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Lords Chamber
31 January 2001
Volume 621

House Of Lords

Wednesday, 31st January 2001.

Railtrack

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they propose to accede to the request from Railtrack plc for an early payment of a £1 billion subsidy.

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My Lords, the Government and the Strategic Rail Authority have begun discussions with Railtrack on the timing of certain payments due to it under the rail regulator's periodic review which was concluded recently. I cannot anticipate the outcome of those discussions.

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My Lords, I am not sure whether I am pleased or displeased by my noble friend's Answer. Can the Minister confirm or deny my understanding of what he said in a television interview on Sunday? My noble friend was asked about the shambles that had been created in recent months. He appeared to respond that the present board which had created the shambles, and demonstrated that it probably could not run a toffee shop, would be left in final control. Is that the final answer, or is it possible for my noble friend, or somebody else, to dispose of the board if it does not do the job?

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My Lords, the point I made was that the problems of the railways appeared to the Government to be more a matter of management than ownership. If Railtrack does not do its job the people who will dispose of the board will be the shareholders. In acting to safeguard their £5 billion investment in the company, the shareholders should ensure that the board is up to scratch. In turn, it is the job of the board to ensure that the management is up to scratch.

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My Lords, does my noble friend agree that as 75 per cent of Railtrack's revenue comes from the public sector it is logical that the taxpayer should get something back from their investment in terms of the assets? I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight group. I hear today that Railtrack's debts will increase to £8 billion in two years' time. It seems to be a funny way to run a railway.

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My Lords, we intend to ensure that Railtrack, together with government and other parties, invests to improve the railways. I am pleased to note that in the past year its investment in the railways has been double the average figure pre-privatisation. I also note that because of the problems at Hatfield its shareholders are likely to suffer a Loss of £600 million. The impact of that loss should bring to bear the rigours of good corporate governance to ensure that the public get value for the money that they put it, just as the shareholders wish to protect their interests.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that people regard it as extraordinary that the more incompetent the company appears to be the more willing are the Government to hand it money? Will the £1 billion, or any other amount of money, to be provided to Railtrack in the short term come out of the amounts allocated to railway investment in the 10-year Transport Plan? Will the money to be spent on keeping the company afloat and fettling the tracks that it has allowed to get into such a bad condition be deducted from the long-term investment which was otherwise promised; and, if so, which schemes will be prejudiced?

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My Lords, we do not anticipate that the £1 billion will come from other areas of our budgets in the Transport Plan. That investment has been allowed for by the regulator, and Railtrack simply seeks a re-phasing of the money. The Government's priority is to work in close co-operation with Railtrack and other elements of the railway industry—passengers, the Health and Safety Executive, the Strategic Rail Authority and, above all, the train operating companies—to try to put in place the confidence which, for understandable reasons, has been lacking in recent times.

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My Lords, I declare an interest as a frequent railway user. Many passengers have been put off by what happened at Hatfield and the revelations since. Can my noble friend tell the House what has happened to passenger numbers since then?

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My Lords, there was a sharp drop in passenger numbers following the disaster at Hatfield. That is why Railtrack's shareholders will suffer losses of £600 million: £400 million in compensation to the train operating companies and some £200 million for the rapid improvement of the track. The latest figures indicate that the number of passengers who travel by rail is the same as this time last year despite all the problems. On the London commuting lines passenger numbers are up 4 per cent on the same period last year. The problem persists on the Intercity lines. However, those figures appear to challenge the view that it will take many years before people return to the railways.

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My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that none of the additional money is required to pay the penalties that the regulator will be obliged to impose on Railtrack as a result of its failure to keep train services running properly?

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My Lords, the penalties exacted by the rail regulator on Railtrack, and any other penalties that it might incur, go to the Strategic Rail Authority. Therefore, that money is recycled in the industry through the Strategic Rail Authority, whose new status formally begins tomorrow and to which we look for leadership and vision in the years ahead.

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My Lords, will the noble Lord and his colleagues undertake to look again at the absolutely insane structure created by the privatisation of 25 separate train operating companies?

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My Lords, the structures which we inherited were overly fragmented. We have put in place a re-franchising process to be run by the Strategic Rail Authority which may reduce the number of franchises. I believe that the movement in the market will ensure that those franchises are concentrated in fewer hands in terms of ownership. However, I should like the House to recognise the real efforts that are being made by all parties in the industry, particularly through the Rail Recovery Action Group, to get the trains running again. I am delighted that they have been able to achieve slightly above the 85 per cent return to normality which was promised this week. The latest figures suggest that about 89 per cent of the 18,500 trains operated each day are currently running.

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My Lords, I find it all rather confusing. Following all the questions which have been put, can my noble friend at least tell the House who is ultimately responsible for seeing that these massive subsidies to a private enterprise are used in the public interest? Who is the responsible person or body?

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My Lords, the responsible body is the rail regulator. That office has been set up to oversee the activities of Railtrack, which is not a normal company in the sense that it is the custodian of an important national asset and the recipient of considerable public subsidies. I believe noble Lords will see that we have considerably increased the rigour of the regulatory regime.

Crime And Society: Lord Birt's Advisory Role

2.40 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

What advice they have received from the Government's adviser on crime, Lord Birt, about the increase in the level of serious crime.

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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, was appointed as an unpaid adviser by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to look at criminality and long-term social trends. His work is being considered alongside work currently being undertaken by the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Law Officers' department and the Treasury, about which Parliament was informed on 7th November. This work is drawing together experience of improving the performance of the criminal justice system in England to identify the way forward for the longer term. The Government will ensure that any firm conclusions which emerge from this work will be reported to Parliament.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minster for that information. It is about eight months since the announcement of the appointment. Will he confirm that it was announced that the adviser would work one day a week drawing up law and order strategy. Perhaps I may ask three questions. First, when can we expect to discuss the recommendation or the advice offered by the noble Lord on these issues? Secondly, will it be published, as was the case with the advice of Keith Hellawell, the government adviser on drug initiatives? Thirdly, has there been any effect on the law and order situation in this country?

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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, gives his advice regularly. Any firm conclusions or new policies which emerge from his regular reporting to the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and other colleagues will be reported through to Parliament in due course.

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My Lords, will those conclusions and the advice given be available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act?

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My Lords, they will be, because they will be reported to Parliament.

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My Lords, to what extent is the noble Lord, Lord Birt, working with or in connection with Lord Justice Auld?

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My Lords, all new thinking that comes forward will be taken together in the round. Robin Auld's review of the criminal courts and John Halliday's review of our sentencing framework are matters which bear to be considered together because they inform the way we look at the criminal justice system.

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My Lords, what is the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Birt, in crime?

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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, has extensive knowledge in a whole range of social areas. No doubt he brings his freshness of view and his—

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My Lords, I believe governments stand to be advised by people with an interest in the subject. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, has an interest in this subject. I invite noble Lords to support that. It will give great aid to government formulation of policy.

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My Lords, how many times has the Minister met the noble Lord in his official capacity to discuss these matters? Can we expect to hear any result of this work in today's debate? I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that the advice will be made public.

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My Lords, I have not had the pleasure of meeting the noble Lord, Lord Birt, formally. Perhaps I should. He meets regularly with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. No doubt all those thoughts feed through to our increasingly successful strategy for dealing with crime and its reduction.

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My Lords, I also have extensive knowledge in this field. When will the Home Secretary appoint me to something?

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My Lords, since I have been a Minister in this House it is apparent that the noble Lord has a wide range of interests. We always listen to his views and concerns with great interest.

Animal Rights Protests: Protection Of Public

2.44 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to protect individuals and the public from attacks and intimidation by those who claim to represent animal rights.

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My Lords, the Government are committed to doing whatever is necessary to help the police to tackle violent animal extremists. There are already tough laws to protect business and individuals from violent or threatening protests. But we intend to strengthen these further to give the police additional powers to ensure that businesses and individuals can go properly about their lawful business without fear of violence or intimidation.

The measures we propose will allow the police to take action to prevent extremists protesting outside people's homes and will also strengthen the law against the sending of malicious communications. In addition, the Government are consulting closely with the police service, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to achieve an effective and consistent approach to enforcement of the law in this area.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that full reply. Has he seen comment by those threatened that the most recent measures announced are not adequate to counter attacks on the families and properties of those who are thought—sometimes incorrectly—to be engaged in animal experiments? Can the Minister confirm that Thalidomide was not tested on animals before it was marketed and that it led to very distressing results?

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My Lords, the noble Lord's second point is not part of my policy portfolio. My noble friend Lord Hunt will endeavour to furnish the noble Lord with that information.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his first point. It is important to get the right measures to deal with this particular animal rights extremism. We shall want to listen carefully to those who are properly concerned for their welfare and security.

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My Lords, do the Government agree that such threats comprise one of the most dangerous forms of terrorism in the UK at the moment? In the light of that, is it not important that everyone—particularly the investment community—should stand firm against such intimidation? Can the Minister draw the attention of this to the fund managers of Phillips & Drew, Panmure Gordon and the board of HSBC, which gave in to the first whiff of a threat from the animal rightists and which set a deplorable example of corporate cowardice?

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My Lords, I am sure that there will be widespread support for those comments. It is an appalling form of terrorism. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary raised this issue in the debates on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. We are and shall be taking firm measures to deal with these problems, particularly those of intimidation and malicious communications.

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My Lords, I welcome that response. The sooner tough action is taken to deal with these gangsters, the better. They are acting in a way which is utterly counter-productive and forfeits respect for the cause they seek to serve, as they did when they released mink into the wild at great cost to the natural heritage. Does the Minister recognise that there is widespread unease from those responsibly concerned with animal welfare? Does he further recognise that this unease could be relieved to a marked extent by discouraging the unnecessary use of animals in science and by the inspectorate being adequately resourced, strong and austere enough to ensure that high standards of care are maintained in laboratories?

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My Lords, it is a widely shared view that we have one of the best regulatory systems in the world for dealing with animal welfare and experimentation. We, and our Government in particular, should be proud of that record. I concur with the noble Lord's earlier points which reflect comments made in your Lordships' House today.

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My Lords, I welcome the Minister's proposals to tighten up protection for people being terrorised by animal rights protesters. Does he recognise how extremely serious this matter is? Is he aware that one lawful establishment outside Oxford was closed down entirely by animal rights protesters? Is he further aware that medical research academics in the university have been threatened, along with their families, including their children? Can he confirm that most medicines have to be tested on animals before they can be sold to the public?

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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that intervention. I am aware of the final point that she made. We take these threats very seriously indeed. We should be proud that the Home Secretary has announced the release of further funding—a further £1 million—to protect the establishment in Cambridge. Over the past year or so, Cambridgeshire police have arrested some 200 people in an attempt to counter those demonstrations. People should be under no illusion: this kind of lawlessness will be dealt with very firmly by the police. I am conscious of the attacks and intimidation that have taken place at other establishments. I refer in particular to the establishment in Oxfordshire and to Shamrock Farm in Sussex. We are very aware of these issues. We intend to deal with them firmly and give our utmost support to the police in this important work.

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My Lords, what use is being made of existing powers against those who send letter bombs and either threaten to burn down or try to burn down people's houses or premises?

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My Lords, the police have a wide range of powers under the criminal law and public order legislation which they can use to tackle those problems and to ensure that people can go about their business and lead much happier lives as a consequence. The Public Order Act 1986 provides the police with powers to act in respect of a range of criminal offences relating to public disorder; for example, when threatening or abusive behaviour or harassment occurs. I do not want to go into too much detail about how the security services and the police service conduct themselves in countering terrorist activities. That would be quite wrong. But the House can be assured that they are ever vigilant and are becoming increasingly successful in that endeavour.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that with the animal rights movement there is an iron curtain of understanding beyond which it is not possible to convey the importance of animal testing to this country and to the health and welfare of the people living in it? Does he further agree that, as a result, it is necessary to mount a campaign to convince the general public that animal testing is necessary, that these people are merely delaying important developments and that work may go overseas rather than be carried out in this country?

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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord's comments. It was very encouraging to everyone that the Prime Minister took such a clear lead on this issue. We want to encourage the widest possible understanding of the importance of this form of experimentation and the development of medical science as a consequence of that.

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My Lords, we look forward to supporting the kind of measures outlined by the Minister when the Bill comes before the House. Are they likely to include some degree of confidentiality for the private addresses of directors, shareholders and so on? I realise that it is a difficult issue, but it is also a very important one.

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My Lords, I certainly understand the noble Lord's point. No doubt it is being carefully considered.

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My Lords, under what category does the Home Office regard this type of activity? Is it seen as a misuse of freedom of expression; is it seen as civil disobedience; or is it categorised as terrorism?

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My Lords, it would depend very much on the activity being undertaken by particular individuals. None of us has a problem with people freely expressing their views, even if we find those views at odds with our own. But it cannot be right that people conduct their campaigns by means of terrorism, violence or intimidation. For that reason, we intend to take firm measures and to give the police the utmost support and encouragement in dealing with the problems as they present themselves.

Zimbabwe: Press Freedom

2.55 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will propose to their partners in the Commonwealth that a voluntary fund be established by the Commonwealth Secretariat, to which member states would be invited to contribute, to pay for the replacement of the printing presses of the Daily News, Harare, destroyed in bomb explosions on 28th January.

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My Lords, the Government attach great importance to the freedom of the press, especially in the circumstances of Zimbabwe, and deplore the attack on the printing presses of the Daily News in Harare.

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My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that although many messages of sympathy have been received by the Daily News from organisations such as UNESCO, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, the Commonwealth Press Union and the Commonwealth Journalists Association, those now need to be translated into concrete assistance, bearing in mind that replacement of the presses will cost 1.5 million US dollars? Will the noble Baroness ask her colleagues to take the lead in pressing the Commonwealth Secretariat to seek the establishment of a voluntary fund such as is mentioned in my Question?

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My Lords, I repeat to the noble Lord that we condemn the attack, which was clearly intended to silence the independent media in Zimbabwe. I have checked with the Commonwealth Secretariat and there are two Commonwealth funds that could be used. But those funds would have to be drawn on by the Government of Zimbabwe. It is important that the noble Lord should recognise that, like all member states, we contribute to the funding of the Commonwealth Secretariat, but it is an organisation that operates by consensus and where all members are equal. I understand that discussions are under way between those who own the Daily News and others on the possibility of setting up some kind of fund. We would support any measures that would lead to the continuance of an independent press in Zimbabwe, but it would be for others to take the lead.

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My Lords, have the Government of Zimbabwe expressed any regret about the attacks? Have they made any attempt to ensure that those who carried out the attacks are pursued by the police and brought to justice? If they have done neither of those things, will my noble friend make it clear that the Government of Zimbabwe owe a duty to the Commonwealth and to its people to ensure that such events do not again take place? Will she also make it clear that, in reparation for what are clearly government-inspired attacks on the press in Zimbabwe, the Government of Zimbabwe themselves should pay compensation to the newspaper?

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My Lords, Jonathan Moyo, the Zimbabwe Minister for Information, is reported to have said before the explosion that the Daily News was a,

"security risk to national interest".
After the explosion he was reported as saying that the incident was "most regrettable" and that the culprits would be,
"brought to book in the interests of justice, democracy and freedom of expression".
The Zimbabwe police indicated that they would be carrying out a full investigation. We would urge that investigation to be carried out as a matter of urgency and the culprits brought to justice.

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My Lords, I pay tribute to the courage of certain editors and politicians in Zimbabwe in resisting what has been an increasing disregard of the rule of law. I have two questions. First, would I be right to assume that DfID's aid to Zimbabwe could not include assistance to its press because of the involvement of the government? Secondly, does the noble Baroness agree that, perhaps above all, the international media and the media in this country, which are not exactly short of money, might consider this to be a cause to which they could find every possible reason to contribute?

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My Lords, of course we deplore the actions being taken in Zimbabwe; namely, trying to harass journalists and to close down the independent press. As regards DfID funding to Zimbabwe, we are focusing on health issues such as AIDS and HIV prevention programmes, rural water and sanitation measures, along with the reform of local government, governance and human rights. We continue to maintain a programme in Zimbabwe for which the 2000–01 allocation is around £14 million. Given that 63 per cent of Zimbabweans live below the poverty line, we have a responsibility to try to help those people. However, we have a clear policy of working on smaller projects, using NGOs and trying to assist the poor in Zimbabwe until such times that we feel more confident about introducing bigger programmes with the government of Zimbabwe.

Business

3 p.m.

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My Lords, immediately after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, in this afternoon's debate on the police, my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on the Lockerbie bombing.

Vehicles (Crime) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

The Police

3.1 p.m.

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rose to call attention to police numbers and morale and to the level of violent crime; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to call attention to police numbers and morale and to the level of violent crime. Perhaps a shorter title for this debate would be, "The preservation of the Queen's peace"—that being the second priority of government, second only to the defence of the realm.

We would all, I think, acknowledge that changing moral standards and social pressures have a huge influence on the propensity to violent crime. Criminologists and sociologists will argue about the causes of violent crime, but there can be no argument that the Crown should honour its side of the social contract with the people to preserve the peace. We heard earlier today during Questions expressions of grave concern about the state of the preservation of the Queen's peace in relation to the activities of animal extremists. Nor can there be any argument that the numbers and the morale of the police are crucial in that operation.

Fortunately, the statistics on numbers at least are reasonably reliable and those on sickness and retirement rates shed some light on the otherwise subjective assessment of morale.

Statistics on crime are less reliable and much more difficult to interpret. Inevitably they are only statistics of reported or detected crime. I recollect that during the miners' strike when violent picketing called thousands of officers away from their normal work, crime apparently reduced. That was because there was no one to detect or to receive complaints of crime. Legislation criminalising what were hitherto lawful activities, whether selling bananas by the pound or beef on the bone, driving at 80 miles per hour (chief constables and Ministers excepted, of course) or hunting with hounds, is likely to increase the level of crime. Decriminalising the possession of drugs, late abortion or early sex is likely to reduce the amount of reported crime.

The statistics of violent crime may be more reliable than most, but their reliability and our confidence that we are comparing like with like is greatly affected by the willingness of victims to report criminal incidents. One need not go as far afield as Belfast or Londonderry to see that. In the third world societies of our inner cities, hostility to and lack of confidence in the police ensure that much violent crime goes unreported. In rural areas, the perception that to report lesser crimes will result only in time-wasting form filling has a similar effect. To that extent, the less effective policing is, the less crime will be reported.

Since a recent debate on these issues in another place was largely an exercise in attempts to beat one another into submission with statistical weaponry of great unreliability, I believe that I should issue a health warning: statistics of crime are addictive. They can have unexpected side-effects and dependency on them should be avoided.

Let us start with police numbers. Total police strength peaked in 1993 at 128,000 and is now around 124,000. There had been a huge increase during the Thatcher years: a rise of some 17,000 by 1987 when I retired from government—although I was not at the Home Office—then a fall during the Major years. Between the Thatcher victory of 1979 and the defeat of the government in 1997, total numbers rose by 16,000. Numbers were rising again towards the end of the Major years. Then there was a sustained sharp fall through the Blair years until the final half of the year 2000–01, which showed an increase of 444. Overall, police numbers have fallen by 2,500 and, since May 1997, the Special Constabulary has been reduced by 6,000.

Of course we can all pick and choose particular dates and numbers, but I think that I have given a fair summary of what has happened under the three administrations. We are told that numbers will now continue to increase, although the Prime Minister's famous promise of 5,000 extra police by the time of the general election has now been completely withdrawn in favour of the promise made by the Minister of State, Mr Clarke, that by March 2002, with a fair wind and on a good day and a little luck, numbers will have moved back to the levels of March 1997.

Overall numbers, effective strength, wastage rates, sickness rates and morale are all clearly interlinked. Events in Northern Ireland and the Patten report have devastated morale in the RUC. I suspect that we shall hear more of that shortly. Morale in the Metropolitan Police in particular is extremely low. As a London dogwalker, I encounter and talk to police officers every day. An alarmingly large proportion of experienced and senior constables have told me that they are working out time and staying out of trouble until they can retire. Furthermore, many younger officers are looking to transfer to less stressful police forces.

Low morale breeds high sickness rates. That puts more pressure on those remaining at work, which in turn increases sickness. Quite properly, the rules on sickness and early retirement on grounds of ill health have been tightened in recent times. But in some cases they have been over-tightened and officers are pressurised to continue at work when they should be on sick leave.

I need hardly make the point that the Macpherson report has had a disastrous effect on morale in the Metropolitan force. The supine acceptance by senior officers of a quite disgraceful slander against the men for whom they are responsible has made matters much worse. In passing, I might add that the existence in Scotland Yard of what I am told is called the Lawrence steering group does not help. I could understand a steering group on the Macpherson report, but the existence of a Lawrence steering group raises the issue of whether there should be a PC Blakelock, or a Damilola Taylor or an Anna Climbie group. Should their relatives not receive the same consideration as those of Mr Lawrence?

I would not defend much of the Sheehy report, least of all the decision on the Metropolitan Police housing allowance. I welcome the decision made by this Government that a metropolitan allowance of £6,000 a year is to be paid, although of course that merely exacerbates the problems in the Home Counties forces around London.

The Minister will, I am sure, make the most of the recent increase in recruits. I hope that he will say something about their quality. Is it correct that a criminal record is no longer necessarily a disqualification? Have physical standards been maintained, and what is the rate of wastage in training? I am told that there has been a considerable increase in the extent of the practice known as "back classing" on the 18-week training course at Hendon; that is, where recruits cannot reach the standard, they are put back in the course to try again. Is that so? If it is so, is it because the standard of the instructors or that of the trainees has fallen?

Officers also complain about the extent of paperwork. It is claimed that an officer who makes an arrest at the beginning of a shift is effectively hors de combat for the remainder, incarcerated in the police station, entangled in paperwork. Is that necessary?

What will be the effect of the wider-scope fixed penalty notices envisaged in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill? The Council for Civil Liberties has expressed concern over the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof. But if a police officer has to report and form-fill for each notice issued to the standard required to arrest and charge an alleged offender, he will not issue many notices in a day. Perhaps the Minister will say whether he expects the police workload to be increased or decreased by these proposals.

Another cause of concern, I am told, is the poor performance, insecurity and unreliability of police radios. My understanding is that the new TETRA digital system currently on trial continues to have problems. I am told that there is a health and safety issue to be resolved; that because it causes interference with other equipment it cannot be used near hospitals or police headquarters; and even that it may adversely affect speed cameras on motorways—not, to my mind, a grave disadvantage. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with these matters before the close of the debate.

We have a police force not only under strength and demoralised, but one facing an increasing workload. Some of that workload arises from our lawyer-driven compensation culture in which we see compensation claims from citizens who are dissatisfied with the inability of the police to arrest and charge those alleged to have done them injury. Those same lawyers may have their part in making it much more difficult for the police to identify and arrest those who have committed crimes. The net effect is to swamp the police with paperwork and to reduce the time and the effectiveness of their work in catching wrongdoers. Even when criminals are caught, convicted and sentenced, the Home Secretary seems to let them out rather early in order to re-offend.

Increasing crime and increasing awareness of crime are also adding to the police burden. In 1993–94, the earliest year for which I can find figures, there were 4.5 million 999 calls. By 1999–2000 that had risen to 9.5 million. While the recent slight fall in recorded crime is welcome, it remains at a high level, and violent crime is still increasing. Soft sentences and early releases are no doubt factors in this, but to what do the Government attribute the rise and who does it most affect? My impression is that the victims are principally those who live in our third world urban areas.

Perhaps here I may take up with the Minister a matter which continues to puzzle me. In June last year I tabled a couple of Written Questions concerning the ethnicity of the victims and perpetrators of racially-motivated crime in the Metropolitan area. I was very surprised to receive an answer from the Minister which told me that information on the ethnicity of victims

and perpetrators of racially-motivated crime was not kept. The Minister looks surprised. So was I. But when I subsequently saw the figures published in the Daily Telegraph, I wrote to him and asked why they had not been available in answer to my Question. He told me that the information I had read in the Daily Telegraph came from Scotland Yard figures. Does not the Home Secretary, as the police authority, ask what is going on and what figures it has? Is that not extraordinary? Could officials have prepared an Answer for the unfortunate Minister to sign on the basis of not telling him that the figures were available in Scotland Yard, even if they were not on the file in his office? I find that not only extraordinary but quite outrageous. I hope that the Minister will do something to ensure that nothing of that kind ever happens again.

As noble Lords will know, violent crime rose in the 12 months to last September by some 8 per cent, despite a slight fall in sexual offences. Assaults on constables rose by 12 per cent to 27,000 out of a total of 588,000 offences. That is not much encouragement to recruitment. Even the slight fall in sexual offences is slightly suspect in that there was a fall recorded of 38 per cent in offences of gross indecency between males. That would be very welcome if it actually happened, but I rather doubt it did. There was a record fall in the practice of buggery of 22 per cent. Rape, on the other hand, edged up by 3 per cent. I wonder whether those figures can all be correct.

Perhaps I may end with a verdict on these matters—not mine, which might be thought by some to have some bias, but that of the people as a whole as measured recently by MORI. Asked about the level of crime in their areas since May 1997, 17 per cent of respondents said it had got better, 36 per cent said it had got worse, 44 per cent said it was unchanged. On standards of policing, the verdict was similar: 16 per cent better, 33 per cent worse, 46 per cent the same. As to the number of police on the beat, 9 per cent thought there were more, 49 per cent thought there were less and 36 per cent thought things were unchanged.

It is worth noting that 20 years ago 70 per cent were satisfied and 25 per cent dissatisfied with the way their locality was policed, a plus rating of 45 per cent. In February 1999, the figures were 70 per cent satisfied and 22 per cent dissatisfied, a positive rating of 48 per cent. The Minister has a slight smile. I do not think he should have because as we go on we find that, as the Government's policies have begun to bite, the mood has changed. Now, fewer than 45 per cent are satisfied and 50 per cent are dissatisfied, a negative rating, for the first time, of more than 5 per cent.

How do Ministers explain this? Have the public become—what is the expression this week?—"detached" from reality? Are they having, like Ministers, "moments of madness"? Does Mr Straw think that the public at large have a collective inability to remember or recognise what is going on? Is there "something strange going on" in the collective head of the public? Or will the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, own up like a man and say, "Yes, this Government have brought about a crisis of confidence in the ability of the police to combat violent crime in particular"—that they have, indeed, failed to preserve the Queen's peace? My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.18 p.m.

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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, on choosing such an important subject for today's debate. As he suggested, it is very close to the top of people's concerns and fears. As to the point that he made towards the end of his speech about the surveys of people's satisfaction with policing, it will be of interest that the greatest satisfaction was achieved during the Home Secretaryship of the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, on the debilitating effect of the compensation culture. I do not demur at all on that.

The wording on the Order Paper states that the debate is to call attention to police numbers, morale and the level of violent crime, as though they are all connected. In my small contribution I shall attempt to prove that this is not necessarily so.

Dealing, first, with police numbers, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will know that the setting of establishment figures by the Home Office was abandoned by the previous government. Presumably, that policy was supported by the noble Lord. It was placed in the gift of individual chief constables. It follows that if some chief constables decide that money is better spent on new technology, air support or civilian support, there is precious little that Ministers can do about it.

There may well be a case for maintaining centrally a minimum "ground cover" figure, as we used to call it, for every force before siphoning off officers or cash for specialist departments, squads or national agencies. It is a matter that my noble friend the Minister may wish to consider in the light of my following comments.

The Motion implies that "more police on the beat" means less reported crime. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, noted that that is not necessarily true. Often, the opposite is true. The obvious truth is that, the easier it is made for members of the public to report crime, the more crime will be reported. It follows, therefore, that in order to reduce the crime statistics the trick is to make crime more difficult to report—one method is to have fewer police officers in contact with the public. I hope that I am illustrating the unreliability of the Home Office crime statistics and not suggesting a template for crime reduction!

That said, it is undeniable that the public get a sense of security from seeing the patrolling bobby, regardless of the effect on crime figures. The fear of crime is probably far greater than the reality. If we can reduce this fear by adding more foot patrols, any sensible government are right to underwrite such an increase. That is why I applaud the Government for ring-fencing funding for an extra 9,000 officers over and above the normal intake. I understand that these recruits are now working through the training schools. The Minister may wish to give up-to-date figures in his response.

The difficulty in recruiting police officers is true of public services generally, not just the police service. I think there is no disagreement on either side about that. It is in a sense a measure of the Government's economic success because of a tightening in the employment market. It is universally accepted that a far more accurate measure of the volume of crime is the British Crime Survey, the latest edition of which was published on 17th October last year. It indicates clearly that in the two years between 1997 and 1999 the number of violent crimes fell by 4 per cent. Similarly, all crime fell by 10 per cent over the same period.

The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, mentioned assaults on police officers, which we all deplore. Police officers do suffer from assaults, and this has the effect of lowering morale. The apparent acceptance that the police, or indeed any other public servants, can be used as punch-bags cannot continue. I read recently that only 12 per cent of those convicted of assaulting police officers receive a custodial sentence. That is a disgrace, and the judiciary and magistracy should take note. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister could give the most up-to-date figures for custodial sentences following assaults on the police.

Noble Lords opposite should be careful in highlighting crime. The record shows that crime doubled during the administration that they supported. In contrast, this is the first government for 50 years to finish their term with less crime than when they came to office. The noble Lord will rightly say that specific categories of crime have risen: I refer to robbery and the theft of goods from the person. It is common ground between us that this area must be targeted and tackled. Part of the rise is accounted for by a sensible change in the counting rules. However, a great deal of such crime is attributable to the mugging of youngsters by other youngsters, usually for items such as mobile phones, which are almost becoming fashion accessories.

The Home Secretary was right, therefore, to call in the phone manufacturers to explore means of reducing such crime by making phones worthless to anyone other than the owner—in a similar way, the targeting of motor manufacturers reduced car crime. I am sure that noble Lords opposite would have expected nothing less.

I turn now to the important subject of police morale. Morale in any organisation can be affected by several factors. Remuneration, conditions of service, management style and complaints against the police are the obvious important factors. I shall deal with them briefly.

It was the previous government who removed the police housing allowance, in 1993—identified by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, as the date when recruiting figures began to deteriorate. That had an immediate effect on recruiting and morale, and the service has never recovered. It was the previous government who removed overtime for the ranks of inspectors.

Consequently, senior investigating officers—officers working in excess of 60 hours a week, often heading murder inquiries—are taking home less than the junior officers working for them. To quote this week's Police Review,
"Inspectors in charge of up to 14 cases each are becoming human wrecks!"
It is becoming virtually impossible to find applicants for this demanding work. This lowering of morale was again caused by the Sheehy-type savings imposed by the previous administration supported by noble Lords opposite.

It was the previous government who abolished the rank of chief superintendent, thereby weakening the ability of chief constables to manage huge divisions, some larger than small police forces. Sense has prevailed, and the rank of chief superintendent is being brought back by the present Government.

The complaints system is not working. For some time, the staff associations have argued for the independent investigation of complaints. We have had, for example, the Lancet inquiry in Cleveland (of Ray Mallon fame) which has gone on for over four years, with many, including Mr Mallon, being suspended for over three years. The cost to the ratepayers of Cleveland is estimated to be in the region of £5 million to £7 million.

In 1996, the Police Superintendents' Association, of which I was then president, discussed reforms with the previous government and the Police Complaints Authority. Unfortunately, our pleas fell on deaf ears. The present Government are reforming the police complaints system.

In conclusion, as the Lancet inquiry has been completed, will my noble friend the Minister give the House some idea of when the Crown Prosecution Service will put the officers being investigated, the remainder of the force and the people of Cleveland out of their misery and announce the final decisions in the inquiry? Mr Mallon has already been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing and this sorry mess needs concluding.

I think it is evident that this Government need no lessons in police funding, management or reform from noble Lords opposite.

3.28 p.m.

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My Lords, I am delighted to be able to contribute to this debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for providing this opportunity. Needless to say, I may not agree with many of the things he has said.

Law and order repeatedly surfaces as a key issue that concerns the community. It is no secret that it will continue to remain higher on the agenda in readiness for the next general election. I see nothing wrong in that, provided that we do not use the police and policing issues as a political football.

Until recently, there was a substantial and steady fall in police strength. The fall in numbers, which began under the previous Conservative government, has accelerated under the present Government. The slogan,
"Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime",
has an ingredient missing: those responsible for dealing with crime—that is, our police officers—are thin on the ground. The fall in the number of officers since 1997 is very serious indeed. Even now, there is serious concern about whether we shall be able to replace the officers lost since then. Of course, we welcome the recent recruitment drive, which looks promising. Let us hope that the Government will never again contemplate sticking to the spending plans—as they did during their first three years in office—which brought about the serious decline in police numbers.

There is no guarantee that the increase in police numbers will reduce serious crime. We need to probe much deeper into why our society, particularly our young people, have scant regard for the law. We need to probe more deeply into why, despite repeated criminal justice legislation and a record number of new laws to tackle crime, we have failed to tackle the increase in serious crime. An increase in police numbers alone would not solve our problems. The Government should have realised the folly of restricting their spending on police recruitment. No one has ever argued that crime reduction is assisted by a reduction in police numbers.

There are two reasons for the decline in police numbers. The first, undoubtedly, is the level of funding. The second is recruitment and retention. We can add to this the unfunded police pension scheme and the significant cost of new technology to keep pace with the sophisticated and international nature of crime.

The Government's own figures show that, after the proportion of police funding which is allocated to meet pension requirements is taken into account, in 1997–98 14 forces, in 1998–99 16 forces and in 1999–2000 15 forces had a cut in funding in real terms. The issue of pensions will not go away. It is time for us to know something about the Government's thinking on the subject.

Of course, there is some truth in the saying that fear of crime is greater than crime itself. It does not help the situation when all the evidence points to the declining public confidence in fighting crime, and the police being held responsible for what, ultimately, is the responsibility of the politicians. Ask any citizen and the complaint is that policemen are simply not visible enough in our communities and that the police do not even have the resources to respond to all the important demands made on them. Certain crimes no longer feature as important to the police, and yet they have a very profound effect on victims. Those of us who have items stolen from our cars can vouch for that statement.

Simply blaming the police service is not an answer. Talk to any police officer and you can see his or her frustration. Police officers care about public concerns and they want to be the reassuring presence on our streets. We were repeatedly told that the amount of unnecessary paper work would be cut down and that that would release more officers on to the beat. However, this does not seem to have happened. Can the Minister say why not?

The history of law and order over the past two decades is so telling. Of course, the Conservative government could claim falls in recorded crime in the later years of their administration, but recorded crime was still 81 per cent higher in 1997 than in 1979. Violent crime rose every year between 1979 and 1997. Over this time, there was a 168 per cent rise, and the percentage is now rising again. Against this, the number of convictions in courts has fallen. I am referring not only to the proportion of crime leading to a conviction—the conviction rate fell—but also to the fact that the absolute number of convictions also fell. Whereas there were nearly 1.9 million convictions in 1979, there were 1.4 million in 1996. Crime nearly doubled during this time, but the number of criminals brought to account in the courts fell by 20 per cent. In 1985, there was a conviction for every eight crimes; in 1997, there was only one conviction for every 14 crimes.

The simplistic answer of creating more criminal offences has hardly helped. Is it not time for us to allow our criminal justice system to bed down before embarking on future laws? Should we not look to prevent offending in the first place?

Police morale is undoubtedly a real issue in many parts of the country. Genuine problems of numbers, recruitment and conditions also contribute to poor morale.

Perhaps I may congratulate the Home Secretary who set up the Stephen Lawrence inquiry—the request for which was, at one time, refused by Michael Howard when he was Home Secretary. However, it is important to resist the dangerous argument that the reforms instituted by the police service following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry are an important factor in denting police morale. In fact, I cannot recollect working in any organisation in my life where morale has ever been high. It is particularly specious and inaccurate to suggest, as some have done, that police officers have become so afraid to stop and search black suspects that this has produced an increase in street robbery.

The figures published earlier this month under Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 show that there has in fact been a larger fall in stop and searches of white people than of black people, and that black people are still five times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. This is hardly compatible with the image of a police service paralysed by political correctness. The figures also show a larger fall in those types of crime for which arrests commonly follow stop and search than for those, like robbery, which stop and search rarely uncovers. Many of the arrests that follow stop and search are for drug offences, and the number of recorded drugs offences has recently fallen significantly. Far fewer arrests for robbery result from stop and search, yet the robbery statistics have risen sharply. This suggests that there is little relation between the trends in the use of stop and search and the trends in crime rates. Stop and search may sometimes be necessary, but, frankly, it is overrated as a tool for reducing crime.

The results of recent pilot experiments in some parts of the Metropolitan Police district in making a more targeted use of stop and search are encouraging. These have reduced the overall number of stop and searches, reduced the racial disproportion in its use and, at the same time, an increased proportion of stop and searches have resulted in an arrest. So a better-targeted use of these powers has had more effective results. We need to build on the results of these experiments, and not return to the pre-Lawrence inquiry practices, which did so much damage to the confidence in the police service of minority ethnic communities.

We also need to question the peculiar argument that the racial disproportion in the use of stop and search can be justified because there are proportionately more black people on the streets in the areas concerned. Some senior police officers have started talking about the population "available to be searched". What is this supposed to mean? The fact that people are "available" does not mean that you have to search them. In order to justify a fivefold disproportion in the use of these powers, we would need to show not just that black people were five times more likely to be on the streets but that they were five times more likely to be on the streets and up to no good. Does anyone seriously argue that black people are five times more likely to commit crimes than white people? No statistics have effectively demonstrated that fact.

Let us stop looking at specious arguments of this kind that can only fuel racism, and look instead at some more valid reasons for poor police morale. One such reason is the tendency of many people to blame the police unfairly for high crime rates when these are in fact due to a range of social factors outside the direct control of the police. If we seriously want to bring down crime rates, we need a comprehensive strategy to tackle the root causes, involving all government departments as well as statutory and voluntary agencies. This means providing more support for families under stress. Research shows that effective family support programmes can pay for themselves five times over by reducing the rate of family break-up and delinquency by children of those families.

It also means tackling the problem of truancy and school exclusion, because research shows that persistent truants commit three times as many offences as children who attend school regularly. It means working to ensure that there are accessible work and training opportunities for the most disadvantaged, because young offenders commit three times as many offences when they are out of work as when they are employed. It means providing youth facilities and sporting activities for young people in disadvantaged high-crime-rate areas. Research into intensive youth activity programmes run by organisations like NACRO (my own organisation) and Crime Concern shows that they can reduce different types of youth crime locally by between 30 and 75 per cent.

It means tackling problems of drug and alcohol abuse, because drug addicts who continue with their drug habit commit five times more crimes subsequently than those who enter treatment programmes. It also means working to resettle offenders on release from prison. Prisoners released homeless are two-and-a-half times more likely to reoffend than comparable offenders who have access to stable accommodation. Unemployed former prisoners are twice as likely to reoffend as those who get and keep a job.

In short, policing has a vital role to play in preventing and reducing crime; and where the police service has genuine grievances, these must be addressed. But, ultimately, a determined attack on the causes of crime will do far more to affect crime rates than the police service could ever hope to achieve on its own.

Last week I asked the Minister whether he would consider establishing a Royal Commission on policing to address the many and varied issues facing the police. This is also called for by the Police Federation. The Minister seems to have brushed that aside. Of course we discuss policing issues on a piecemeal basis but Parliament has failed to take a comprehensive look at policing. Is it not time that we took a more fundamental look at the police and at policing issues? Is it not time that we developed a much more effective strategy on crime prevention? Is it not time that we gave support and encouragement to the thin blue dividing line which makes a difference between democracy and chaos?

That requires valuing the independence of our police. We must not make them a political football. The public's consent to policing will be eroded if we fail to give a lead.

3.41 p.m.

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My Lords, I am sure we are all deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for giving us this opportunity to debate vitally important linked issues which are of great concern to the law-abiding citizens of the whole of the United Kingdom. We should all be grateful to the noble Lord for his detailed and thoughtful analysis.

I declare an interest as a council tax payer resident in London Monday to Friday. Like the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, I have been dismayed by the destruction of police morale throughout the United Kingdom and the consequent increase in violent crime. Despite what has been said by others, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is accurate in linking the two matters.

As a Londoner I offer two examples, one pre-Macpherson and the other post-Macpherson. Four years ago I encountered a young off-duty sergeant of the Metropolitan Police. After he had described his initial ambitions career wise, he began to recount how he became disillusioned and how his enthusiasm had been blunted by what he regarded as unnecessary obstructions. I shall never forget his words as we parted. He said, "When I accompany two of my constables on patrol and we see a crime being committed, we are tempted to look the other way and thus avoid the likelihood of ending up in the dock instead of the criminal".

The other example concerns a rather more personal experience at a London Underground station Two sturdy, well built young ladies rampaged across the concourse screaming, laughing and hurling abuse at anyone within earshot. The first one shoulder charged an elderly lady immediately in front of me knocking her and her pathetic grocery bag to the floor. The second gave me the same treatment. I suppose that I should have been flattered by that. The two then joined forces and proceeded to charge the ticket collector who not unnaturally asked to see their tickets which they did not have. They butted him to the floor and charged through the now open gate on to the platforms.

A few good samaritans—I suspect that two or three of them were army officers in civilian clothes—offered their assistance to the rest of us and then went over in my presence, as one of the aggrieved parties, to sympathise with the ticket collector who was just recovering. They were prepared to offer their names and addresses to assist him in putting forward a claim. He declined their offer on the ground that some weeks previously one of his colleagues resisted the same two well built young ladies, was beaten up, complained and two weeks later was accused and found guilty of racism, and lost his job. Delicacy prevents me from mentioning the role of the Metropolitan Police in this context. That incident, of course, occurred post-Macpherson.

Yesterday your Lordships debated the Private Security Industry Bill. Today's debate is linked to the word "industry": the discipline industry, the inquiry industry and the complaints industry. The police always find themselves in the front line of attacks from all such bodies. By the nature of things the police are always on the defensive.

Noble Lords will remember that last year they voted through the Police (Northern Ireland) Act which included a provision for a police ombudsman—who now happens to be an ombudswoman; I do not complain about that—in place of what had been the independent commission for police complaints. The recent former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland explained that under the 1998 Act he had decided on a prescribed period for retrospective investigation. However, under the 2000 Act the retrospective period was two years for the first year of life of the new police service and one year for its second year of life.

Since then terrorist bodies have united—there are many of them in Northern Ireland of both shades—and are now pressing for retrospective investigation of many years (as far back as seven years) of complaints which they have unearthed, although all such complaints had been investigated by independent commissions and even in the courts.

In short, unless the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland adheres firmly to the stated intention of his predecessor, the new police service will be held responsible by terrorists (not by the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland) for allegations—they are no more than allegations—made against the Royal Ulster Constabulary which were proved groundless by those independent bodies over seven to 10 years.

I understand that terrorists have already supplied the new ombudswoman with over 300 complaints before the new police body takes over with the intention, obviously, of clogging up the system. We can rest assured that that virus-that industry, as I call it—will soon spread to Britain. We would all be wise to heed early warnings.

While there may be disagreement over police numbers in England, there can be no quarrel over numbers in Northern Ireland. The unholy alliance between the Patten report and the Northern Ireland Office had the intended effect of slashing police numbers through pressure, incitement and destruction of morale, as the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, forecast, while the cream of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is as a result being lost. It is worth noting that those officers rejected by Patten on purely sectarian grounds are now being snapped up by constabularies such as Lothian and Borders, Suffolk, Tayside, Sussex, Strathclyde and Manchester. What is undoubtedly Ulster's loss will be Britain's gain.

When the police Bill was being processed by your Lordships' House last year, it was intended—noble Lords will remember the figures—that hundreds of police officers who were forced to leave would be replaced by Roman Catholic applicants to meet the 50:50 requirement. None of us, least of all myself—I was educated at a Roman Catholic school and, therefore, under the new guidelines would qualify as a Roman Catholic recruit if I did not have a sagging face and grey hair—made complaint of that. I supported it as a target and not a quota. It gives me no pleasure to report that what was made a quota is not working.

I shared your Lordships' hope and expectation that the 50:50 figure would be achieved voluntarily through co-operation with republicans, nationalists and, most of all, the Church. However, it is most regrettable that all three have in recent weeks publicly refused to encourage young Roman Catholics to enlist in the new force. It is heartbreaking to note that the excuse used to justify the refusal to advise young Catholics to join the force is that demilitarisation has not been achieved to the satisfaction of terrorists, nationalists and, very regrettably, the Church.

All three have explained exactly what they mean by "demilitarisation". It means the removal of all safeguards for law-abiding citizens—that is, the removal of all protection before all terrorist capacity to murder is demolished; no recommittal of the Army, as was necessary last year in the Protestant Shankill Road where civil war was raging; no more intelligence gathering which might abort a terrorist atrocity; no frontier surveillance which might hamper the Real IRA or the Continuity IRA in murderous attacks like the Omagh bomb; and no security force patrol or checkpoints which might impede the racketeering and drug-trafficking now carried out on a large scale by both republican and loyalist paramilitaries.

Some noble Lords may ask why they are permitted to carry out those activities in addition to increased murder by Protestant and republican terrorists. The answer was given at a parliamentary press briefing last Tuesday by a Northern Ireland Office spokesman. To the question, "Why do you not regard them now as terrorists who have broken the ceasefire?", the answer was, "That is simply paramilitary housekeeping. We will not be concerned as long as it does not cross the sectarian divide". Some hope for the future, my Lords!

The last requirement for demilitarisation—it is an extremely serious one—is the demolition of the watchtowers on the South Armagh frontier. I fear very much that chiefs of staff have been broken under political pressure to approve the removal of two of those towers. That may seem small beer, but military men know only too well that if one removes two links in an intelligence-gathering chain, as these towers are—they are not offensive but for intelligence gathering and surveillance—the entire structure becomes ineffective. Taking away two out of six of those towers will horrify any military man: it creates dead ground between all six which terrorists can exploit at will.

I plead with the authorities even at this late stage to think again on that issue and to face the fact that the watch-towers have the intended effect of deterring terrorism; otherwise why would terrorists be concentrating on their removal? Surely the Army cannot welcome the removal of what are inoffensive structures. With the Army now at full stretch with commitments in many parts of the world, it will have serious difficulty in supplying new formations to replace the watch-towers with foot patrols.

The sad part is this. Do we want to commit ground forces again in an area where casualties will be inevitable on that South Armagh frontier which is tailor-made for snipers? It has proved to be so in the past. I beg those who share a responsibility, at whatever level, for ensuring that loss of life is not again permitted, to please think again on that crucial decision.

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My Lords, before we move to the Statement, I should like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification. Peers who speak at length do so at the expense of other noble Lords.

Lockerbie Bombing

3.56 p.m.

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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement of Her Majesty's Government on the Lockerbie bombing which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"Almost two years ago, I announced that we had secured the agreement of the Libyan Government to the surrender of the two men charged with the Lockerbie bombing. That agreement brought an end to almost a decade of diplomatic stalemate. It was made possible by a unique legal innovation—a trial before Scottish judges under Scots law in a third country.

"I want to record our gratitude to the Government of the Netherlands and to their local authorities for their ready and full co-operation in making available the excellent facilities at Camp Zeist. Their co-operation has confirmed the reputation of the Netherlands as a seat of international justice. I have today written to the Dutch Foreign Minister formally recording our thanks.

"The whole House will wish to express its appreciation of the work of the police in what has been one of the longest and largest investigations in British history. Dumfries and Galloway police and the other police forces who co-operated in the inquiry are entitled to credit for the evidence brought before the court.

"The trial has been open and its proceedings have been punctilious. It is widely agreed that it has proved the fair trial which we promised.

"The panel of Scottish judges has now returned their verdict. They unanimously found guilty Mr A1 Megrahi, an official of the Libyan Intelligence Service. They acquitted Mr Fhimah.

"We accept the verdicts of the court. Mr A1 Megrahi is reported to intend to appeal. The House will understand that in the circumstances I will not comment on the substance of the legal arguments.

"However, the House will wish to know what international action the Government intend to take in the light of these verdicts.

"The initiative to hold the trial at Camp Zeist was taken by Britain and secured by agreement with the Governments of the Netherlands, the United States and Libya. But we made those arrangements in accordance with the resolution of a UN Security Council, which is binding on all member states.

"Libya has complied with some of the requirements of the Security Council, such as handing over the two suspects. In the light of the guilty verdict, we expect the Libyan Government to fulfil the remaining requirements. We therefore require Libya to accept responsibility for the act of its official who has been convicted. We also require Libya to pay compensation to the victims of the relatives.

"Before coming to the House this afternoon, I spoke by telephone to Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State. We are both clear that Libya must now fulfil the requirements of the Security Council in full. We both committed our Governments to close co-operation to achieve those common objectives. I will be able to continue that consultation with Colin Powell when I meet him in Washington next week.

"It is also in Libya's own interests to be seen to cooperate fully with the Security Council. In the light of the conviction of one of their senior intelligence officials, Libya's leaders need to take every opportunity to prove to the international community that they have definitively renounced terrorism and will abide by international law.

"The Lockerbie bombing stands among the most brutal acts of mass murder. The community of Lockerbie suffered a sudden and devastating tragedy. I spoke after the verdicts to my honourable friend the Member for Dumfries, who is today with the local people, who have borne their tragedy with great dignity.

"Every passenger and crew member of PanAm 103 was killed. That night, more than 400 parents lost a child, 76 women and men lost husbands or wives and seven children lost both parents. Nothing can repair the loss of those who were murdered that night or remove the grief of their relatives, but today, at last, those relatives know that in a fair trial before an open court, justice has been done."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.2 p.m.

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My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Foreign Secretary's Statement. The Lockerbie bombing was, without doubt, a monstrous crime against humanity. We fully endorse the sympathy expressed for all the relatives, whose grief is unending. The trial and the verdict do not alter anything in that respect.

Nevertheless, it was a fair and well organised trial. It has produced a verdict, although there is an appeal. We also endorse the gratitude expressed to the organisers of a remarkable juridical event—a first in history—and to those who, over the years, helped to break the deadlock, including Nelson Mandela, among others, who enabled a reluctant Libya to yield up the two gentlemen who were charged, one of whom has been found guilty.

I have some questions about where we go from here. First, is it correct that the only basis for appeal under Scottish law, under which the trial was conducted, is a miscarriage of justice, or are there other possible grounds for appeal? Secondly, what is the Government's view about future inquiries? It is obvious that other people were involved in that horror. It could not all have been done by one guilty person. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the background to the horror and how it came about. At the time, the Americans said that it was in retaliation for the bombing of Libya, which in turn was in retaliation for the killing of US sergeants in a night club in Berlin. That is a long trail that needs further examination. The background events were not covered in the trial.

Thirdly, presumably there is no question of lifting the sanctions on Libya until there has been some further movement and changes. Does that apply to the other sanctions on Libya, which pre-date the Lockerbie horror and trial? I understand that Colin Powell wants those sanctions to stay in place. Do we agree?

Fourthly, was Al Megrahi an officially recognised member of the Libyan intelligence service? The Statement seems to accept that he was. I think that it is clear. If so, the state of Libya carries enormous responsibility and should be held to account. It should be more than just a question of compensation for victims. What other action will be considered against a state whose henchman, apparently with the authority of that state, has committed one of the most heinous crimes against humanity in modern times?

Can we assume that there is no question yet of diplomatic relations being restored with Libya? There have been suggestions in the press that that might be under consideration. Is it more than a rumour that, if diplomatic relations were restored, the Libyans would want to move back to their quarters in St James's Square, where they murdered Yvonne Fletcher some years ago—something that we are all reminded of whenever we walk past that tragic spot?

Answers to those questions would be helpful. There has been a trial and a verdict. Despite the appeal, that shows that the issue has not been forgotten. Tireless diplomacy and effort by many people have brought us to this point, but I suspect that there is some way to go.

4.6 p.m.

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My Lords, I, too, express my deep gratitude to the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Foreign Secretary in another place. The outcome vindicates the capacity of the international community for an astonishing level of co-operation. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to the intervention of President Mandela, as he then was, in helping to bring the situation about. Kofi Annan of the United Nations and, I understand, the Organisation of African Unity, also helped.

I also echo the tribute paid by both Front Benches to the Netherlands Government. As the co-chairman of the Anglo-Dutch Society, I believe that the outcome vindicates the commitment that the Netherlands Government have always made to the international rule of law.

Finally on that point, great credit should be given to the Scottish police and judges. Perhaps this is a first indication that the concept of an international criminal court may be much more viable than some people have supposed. If so, it is a great credit to Scotland. This shows that the international community can get together to an astonishing extent when faced with crimes against humanity of the enormity of the Lockerbie tragedy.

The leading representative of the victims, Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter died in the explosion and who has shown the extraordinary grace and courage that have characterised the victims in Scotland and outside, said today that,
"a majestic process is in motion".
That is a great credit to the Scottish judiciary.

I have a couple of questions. Can the leader of Libya now be persuaded to admit his country's involvement? I very much share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the fact that the gentleman who has been condemned was an official of the Libyan intelligence agency raises large questions about who authorised his intervention. That link must be explored.

Compensation is another crucial issue. Perhaps most important of all is whether the Libyan Government will now agree to renounce terrorist activities and return to the rule of international law, which, were it to happen, might lay the basis for the possible future lifting of sanctions.

The Prime Minister is reported to have supported a full and open inquiry. Will the Government agree to that? There are very difficult questions to be addressed. The evidence of Mr Giaka, the CIA double agent, collapsed in court under cross-examination. Nevertheless, clearly he played an important role in the whole Lockerbie story. There is the question of why some FBI families cancelled their bookings at the last minute on the flight from Heathrow to New York. There is the question of the role of Mr Edwin Bollier, the Swiss businessman, whose very delicate mechanisms were involved in the explosion of the bomb and who was alleged in court to have been a master of deception. Finally, there is the issue of whether others were involved who so far have not been identified by the procedure of the court.

All those matters lead me to the question about which I hope that the Minister will be able to enlighten us—that is, whether there can and will be an open inquiry. I ask that in the context of believing that it was absolutely right to pursue the criminal case first. It was right to deal first with the issue of the guilt or innocence of those identified as possible agents of the terrible actions. However, that now opens the door to the public or judicial inquiry, as the case may be, which the victims of this terrible tragedy have every right to demand.

4.11 p.m.

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My Lords, I start by thanking both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their words of praise for everyone who brought about the trial. I join them in again expressing my enormous sympathy for those who were bereaved as a result of this dreadful mass murder. We are, indeed, grateful for the support of many people in bringing the trial to a proper conclusion.

I shall now try to deal with as many of the points raised as I can. If I miss any, I undertake to write to noble Lords and to place a copy of my letters in the Library. I am not absolutely certain about the point that the only basis for an appeal is a miscarriage of justice. I shall require advice from Scottish legal experts and shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about that matter. If an appeal goes forward, it will be heard by five Scottish judges in Camp Zeist. As I said, I shall write to noble Lords regarding the details of what may or may not be the basis of such an appeal. At present, no one knows what grounds of appeal the lawyers for the convicted person will choose to follow.

With regard to the question of sanctions, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, it appears that the United States bilateral sanctions will remain in place. The UK has no bilateral sanctions against Libya. The European Union arms embargo stays in place because that is connected with missile technology and is therefore a completely different issue. UN sanctions against Libya were suspended in 1999 when the two accused were handed over for trial. Those sanctions were only suspended and will not be lifted until the UN is satisfied that the results of the US and UK discussions with Libya about fulfilling the requirements of the UN resolutions have progressed. Therefore, a decision will be taken in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, also asked whether the Libyans would wish to return to their previous embassy premises in St James's Square. Obviously, if Libya were to open an embassy in this country, it would be a matter for that country to consider where that should be. However, I am sure that Libya would want to consider sensitivities in the United Kingdom in relation to their returning to an embassy in the square in which WPC Yvonne Fletcher was shot and killed. I believe that Libya should take that into account.

I believe that we should await the outcome of the appeal before considering the question of a public inquiry. Over the years, many things have been said and written about this affair, and many theories have been voiced and put forward in the press. So far as concerns the evidence in the case, it is a matter for the Lord Advocate, not the Government, to decide whether any further prosecution or action should be pursued. However, we shall wait until the appeal process has been completed before considering the question of a public inquiry.

I believe that at present that is as much as I am able to provide in the way of detailed answers. I shall write to noble Lords if I have missed any of the points raised.

4.16 p.m.

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My Lords, I, on behalf of many other noble Lords, echo the tributes paid to the families of those who lost their lives in the Lockerbie disaster. I also echo the tributes to the police and to those in the judicial system who have brought this trial to a conclusion—in so far as it has been drawn to a conclusion at present.

Given that we have known the verdict for less than five hours, I understand that it is difficult to comment on the wider questions of the case and to come to definite conclusions. However, I wonder whether my noble friend can clarify a point which may seem trivial but which, nevertheless, I consider to be important.

During the one o'clock news bulletin on the BBC today the whole issue was introduced by stating that one of the accused had been found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 20 years to be served before parole could be considered. Three minutes later, in introducing a discussion, the very same newscaster, reporter or commentator at the BBC said that the accused had been sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. There is a huge difference between a life sentence with a minimum of 20 years before parole and an actual sentence of 20 years. I believe that people who perhaps do not follow these matters closely need to be assured that the BBC can report news items accurately. That affects people's judgment of how far justice has been achieved.

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My Lords, I did not hear the broadcast to which my noble friend refers. Again, everyone will agree with his words of sympathy for the relatives of those who were killed. With regard to the sentence, the position was very clear: it was stated to be mandatory life imprisonment for murder. Twenty years was specified as the minimum sentence that would be served. However, that is a matter for the judiciary.

Perhaps I should make clear a point which I dealt with earlier in relation to St James's Square. Perhaps inadvertently I gave the impression that at present we do not have diplomatic relations with Libya W e do. However, the question related to whether the Libyans intend to move into St James's Square. That is the matter with which I dealt. If I gave the wrong impression in relation to that matter, I apologise.

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My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us whether Libya has offered 10 cooperate in investigating the death of Yvonne Fletcher?

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My Lords, we reached an agreement with Libya on that question and compensation was paid. That case, for better or worse, has been closed. That was why diplomatic relations were resumed with Libya. Although diplomatic relations were broken with Libya, they were not broken over Lockerbie. The breaking pre-dated that. We broke diplomatic relations with Libya because of the death of WPC Fletcher, and we resumed them only when the Libyans agreed to pay compensation and to take responsibility for her death.

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My Lords, a moment ago, the Minister referred to closure—I believe that that was the word she used—in relation to the Yvonne Fletcher case on the payment of compensation. Although I am sure that all noble Lords understand her point, I hope that in relation to Yvonne Fletcher, whose family I knew, and the Lockerbie case., she accepts that although compensation may be paid, we must stress—I am sure that all noble Lords agree—that there is no way in which any compensation can represent any kind of justice for the horrors that were perpetrated.

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My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely correct. I am sure that we all agree with his comments. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in the other place in the Statement that I repeated, nothing can repair the loss of those who were murdered. That is true of Yvonne Fletcher and of the Lockerbie victims.

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My Lords, I have a question about the possibility of appeal. First, the Minister said that that appeal would be heard by five judges, including the existing three judges. Does that imply that the procedure will be in accordance with Scottish law as that is normally applicable in criminal cases, or is there an international agreement relating to the case, such as that which was necessary to set up the court in the first instance? Secondly, will the noble Baroness give an indication of the length of time that is likely to elapse before an appeal is decided?

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My Lords, the appeal will be heard in front of five Scottish judges of appeal, and the procedure will be conducted entirely under Scottish law. There have been discussions about how long it will be before an appeal is heard and decided. I understand that the best estimate is between nine and 12 months.

The Police

4.22 p.m.

Debate resumed.

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My Lords, against the background of the serious crime situation on this side of the Irish Sea, it was a useful and salutary reminder of the realities of the world in which we live that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, spoke of the nightmare—my fear is that it is a growing nightmare—in Northern Ireland.

Like other noble Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Tebbit for enabling us to debate this important matter today. It is appropriate for us to do so in light of a report by its political editor on the front page of The Times today stating that following yesterday's discussions on the Labour Party's election manifesto,
"Mr Blair has elevated crime … to equal importance with health, education and welfare reform".
The article contains the startling information:
"Yesterday's meeting was told that half of all crime in Britain is committed by about 100,000 people, and that the sentencing system will have to be changed radically to tackle them. Many had never been caught and others picked up a succession of minor sentences because the courts had little flexibility in dealing with them".
I want to make a few general observations about the society in which we live. It is a matter of great sadness that when I look back on my childhood, it was an entirely different world. My family lived on Chiswick Mall. In order to get there from central London, one travelled on the Underground to Stamford Brook and one walked for about 20 minutes from the station to one's home. It never occurred to anyone in those days that there might be a risk in travelling home at night on the Underground or in taking such a walk. My family had no anxieties when I was a boy at Westminster under-school and at Westminster about letting me go anywhere in London at virtually any time of the day or night. I am afraid that that is not the case today.

My second observation arises from the fact that I celebrated the arrival of the millennium not in London—thank goodness I was not part of the queue for the Jubilee Line on the way to the Dome—but in the Mexican city of Guadalajara. In the preceding days, the churches had been packed. On the night of the millennium celebrations, vast crowds swarmed around the city, but I did not see a single policemen. Family members of all ages, from babies in prams to the very old, were present. So far as I could see, no one was drunk and I did not see anyone with a glass of beer. I cannot help reflecting on the fact that a very high proportion of the crime that occurs in this country appears to be alcohol related. I like a drink as much as anyone, but social considerations need to be taken into account with regard to the background to crime and the reasons for it. We should seriously consider education and family responsibility in that context. I look forward to hearing the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth.

I never thought that I should advance the case for drinking Coca Cola but last month, when I travelled extensively on a private visit to Argentina and Chile, I was again struck by the extraordinary quantity of soft drinks consumed there and by the relatively small quantity of alcohol that is consumed in public. The relationship of crime to the consumption of alcohol deserves consideration.

I also want to make an observation on my personal attitude to the police. I have the highest admiration for the police force. There is a particular reason for that. During my time as a Minister, a bomb was placed in my Welsh home in the bedroom of my son. As a result, I was subject for some considerable time to security arrangements and the protection of the police. I made close friendships with many of them and grew to have the greatest admiration for all of those splendid public servants.

Even today, when my alarm goes off by mistake—I fear that that happens all too often—the police arrive with extraordinary speed and efficiency at my front door. However, many people in London find that if they report what appears to them to be a serious crime or burglary, they get very little attention. That is not because the police do not want to give them that attention but because of the pressure under which they work.

Although I intend to concentrate my remarks on what is happening in London, there are serious patterns of crime in the country. These days, it is unwise for one to have an antique sundial or piece of valuable stonework or sculpture in one's garden, because it will soon disappear and a transaction will take place shortly afterwards on the edge of a motorway. That happened in my case although, I am glad to say, one piece was recovered. If furniture is stolen from a house in the country that is unoccupied for a short time, it will probably be put in a container and shipped out of the country through Southampton in about 24 hours. The whole business is efficiently organised. There are real risks and hazards in the countryside and in towns.

I want to discuss the pressures in towns and our responsibilities as citizens. It has already been pointed out in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, that the level of crime in some fields has gone down. Motor manufacturers have made considerable progress in making it more difficult for vehicles to be stolen. But, again, individuals can help. We can make sure that we have effective immobilisers or tracker systems and encourage recovery.

The Government have measures before Parliament at the moment which may make that situation even better. However, I was disturbed by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, seemed to do what Ministers have done; that is, treat rather lightly the sharp rise in the theft of mobile phones. The implication is that it is nothing more than children bullying other children. I happen to think that the actions of children bullying other children should be treated seriously. In any case, it is not only children who steal mobile phones.

My wife and I were driving back from the Tate Modern one evening. As I pulled up at the traffic lights by the Old Vic, two young men attempted to mug a man on the pavement opposite and remove his mobile phone which he had been using as he walked along the pavement. I opened the window, shouted and jumped out of the car, as did the person in the car behind me. The two young men shot in opposite directions. When the police arrived 10 or 15 minutes later I could only give them a shadowy description of what the two offenders looked like.

As we looked after the victim, who had been hit and was badly shaken but had retained his mobile phone, I could not help but observe a young woman casually walking along the pavement opposite using her mobile phone. People should understand that if we walk around the darkened streets of London using a mobile phone, it is a good idea to stand where we can see what is happening so we do not become an obvious invitation to any young thief.

My point is that, as individuals, we too can help to reduce crime. I entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie—a view expressed also by the Commissioner for London—that manufacturers should do more to reduce the attractiveness to thieves of the mobile phone. Measures could be taken which make them less attractive than they are at the present time and we are entitled to demand that they take them.

I turn to the question of police numbers. We heard from both sides of the House that all sorts of things can be done to adjust the statistics of crime; there is no disagreement on that. I regularly travel either by bus or car along the South Bank from Battersea to this House. I frequently see yellow notice boards put up by the police asking for witnesses to crimes committed along that road. That indicates the hazards of living in our capital city, even in an area which is not regarded as being particularly high risk.

I can give a local indication of the reduction in police numbers. In Battersea we have an admirable Neighbourhood Watch scheme. For many years I received regular reports through my door from the police and from time to time attended local meetings. The police station from which the scheme is run is now a lot further away and the constables who run the scheme have to cover a vastly increased area. That means that not only are there fewer policemen on the street, but also that they find it more difficult to have the house-to-house and person-to-person contact which is so vital if a Neighbourhood Watch scheme is to work.

I am sure there is no argument but that the numbers of police in London have come down. The Prime Minister himself is concerned that they have fallen every year for seven years. They have certainly come down in Wandsworth and in Battersea. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, said about how the numbers are set for the requirements of police in a specific area. I was informed this morning that, until last year, Battersea was considered to need 399 police. Even including a number of probationary trainees, the current number is 384. However, there has been a convenient 4 per cent drop in the requirement so everyone can say that the target is being met. Whether or not that is so, we clearly have fewer police and more crime.

There is undoubtedly a need for the Government to try to do something about that. I know they will say that they allocated substantial additional resources to the problem and that within the past six months there has been an improvement in recruiting numbers. But there is a long way to go. Careful consideration must be given to how we can help those who are recruited to find adequate housing and solve the other problems which inhibit recruitment.

I agree with those who believe that the Macpherson report did a great deal of damage. I am as strong as anyone in condemning racism in the police force and indeed anywhere else. But the report gave the impression that the entire police force was infected. That had an impact on morale and made it more difficult for the police to act effectively on the ground.

I conclude by saying that a serious problem exists. It is partly a question of the law and the police; but it is also a problem of social attitudes, education, family responsibility and the way we behave. We must address all parts of the problem. My noble friend Lord Tebbit was absolutely right. There are two primary responsibilities of the Government. One is to defend the citizen of the realm from outside attack and the other to defend the citizen from inside attack—robbery and violence; in other words, to defend the Queen's peace. The Queen's peace is not being effectively defended and that should be a matter that concerns everyone, whatever their political views.

4.38 p.m.

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My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity afforded by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, to take part in this debate and I speak—in reference to something he said in his speech—as a daily Fareham dog-walker.

By way of preliminary, I should like to place on record the high esteem in which I hold the work of the Hampshire Constabulary in its partnership work in the community, of which I shall speak later. I very much hope that the context of this debate from all sides of the House will be one of support and affirmation, even if it is not without criticism, for the work of our police officers whose service to society often goes unmarked. I add from these Benches to the tributes paid earlier to the Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary.

Perhaps I may add at this point that it is a pleasure to have my friend and near neighbour, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester, next to me. He is about to retire after serving in this House for 21 years. I am not alone in having benefited greatly from his wisdom in that office as a diocesan bishop.

I want to begin with a book that may be topical to at least some of our considerations this afternoon. I possess in my study a signed first edition of Robert Campell Moberly's book, Atonement and Personality. It is a classic work by an Oxford professor, published on 14th February 1901—it has almost reached its centenary. Partly Scottish by blood and read in both Scottish and English theology, Moberly entered and engaged in the debate at the end of the 19th century about "punishment as vindictiveness" over and against "punishment as rehabilitation". That debate will find a satirical echo in W.S. Gilbert's song in "The Mikado",
"To let the punishment fit the crime".
Responding to the debate, and in no way taking the view that punishment should not involve suffering, Moberly pictured Christ as the perfect penitent and drew on the twin aspects of justice and mercy as the foundations not only of a proper theology but also of a healthy society. The matter before us now, therefore, is not new or innovative; it simply points to a current phase in what is a long-running question about how we believe crime should be responded to and what support is given to those who carry out that task on society's behalf.

I want to make two points: first, on the prevention of crime as the responsibility of the whole community, and, secondly, on the vocational nature of being a police officer. I refer first to society's responsibility. It is clear that the fight against crime is a proper focus for any government. The introduction of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill in another place on 18th January this year is a welcome signal of the intention to reduce crime and the fear of crime and to enhance public safety and good order.

However, I should like to draw attention to the broader backdrop of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which gave a priority to local partnerships and audits carried out by the public sector as well as business and voluntary agencies. Over the past three years that has proved an effective model for establishing community safety partnerships, which have proved their worth in south-east Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, the area covered by the Portsmouth diocese. At the heart of that practice is the real acknowledgement that building safe communities and reducing crime is a shared responsibility among many agencies and communities as well as individuals. It is not simply the role of the police. Likewise, considerable resources have been channelled into those areas that are often blighted by crime. I welcome the involvement of the police in a number of local youth initiatives working alongside voluntary agency partners, such as the Children's Society in inner urban Portsmouth.

The point I make is that some seem to have confused the issue of the operational effectiveness of the police—over which there will be many armchair commentators far removed from the realities of policing a beat—with the fact that the responsibility for crime lies both with the individual who commits it as well as with the social causes which often underlie criminal behaviour. For that to be tackled properly, we need a frank and wide-ranging public debate which does not fall victim to the rhetoric of demonising either the perpetrators of crime or those charged with maintaining public order. Partnerships of the kind I have described offer effective and long-term solutions to the questions we now face.

Secondly, the question of the recruitment and retention of police officers is one which deserves careful attention rather than a knee-jerk reaction to headline figures. There are any number of factors behind that, but in particular I want to draw a comparison with the difficulty faced by the world of education in recruiting sufficient teachers. That difficulty is becoming acute in the area in which I live. Like the police, that is a profession I meet regularly as I go round my beat.

In both spheres a number of common elements come into play: first, a rapidly changing culture where the expectations and status afforded a generation ago do not hold; secondly, a move away from what might be broadly called a vocation to public service; and thirdly, a society which shuns personal responsibility and looks for others to carry it.

The police have to operate in a reactive public context which can at times focus on the vindictive nature of punishment rather than seeing the judicial process as part of a broad movement that includes the upholding of the law, appropriate forms of punishment and the rehabilitation of the offender. The riots in Paulsgrove last summer bear witness to that. We have to accept that we as a society have made these public vocations less attractive. Pay is an important feature, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for drawing attention to that in his speech. However, esteem also features large.

I do not and will not subscribe to the view that we can return to some kind of golden age of simple roles and simple solutions. Contemporary Britain is a complex culture, as it has always been. Some things have got worse, but others have got better. Policing will be a challenging career. Over the past 30 years, all public bodies have had to respond to a wide range of changes in the law, whether that be in connection with sex discrimination, equal opportunities or the creation of a diverse and representative workforce. If we can step aside from opportunistic comments about political correctness—I am grateful to a number of noble Lords for mentioning that—I believe that the current challenges that we face will turn out to be assumed norms in the next decade.

Finally, I want to end with a gentle caution to those in our society and in public comment who bemoan the loss of moral, social and judicial authority. There is something superficially attractive about that assessment because it is clear cut and unambiguous. It can sometimes involve raising the issue of immigration in the context of law and order and can have recourse to the North American fashion for zero tolerance.

There is something deeply troubling for me as a bishop about the clarity and monochrome nature of such a vision. I am concerned, not because I do not want to support the maintenance of law and order; I clearly do—for nine years as a parish priest I was chaplain to Guildford Crown Court; and although that post was honorary, it involved work and commitment by me—but rather because I cannot subscribe to the two-dimensional society which in my view it can produce. From the carpenter's son, conceived outside marriage, born under an occupying regime, forced to seek exile and asylum in a foreign land; from the one branded a criminal in his time, and suffering a criminal's death, I find no support for such a golden age. But from the God who formed me and knew me in the womb, I hope to learn justice and mercy, and judgment with loving kindness for, if I may borrow the phrase from another faith, He is the compassionate, the merciful.

4.48 p.m.

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My Lords, before I turn to the subject of the debate—we owe a debt of gratitude to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to discuss it—I cannot resist referring to the disturbing point made by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, about the towers in South Armagh. I do not think we can expect the Minister to answer; he has no government responsibility for it. However, a story which is going round—as I am sure the noble Lord knows better than I—is that the military advice was against removing those towers; that the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland accepted that advice and was overruled by the Prime Minister whose only concern was to keep the Good Friday agreement together. Perhaps the only hope that the noble Lord can have is that the military will submit fresh advice to the new Secretary of State. One must hope that the Prime Minister will then take the advice of that second Secretary of State.

One advantage of speaking in the privacy of your Lordships' Chamber is that one can make comments without much risk of them "filtering beyond the walls". I want to make one or two comments about the Home Office in that context. If in the unlikely event I had ever been made a Home Office Minister, unless it was Home Secretary I would not have lasted six months. The Home Office would have contrived to persuade the Prime Minister to dismiss me because one of my objectives would have been to remove the smirk from the face of the Home Office. The smirk reveals the attitude which it takes towards and the way in which it treats Parliament.

The Minister looks surprised. My noble friend gave an example of a parliamentary Question which he asked and his treatment in respect of the Answer that he received. I hope that the Minister will reply to that specific point. I make no apology for repeating a point which I made last night when only four of us were in the Chamber—and those four are still here! On 28th October 1999, I tabled a Question for Written Answer. It asked Her Majesty's Government:
"Which statutory instruments giving powers of entry to private premises have come into force since May 1997".
To the Minister's shame—and of course I do not blame him—the Answer was:
"This information could only be collated at disproportionate cost".—[Official Report, 28/10/99: col. WA37.]
That shows two things: either the Home Office regards powers of entry supremely unimportant or it regards it as immensely impertinent that I should question such a matter. However, the Library, when I consulted it about that Answer, was able to say that the information would have been readily available on the LEXIS program of a computer. Therefore, I propose to table the Question again and I hope that the Minister will be kind enough to give me a reply.

There are many problems relating to the police but I want to deal with three. The first is public criticism. Sometimes the police take short cuts and I understand why they feel that they have to do so. Sometimes these short cuts result in a reversal of a trial verdict which then receives a great deal of publicity. That is had publicity for the police, which is regrettable. Whenever the police are tempted to take short cuts they may be undermining their future position.

The second problem relates to pay, which is better than it was. Your Lordships have probably seen the advertisements stating that someone joining the Metropolitan Police Force can, after 18 weeks of training, receive a salary of just over £25,000. The right reverend Prelate mentioned teachers who, in most circumstances, would receive a lower starting salary. I believe that the police deserve to earn that amount. In preparation for the debate, I visited Scotland Yard's police recruiting office in Victoria Street today where a constable gave me most encouraging news about the response to those advertisements. That is jolly good.

The third problem is a lack of discipline in the police. I agree with those people who said that the reports on Stephen Lawrence and so forth over-egged the situation and created the wrong atmosphere, but undoubtedly there was wrong doing. There is no question about that. I believe that discipline in the police has been inadequate and to some extent, although not currently, that goes to the top. I go back to 1982 when, as your Lordships will remember, a man broke into the Queen's bedroom. In my opinion, the then Commissioner of Police, Sir David McNee, should have resigned. I say that not because he was directly responsible or to blame but because if he had resigned when something went seriously wrong under his command, his successor would have been in a more powerful position to exercise the authority and discipline necessary in the performance of that duty. A successor can say, "Look, the buck stops with me. I take the decisions". That point is worth bearing in mind.

In that context, I wonder whether the time has come to reassess the need for a management intake; what was called an "officer intake". That intake was abolished almost 50 years ago with the demise of the Hendon police college system. I know all the arguments against it and I know that there is opposition to it. However, curiously, the police are beginning to accept it because there are now fast tracks for graduates and the best people are now reaching the top quicker. One of its great advantages is that it separates management responsibility and thus provides a bulwark against corruption. Any organisation, particularly the police, is subject to corruption. Furthermore, in the light of devolution, perhaps we should consider the possibility of some element of a national police force at least for England. Perhaps we could have a national detective force.

Referring to problems is not on its own useful. So I should like also to suggest some solutions. First, a greater use could be made of special constables in many different roles. At one time, they were unpopular with the police but I believe that the Government are now keen on them. If I were a Minister, I would set up a specific action programme to increase and widen the use of special constables. If they were properly recruited, they could make a useful contribution in terms of police numbers.

Secondly, too many people who would make excellent jurors are excused jury service. Too many juries consist of riff-raff who are anti-police. The Minister looks horrified—

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My Lords, from the noble Lord's contributions to previous debates, I thought that he was keen on juries. He now seems to be making an attack on them.

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My Lords, I totally support the concept of a jury; the concept of 12 good and true persons. However, I do not believe it is right that those whose previous behaviour shows them to be unsuited to be jurors, or likely to be unsuited, should nevertheless be jurors. I understand that the issue of juries will be dealt with in a later report and I hope that that dimension will be examined.

I turn to my main point. I do not believe that we are adequately using the opportunities provided by modern technology. My noble friend Lord Tebbit referred to the use of inadequate radios. That is a scandal. It is not as big a scandal as the failure of this and the previous Government to provide the Army with an adequate radio system. We need an effective system and the technology which can provide it is available. There is almost a need for a Beaverbrook-and-Spitfires approach.

Secondly, the possibilities of DNA are continually expanding. Today I read about a case in America in which the accused was found guilty. It was stated that the odds against the DNA match being incorrect were greater than the number of people in the world at the present time. In other words, DNA is a valuable tool. I believe that the time has come to consider the possibility of all of us—and I am sure that we would be willing—having our DNA on record. Of course, that would have to be combined with an identity number of some kind. I am not talking necessarily of identity cards—they are more provocative—but of national identity numbers. I believe that that would make a real contribution.

Finally, as regards technology, I turn to the use of CCTV, which has advanced rapidly. Tapes are no longer used; the recordings are made on discs. Until a few months ago, a camera's tape had to be changed every three or four days and the slower and longer the tape was allowed to run the less good the picture. There is enormous scope now that CDs are available on which to record CCTV pictures. Sometimes overt cameras are a good deterrent, but the technology is now so advanced that they can also be covert.

The cost of installing and maintaining these cameras is so low in comparison with the cost of policing that in inner city areas where there is far too much crime, particularly street crime, CCTV would be a dramatic deterrent. I believe that in certain shopping areas CCTV has already been shown to have a dramatic effect on crime. It could be used a great deal more. Speaking for the rural interest, I believe that many parish councils, certainly my own, would welcome the provision of CCTV.

I recognise that some of the points I raise have implications for civil liberties. But one of the points about any pressure group is that it always overstates its case. Government must listen to pressure groups and carefully evaluate them. The job of government is to balance the interests and voices of the minority against those of the majority. If they make that judgment correctly, I for one shall support them.

5.1 p.m.

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My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has initiated this very interesting debate. The debate has three main themes and yet there has been very little overlap. I should like to pick up one matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred. He said that each person should have an identity number. I point out that when a person is born, he or she is given a number by the health service. That does not infringe civil liberties at all. Perhaps that number could be used appropriately.

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My Lords, I referred to an identity number. It is the national health number, as opposed to the national insurance number, which one receives at the age of 16. However, the noble Viscount is absolutely right that that is the number on which I would build.

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My Lords, the noble Lord and I agree.

I am in contact with many officers in the Metropolitan Police and it is upon the Met (as it is usually called) that I base most of my contribution today. Currently, the Met is about 240 officers below the budgeted workforce target. That appears to be quite satisfactory until it is noted that the Commissioner needs—I am particular in using that word—2,500 more officers to police London with confidence.

Taking into account natural wastage, it is hoped that the Met will be about 100 officers below the target of 25,600 at the end of this financial year, but it is far short of the long-term target of 28,000. It is also necessary to take into account civilian staff who perform duties other than those performed by serving officers. About 900 civilians are needed to bring the Met up to the required strength. Major recruitment initiatives are under way and the policies to recruit police officers are under review.

It is perhaps worrying that there is wastage from the Met to the provincial forces. The reasons may be varied, but there are some who suggest that lifestyle is a factor. Equally, because free rail concessions for Met officers will soon be in operation it may well be found that, together with some pay advantages, that attracts officers to London. As a result of the Macpherson report, to which I shall return later, some people who might otherwise have applied to become officers are now, put off so doing. Consequently, although it seems that the budgeted strength may well be achieved in the foreseeable future, I hope that the high standards of police officers will be maintained in future intakes.

I make no apology for having a go at the press. When the Macpherson report was published, the press seized on the words "institutional racism". If there is any section of the community—business, religious or personal—which can say hand on heart that it has not had any racist thoughts or actions, it may be in a position to question the attitudes of others. I very much doubt that such a sector exists. The words "kettle", "call" and "black" come to mind. The press has forced an honourable profession to question its attitudes. Although there are bound to be some who have racist thoughts, the police have always tried to do their best in difficult circumstances. The press has an awful lot to answer for.

I digress slightly at this juncture to illustrate the problem faced by serving officers. After using a radar gun, one traffic inspector who is a friend of mine recently stopped a motorist for exceeding the speed limit. The driver alleged that he had been stopped only because he was black. The officer asked the driver to indicate the sex and colour of the next approaching motorist who was not exceeding the speed limit. The man was unable so to do but repeated his initial allegation. There are people out there who cause problems for officers for no reason whatever. As a result I should not be surprised if at some stage there was a backlash from other ethnic communities.

I return to Macpherson—or, to be more accurate, post-Macpherson. In February 1999, the Met identified stop and search as an area of policing which needed thorough examination. The primary legislation has not changed since 1995, in that the legal objective of stop and search is detection. However, there have been some changes which need to be addressed, notably the Human Rights Act. The value of stop and search has been acknowledged by the Home Office. Research findings have reinforced the belief that persons who are stopped are more likely to be satisfied if they are treated with respect, dealt with politely and given an explanation for the search.

It is interesting to note that in only 12 of some 150,000 searches conducted by Met officers last year were complaints substantiated, and only one of those related to a breach of the code of practice. It is intended that a senior officer in each borough should be responsible for the overall supervision and correct use of these powers in their areas. Although the report was seized on by the press for its own sales figures and intended readers, the police have managed to get over the adverse and unjustified publicity and at last are allowed—sometimes—to get on with their job.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, made specific reference to violent crime I shall try to address that area. I believe that this year to date there have been 13 yardie-style murders. Those crimes represent 61 per cent of the total of 19 firearms murders across the Metropolitan Police district. That is a reduction in the number compared with last year's total of 18 yardie murders. So far this year there have been 34 non-fatal yardie shootings, representing 66 per cent of the category of attempted murder involving firearms. It is interesting that the press campaign which led, or forced, the previous administration to ban handguns—some called it a knee-jerk reaction—effectively confiscated the guns of those who held them legally but did little to address the problem of those who did not.

I return to the 13 murders that I mentioned a moment ago. Four of them have resulted in charges, and one is likely to be reclassified because the evidence shows that the victim may have accidentally shot himself. Suspects are being actively sought in four of the remaining cases. Of the 34 attempted murders, 10 have resulted in charges and suspects are being sought in a further eight cases. It is relevant to note that on 17 occasions the victims and associates have refused to co-operate with the police or assist the investigation. It is acknowledged that the people who perpetrate these violent crimes usually emanate from Jamaica. The High Commissioner for Jamaica has provided useful and complementary feedback, and a senior Met officer has visited Jamaica for sensitive discussions with officers there.

When I prepared my speech I was not sure of the noble Lord's definition of "violent crime". I hope that by addressing the problem of the yardies, who are currently the most ruthless and violent criminals around, the police have indicated that they are doing everything possible to get on top of the problem. I believe that they are doing very well within the confines of the manpower and money available to them.

It is worth while pointing out that, whatever the morale of an individual officer, he will always carry out his duties to the best of his ability without fear or favour. He or she is a professional with a sense of duty to the office of constable. I am unable to comment on the morale of officers other than those in the Met, whom I accompany on traffic patrols from time to time, because I have not spoken to them. However, in general terms it seems as if morale within the Met has improved over that which prevailed immediately following the publication of the Macpherson report.

Morale, of course, fluctuates as a result of events and experience. It is mainly adversely affected by media comment when negative, and often inaccurate, reporting leaves officers feeling disillusioned, misunderstood and undervalued. The vast majority of officers who continue to do their duties feel more keenly the effects of bad publicity. They are proud of what they achieve in serving and protecting the public because that is their intention and motivation. They do not apply themselves to their sworn duties to please the Commissioner, their supervisors, journalists or politicians; they do it for the public and to deliver their personal and professional commitment.

Morale, or rather lack of it, can be linked to performance. If an officer's heart is not in the job by reason of a lack of appreciation or support, perhaps the "Why do I bother?" attitude will kick in. A former commissioner was often heard to say that he never worried too much when he heard that his officers were unhappy; he was more concerned if he heard that they were more or less happy with their lot—a very strange philosophy even for a commissioner.

More needs to be done to encourage and preserve the good will and motivation of our officers. I have heard recently that the newish Metropolitan Police Commissioner is seen as a copper's copper, and as one who will be followed by his officers and who has their respect. Morale, therefore, must improve.

5.11 p.m.

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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Tebbit for instigating one of the most important debates that I have listened to in this Chamber.

The morale and numbers of police affect us all in the community. Like many noble Lords, I have attended the passing out parades at Hendon Police College and, indeed, many other police colleges. It is a procession and a parade which usually I find quite choking and emotional. One sees these young people full of hopes and aspirations, with high and good intent and in amazing formation and strength, marching forward and into their futures. They are instilled there with much of the ethos to which we aspire for our police service. The generality of the public in this country want to, and do, support the police service and yearn for it to be a top priority for the Government. Having left Hendon college, the police are dispersed across London to various police stations and into various communities.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, mentioned in his speech—on which I congratulate him—the number of police in London is well below what it should be to provide the kind of service required within this capital city. The Metropolitan Commissioner wants to increase the number. The Mayor of London has announced that he seeks to increase the number in the future. He has suggested that he will pay for that out of an increased precept. It would be better if he did not, because the Home Office has already funded it. It has already been paid for. I do not think that Londoners want to pay for it twice if that can be avoided. The principle that there should be more police in London is well accepted and welcomed.

One of the corollaries of having insufficient numbers—it may not be a bad corollary—is that the police have to work in co-operation with local authorities and community representatives to provide a way through the problems which come about partly from not having enough police, and, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said, to bring together community groups to fight crime. It is not always crime that worries people; it is the fear of crime. As noble Lords who read their local papers will know, the local press in particular note and take advantage of any crime that has happened, such as muggings in the street and burglaries.

The fear is very real. I know of elderly people whose lives are stultified because they are afraid of what may happen. In reality, the fear is often far worse than the actuality and level of crime. That is an awful way for society to live. It is a tempestuous way to live one's life, with the fear that something may happen, that a knock on the door is something of which to be afraid, that it is not good news or someone coming to see you.

People are also afraid to tackle the young. These days many young people go around in groups. In the past—in my youth, a long time ago—if someone saw youths spreading graffiti or breaking in somewhere, an adult would have spoken to them about it. But it is not being a Good Samaritan if we pass by on the other side of the road because we are afraid of what will happen if we become involved because we have been told or we know of a Good Samaritan who tried to do something and ended up with a knife in his heart. It happens too often. That is one of the reasons why crime, particularly that committed by young people, goes unstopped.

Bringing the police and community together begins to address that problem. The community gets a sense of strength from the police being there and from being associated with them. That strength is enormously important. If one empowers and makes courageous the people who live in a community, one empowers and strengthens the police as well, because they are then acting, and can act, with the support of those they serve. They are not acting against them; they are physically acting with them.

I am sure that all noble Lords will remember the years when many local authorities would not allow the police on to their estates. They were no-go areas. Those were tragic times because the people there were always afraid. One of the great signs that progress has been made in the past few years is the recognition that the police should not be the enemy; that they should be, and are, part of the community.

Reference has been made to the work that is now being done openly with young people, and to the presence of police on estates, which are important areas. But are the police still invisible on the streets? I do not know about other noble Lords, but I am always rather grateful when I see two policemen, with their helmets and yellow jackets with "Police" written on the back, ambling towards me up the road. There is a great sense of security when a police car goes past slowly—not dashing past with its bells ringing so that one knows that there is a crisis—because one knows that there is a police presence in the area. To some extent, the importance of police strength and numbers can be dissipated by their working with the community, but I do not think that police invisibility is of any help to the community at all.

One other corollary of the reduction in the number of police officers is the question of CCTV, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. I take a slightly different view. I am astonished at the welcome that has been accorded to CCTV. After all, it is a spy in the sky or a spy on the lamp-post. It means that wherever we go, we are filmed. We in the Chamber do not mind because none of us will be doing anything that anyone cares about. One thinks of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. One would not have believed for a moment that anything like that could happen. We have moved on because of the lack of people on the streets available to see what is going on and to take note of it. We cannot go back. Technology will take us further forward and the police will become more and more clever and adept at getting their man without having to leave the comfort of the police station. But that will not be a good thing. I hope that it will not happen.

The cost of the police service matters enormously. One area that needs to be taken into account is the efficiency of the technical management and ordinary management that lies behind the police service. Crime prevention by officers on the street is one aspect of the cost. But the administration behind that service is also costly. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, mentioned pensions. The funding of police pensions will bankrupt the police service in the not too distant future. Unfunded schemes mean that, annually, every pension is paid out of whatever income goes to the police service. It is a huge drain on resources. I urge the Government to look at this issue for the future. Nothing can be done about those who are currently in the service. It will take years to get the problem worked out of the system, but the service will be undermined in the future if it is not addressed at some stage.

Last week I had the opportunity to raise in the House an area of concern in my borough, Kensington and Chelsea, and in the country generally. Crack houses are prevalent on estates. Crack houses cannot be dealt with by the police because the legislation that prevents people allowing opium and cannabis to be used on their premises does not apply to crack cocaine. I raise the issue again because it is important that something should be done. The Minister was kind enough to say last week that the Government are giving serious attention to this issue. I do not expect him to say anything more than that today. But it is another area that needs to be addressed. It brings fear, intimidation and violence in its wake. Drugs are a cause of crime. When all is said and done, they are probably worse than alcohol. Drugs lie at the centre of much of the crime that ends up in the courts. The police need the right ammunition. They need the legislation. I very much hope that before long the Minister will be able to give me the reassurance that I seek on that point.

Police morale has been very low. There are a number of reasons for that, most of which have been touched on during the course of the debate. It is in all our interests that the problem of police morale is addressed. It is in all our interests that the police should not continually be under scrutiny and criticised—yes, if it is necessary and justified; but it is not always justified. Our safety, our futures and our children's futures rely on our having a police service that is friendly and approachable and makes us feel secure. It is up to us all to ensure that that happens.

5.25 p.m.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for securing this debate. It is an important debate, but let us put it in context. There is always room for improvement, but we have an excellent and professional police service in this country. It is still a model which most other countries look at and envy. Police officers around the country undertake excellent work 24 hours a day. Let us not forget it. We should all be grateful for their work and commitment.

"Police numbers" is an emotive issue. From my work as chairman of the North Yorkshire Police Authority and also as a deputy chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, I know that communities up and down the country want more police officers. What that actually means is an increase in visible policing on the streets, to offer reassurance. That is the outcome that we all want. The main question is how best to achieve it.

It is a matter of fact that in recent years police authorities have faced a string of tight settlements and in many areas recruitment activity had, as a result, been trimmed back significantly; and in some areas frozen altogether. It will take time to turn that situation around, but we are now beginning to see progress on the ground. The proposed settlement for 2001–02—giving an average increase in government funding for policing of 4.9 per cent, and in North Yorkshire, 5.4 per cent—will enable police authorities broadly to maintain existing service levels.

Police numbers overall are now on an upward trend. Police authorities have welcomed the Government's commitment to provide funding to increase police strength by 9,000 officers over and above what forces had planned to recruit over three years. I believe that we need more. The national police recruitment campaign, about which we have heard during the debate, has also generated a significant volume of inquiries. It is still too early to assess the quality of applicants. But police force recruitment departments are running flat out to keep pace with demand. Crucially, all the police training schools are now running to full capacity to keep pace with recruitment demand.

One could certainly argue that the Government acted too late. They could have prevented the dip in recruitment over the past couple of years by investing more resources in policing at a much earlier stage. But we are now beginning to see an increase and the signs are that the situation will continue to improve over the next year or so. I welcome that.

However, bland police numbers are not the only answer. Providing reassurance to communities through a visible policing presence is what we are seeking. Focusing the debate solely around the issue of police officer numbers actually misses the point. As one would expect, it is much more complicated than that. Funding for new police officers on its own is not the answer. Police authorities also need funding to be able to invest in new IT, equipment and assets. Without this, the police officers whom we already employ cannot be used efficiently and they will spend unnecessary time in police stations filling out forms. That is unacceptable.

Equally, we need to ensure that police officers specialise in policing functions, not routine administrative work. The danger of focusing the debate on police numbers is that insufficient money will be left in the pot to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of civilian support staff. It is perverse to spend money on expensive police officers, only to have to use them on administrative duties. This needs to be looked at in the round.

One of the key reasons for the steady decline in police numbers over recent years has been investment in new technology, which has in fact increased police efficiency. PSRCS, which has already been referred to this afternoon—or Airwave, as it is now known—the new police digital radio system, serves as a good example. Once implemented, it will deliver a range of efficiency savings. The same number of officers will be able to spend significantly more time on operational duties because they will have direct access to data and information through their radio handsets. However, we also heard that the cost is significant: nearly £200 million per year. Police authorities have called on the government to provide the resources to enable them to undertake an IT modernisation programme. New investment is needed to deliver long-term efficiency savings across the service. I have to admit that the Government have provided additional resources for Airwave and we are grateful for that. However, the investment needs to continue if the increased police numbers now being planned are to be retained.

Increasing police numbers is not the only answer to increasing reassurance in local communities. We also need imaginative solutions, some of which are already proving to be highly popular. For example, police offices can be co-located in rural post offices. We have done this most successfully in North Yorkshire by co-locating with a community office in Hawes in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. Police officers can be attached to mobile libraries. We need to see the greater use of technology to increase accessibility to policing. All these measures can play a part which we should not forget.

I could not let this debate pass without mention of the thorny issue of police pensions, to which both my noble friend Lord Dholakia and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred. The unfunded pension scheme continues to be the single biggest drain on police resources, taking moneys away from current policing needs and priorities. Over 14 per cent of total revenue expenditure in 2001–02 will be spent on pensions. In my own force in North Yorkshire, that will rise to 17 per cent. The pensions deficit—the gap between expenditure on pensions and serving officers' contributions—will this year exceed £1 billion. It will increase by a further £250 million over the following three years. That equates to nearly 10,000 police officers. An announcement from the Home Secretary on his proposals for dealing with the rising pensions bill is long overdue. Police authorities believe that the only tenable solution in the long term is to introduce a funded pension scheme alongside improvements to the operation of the existing scheme.

I shall turn now to violent crime. This is an area which most concerns citizens. The better recording of such crimes has definitely meant that more and clearer statistics have become available and thus it may appear that more crimes in general are being committed. Of course the police must concentrate on dealing with violent crime, much of which is perpetrated by alcohol or drug abuse. However, few forces were given performance indicators to drive down violent crime in their areas. In fact, only the five metropolitan forces were given money in order to help them achieve their targets to drive down such crime. This, I suggest, places in context the fact that we are not beset by violent crime throughout the country, although when it does occur it causes maximum anxiety—a fact that I would not dispute in any way. I know that police officers and managers alike throughout the police service are taking their responsibilities for clearing up and preventing violent crime very seriously indeed.

Finally, I should like to say a few words on police morale. We should never underestimate claims that morale is low. Much media criticism of policing has been aired in recent years, some of which is justified, but some of which is not. However, I have to say that my close association with policing in North Yorkshire does not altogether bear that out. We still manage to come up with some of the best crime figures in the country, in spite of being a traditionally low-funded force—indeed, one of the lowest funded in the country.

Our officers have performed magnificently during three extremely difficult years when the force had to be reorganised and staff had long periods of uncertainty about their futures. At that point, morale could fairly be said to have been low. However, when officers began to see the benefits of the many changes imposed, and were told that by next year more officers would be in post than North Yorkshire has ever had before, I can tell the House that morale picked up significantly.

On Monday, I spent the day with officers in York. I went out with a traffic sergeant. He and his colleagues dealt with a horrific road accident on the A.64. When we arrived, a tailback of traffic over a mile long had already formed. It continued to grow rapidly. The driver of the car was trapped and the fire service and police were trying to pull him out. The other vehicle involved had shed some of its load all over the road. The scene was absolutely chaotic. However, within minutes, order had been restored and, once the casualty had been cut free and transported to hospital, the police set about getting the traffic moving again. I saw use being made of a kind of theodolite, which speeded up significantly the measurement-taking necessary for court purposes. That is another piece of modern, expensive but very necessary equipment which the police need to use in their everyday jobs.

I spoke to each officer. Without exception, they told me how delighted they were with the news about the extra officers. Their managers, the Police Federation and Superintendent's Association, also said that they felt that this would be marvellous for morale. Things are moving in the right direction here, although there is still some way to go. All share in the responsibility for maintaining morale in the police service. Debates of this kind must be constructive. We need to recognise the enormous effort and commitment of officers up and down the country. Their work is valued and should be more so. I am confident that all Members of this House share that sentiment.

5.38 p.m.

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My Lords, I recognise that many noble Lords have concentrated their remarks on urban-based police forces, but I wish to look at rural areas. While I accept and acknowledge that more violent crimes are committed in urban centres, such crimes are also committed in rural areas. In my home county of Leicester, rural violent crime accounts for 10.7 per cent of total rural crime, compared with 16.3 per cent of total urban crime in our area.

I contacted my local chief constable to ask him about two of the issues we are debating today: first, recruitment in the county of Leicestershire. In his letter, the chief constable confirmed that his force has been fortunate enough to maintain a high level of recruitment. He stated that,
"in fact over the past few years we have been one of the few forces in the country that has continued to increase its police establishment".
Perhaps that is helped by the fact that Leicestershire is 100 miles north of London and thus far enough away from some of the great difficulties faced by police forces in the capital and the home counties. However, the chief constable goes on to state in his letter that,
"recruiting is becoming more difficult".
I also asked about officer morale. In his reply, the chief constable pointed out that morale is "extremely difficult to measure". However, a survey recently carried out among the force indicated that the staff are,
"highly committed to policing and the provision of the highest quality of service to the people of Leicestershire".
That sentiment reflects the remarks made by the previous speaker. However, the chief constable went on to say that:
"Inevitably incidents will occur which will affect morale on a local basis".
He also made a comment which I believe is even more important; namely,
"that that is the nature of life and not just policing".
The debate today reflects that. It is not simply one item.

I wish to spend a little time reflecting on the problems facing rural areas. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Tebbit, in opening the debate, commented that rural crime in some areas goes unreported. If I were ever to plead guilty, it would be to that. On three occasions during the past 18 months we have not reported to the police petty crimes and difficulties that we have had at our home. They were small issues that we coped with and got over. They should have been reported but they were not.

The cost of crime is a real cost. Perhaps I may give some figures. The National Farmers Union mutual underwriting manager, Sid Gibson, said in July last year that he estimated that thefts from homes and businesses in rural areas cost in the region of £168 million last year.

I looked at the rural White Paper recently to see what the Government had to say about this issue. I had to search to find where it referred to policing. I found a reference in the ninth paragraph—the first and only mention of the police:
"We are providing rural police forces with an extra £45 million over the next two years".
I am suspicious that the Government do not appreciate the level of concern in rural areas about the lack of available police support. Perhaps I may ask the Minister a few questions in regard to the extra £45 million. First, to what extent is it extra? If, for example, it is extra to last year's expenditure, will there also be a different "extra" equivalent to the normal uplift, year on year?

Secondly, does "over the next two years" relate to financial years or calendar years? Thirdly, how will the Government split the £45 million between the two years? For example, will it be £20 million in the first year and £25 million in the second year?

Fourthly, will the money be allocated according to the existing formulae? If so, will it go into police budgets at the start of each year? If not, how will it be allocated? Will it go to the same rural forces which are due to share the £15 million announced on the 20th July last year to improve police response times?

Fifthly, will each police force be allowed to decide how, where and when the money is spent, or will it be earmarked by the Government? If the latter, to what purpose will it be devoted? Sixthly, will the money, once allocated, belong to each police force as of right, or will they have to mount costly, time-consuming and not always successful bids for it?

Seventhly, will the extra money be tied to measurable improvements in police support in rural areas—for example, to a reduction in the average length of time it takes to respond to 999 calls, village by village? For someone in a very remote area, 35 minutes is an awful long time to wait for the police to arrive if he is under attack from yobs.

Lastly, can the Minister assure the House that the £45 million announced in paragraph 9 is not related in any way, in whole or in part, to the £15 million announced on 20th July for the improvement of police response times, nor to the CSR allowance of £30 million per year for each of the next three years for rural police forces?

I turn now to the funded pension scheme—or, should I say, the unfunded pension scheme. Three noble Lords have referred to this hugely important issue already—that is one of the disadvantages of being lower down on the list of speakers—and I hope that the Minister will respond to them. It concerns us greatly. The Government's response has been to announce short-term funding to cover the shortfall over the next three years.

Meanwhile, special initiatives multiply. One of the latest is the £30 million fund—open to bids—to introduce up to 50 neighbourhood warden schemes. I understand that these will be located predominantly in rural areas and will have, on average, five wardens to patrol set areas. Can the Minister say whether the wardens will have access to vehicles and, if so, to what vehicles? Can he say further whether the wardens will be of normal serving police officer age or whether the maximum age will be raised to allow ex-policemen to supplement their pensions?

At the same time as the Government are funding neighbourhood warden schemes, they have been faced with a fall in the number of special constables, a matter referred to by my noble friend Lord Tebbit. There has been a fall of 32 per cent—some 6,346—in the number of serving special constables since March 1997. What steps have the Government taken? Have they analysed the exit interviews of serving special constables? If so, what follow-up action has been taken to ascertain why such a dramatic fall in numbers has occurred?

The police face the consequences of the rising pension burden; of the need for high salaries and living allowances, to which several noble Lords have referred; of a backlog of the repairs necessary to buildings and equipment; of new crime reduction targets and even newer legislative requirements. The police have to cope with the implications of Macpherson, of the animal welfare lobby—an issue raised during Questions today—and, on the horizon, the prospect of a ban on hunting with dogs.

As to the increasing responsibilities on an already stretched police force, I should like to refer to the comments of Tim Hollis, an assistant chief constable, in the Daily Telegraph on 19th January. At the end of the article he states:
"It goes without saying that the police will do their best to meet the demands of any new legislation. But, inevitably, hard decisions will have to be made on the priorities".
On the other side of the equation, I can remember that when I was young the scrumping of apples earned you a wigging from the local bobby. Nowadays, you would probably receive a community service order. The Countryside Act, which I helped to take through the House, became law yesterday. It creates new offences of a criminal nature which will have to be dealt with by the police. This House awaits the Bill to ban hunting with dogs, which the Government intend to introduce. This will also create a new section of criminal legislation, to be enforced—often in the more remote areas of the countryside—by a largely urban-based police force.

To make matters worse, there is a set of problems which will not go away, which takes up a lot of police time and which rarely results in crimes being solved. I shall mention two problems in particular—animal welfare protesters and travellers.

Animal welfare protesters have been in the headlines almost continuously for the past four years. The Government—I give them their due—have paid extra money on several occasions to hard-pressed police forces to help them meet their overtime bills. Can the Minister tell the House the Government's current thinking on solutions to the problem of these people who do not care about human welfare? They threaten, they intimidate, they destroy, they vilify; they have no regard to the legal framework in which the rest of society lives. Their misbehaviour is no longer rare; it is becoming an almost daily threat in some parts of the country to some overworked police forces and the range of individuals harassed by them is on the increase.

I turn briefly to the issue of travellers. Some refer to them as gypsies but I shall refer to them all as travellers. They also thumb their noses at the law. They rely on intimidation and bullying behaviour to persuade the law enforcement agencies to leave them alone. They flout planning laws; they threaten local communities; they cost local authorities and private individuals large sums of money in clearing up after them. Will the Minister indicate what the Government have in mind to alleviate the situation and what is their timetable for doing so?

My noble friend Lord Tebbit has given us an opportunity to consider, in the calm and peace of this Chamber, the challenges facing today's police. The newspapers will have it that morale is low. I find myself wondering whether it is not quite so much that morale is low but that the police cannot see a way of dealing with the complexities which are thrust upon them, as I have tried to show, by changes in the way we live, by the laws we pass and by the kind of behaviour that has become an accepted part of daily living.

I try to be a law-abiding citizen and, therefore, I do not usually meet the police at the wrong end of a charge sheet. However, I go out and about, and I meet with a large number of police officers in the course of my duties. Whether it is a chief constable or a bobby on the beat, I find them helpful, committed, dedicated to the job that they do but despairing in some cases of getting the support they need from government and from the law.

I know that all noble Lords will join with me in recording our thanks to the members of our police force for the work that they do. They deserve our support.

5.51 p.m.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for providing the opportunity for this important debate. I shall concentrate on one aspect of the prevention of violent crime. I should like to join the noble Lord and other speakers in paying tribute to the police. These public servants, in the line of duty, are often faced with threatening behaviour and verbal abuse, as I have witnessed. They deserve our respect and gratitude for their normal self-restraint and perseverance in such circumstances.

Yesterday afternoon I visited the Orchard Lodge secure unit in south London. This institution is for violent 11 to 17 year-old boys. Long established, its education facilities were greatly enhanced by the previous Conservative government. I was very impressed by the way in which these young men—armed robbers, rapists and murderers, as well as some non-offenders—had responded. They were keen to show off their work and discuss their school activities. They vied for good behaviour cards. One of the two boys who had achieved the coveted "gold" card was pleased to tell me of his success.

It was an opportunity also to hear from the senior staff how these children had become involved in violence. A psychologist explained that some came from families with parents who had been unable to set clear boundaries. However, in interviews which looked at particular incidents in detail, 30 per cent of the children reported experiencing physical abuse, neglect and sexual abuse together. More than 80 per cent reported experiencing one or other of these three.

Home Office Research Study No. 209, based on the findings of the Youth Lifestyles Survey, indicates that boys without parental care are twice as likely to get into trouble. Brought up by a lone parent or stepparent, a boy is 40 per cent more likely to become a serious offender than a boy who is brought up with his two natural parents. There is a very good case for supporting families so as to prevent violent crime.

Late last year I visited the Calecott family in Newham. The four children, aged from one to 11 years, and their parents had been living for 12 months in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The mother had an infection of the pelvis and needed a pair of sticks to be able to walk. Without cooking facilities, she could but breast-feed her baby. Mrs Calecott could not take medication for her infection while feeding her son in this way. The children were not allowed to play in the yard except for a few hours on Sundays. The hotel lay on a busy road. The family's main meal was a daily takeaway. Unsurprisingly in these circumstances the five year-old boy was having trouble sleeping. He suffered from nightmares and showed other signs of anxiety. Both parents were anxious about their situation and depressed from fighting with the local authority. The mother had bitten her fingers to the quick.

Recently, I visited mothers at a Barnardos project for families in temporary accommodation. They told of their unhygienic facilities, of the difficulties of managing a child with the kitchen several floors below and no lift, of the endless delays and indignities of local authority housing departments. There are now more households in temporary accommodation than a t any time since 1978. The director of the Catholic Housing Advisory Service tells me that most of these households are families. There are now 6,000 households in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in London.

The capacity of these women to be good mothers is being undermined by a failing housing system. I urge your Lordships to consider that investment in social housing is an important means of preventing violent crime in the long term. I recently received a report on the Albany midwives unit at King's College hospital. The unit works particularly with disadvantaged mothers from Southwark and Lambeth. The midwives have been funded to work with reduced caseloads. They are encouraged to develop a lasting relationship with the mothers. The results have been astounding. These mothers are breast-feeding their babies more often, and for longer, than most other mothers. In this particular group one would expect exactly the reverse.

Breast-feeding encourages babies to put on weight and makes them stronger. Breast milk contains agents which combat infection—and these babies are more resistant to infection. Breast-feeding is good for mother-infant relations. These mothers are likely to have a healthier relationship with their children. Psychologists cannot be emphatic enough about the importance of good mother-infant relations to the formation of a secure personality. These children are less likely to develop personality disorders; they are less likely to be involved in violence. Midwives, health visitors and GPs all play an important part in supporting and strengthening families. There is a clear case for sustained investment in health services to reduce in the long term the level of violent crime.

Some years ago I was a teaching assistant in a primary school off Victoria Street. Ten year-old. Tom repeatedly shouted the answers before he was asked to do so. He lacked self-control. He seemed particularly interested in me because I was a man and his father was not involved in his life. There were two boys who played with their toy robots under their desks while the teacher was busy. They had been set the task of writing a story. Halfway through the time available, their books were blank. Asked by me to see how much they could write in two minutes, setting one against the other, their stories flowed. There are always difficult children, more challenging perhaps because of weak family attachments. With small enough classes, perhaps a teaching assistant, perhaps a male mentor to work with the most difficult boys, teachers can engage with more of their pupils and fewer will decline into exclusion and possible criminality.

I urge your Lordships to be mindful that well-resourced teachers can, in the long term, reduce violent crime. Well-resourced social services departments can play an important part in breaking the cycle of violence within some families. There are few more responsible jobs than that of a social worker. Yet many social services departments are chronically under-resourced. Social services also have a key role in preventing violent crime in the long term.

I urge your Lordships to consider prudent long-term investment in public services as a most important means of lowering the rate of violent crime. I ask your Lordships to remember the example of the United States, where long-term under-investment in essential public services has contributed to a prison population of a staggering number and cost. I do not seek to cast aspersions on that great country—many of the Americans I meet admit the fault, and I was pleased for us to learn as much from their nation's mistakes as from its successes.

It costs £150,000 per annum per head to keep those boys who live in Orchard Lodge, the institution with which I began my remarks. It would be far better for the taxpayer and for our society if we were to develop, and maintain in the long term, the vital early support for families and children that housing, health, education and social services can provide. I applaud the new investment that this Government are making in public services and the good economic management of the previous administration that helped to make such investment possible.

6 p.m.

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My Lords, I listened to the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, with great admiration. I should like to congratulate him not only on the practical research that he carried out into the problem but also on his perspicacity and courage in focusing upon an aspect of the problem of violent crime that became the kernel of his remarks. Of course it is amenable to parody, just as the views of anyone from any scale of the spectrum in this enormously difficult problem are open to parody. I do not believe that anyone else, except the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, has approached the subject from that angle. I am most grateful to the noble Earl.

I planned to begin my remarks to your Lordships by observing that, as a country, we are not a cruel nation or a cruel people. On the contrary, I believe that we abhor cruelty, and that feature is perhaps increasing. Yet I suggest that the central feature of violent crime is its cruelty. Therefore, it seems to me that there is a paradox here. In this country, which is far from cruel in its predilections, it is common ground that violent crime, and the cruelty inherent in it, are increasing.

I should like to follow the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in the following respect at least. It seems self-evident that we should focus our own interest in stemming—though "attacking" is perhaps a better word—the springs of violent criminality. We should focus our attack upon the young because they are the ones who are the most impressionable in our society. In the main, I believe that they can best be impressed by the cruelty of violent crime. We should emphasise the latter.

Where the "norm" is violence, whether in real life or in the menu of entertainment that is put forth day after day and night after night, the capacity for the cruelty in violent crime to impress the young in particular is blunted. In fact, it is probably often destroyed. I am afraid that that is what has happened in real life. I shall give your Lordships an example. I speak with much deference in the presence of my noble friend Lord Molyneaux of Killead, with whose speech I entirely agreed. We have seen in certain parts of Northern Ireland that violence of a kind that would be continually horrifying in Great Britain has become accepted—by some at any rate—as the norm.

As for the quality and quantity of violence in visual broadcasting by way of action, behaviour and language, I believe that to be most disturbing. It is also very dangerous. That is true not just of Northern Ireland—in fact, I believe it is rather less true of the Province—but also as regards what is provided by way of entertainment in Great Britain. If anything, I should like to suggest that it is made worse rather than better in its impact by programmes being characterised as "adult". It rather suggests that that is how the big boys, the grown-ups, behave. It seems to me that nothing could be more calculated than to suggest to young people that this is how grown-ups behave and thereby lead them to decide to start down that road.

What is the justification—or the purported justification—for this "norm"? I believe that it is said to lie in freedom of expression. But this particular manifestation of freedom of expression forseeably leads young people to lose a much wider freedom later in their lives at the hands of the criminal courts, as they progressively emulate what they see. Indeed, I believe that they do just that when they see such examples placed before them. The greater part of the truthful answer is that violence is recognised by programme makers as exerting a kind of morbid fascination for a very large number of viewers and, therefore, it boosts the ratings.

As a country, we tend to stick a label on the problem; namely, "Touch at your peril". Therefore, we tend to concentrate not on diminishing the springs of criminality but on trying to staunch the floods of violence that flow from them. More police and more effectively deterrent sentences are our goal, and quite rightly so in the present circumstances. We need to have more sentences that truly deter the offender from reoffending and truly deter other offenders from emulating such behaviour. If we can introduce a sentence that really achieves those aims, we need it; indeed, plenty of it.

Perhaps we could also introduce prison regimes that would educate and prepare inmates for resettlement. However, I am afraid that the Government are failing over far too wide an expanse of the spectrum, if not the whole of it. For example, although we have costly campaigns at public expense against smoking, where, I ask the Minister, is the campaign against criminality? Who is in charge of this sector of social engineering, what is his remit and, indeed, his budget? In other words, what is the Government's policy on campaigning against criminality?

Further, why do the Government suppose that police morale is as low as it seems to be? I believe that it is common ground that police morale is much lower than it should be; indeed, it is much lower than it has been in the past. However, if it is not common ground, do the Government accept that morale is low? If so, can the noble Lord give us the reasons behind it in the view of Ministers? In the vast majority of cases, I believe that men and women join the police service mainly out of a desire to serve the public. The Government and the police committees in the country are the people who represent the public in this context. Low morale in a workforce—in any service—surely implies lack of confidence in its direction. Can the Minister say whether the Government have given any thought to that view? Have they considered why it should now be the case that there is such a lack of confidence in the police as regards the direction of the service? Surely the Government have access to any amount of research. I do not believe that it is enough to say that it should not be happening; nor could they possibly get much reasoned support if they were to say, "Well, it's only the bad eggs who are unhappy".

I am enormously grateful to my noble friend Lord Tebbit for including the question of police morale in the heading of his Motion. Indeed, the whole area is an excellent subject, yet most disturbing. I was told only recently by a serving officer from a large police force in England and Wales that the greater number of people, not just a few, did not want to continue serving any longer.

Perhaps I may offer my own explanation for the situation. Despite the fact that the police service in England and Wales is probably the most regulated and scrutinised in the world—second only to the Royal Ulster Constabulary—police officers have the perception that they lack the support from those in authority over them that is necessary if they are not to feel that they are unvalued. I refer to the degree of support that must lead them to feel that risking their lives and limbs is a proper, justified and proportionate part of the bargain that they make with the public. That is thought to be lacking.

Of course the rule of law must be upheld. That includes, of course—perhaps one might say particularly—seeing to it that the police as well as the rest of us stay within the law. But the police have the impression—this is far too widely held, in my view— that in the face of any complaint, from whatever quarter, however stale, they are expected to he on the defensive from the outset. They are frequently suspended for months, if not years. They start in any event several points behind the complainant in what becomes immediately an adversarial procedure and not an inquiry. They are obliged to try to prove a negative, no matter how stale the complaint may be. I warmly endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in that regard.

I do not think that there can be any more vivid illustration of what I am discussing—albeit this incident occurred in another part of our country than the ongoing Bloody Sunday inquiry, with all its remarkable and happily unprecedented features. It was misguidedly justified on all sides, including, I regret to say, on my party's side, on the ground that we must get at the truth. But you do not get at the truth after eight years, let alone after 28 years. What you get are numerous lives spent in the public service being imperilled in some cases and almost ruined in many more cases by what I believe to be a most regrettable procedure. I further diverge into Northern Ireland by expressing my agreement—

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My Lords, I am slightly confused as to why the noble and learned Lord has mentioned the Bloody Sunday inquiry. As I understand it, that investigation concerns aspects of an armed services operation.

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My Lords, I mentioned that matter as I fully agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, with regard to the harm that arises from investigations and public inquiries into matters that occurred long, long ago when those at the receiving end are put on the defensive and are required to prove a negative.

I now turn to the question of prison sentences, which merges with that of prison regimes. Of course there are some offenders who above all else must be kept out of the way of doing harm. But the reoffending record of the inmates of most prisons is lamentable. The Government are not making progress fast enough, if at all, on that aspect. Indeed, I am not at all sure that they are not going backwards.

The Minister replied to a debate which I instituted in this House about a fortnight ago on Her Majesty's Prison Blantyre House which had become the flagship of resettlement prisons in this country, with an extraordinarily favourable reoffending rate of about 8 per cent, compared with 27 per cent for resettlement prisons generally and over 50 per cent across the whole prison estate. But unfortunately the Government are supporting measures from the Prison Service Agency which will reduce the education budget in that successful prison, abolish the teaching of art and photography, increase education class sizes and make the prison much more like a standard Category C prison. That, I venture to suggest, is an extraordinary way to treat a prison which has what David Ramsbotham described as an amazing success record.

After nearly four years the Government are presiding over rising violent crime, falling, or at any rate, low police morale and falling police numbers. I think that my noble friend Lord Tebbit will be thanked by a great many people in the country for shining the light of scrutiny on to this record. I hope that he and others will scrutinise, as I shall, such answers as your Lordships receive to the questions I have asked.

6.15 p.m.

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My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for introducing this subject. In a break during this afternoon's proceedings he and I reflected on the time which we had spent working in the public sector. I worked there rather longer than he did. I remember being told by various old soldiers in many places that they had never known morale to be as low as it was. I am sure that that is just what one would find on any railway platform tonight. When the service is at a low ebb, when things are a shambles and when people have their backs to the wall, morale is low. Morale can be repaired quickly if people believe that they are achieving success, however success is measured. I know from my days working for the railways that if trains run to time, are reasonably full and if the newspapers get off their backs, morale rises rapidly.

I am convinced that low morale in the police force can be repaired. Obviously, restoring the numbers of policemen is one part of that; but other things are also necessary such as good, inspired leadership. Great changes are taking place in the police force. In my local Thames Valley force there are now three women among the six chief officer ranks. Twenty years ago to have three women chief officers out of six in a police force would have been regarded as outrageous and would no doubt have been denounced by the people who talk about low morale as being one of the reasons for it. One gets over these things, but one gets over them slowly with a constructive policy within a force which aims to change things.

I want to talk for a moment about an evening I spent in the police control centre in Reading on the Friday before Christmas. I mention this in the context of why morale might be low in the police service. I went to the control centre because I chair the police complaints committee and we have had some problems. I decided to investigate the problems for myself. They have been solved and need not detain us this evening.

As I say, I visited the control centre on the Friday before Christmas. People had finished work that lunchtime and had been celebrating. A number of incidents were reported. There was a fairly large crash on the edge of the motorway. A body was found in the River Thames. There were numerous small fights and fracas in bars in the centre of Reading. All those incidents were attended to promptly and efficiently, as far as I could see. However, some of them, for example, the motorway crash, were extremely greedy in terms of the number of police officers needed to sort out the problems.

Calls were received from residents who lived near one of the parks in the town. They said that young people were riding motor cycles round the park, through the park gates, down their road and back again. Another call was received from someone who reported graffiti being sprayed on vehicles in a residential area. These incidents are not treated as top priority as no one is being beaten to death or anything of that kind. The distress felt in the control room was not caused by not being able to attend to the first-line incidents, but by not being able to attend to those "social" incidents which caused distress. The police ought to have been able to attend to those incidents but the available resources did not permit us to attend to them immediately. The officer in charge told me that dealing with the motor cyclists in the park would require five officers. He said that he would not send one officer to chase the motor cyclists as that would make the situation worse rather than better.

Bad morale arises, first, when we cannot deal with the urgent incidents—in the case I cite we could; and, secondly, when we do not give the service the public want. When they ring for the police, they want someone to do something effective about whatever is wrong. The number of officers available did not allow that level of service to be provided. In most towns, cities and rural areas, the police cannot respond as they would like to do to a wide range of incidents

I come to what I regard as a key issue. In the Thames Valley we are trying very hard to meet recruitment targets. We cannot do so. As fast as we recruit people, others leave to work with other forces. Although police numbers in this country are rising, they are not rising in the Thames Valley. We have lost about 60 of our officers already this year—more than the number of extra recruits we have taken on.

There are two ways to deal with the matter. The first concerns the Home Office and must be attended to. The salaries we pay are insufficient to allow people to get on the housing ladder. Seventy-five per cent of our recruits are single people; 60 per cent come from outside the Thames Valley. We have to provide some accommodation for them and it cannot be police housing. Policemen nowadays do not want to live in tied cottages. They do not want to live in ghettos with other policemen. They want to be part of the community.

The second point is a matter I have raised with the Minister previously and to which he has given polite and reassuring answers. However, the whole police service is now waiting for a definite answer. We have heard that 6,000 Specials have left the force. Can we have some system of payment for part-time police officers? I am confident that we could recruit several hundred extra officers if we could pay people for one evening's training a week and one evening or day's service at the weekend. Many problems arise at peak times. We know that we shall need officers on Friday evenings. We know that when there is a football match on a Saturday, we shall need them. If industry has a peak demand, it has some form of part-time cover to deal with the problem.

A positive response from the Home Office on that point would go a long way to solving manpower problems in the short term. Being able to respond to those anti-social incidents would satisfy not only the police that they are giving a good service but also the residents of the Thames Valley.

I shall not go over many of the other issues. They have been adequately covered by noble Lords. Can the Minister respond, first, on the issue of housing; and, secondly, can we retain some form of special police force? At present, the Specials are sinking away into oblivion.

6.24 p.m.

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My Lords, from the tail-end position usually occupied by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, perhaps I may congratulate my noble friend Lord Tebbit on choosing this subject from the many issues in which he is involved. My only regret is that we have not had the advice of the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn. I fully understand that as a serving Metropolitan Police officer he could not have spoken today. In his place, we had the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, who, as a recently serving police officer, has given much advice. However, I do not believe that either side of the House benefits by complaints about what the other side has done.

I join my noble friend Lord Marlesford and my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew in commending the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. He asked a question that the Minister cannot be expected to answer. However, the Minister responds on behalf of the Government. I hope that he will pass the matter on to his noble and right honourable friends and that we shall receive some sensible answers to the vital questions that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, posed.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. It is not true to say that you can never find a policeman when you need him. In June 1979 my house was struck by lightning and began to smoulder nicely. We had no electricity or telephone but within five minutes a police car arrived, summoned by the alarm of the tree surgeons who occupy the farmyard. My wife went to the police car with the immortal words, "The house is on fire. Could you ring 999 for the fire brigade". The fire brigade responded as quickly as the police had. Quick responses to calls for police are vital in town and country but you cannot have a quick response without the manpower. Almost all noble Lords have spoken about the drop in manpower numbers, particularly in London. In eight years there has been a decrease of 11 per cent.

However, there is immense waste of manpower. A few years ago a friend of mine, an inspector, commented on the fact that he had to sign a number of gun licences. That inspector is now retired from the police force and is employed, as are many former policemen, by a security firm. But why was an active inspector signing gun licences, about which there were no criticisms?

For sergeants and constables the compulsory retirement age is 55 years. The man or woman receives a full pension after 30 years. He or she could be 48½ on retirement. Inspectors can continue after 30 years, but the compulsory retirement age is 60. Most are active and fit (in the case of my friend, perhaps a little rotund) and able to carry out police work of an administrative nature. Employing retired policemen and civilian officers would enable more police officers to be involved in active policing. At present many policemen are involved in inspection of gun ownership and gun licences. It may be necessary; I think that it is overdone. That could quite well be carried out by retired police officers.

The problem as regards numbers is one of retention rather than recruitment. We have heard that the police colleges in certain counties are full. I hope that standards are not being lowered to get policemen into the force.

As with the Armed Forces, the problem is not getting people in, but keeping them once they are there, particularly those who have experience and ability and know what they are doing. Too often, they are just paddling along, doing their duty in the easiest way possible, waiting for the moment when they can retire.

There must be some doubts about the top ranks in the police. My noble friend Lord Marlesford mentioned the pre-war Hendon Police College, which was extremely successful in bringing forward a considerable number of very good policemen. I refer in particular to Simpson in London and St Johnston, the generator of "Z-Cars", in Lancashire. They benefited enormously from what they had learned in police college and the quick promotion that they were given. I knew St Johnston well. On one occasion while on the beat in London, he arrested a lobster crossing Jermyn Street.

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A lobster?

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A lobster.

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My Lords, I could understand if he had arrested a mobster, but not a lobster. What was its offence?

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Jaywalking, my Lords.

Hendon Police College was killed by representations made by the lower ranks, who did not like that type of promotion. The system is worth further consideration to enable the best people to be in the top ranks—I do not say that those currently in the top ranks are not the best people.

The morale and self-belief of policemen have been damaged. Macpherson—and many others—are greatly to blame for that. Those who complain are sometimes prosecuted. I hope that the police get the back-up that they need and deserve in order to do their jobs properly.

The police do not always help themselves. I declare an interest in this question. Why did the Essex police authority turn down a gift of £10,000 from the freemasons of the county to buy a heart defibrillator? What on earth are they playing at? Do they value political correctness above the possible saving of life? The freemasons have many justifiable causes for complaint. An organisation with the delightful name of VOMIT, which stands for victims of masonic—I cannot remember what the IT stands for—distributes flysheets. One, which was picked up a couple of weeks ago in Uxbridge public lavatory—sorry, Uxbridge public library—was written by a man who complained about a minor motoring offence of which he had been convicted. He blamed everybody from the constable to the magistrate, saying that they were part of a masonic plot against him. Although the leaflet was found in Uxbridge, the case took place in south Dorset. The honourable Member for South Dorset, Mr Ian Bruce, who was also mentioned in the pamphlet tells me that the case happened seven years ago.

There are many freemasons in the police force, but there is no more evidence against any of them for any wrongdoing than there is against the Rotarians, the Ovaltinies or any other body. Attacks should not be made on policemen for any reason; that will make them feel that they are not wanted.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, talked about the high morale in North Yorkshire. I wonder whether that has anything to do with the influence of the right honourable Member for Richmond. Life is undoubtedly easier in that sort of country area than it is in the metropolitan area.

I am deeply sorry that the police have to perform tasks such as clearing up motorway crashes caused by sheer bad driving and the many other extremely unpleasant jobs that they have to do. They must have all our deep sympathy as well as our support.

God helps those who help themselves. I shall finish with a parable. This morning, driving up on the A40, I found a small queue at Savoy Circus that was disturbed by the blaring of a police car, with noises and lights coming from every orifice. With great courtesy and skill—and considerable difficulty—all the cars in the queue got out of the way so that the police car could go by and it swept on its way. The public will do that for the police, but they need the police to help them when they need them.

6.37 p.m.

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My Lords, I think that it was F.E. Smith who confused the National Liberal Club with a public lavatory. I am worried that the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, seems to confuse a public lavatory with a library. I shall let that pass.

I confess to an unworthy thought. When I saw who was moving the Motion, I thought that Tory Central Office had decided to set old knuckle-duster Norman on the issue to get the knees trembling in the home counties. I have to say that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, introduced the debate in a most statesmanlike way. Before the Minister gets too complacent, I advise him to read the speech with care. I have watched the noble Lord in many guises over 30 years. There is no one like the Chingford strangler for sticking the stiletto between the ribs while still smiling and reassuring the victim. When the Minister reads the noble Lord's speech tomorrow, he will find that it was not quite as gentle as a first listening might have led him to think.

One of the pleasures of this House is the expertise that is brought to debates. We have seen that recently on health matters and we frequently see it on education and defence. Today, the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, and my noble friends Lady Harris and Lord Bradshaw have brought their direct experience—the noble Lord as a police officer and my noble friends on police authorities—of the issues facing the police services. That has added to the richness of the debate.

My contribution is that of a layman. I am the voice of the consumer. As a consumer, I believe that it is fair to say that the general public are becoming cynical about politicians who constantly parade simple solutions to the problems of law and order and who constantly imply that their opponents are soft on crime and criminals. For almost a decade and two successive Home Secretaries, we have been given quick-fix solutions in response to genuine public concern about crime.

Both Michael Howard and Jack Straw have resorted to populism and panic rather than face up to the less headline-catching reforms required to tackle these problems. Each in turn has sought to give the impression that, with one more extension of police powers and one more turn on the screw of civil liberties, we could all sleep easier in our beds. The result of this decade of hard men at the Home Office is, we are told, an all-time low in police morale and continuing public anxiety about crime. The coming general election promises only more of the same from Labour and Conservatives alike. Yet, do more and tougher measures make us safer? My noble friend Lord Dholakia asked a question of the Minister to which he received a reply.

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My Lords, does the noble Lord know whether his noble friend will honour us with his presence during the winding up of the debate?

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My Lords, he will try to do so. If he does not, it will probably be for a very good reason.

My noble friend Lord Dholakia asked the Minister how many criminal offences were created by the legislation passed in 1999–2000. The reply, which has now appeared as a Written Answer, is 123. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, constantly campaigns for less legislation. I believe that that reply provides an illustration of the type of burden with which the police have had to deal. The Home Office, in particular, has produced a deluge of legislation.

There are no quick fixes. As indicated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and in a different way by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the real response lies in addressing the mix of financial, political and social solutions which are at the heart of both the problems of police numbers and police morale. Of course, increased resources for pay and conditions will help. But we must accompany that with measures to reconnect police and policing to the communities which they seek to serve. We should underpin the policy with community-based solutions both to fighting crime and providing alternatives to it for the youth age group, which is the cause of most public concern.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth indicated, crime fighting is not only a job for the police. We must face the problems posed for our society by the cultural changes that have taken place over the past 30 years. A number of noble Lords have referred to our less deferential society, which produces a problem not only for the police but for teachers and other formal figures of authority.

The current modernisation programme brought forward by the Government is not as joined up as it should be in developing a better police service. That is why we on these Benches believe that the Home Secretary is foolish to continue to resist the setting up of a Royal Commission or a more permanent body with similar powers. Such a body could carry out a root and branch review of the service and make recommendations which could help to rebuild public confidence in the police. Indeed, it may be able to carry out some of the work referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, in investigating questions of police morale. Perhaps that would also promote a more balanced, national debate—one which I hope would address the whole combination of issues encompassed by the law and order problem.

Let us start by establishing some facts about where we are and how we got there. The Times expressed the situation relating to police numbers fairly and squarely in its editorial of 19th December 2000. It said:
"The plain facts arc that police numbers have been falling for a number of years but especially sharply in the capital. This is largely because of the abolition of a London housing allowance by the last Conservative administration".
Indeed, a number of police sources to whom I have spoken cite as the main cause of low morale the Sheehy report of 10 years ago which resulted in the lowering of starting salaries and the removal of housing allowances, which were regionally tailored.

However, that does not explain why, in spite of numerous warnings, the present Government have allowed police numbers to drop by some 3,000 since the 1997 election, with the most severe impact here in London. Over the past four years, Ministers have trotted out a number of excuses rather than deal with the impending crisis. We have been told that the previous government gave control over budgets, and therefore over recruitment, to chief constables. At one stage, we were assured that outsourcing, new technologies and increased mobility could finesse the shortfall. We were told that police services had to share the constraints on public spending imposed by Kenneth Clarke and embraced with enthusiasm by Gordon Brown during Labour's first three years in office.

Faced with undeniable public concern and the fear that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and his friends might exploit that concern, we have seen a sudden change of heart by the Government. But I regret to say that it is not the persuasive power of your Lordships which has brought that about. No; a change of heart has occurred because, first, focus groups are telling them that the public want more bobbies on the beat, and, secondly, a general election is just around the corner. On such high-minded principle does our latter-day Robespierre in the Home Office make his policies.

However, let us not ignore the chance to improve the situation, no matter how opportunistic the Government's reason for their change of heart. There is no doubt that an improvement in pay and conditions will improve recruitment and morale. But other issues must be addressed.

There is the question of job satisfaction and respect. In other debates in this House, I have mentioned growing up with childhood tales from my father. He was brought up in Old Swan in Liverpool, where the policeman was called "Clear off' and would disperse young people with those two words. In my youth, in our village just outside Blackpool, Copper Whalley used to ride around, ram-rod straight, on a bicycle. Just the appearance of him at the top of the road was enough to produce the desired effect. In their own ways, they were both pillars of their community in a manner that policemen probably do not enjoy in this less deferential age.

My nephew joined the Blackpool police and then took the opportunity to emigrate to Western Australia, where he now serves in the Western Australian police force. I asked him what his motivation was for going. I shall always remember his rather chilling explanation. He said, "I found the hatred in the eyes of people I was trying to help in Talbot Square in Blackpool on a Saturday night just too disturbing". I believe that policemen do come across such hostility, particularly among young people. That is something that must be recognised. We must find ways to link the police with the communities which they seek to serve.

In that respect, we should consider in particular the question of police recruitment among ethnic minorities. The other day at Question Time I mentioned that it is 20 years since I raised in another place the matter of the deplorable level of recruitment. Even today, approximately only 2 per cent of our police force comes from ethnic minorities. That cannot simply be due to a lack of willingness to recruit. We must give greater consideration to why our ethnic minorities are not recruited to, and do not stay in, the police force.

A number of references have been made to Macpherson, who, I believe, identified a canteen culture within police forces. Policemen accept that that culture exists and that it needs to be removed. We hear anecdotal evidence about low morale, but it is often the complainants who feel that morale is low who refuse to accept the need for change. We must change our police force so that it is staffed and trained and geared towards policing a modern multicultural Britain. We support the Government in their attempt to bring that about.

Many other issues were raised in this debate, including, for example, car crime and phone crime. At the other end of the police force—the end that is opposite that which is involved with communities—modern policing needs cleverer coppers. Modern global crime and high-tech crime need to be combated by policemen of high quality. I am worried by the fact that there has been a fall in graduate recruitment since 1994. Is the Minister aware of that steady decline? That decline is worrying—it raises long-term issues, it will affect the ability of the police to deal with high-tech crime and it shows that good managerial skills are needed in the police force.

Political and public support for the police, which the police deserve and need, depend on a social contract, which requires from our police democratic accountability, a closeness to the communities—including the ethnic communities—in which they serve and a culture of service and tolerance within the service towards those whom they seek to serve. A police service that has good pay and conditions and training, which offers good career prospects and which is well equipped and well resourced should remove policing from the political battlefield. Such a police service will have a high morale and be held in high public regard.

As for the politicians, I can do no better than to return to an editorial in The Times of 19th December, which warned:
"Populism is quicksand for politicians. It almost ensures maximum publicity for those willing to play it, but also an unpredictable political ending".
Our police and the public deserve better from us in the forthcoming general election than the unedifying spectacle of Miss Ann Widdecombe and Jack Straw mud-wrestling about law and order. If that happens, those politicians deserve to sink into the quicksand to which the editorial in The Times referred.

6.52 p.m.

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My Lords, I join every speaker in this debate in thanking my noble friend Lord Tebbit for launching what has proved to be a thoughtful and constructive debate which has raised real problems. There has been a considerable amount of agreement in the House. It will be difficult for someone who reads Hansard to tell which side Peers were speaking from by their remarks.

However, I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, believes that it takes the efforts of Conservative Central Office to set my noble friend Lord Tebbit in action. I assure him that its influence was entirely unnecessary.

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My Lords, I withdraw that remark.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for withdrawing his remark.

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My Lords, I inform my noble friend Lord Cope that the situation was the other way round: I tried to set Conservative Central Office in action.

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My Lords, exactly so.

My noble friend Lord Tebbit warned at the start of this debate of the problems of interpreting crime statistics. I agree. Whichever way one examines the statistics, particularly those relating to violent crime, they are of massive concern. That is a matter for, and the responsibility of, the police and society more generally, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and others reminded us.

We live in a rapidly changing society. There is much greater acceptance of violence on television, as my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and others mentioned. There has been a decline in respect and in family life. That was illustrated by the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.

We also need to consider the different way in which the police are portrayed almost every night on television and in all sorts of other media. They are not presented as an ideal to look up to, as PC George Dixon was many years ago; they are much less inspiring. Sometimes they are bent, and sometimes the hero is an eccentric who is out of sympathy with the bosses and the ethos of the police service in which he serves. In those fast-changing circumstances, the police do an extremely difficult job. I join every noble Lord who has spoken in paying tribute to the police.

Throughout the debate, noble Lords have expressed concern about reduced numbers and low morale in the police force. Morale is extremely important. I have accompanied police on their duties, and I appreciated the guts that are required in some situations, although they may become routine to police constables. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to the hostility to which his nephew in Blackpool was subject. All of us at times have probably wondered whether we would be willing to "have a go" in various situations. That again shows the guts that are required by police officers.

How can we measure morale? Charles Clarke, the Home Office Minister, said:
"The number of people leaving a profession may be taken as an indicator of morale".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/00; col. WA 65.]
That is one way to measure morale. Resignations from the police force have gone up enormously during the past few years, which is worrying. Even if every policeman who resigns is replaced by a new recruit who has come through training, an experienced policeman is much more valuable than a brand-new policeman. To lose policemen because of low morale is extremely serious.

Another indication of the state of police morale is the fact that the Police Federation has withdrawn from consultations with Home Office Ministers because it is concerned about the direction in which police reform is leading. That is of concern to us all.

It has been said that there are more than 2,500 fewer officers than there were. The Government promised, by 2002, to return to the figure that applied in 1997. They have given a string of promises while they have been in power: they promised us greater numbers of recruits and more policemen. Let us hope that that promise at least will be delivered.

Several noble Lords referred to the fall in the number of special constables. When I was a Member in another place, I became aware of the huge reliance that my local police force placed on special constables. They police special events and extra car parking at a "big do", but they also work every Saturday night in police stations. However, there are more than 6,000 fewer special constables now than there were a few years ago. I hope that the Minister will comment on the possibility of paying special constables and of keeping them on a retainer basis; similar arrangements apply in other parts of the public service.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, drew attention to the worrying number of assaults and acts of violence against police officers. I have much sympathy with his call for more custodial sentences in such cases. I believe that the Home Secretary today called for tougher sentences to be dished out, not specifically for that crime, but generally. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice asked more or less simultaneously for fewer people to be sent to prison. We shall have to sort out those two contributions on the matter when we see their comments in full.

Assaults on police increased by around 12 per cent last year. The trouble is that 200 of those convicted of assaulting police officers were released from prison under the special early release scheme. That does not help the process. Indeed, around 30,000 convicted criminals in total have been released under that scheme.

Another point running through the debate has been the differences in policing—and the similarities—throughout the country. It is in the nature of British policing that it has always consisted of local forces, typically covering a county, although nowadays often more; and that is the way it should remain. It is not something shared in many cases by other countries. In France the gendarmerie come directly under central government, as do the police in the Republic of Ireland. The Minister of Justice in the Republic is concerned with the appointments of quite low-level policemen throughout the country and with the act ions they take.

It is important that our police retain their local forces. There is sometimes talk of regionalisation and of the amalgamation of forces. I am all for cooperation; but the local nature of the organisation of the police is important. In any case, no service can work well during huge upheavals.

We have been reminded that every Bill we pass creates new offences. For that matter, almost every initiative—this applies particularly to financial initiatives—by the Government seems to lead to more ear-marked money going to police forces as opposed to money which the Chief Constable and the police authority can decide how to spend. Every time that happens, it reduces local control over the way in which money can be spent and the way in which a police force can operate. It also increases the complexity of the finances. We are reaching the stage where that is quite serious.

I have no doubt we shall hear about the 10 per cent funding increase announced in November. But over half of that is sidelined for all sorts of different worthy purposes—the Crime Fighting Fund, rural policing and so forth. The actual increase in the money given to police forces is more like 5 or 10 per cent, and that is not even enough to keep the general police force expenditure standing still. Taking account of pay and inflation, pensions, capital finance and costs and levies from the various national crime-fighting agencies, police forces face increased costs of 5.6 per cent simply in order to stay where they are.

That brings me on to pensions. There is no doubt that we need to settle the question of pensions for the future. It is partly a question of allowing police forces and the authorities to manage their budgets more satisfactorily; but it is also partly to do with retaining officers. The more officers who retire, even if they are replaced by new ones, the greater the pension bill becomes and therefore the greater its importance.

Concern has been raised about the capital budget, particularly in relation to police radios. If the Minister has the time, I hope that he will say something about that. Concern was also expressed about bureaucracy. The police now have to comply with 58 performance criteria as well as a "best-value" regime. It must be extremely difficult to hit 58 targets at once. They are all worthy and good. One of the instant reactions when something goes wrong is to introduce new criteria, as well as another sum of money to be added to the budget specifically devoted to the problem. All that makes life extremely difficult, particularly when it comes on top of the fact, as my noble friend said, that the police comprise one of the most examined sectors one can imagine.

My noble friend Lord Marlesford referred to DNA. I sympathise with what he said, especially because of the appalling murder case which happened four years ago in what was then my constituency. The case was eventually solved, I am glad to say, by the use of DNA, and a conviction was obtained. Around 4,500 men had given DNA samples in the course of those police inquiries, and virtually all of those had to be destroyed afterwards. So if another incident should happen, those samples would have to be taken all over again, and it was an extremely expensive operation to carry out.

I support the extension of CCTV. As my noble friend Lady Hanham said, it is remarkable that there is so much acceptance of CCTV, by comparison with 1984, as it were; and it is valuable. It was installed in a shopping centre near where I live and the first thing that happened was that hooligans attacked the camera on the following Saturday night. Unfortunately, they did not realise that they had attacked the dummy camera. They were filmed on the real camera and, I am glad to say, were convicted. It was a great success.

I hope also to hear that crack houses will be brought into line with cannabis and opium houses—something about which we exchanged views across these Dispatch Boxes at Questions a day or two ago. That issue has been under consideration for a long time; not just for 12 months, but for at least 12 Bills. We have debated at least a dozen Home Office Bills since it first came under consideration.

My final point concerns policing in Northern Ireland. It is different in many respects from policing in this country because of the history. But morale there is an extremely difficult problem at the present time. From tomorrow, the difficulty will be that the police are obliged to recruit 50:50 from the communities, yet they cannot recruit Catholics as long as the nationalist and republican Churches continue to oppose it so strongly, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, said. Yet they are short of manpower and the terrorist threat is rising from both republican and loyalist terrorists, backed by drug racketeers. The terrorists are rearming on both sides and that is a worrying situation.

The most consistent message expressed throughout this debate has been support and admiration for the job that the police do, and a recognition of their problems about which we are all concerned.

7.9 p.m.

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My Lords, I want to put on record my praise and support for the police. During the time in which I have held this brief I have visited many police stations, met many police officers and had many discussions with people from the police service. As ever, on those visits—they are usually happy occasions—I have been tremendously impressed by the dedication, the strength of view and the commitment to the difficult job that police officers carry out throughout the country.

I also want to place on record my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for originating the debate and, in his usual way, focusing on the issues that go to the heart of the matter: police numbers, morale and violent crime. All those issues are at the forefront of the public mind and they are ones about which we are all concerned.

There has been much praise for the nature and tone of the debate. I, too, want to reflect on that. This has been an extremely good debate. I would argue that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, was at his most thoughtful.

Although he was partisan, as one would expect—one would be disappointed if he was not—he was not above casting criticism retrospectively on previous governments, including his own, where he felt that they had in some way fallen down. I pay credit to him for that. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, made a good point when he said that because of the comments from contributors and the way in which they addressed the issues, it was, at times, almost possible to forget which political party they came from.

There have been many notable contributions. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, with his insight and knowledge, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, with his particular range of interests and critical analysis of the criminal justice system. I enjoyed especially the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, with her observations and thoughts about London policing, and the comments and reflections from the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on rural matters. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, with her clear and well thought out approach to rural policing matters made some telling points. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, for his reflections on some of the difficulties facing the Royal Ulster Constabulary. We owe a great debt to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, for his "lobster" story, which was possibly the best story of the afternoon. I was only disappointed that he failed to tell us that the lobster had been arrested for wasting police time. I hoped that he would. As ever, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, spoke acres of good sense.

The Government are determined to support the right of every law-abiding individual to go about his or her daily life without fear of falling victim to crime. Likewise, they recognise their responsibility in supporting the police to protect the community and to deter those who are pre-disposed to crime or other antisocial behaviour. That is why we are increasing police funding significantly and in real terms.

In July 2000 we announced our spending plans for policing for the next three years. Details of police grants are being considered today in another place. The overall financial provision is for total spending on the police to rise from £7.7 billion this year to £8.5 billion next year, an increase of 10 per cent, or 7.4 per cent in real terms. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, commented that that was a good settlement. There will be further increases in 2002–03 when spending will rise to £9 billion and a further 6 per cent in cash terms, or 3.5 per cent in real terms. Spending in 2003–04 will rise an additional 3 per cent to £9.3 billion. In 2003–04, total spending on policing will be over 20 per cent higher in cash terms, or 11.8 per cent in real terms, than in 2000–01.

Why are we spending that money, and what are we trying to achieve? These matters obviously relate to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. It has to be said that our spending increases follow a number of years when any real increases have been modest. I believe that the settlement offers a real incentive to improve the policing service on the ground; which is what we all want.

For 2001–02 the total amount of police authority general expenditure to which the Government are prepared to contribute their share of funding will be £7,732 million. That is an increase of £377 million, 5.1 per cent over the 2000–01 settlement. That amount is known as the total standard spending. Grant on total standard spending is paid direct to police authorities. It is for them and the chief officers to determine how best to allocate their resources taking into account local operational needs and priorities.

In addition to funding for total standard spending, police authorities will also receive funds, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for targeted initiatives. The four main ones are to increase officer numbers; to tackle the problems of policing sparsely populated areas; to invest in new communications technology and to expand the DNA programme. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, raised the issue of rural policing and funding and did so very well. It is the case that following grants of £15 million this year, £30 million is being allocated in each of the next three years to enhance policing in rural areas. That money will be allocated to forces in less densely populated areas. The fund is a response to widespread expressions of concern at the perception of a reduced policing presence in rural areas and communities. Chief officers are expected to deploy their resources to the maximum effectiveness and efficiency. But, as many have noted, that can involve reducing police presence in areas of lower population. Most of us regret the passing of many hundreds of rural police stations; some 630 over the past decade or so. We recognise those tensions.

The 31 police authorities receiving funding under the scheme will need to show in their best value performance plans how they will use the money to improve policing in rural areas. We heard a number of valuable initiatives from the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. When I met with North Yorkshire police officers recently, they greatly welcomed the extra £180,000 for the mobile police station, which they thought was a valuable initiative.

The Crime Fighting Fund will provide finance for recruitment, training and pay for up to 9,000 recruits over and above the number forces planned to engage. Provision has been made for 3,000 this year, 3,000 in 2001–02 and 3,000 in 2002–03. We expect the Crime Fighting Fund recruits to have a major impact on police numbers, to which I shall turn shortly. There is one point I need to correct. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said that the Prime Minister had said that there will be 5,000 extra police officers by the time of the general election. I do not think that was the commitment we made. I certainly recognise the 5,000 figure. I believe it was Michael Howard who, in 1995, said that he expected to have 5,000 extra police officers as a result of what he then thought was a generous settlement. That turned out not to be the case. We followed those financial plans through. They did not deliver an additional 5,000 officers. I believe that they produced some 256 extra officers in the last year of the outgoing Conservative Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, drew attention, I thought valuably, to what is the fourth major development in our programme; that is, the expansion of DNA. We are investing heavily in expanding DNA and the database to hold the DNA profiles of the whole active criminal population by 2004. Support will also be provided to enable forces to visit more scenes of crime and collect and process evidence from the increasing number of DNA matches to offenders. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, gave a good example of how that can work. Taken together, that is an impressive programme of work which will do much for the efficiency and effectiveness of the police, and will greatly improve the quality of service to the public, which is of paramount importance.

A number of Members of your Lordships' House drew attention not just to the numbers issue and the numbers game—that is how many see it and describe it—but to the quality of officers who are being recruited. That point was made by the noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord Burnham. The quality of officers, how they are deployed, what they do and what they bring to policing in our communities is at the backbone of our policing. Much is being done to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the service. A direct comparison of numbers alone over long periods of time is not a reliable measure of relative performance. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. made that point in his opening remarks about the interpretation of statistics. I thought that a valid point.

Nevertheless, the number of officers is a vital component of high-quality policing in the 21st century. As has been said many times today—and it is a key issue—overall police numbers across England and Wales started to fall under the previous government back in 1993–94, except, as I said earlier, for a small temporary increase in 1996–97. Numbers declined in every year under the previous Government and in total by 1,132 between March 1993 and March 1997. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that Metropolitan Police numbers had been falling for seven years. Perhaps I may correct the record. They were falling for 10 years. We see it as important to reverse that number and the latest figures are encouraging in that regard.

From 1994 there was a sustained under-investment in the police service. Government spending rose by an average of only one half of 1 per cent in real terms over the next four years. The housing allowance was removed from all new recruits, severely hampering recruitment in London and the south east in recent years, and central controls over police numbers were removed in the 1994 Police and Magistrates Courts Act. In reply to the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I do not see that as an excuse but as an explanation. It is an explanation that deserves to be heard.

The present Government committed themselves at the 1997 general election to sticking to the previous Government's spending plans for the first two years of the administration. That was not from choice but because we judged that the public finances were in too fragile a state to support major spending increases. As a result, police officer numbers fell. Our promise now is a long-term sustained investment that is already boosting police recruitment and technology. We are increasing police expenditure by 21 per cent in cash terms over the next three years—an average annual increase in real terms of 4 per cent.

We have already made provision for recruitment under the Crime Fighting Fund in the current year —£59 million for recruitment, training and pay of the first 3,000 officers from the total three-year programme. We are now beginning to see results. Most forces are recruiting successfully, helped by the national recruitment campaign. By 14th January, there had been 78,000 responses to the campaign advertisements; 34,000 people had rung the call centre; and more than 44,000 had visited the website. Seventeen thousands expressions of interest have been passed directly to police forces.

This is the first-ever national advertising campaign aimed at supporting local police recruitment. It is a three-year campaign which is designed to be self-selecting in order to attract quality applicants into the police service, encouraging people to ask themselves whether they are the right person for the job and reject the idea if they are not. The campaign underlines that the police service is a progressive, modern, high-tech and rewarding career choice. We agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about the importance of graduate recruitment and shall be focusing on that issue. Furthermore, we, too, see the importance of tackling high-tech crime and we need to recruit high-quality entrants to the service in order to ensure that we can deal with those precise issues.

Information provided by the police training colleges shows that 5,268 recruits started training in the first nine months of the current financial year, compared with just over 3,000 during the same period of the previous financial year. For the first time since March 1997, the number of officers joining police forces exceeds those leaving. Police numbers between March and September 2000 rose by 444 to 124,614. If current police projections for recruitment and wastage holds good, police numbers should reach 126,000 by the end of March 2001, 128,000 by March 2002 and record numbers by 2003–04. There may be some slippage but the aim is to ensure a significant change in the number.

Even in the Metropolitan Police Service, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, which has had severe problems, numbers of recruits are rising. The latest increase in London allowance is intended to help address difficulties in recruiting officers to work in London. The Metropolitan Police Service has also been reviewing its recruitment procedures and is making changes. That should help to make the recruitment processes more effective.

In June last year, the Home Secretary accepted the recommendation of the Police Negotiating Board for a rise in London allowance from 1st July 2000 for new recruits and for officers recruited on or after 1st September 1994—post-Sheehy officers—who were not in receipt of housing allowance. The purpose of that was to help the Metropolitan Police Service to deal with its recruitment problems. Officers recruited before 1st September 1994 who are in receipt of either rent or housing allowance receive a total London weighting and London allowance of up to £2,724. Officers in the Metropolitan Police Service recruited on or after 1st September 1994 and not in receipt of housing allowance receive a total London weighting and London allowance of £6,051. We have had to correct what I believe was one of Michael Howard's biggest blunders in implementing Sheehy, a point with which the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, probably agrees.

In recognition of the particular recruitment difficulties, the Metropolitan Police Service has suffered and as a result of working with it to overcome them we have introduced free rail travel for Metropolitan Police officers. That initiative, which comes into effect on 14th February, provides free standard-class rail travel to serving officers within a 70-mile radius of London upon production of a warrant card. It has a crime-fighting benefit and the annual cost of £2.5 million will be met from central funds. I believe that to be a good and sound investment. In addition to improving recruitment and retention in the Metropolitan Police area, free travel will, I am sure, encourage more officers to use the railways and have an impact on reducing the fear of crime experienced among passengers.

Many noble Lords referred rightly to the decline in police morale. There is no single measure, no indicator, of police morale. In any service one will find some people who are happy about their work and others who are less happy. It happens in politics so it must happen in the police service. The number of people leaving an occupation can be taken as an indicator of morale. Total wastage from the police service compared with other organisations is very low: 5.2 per cent, 4.8 per cent and 4.7 per cent in the past three years. It is lower than at the outset of our administration. The 2000 labour turnover survey of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported a wastage rate of 18.3 per cent for all employees in 1999. The number of resignations from the police service—0.8 per cent, 0.9 per cent and 1 per cent in the past three years—remains very small. Days lost to sickness may also be an indicator of morale. In 1996–97, the average number of days of sickness per police officer was 12.8. That declined to 11.55, or by 1.25 days per officer by 1999–2000. That is a valid indicator.

As regards morale over time, in 1994 screaming headlines appeared in the Police Review:
"Low morale over reform, says survey",
with leading members of the federation and the service saying that they thought morale was going through the floor. A survey then showed that 80 per cent of officers said morale had been adversely affected by the Sheehy proposals and more than half of the officers expected crime in their areas to get worse over the next 12 months.

I could spin out before the House a whole range of quotes made at that time about the deterioration in support for the police and the negative reaction to the plans which were then being forced on the service by Mr Howard as a consequence of the Sheehy report. However, one powerful recollection clearly stuck in my mind; that is, the Metropolitan Police Federation meeting which had to be moved from its original venue at a London hotel to Central Methodist Hall because an unusually large attendance was expected. That attendance was expected because its members were so dissatisfied with the actions of the government of the day. I believe that morale is an issue and will continue to be so. But we are putting in place measures which are directed to reversing any decline in morale which has taken place perhaps over a longer period.

I want to spend some time examining violent crime in our society because that is important. Lessons will be learnt from the tragic murder of Damilola Taylor which shocked the nation. As a government we have for a number of years taken forward a range of initiatives to tackle violent crime. Probably the best picture of the trend in violent crime is the British Crime Survey (BCS) which was instigated in the early 1980s by the Conservative government. That survey measures crimes against people who live in private households. Although the 2000 BCS showed a recent encouraging fall in people's experience of crime, there is no room for complacency. Over the past 20 years, both the BCS and crime figures recorded by the police show a rising trend in violent crime. According to the BCS, violent crime has risen by 50 per cent since 1981. Figures reveal that violent crime reached its peak in 1995. Since then the survey has shown a 17 per cent drop in violent crime between 1995 and 1997 and a further decline of 4 per cent between 1997 and 1999.

Although the latest recorded crime figures for the 12 months to September 2000 show an 8 per cent increase in violent crime—they are measured differently—encouragingly, the rate of increase has been reduced from 16 per cent in the first quarter to 2 per cent in the last quarter of that timeframe. The reasons for the long-term increases are complex, but are likely to include, quite rightly, changes in public attitudes, particularly in terms of reporting matters such as hate crimes, domestic violence and so on, and police recording practices.

It is simplistic to say that society is more violent now than 20 years ago. In April 1998, there was a change in the practice of recording crime. Harassment, assault on a constable and common assault were introduced as recorded crime categories. The figures for reported crime for September 2000 include an increase of 11 per cent in cases of harassment, including racially aggravated harassment. They now represent 14.4 per cent of the total of 716,500 cases of all violent offences reported in the past 12 months. There is a determined effort to encourage the reporting of racial harassment, homophobic offences and domestic violence. Furthermore, the BCS 2000 noted that part of the increase in violent incidents might be due to increased willingness by respondents to mention those incidents to interviewers; in other words, the sensitisation of people to crime. Although there is still likely to be under-reporting of domestic violence, attitudes are changing.

The latest published crime statistics for the 12 months to September 2000 show a fall in overall recorded crime of 12,800 offences, or 0.2 per cent, compared with the previous 12 months. Against that overall drop, the number of violent crimes (comprising violence against the person, sexual offences and robberies) has increased by 8 per cent. That is half the previously published rate of increase. The largest percentage increases within the category of violence against the person related to harassment, assault on a constable—on which the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, commented—and common assault. The most recent figures (until September 2000) show a rise of nearly 21 per cent in recorded cases of robbery, following a much smaller increase of 6 per cent in 199899, and, interestingly, a 13 per cent fall the previous year. It may be that those crimes are being reported to the police to a greater extent than previously, especially by 16 year-olds, and that a rise in the number of mobile phone thefts accounts for some of that increase. Perhaps that is one of the disbenefits of the expansion in the mobile phone market.

In October 2000 the Met reported that 17 per cent of robberies were mobile phones only. Mobile phones were targeted in snatch offences (44 per cent), pick-pocketing (22 per cent) and other theft (33 per cent). Suspects and victims of street crime where only a phone is stolen are also younger than in the case of other street crime. In cases where only phones are stolen, 14 and 15 year-olds account for over 20 per cent of victims. That is a very worrying feature of that crime.

Analysis of Metropolitan Police crime statistics reveals that a large surge in mobile phone thefts occurs during the period between 3.45 p.m. and 5.15 p.m. when children get out of school. We are taking action with the mobile phone industry to tackle that specific problem. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary only recently met senior representatives of the mobile phone industry to develop practical strategies to combat the problem.

The recorded crime figures have shown an increase during the 1980s and 1990s in sexual offences, although there is a welcome but very slight fall in the latest figures. In the past two decades, homicide offences, which account for less than 0.1 per cent of all violent crime, have been at a lower level, but the cost of violent crime is now estimated to be about £21 billion, or two-thirds of the total cost of all crimes against individuals.

There is much more that we could say on the subject. As a government we are determined to cut the level of violent crime as much as possible, to reduce the fear of violent crime and to ensure that individuals and communities are protected and safe. That was why on 10th January 2001 we set out a comprehensive strategy and action plan to combat violent crime together, which no government have previously done. I believe that we are to be congratulated on approaching it in that coherent, cohesive way and on providing a strategy which has real long-term benefits.

We are improving support for victims and witnesses of violent crime and helping to mitigate fears of crime and to reduce the further risk of it. As we have made clear in the past, we are committed to ensuring that violent offenders are punished effectively. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, made great play of that point. We have new measures which are designed to speed up the criminal justice system—we believe that justice delayed is justice denied—and to tackle persistent young offenders, ensuring that they are brought to justice more rapidly.

Tackling the causes of violent crime is a key element in our strategy, and in that regard the comment of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about poor parenting is apposite. Therefore, we have a strategy to deal with economic hardship, family disruption, truancy and school exclusion, alcohol misuse and mental illness. I believe that in the longer term all these measures will make an important contribution to reducing crime and ensuring that we live in a happier and more contented society.

It would be remiss of me if I did not say something about Macpherson. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, suggested that that was one of the largest contributory factors to the decline in police morale. I believe that Macpherson was a watershed; and it certainly provided a challenge to the police service. The 70 recommendations of the report will be long-term challenges to the police and many other public services, but they are ones which they should rightly work through. Some members of the police service may have found a number of those recommendations difficult to live with, but I believe that in the longer term they will help us to create a police service that reflects our multi-racial society and responds to the concerns of many people who believe that they do not enjoy an equal and fair police service because they come from ethnic minorities. Although Macpherson, quite rightly, focused on the incompetence of the investigation into the death of Stephen Lawrence, the report is a challenge in the right direction.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for introducing this debate. I regret that I have not had the opportunity to deal with all of the many points raised during the debate. I have tried to pick up some of the points during my speech which I hope noble Lords have found helpful.

The Government came into office at a time when many had given up on crime. The previous administration had seen a doubling of crime. Crime here was rising faster than in any other western country; the number of convictions had fallen by one-third; violent crime had risen by 166 per cent; and the chances of being a victim of burglary had risen from 1 in 32 to 1 in 13. We are addressing all of those issues. I believe that we have made consistent progress and have been successful in tackling crime. Crime is down and will continue to decline if we attack it with the cooperation and support of the police service, the public and crime and disorder partnerships.

There have been difficulties with police numbers, not least within the Metropolitan Police area. But they are now going in the right direction—444 extra police officers over and above those in place between March and September 2000. I believe the figures will continue to rise. With that increase in police numbers and all the other important and supportive measures we have put in place to deal with hi-tech crime—DNA and introducing and supporting CCTV screens—the public will be encouraged to the view that the Government are determined to tackle crime not just now but for the future. For all those reasons, while I thank the noble Lord Tebbit for introducing the debate, I believe our Government should be supported in their crime and law and disorder programme.

7.41 p.m.

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My Lords, I shall not detain the House long from the pleasures of hearing my noble friend Lord Campbell on the subject of the Parliamentary Referendum Bill. I thank all those who took part in the debate this afternoon and, most notably, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam. He sat through the afternoon ever still in his seat, even at the risk of deep-vein thrombosis, although he seemed to get over that in the past half hour or so.

We have enjoyed a good-natured and well-informed debate. All my noble friends made excellent speeches. I have not heard quite so much common sense from the Lib Dem Benches ever in my life before. There have not been too many wild claims made, other than that of the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, who tried to indict me as a staunch supporter of the government of my right honourable friend John Major. I plead not guilty. There were no wild calls for throwing money at the problems; and we had few recriminations.

There were a few exchanges of dubious statistics. The Minister got the numbers of police slightly wrong. My figures show that during the time of the government of my right honourable friend John Major they actually fell by 469. He had a somewhat larger figure. I hope he will check his statistics. He was also a little wrong with another figure, although the figures were changed recently in an amended Answer from his department. In the first three years of his government the numbers fell by 2,500.

The Minister glossed over the current attitudes towards morale, going back a decade or so to find some incidents of bad morale. I direct him towards the House Magazine of 18th December last year in which the chairman of the Police Federation said:
"Morale is the worst I have ever seen it".
We had some notable speeches, not least from my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Portsmouth. All spoke of the causes of crime. My noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew rightly said that there has been, through the agency of television, a numbing down of our ability to be shocked by violence. I say to the right reverend Prelate that perhaps there is some kind of inverse relationship between—-the happy-clappy tendency call it—the number of bums on pews on Sundays and our need for the numbers of police officers on Fridays and the rest of the week.

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My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord could be more specific even at this late stage. I am tantalised by his elusiveness, not for the first time.

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My Lords, there is a relationship there; perhaps we shall explore it later.

Several points have emerged: first, the need to resolve the pension issue; secondly, the possibility of a Royal Commission on the police; and, thirdly, the quality of the management of the police service. I am always more impressed by the performance on television of Army officers who have been through Sandhurst than of many senior police officers, although I am always immensely impressed by the quality of the police officers—constable, sergeant and the ranks—directly working on the issues of crime. We might bear that in mind.

I still do not know why Her Majesty's Government have spent so much time reversing the rising trend of police numbers. They reduced them for three years and are now battling to get them back to where they were. But if what has been said today by all sides of the House has been heard by the police service, it will give them some encouragement and a reason to feel that morale should improve in future years. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Parliamentary Referendum Bill Hl

7.45 p.m.

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My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. This Bill would restore to Parliament the freedom of the entitlement to resolve that a referendum be called on provisions of Bills which substantially affect the constitution. This entitlement was removed by Section 101(2)(a) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act which inhibits any referendum triggered by Parliament despite the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, my erstwhile noble friend, said from the Opposition Front Bench at the Report of that Bill that it would be wrong if the Government alone could trigger referendums. There was some discussion as to the trigger mechanisms for referendums, but no alternative to that proposed by the Bill was suggested—or has as yet been suggested. The broad sense of the House on Report and Third Reading was that Parliament should not be inhibited from calling a referendum.

The Bill reflects Conservative Back-Bench and Cross-Bench amendments moved on Report and Third Reading of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill. The amendments were supported by my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and on Third Reading by my noble friend Lord Cranborne, who sent a note to say that he much regretted that for an urgent reason he could not attend to speak today. In winding-up the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on Third Reading said that these amendments raised matters of considerable importance to which this House would no doubt return.

The Bill is an enabling measure which acknowledges the supremacy of another place and can only function with the agreement of both Houses if so advised. The Bill involves no amendment to the Parliament Acts or to the Rules of Procedure of either House. It envisages a new dimension of comity as between the two Houses on safeguard of the constitution without derogation from the delaying powers under the Parliament Acts.

It is a short Bill. Clause 1 does not oblige your Lordships' House to accept the report of the Constitution Committee which has the remit. That is a matter to be confirmed on the date of the Motion of my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree, which at the moment is in No Day Named. But any other Select Committee on which the remit would be conferred would be acceptable. The remit confers no power on the Constitution Committee or another Select Committee to recommend that a referendum should be called. That is a matter for your Lordships' House; as indeed is also the conduct of the referendum.

Clause 2 does not oblige another place to entertain a Resolution from your Lordships' House that a referendum should be called. But another place may approve, reject or amend it. Clause 3 acknowledges the supremacy of another place and confers legislative effect affording this new dimension of comity to seek agreement as between the two Houses if so advised. Clause 4 prohibits a referendum unless both. Houses agree. Clause 5 delays Royal Assent but leaves it open to the Government whether to proceed with a Bill the provisions of which have not been approved on a referendum. The other provisions are formal.

The Bill is rooted in and grounded upon the Cranborne/Addison doctrine, teaching that difficulties should be sought to be resolved by consensual accommodation, by ad hoc arrangements on a case-by-case basis, to enable the Government to have their business originally, but now, under the Bill, to serve as a measure of safeguard for the constitution. In your Lordships' House there is no obligation to accept the report of the Select Committee or to call a referendum. No obligation whatever is imposed on another place to seek or to reach agreement, without which no referendum may be called. No statutory, codified obligation is imposed by the Bill on either House. The height of the hurdle raised for the Government to surmount is wholly dependent upon the will of Parliament, as indeed it should be. The essential element of informal flexibility is retained.

In general, referendums are not to be favoured. They derogate from the authority of Parliament, as understood by Burke. They have been used as a tool of government to implement government policy with absolution from any responsibility for its implementation. It is disputed whether as yet referendums have, de facto, become assimilated in our unwritten constitution, a matter on which your Lordships may well entertain divergent views. But the purpose of this Bill is not to derogate from the authority of Parliament. It is to enhance it. It is not to assist the Government to implement government policy, but to challenge aspects of government policy, reflected in a government Bill which substantially affects the constitution, albeit largely unwritten. As yet, assuredly, my Lords, there has been no de facto precedent for the type of referendum proposed by the Bill to seek to avoid erosion of the constitution at the behest of government.

In the light of scrutiny, ought not Parliament, if so advised, to have the freedom to resolve whether the people should be consulted on a referendum before Royal Assent to a Bill were to be sought? As my noble friend Lord Cranborne said at the Third Reading of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Bill, we have to consider how we can close what is presently an unclosed circle between Parliament and the electorate.

In gratitude to your Lordships, whose contributions to constructive debate shall command the utmost respect, I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Campbell of Alloway.)

7.55 p.m.

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My Lords, it falls to me to continue the Second Reading debate on the Parliamentary Referendum Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. I start by expressing my pleasure in having this opportunity and acknowledging the experience and thought behind the Bill. My only regret—I have nothing to do with drawing up the speakers' list—is that once again I seem to be unable to react to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, whose contributions to constitutional debates I always enjoy and often agree with. However, I always seem to be forced to speak before him so that I cannot benefit from his contribution before it is my turn. But back to the Bill at issue.

Its intention is to make changes substantially affecting the constitution more difficult. I wholeheartedly agree that there should be the most thorough scrutiny of all those changes. The question is: how? I begin by quoting a speech of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, in a debate on the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill on 18th October 2000. He began by saying:
"I oppose the amendment".
I could say today that I oppose the Bill. He went on to say:
"I have always had a principled objection to referendums. The fact that they may be held has not shifted my principles. The fewer that we have, the better. In an ideal world we would not have them".—[Official Report, 18/10/2000; col. 1154.]
That is my view and I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, say in introducing the Bill that in general referendums are not to be favoured.

When your Lordships discussed the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, as an amendment to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill on 27th November 2000, several seemed to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. Therefore, I do not need to reopen or repeat the discussion. But when re-reading Hansard for that date I was struck by a certain mood of despondency—almost defeatism—which I do not share. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said that,
"like it or lump it. referendums are with us".—[Official Report, 27/ 11/2000; col. 1148.]
It does not follow that one has to have them on a general category of occasions. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, if one is allowed to quote him in his earlier incarnation, spoke of his "suspicion" of referendums, which he had explained to your Lordships' House on earlier occasions. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said:
"I … do not care much for referendums. However. I know that I am hopelessly out of date and it would be absurd for me to suggest that it is not a good path to do down. I believe in Parliament as the place to take decisions and convince the country. But that is an old man speaking, and I shall go no further on the point".—[Official Report, 27/11/2000; cols. 1149–50.]
Well, here is another old man speaking, who would, however, say, "Why not go further?"

It is true that the possibility of holding referendums is now open. It is also entirely right that, while discussing and debating the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, we should have considered the question of who could trigger them, and how. But just as we do not need to reject every statutory instrument simply because we have the right to do so, I do not believe that we have to use the tool of the referendum simply because it is available to us.

The reason for that is simple: I certainly believe that decisions made through deliberation in representative institutions—that is, in Parliament—are preferable to snapshot decisions which further contribute to what I am sometimes tempted to call a climate of throw-away politics in which political projects are adopted and discarded, just as many other things are adopted and discarded in the world in which we live.

I would apply this consideration even to constitutional matters—perhaps particularly so. Perhaps I may give two additional reasons why I believe that referendums are the wrong tool at this point. First, such matters arise surprisingly frequently. Very few Bills that we debate in this Chamber do not have a constitutional element: the Regulatory Reform Bill is full of constitutionally relevant issues, some of them extremely important; the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act itself, along with the Government Resources and Accounts Act. One could easily draw up a long list to demonstrate how frequently such issues arise.

The second reason why I believe that referendums are an undesirable instrument in this connection is that quite often these constitutional issues are really rather technical, or at least they appear to be so. I shall follow my noble friend Lord Russell who in the debate last November stated that:
"For example, I could argue that the abolition of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments was a matter of first-class constitutional importance, for it would allow the executive to make law without the consent of Parliament".
However, he went on to add that:
"I dread the thought of explaining the case for a referendum on that to the voters".—[Official Report, 27/11/00; col. 1160.]
No doubt one could form packages of constitutionally relevant or even important constitutional issues. No doubt one could from time to time extract from them certain principles. However, either way, it seems to me that the instrument of the referendum—the tool of the referendum—is a curiously unattractive and inappropriate tool with which to deal with them.

I said that I agree with the intention of the Bill. I also think that constitutional changes should be difficult. Moreover, I hope very much that we shall soon have a constitution committee which will have a role to play in this process. In my view, the constitution committee has a purpose rather similar to that of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. Indeed, when members of the committee met colleagues from Australia, we were almost a little envious of the fact that they can examine and scrutinise Bills not only for delegated powers but also for constitutional propriety.

I certainly look forward to seeing reports produced by the constitution committee for your Lordships' House about the constitutional implications of Bills. Furthermore, I look forward to the debates which will be held in this House as regards its most important function—as a safeguard for the principles of the constitutional practice by which we live. If there were to be a written constitution—which incidentally I am not advocating, although I am sure that others on these Benches would do so—the whole question of the referendum would be posed anew. There would be a serious issue to discuss as regards whether such a constitution would need the support of the people in a way in which it cannot be given by representative institutions.

For the present, however, and for the foreseeable future, I believe that we already have the necessary instruments to deal with constitutionally relevant changes, especially once the constitution committee has been set up. For that reason, I hope—with much regret, because I appreciate the intentions of noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway—that this Bill will not be enacted.

8.5 p.m.

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My Lords, not for the first time are we indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. On this occasion he has caused noble Lords to face the problems which have come about through the advent of direct democracy to supplement our traditional system of indirect or representative democracy.

Until the 1970s, I think there was almost unanimous opinion that the referendum had and should have no part in our constitution. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, said on 12th May 1999 in a debate on referendums:
"It is undeniable that referendums are now accepted as part of our political process".—[Official Report, 12/5/99; col. 1209.]
Indeed, there are a number of what the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, may have described as "threatened" referendums on the agenda.

This is a matter which we ought to face and take seriously in order to work out the detail as far as possible, although I respectfully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, that we badly need a constitutional committee. I would hope that one of its first tasks would be to work out generally whether referendums are suitable in our constitution and our parliamentary proceedings. We could then go on to deal with the nuts and bolts of procedure.

I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has had to fall out, because I was counting with some confidence on his advocating post-legislative referendums. As he is not here to do that, I feel exonerated from mentioning the matter further myself. However, his departure has brought me to undertake what is a privileged but humbling task; namely, that of following immediately the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. He brings an incomparable combination of experience and scholarship to these problems.

We must view what is proposed in this Bill—and, indeed, the issue of the referendum in our constitution generally—against recent developments. Far and away the most important development, to my mind, is the increasing ascendancy of the executive over the House of Commons, which has a profound impact on representative parliamentary government.

Secondly, in so far as the House of Commons can no longer adequately hold the executive to account and scrutinise its legislative proposals, the task falls to your Lordships' House if it is to be performed at all. On the other hand, the use of the Parliament Act almost as a routine in cases of differences between the Houses, makes Parliament unicameral, a one-Chamber parliament in which the executive is ascendant.

Thirdly, the high level of absentation and alienation on the part of the electorate is a weakening at the other end of our system of representative government.

Lastly, was it not rather extraordinary that the devolution Acts were submitted for referendum to Scotland and to Wales but not to the infinitely more numerous population of England, which was, of course, also affected by devolution? In connection with that, it was surely deeply disturbing that the Neill committee should have found the procedures in the Wales devolution to have been so unfair. That is a bitter word to use in relation to any part of our constitution.

In a recent debate, the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, quoted Madison:
"The people are the only legitimate fountain of power".
That is very largely—although not wholly—true of the American constitution, but it is not wholly true of ours. However, the people are a legitimate fountain of power here, and if the representative stream becomes polluted, cloudy or turgid, surely it is sensible to have recourse to the fountain itself. It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, is doing us a service in bringing this matter before us.

The urgent question is in what circumstances constitutionally do we need or desire a referendum? I totally agree with the noble Lord that that is a matter on which we should take advice from the Constitution Committee. However, I would also add this. Reverting to what I said about the ascendancy of the executive and the way the Wales devolution was handled, it surely ought not to lie with the executive exclusively—or, indeed, I would say, at all—to decide on the timing and impact of a referendum.

When your Lordships in the previous Parliament considered the Swiss constitution, attention was drawn to the initiative: the people themselves can propose a referendum. If my memory serves, that is also a part of the constitution of California. We should not leave out of account the initiative and the recourse.

The second urgent matter for decision is how the referendum should be conducted; how it should be financed. That has been, to a certain extent, under consideration in relation to the Bill over the past year. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, guardedly said that your Lordships' House may make such provision as to the conduct of such referendum as may be deemed to be appropriate. The noble Lord was a famous soldier and a famous lawyer; that is undoubtedly a very guarded proposal, exposing no vulnerable flanks at all.

The final matter of great importance to be decided in relation to a referendum is who frames the question. It would be very unsafe to leave it to the executive. Scholars have turned up two clear examples in California—one relating to a social service and the other relating to nuclear power—in which the question was posed in a way that was, one is bound to say, deliberately misleading—or, at any rate, effectively misleading. So one of the matters to be determined under the aegis of the noble Lord's safe formula is who frames the question.

I have dealt with this matter generally because this is Second Reading. I do not imagine that the House will divide. I do not imagine that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will greet the Bill with great enthusiasm—it would surprise me if that was the view of the Government—but I venture to support the Bill's Second Reading.

8.18 p.m.

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My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I agree in part with his analysis, but I disagree with his conclusion. It is also an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. As he mentioned, this is not the first time that I have followed him and, I might add, it is not for the first time that I agree with everything that he has said. My only concern was when he started to quote what I said in an earlier debate. I was a little worried that, if he went on, some of the points I wish to make this evening might seem remarkably familiar to your Lordships.

I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway on bringing this Bill forward. He has been a doughty campaigner in pressing for referendums—or, rather, in pressing for a triggering mechanism that may make possible a referendum in certain circumstances. I also acknowledge his generosity of spirit in reminding me that the Second Reading of the Bill was scheduled for today and for encouraging me to put my name down to speak against it. I must confess that I did not need much encouragement.

Perhaps I may outline my objections to referendums and then identify particular problems with the Bill before us. As the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, mentioned, I have said before that I have a principled objection to referendums. Parliament is the deliberative assembly of the nation. Parliament should decide issues, be they large or small. To say that matters should be decided by referendum is to say either that Parliament does not have the intellectual competence to decide the issue or that it does not have the political authority to do so, or both. I do not accept either argument. I believe that Parliament is the competent, authoritative body to decide. This point was made forcefully by my noble friend Lady Thatcher in her first parliamentary speech as Leader of the Opposition in 1975. Parliament, she said, comprises a body of elected representatives, chosen by the people to discuss and deliberate on government proposals. Members of Parliament, she argued, could consider the interests of minorities and see how separate measures fitted into the whole. Referendums would undermine Parliament's position.

Furthermore, there are two practical arguments that bolster the case for Parliament deciding issues. The first was well put by the late John Mackintosh, speaking in the same debate as my noble friend Lady Thatcher in 1975. A referendum, he said, perpetuates a confusion between government by debate, thought, reflection and decision in the House of Commons with a head count of the people. Reasoned debate in an informed House, he argued, would give way to a national vote, based on a national campaign which would not enjoy the same advantages. This is an important point. Parliamentary debate offers essentially an even playing field, with clear rules governing the operation of debate. We have tried to create clear— and fair—rules for referendums through the medium of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act but we have not been altogether successful. We have not solved the funding problem—in terms of ensuring an even playing field—and we have not fully solved the problem of bias in the wording of the question.

The second and related advantage to parliamentary deliberation is that the issue can not only be debated, but nuances can be explored and amendments offered. Reasons for rejecting a particular Motion or amendment can be advanced and new amendments can be brought forward. This is all part of a reasoned, deliberative process. Referendums are different. They are essentially blunt tools and after the event we may have little idea why people voted as they did. Is a particular proposition rejected because the proposal went too far or because it did not go far enough? We do not know. If there is ambiguity in the question, we may not even be sure that the outcome is an accurate reflection of voters' views.

Furthermore, referendums do not offer the advantages that many claim. They are not necessarily ways of determining the views of voters on a particular issue. Referendums cannot bring agreement where none exists. A referendum is not necessarily any more able to resolve matters of conflict than is a vote in Parliament. Where there is not agreement, the losing side is often not willing to accept the result. Furthermore, questions can be ambiguous. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, touched on this point. I have called attention before to the problem of "mistaken votes"—that is, electors casting a vote contrary to what they thought they were voting for. Research in the United States has suggested that in some state ballots, particularly where voters did not hold strong preferences, the figure for those casting "mistaken" votes was between 10 and 20 per cent.

Nor are referendums quite such popular devices as supporters may believe. Although people, when asked, will favour the use of referendums, they do not follow through by actually taking part in them when they are held. Turn-out in referendums tends to be lower than in elections of candidates to public office. That applies elsewhere. It also applies within the United Kingdom. Turn-out in the last general election was far higher than in the referendums in Scotland, Wales and London. In Wales, half the voters stayed at home. In London, the vast majority of voters stayed at home.

Nor are referendums as much in use elsewhere as may be thought. We are not out of step with other countries, because there is nothing to be in step with. Some countries hold referendums on a regular basis, some hold them on an irregular basis, and some do not hold them at all. Switzerland is the world leader for holding referendums. According to the book, Referendums around the World, edited by David Butler and Austin Ranney, there have been over 800 national referendums held in the history of the world; about half of those have taken place in Switzerland. Switzerland is the exception. There is no common practice elsewhere and no particular trend. To quote Butler and Ranney, at page 6:
"To carry conviction, referendums have to be orderly affairs, conducted under accepted rules. But no two countries have identical electoral systems, and none have identical regulations for the conduct of referendums. The laws governing the organisation and finance of Yes and No campaigns and the format of the ballot paper vary, as does the significance attached to the result".
There is thus nothing to build on in terms of practice elsewhere; nor should we build on what has happened in the United Kingdom. The fact that we have held a number of referendums, under different conditions, is no argument for holding more. My noble friend's Bill is designed as a trigger for holding referendums. That trigger might not be activated, but it could be, and the assumption is that it would be. I do not want to do anything that would facilitate the holding of referendums.

I end by drawing attention to particular problems with my noble friend's Bill. Ironically, some of the problems are such as to undermine the likelihood of the Bill having the effect that my noble friend intends. Given that, I should perhaps not mention them too loudly. However, as I suspect the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is likely to mention one of them, I thought I would get in first.

If my noble friend intends this Bill to act as a restraint on government, he will need to replace subsection (2) of Clause 7. Otherwise. even if this Bill is passed, I doubt whether the measure will ever be brought into force. Also—I suspect that this is the point that the Minister will make—it still leaves tremendous scope for imprecision and argument. My noble friend has sought to address some of' the problems identified during our consideration of the political parties Bill, but I am not sure that he has solved them. My noble friend's Bill does not foreclose the possibility of other Bills being brought forward to provide for referendums on other issues; nor does it prevent a measure being brought forward to provide for a referendum on a measure that the constitution committee has decided does not substantially affect the constitution. All this Bill does is, if anything, give the constitution committee a fast-track procedure. As such, it may be described as a soft, rather than a hard, Bill in providing for referendums, but—in that it does not limit their use or address the problems I have identified—I regard it as just as objectionable as a hard Bill.

As I have stressed, my principal objection to referendums is essentially one of principle. I suspect that on the sort of issues on which referendums may be held, the result may well be in the direction I would wish it to be. But that is beside the point. I am opposed to referendums as such.

Finally, picking up on a point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, if we believe that Parliament is not doing its job in calling government to account, that is a case for strengthening Parliament. It is not a case for inviting it to abdicate its responsibilities.

8.28 p.m.

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My Lords, I shall speak briefly, because I believe that the legal implications of the Bill are best dealt with by constitutional lawyers and not by laymen. My reason for taking part in the debate is that I should be inclined to support any initiative that seemed designed to protect the constitution from meddlesome change. It was Horace Walpole who said:

"Everybody talks of the constitution but all sides forget that the constitution is extremely well, and would do very well, if they would but let it alone".
Whatever may be the views of noble Lords on the virtues of the referendum as a political instrument—and the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, made an impassioned intervention on the subject—I shall make no comment save to say that the referendum is with us as a political instrument. The other point is that it is only a part of the spirit and intention behind the noble Lord's Bill. Behind the instrument of the referendum there is a principle that I believe to be important. It is one to which we should give serious thought, and we should be grateful to the noble Lord for bringing it to our notice.

I take it to be a matter of common ground that when this Bill refers to legislation that substantially affects the constitution, we are speaking of the constitution as it relates to the Crown, the composition and powers of Parliament and, most importantly, what has come to be known as,
"the liberty of the subject"—
an important part of any constitution.

A constitution—and I believe that ours does this—defines the ways in which the Government's decisions are made and enforced; and the limitations upon such enforcement. We are rightly said to have in this country a constitutional executive whose activities can be checked, challenged and supervised by peaceful and permanent machinery. In such a society, any Act, including a Bill of the kind adumbrated by the noble Lord, which contravenes those checks upon the executive can be said to be unconstitutional.

I have a feeling that in the interests of modernisation and other buzz words of modern thinking, some of those checks on the executive are falling into disuse and are even being deliberately ignored. I fully accept that there is no doubt that constitutional law can be changed, amended or abolished like any private law. There is no field in which Parliament is forbidden to legislate. I should like simply to mention here the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, about the supremacy of Parliament and its authority in such matters.

One of the points that I should like to raise is the fact the Parliament has lost a great deal of its authority and continues to do so. It is often subject to the pressures of the executive to an extent that I believe to be undesirable. In my view, as a result of that, we embarked upon the partial reform of your Lordships' House. It was a significant constitutional change, the full implications of which have yet to be fully realised. I often wonder what would have been the result if that Bill had been the subject of a referendum.

Of course, constitutional lawyers must always bear in mind the changing habits and culture of the society in which they live. The constitution is much more than its laws, and significant alterations to the constitution can be justified by custom and habit alone. So, in speaking of the constitution, we must always take account of current political practice and the day-to-day working of political institutions; in other words—this will come as no surprise to your Lordships—the constitution must be flexible. It cannot be engraved in tablets of stone and never changed.

Yet, at the same time—and this is why I have risen to my feet to make a very brief intervention this evening—we must guard against the hubris of any executive power that seeks to use democratically elected parliamentary majorities to make fundamental changes to our constitution. I believe that there is great danger of that happening. It is for that reason that I am attracted to the provisions of this Bill which, as I understand it—I trust rightly—seek to place the last word on changes to the constitution where it belongs: in the hands of the people, whose life and liberty depend upon the very existence of a strong and inviolable constitution, whether written or not. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, rightly said, this emphasis upon the role of the people in the preservation of the constitution and the relevance of the constitution is perhaps more powerfully evident in the United States constitution than it is in our own.

Not surprisingly, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, mentioned Edmund Burke. It has been my experience that there is scarcely no aspect of political philosophy upon which Edmund Burke did not have something valuable and profound to say. I shall close my brief remarks with his comment on the dangers of an overweening and over-powerful executive. Corrupt influence, he said, is the perennial spring of all disorder, it takes away,
"vigour from our arms, wisdom from our councils, and every shadow of authority and credit from the most venerable parts of our constitution".
It is with those words in mind that I support the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway.

8.35 p.m.

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My Lords, I rise to support the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway with his usual ingenuity in drafting. The arguments that I wish to use in support of him very much follow the remarks just made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont.

In this Parliament we have seen many important Acts that have changed our constitution. We have Acts changing the government of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. We have Acts changing our voting procedures and we have the Human Rights Act. I do not wish to argue the merits of these Acts. I hope that they will be beneficial for the United Kingdom. But there is no doubt that they add up to a revolution in our constitution. Many of them will be irreversible, unlike many other Acts that can be repealed by an incoming government, if Parliament agrees.

We are now faced with exactly the same parliamentary procedure for Bills concerning major constitutional matters as for minor technical legislation. There was a very strong convention in another place until recently that Bills concerning the constitution were always taken without guillotine Motions and all aspects were taken on the Floor of the House, rather than in Standing Committee. These were not Standing Orders; they were conventions.

They have now been overridden without the agreement of the Official Opposition. So we are now faced with exactly the same procedure for minor Bills as for Bills of major constitutional importance. That seems to me to be a disturbing development.

If one looks at the constitutions of many countries with written constitutions—for example, most Commonwealth countries, the United States, and others—one finds that there is almost invariably a higher hurdle for Bills changing the constitution: possibly a two-thirds majority is required or a referendum. But we have none of those safeguards at all in our Parliament. It seems to me that the lessons we have learned, especially in this Parliament, show that, as far as concerns constitutional Bills, our parliamentary procedures are weak and lack adequate safeguards to ensure effective scrutiny. They can allow governments, no matter what their political colour, to rush through major changes without adequate scrutiny in either House of Parliament.

What can be done about the situation? I am delighted that your Lordships have agreed to set up a Constitutional Committee. I have tabled an Unstarred Question, which I hope will fall due for debate very soon, to consider the role of that committee. I hope that all noble Lords who have spoken this evening will speak also in that debate.

I turn now to my noble friend's Bill. I am not terribly keen on referendums either. It seems to me that the concept fits ill with our idea of representative government and the sovereignty of Parliament. But constitutions evolve and circumstances change. The reality is that we have been using referendums recently for a whole series of reasons. Of course there are problems involved. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale observed: who frames the question?

We now have some ground rules on the statute book. I do not believe that they are entirely satisfactory, but they are at least a move towards trying to ensure that, if we do have referendums, they are framed correctly. Life moves on in that regard. Although I have some reservations about my noble friend's Bill, it seems to me that we have now reached the stage where we shall use referendums. If we are to use them, I can think of no better subject to put to the judgment of the people than Bills which change the constitution of our country.

8.40 p.m.

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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dean, that we have had a constitutional revolution over the past four years. I think it is fair to point out that that constitutional revolution was promised by both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats in the committee chaired jointly by Robin Cook and Robert Maclennan before the election—the Cook/Maclennan committee, which spelled out what we would set our hand to if, either separately or collectively, we had a majority in the Commons after the 1997 election. In that way the constitutional revolution of which the noble Lord talked was put fairly and squarely to the British people in a proper way before the 1997 election.

That does not mean that the outcome and the consequences of that revolution have not brought new challenges. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is right about that. The concern about the power of the executive, particularly in terms of civil rights and the rights of the individual within our constitution, is a proper one. My research is totally unscientific. I believe that if there had been a referendum on reform of the House of Lords, people would have voted to keep this place and abolish the other place. That does not give me too much pleasure because I am worried—as I think many people are—about the low esteem in which another place is at present held. I shall return to that in a moment.

There is always a certain excitement for a Liberal Democrat Front Bench speaker, particularly when he knows that one of our more independent minds such as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, or the noble Earl, Lord Russell, or the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, will speak, as to whether their speeches and my speech will be close in terms of content. I am delighted to say that on this occasion I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said.

Like many who are steeped in the parliamentary tradition, I am extremely suspicious of the use of referenda. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said that it was not until the early 1970s that we started to toy with referenda. I was present at an historic meeting. Noble Lords may know that in my chequered career I was an official of the Labour Party. I was present at the meeting of the national executive held in the early 1970s when it discussed how to handle the complete split in the party over membership of the Common Market—Mr Heath having successfully negotiated entry—and how the party would hold itself together in the face of that split. The ever ingenious Mr Anthony Wedgwood Benn put forward the idea of holding a referendum. It is interesting to note that at that meeting he could not find a seconder for the idea, so alien was it at that stage to the national executive. But, of course, four years later, the then Labour government held a referendum, not for any great constitutional reason but on account of the matter that had given the national executive such difficulty; namely, the complete split in the party over Europe and how to keep the party together.

I sometimes think that in future PhDs will be written on the career of Mr Wedgwood Benn and on his impact on the constitution and whether it was, on balance, good or bad. In the case I mentioned I believe that his impact on the constitution was undoubtedly bad. I believe that the use of referenda as it has emerged over the following 30 years has been one of the weakening devices used on Parliament. As has already been pointed out, it is a device of dubious authority. The turn-outs in the devolution referenda were very low. Let us be frank: referenda are the last refuge of politicians who want to cop out of making a decision. Over the past 200 years we seem to have— this is why I referred to the Cook/Maclennan committee—managed to extend our franchise, give votes to women, reform the Lords and, indeed, adopt the European Act on human rights, all without the need to hold referenda. The fewer referenda we have, the better.

As has been pointed out, some countries embrace referenda. California has been mentioned, although the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, pointed out that there have been problems there. As regards party policy—I discovered, much to my relief, that we have a party policy on such matters—there is great emphasis on the responsibility of the Constitution Committee of your Lordships' House and on giving a fully reformed House of Lords particular responsibility for safeguarding the constitution. But until that reformed House of Lords is in place, we would be reluctant to see any automatic trigger mechanism for referenda. Indeed, as I have said, what we would rather see is a recognition that the executive has become over powerful; that the ascendancy of the executive, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, referred, is a danger, but that our task and our priority should be to urge reform, particularly in another place, to strengthen the scrutiny of Parliament.

We need to emphasise particularly the fact that referenda would enhance single issue politics at the expense of party politics. As I say, it would weaken the authority of Parliament, making whatever decisions Parliament took always subject to a second appeal to the wider electorate. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Norton, who pointed out that often the results of referenda are not accepted anyway. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, is not present tonight, but he constantly denies the outcome of the 1975 referendum which revealed a two to one majority in favour of entering the Common Market. He says that the wrong question was asked, or the wrong information was given, or the then government used an unfair advantage.

Like my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf, I am afraid that I cannot wish the Bill well. I wish the thinking behind the Bill well. Certainly we would not break with convention by trying to divide the House. We believe that the issues that have been raised are important and need to be dealt with as we consider the responsibilities of a reformed House of Lords. But until that happens, we hope that referenda remain a last refuge of scoundrels and, therefore, remain as a curious constitutional device that flourished briefly at the turn of the century but then was left to gather dust while Parliament took on its real responsibilities in a representative democracy.

8.49 p.m.

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My Lords, I offer my thanks to my noble friend. I believe that he has done a service to the House in bringing forward the Bill.

I begin by saying a little about the context in which the Bill is published. I believe that the debate fits into a series. It follows the debates on the Parliament Acts initiated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, and on the Salisbury doctrine, initiated only last week by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale.

The common threat is that Members of your Lordships' House, across all parties, are saying that since 1997 the balance of power in this country has been shaken. This House, rightly or wrongly, has been altered, making it, in the words of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, "more legitimate" and giving it more "authority". The other place has seen its procedures "modernised" so as to increase still further the grip of the executive on that part of Parliament.

This is not a process that is unique to this Government but, sadly, they have carried it to previously undreamed of levels. It is they who have set aside the historic balance of the constitution. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. In our debate on the Salisbury convention last Wednesday, he said:
"It is vital that real powers are given to a second Chamber, if only to provide a check on what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. described as the elected dictatorship. We have that now in another place with a government majority of more than 170".— [Official Report, 24/1/01; col 286.]
The noble Lord was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, in a typically challenging speech. He said:
"If the government are to be made to listen to us, we should have fewer, rather than more, restrictions on how … we can exercise our powers".—[Official Report, 24/1/01; col. 281]
This sense that the executive leviathan in this country needs to be shackled is growing, and it is common to thoughtful people of all parties. Our party has pledged itself to the cause of a strong Parliament. We believe that Parliament is the only place where not only over-mighty governments can be held in check but also over-mighty bodies throughout our society and even over-mighty international forces too.

We will support no reduction of the powers of this place. We will support no changes in procedures that reduce our ability to hold the executive of whatever party to account. That is why we wish to develop the role of this House. That is why my noble friend Lord Strathclyde led the call for a new constitutional committee, which has now been set up. That is why in the new House we have abandoned the convention respected by my party in the old House not to vote against orders. That is why we have said that the Salisbury convention needs to be reviewed in changing circumstances. That is why we are sympathetic to this House having more opportunity to consider financial matters. That is why the Bill that my noble friend puts before us today raises questions of fundamental importance.

In the debate on the Parliament Acts initiated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, said—and I agree—that,
"the essence is to have a safeguard against the misuse or abuse of power in the House of Common".—[Official Report, 19/1/01; col. 1318.]
The noble Lord implied, as my noble friend's Bill proposes, that referendums might be a way of providing a further lock on major legislation that would alter the constitution of this country.

Like many other noble Lords who have spoken, although in varying degrees, I am not instinctively in favour of referendums. But we have to recognise that they are now an established part of our way of government. The Government have used them more frequently than any of their predecessors, although not in a way I would recommend for any government. In Scotland, Wales and London they have used pre-legislative referendums in which general principles already enunciated in the party's manifesto are put to the people. It was the Government who set the questions. They resisted clarification or separation of the questions. They allowed, and have entrenched in the recent Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, rigged referendum rules which allow one side to spend more than the other in a referendum. I do not believe that that is a proper way to proceed.

Pre-legislative referendums are no way to take the will of the people. The details of the legislation are not known and can be changed. The kind of debate that parliamentary scrutiny provokes has not taken place. They are nothing more than a tawdry way to seek to coerce Parliament and to cow it into not questioning the Bill that is later put before it.

What my noble friend proposes is something different. It is akin to the ideas put forward by my noble friend Lord Cranborne, most recently in the debate last Wednesday, introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, and by several distinguished noble Lords during the course of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill. I think of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and the noble Lord, Lord Healey. It is proposed that once Parliament has considered a piece of legislation in detail there should be a mechanism within Parliament to press the executive to undertake a referendum to take the mind of the people before pushing a Bill to Royal Assent.

My noble friend also gives a special place to the new constitutional committee which we all hope and expect will play a valuable part in national affairs. The proposal does not seek, rightly, to give this House unilateral powers. That would be wrong, except in the unique case of an attempt to extend the life of Parliament. However, it would give this House immense moral authority—something that one would hope another place would find difficult to ignore.

A post-legislative referendum on a major constitutional question could—I stress "could"—have many virtues. It would ensure that the British people were aware of the implications of major changes planned in their name. It could be a way of addressing a deadlock between the two Houses on major constitutional questions. It could be a way of reinforcing the checks that this House can place on the elective dictatorship. It could also be a way of putting a break on major alterations in our constitution in the event of one House having been whipped to pass a Bill and this place threatened with the coercion of the Parliament Acts.

I think that there is an argument that major constitutional Bills should have to go through particularly onerous scrutiny. I am not yet certain of the case for post-legislative referendums before Royal Assent, as my noble friend suggests. But they are certainly far less spurious than the pre-legislative referendums that we have seen. And, if I may say so, they are less spurious than the argument put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, when he said that a post-legislative referendum would,
"take away from the authority of Parliament. I believe that to be wrong".—[Official Report, 24/1/01; col. 298]
How one could put forward that argument for a post-legislative referendum and not for the pre-legislative ones for which this Government have had such a leaning is obscure. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will address that issue when he replies. The one gives the people a chance to vote on the considered views of Parliament. The other—dare I say it—is a populist device that can be thrown in the face of Parliament to restrict its room to alter what Ministers have proposed.

There are difficulties with the detail of what my noble friend has proposed. But the right place to explore those is in Committee. He has raised issues of profound importance in our evolving constitution. I look forward to further debates on the Bill as it proceeds through this House.

8.58 p.m.

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My Lords, I join with noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for moving the Second Reading of the Bill. The Government do not support it or think it an appropriate Bill. However, I agree that it raises a number of important issues which have been dealt with in an impressive and succinct debate.

I pick up the starting point to which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred. This is part of a trio of debates over the past 10 days. We have had the Second Reading of the Parliament Acts (Amendment) Bill. A week ago the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, introduced a debate on the Parliament Acts and the Salisbury convention. We now have this debate. They are all about the powers of this House. Should there be referendums? In what circumstances? What should be the terms in which those referendums take place? Who should determine the question?

It is obvious from the Government's stance on other matters that we think that, from time to time, there is a place for referendums in the constitution. We believe that that should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

However, we believe that the Bill is unnecessary and inappropriate. It is unnecessary because there is nothing to prevent this House, on the advice of the Constitution Committee or on its own initiative, proposing, before the measure comes into force, an amendment to a Bill to provide for a referendum. I was confused by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who appeared not to accept that what he was describing already existed. It is open to this House to pass an amendment to prevent a Bill coming into force until there had been a post-legislative referendum. Such an amendment would then have to be considered by the other place. That would have the same effect as the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway.

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My Lords, with the greatest respect, we are going adrift. Clause 101(2)(a) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 prohibits either House from resolving that there should be a referendum. It says that referendums must be ordained and called by the Government.

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My Lords, as I understand it, having regard to parliamentary sovereignty, there would be nothing to prevent this House amending a Bill so that it could come into force only after a post-legislative referendum. If the noble Lord suggests that the Act that he referred to has entrenched provision, he is enunciating a new constitutional doctrine.

Our second argument is that the Bill is inappropriate. By that I mean that it is wrong that this House should have such a power of initiative over the use of a referendum. Thus far, the use of a device that some still regard as alien to our constitutional arrangements—that feeling was reflected in the debate—has occurred only in response to government proposals for change. The Government have justified the use of the referendum on a case-by-case basis. We believe that that is the best approach. Specific legislation will enable a referendum to be held on the particular issue.

The approach suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is fraught with risk. First, there is a risk that this House and the Government will disagree on whether a measure is suitable for a referendum. The Government believe that the use of the referendum should be exceptional. Leading on from that and looking at the situation in a practical, realistic light, that can mean only a great likelihood of disagreement between the two Houses. The same could occur if this House inserted a clause in a Bill providing for a referendum, but I venture to suggest that a dispute in which this House had some special power of initiative, as the Bill implies, would be significantly more acute than one that arose from the normal legislative process. The Bill would give the House of Lords a special place. Although it says that the other place has to agree, it would give rise to a more acute constitutional issue than a simple disagreement over an amendment to a Bill.

Let us imagine that the Government place before Parliament a measure, foreshadowed in the party's manifesto, that has broad constitutional overtones but is not suitable, in their view, for a referendum. The House of Lords might take a different view on the appropriateness of a referendum and use the powers accorded under this Bill to resolve that there should be one. If the other place then rejected that view, as Clause 2 would entitle it to do, where would we go from there? It would be a dead stop.

That brings us to the related issue of the Salisbury/ Addison convention. In the case of a major disagreement of principle over government legislation, the Government would argue that the Commons must have its way under the Salisbury convention. I beg leave to doubt that any government would act differently.

The House knows the noble Lord's response. He spelled it out last Wednesday in the debate on the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, on the subject of the Parliament Acts and the Salisbury convention. He said:
"The achievement of parity voting potential constitutes a fundamental change of circumstances which deprives the Cranborne convention as such of any justification today".—[Official Report, 24/1/01; col. 284]
As I understand it, the noble Lord believes that the House of Lords Act 1999 has changed everything, hence, unless I misunderstand him, if the other place and this House are in dispute, this House has the right to vote the measure down. That would leave the other place needing to rely on the Parliament Act, described by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as a constitutional nuclear weapon.

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My Lords, I should correct this before there is a misunderstanding. The quotation that the noble and learned Lord gave is right. I am fully prepared to reaffirm it today. However, that does not mean that an updated version of the Salisbury convention, which the Royal Commission recommended, ought not to be arrived at and agreed by consensus. I certainly do not adhere to and have never expressed the view attributed to me that, by and large, the Government ought not to have their business.

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My Lords, I am slightly confused. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, explicitly said that what he called the Cranborne convention had gone. He did not say what should take its place, except that, in principle, the Government should have their business. We have no idea what the position of a manifesto Bill would be. Is that part of the Government's business? Does it go wider or not so far as the Salisbury/Addison convention? If the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, were to be adopted, we would be left in a total constitutional limbo.

I return to my earlier point. If one follows what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said, one is left with the need to rely on the Parliament Act—the constitutional nuclear weapon, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, described it both in the debate started by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, and that initiated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. The reason why the Parliament Acts attract such a dramatic image is that their use has been rare. That has been true because the House has accepted the Salisbury convention, going rather further—

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My Lords, the noble and learned Lord must be oblivious to recent political history. The Parliament Acts have been used quite promiscuously and routinely on such matters as the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, and one other Bill. I am so sorry. If the noble and learned Lord has finished, I shall continue with my remarks. The Parliament Acts have not been kept in reserve for major matters as a nuclear weapon or nuclear strike; recently they have been used routinely when the Government have wanted to get their way following a difference of opinion between the two Houses.

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My Lords, I apologise to the noble and learned Lord for talking to the Clerk while he was speaking. I was trying to find out the number of occasions on which the Parliament Act has been used in recent years. The word that the noble and learned Lord used in his speech was "habitual". I strongly contest that.

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My Lords, I believe that I said "promiscuous" rather than "habitual".

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My Lords, the noble and learned Lord said "promiscuous" then and, in the course of his speech, "habitual". With respect, I suggest that that is an over-dramatic description of the number of times that the Parliament Act has been used. I do not know the precise number of occasions on which it has been used since 1st May 1997, but I have been prompted to say "twice".

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My Lords, three times.

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My Lords, it was not used in connection with the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill. The noble and learned Lord may be right that it was three times, but let us assume it to be twice. It is hard to describe that as either "promiscuous" or "habitual". I prefer the description of the Leader of the Opposition in this House, which is that it has been used as a constitutional nuclear weapon.

If in future this House acted as though the Salisbury convention were no longer valid and rejected the philosophy of restraint that it has, in my view very wisely, accepted until now, assuredly the reaction from the other place to regular defeat applied to measures that have passed the House will be greater use of the Parliament Act.

Taking the views of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, on the obsolescence of the Salisbury convention together with the powers which his Bill proposes for this House, I would be genuinely concerned that the effect of the Bill would be to make disputes between the two Houses on issues of principle a good deal more likely. I cannot believe that it would be desirable for this House to seek to acquire powers that might cause a clash with the government of the day on a point of fundamental principle over its legislative programme. Plainly, the Bill seeks an acquisition of power by this House.

As I have said before, I recognise that your Lordships could insert a clause into any Bill which would call for a referendum on the legislation before it came into law. That would be an available use of your Lordships' power provided that the clause did not constitute a wrecking amendment, as the noble Lord's own amendment at the Committee stage of the House of Lords Act was in practice, although, I accept, not in intent. However, this measure invites your Lordships to take special powers over a class of Bill and, moreover, one not defined in advance. This is becoming all too close to taking power which, in effect, queries the primacy of the other place. I cannot believe that that is a step which your Lordships would wish to take.

In summing up, the Government view the Bill as unnecessary and believe that, at worst, it may lead to clashes with the other place which could only be harmful in the long term. Therefore, for the reasons given, the Government oppose the measure.

9.13 p.m.

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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. It has been an interesting and good-humoured debate and I do not want to spoil its atmosphere by indulging in an argument at this hour of the night with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton.

If the Bill is given a Second Reading, we will have ample opportunity to deal with the Minister's misunderstanding of the Bill's principle and effect and of my approach to the Salisbury convention. It would not be appropriate for me to deal with that matter tonight; I simply place my concern on record.

I thank my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, whom I asked to come along and oppose the Bill, which he did awfully well. One cannot, at this hour of the night, or at any hour of the day, deal with what is called root-and-branch principled opposition, which is blind to argument. Trying to do so is a waste of time. I am fully content to leave the matter to the sense and composite wisdom of the House in due course; the House will take the decision.

There is a considerable distinction between the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, who supports the principle of the Bill, and that of my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, who opposes it. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, took the point about the frequency of occasions on which provisions in Bills affect the constitution. I totally agree with him; he gave all of the examples that were in my mind and made an important point. But the noble Lord said that that frequency meant that one should not have a referendum or any such mechanism. I say quite the contrary: the terror, the danger and the absence of control mean that there must be a mechanism, and the only mechanism is a referendum. So one gets into a circuitous argument which, again, one cannot pursue at this hour of the night.

According to my scribbled note, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, thought that there was an automatic trigger mechanism for a referendum. With respect, that is a misunderstanding of the Bill's intention and, indeed, of its drafting.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree for supporting the Bill's principle and for arguing that a safeguard needs to be provided. In view of the changes of procedure in another place, there are no adequate safeguards.

I respectfully ask noble Lords to give the Bill a Second Reading, so that further debate may ensue on some of the matters that I have mentioned. That may perhaps allow for their constructive resolution.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Companies (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2000

9.17 p.m.

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rose to move, That the regulations laid before the House on 19th December be approved [3rd Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Sainsbury of Turville.)

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper and at the same time speak to the Open-Ended Investment Companies (Investment Companies with Variable Capital) (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2000.

The proposed regulations will apply to England, Wales and Scotland. They will not apply to Northern Ireland, which has its own company registry that is responsible for setting its fees. Both of the orders were debated and approved on 24th January by the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee.

The main effect of the regulations is to increase fees for microfiche products. The aim is to enable CompaniesHouse to match the revenue that it generates from that aspect of the public service that it provides with the costs of providing that service. The changes are necessary because many people are now taking advantage of the alternative electronic services that are now on offer. Demand for microfiche has declined substantially from the level that applied when fees for it were last changed two years ago. Demand is expected to continue to decline. The balance in the provision of services is therefore shifting rapidly.

In my explanation of the reasons for the changes, I shall concentrate on microfiche and related products, which cover the bulk of the changes. I will naturally be happy to respond to any questions that noble Lords may have on any individual items in the regulations.

Companies House has been an executive agency since 1988 and a trading fund since 1991. As a trading fund, Companies House must recover all the costs of providing its services from fees. It must also aim to achieve a net return of 6 per cent on its assets on average taking one year with another.

Companies House must finance its running costs and future development programme from fees and charges and, so far as any major developments are concerned, from any reserves that have accrued from the previous levying of fees and charges. It must continue to invest in information technology to enable the provision of better and more up-to-date services. It also has regular operating outlay for staff salaries and accommodation, staff training, compliance, communication and marketing and so forth.

All that has to be funded from the revenue it raises. Those costs must be spread across the full range of Companies House products and services. Companies House will continue to allow easier access for electronic registration of statutory information. It will also enable the provision of company data in an increasingly wide range of electronic formats consistent with the Government's modernising ambitions.

In 1996 there was a general reduction in Companies House fees. That was made possible by the agency's success in significantly reducing its operating costs. Nonetheless it was necessary at that time to increase the price of the microfiche search because of reducing volumes. The cost of microfiche-based products was again increased for the same reason in 1998. This is because the cost of providing a microfiche service is substantial and essentially fixed. It means that as more customers switch from microfiche to the electronically-based ways of accessing company information, the unit cost rises.

The volume of microfiche searches has declined from 2 million in 1995–96 to well under 1 million last year (1999–2000)—a fall of over 50 per cent in five years. From 1.4 million at the time when fees were last adjusted, from 1st March 1999, the total number of microfiche searches dropped to under 0.7 million two years later. The decline is expected to continue in the coming year, 2001–02, to 500,000.

That is not something to be regretted. It is evidence of the introduction of new and better technologies. Nonetheless, the cost of producing a microfiche search is already £6.20 compared with the current fee of £5. So a loss is being made on that particular range of Companies House products.

Charges for microfiche and the broadly equivalent electronic alternative—a package of up to 25 documents delivered by e-mail—are currently the same. Each costs £5. Yet the process of generating microfiche for a database is a more complicated one. After electronic images are created, they are filmed and a large team of employees carefully cuts the film produced each day for all the documents registered the previous day and they are added to the individual company records. There is similar extra work when a microfiche search is requested. Instead of automatically downloading the information electronically, it is necessary for members of the information centre team to go to the physical fiche record, copy it and deliver it to the customer.

Maintaining the fiche library is an extra cost. Using it to deliver information on the day is similarly an extra cost. The effect of the fees regulations before this House will be to correct the balance by making microfiche bear more of its cost, with a £1.50 increase to £6.50. That will in turn allow Companies House to reduce the cost of electronic information by £1 to £4 for the key package. That is a 30 per cent increase to set against a 60 per cent decline in volume since last time. Nonetheless, it should allow Companies House to achieve something close to break-even on the provision of its microfiche services. Indeed, the House was warned of the likely increase in the price of microfiche products when the previous companies fees order was presented two years ago. Should the decline continue in line with present trends, further increases in the price of microfiche will be necessary quite soon in order to optimise recovery of the costs.

The overall effects on searchers of the information made available by Companies House will not be negative. The higher cost for microfiche will continue to be offset by the ever-expanding reliance placed on computerised information by Companies House customers. This is not only becoming more comprehensive and easier to access; it is also becoming cheaper.

Since 1998 customers have been able to obtain basic company information free from the Companies House website. Since October 2000 they have been able to purchase documents over the web using their credit card. That is something of a trailblazer so far as concerns the provision of government information. Increased demand for such services will lead to lower prices for conveniently accessible, high-quality data in electronic format. That will apply equally to bulk customers, for professional users of the Companies House subscription service, Companies House Direct, and to casual users via the Internet. Microfiche has served its purpose well. It will continue to be preferred by some people for some purposes for a little while yet. But it is now approaching the final stages of its product life.

Companies House intends to reduce the charges it levies for discretionary premium services for same day incorporation and change of name and is not seeking any increases for any of the electronic or bulk services. Companies House is decreasing the charges it sets administratively for electronic services. That decrease will be pitched at a level to achieve a net £2 million reduction in revenue at constant volumes. In doing so the agency is consciously playing a fuller part in the Government's modernising and "knowledge economy" agendas.

At this point I believe that it would be appropriate for me to stress that we are addressing those fees and charges established by regulations under Section 708(1) of the Companies Act 1985. Companies House makes extensive use of Section 708(5) for the setting of charges for its newer electronic services. It also does so for certain bespoke services, such as the provision of bulk information by means of image or data tapes to its major commercial customers. The flexibility of Section 708(5) is necessary for the pricing of new products whose development costs and take-up may be uncertain or variable. None the less, Companies House brings the same concepts of cost recovery and avoidance of excessive return or cross-subsidy to those other services.

I turn to open-ended investment companies. Companies House registers and provides the public records for this type of corporate vehicle. The cost of providing microfiche records for such enterprises is precisely the same as that for companies since they are included in the unit cost measurement for all microfiche products applied by Companies House. Consequently, these amending regulations introduce equivalent fees for similar services provided by Companies House to those provided for companies.

In summary, Companies House fulfils a clear function of being the key statutory registry for companies in Great Britain. The agency has an enormously important role in information provision. Because of its newly-introduced world wide web company information service, it is now available at the touch of a button to anyone across the world. Lastly, in accordance with the undertaking given by my right honourable friend the Attorney-General, I can confirm that in my view the regulations before the House are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. I hope that my explanation of the reasons behind the fee changes has been helpful to noble Lords. I commend the regulations to the House.

Moved, That the regulations laid before the House on 19th December be approved. [ 3rd Report from the Joint Committee].—( Lord Sainsbury of Turville.)

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My Lords, I do not want to delay the House. Indeed, I am sure that the House is grateful for the full explanation of the two instruments. The only question I ask is why the Government or Companies House do not put microfiche out of its misery. Here, an old technology has become more and more expensive and is being run parallel to a new technology which is becoming cheaper. We are assured that we are within a few years of us all having Internet access. Instead of having this "dance of the seven veils', would it not be better to announce a finite cut-off from when microfiche will no longer be available? From what the Minister says, I doubt whether there would be many complaints about that.

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My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I thank the Minister for his full explanation of the regulations. In a nutshell, they allow for a 30 per cent increase in the fees charged by Companies House for its microfiche-based information services. That said, I am bound to say that we on these Benches have a few slight reservations about the proposal. I therefore hope that the House will bear with me while I articulate one or two matters of concern.

As the Minister explained, the increased fees are predicated upon an analysis that demand for microfiche has declined substantially from when levels were last changed two years ago and that Companies House is increasingly offering more up-to-date electronic services to its customers. Such arguments are perhaps persuasive. In terms—and the Minister made the point—they gel with the Government's stated desire to make the UK the best and safest place for e-commerce in the world. All good and well.

But while acknowledging the requirement that, where practicable, Companies House should avoid cross-subsidy of its activities, does the Minister accept that, to an extent, these proposals could have the effect of creating a form of digital divide? Why is it that the burdens of the declining demand for microfiche services should be imposed upon those who are obliged to continue to use them simply because they are small and do not have the sophisticated technology of larger operations?

I note that the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs in another place suggested that part of the reason for the increase in fees was to,
"fund future improvements and developments",
at Companies House, particularly in terms of investment in information technology. That is fair enough. Effective strategies in this area should result in significant reductions in terms of both manpower and cost. Can the Minister therefore explain the 10 per cent or so increase in staffing levels at Companies House since 1996–97? Can he give us an idea as to future projections of staffing levels at Companies House? Perhaps more significantly in this context, can the Minister tell the House how many Companies House documents are filed electronically and what percentage that represents of the total? Is it fully on track with the,
"target for all business to be capable of being transacted electronically by 2005";
or is the comment of the chief executive in his annual report statement that electronic filing,
"remains as yet little used",
a more accurate assessment of the situation? I am sure that the Minister will clarify those points and I look forward to his response.

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My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their interesting comments, which can be taken together. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked why we do not put microfiche out of its misery immediately. The answer is that pricing where one has a falling demand and where one loads the fixed overheads on to the unit costs sharply pushes up the rate. It also gives every incentive, as it should, for people to move to the electronic alternative, which is cheaper and more effective. That is exactly the kind of pricing strategy one should have because it gives people a good incentive to move to a cheaper version but does so over a period of time.

That means that people have plenty of time to make alternative arrangements and move away from the older technology. That is why the measure does not contribute to a digital divide. This is the way in which the technology will go. It is cheaper for businesses to use and they should be moving rapidly in that direction.

As regards staffing levels, there is a huge expansion in the work of the registry office and it is rapidlyincreasing. The correct way to examine its efficiency is in terms of the unit cost of its operations. There is a 3 per cent annual reduction in that which it has been meeting. That is a satisfactory situation. In fact, there is a 40 per cent increase in its workload, which shows that it is doing a good job in improving its performance.

Finally, perhaps I may draw particular attention to Companies House's commitment to developing services which are efficient, economical and of high quality. The agency puts a good deal of effort into trying to establish the needs of its customers and uses such consultation and interaction with its customers as a basis for driving forward its evolving service offer. It aims to use the possibilities afforded by modern technology to create an environment for easier access for companies and individuals, whether they are delivering or obtaining information. It is that dedicated focus on customers which has led to Companies House being one of the few public sector organisations to be awarded the "Chartermark" on three consecutive occasions. It has also allowed Companies House to garner three significant awards in the wider business community for its on-line information service, Companies House Direct, in the course of the year 2000. I commend these regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Open-Ended Investment Companies (Investment Companies With Variable Capital) (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2000

9.35 p.m.

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My Lords, I spoke to both sets of regulations at the same time. I beg to move.

Moved, That the regulations laid before the House on 19th December be approved [3rd Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Sainsbury of Turville.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before ten o'clock.