticketers. Citizens may well turn to Citizens Advice, which dealt with more than 16,000 parking inquiries last year. However, it is under huge pressure as a result of the cuts.
Other aspects of the Bill give rise to deep anxiety and betray a fundamental distinction in our parties' attitudes towards risks to the vulnerable in our society. I am sure all noble Lords would agree that the use of closed circuit television footage during the August riots helped the police to identify and charge almost 2,000 suspects. CCTV forms a central part of police investigations. It makes people feel safer and is especially important to those living in troubled neighbourhoods. Local authorities and police forces are struggling with eye-watering budget cuts and redundancies, yet the Government are proposing to pile extra red tape on authorities that wish to set up CCTV in their area. Do they believe that local authorities and police forces have a fundamentally more sinister use for CCTV than private operators? If there is a genuine need for regulation, why do the Government not think fit to extend the safeguard to the vast majority of CCTV that is privately owned?
Technology has revolutionised the prevention and detection of crime in this country, and nowhere more so than in the use of DNA evidence. DNA provides 40,000 crime scene matches a year and alongside fingerprints provides a critical component of investigations into the most serious crimes of murder, manslaughter and rape. The Crime and Security Act 2010 proposed that the DNA of those arrested or charged with, but not convicted of, a serious recordable offence be held by police for six years. This was based on Home Office analysis that shows that the risk of re-arrest falls to the level of the general population after six years. Part 1 of the Bill reduces this limit to three years. The Conservatives were convinced by this argument in opposition and voted for a six-year limit. Why do they now wish to halve it? What new evidence has caused this U-turn, other than the ideology of their coalition partners?
The retention of DNA of those arrested or charged but not convicted is especially important in the case of rape, which suffers notoriously low charge and conviction rates. We know that it is often only after repeat offences that rapists are finally convicted. As a result of this Bill, 17,000 rape suspects would be immediately removed from the DNA database. Experience shows that some, although not all, of these individuals will go on to commit further serious violent and sexual offences. In fact, the Government know that they are creating a significant public safety problem here, which is why instead of capping retention to three years they have included a provision to extend retention by an extra two years. In an effort, perhaps, to pacify Liberal voices, the Government are offloading responsibility for key public safety decisions on to our stretched police forces.
There are numerous cases in which murderers and rapists have been convicted only because their DNA samples were retained on a database for more than three years. To reduce the number of years is both irresponsible and dangerous. Part 5 of the Bill makes significant changes to the vetting and barring scheme that was introduced in the wake of the horrific murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman at the hands of their school caretaker. As noble Lords will know, the previous Labour Government, having recognised the weight of unnecessary burdens, implemented the recommendations of Sir Roger Singleton's report, which reduced the number of individuals needing to register with the ISA by approximately 2 million.
However, we believe that this Bill goes far beyond removing simply “unnecessary” burdens, and presents a serious risk to the advances that the scheme has made to child safety. The new barring regime would no longer include those who work in supervised situations with children or vulnerable adults. Charities, including the NSPCC, argue that this fundamentally misconceives the nature of supervision in places such as schools and care homes, where light-touch supervision means that there is often opportunity for an individual to develop inappropriate and abusive relationships with the child or adult. Furthermore, those convicted of serious barrable offences who do not currently work or express an interest in working with children will not be placed on the barred list at all.
This cannot be right. It is interesting to note that an online survey conducted by Fair Play for Children found that 96.6 per cent of respondents felt that adults convicted of offences against children should be placed on the barring list as soon as they are convicted.
We welcome the introduction of new portable Criminal Records Bureau checks. However, like Girlguiding UK, for example, of which I am a proud member, we are greatly concerned about changes that would mean that the CRB checks are sent to individuals before employers.
The coalition agreement states that the vetting and barring regime should be scaled back to common sense levels. We believe that this Government are at fundamental odds with the “common sense” of the majority of the public in not choosing to err on the side of caution when it comes to the safety of the most vulnerable in our society. I am glad, however, that this Bill presents us with an opportunity to address an important loophole in our law that means that those subject to sustained and harrowing experiences of stalking are not receiving the recognition and protection that they need and deserve.
Stalking behaviour is consistently unidentified and underestimated by the criminal justice system. The lack of legal definition of a stalking offence means that the police, probation officers and the courts will look at offences in isolation; as a result, patterns of behaviour are often not spotted until a serious offence is committed. Clare Bernal, for example, was shot dead in a Knightsbridge store in September 2005 by Michael Pech. Pech had stalked Clare after their three-week relationship ended, following her in the street and bombarding her with threatening calls and messages. However, after being arrested and charged with harassment he was bailed and travelled back to Slovenia, where he purchased the gun that he used to shoot Clare while awaiting sentence. We need greater clarity in the law to ensure that other women do not have to experience what happened to this young woman. There are hundreds of similar harrowing examples of women living in terror and sometimes being murdered.
I know that the Minister is a fan of the Scottish model for other provisions within this Bill, so I hope he will support changes to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 that are similar to those introduced in Scotland last year and that would make stalking a specific offence, thereby naming and defining this poorly understood crime.
In the 10 years prior to the introduction of the offence of stalking, Strathclyde police reported a total of 70 stalking-related prosecutions. In the first six months after the enactment of stalking laws in Scotland, there were 140 prosecutions in Strathclyde alone, with an estimated 500 to 600 prosecutions in the whole of Scotland by the end of this year.
A similar small but crucial change in the law would mean that the 18.1 per cent of women estimated by the British Crime Survey of 2010-11 to have been a victim of stalking could seek greater protection. I hope that noble Lords on all sides of this House will support an amendment to this effect.
Earlier this year, the Home Secretary announced with much fanfare that this Bill,
“gives us a chance to ... return individual freedoms to the heart of our legislation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 1/3/11; col. 205.]
In many ways this is hyperbole, but by creating barriers to CCTV use, limiting DNA retention and restricting the vetting and barring scheme, exactly whose freedoms are being returned? Certainly not the freedom of local businesses, some of which suffered in the riots but were able to see the perpetrators brought to justice thanks to CCTV; nor the freedom of young women to feel safe walking the streets late at night; nor the freedom of children and young people, who in future could be supervised by paedophiles or others who have been barred.
I note the comments made by the Minister about balance. At the moment we believe that the balance is wrong. Some parts of this Bill are welcome but critical parts of it deserve close scrutiny and amendment. Together with my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe, I look forward to working with the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, to ensure that there is better balance in this Bill.
My Lords, the Minister’s careful exposition of the Bill has been most helpful. I welcome the Bill with enthusiasm—such enthusiasm that I look forward to successor Bills taking civil liberties even further forward. It is a pleasure to be repealing legislation, particularly restrictive legislation, even if it takes 200 pages to do so. I do not regard this as a standard criminal justice Bill of the sort that we have become used to in recent years. I depart from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on that, but no doubt we will discuss it. However, I would also say that repeal should be a matter for Parliament, not for Ministers.
In our complex society technology seems to be matched by the technicalities of legislation, but the underlying concepts are simple: fundamental human freedoms, historic civil liberties and a state which has become authoritarian—certainly too authoritarian. We have all become accustomed to the demand, “Your ID, please”; we are too used to having to prove who we are. I heard—I think it was on the radio a few days ago—of an 80 year-old who was refused a purchase in an off-licence because she could not prove that she was not a teenager.
The worst thing is not knowing what is known about you. This is about the relationship between the consumer and Tesco—which is almost nil in my case, but one could say any other retailer—or between an IT user and a search engine operator, or, of course, between the citizen and the state. The obtaining and retention of information changes the relationship between citizens and the state.
I am not applying this comparison wholesale or in its entirety; however, thinking about today’s debate, one characteristic of fascist regimes seems to have been an obsessive collection and retention of information. There was certainly one regime of which that was characteristic, anyway; I am not sure whether the Italians were too chaotic to have been able to achieve it.
We talk a lot about policing by consent, and I have been wondering what that means in the year 2011. We should also ask ourselves what is the extent of consent of the citizen to observation, surveillance, the keeping of records and the sharing and use of information. That is not easy because what I may think should be applied to you and to everyone generally—that means everyone else—is not the same as what I think should be applied to me. Ask anyone who has been involved in local government: we all know of the demands for blanket CCTV coverage in order to catch the owners of dogs that foul the streets.
The existence of more than 4 million surveillance cameras makes me wonder whether their very proliferation reduces their deterrent value because they are so commonplace. They are not uniformly applied. There are three times as many automatic number-plate recognition cameras in two predominantly Muslim suburbs of Birmingham as there are in the city centre.
We have more mobile phones than we have people. We rely on them. We have a very high expectation of technology. I have a friend who, in her worst moments of tussling with her computer, calls it “the devil’s work”.
I remember the shock when people realised what information about their movements in London was stored on the Oyster card—so-called, we were told at the time of its introduction, because of the pearl inside the oyster. It is not just a single pearl; it is a whole jewellery box, if that is your view of it.
Our private lives are trespassed upon without our realising it. It is important, and I wish that I had thought of this, to draw the distinction between the right to privacy and respect for privacy. We should remember, too, that there are social pressures to share information. Your own inclusion of information on a social networking site can make you quite vulnerable.
Guidelines and codes of practice can be only as good as their operators. We saw what happened with Section 44 stops and searches. No doubt we will use the words “balance” and “proportionality” a great deal in our debates. We will range from the administrative convenience of using biometric information about children in schools and, I would say, the inevitable pressure on parents to consent to their use, to how appropriately—another good word, but sometimes a weasel word—to protect the rights of landowners from those who see a space and park on it.
At this stage of the Bill I am trying to look at broad principles, not least because a speech on the detail would take me far too long. Another principle is the law of unintended consequences, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has referred to the impact of the extension of freedom of information to university research. I mention it specifically because my noble friend Lady Brinton, who cannot be here today, had wanted to do so. The problem is that even if a subject is still being investigated, is not yet patented, published or peer-reviewed or is part of a commercial and confidential contract with a partner outside the institution, it will still be caught. The Scots, under the guidance of my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, when he was part of the Scottish Government—ahead of the rest of us, as so often—got this sorted, and so should we.
So we are looking at balance, proportionality and a good dollop of common sense, but the safeguards must not be illusory. I welcome the involvement of the judiciary in many of the matters covered by the Bill. We may have debates about what is appropriate as an executive decision and what should be a judicial decision, but we may need to explore the criteria for decisions that we require our magistrates and our more senior judges to take. I am not talking just about the exercise of powers of entry but, for instance, about the extension of the retention of DNA. What will be the basis for the judicial decision? For instance, what would be the standard of proof for something that was not actually a trial?
I have referred to safeguards and codes of practice. If there is more than a single regime, as there is with CCTV, we will need a lot of clarity and co-ordination between the regimes.
I do not know what the collective noun is for commissioners but we certainly need clarity and joining up about the respective responsibilities of existing and proposed commissioners, looking at it not least from the point of view of the public and trying to avoid confusion in the public mind. Let us also be sure that the independence of commissioners is real, not rhetorical.
I will try to restrain myself from seeking to add to the Bill, not least because I see this as the start of a process of a strand of legislation, but I will indulge myself by mentioning just one issue on which I have heard the current Information Commissioner talk: the need for a more effective response to blagging—that is, the unlawful accessing of personal information by trickery. If a private investigator blags information he can treat it as a business expense, so, far from there being a deterrent penalty, the taxpayer is actually subsidising the activity.
The Bill will be referred to as a Christmas tree Bill and it remains to be seen what baubles will be hung on it. I suspect that the Minister will be very cautious about getting out a piece of mistletoe and—I am searching for a verb—connecting with anyone.
The line of argument with which we are all familiar is, “If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear”. I have nothing to hide—at any rate, nothing more than the usual embarrassments that we all have—but I fear the invasion of your Lordships’ privacy. This is about the sort of society that we want and how far, if at all, we should condition our rights. I welcome the Bill.
My Lords, I welcome the main thrust of the Bill. With regard to the reform of counterterrorism powers, the Bill has a good balance. I say that as a Member of this House who has had reservations about the control order legislation that the Minister has before the House. In this case, I am glad to say that the Bill has got the balance right between public safety and a proper liberalisation of our law. I welcome what the Minister said about the removal of an historic indignity with respect to the gay community. I regard that as a wise and noble step in the Bill. I should also like to say that the Northern Ireland matters are handled effectively and well, as they touch on many parts of the Bill.
I have one major problem. It touches on matters dealt with in and around Clause 100 on freedom of information and its working with respect to our universities. This has already been referred to by the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Hamwee, and I think it will be referred to again before the debate is concluded. I have to declare an interest. My own university, Queen’s University Belfast, has been rather caught up in the toils of this debate, and I am a professor at that university. While I indicate broad support for the Bill, I wish to explain why there is a case for an amendment to it to provide an exception in certain limited circumstances to pre-publication research in universities in relation to Freedom of Information Act requests. A similar exemption already exists, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, in Scottish freedom of information legislation, and there is a strong case for looking at that.
In my own university there has been an intense controversy concerning a well publicised case concerning tree ring data, which has very much influenced the public discussion in recent times about the operation of the Freedom of Information Act in universities. That work on tree ring data, while important, is in no way connected with my own work or the work of my own department. However, anybody who works in a university knows that the operation of the Freedom of Information Act has changed the way that we work often in quite difficult and unpredictable ways. Universities have to work within the broad framework of public law in this matter—that is widely accepted—but this is one area where there is genuine concern, shared, for example, by Universities UK. I am confident that there is a need to protect the timing of publication of research information and results. Research is highly competitive in our universities at the moment and it often has a commercial value of some significance. There are delicate issues of timing involved in such matters, and the publication of incomplete data and premature research prior to proper peer review, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has mentioned, may damage the reputation of research in the United Kingdom. Perhaps even more importantly, the premature publication of work that is not properly peer-reviewed and fully examined may harm the interests of the general public themselves. In other words, this is a matter of concern not just for universities but for the general public as well.
The Scottish amendment that has been referred to is in fact a qualified amendment where it has to be shown that disclosure would result in substantial prejudice to the research, to those conducting it or to the university. It is not an absolute exemption. It is a qualified and quite subtle piece of legislation. If the Minister is a fan of the Scottish legislation in other respects, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, I hope that by the time we conclude our discussion of this Bill he will become a fan of the Scottish legislation in this respect also.
My Lords, the word “freedom” is a heady one. Throughout the ages people have struggled to resist and overthrow oppression, most recently in the so-called Arab spring. Freedom from violence, intimidation, unjust treatment and arbitrary interference by others, especially by the state, is clearly good. But freedom, having been gained, needs constantly to be protected, and in recent years Governments have become a little careless about this. That is what prompts this Bill and for that reason I welcome it.
However, the exercise of freedom is not entirely straightforward. The freedom that I have been talking about is what Sir Isaiah Berlin famously called “negative liberty”—that is, freedom from outside interference and coercion. That freedom is constantly misused to commit wrongs and damage other people, as repeated historic infringements remind us. The law has to deter and restrain such behaviour, which means that freedoms sometimes need to be curtailed, as the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms—let us not forget its full title—provides.
As my noble friend the Minister has eloquently reminded us, the law has to attempt a balancing act, protecting freedoms, because they are essential to human flourishing, and where necessary restricting them in the public interest. When we have a Bill such as this before us, we have to ask whether the balance that it strikes is right in particular cases. I want to mention several areas in which the balance seems to me to be right and others where it is more questionable.
I welcome the provisions to amend anti-terrorism legislation. The reduction of the maximum pre-charge detention period to 14 days is overdue, though I wonder how viable the scheme for emergency extension will be. Similarly, the replacement of stop and search powers under Section 44 of the 2000 Act is, in view of their misuse, long overdue. The abolition of wheel clamping on private land should put an end to a highly objectionable and exploitative practice. The restriction of powers of entry brings order and proportion to a proliferation of laws that have become highly intrusive. I back the protection of biometric information on children in schools, with parental consent being required for processing information. In view of the accusation that the Church of England is institutionally homophobic, I am glad to support the disregarding of convictions for historic consensual gay sex offences.
There remain two areas of the Bill over which many people have substantial reservations. The first is the retention of fingerprints and DNA data on the police database. I understand why the Government have opted for a three-year retention period, but I worry that it tips the balance too far away from effective law enforcement by reducing the possibility of convictions for serious offences. The shadow Home Office Minister in another place argued that, if a retention period of six years were kept for the moment, a detailed analysis of DNA retention would provide more evidence to decide on the optimum length of the retention period. This argument appears to me to have force, especially since information once destroyed cannot be retrieved. The precautionary principle should be given weight here in case the consequences of the Bill turn out to be unexpectedly adverse.
Secondly, the Christian Forum for Safeguarding and a number of children’s and sporting organisations have serious concerns about safeguarding vulnerable groups and criminal record checks. The reduction of bureaucracy in this area is to be welcomed, but the provisions on barring narrow the scope for scrutinising individuals and the definition of regulated activity, and so make it more difficult to identify and bar people who represent a risk to children. There are also problems with the criterion of supervision for exempting positions from regulated activity and the production of a single certificate to the applicant only. Regrettably, the Bill fails to provide for enhanced CRB disclosures for those outside the sphere of regulated activity who have significant contact with children or vulnerable adults.
One issue raised at Second Reading in another place was the criminalisation in Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 of “insulting”, as distinct from “abusive” and “threatening”, words or behaviour. This has sometimes been used against people expressing controversial opinions in the street or elsewhere and it is arguable that it provides too low a threshold for an offence which restricts freedom of expression. I hope that the Government will think again about the matter.
In addition to the negative freedoms protected in this Bill, we must as a society nurture and promote the positive freedom to choose wisely and act rightly. This is something beyond the reach of government and law, but families, communities and institutions have a vital role in teaching and enabling children and adults to use their freedom not for selfish, destructive ends but for good purposes and for the benefit of others.
Freedom is always exercised in relation to others. As Joseph McLelland wrote,
“‘Autonomy’ should not mean freedom to choose … whatever one wills, but responsibility for what one chooses”.
With this background in mind, I support the general direction of this Bill.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak after the right reverend Prelate and I am very pleased that, given the decision of the House earlier on, I am still able to pay tribute to him with his proper title. I agree very much with what he has just said.
I support this Bill. It has been some time in gestation and, although some parts of it might need further consideration in your Lordships’ Committee, I think that this Bill needs to be hastened to the statute book. It is well balanced. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bew, in his comments on its construction and content.
First, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, who chaired the Joint Committee of the Commons and the Lords, on which I served, which looked at the provisions dealing with detention before trial. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Goodhart, who will be speaking later, will wish to comment.
I shall concentrate on Clause 58, which deals with pre-trial detention. As noble Lords will well know, this issue has been batted back and forth over many years in terms of the length of detention before trial. For many of us, it has been an annoying bone to gnaw on for many years, so I am delighted that we have now settled on a sensible period of 14 days as the norm. I support the Home Secretary, who has been at the forefront of trying to deliver a message, not just to the police forces and our security services but to the public at large, that this should be the norm. Gone are the days when we were talking about several multiples of that period as an aspiration.
As your Lordships will know, the 28-day period effectively lapsed in January this year, and we are now back to a standard 14-days maximum detention before trial. The Joint Select Committee of your Lordships' House and the other place took evidence from not only the police but former Home Secretaries, who warned of the serious risk that there might be individual cases, and perhaps collective numbers of people, who might need to be detained beyond 14 days before trial, but that was very much the exception.
A lot has changed in the past few years. We have extra resources for the police forces and our security services, new technologies that identify where people are coming from and electronic devices to understand where the threat might come from, whether individuals or groups, but the threat remains. As we come up to the Olympics, our security services are acutely aware of the prospect of—heavens above—multiple terrorist threats. Your Lordships will wish that those never happen, but the security services and the police are taking them very seriously. Therefore, we need a provision to go to 28 days in exceptional circumstances.
The Joint Committee of your Lordships' House and the House of Commons came up with a recommendation that has not been fully accepted by the Government, except that there is a provision that, when Parliament is sitting, the Government in the form of the Home Secretary—and, in your Lordships' House, the Minister responsible for the Home Office—would bring forward an order to extend the period and would explain why that was necessary. However, there is a danger, which we need to reflect on. It is very important not to prejudice the case of an individual or group of individuals, so I think that we must accept this provision but we must make sure that we preserve proper legal proceedings and the justice of the case as well as protect our security.
I am pleased that the Government have accepted that, when Parliament is not sitting, the Home Secretary should be responsible for acting to extend the period to 28 days, subject to a number of provisions, particularly as far as the Director of Public Prosecutions is concerned. If Parliament cannot be recalled because it has been dissolved before an election, there must be a provision, in exceptional circumstances, to go to 28 days. This compromise is workable. It was not the recommendation of the Joint Committee, but I support it.
I very much support the Bill and look forward to its further and rapid progress.
My Lords, the Bill marks an important moment. It is the start of the turn of the tide from a very low point where sophisticated new technologies, fear of terrorism, authorities with little regard for privacy and a series of illiberal Home Secretaries combined to make the UK “surveillance Britain” under the previous Government. So when Justice called the proposals a sticking plaster, it missed the point. This Bill is a very important first step in addressing what privacy and freedoms should mean in the 21st century. Justice has just published an excellent new publication Freedom from Suspicion - Surveillance Reform for a Digital Age, which highlights the fact that we have moved into a new era that existing legislation is not able to cope with. It did not anticipate the rapidity of technological advance, which is enormous. The scale of technological capability is beyond anything that was imagined, even when the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill was drafted.
In common with all noble Lords, I can remember when opening someone's post without proper authorisation was a serious offence, yet in the internet age, popping in to their IP address and having a look at what they are up to is not taken as seriously as it should be. An example is that, legislatively, RIPA offered protection when, in 2006, BT and Phorm decided to run a secret trial of marketing software that intercepted the private internet sessions of thousands of customers. It was illegal, but the CPS took no action. That set a very bad precedent that ignoring RIPA is not serious.
In April this year, the Information Commissioner said:
“RIPA was drafted for the wiretap age”.
The Law Society’s comments are similar. In its written evidence to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee on this Bill, it stated that RIPA is,
“a confused and complex legislative framework for surveillance, along with equally complex and overlapping oversight arrangements”.
Other examples of the technologies give us an idea of the complexity. The Guardian has highlighted that the Metropolitan Police are operating covert surveillance technology with a signal that shuts off mobile phones remotely, intercepts communications and gathers data about thousands of users in a targeted area. That has big implications for the right to protest and freedom of expression. The Met has also purchased software to map digital movements using data gathered from social networking sites, sat-nav equipment, mobile phones, financial transactions and IP network logs.
How should this be regulated? Clause 37 gives the Secretary of State welcome power by order to require judicial authorisation for targeted surveillance authorisations by other public bodies, but I would like us to debate in Committee an amendment providing that prior judicial authorisation would be an integral part of the whole system. Such authorisation would have picked up the disgraceful, long-term and costly surveillance operations undertaken by the police on peaceful environmental movements.
How do we as parliamentarians assure ourselves that such capability is being used in the right way? We have the commissioners—my noble friend Lady Hamwee mentioned that we do not have a collective noun for a group of commissioners—and the Bill adds two new ones: the Surveillance Camera Commissioner and the Commissioner for Retention and Use of Biometric Material. The problem is that the commissioners have different roles and areas of responsibility that have been built up in a very piecemeal way. There are not overlaps but there are gaps in responsibilities. I would like to explore whether we would be better served by one privacy commissioner with an overarching role. We know that the Chief Surveillance Commissioner has quite limited powers. His function is just to keep under review the operation of the powers and duties of directed and covert surveillance. The Interception of Communications Commissioner’s role is limited to the oversight of those who issue warrants and the procedures of those acting under warrants. He has no power to investigate complaints or to advise the public.
The best model—the Information Commissioner—is responsible for promoting and enforcing compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998. It is this role of advising the public that is really important. Citizens need an independent powerful figure—who is outward-facing to them, as well as inward-facing to the authorities operating under the various legislative frameworks including RIPA. We have a lot of work to do in this Bill just to keep up with the capabilities of the technology. I welcome a debate on how to do that.
I particularly welcome the repeal of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000: “stop and search”. It is very welcome indeed. I also welcome proposals that will see the destruction of the DNA samples of those arrested and charged with a minor offence but never convicted. I am, however, very disappointed that the position of children arrested or charged but never convicted of serious offences is unchanged. We need to examine that closely in this House. Finally, I am disappointed that there is no amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 so that it recognises peaceful protest as a fundamental part of democracy. It leaves in place the “aggravated trespass” offence. That was recently employed, for example, against all the individuals who were peacefully protesting with UK Uncut at Fortnum & Mason earlier this year in March. That use of “aggravated trespass” is an affront to the concept of peaceful protest.
My Lords, this Bill has quite a grand Title but a somewhat miscellaneous feel. Although this is a Second Reading debate, I will concentrate on one part of the Bill, which has already been mentioned. I hope to ask the Minister a range of questions about Part 6, which makes provision for the publication of data sets held by public authorities. I am not against what is generally called “transparency”. In fact, it is a great deal weaker than most people suppose. Transparency is an antidote to secrecy; its defect is that it is no guarantee of communication of any sort. That form of quasi communication can sometimes create an illusory advance in the things we try to do.
As I understand it, the Bill covers data sets which are neither government data—that is, produced or commissioned by government or government-controlled entities—nor official statistics. Both government data and official statistics are, after all, already subject to requirements for openness. The intention of the Bill is to bring data sets held by other public authorities—the term is slightly curiously used here—under similar, though not quite the same, requirements for openness. The other public authorities, I take it, include not only local authorities but, above all, universities, hospitals and research institutions and, no doubt, the publicly owned companies to which the Minister referred. I am not quite sure what sort of companies those are because I note that hospitals, universities and research institutions are not companies and are not publicly owned companies.