Queen's Speech — Debate (3rd Day) (Continued)
Lord West of Spithead (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office; Labour)
My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging and knowledgeable debate. We have gone from nuclear proliferation, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, through groundwater, mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter, through MPs' pay, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, rail routes in the emerald isle, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, and so on. The debate has been fascinating. Noble Lords spoke with great depth of knowledge on an immense range of subjects, most of which were not in the Queen's Speech but which noble Lords perhaps thought should be in it. That is reassuring and the wide coverage shows that there was general support for the small number of specific measures that I am talking about today.
I have been called "ungallant", I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Patten. I am sure that he did not mean that. Calling me "gallant" may not be allowed, but I do not like to be called "ungallant". I was also called a pigmy by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, and quotes from "Casabianca" have been thrown at me, including:
"The boy stood on the burning deck".
It has been quite an evening for me, as noble Lords can imagine.
We were aiming primarily for a debate on the Bills of two government departments. They are vital to the protection of our communities, but I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if, in the time available, I am unable to answer every question on every issue that was touched on.
I welcome both maiden speeches-those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and the noble Baroness, Lady O'Loan. Having commanded HMS "Bristol", I have a soft spot for that great city. Both noble Lords will add their huge depth of spiritual and temporal experience to this House. It is remarkable that each has five children. Bravo! It is good to have them here.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, referred to a broken Britain and a broken society. I do not recognise that description. I know that in this great country of ours there are some horrible areas where some horrible things go on, but to pretend that we have come out of a golden age is absolute rubbish. Actually, a huge amount has been done to make these areas better. I live in Hackney, which today is dramatically better than it was 20 years ago; there is an unbelievable difference. This constant statement that we have a broken society is damaging and wrong. It is not true of this country.
This is a remarkable country, which is partly why so many people wish to come here. The noble Baroness mentioned immigration and the value of immigrants, which should be said more often. I absolutely agree with that. Noble Lords need only look at Hansard. I have said in the House on a couple of occasions how valuable and important immigrants have been to this country, but we have to have some controls and checks. It is nonsense not to have them. Millions of people would like to come here because this is such a wonderful country. If we were a totally broken society, they would not want to come here, but they do and, therefore, we have to have some controls.
The noble Baroness mentioned ASBOs. There have been considerable debates about civil and criminal penalties, but ASBOs work. People in local government like them. Sixty-five per cent of people who are given an ASBO, 85 per cent of people who are given a second ASBO and 93 per cent of people who are given a third ASBO do not reoffend. ASBOs are very successful and they work, so it is important to have them.
I was glad that the noble Baroness supported parenting orders, which are useful. She also talked about our counterterrorist programme. She alluded to its being a success, as I believe it is. The most difficult area is that of radicalisation and what causes it. Without a doubt we have the best prevent strategy in the world. It is a huge success and I am very pleased with it. That does not mean that we have solved the problem; we cannot rest on our laurels. However, we have done a lot of good work in that area.
The noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, touched on counterterrorist legislation. I agree that there is none in what we are talking about today. When I arrived in my post, a counterterrorist Bill was going through, but no new counterterrorist legislation has been put in. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, is aware of that. She is absolutely right that it is the package in its totality that makes the difference. We have done well in those areas.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, talked about mobile phones. This measure in the Bill is important. Using technology to stop mobile phones working in prisons is problematic. Without going into detail, if you jam the signal it is sometimes difficult not to stop everyone outside the prison using their mobile phones, which causes a problem with the locals. It is a bit tricky. The noble Baroness also mentioned DNA. I will come back to that, as a number of speakers were very taken by the issue. I understand that emotions run very high and I will be happy to talk about it later.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, also asked why stop and search was not being scrapped because of the amount of paperwork and administration involved. There is a need to balance reducing paperwork with the ability to hold the police to account. This was touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. We must hold the police to account on a number of things. Three of the seven recording requirements that were talked about can be met by using our new Airwave radio technology and we are doing a lot to reduce the administrative load. This was picked up in the Green Paper and we have been applying the provisions. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, asked about the amount of ethnic monitoring that is going on. I give a firm commitment that we will not reduce ethnic monitoring because it is important to measure what is going on.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about being Section 44-stopped. The same thing happened to me the other day. What was most remarkable was that, as the questioning went on and the incident continued, the level of seniority of the officers kept on rising.
I very much enjoyed the meanderings of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, if I may call them that, as he covered almost the entire Queen's Speech. He showed his knowledge of a number of issues and in particular was interested in constitutional affairs. I am pleased that he supports the Bribery Bill, because it is a good Bill and it is important that we go down that route. When we look back historically, we can see that it is bad that it has not happened before.
The noble Lord mentioned security and talked about it meaning the protection of people. He also talked about data collection. Security is about the protection of our people and in the modern world you cannot do some of these things without certain amounts of data. Whether the data are on your passport with a photograph that is effectively a piece of biometric information, or whether they enable you to get your car licence, we are in that world and cannot get round it. It is no use trying to uninvent it; it is reality. We have tried to address that and are better at looking after people's data than in the past.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, asked about the retirement age of senior judges. I used to think that people of 70 were so old that they ought to be replaced. I have changed my view dramatically as I have become older and now consider that the figure should be revised upwards. This is something that is kept under constant review, but I cannot state that anything will happen. The noble and learned Lord referred to a torrent of legislation but then said that he thought that the Bribery Bill was marvellous. It is amazing how some legislation seems not to be a torrent whereas other bits are, but I was very glad that we had that support. I acknowledge the noble and learned Lord's concern regarding the Financial Services Bill. I will raise it with the appropriate parties and it will be looked at.
A vast number of noble Lords spoke about the House of Lords. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester talked about the status of the House, and it was also referred to in the speeches of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. My noble friend Lord Grocott spoke on the subject very eloquently. My noble friend Lord Rooker came up with some brilliant ideas, which perhaps need to be discussed. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, also talked about it and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, touched on it. I shall not go into great detail on this but I think that the measures in the Bill are a sensible way to move forward. I acknowledge the input of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and take his point on this issue. A lot of noble Lords picked up on points that were raised in his Bill and I can understand his annoyance about some aspects of that. However, as I said, I think that the measures are sensible and that it is a sensible way to move forward. The larger issue is something on which we need more debate. Without doubt, this is a huge issue and it needs to be properly and fully debated.
My noble friend Lord Rooker mentioned certain things that we can deal with ourselves. I believe that there is an awful lot that we can do ourselves and perhaps we should have a debate about that. I do not see why we cannot have a debate about them and why we cannot make decisions on certain things-not statutory things but some of the other issues that my noble friend mentioned. I think that there is scope for that. Sometimes the power to do these things is in our own hands and we should do something about them. I shall probably be told off for this afterwards but I think that a debate on those specific issues would probably be a jolly good idea. They are very important issues that have a huge impact on our nation and they need to be addressed.
I share the view of everyone who spoke about the admiration for this Chamber and for the way that it looks at and refines legislation. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and a number of other noble Lords said, one sometimes wonders whether the other place really looks at some of this stuff, and that is a bit of a worry. It is not the fault of Members of the other place because they are under huge pressure, but it is a bit of a worry and it is important that we get things right here.
The noble Lord, Lord Butler, asked about the Wright committee on reform of the House of Commons. I confirm that we eagerly await the publication of the report, which I think is due out tomorrow. As the noble Lord mentioned, the Prime Minister has given his support to the committee's work, and it will be for your Lordships to consider whether any of the report's findings read across to the procedures of this House. As I said, I think that we should have, and could well have, a debate on the specific issues raised by my noble friend Lord Rooker. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, also touched on this issue as being of importance.
As I said, my noble friend Lord Grocott spoke very eloquently about this House and raised a lot of points to think about. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, who raised the Megrahi case. That was an interesting issue and something that we may need to think about. I shall certainly go away and have a look at it. That important and interesting point was also raised by a couple of other noble Lords.
The noble Lord, Lord Patten, got into a debate about whether or not one was gallant. I thank him for what he said about bribery, but I am afraid that he totally lost the plot when it came to cyber security. I can tell him who is responsible for cyber security: I am the cyber security Minister, although I do not dress like Flash Gordon when I am in that role. A man called Robert Hannigan reports to me on this issue. Below him is a man called Neil Thompson, who runs the Office of Cyber Security. He came up with a great pot mess of acronyms, as I am afraid nowadays is the case in almost any area of endeavour. It is easy to do that but I can tell noble Lords that there is a rational system there. We have done a huge amount of work this summer. Indeed, I was talking to Neil Thompson for an hour this very morning. The direction in which we are going is very clear. There are clear issues which are being delivered and which we are working through, to the extent that we have been asked by the EU to do certain things to sort out this matter, and we are now getting it online.