Queen's Speech — Debate (4th Day)
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
"Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
Lord West of Spithead (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office; Labour)
My Lords, it is a great privilege to be opening today's debate on Her Majesty's gracious Speech. Today, we discuss the Government's proposals on home affairs, justice and constitutional affairs for the current parliamentary Session. These include the policing and crime Bill, the borders, immigration and citizenship Bill and the coroners and justice Bill. I am delighted to be joined by my noble friend Lord Bach who will wind up this debate. The measures we plan to introduce will go some way toward underpinning the Government's wider objective, that of making sure that we are creating a fair society with fair rules where people can have a fair say on how those rules are applied. I am sure noble Lords will agree that this is more crucial than ever in the difficult economic times that the country and indeed the world are facing.
The gracious Speech made clear our commitment to support families and businesses through these challenging times. That is why we are aiming to apply these measures to reinforce our commitment to economic security at the same time as we strengthen our borders and bolster the ties that bind our communities together. Fair rules make for strong communities. That means that the Government have to be clearly seen to be supporting those who play by the rules. It means making sure that that those who do not play by the rules are punished in a way that reinforces public confidence. And it means giving communities a fair say in setting the rules, which is why so many of the measures we are introducing reflect the priorities where the public have already told us they think we should act.
The good news is that we have already seen tremendous progress in many of these areas. Indeed, since 1997 crime overall has dropped by nearly 40 per cent, while burglary and car crime have more than halved. That demonstrates the tremendous job that the police and their partners are doing across the country. Neighbourhood policing is well established in every neighbourhood throughout England and Wales, and by the end of the year we will build on that even further with a new policing pledge for every force. The policing pledge represents a new deal between the police and the public. On the one hand, the public will be aware of the standards of service that they can expect and the police will be more accountable to the public they serve through advances in crime mapping, regular information updates, and via monthly meetings. On the other hand, we have also listened closely to what the police have asked us to do, which is why the policing pledge removes some of the administrative burden from officers. To that end, we are removing performance targets set from Whitehall and replacing them with just one—to deliver improved levels of public confidence.
Not only that, but we are scrapping the stop and account form and streamlining the process of crime recording for police forces; not least with the introduction of electronic hand-held devices that will give the police the tools they need to stay out on the beat where the public want them. The policing and crime Bill will also establish the fair rules that prevent low-level crime and disorder taking root in our communities. One way that we plan to do this is by introducing measures to tackle binge drinking through a new mandatory code for responsible alcohol sales. We plan to take even tougher action against retailers and bars that sell alcohol to children, and ensure that the industry plays its part in ending irresponsible promotions such as "All you can drink" offers.
Again, following the lead of the public, we will tighten the controls on lap dancing clubs, giving people a greater say in whether these clubs should be allowed to operate in the local area. In another move, we will set out new protections for vulnerable groups, particularly women and children, by attempting to tackle demand for prostitution and strengthening our powers to deal with sex offenders.
I think that noble Lords will agree that criminals should not be able to squirrel away their ill-gotten gains as this is vital in reassuring the public that justice is done, and seen to be done. As such, we have also acted in relation to recovering criminal assets. Here again, we plan to make the system fairer to victims by giving the police, prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies additional powers to improve the recovery of criminal assets. Victims should be foremost in our minds when we examine the criminal justice system and that point is again reinforced by the Government's provisions in the coroners and justice Bill. Following on the commitment made during the passage of last summer's Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill, there will be an opportunity to debate these measures in full in the coroners and justice Bill. We propose to extend these provisions to the earlier pre-trial stages of an investigation so that we can protect witnesses in the case of gang-related murders.
Another key element in building the confidence of the public lies in the sentencing framework. The Sentencing Advisory Panel and the Sentencing Guidelines Council have done much to ensure that there is greater consistency in sentencing, but there is scope to do more. Consequently, the Bill will establish a sentencing council for England and Wales with a remit to produce comprehensive guidelines for sentences, further enhancing consistency and enabling more accurate predictions to be made of the demand for prison and probation resources.
The public sense of fair play demands that criminals should not benefit from their crimes. That is why the Bill will introduce a civil scheme for the recovery of proceeds from criminal memoirs. It is difficult enough for the victims of crime, particularly violent crime, to come to terms with their harrowing experience without having to go through the anxiety and hurt all over again when they see the perpetrator of the offence being paid for an interview or a book launch. That is why it is so important to put a stop to it and to keep our promise to be on the side of the victim.
In a similar vein, we also propose to improve the service that bereaved families receive from a reformed coroners system. At present, when a person dies their bereaved family and friends rightly want to know the cause of death. However, if this is unknown, unnatural or the circumstances are such that a criminal prosecution cannot be brought, it can be difficult to have the death properly and independently investigated. We plan to rectify such situations by having a new chief coroner setting national standards and presiding over a new accessible appeals system that families can use if they are unhappy with a coroner's decisions.
Before I move on I should flag up one further provision in the Bill. I want it to be quite clear that the Government will not shrink from taking the necessary steps to protect personal data. We have already taken steps to strengthen data security in government departments but we can do more. The Bill will therefore strengthen the audit and inspection powers of the Information Commissioner and ensure that his office has the resources it needs to ensure compliance with data protection principles across the public and private sectors.
This month the United Kingdom will formally ratify the Council of Europe's convention on human trafficking. We all recognise the need to be vigilant against this evil trade but the integrity of the UK's borders is vital for many other reasons besides. That is why the provisions in the borders, immigration and citizenship Bill are so important. Our borders are already among the most secure in the world but we are determined to make them stronger and fairer with one of the biggest overhauls of the immigration system in a generation. It is only right that we have tough systems in place to make sure that the people who come here have a right to do so.
Equally, we need to be sure that the rules are fair to both those who want to come to Britain and those already here, which is why the rules ensure that only those with the skills we need can come here to work or study. That is why we recently issued the first ID cards to foreign nationals, protecting our citizens against identity fraud and illegal working as well as making it easier for people to prove that they are who they say they are. That is also why we have introduced tiers 2 and 5 of the point-based system to allow us to control immigration by raising and lowering the bar, depending on the needs of the country.
The Bill also sets out our plans for major changes to what we expect of migrants before they can earn British citizenship. British citizenship is a privilege and with it comes responsibilities. As such, there will no longer be an automatic right to stay here after five years; migrants will have to speak English, work and play by the rules if they want to stay and build a new life in Britain. Just as the Bill introduces these new responsibilities, we will also create a new duty for the UK Border Agency to take into account the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in its operations. These measures, together with our commitment to strong enforcement of the law, will deliver an immigration system that is firm but also fair to genuine migrants.
However, fairness also means being tough on those who would break the law, which is why we are being even tougher in operations to stop traffickers, disrupt smuggling and clamp down on illegal immigration. We are already issuing biometric visas as a matter of course to anyone applying to travel here. Indeed, they have proved to be an instant success as we have detected more than 4,600 cases of identity swaps across the 3.3 million sets of fingerprints already enrolled in the system. In addition, we will be reintroducing border controls and exit checks and will soon be able to count non-EEA nationals in and out of the United Kingdom.
Finally, the borders, immigration and citizenship Bill will give UK Border Agency officers the integrated powers they need to ensure that immigration and Customs operate seamlessly together for our protection.
The measures we are introducing are based on the Government's ongoing commitment to protect the rights of the vulnerable and the interests of the law-abiding majority. I look forward to the forthcoming debates on these important issues, and hope that your Lordships will support the thrust of these measures.
Baroness Neville-Jones (Shadow Security Minister, Home Affairs; Conservative)
My Lords, when I listened to the gracious Speech last week, and as I have listened today to the Minister's recitation of ongoing activity and tinkering measures, I have had the impression of a Government who lack a programme of substance. A number of important measures have been left out of their legislative programme, and I want briefly to touch on a couple of them.
We had expected to see a transport security Bill establishing new arrangements for airport security and implementing our international obligations to combat terrorist acts at sea. The proposals to improve airport security, which we welcome in principle, are now scattered about in the Policing and Crime Bill. But, at a time when piracy is a real and growing threat and terrorism remains a severe threat, the Government have not carried forward measures to implement our international obligations to combat these acts at sea. It would be helpful if the Minister explained why. It is vital that the Royal Navy knows what action it can take against pirates.
The other area where the Government have little substance is in their own programme for constitutional renewal. My noble friend Lord Kingsland will speak on constitutional issues in greater detail; I would point out only that the Government have gone against their own promise to put in place a Bill of Rights; that despite a general consensus that Parliament should ratify treaties, a proposal to that effect has not been taken forward; and that we do not see a great effort to place the Civil Service on a statutory footing.
It is odd that there is no proposal to bring forward a Civil Service Bill when the Government seem so keen to assert the binding obligations on civil servants in the Civil Service Code. We now need a full statement of the relationship between civil servant and Minister—what a Minister may properly ask a civil servant to do, as well as the civil servant's duties to the Government of the day.
Enshrining in law the core values of the Civil Service—impartiality, integrity, honesty and objectivity—has now become extremely important, but it is also important to recognise that civil servants work in the public interest, as do Members of your Lordships' House and of the other place. We must ensure that that work is not impeded or disrupted. So I was rather struck by the statement from the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, Sir David Normington, when he said that leaks of information were undermining the effectiveness of his department. At least one of the leaks in question, identifying that thousands of illegal immigrants had been given official clearance to work as security guards, very clearly demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the Home Office.
I fear that we have a department with no strong sense of direction, one that may indeed be guilty of aggravating the problems with which it is meant to deal or of allowing them to develop. I shall give your Lordships some examples. The legislative programme before us is indicative of the problem. Let us look at the proposed Policing and Crime Bill. The Government have been ineffective and incompetent in reducing crime. They have liberalised alcohol sales, which have fuelled the problem. What has been the result? The Minister said that crime overall had gone down, but unfortunately violent crime, which is something the public care a lot about, has nearly doubled since 1997. In the first year following the introduction of the 24-hour licensing laws, there was a 25 per cent increase in the most serious violent crimes. It is hard not to believe that there is some connection.
At a time when violent crime is on the up and the public feel less safe, the police are constrained in what action they can take. I was glad to hear the Minister announce measures which will reduce the time that the police spend on bureaucratic paper-filling, but we have a long way to go. The Police Federation has said that,
"our members cannot attend to emergency calls because they are tied up with intervening in pub fights or drunken street brawls".
That goes back to the question of the numerous tasks that the police now have in front of them.
The Government are trying to find answers to all these problems—problems that they have helped to create or exacerbate. We on these Benches will look at the outcome of the review of happy hours and promotions, but we do not think that it will by itself address the problems of binge drinking, alcohol-fuelled violence and anti-social behaviour which so blight the inner city these days. I wonder whether it is right that we legislate on such things as happy hours and promotions; surely it is a matter for policy guidance or local bylaws rather than for primary legislation. For months, we have called on the Government to reverse 24-hour drinking and replace it with local authority control.
The only measures in the Bill which have some substance are those that aim to increase police accountability and, by implication, effectiveness. But its proposal that elected crime and policing representatives should sit on existing police authorities is a pale alternative to the proposal of these Benches for elected police commissioners. The trouble with the Government's proposal is that their elected representatives, because of the small electoral groups and areas in which they operate, could be open to single-issue interest groups. I hope that the Government will consider that. Real accountability can be achieved only by making each police force accountable to an individual directly elected by the citizens of that police area. Those police commissioners would seek re-election on their record, answering to the public for their success or failure in reducing crime. Similarly, on a point of local accountability, we have called for local authorities to have the power to decide whether a lap dancing club is appropriate in their area—it should not be a matter of central control.
In the borders, immigration and citizenship Bill we get a similar picture: of the Government aggravating problems or allowing them to develop. My noble friend Lord Kingsland will speak on the Bill's proposals on nationality and citizenship law. I shall look at the Government's policy on immigration and at the UK Border Agency.
This is no less than the seventh immigration Bill that the Government have presented. They have taken a long time to develop their policy. During that time, their open-door policy has led to a fivefold increase in immigration, which has strained public services and carried with it the risk of aggravating community tensions. The Government's own Immigration Minister has said that a points-based system is no substitute for an annual limit on economic migration—a view he now shares with us. We have said for some time that an annual limit should be set, taking into account the country's economic need, the ability of public services and infrastructure to cope with new arrivals, and potential effects on community cohesion, about which we spoke earlier today.
Closely related to the issue of immigration is that of border security and control. The borders, immigration and citizenship Bill will bring revenue and customs functions into the UK Border Agency, which was created only in April this year. The need to give it additional powers is indicative of what we have said: we need a fully integrated border police force with the full powers necessary to protect our borders.
Even after the new powers are given to the agency, we will still rely on several different organisations reporting to different Cabinet Ministers, and we will still not have a national border security agency. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, has said, this means that key duties are not being carried out and that organisations do not work together as they should.
Closely related to this issue is the Home Secretary's recent announcement of "tough new measures" to exclude those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages from entering the United Kingdom. But the Government have always had the power to deny entry to those whose presence is not conducive to the public good. Can the Minister explain why those powers have not been used and why the Government need new powers? Can he explain why, after announcing these "tough new measures", it emerged that Ibrahim Mousawi was allowed to enter the country? And how can he explain reports that Mousawi has been granted a six-month visa without conditions? It would be extremely good to know the real situation.
The Government have a key role to play in helping to tackle extremism and build up the resilience of local communities to the extremist message. I am sure that we agree on that basic proposition—but if they are to implement it, they must deny entry to extremists. They must also facilitate the work of those on the front line of tackling radicalisation. A recent report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Audit Commission found that local authorities and local police commanders do not receive the information they need to understand and address local vulnerability. It said that,
"information held by the Security Service and police CT specialists in Special Branches ... is not being shared consistently ... It is not shared to a level that would allow key individuals to make informed decisions on the local Prevent strategy".
That is an important comment, and I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about it.
Council chief executives and local police commanders agree that effective information-sharing between partner agencies is fundamental to the development of a shared understanding of the vulnerability of individuals and the community to violent extremism. They said that, without this understanding, it would be difficult for partners to determine and implement effective and co-ordinated strategies. This is a very important issue, and I hope that we can have a constructive discussion of those points. How do the Government intend to address this basic issue, which seems to be a flaw in the policy?
I shall address four things that emerged from our consideration of the Counter-Terrorism Bill. The first relates to the provisions on inquests. We on these Benches objected to the suitability of the Counter-Terrorism Bill as a vehicle for those provisions. Can the Minister confirm whether these will now be contained in the coroners and justice Bill? We, of course, objected to the substance of the provisions. It is vital that the independence and transparency of the coroners system is maintained and not undermined, so we will continue to oppose moves that would allow the Home Secretary to replace coroners with their own appointees or remove juries, relatives and the public from hearings.
Secondly, when we considered the Counter-Terrorism Bill, the Government accepted the argument for an independent commissioner for terrorism suspects. How are the Government going to take this proposal forward? We hope to hear about that very good idea.
Thirdly, we have seen the Government place in the Library of the House a draft Counter-Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill. The measures contained in that draft Bill might very well be counterproductive; they also lack safeguards. We have had a discussion of that before. I cannot be clearer when I say that your Lordships' House needs to be able to scrutinise legislation in detail and in good time. We on these Benches are very concerned at the Government's attempt to bypass the usual legislative process by having a draft Bill that will be pushed through in an emergency. Do the Government intend to submit it to pre-legislative scrutiny, as we think they should? If not, can they explain why?
That links to a wider point. We have seen widespread misuse of legislation that was initially introduced for the purposes of counterterrorism and national security. I am thinking in particular of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. In the light of recent comments by the Minister of State for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, how will the Government limit the use of surveillance powers by local authorities? Every day in the newspapers there is a story about local authorities using such powers for purposes for which they were clearly never intended. It is important that we bring a halt to that kind of thing. Therefore, we would like to look at the related topic of data, privacy and the notion of a "surveillance society".
As we discussed earlier today, this country has one of the largest DNA databases in the world, on which the samples of an estimated 1 million people are held indefinitely—1 million people who have no particular reason to be on the database because they have not been found guilty of any particular offence. When we considered the Counter-Terrorism Bill, my noble friend Lady Hanham made it clear that we on this side of the House would like to see a proper public debate leading to statutory national guidelines on the use and retention of DNA samples. More widely, it would be highly desirable to see a discussion on the whole question of the information held on DNA databases.
There is widespread support in this House for guidelines on who should legitimately have their information held, such as convicted criminals, and how others can have their data removed from the database. That issue has now come to a head with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which brings the whole thing into very sharp focus. During Questions, the Minister said that the Government are considering "all the options". I very much hope that one of those options is to implement the judgment in a straightforward and prompt way. How the Government act will be a test of their respect for the judgment and for the rights of individuals. We on these Benches will certainly be looking for a swift response to the court's adjudication. However, no legislation is needed now for local police authorities to remove samples that should not be on the database. What needs to happen is a straightforward administrative act bringing the database into line with the adjudication.
We recognise that the state needs data for the efficient running of society and the economy, and we accept that data sharing has come, in many respects, to replace the old principle of need to know, which, on the whole, restricted access to data. But that being the case, it is worrying that the Government's persistent refusal to understand and accept the need to build in safeguards against the abuse and misuse of the information, and to protect the rights of the citizen, does not result in greater confidence but in declining trust in the integrity of the state.
I was glad to hear from the Minister that the audit and inspection powers of the Information Commissioner will be increased. That is a good move. But that is not the whole story. Increasing data collection and concentration of data in very large systems obliges the Government to attain higher standards of management of the data that they already have. We on these Benches continue to oppose the creation of mammoth national identity registers, which will not contribute to data security—rather the reverse. The distributed system seems to us to assure much greater security.
We will also continue to oppose the related national ID card scheme as, frankly, a waste of money in current circumstances, when the Government should be spending public money on real priorities. There must also be better regulation and oversight of the data. Access to and transfer of data must be based on clear and legitimate business need. The information should be stored and supplied on a limited basis. It should meet legitimate business requirements and nothing more. There should also be greater accountability.
On a related but separate issue, we are told that there will be a consultation on communications data starting in January. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm this. I would also be grateful if the Minister could elucidate a sentence in the explanation of the legislation. We are told that an aspect of the coroners and justice Bill will,
"remove barriers to effective data sharing to support improved public services and the fight against crime and terrorism".
It would be helpful to know how this fits in with the consultation on communications data. Will there, indeed, be a separate communications data Bill, as we assume? If not, can the Minister enlighten the House as to the meaning of the phrase about the coroners Bill? Does it refer to provisions that might more appropriately find their place in data communication legislation? If so, how does putting down such provisions in a Bill on coroners fit with the promised consultation process on communications data? Can the Minister confirm whether there will be a separate communications data Bill? It would be regrettable if the coroners Bill were used as a Christmas tree on which to hang non-germane legislative items.
A lot of this comes down to having a sensible and proportionate legislative programme. As the Government take forward the programme for this Session, I am confident that your Lordships' House will help them to achieve both of these objectives: sensible and proportionate legislation.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, a good starting point for this part of the Government's legislative programme would have been TheNational Security Strategy of the United Kingdom—Security in an Interdependent World,published by the Cabinet Office in March this year. As the Minister will know, that document identified threats and problems that are not reflected at all in the legislative programme before us today.
Of course, many threats are not things on which legislation will have an influence, but the energy, resources and emphasis that the Government devote to particular threats to our security should be defined by the seriousness of the threat. This legislative programme does not reflect those. In the national security strategy, the Home Office should have put the real identified technological threats at the top of its list of things to deal with. Later in my speech I shall concentrate on just how worrying that omission and the fact that there is no action at all on this vital area are.
However, I will first address what is in the programme. The borders, immigration and citizenship Bill will be the eighth immigration Bill since 1997. We on these Benches welcome the consolidation of immigration laws. The provisions include a welcome recognition of children's welfare. However, the failure to address many serious matters is something that our long-time campaigner, my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno, will be taking up today. My noble friend Lady Falkner of Margravine will expand on the citizenship element. We will particularly welcome her informed contribution to the debate, as she worked closely with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, in producing his report.
We will also want to consider practical issues. In that Bill, the requirement for speaking English is constructive and fair, but not when funding for lessons in English for speakers of other languages has been capped and is being cut. Enrolment is falling. If we offer "earned citizenship", we must ensure that the means to reach citizenship are available.
On the coroners and justice Bill, my colleagues will spell out just what constructive modernisation could take place. However, the Bill must not be a reintroduction of the sort of secrecy provisions that we in this House rejected during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act. I tell the Government now that if that Bill is a vehicle for such a reintroduction, we on these Benches will strenuously resist it.
The Policing and Crime Bill is a large Bill of many parts. The policing element implements many sections of the modernisation review, which my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond will address. The Bill returns us to familiar territory as it attempts to tackle serious alcohol-related problems. However, like noble Lords on the Conservative Front Bench, I question whether further legislation will tackle that. Many powers already exist to tackle that problem. We question whether the emphasis that the Bill places on increasing powers is the correct way forward.
The Bill continues the tradition of the Home Office of applying very negative attitudes to young people. It talks about helping young people but introduces new powers to target and disaffect children. We on these Benches share the concern of Barnardo's, whose recent YouGov poll underlined just how much society is becoming alienated from its own young people. That survey showed that 43 per cent of adults believed that,
"something must be done to protect us from children".
That is shocking. Those are our children. The survey also showed that 35 per cent—that is more than a third—agreed with the proposition that,
"nowadays it feels like the streets are infested with children".
That is despite the birth rate falling.
The latest official crime survey found that adults think that young people commit up to half of all crimes, when in fact they are responsible for only 12 per cent. These findings suggest a society totally disconnected from its positive, imaginative, energetic and promising young generation. I am afraid that the Home Office is reinforcing the image of young people as "difficult" as it treats children and young people as a problem to be dispersed, like insects. The Government allow the use of mosquito devices to disperse young people and the new Bill proposes extending local child curfew orders to children under 16. I have heard views in favour of curfews and we will debate the measure vigorously but we think that the move to brand young people generally as criminals who must not congregate together is another move in the wrong direction. The Government need to build on positive experiences of young people taking part in sports, scouts, choirs and after-school clubs. Those are in danger of being ignored as "silent" successes. Of course, I accept that a small but disruptive number of children can be a highly anti-social category. However, when young people tip over into the criminal behaviour, the Government's approach is still failing them.
Ministry of Justice figures show that 77 per cent of youths released from prison in the first quarter of 2006 were convicted of a further offence inside 12 months. We certainly accept that the Government made a good start in introducing youth offending teams but much of the work is still under-resourced. Much more time and resource must be allocated to restorative justice if we are to stop the downward spiral of reoffending. As I am sure the Minister accepts, a much more proactive approach can pay dividends.
Youth panels working with youth offending teams need far more recognition of the excellent work they do in turning young lives back on to a positive law-abiding track and involving members of the community on the panel, making a link between the difficult children and the community that builds a strong base for the future.
The Bill's talk about protecting women is very hollow. We believe that the proposals will drive prostitution further underground, which is more dangerous for the women but better for the criminals. The real focus should be on identifying and prosecuting traffickers of women. Eliminating, prohibiting and criminalising prostitution has been tried by various regimes for more than 3,000 years and it has never worked. So I wonder why the Government have considered only the criminalisation route. Why have they not looked at the evidence from the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act which has now been in place for five years, has been evaluated and confirms all the positive impacts of decriminalisation?
At the beginning of my speech, I referred to the threats identified by the Cabinet Office. As serious organised crime becomes ever more international and fluid, criminals move easily between people trafficking, narco-trafficking, illegal arms and e-crime to whatever seems the most lucrative and the least policed; and it is all massive business. E-crime, or cybercrime, is a growth area. It is much stealthier in its application, but it can have a devastating effect on individuals, companies and, potentially, whole economies. Entire crime syndicates are now targeting hundreds of thousands of computers and, in effect, our computers can become a thief in our own home and in our own office. The Government should promote far more strenuously the Get Safe Online scheme. Public authorities and industry should be encouraged to have effective policies in place to tackle cybercrime. Are the Government still on track to ratify the European convention on cybercrime, which is supposed to be ratified at the end of this year?
I was shocked when I received the answer from the Government to my Written Question on how much of recorded crime is e-crime. Their reply was:
That suggests to me an absolute failure to keep up with the fastest growing part of the criminal world and one that is ever more lucrative to criminals. As I mentioned, that can then feed back into people trafficking, narco-trafficking and all the other things that we accept as very serious. It is a fight that needs our brightest human resources and a proper focus.
Resources, especially in the lean times ahead, should not be diverted into ID card schemes or databases. Both the national ID card scheme and national DNA databases would suck vast resources out of fighting the sort of crime that I have just been talking about and into keeping tabs on millions of innocents. I welcome the Minister's pronouncement on the increased resources and powers for the Information Commissioner. I am not surprised that the Government have brought that forward, given that the past year or so has seen a cascade of losses of government data on British citizens. The Information Commissioner has some positive suggestions on how to stem that flow. People are now terrified that their details will be on the next Whitehall loss list. The Government's record of data lost last year was truly terrible. Apart from the costs, that is why British people will not stand for the state demanding to hold more and more of their personal data, not in silos, where it can at least be kept discretely for the purpose for which it is gathered, but in ever expanding, widely accessed databases.
Over this year, we shall be watching the use of the counterterrorism laws. I know that the noble Lord, Lord West, does not agree that too often counterterrorism laws have been inappropriately used, but he will accept that they are draconian laws and every misuse is dangerous. Even keeping them permanently in place is something that we must review constantly and that must be balanced with the dangers of not doing so. In the previous Session of Parliament, this place rejected 42 days on the grounds that reaction to the terrorist threat must remain proportionate. I agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, when she said that we need proper pre-parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill that the Government hope to introduce in a hurry, should it be needed. That need not be done in a hurry; we need to scrutinise it properly.
Issues of citizenship and community would have been helped by the constitutional renewal Bill, which is now on the Government's delayed list. My noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Maclennan of Rogart will talk more about this; but the need for parliamentary approval for treaties and, crucially, for declaring war would help to restore faith in the Executive and in democracy, which was so damaged in 2001 by the huge anti-Iraq war demonstration, to which Tony Blair paid no attention, except to make protest harder.
The delay to the constitutional renewal Bill means that Gordon Brown will be failing in his promise to reform the ludicrous discredited law which provides that protest in Parliament Square is by police permission only. At the very least it wastes precious police time processing paperwork. At worst it means that someone standing in a striped T-shirt which says "Smith sucks", because he is making a fashion statement about Paul Smith clothes, stands a good chance of being arrested and charged with demonstrating against the Home Secretary. I know that the Minister, when he winds up, with his impeccable pedigree dating back to the Pankhursts, will have a lot of sympathy with my disappointment that the chance to get rid of this iniquitous law has been lost for the mean time.
In conclusion, with all the time that the Government spend on introducing offences, proposing Titan prisons and publishing shocking figures on reoffending rates, the importance of my noble friend Lord Dholakia's contribution is immense. His views on how rehabilitation saves society pain and all of us resources are views that encompass the difference of approach between the Government and these Benches. The problems that society faces are plain. The solutions are very different.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick (Crossbench)
My Lords, I shall start by saying something about the Damian Green affair. I do so from a narrow legal point of view—that is to say, whether the police needed a warrant to search Mr Green's office in the House of Commons. It now appears that the police had already obtained three warrants to search Mr Green's home addresses. It is, therefore, perhaps all the more surprising that they did not seek a warrant to search his office in the House of Commons. The explanation, we have been told, is to be found in a letter written by Assistant Commissioner Quick to the Home Secretary, dated
I have had a chance to look at that letter. In it, the assistant commissioner draws attention to the four conditions in Section 8 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, at least one of which must be satisfied, he correctly states, before a warrant will be issued. He draws attention to Section 8(3)(c) and says that that condition was not satisfied. So the police, he says, did not apply for a warrant and, indeed, could not have applied for one. But he seems to have overlooked the other condition in Section 8(3)—there are three other conditions. In particular, he seems to have overlooked Section 8(3)(b), which provides that the test is whether,
"it is practicable to communicate with a person entitled to grant entry to the premises but it is not practicable to communicate with any person entitled to grant access to the evidence".
That shows that Section 8(3) and, indeed, other provisions in the Act draw a clear distinction between access to the premises and access to the papers on the premises.
No one has suggested that the Speaker could have granted access to Mr Green's papers. Only Mr Green could do that. So the reason that the assistant commissioner gives for not applying for a warrant is simply not correct. The police could have done so under Section 8(3)(b) and they should have done. If the material was, in addition, confidential, as, no doubt, much of it was, it would have been "excluded material" as defined by the Act and the police should have applied not to a magistrate but to either a High Court judge or a circuit judge, under Section 9 and Schedule 1 to the Act. That seems to be the only point on police powers in this connection. It is a short point and I am bound to say that it seems fairly straightforward. Of course, it applies equally to anyone seeking to search any of your Lordships' offices.
I now turn to the gracious Speech. In recent years, we have become accustomed to massive new criminal justice Bills every year. Every new Secretary of State seems to leave his or her mark on the statute book. In the five years since 2003, we have had five new criminal justice Acts, a total of 910 sections and 104 schedules. Heaven knows how many new offences have been created or to what purpose. No other country has suffered anything like this deluge of criminal legislation. Whether we are any the better for it, I gravely doubt. It is therefore an enormous relief that this year there is nothing except a modest-looking Bill dealing with victims and witnesses.
There is another, more particular, reason for rejoicing. Back in May, we were promised a new Bill reforming the law of murder and, in particular, the so-called partial defences of provocation and diminished responsibility. That now seems to have been dropped. I am very glad that it has been and I shall explain why. The Government's record so far in this area is a classic example of how not to carry out law reform. In 2002, the Government asked the Law Commission to consider the partial defences to a charge of murder. They said that the issue had become urgent. In 2004, the Law Commission complied but added that it was simply not sensible to review the partial defences, reducing murder to manslaughter, without reviewing the law of murder as a whole. The Home Secretary of the day saw the sense of that—indeed, it would seem to be self-evident—so the Law Commission was asked to review the law of murder as a whole.
I think that everyone agrees that the overriding difficulty in creating a rational framework for the law of murder is the mandatory life sentence. That is so whether you are against the mandatory life sentence, as I strongly am, or in favour. I shall give one example. How can you have a rational framework when the mercy killer who has committed murder is given the same sentence as the terrorist? Yet, when the Law Commission was asked to do the job, which it had asked to do, it was asked to assume that the mandatory sentence for murder would continue in effect. If I had been the chairman of the Law Commission at that time, I should like to think that I would have said, "This is a waste of time; it cannot be done. We must consider not only the offence but also the sentences for the offence". However, the Law Commission found an extremely ingenious solution to the problem that it had been given. It recommended two degrees of murder, one of which was to carry a life sentence and the other not. It published its report in November 2006.
What did the Government do? They thought about it for a year and a half. Then, in July 2008, they published a consultation paper, in the introduction of which they said:
"Given the breadth of the recommendations, we have decided to look first at those which we think touch on the areas of most pressing concern".
Those areas were of course the partial defences that I have already mentioned and two other peripheral matters. Instead of grappling with the central recommendations of the Law Commission report, the Government have—I am sorry to use this word—funked it. They have confined the consultation to these partial defences, on which they had consulted the Law Commission as long ago as 2002, a task which the Law Commission had already said could not properly be undertaken in isolation, a view that the Home Secretary in 2004 appears to have accepted. This is not the way to legislate.
What do the Government now propose? In a scathing attack on the fresh proposals, Professor Spencer of Cambridge University describes the proposals on provocation as incoherent and unjust and adds that they do not even achieve their intended objective. At the same time, the homicide review advisory group, a distinguished body of experts from various fields, points out that, as a result of recent decisions of the House of Lords and the Court of Appeal, the existing law of provocation is now clear and workable. In other words, the pressure for reform in that area has gone. It concludes that the Government would be unwise to introduce a revised concept of provocation to replace what is now well understood, except in the context of the complete revision of the law of murder. I say amen to that. I even dare to hope that the Government have already accepted that advice and that that is why we do not have such proposals before us this year. We do not need a further review by civil servants—
Lord Thomas of Gresford (Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Attorney General), Home Affairs; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, as I understand it, the Government have published proposals to bring the partial defences into being in the Bill. The Minister can tell me whether I am wrong.
Lord Bach (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My Lords, perhaps the noble and learned Lord will forgive me if I answer that question. I do not want him to be under any misapprehension. Of course, the Bill is not yet published, but, as of today, it is proposed, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has said, to include some reform of the partial defences in that Bill.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick (Crossbench)
My Lords, to me the big question is whether there is anything before us that will deal with the central recommendations of the Law Commission report on the basic law of murder. Nothing of that kind is to be put before us. I hope that what is to be put before us on the partial defences to the law of murder will not be proceeded with, as we do not need further reviews on the partial defences. We need a review of the whole law of murder, including the partial defences, prepared for us not by civil servants in the Home Office or in the Ministry of Justice, but by an independent commission—call it what you like—such as the homicide review advisory group, which would prepare a workable framework for the law of murder as a whole. It may be that that group is planning to do exactly that and, if so, it will be a job well done. Above all, we need legislation in which the public can have some confidence.
Baroness Goudie (Labour)
My Lords, there is much to welcome in the content of the legislative programme of this parliamentary Session on which we are embarking. We will be examining in detail the various Bills and draft Bills over the coming weeks and months. I greatly welcome the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, on the borders Bill and the ratification in the next few weeks of the European convention on human trafficking. I hope that the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, will take the lead in Europe to ensure that other countries sign and ratify that important convention. I hope that he will, with the Secretary of State in the Obama Administration, Senator Hillary Clinton, lead the campaign to eradicate this despicable trade.
The trade is not just of women for sex but of young boys and of men and women of many ages. It now comes second: there is defence and arms, then human trafficking, then drugs. I have repeated many times in this House that is possible to use a person more than once, while drugs are used only once and arms are used only once for a much worse thing. Under pressure from Hillary Clinton and Melanne Verveer, who was head of Hillary Clinton's office when she was in the White House and is a co-founder of Vital Voices, the Clinton Administration passed the first legislation on human trafficking, which was the first part of lobbying the world on human trafficking. They have continued to do that, so I hope that the new American Administration and our Government will lead the world on this.
The content of legislation is vital and does not always receive adequate scrutiny in both Houses. There is much to be said for a manageable rather than an overfilled programme but, important as content is, we must not forget that the style of legislation is no less important. Too much legislation is too complex and too difficult to understand. That is often the case in relation to a single Act. It is all the more so when there is a series of Acts on the same topic, when the legislation becomes a morass of amendments and amendments to amendments. We should have two key objectives: simplicity and comprehensibility.
I very much support the invaluable work of the Law Commission, not only the strength of its research but the clarity of its recommendations. I am delighted that two of the draft Bills will implement Law Commission recommendations, one in the sphere of criminal law and the other in the sphere of civil law. Bribery is a cancer that strikes at the heart of society. We need a more effective response. A modern scheme of bribery offences, as recommended by the Law Commission, will be invaluable in combating bribery at home and abroad. The civil law reform Bill will also modernise and simplify the law on a variety of topics.
One area that cries out for simplification is immigration law. There are now 10 or more separate pieces of legislation, which go back almost 40 years. This area cries out not only for the consolidation into one Act of all existing legislation, but also for simplification and transparency and for the use of plain English wherever possible to avoid technical jargon. However, other Bills will amend existing legislation. I have especially in mind the coroners and justice Bill. We must ensure that changes are made in a way that does not make legislation more difficult to access and understand.
We must also remember that the public include those who do voluntary work in the political parties. Legislation must not make it difficult for them to know how to function efficiently, so I shall be keeping an eye on how weexpress our legislation and asking questions about whether it is in sufficiently plain English, whether provisions can be simplified and so forth.
That does not mean that I shall be ignoring content—far from it. I put down at this stage two markers: I am not persuaded of the wisdom of the provision in the policing and crime Bill for direct election to police authorities and I am concerned about the draft communications Bill. None the less, the legislative programme as a whole will make a further important contribution to a fair society.
The Bishop of Portsmouth (Bishop)
My Lords, I intend to focus on two groups of people who come into this country for very different reasons: immigrants and those who have been trafficked. It is in our treatment of people from beyond our borders that we reveal our deepest beliefs about who we are as a nation and what kind of home we are creating in this land.
The gracious Speech tells us that in the borders, immigration and citizens Bill, border controls will be strengthened, on which the Minister elaborated earlier. There is nothing to be said in favour of ineffective border controls, but we must ask why and how control is being exercised. Although it is welcome that the Government are seeking to pursue a coherent and effective strategy on immigration, we need to be realistic about the extent to which control is possible. Our membership of the European Community limits the extent to which we can unilaterally determine migration flows, which makes comparison with the Australian system misleading. Furthermore, in the long term, we depend on immigration to supply people where we have a shortage of training, skills and labour, whatever short-term fluctuations may occur.
The notion of balanced migration, which is being pressed on the Government, although I hope will never become government policy, is questionable in practice. If we cannot regulate emigration, how can we administer a pattern of flows that guarantees the maintenance of an appropriate balance of skills? Balanced migration may also be misconceived in principle. Account must be taken of the social and economic costs and benefits of immigration, but why should we conclude that a static population is optimal, whether set at 65 million or 70 million? The danger is that such an ideal plays on fear of "strangers" and reduces the value of people to their short-term economic contribution. It may also fail to do justice to the needs of asylum-seekers, as distinct from economic migrants.
To narrow the right to stay to our minimum obligations under international refugee conventions and our opportunity for short-term economic enrichment would be to close our eyes to migrations that result from violent displacement and acute suffering, and sometimes stem from our own economic and foreign policies. We should not forget that the burden of accepting refugees is commonly borne on a large scale by societies much poorer than our own. Let us indeed have workable border controls, but let us also set the criteria of entry realistically, justly and generously.
We are sometimes told that newcomers to the United Kingdom must "earn" the right to stay. It is reasonable to encourage responsible citizenship, but we must look carefully at the expectations and obligations which are imposed. If we demand exemplary behaviour and attitudes, require higher levels of English-language capability and civic involvement, exact extra payment for local services and show them the door when they become unemployed, how does that square with our expectations of those citizens who are born here? There should be a balance between acceptance and demand that helps immigrants to feel welcome, to put down roots and to enrich the communities in which they settle, not just financially but socially and culturally.
I turn to those who enter under duress as a result of deception and intimidation, whether for economic or for sexual exploitation. The Government are to be congratulated on developing their action plan for tackling human trafficking and for signing up to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking. The churches are active in providing safe housing and support for the victims of sex trafficking. It is also important that the demand for sexual services should be challenged, as it appears that a high proportion of off-street prostitutes are foreign nationals who have been trafficked.
The Government propose to criminalise payment for sex where the person paid is controlled for gain. Like many measures in the field of prostitution, this is a worthy intention but one that gives rise to problems of enforcement. I do not accept the argument that it is wrong in principle to penalise in law payment for sex, but I wonder whether the law can discriminate between tolerable and intolerable transactions as finely as this proposal suggests. Can it be proved either that the person paid is being controlled or that the client has knowingly or culpably taken advantage of a victim of trafficking? It is reported that a similar law in Finland has been singularly ineffective, and many are pressing for the adoption of the Swedish law that applies to all payments regardless of the circumstances. As a person of Nordic extraction—a descendant of the Vikings; that friendly group which shared its culture with these islands centuries ago—I shall follow this inter-Scandinavian argument with interest, but we owe it to the victims of trafficking to do all that we can to protect and relieve them, and we must try to get the details of legislation right.
Today is the 400th anniversary of the birth of John Milton, who was really the founder of the Quaker movement—a religious group that values silence and action: a tradition in both respects that has continued to embarrass the more historical churches, bishops included. Ardent social reformer that he was, he could still see the value of restraint, as these words in "Paradise Regained" tell us:
"Zeal and Duty are not slow;"But on Occasion's forelock watchful wait".
We on these Benches hold that all people are equal in dignity, that migrants bring both their needs and their gifts to their new home, and that the vulnerable deserve protection. I hope that the legislative programme before us will not undermine those principles but will implement them wisely and effectively.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Conservative)
My Lords, I agree with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, said about the possibility of amending the law on murder, particularly partial defences. I also agree very strongly with the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth about the human trafficking legislation and the likelihood that the Government will lead a movement to have the convention made law throughout the European Union. I also agree very strongly with the view expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, about the excellence of the reforms that the Law Commission produced. Where legislation can be guided by these reforms, it will be all the better for it.
The gracious Speech refers to the Government carrying forward the work of constitutional renewal, on which they have already produced a draft Bill. The Bill has been considered by a Joint Committee, which reported on
There has been, and will continue to be, a considerable increase in the cost of the administration of justice in this country. I venture to suggest that the additional cost will not affect the quality of the justice that we have been accustomed to receive from the Law Lords and which has given the House of Lords a name and reputation of the highest standing the world over. The same quality will now be delivered by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom as one among many supreme courts all over the world.
This increased cost, without any likelihood of a change in the quality of the justice and judgments produced, has been allocated to be borne by the courts of the United Kingdom as a whole. In effect, it has led to substantial increases of cost in the lower courts; for example, the cost of presenting a claim on behalf of a local authority to take a child into its care. Some commentators appear to take the view that this has led to a substantial reduction in such claims on behalf of local authorities, which preceded the publication of the details of the woeful case of Baby P in Haringey. Increasing costs in this way for no particular increase in the standard of justice can have detrimental effects on parts of the justice system.
In a time of financial stringency, such increase in costs, without any significant increase in the quality of the justice administered, may be difficult to justify. The reason given for this is the desire to promote the separation of powers, which was a part of our constitution that hitherto has not been put into effect with the kind of rigour we have had in the past year or two. I have to point out, however, that the rigour extends only to the judges in the House of Lords. There may be quite a case for considering the application of this principle to the House of Commons and the Executive, and for considering whether it is right that Parliament, with the job of monitoring the work of the Executive, should have such a high proportion of members of the Executive in its membership.
I should like to turn to the effect of the draft constitutional renewal Bill on the situation with regard to the Attorney-General, a position that is a vital part of our constitution. It is fundamental that it should be fulfilled by a distinguished lawyer who is a Member of one of the Houses of Parliament and is directly accountable to Parliament in the House to which he or she belongs and by a committee or otherwise to the other House.
It is vital that the Attorney-General is a member of the Government; namely, that her position in the Government is that of a senior member who is not a member of the Cabinet. It is right that the Attorney-General attends Cabinet only in so far as is necessary to give legal advice. It is important that the Attorney-General's position is not as a member of the Cabinet to underline the fact that the Attorney-General's decisions are his or her own, with the members of the Cabinet having no responsibility whatever for them. The proposal in the draft Bill to strip the Attorney-General of the power to make decisions in individual criminal cases is thoroughly objectionable. It does not apply where national security issues are raised. If the Attorney-General can properly take part in deciding cases in which national security issues are involved, how is the disqualification justifiable in other cases?
The Joint Committee heard evidence on these issues. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the former Lord Chancellor and Solicitor-General, said that the public perception was that the Attorney-General was part of "the gang", making it necessary for the Attorney-General to be a totally independent figure. I would hesitate to use that description for the members of the Government, but the noble and learned Lord used it and, by that time, he was not a member of the Government, but he had been.
I do not know where this perception comes from. Obviously I move in different circles from that of the noble and learned Lord, but I have never heard anyone describe the Government as a "gang" in the sense in which he used the expression; that is, to denigrate the personal integrity of the Attorney-General. In my view, this approach casts aspersions on all members of the Government. The right honourable Geoff Hoon has stated that he alone will decide whether the proposal for a third runway at Heathrow can go ahead. That is an extremely important decision which is committed to him as a member of the Government. I believe that the public of this country accept the view that when people are elected and take public office, they do not proceed in a partisan way but make decisions that are in the best interests of all our citizens. I see no reason on earth why the Attorney-General should not be subject to the benefit of the same point of view. If this Bill comes back at all—it does not look as if it will during this Session—I hope that it will have a very different appreciation of the position of the Attorney-General.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart (Spokesperson In the Lords (With Special Responsibility for Civil Service Reform); Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, one of the more remarkable communications from the present Administration was the Green Paper, published within a matter of a few weeks of the Prime Minister taking office, on the governance of Britain. It is remarkable that that Green Paper, which was extensively debated in this House, came at a time when the Prime Minister's standing in the country was extremely high. I venture to suggest that it was brought forward in part because of his recognition and his personal imprimatur on the need to review the workings of our democracy and the need to consider, as spelt out in the Green Paper, how best to limit the powers of the Executive, how to make the Executive more accountable, and how to reinvigorate our democracy. Some progress was made in that direction in earlier Sessions of this Parliament, but what is noticeable is that the programme has almost entirely disappeared from the gracious Speech that we are considering today.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, mentioned the rather opaque remarks in the gracious Speech about the Government's intention to take forward the proposals in their draft constitutional renewal Bill, which was considered in the last Session. While I do not agree at all with the noble and learned Lord's remarks about the position of the Attorney-General, I none the less regret that that Bill has not re-emerged in this Session, not least because over many Sessions we have looked to the Government to fulfil their commitment to bring forward legislation to put the Civil Service on a statutory basis. To that end, I was particularly glad to hear the Front Bench of the Conservative Party reiterate its understanding of the importance of this Bill. How that could possibly be doubted at this time, with all the criticisms we have heard about partisanship in the Civil Service, I cannot imagine. I hope that in his winding-up speech the Minister will give us a clear indication of the Government's intentions behind the opaque language about progressing these matters.
It may be thought that it is understandable that the gracious Speech focused more on the financial and economic crisis which overhangs our country's future than on matters of governance. The legislative programme that the gracious Speech adumbrates is the most limited since the Government took office in 1997. In particular, it may be understandable that the Government do not wish to return at this time to the agenda for the reform of governance that they have announced, particularly at a time when their efforts are bent on projecting, at home and abroad, the Prime Minister as the leader needed to conduct us safely through this storm. It may be argued that it is a mere distraction to be seen to be working for what the Government's own Green Paper describes as,
"a settlement that entrusts Parliament and the people with more power".
What a contrast that offers to the recognition by President-elect Obama of the United States of the requirement for full congressional backing to ensure the success of the evolving fiscal and banking measures required to turn round the United States economy.
"the deepest divide in British politics today is ... between Britain's whole political class and the great majority of the British people. On the far side of a chasm stand politicians of all parties and their hangers—on. On the near side is almost everyone else".
The charge that Professor King makes—that our system of governance is failing to perform adequately—is one that we cannot afford to put on ice until the financial problems which this country faces are adequately and finally dealt with. That, unquestionably, will take some years.
The professor summed up the situation by referring to the three decades that have given us the BSE debacle, the poll tax, the Child Support Agency, Britain's ignominious expulsion from the European exchange rate mechanism, the Millennium Dome, the massive cost overruns and the partial or total failure of IT projects across the public sector, the bungled introduction of home information packs, the abandonment of super casinos, the fiasco of the cost-ineffective Assets Recovery Agency, the collapse of Metronet, GPs' and dentists' ill drafted contracts, Northern Rock, the failure of government regulation across the financial sector, the botched marking of last summer's SATs exams, the mishandling of Post Office card accounts, the shambolic arrest of Damian Green, and a great deal else besides.
Professor King is not expressing a partisan view. His criticisms are not directed against individual Ministers but towards a system which is producing such widespread concern about the competence of our Government. One factor to which he particularly drew attention was the opinion expressed in a YouGov poll that 70 per cent of the public consider that the unwillingness of politicians of different parties to co-operate in the national interest is a matter of great concern. That line of reasoning lies behind the thinking that a proportional system of election would deal with one of the public's most serious concerns.
I detect a strong and widespread hope that the Prime Minister is indeed the man for the hour, but even the optimistic observer would do well to reflect on the dangers of deep public alienation from the Government as the fallout of the worsening recession is felt and hits jobs, savings and home ownership. The risk in any democracy is that disappointment and fear lead to distrust and even contempt, not only for the particular individuals holding political power but for the system that has empowered them. The risk is exacerbated when, as seems likely, the Opposition do not appear to offer a better alternative way out.
The consequence flowing from the loss of hope that we must avoid is that public confidence in the capability of our system of governance to find an acceptable way out of our discontent is displaced by deep divisions in our society, a grasping for populist remedies and the weakening of the firm democratic underpinnings upon which the accountability of our chosen leaders depends. My general message today, therefore, is that this is not a time to neglect the measures required to secure the health of our democracy; rather, it is appropriate to continue the process of reform to lead to better and more assured deliberative decision-making by the Government, decision-making that better commands the understanding and acceptance of our citizens. That principle is not wholly denied in the gracious Speech. There is, for example, a reference to creating,
"greater opportunities for community and individual involvement in local decision-making".
The British public well know the limitations of local decision-making.
Just one example of an overdue reform that is apt for action now, at this time of financial difficulty and crisis, is that when the Government are seeking to stimulate public investment effectively, they must also convince that they are doing so fairly. The Barnett formula and arrangements for the distribution of central government funds to the regions ought to be recast. It is good that the matter is being considered by the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and I commend for its consideration what has been called the McLean/Macmillan formula in the author's excellent book on the state of the Union. To the Government themselves I suggest that they should not allow the financial difficulties in which this country is languishing entirely to skew their approach to constitutional reform, which the Prime Minister stimulated in his early days and which was so widely appreciated at the time.
Baroness Manningham-Buller (Crossbench)
My Lords, when I saw the Question tabled today by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, I wondered whether the points I wanted to make in this debate would be covered at Question Time. In fact they were not covered in any detail, so I have two points to make. The first is about the radicalisation of some young British Muslims. "Radicalisation" is an unsatisfactory term, but one that we used in my service in the absence of a better one.
I recall early in 2004 alerting the Government to the increasing concern the Security Service had about some of our citizens who were turning to terrorism and the urgent need to divert them from that. As we studied a wider number of cases we began to understand better the reasons for, and routes of, that radicalisation, not least through the many video wills seized by the police that made it clear why people had gone down that route. Sometimes the process was gradual; sometimes it was frighteningly rapid. One of the most horrid things to watch was the radicalisation, or rather the exploitation, of young boys in being manipulated to become terrorists. It is child exploitation of a cruel and dangerous kind.
Since the beginning of 2004, progress in addressing this issue has been uneven, partly because of uncertainty about what to do. Noble Lords will recall that prevent is the first of the four legs of the Government's counterterror strategy. The second is pursue, identify, track down and, wherever possible, prosecute terrorists. The third is protect, assuming that, however successful are the first two legs, terrorism continues and we need to protect the most important people and sites in our society. The final leg is prepare, because there will always be terrorism.
Of those strands, the first, prevent, is by some measure the hardest, not least because there is no menu of policies, or lack of them, that is certain to lead to success and deter individuals from the path of terrorist violence. When I retired—which is now 20 months ago, so I recognise that I am out of date—I was concerned that not enough was being done: initiatives needed to be tried, academic and other studies encouraged, community engagement sought, with close co-operation between government departments, local authorities and others, and measure taken of what, if anything, was working.
I do not know quite where we stand today, although the threat is still severe. The comments of the Audit Commission, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, referred, are obviously of concern, recognising that while sensitive intelligence could not be widely shared with local authorities, there is no problem in principle with messages behind that intelligence being shared pretty broadly.
I was encouraged to learn recently of the son of a friend working on the prevent strategy in a borough in London and engaged in a number of different initiatives, but unless we continue to focus on this issue and to try at all levels different ways of deterring terrorist activity, the problem will continue to cause us difficulties for many years to come. Unless we address the attractions of terrorism for admittedly very few but still too many of our people, we are in trouble. I shall certainly ask the Minister at later stages what progress he thinks we are making.
My second point—I am conscious of the time; I managed three minutes in my maiden speech, but I have already overrun that—touches on this House's concern about the use of some surveillance techniques. When RIPA was introduced—those of us in the intelligence community call it "Ripper", as in "Jack the", and not "Reaper", as in "the Grim"; there is no correct pronunciation, but I always call it "Ripper" and so do my former colleagues—I assumed wrongly that the activities authorised by that legislation would be confined to the intelligence and security agencies, the police, and Customs and Excise. The legislation was drafted at the urgent request of the intelligence and security community so that its techniques would be compatible with the Human Rights Act when it came into force in 2000. I can remember being astonished to read that organisations such as the Milk Marketing Board, and whatever the equivalent is for eggs, would have access to some of the techniques. On the principle governing the use of intrusive techniques which invade people's privacy, there should be clarity in the law as to what is permitted and they should be used only in cases where the threat justified them and their use was proportionate.
In this Session, the House will consider continuing access to core-related data, the future of interception—which I would argue is a more important issue than interception as evidence, important though that is—and DNA, on which the recent judgment is significant, although what it does not address is covert collection of DNA for intelligence purposes. I do not know whether it will still be possible to do that, but if it is not that would be a loss.
My final point is that, when the House, rightly, discusses these issues, we all need to remember that intelligence techniques and methods are fragile. Those who are the target of them wish to avoid the authorities discovering what they do. They take significant steps to avoid detection. If they become too aware of the detail of intelligence techniques, we will lose those techniques. I hope that that does not undermine what I said earlier about the need to have a proper legal basis for all those techniques.
Baroness Quin (Labour)
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, whose maiden speech was widely acclaimed but who has shown us today that, far from that being a one-off, it was the first of several significant contributions to your Lordships' House. I also pay tribute to her in her previous role. Having been, as a Member in the other place, a member of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee, I have special knowledge of her outstanding work in that field.
In my contribution, I shall highlight three areas of reform which I would like the Government to address and which come, I believe, under the home, legal and constitutional affairs remit that we are discussing today. Those reforms are prison reform, Lords reform and electoral reform, although by that I do not mean embarking down the well trodden path of proportional representation; I mean looking at ways of encouraging voter participation and turnout in our democracy.
Before touching on those three areas of reform, let me permit myself a couple of comments on the issue which has dominated the new Session of Parliament and which a number of speakers have already referred to—the events surrounding leaks from government and the searching of an MP's office. I believe that the Government are right to be concerned about leaks, which seem to happen more frequently these days and risk undermining the necessary trust and good working relationship between Ministers and civil servants. Of course, it is equally right for Ministers and civil servants to respect each other's roles and obey the respective codes that govern their proper conduct. However, I find it depressing that in the frenetic world of the 24-hour media there is so much comment when all the facts are not yet known. The result is often a kind of trial by media and, in particular, Ministers being accused of manipulating the police or of knowing things that they have said that they do not know, without any evidence of such malpractice being produced. Having been a Labour Home Office Minister, I feel confident that Ministers respect fully the operational independence of the police.
Secondly, a lot has been written and spoken about the allegedly supine and compliant nature of our Members of Parliament. I do not accept that Members are so different today from what they were in the past. This Government, despite their healthy majorities since 1997, have been defeated, notably on the 90-day rule. On the major policy area of Iraq, the Official Opposition were more enthusiastically supportive than the Government's own supporters. In any case, is Parliament really so different from what it was? Perhaps we should remember the policeman's song from "Iolanthe", which first appeared in 1882, more than 100 years ago. It contains these well known lines:
"When in that House M.P.'s divide,
If they've a brain and cerebellum, too, They've got to leave that brain outside, And vote just as their leaders tell 'em to".
Perhaps continuity of parliamentary tradition is a little more important than we sometimes give it credit for.
Prison reform is the first area to which I shall refer. I note that due to speak later in the debate are the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. I would be surprised if they did not make some allusion to this area of policy, as they are both doughty campaigners for prison reform. Over the past three years, I have had the honour to chair a project initiated by the Prison Reform Trust entitled No One Knows, which specifically looks at the experience of people with learning disabilities and learning difficulties in the criminal justice system. I bring that to the attention of the House because the work of the Prison Reform Trust has culminated in the launch of a report that I believe is important for government Ministers to look at. I was pleased that the Minister, David Hanson, was present at the launch of the report, but I urge Ministers in this House to examine it and report back to us in due course on how they propose to take its recommendations forward.
Among the recommendations are improved screening and assessment procedures to identify people with learning disabilities and difficulties, better training of staff to recognise these issues throughout the criminal justice system, and simpler language in the literature given out and the procedures in court and prison to avoid misunderstandings or a lack of understanding on the part of the people involved. I will give one telling example. A person with such difficulties was asked in court whether he was remorseful. He answered no because he did not want to admit to something that he did not understand; he was not familiar with the word. That is a good example of a basic thing that can go wrong and that needs sympathetic consideration by the authorities.
There also needs to be better and more accurate sharing of information between agencies and departments and better identification of problems at an earlier stage. I hope that the Government will be able to give attention to this area. It does not necessarily demand new legislation, but effective action can be taken on it throughout government.
My second area of concern relates to reform of your Lordships' House. While I expect that prison reform is an issue that evokes sympathetic responses in the Chamber, my views on reform of your Lordships' House, given that I favour an elected House of Lords, may not occasion the same reaction. None the less, I agreed strongly with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, when he said last week that he regretted the lack of any mention in the gracious Speech of further reform of this House. He made a telling point when he said that, if nothing more is done, the present House will, in time, get older. New Members will be added and we will risk having a very large Chamber indeed with perhaps less effective attendance levels than we have now. That is something that we need to take seriously.
In addition, during the summer, we saw the study produced by the think tank New Local Government Network, which once again underlined the glaring regional imbalances and deficiencies in this House, with large swathes of the country, including my own area, the north-east, but also the north-west, the Midlands and Wales, being underrepresented here. That issue needs attention.
My noble friend the Leader of the House confirmed that the Government are not bringing forward any specific proposals in this Session. None the less, I hope that the Government will take their own proposals in their White Paper out to the general public. In due course, there will be proposals by the different parties in their manifestos for the next election and it would be nice to feel that there was better and more information available to voters who will, among other issues, be deciding on that subject. However, I favour the Government's approach in wanting a lengthy transition in changing the composition of the House. It is possible to argue for reform, as I do, and yet be hugely aware of the strengths and qualities of the current House and wish to preserve them in future changes.
My last area of reform—in view of the time, I shall refer to it only briefly—is that of taking measures to encourage greater voter participation in elections. In their early years, the Government pursued a number of initiatives on this and I encourage them to take up that work again. Our system of voting in person on a Thursday was introduced a long time ago, when living and working conditions were different. In those days, people tended to work near home and many women were not in paid employment at all. However, I know from my former constituents that voting in person on a Thursday is not always easy for households with both partners working. In areas that are not perceived as marginal, taking time to vote is therefore not always a priority, even though those people are themselves not averse to voting.
My area had the longest and most continual experience of postal ballots. I report to the House that, in contrast to the perceived problems with this system, we had absolutely no problems at all. No fraud was detected or discovered during that experiment. While time prevents me from developing the argument further, I hope that the Government will neither turn away from all-postal ballots or other ways of increasing turnout nor penalise those areas where those experiments worked outstandingly effectively. It is not fair for those areas to be penalised by problems that occurred with the traditional postal ballot system elsewhere.
Having highlighted those three areas of concern, I conclude by saying that I none the less support the Government's programme overall and look forward to helping with its passage through this House.
Lord Waddington (Conservative)
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, will forgive me if I do not follow her in her remarks, although I found them interesting. I know that noble Lords will appreciate it if I do not add to the sea of words about Damian Green, but perhaps I will be forgiven for saying something about policing.
These days, the priorities of the police do not seem to correspond very neatly with the priorities of the public. Chasing around the country to arrest a man for making a tasteless joke at a country fair, questioning a woman for doubting the wisdom of gay adoption, investigating remarks made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester and arresting a man the other day for making a bonfire on bonfire night and charging him with arson all seem a daft use of police time.
Of course the police have to respond to complaints and follow procedures, but a little common sense along the way might come in handy. The enthusiasm with which in recent years the police have set about responding to the Government's often zany priorities and the massive resources employed to hunt down those responsible for leaking government documents that in no way damage national security but expose government incompetence sit rather oddly with the reluctance of the police to deal with offences such as burglary, which really do concern the public, with a plea of a lack of resources. All is not well. I make only one suggestion today, perhaps with my tongue in my cheek. Perhaps it would help if there were fewer sociologists at the top and more down-to-earth coppers such as those whom we are privileged to have in this House.
In these stirring times, people may be surprised to hear that I have some sympathy with the Home Secretary. She must have been pretty horrified by the latest revelations of incompetence in the Home Office, particularly coming so shortly after she had gone into her office and found the shambles of immigration control there. It is about that shambles that I should now like to speak. I am afraid that I do not at all agree with the remarks made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth.
Let us go right back to 1997. Labour's 1997 election manifesto stated that all modern countries,
"must have firm control over immigration and Britain is no exception".
That was a clear promise that the control would continue, but Labour abandoned its promise and abandoned the control, doing its best to conceal from the public what it was up to. In fact, it was a lot worse than that. Decent people who expressed concern about what was going on, and who fully recognised the great contribution made by newcomers over the years but doubted whether we could continue with an almost open door, were branded racists and the Government made every effort to stifle debate.
I do not know precisely why things happened as they did. The Government may have concluded that it was easier to import people to fill vacancies than to take unpopular steps to get back to work the millions of economically inactive people already here. Probably they just allowed the Home Office to become so inefficient and demoralised as to be incapable of operating the control effectively. They allowed it to become, in the words of John Reid, "unfit for purpose".
Whatever the reason, the control collapsed, and the figures are there to prove it. There should be no room for argument about this. In the 1980s, net immigration was below 50,000 a year and in 1997 it stood at 48,000, but by 2004 it had soared to 586,000. A lot of people left in that year, but even if we take account of the leavers the net number of permanent entrants was an enormous and unprecedented 244,000. The net figure for 2006 was a little lower, but last year it was back to 237,000, even though by then there was a pronounced downward trend in people coming from eastern Europe. I am talking about legal immigration. Like Mr Blunkett, we do not have a clue how many are here illegally, but there must be hundreds of thousands of them because 285,000 failed asylum seekers are unaccounted for.
A few weeks ago there was an outbreak of common sense, but it was very short-lived. Mr Phil Woolas said that there was a need for a cap on immigration and that he would not let Britain's population go over 70 million. The next day, after, apparently, having received a rocket from the Secretary of State and after a Labour colleague had accused him of "pandering to right-wing extremists", he recanted. However, he started a debate that will not be so easily stifled this time.
Recently, this House debated a report of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee and its conclusion that Britain had not benefited from the influx of newcomers over recent years. Even if we reject the committee's conclusion, we still have to ask ourselves whether in the long run it is really in anybody's interest for the population of our tiny island to continue to grow at the rate at which it has been growing recently. In October 2007, the Office for National Statistics predicted that Britain's population, which grew by 2 million between 2001 and 2007, would, with 70 per cent of the increase due to new immigration, surge to 71 million by 2031, 75 million by 2051 and 85 million by 2081, making us by then by far the most densely populated country in Europe.
How will we house these people? What will be left of our countryside when we have done so? Between 1997 and 2005, the last period for which figures are available, no fewer than 592,000 houses were needed solely for new immigrants. According to the Library of the House of Commons, 41 per cent of the 3 million houses that Mr Brown says he is going to have built by 2020 will have to be built only because of the new immigration that is at present forecast—that is, new immigration from now.
According to the CPRE, 3 million more houses by 2020 means our having to lose an area of greenfield land the size of Birmingham to accommodate them. That would be an environmental disaster, but it is one that can still be avoided. We have to stop saying, "X number of people are going to come, so Y number of houses must be built". Instead, we must ask ourselves whether the vast number of new homes that we are told immigration policies require is not in itself an argument for stemming the flow. If we can bring immigration and emigration into a rough balance—if we can achieve a situation in which those coming match those leaving—the need for additional housing identified in the Barker report will largely be removed.
There is nothing in the gracious Speech that is calculated to achieve a result remotely like this. Let us be clear: the Government's points system, which places no limit at all on work-related immigration, actually guarantees further immigration growth. How can it be otherwise when, as newcomers fill vacancies, their demand for services creates others? How can it be otherwise when the Government boast of 800,000 jobs being available to non-EU immigrants without their even having to be advertised here? These are not highly skilled jobs, but jobs such as care workers and cooks—not Gordon Ramsays, but people capable of earning £8.20 an hour. How can it be otherwise when the government scheme allows people with skills to come here on spec and then take unskilled work?
There is only one answer, which is an annual limit on non-EU immigration designed to achieve a rough balance between leavers and entrants—the cap on immigration that Mr Woolas advocated. So one or two cheers for Mr Woolas and a plague on his bullying detractors.
Lord Ramsbotham (Crossbench)
My Lords, when I read Hansard for the second day of the debate on the gracious Speech, I was very struck by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who used the word "anorexic" to describe the content of the foreign affairs part of the Speech and went on to say that he was interested more in what was not in it rather than what was in it. I feel exactly the same about the criminal justice content of the speech, particularly its failure to address the crisis situation in prisons and probation, which has been made worse by a combination of government action and inaction over recent years and months; both avoidable if advice had been listened to.
I hope that the silence in the Bill signals that in fact a time for reflection has been called for after the hectic pace of legislation in previous years, which was so graphically described by my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd. I hope, therefore, that in that reflective period the Government will have time to listen to some of the points that people have been making for years about what needs to be done; people from all parts of the House, all parts of the community and all parts of the penal system. Somehow, they seem to have been ignored.
I would like to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, that her concern about speech and language problems was picked up in the Education and Skills Bill and is, I understand, being carried forward into this Session. I hope that that at least is being taken care of.
The success or otherwise of organisations should be judged by outcomes. In the case of our prisons, for years these have been measured by what is called the reoffending rate—something that you cannot measure with any accuracy, because you do not know who has reoffended until they have been charged and reconvicted. In 1997, the reconviction rate stood at 55 per cent of all adult male prisoners within two years of release, which was, to my mind, a disgraceful figure, of which everyone concerned should be ashamed. If you use the same measurement, that figure has increased to 67 per cent, which is even worse. Why? It is because, I believe, that the Government have accentuated all the old mistakes by a combination of ill-thought-out legislation, grossly expanded bureaucracy, failure to rationalise the prison estate and the management system of the Prison Service, and concentration not on the work done with and for offenders but the methods by which such work is contracted.
If you think through the principles of what you need to do to put a system of people to work, the principal reality, which has been so consistently and blatantly ignored, is that, although it is much easier bureaucratically to treat them as commodities, offenders are people. The second principle, which marches with that, is that the most effective weapon when trying to influence other people for good or evil is other people. Therefore, if you have what you call a national offender management system, whose role is to protect the public by preventing reoffending, it stands to reason that at its heart should be as many people as possible dealing face to face with offenders. Those people need space in which to do the work, and resources and programmes with which to conduct it. One of those resources is time. Therefore, if you have a system in which 90 per cent of the time of the governors of those prisons is taken up with bureaucracy, leaving only 10 per cent for staff and offenders, something must be wrong. If trained governors of prisons stay an average of only 18 months in post—one prison had five governors in a year—and there is no consistency in treatment, clearly something is wrong.
Therefore, in the past Ministers have failed to recommend that the workers need to be selected and trained, and led by people who are responsible for what they do and accountable for how well they do it. That is how schools, hospitals, businesses and Armed Forces are run and organised. When planning budgets, heads of those organisations try to ensure that as much as possible is sent down to the people who have to do the operational work and as little as possible is devoted to bureaucracy. If you look at the chart of what is called the National Offender Management Service, you will no longer find a director-general of Her Majesty's Prison Service or a director of the National Probation Service, but you will find directors of capacity programmes, heads of commercial and competitions units, national commissioning and stakeholder relations units. What on earth are they doing in a bloated monster filled with worthy and hard-working people, performing tasks whose necessity is at best questionable, when set against what more could be done to protect the public if the cost were put into programmes with and for offenders.
What worries me in addition to that, as I have said many times, is that one illogicality of the way in which our prisons are run is that no one knows the cost of imprisonment. Of course we know how much is voted each year by the Treasury and how much is then allocated to each prison, but we do not know how much it would cost to do all that the Government say they want to do with and for prisoners. Until we know that figure, we will not know what cannot be afforded, which is equally important. Bearing in mind that further cuts are on the way for an organisation that has already had its funding cut by 7 per cent since 2001 in real terms and is progressively overcrowded, surely it is time that Ministers asked themselves whether we can afford to continue with the current grossly inefficient penal system as far as reducing reoffending is concerned, while developing bloated bureaucracies with demands to satisfy meaningless and false targets that they have created, which deflect from the main purpose. Therefore, I saw with interest that mention was made in the gracious Speech of protecting the public by providing a more effective, transparent and responsive justice system for victims, witnesses and the general public. I hope that that will be so.
However, what causes me concern is the tone and temper of recent pronouncements from the Ministry of Justice. I listened aghast to Jack Straw introducing his latest mantra, "punishment and reform", not only because it seems to be a rather populist slogan designed to show how tough people are but because it is so wide of the mark of what preventing reoffending is all about. It is not up to the prison and probation services to punish offenders; that is the task of the courts. Glib words about reform ignore the reality that far too many offenders have never settled, let alone resettled, in the community, and therefore you are talking about not reform but form. Then we find that community sentences are put in Day-Glo stocks, and yesterday there was talk about amending the Human Rights Act. Now, governors must ensure that activities for prisoners meet the test of what a reasonable member of the general public would consider acceptable and appropriate for prisoners. Who on earth will measure that? As I said, I welcome the silence on legislation but I hope that it signals a period of reflection, leading to better management of our prisons.
Lord Goodhart (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I start with two brief remarks. One is that I strongly agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, about reform of the law on murder and I equally strongly disagree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, on the subject of the Supreme Court and the role of the Attorney-General. The other is that tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that has been of historic importance throughout the world. I am a little surprised that, although I am the 13th speaker in the debate today, I am the first to have mentioned that coincidence.
Three main factors are necessary for a good legal system. The first is the observance of the rule of law; the second is the protection of human rights; and the third is access to justice for all who need it. Rule of law means, among other things, that the actions of the Executive must be subject to the law, that the courts must have jurisdiction over breaches of the law, that the judiciary and lawyers must be independent and non-corrupt, and that in both criminal and civil cases there must be a right to a fair hearing for all parties involved.
Of course, the rule of law is essential to a good legal system but on its own it is not enough. South Africa, for example, broadly maintained the rule of law during the apartheid period but the non-white population was deprived by law of almost all forms of human rights. Therefore, to make a good legal system, you have to add human rights to the rule of law.
Elements of human rights can be found in the Magna Carta but the real parent of human rights was the Enlightenment, which gave birth to the American Bill of Rights—the first 10 amendments to the American constitution. Ironically, for 75 years the constitution recognised the legality of slavery, which deprived men, women and children of all their human rights, and it was another century before those rights were capable of being enjoyed by most of the black population.
The United Kingdom's record on the rule of law and human rights is, I believe, pretty good by international standards. However, human rights are, sadly, under threat because the Conservatives are talking of repealing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a new Act which will withdraw or restrict some of the existing rights. If we do this, we will be inviting every other one of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe to cherry-pick the parts of the European Convention on Human Rights that they like and to ignore the parts that they dislike. That would, I believe, be a disaster. The European Convention on Human Rights was largely drafted by British lawyers nearly 60 years ago. I believe that it has worked well throughout Europe, and I would go as far as saying that it is a modern equivalent of the Magna Carta and should not be tampered with.
The last of the three necessary factors is access to justice, because the most perfect set of laws will be valueless to those who have no access to them. In this respect, the United Kingdom is moving towards a real problem which is likely to be aggravated by the financial crisis, particularly when the money which is spent in the near future will have to be reclaimed by cutting government expenditure later.
Future cutbacks in government expenditure are no doubt likely to extend to the legal system, which is already suffering from previous cutbacks. We now have young lawyers turning away from legal aid work, the steady disappearance of small firms of solicitors in small towns and unpopular parts of cities, and the appearance in some parts of the country of legal aid deserts. There is no doubt some room for saving, and the legal profession must play a part in that.
I shall now say something which may be regarded as treachery by some of my barrister colleagues. Hearings in court are by far the most expensive part of litigation because everyone has to be present throughout. I think that the costs could be reduced substantially, without damage to the standards of justice, by putting more of the proceedings on paper or the internet, at least in civil actions and appeals. After all, in the American Supreme Court, which is plainly the world's most important court, hearings last for only half an hour for each side.
Reducing the cost of trials would be unlikely to produce enough savings and would take time to achieve. The gracious Speech forecasts legislation,
"to deliver a more effective ... system for victims, witnesses and the wider public".
That is an admirable purpose which I wholly support, but I ask that it should not be at the expense of the existing legal aid system.
So where should the Government look for savings for the Ministry of Justice which would do the least damage? I listened with great attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, and I believe that savings could be found in the prison system because prisons are not only underachieving but overspending. When in 2006 Tony Blair announced that he was going to create a Ministry of Justice and transferred some of the responsibilities for criminal justice from the Home Office to the new Ministry of Justice, many of us welcomed the proposal. After all, it makes good sense to put responsibility for criminal and civil law under the same roof. However, the transfer of the functions, like the scorpion, had a sting in its tail, and that sting was the inclusion of prisons. The transfer of prisons unbalanced the Ministry of Justice. Prisons are responsible for more than two-thirds of the ministry's spending. Spending on them is going up, even while the level of crime is going down, and much of the money is being wasted.
I shall give one example of that. Last month the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Chief Inspector of Probation published a report on indeterminate sentences introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2003. That is one of the most devastating reports I have ever seen. Indeterminate sentences may be given for relatively minor offences, for which the normal tariff would be only two years, but they have turned out to be a total failure and are adding a great deal to the costs of prisons. They should never have been introduced and they should be abolished as soon as possible. Of course, that does not apply to a life sentence, which is effectively an indeterminate sentence, but to the indeterminate sentences introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
The Government should also cancel their plans for the huge and expensive new Titan prisons. They should aim to end what the Prison Reform Trust, in a letter circulated in the past couple of days to Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prison Health, described as sentence inflation: that is a ratcheting up of the length of sentences in response to articles in the tabloid press.
We need more community sentences in place of prison, but without the ludicrous orange jackets being suggested. That seems to me to be one of the most remarkably silly ideas that we have heard. It is 150 years out of date and one wonders what we will borrow next from the worst of American practices. Will we have chain gangs?
We are facing a real crisis over access to justice. We know that we pay more in legal aid than other countries, but that should be a source of pride and not an excuse for cutting back on legal aid. Legal support is needed for disputes over the care of children, over housing rights or over the right to benefits. It is difficult to obtain and, as court fees have rocketed up, for those on average incomes who cannot obtain it—almost everyone who is not on benefits—it is impossible to go to court. Access to justice is a key element in the legal system. It is already in decline and is facing an even steeper decline. If the Ministry of Justice is required to contribute to spending cuts—no doubt it will be—those cuts should come out of overspending on the prison system and not by denial of access to justice. As I said at the beginning, tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, let us remember that human rights are meaningless without access to justice.
Baroness Henig (Labour)
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to comment on the Government's intentions to increase the effectiveness and public accountability of policing to local people and to reduce crime and disorder. I must first declare an interest as president of the Association of Police Authorities for the past three years, and as the current chair of the Security Industry Authority.
I congratulate the Government on some initiatives, many of which do not need legislation but which will make a real difference to policing. The first is the work being taken forward by Jan Berry to review and to reduce bureaucracy in the police service, which is being complemented by the review, under Sir David Normington, aimed at reducing the data collection which the Home Office undertakes in relation to the police service. Both of those are welcome developments towards ensuring that policing is firmly focused on the front line. They will be supported by a third review, looking at subsidiarity, with the aim of ensuring that decisions are made at the right level, be they national, local or the area in between, which I suppose could be described as regional. In principle, that is a sensible step to provide greater clarity, and I hope it will support the Government's aim of greater devolution to the local level.
In the past 15 years, two major trends stand out clearly in relation to policing in the UK: a dramatic and sustained fall in levels of crime and a steady increase in levels of satisfaction and of confidence in the police. Our chances of being a victim of crime now are lower than at any time since the early 1980s and, therefore, it is crucial that nothing which the Government propose to do in this next Session undermines all the good work that has gone on since the mid-1990s.
A third development worth noting is the increase in effectiveness, strength and diversity of police authorities. They are now holding local police forces to account far more effectively on behalf of local people, and they are collaborating with forces to improve performance and the quality of service delivery. I welcome the Government's stated intent to build on the work of police authorities as a central plank of local police accountability arrangements. I also strongly support the Government's aim to become more strategic in their oversight of policing, with forces freed up from central targets so that they can be more locally responsive. I suspect that is easier to say than to do, but the good intentions should be applauded and encouraged.
I want to single out three developments which I believe go far toexplain why satisfaction levels with the police have risen so markedly, why police authorities have improved their performance so much, and why a range of local partnerships have been so successful in driving down crime levels. The first is the reforms of the early 1990s which introduced new-style police authorities, with independent members and a clear focus on working to hold police forces to account. One of the most important aspects of those reforms were the clauses to ensure that the councillor majority on police authorities had to reflect the political make-up of the force area, which meant, in effect, proportional representation and no party-political domination. Policing will always be political; after all, it is directly involved with issues of power at various levels; but in my view it should never be allowed to become party political. That was certainly the view of your Lordships' House in the early 1990s, when it helped to improve the legislation introducing police authorities, by ensuring that authorities were politically balanced and that the Home Secretary of the day did not exercise political control by appointing all the police authority chairs.
I believe that the great majority of people in this country share my view about governance arrangements which should keep party politics out of policing issues and ensure that the police can pursue operations in accordance with the law, but without fear of or favour to elected politicians. Our political culture is different from that of the United States, where they are much more party political at local level, and where, if a new regime is installed at city hall, out go the old police chiefs, the head of finance, the city managersand so forth, and in come new appointees made by the new political regime. Such direct and overt political control has never been, thus far, the British way. I am a great supporter of the British political culture and believe it serves policing particularly well.
The second important development for policing came in 1998, with the introduction of crime and disorder reduction partnerships and, more recently, local criminal justice boards. Those measures ensured that, at ward and council level, the police and the CPS worked with other agencies, such as social services, education, health and housing, to deliver crime strategies and to target offenders. Very often all these agencies were focusing on the same families and individuals but in isolation. Sharing data, working together and setting local priorities have all paid dividends and led to important initiatives such as identifying and dealing with persistent offenders and setting up new drug programme initiatives. It took time for effective links to be made between CDRPs and police authorities, but now police authority members and local councillors play central roles in these partnerships. That is important, as local crime patterns are often closely linked to serious and organised crime, and the links between them need to be understood and acted on. Local crime must not be seen in isolation and separated off from force level and national issues. Sufficient resources must always be available to deal with serious and organised crime and counterterrorism.
Most recently, the third development has been the introduction of neighbourhood policing. I strongly welcome that, as I have worked for it since the 1980s, and it has transformed policing and public attitudes to the police service. It has to be effectively organised and delivered—which is not always the case—properly resourced and aligned to local ward and council areas. It opens the door to innovation, to local initiative and problem solving, and to high levels of public confidence and satisfaction. Local people want the introduction of community support officers, working to beat bobbies and to local inspectors, and monthly meetings at ward level between local police officers and local people to prioritise crime and nuisance issues, deliver action on them and then report back on what has been achieved. In Lancashire, it has delivered further reductions in crime and rocketing levels of confidence and satisfaction, and that is true elsewhere too.
I recently noticed comments in the press about falling numbers of front-line officers. However, numbers themselves are not important but how effectively those forces are deployed. In recent years, forces working with the Government and with police authorities have become much better at using officers to have the most impact and in deploying mobile technology to free officer time to spend on the front line.
Whatever proposals are contained in the new policing Bill, I urge the Government to ensure that none of them is allowed to undermine all the good work and innovation of the past 15 years. Any measures that are seen by local councillors as divisive, that undermine partnership working or co-operation with local councillors, that encourage extremism or allow party politics to return to local policing will be carefully scrutinised by your Lordships. For my part, my test will be simple: will the new proposals improve on what is now on offer across the country in complex two-tier areas, such as Lancashire, or will it worsen the quality of policing and the tangible involvement and consultation on a regular basis that local people presently enjoy? I look forward to debating these issues more fully in the new year.
I shall end with a brief mention not of crime but of disorder; namely, the disorder common now to all city and town centres after 11 o'clock as a result of excessive drinking by young people. This is not a new problem. I remind your Lordships that it was a problem very familiar to the Victorians, and one that the early temperance campaigners, who were so influential in the Labour movement, were trying as hard as they could to address. They had seen the evils of alcohol in their own homes and families and on the streets and wanted to save others from the misery inflicted by uncontrolled drinking. I remind your Lordships that their campaign was ultimately very successful; by 1932, the then Home Secretary, Sir Herbert Samuel, told the House of Commons:
"We have got rid to a great extent of drunkenness as a national vice".—[Hansard, Commons, 15/4/1932; col. 1155.]
That was as a result of reducing the strength of drinks during the First World War, introducing licensing hours and developing alternative attractions to pubs, such as dance halls and cinemas.
Alas, in the past 20 years, we have gone strongly into reverse with the abolition of licensing hours, the introduction of ever-stronger drinks for teenagers and the development of a celebrity culture that publicises and highlights excessive drinking and drugs. I welcome the Government's suggestion of a mandatory code of conduct for the drinks industry to try to begin to tackle the widespread problem of heavy drinking, with its attendant health problems and rowdyism, but I particularly welcome the idea that local communities should look to introduce their own local solutions with a range of measures. I suggest that they could do worse than look back to the pioneers of the temperance movement for many practical suggestions.
Lord Lyell of Markyate (Conservative)
My Lords, my main point, when I get to it shortly, will concern the "elephant in the room" in connection with the Damian Green case. Before that, since this is a debate, I say that I strongly agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern about the position of the Attorney-General and disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, about indeterminate sentences. I hope to have a minute to say something about them later. I strongly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and local authorities. The Government should remember that Charles Clarke, when he was Home Secretary, gave an assurance that local authorities would not be given these powers, which are now used for dog fouling, school placements and so on. Those powers should be repealed. I agree strongly with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, about a particular aspect of the Damian Green case—which is not my key point—that is, the failure to take proper advice and follow proper procedures in obtaining a warrant before entering the other place.
My key point—the elephant in the room of the law—seems to have been missed by everybody involved. It is that this whole area, on the facts in so far as they have been revealed—and they have been pretty extensively revealed in the press and other media—is one in which the criminal law has no application whatever. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay put his finger on this when asking the Minister a question on Thursday. He pointed out that the Civil Service Code is not a criminal code. Whatever one may think of leaking by a civil servant, whether senior or junior, in the alleged circumstances of this case—and basically one must deplore leaking—while there certainly seem to have been clear breaches of the Civil Service Code, it is not a criminal code. It is not, on these facts, a matter for the criminal law.
The criminal law was expressly removed from the great bulk of official information by the Official Secrets Act 1989, which reformed what was by then regarded as the grossly overbroad Official Secrets Act 1911. The 1989 Act replaced it with carefully graded and much more proportionate provisions. As my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell, who was then Home Secretary, said in the Second Reading debate:
"We ask the House today to agree in principle that the criminal law should be prised away from the great bulk of official information ... including policy documents, Cabinet discussions on education, on health and on social security, and economic information and budget preparations".—[Hansard, Commons, 21/12/1988; cols. 460-62.]
Protection was retained for what he described as six limited areas, and each of them is subject to a harm test. Those limited areas are, quite rightly: security and intelligence, defence, international relations, foreign confidences, information that might lead to the commission of crime, and special investigations under the Interception of Communications Act 1985 and the Security Service Act 1989. None of these, on the information available, I believe, to any of your Lordships, including the Minister, appears to be relevant to the leaks by Mr Galley, and it is notable that the police have not used the Official Secrets Act 1989 as the grounds for arrest. The arrests were purportedly for misconduct in public office against Mr Galley and aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring such misconduct against my honourable friend Mr Damian Green. That is a common law offence that dates from 1783 and was created by Lord Mansfield. It is rightly described in the CPS guidance as,
"a very serious, indictable only offence carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment",
that should be used with the greatest care.
In my opinion, it is extremely doubtful whether that can have any application where Parliament has expressly removed the conduct in question from the criminal law. I have been in touch with the Attorney-General's Office on those points, and I hope that the matter will be looked into by all the relevant authorities, especially the Home Office, which, in my opinion, did not do proper preparatory work before calling in the Cabinet Office and, through it, the police. The police must certainly not be hampered in any legitimate inquiries, but when an inquiry appears to be without foundation in criminal law, it should be brought promptly to an end.
I have just two minutes in which to make my other two points. My point concerning indeterminate sentences is this. We know from the Prison Service publications in March this year—many others in this House know much more about this than me—that there were no fewer than 10,900 prisoners on indeterminate sentences in March. The problem with those sentences is that they are a Catch-22 for the prisoner and a Catch-22 for the Parole Board. The prisoner cannot prove that he is not a danger to the public without going on a series of courses. Those courses are extremely difficult to get on. The Parole Board dares not let them out unless it has very solid grounds for doing so, because as soon as one gets out and commits another dastardly and dangerous offence, which is sure to happen, it will be desperately criticised. So the numbers build up and up.
My final point is about the structure of legal understanding and advice-giving in government as a whole. Back in 1998, Parliament passed a law that said that the Permanent Secretary of the Lord Chancellor's Department need no longer be a lawyer or have legal training. We have had three, highly experienced Permanent Secretaries since that time, but none of them has had any legal training. I say nothing against any of them as excellent civil servants, but we have seen two massive constitutional errors during that period. The first was the error when Tony Blair sought to abolish the position of Lord Chancellor by reshuffle, but learnt that he could not; the second was just over a year ago, when the Prime Minister, as part of his supposed constitutional renewal reforms, described the Attorney-General in her role as superintendent of the prosecuting authorities and advice-giver as a member of the Executive. Both were fundamental misunderstandings of the constitution, which should never have happened and which I believe would not have happened if a proper structure of legal understanding, promotion path and high power within the public service had still existed.
Lord Williamson of Horton (Crossbench)
My Lords, the subject matter of our debate today is extremely wide. Some part of it is obviously of immediate concern and anxiety among many citizens, in so far as it deals with the efforts of the state to control and reduce crime, to control our borders and to avoid reoffending by those convicted of criminal behaviour. Another part of our subject, constitutional affairs and possible changes to our constitutional practices, is evidently for the longer term. That is recognised by the wording of the gracious Speech, which does not promise a Bill on constitutional affairs but states that the Government:
"will continue to take forward proposals on constitutional renewal, including strengthening the role of Parliament and other measures".
I understand that to mean that the Government's ideas are alive and well, that a specific Bill may come forward, but that it is not at this stage programmed.
Constitutional renewal, to use the Government's phrase, is important for all our citizens and I shall comment on the Government's ideas, which are known. They are known because the Government launched their agenda on the governance of Britain with a Green Paper in July 2007. The House Of Commons Administration Select Committee has worked on some of those ideas, particularly in relation to prerogative powers and the Civil Service.
I shall comment on some specific constitutional issues which the Government have put forward. I have selected those points because it did not prove easy to discern the principles underlying the draft Bill. Almost 50 years ago, I was doomed to work on the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, and a slight feeling of déjà vu occurred in examining the draft constitutional renewal Bill. I begin with the issue most closely related to the administration of justice; namely, the role of the Attorney-General, to which several noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, have spoken, and possible further reforms in relation to courts and tribunals. On the role of the Attorney-General, it has been argued by the House of Commons Justice Committee and others that it would be right to separate the Attorney-General's legal and political functions, that issue having been brought into higher relief by recent events such as the legality of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The logic of the case for a separation of functions can be seen but, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, I am among those who consider that it is outweighed by some of the advantages of the present system. There is a double advantage in having the Attorney-General as a Member of a House of Parliament, which provides the right forum for accountability, and as a Minister present when necessary in the Cabinet as chief legal adviser providing robust advice to the Government at the highest level. To that extent, I am conservative.
On the Attorney-General's role in relation to prosecutions, the Government propose that most of the requirements for the Attorney-General's consent to individual prosecutions should be transferred or abolished. That is reasonable in the light of the objective to ensure as far as possible operational independence for the prosecutorial authorities. However, as a measure of last resort, it should be possible for the Attorney-General to stop a prosecution or a trial on indictment, especially where national security is involved. The Attorney-General should be accountable to Parliament in those, probably rare, cases.
I turn to the changes which the draft constitutional renewal Bill proposes for courts and tribunals—for example, on the role of the Executive or a power for the Lord Chancellor to set targets and issue directions to the Judicial Appointments Commission—with which I do not agree. The key point here is that the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 made fundamental changes in the judicial appointments process by introducing a carefully calibrated balance between the role of the Executive, the judiciary and the Judicial Appointments Commission. I strongly support the view of the Joint Committee that it is far too soon to propose significant changes only two years after the present arrangements were introduced.
The second main group of proposals stems from the Government's wish to give greater power, or at least a power of scrutiny, to Parliament in relation to treaties, to war-making powers and to the Civil Service. I have considerable sympathy with this objective, as I believe that in practice the Executive have acquired too big a role in decision-making and Parliament too small a role.
On treaties, it would be right to put the Ponsonby rule on a statutory footing, with the 21-day sitting period and the effects of a negative vote in both Houses covered in legislation. There will of course be disputes about exceptional circumstances and problems with the definition of treaties, as important agreements are often included in Memoranda of Understanding.
An even more significant problem is whether we should make any changes to war-making powers, particularly following the Iraq war, the Private Members' Bills, and the recommendation of the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee in favour of a statutory provision requiring parliamentary approval for any decision to engage again in armed conflict. Others, including our own Constitution Committee, did not go so far but did recommend a convention. It appears that, among a number of options, the Government prefer a detailed resolution of the House of Commons. Of course the Government must keep the power to act if it were a question of a war of survival, but, this apart, a detailed resolution may best respond to the need which many people perceive for tighter parliamentary scrutiny of these extremely important decisions.
Finally, the draft constitutional renewal Bill incorporates another complete Bill on the Civil Service. A proposal to put the Civil Service on to a statutory footing, although it is 154 years since Northcote and Trevelyan proposed it, deserves a self-standing Bill and should be supported. There is no time today to launch into this, but I assume that, in due course, ex-civil servants such as me and campaigners such as the noble Lords, Lord Sheldon and Lord Lester of Herne Hill, will finally have their chance.
I know that the Minister's room for manoeuvre in replying to all these points may be limited, but if he can say a little more about the proposals to which the gracious Speech specifically refers—it is highly relevant to our debate; it is up on the screen—I would be satisfied.
Lord Norton of Louth (Conservative)
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton. As he mentioned, the draft constitutional renewal Bill was subject to scrutiny by a Joint Committee before the Summer Recess. Like him, I was a member of that committee, and we had a gruelling schedule so that we could complete our report by the end of July. We have not yet had a government response to the committee's report, and, as has been mentioned, it now looks as though we may not see the Bill for some time.
The Bill, in both content and delayed introduction, is an illustration of the Government's approach to constitutional change. The Bill, as the Joint Committee has argued, is mistitled. It is not a constitutional renewal Bill. Nor is it, as described by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, a constitutional retreat Bill. My disagreement with that description derives not from an unwillingness to be critical of the Bill but rather from the fact that it suggests that the Bill is moving in a clear direction. It posits a coherence that the Bill lacks. What we have, in essence, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, has touched on, is a constitutional (miscellaneous provisions) Bill.
The Bill comprises five substantive parts, each of which is in essence free-standing. Some are of constitutional significance, such as putting the Civil Service on to a statutory basis. Others, such as amending the procedure for judicial appointments, are not of great constitutional import. The Bill comprises provisions, then, that are disparate and discrete. As such, it is symptomatic of how the Government have tackled constitutional reform. Since 1997, we have witnessed significant changes to our constitutional arrangements. According to the distinguished academic lawyer, Robert Stevens, these changes, combined with our earlier membership of the European Communities, have collectively created change on a scale that has not been witnessed since the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The constitutional landscape is very different from what it was 40 years ago, and, indeed, 11 years ago.
The Bill is, however, distinguishable from the constitutional reforms of the Blair Government in that it represents a shift in direction. Most of the changes of the Blair Government were in essence external to the institution of Parliament, although none the less having profound consequences for it. The present Prime Minister on taking office, as has been mentioned, promulgated his Governance of Britain agenda. At the heart of that agenda is a strengthened Parliament. The agenda has included transferring from the Executive to Parliament the exercise of a certain class of prerogative powers. As we know and as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, has mentioned, foremost among these is the so-called war-making power and the ratification of treaties. We have thus seen a change of direction. The problem is that we still have no idea of the intended destination. Each constitutional change has been justified on its own merits. There has been no articulation by the Government of the type of constitution that they are trying to create for the United Kingdom. In essence, we have no idea where we are going.
When I initiated a debate in your Lordships' House on
"All of our reforms were fundamentally informed by three principles. The first is that we should remain a parliamentary democracy with the Westminster Parliament supreme and within that the other place the dominant partner. Secondly ... we should increase public engagement in democracy, developing a maturer democracy with different centres of power where individuals enjoy greater rights and where government is carried out closer to the people ... Our third principle is that the correct road to reform was to devise a solution to each problem on its own terms". —[Hansard, 18/12/02; col. 692.]
The problem with these principles is that the first two are not necessarily compatible with one another. They do not provide a clear picture of a constitutional end-point, certainly not in terms of the distribution of power. In any event, these two principles are in essence contingent, given the third principle,
"to devise a solution to each problem on its own terms ".
In other words, change is specific to each case. A cynic may rewrite this third principle as, "We make it up as we go along". There was certainly no coherent view of the constitutional framework that the Government were trying to craft for the United Kingdom.
The result is that the constitution that is being created derives from a bottom-up approach—that is, an amalgam of individual and disparate changes—rather than a top-down one, with reforms resulting from a clear view of what is required in terms of the constitution as a constitution. It is not clear what the effects of these changes will be. As Robert Hazell of the Constitution Unit at University College London has pointed out in the conclusion to his just published volume, Constitutional Futures Revisited, reforms can have unintended consequences. As he writes on page 285:
"Tony Blair was famously blind to the consequences of the reforms he unleashed ... He was startled by the effects of devolution and unaware of the wider dynamics of his constitutional reform programme. Yet the tidal wave of reforms in Blair's first term released second and third waves which are still working their way through the system".
Professor Hazell's book is an attempt to identify where we are going, but it ends up by delineating four different scenarios and identifying likely directions but no certainty as to which one will be realised.
Under Tony Blair, we had a situation in which constitutional change was a priority but something in which the Prime Minister had no interest. We now have a situation in which we have a Prime Minister who has some interest in constitutional change but one in which it is not given priority. The constitutional renewal Bill will be introduced as time allows.
I was struck by the report in the Times on the measures that were omitted from the Queen's Speech. Philip Webster, the political editor, wrote:
"Notable absentees from the expected list were a constitutional reform Bill and one extending the collection of personal data, both of which were felt to look irrelevant in troubled times".
Constitutional reform is deemed to be irrelevant in troubled times. One might have expected our constitutional arrangements—the way in which we govern ourselves—to be important at all times.
I bring my points together. Constitutional change has taken the form of measures that are disparate and discrete. We have had a Prime Minister who has had no emotional or intellectual engagement with constitutional reform. We now have one who has an interest but whose priorities are elsewhere. If there is constitutional change, it may come as much by accident as by design. If it occurs, then, as Professor Hazell cautions, it may not have the desired effects and, in some cases, may serve to undermine rather than strengthen Parliament.
We thus live in an era of significant constitutional change, but we have no clear idea of where we are going or always of the consequences for existing relationships. The judiciary, for example, has acquired major responsibilities as a consequence of a range of constitutional reforms—membership of the European Communities, the Human Rights Act and devolution. What is the relationship of the judiciary to other agencies of the state? My argument is that we need to have a much clearer view of what is happening, how the various changes relate to one another and to existing structures, and the principles that should underpin our constitutional arrangements.
My conclusion is that we need to establish a body, possibly along the lines of a royal commission, to review our constitutional arrangements and to make sense of them. The Constitution Committee of your Lordships' House has already produced a major report on the relationship between the Executive, the judiciary and Parliament, which we debated at the end of the previous Session. It was an excellent example of the type of exercise I have in mind. We need to look at our constitutional arrangements holistically. The Constitution Committee has other tasks to complete, so it is not in a position to undertake a major inquiry of this type, hence my argument for a dedicated committee or commission. I am not making the case for a commission that will prescribe the type of constitution that is most appropriate for the United Kingdom. That is a matter for wider debate as a result of what the commission does, which is to make sense of where we presently are. In order to decide where we are going, we need a map. I am advocating an exercise is cartography.
I hope that the Minister will tell us precisely what is planned for the constitutional renewal Bill. If it is brought forward during this Session, I trust that it will be on the basis of having taken on board the recommendations of the Joint Committee. I hope, however, that thought will be given to taking stock and making sense of where we now are in terms of constitutional development. Before we embark on any further constitutional reform, let us be clear as to what exactly is happening to the constitution of the United Kingdom.
Baroness Harris of Richmond (Spokesperson in the Lords (Police), Home Affairs; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, as the former chair of a police authority and a former councillor, and as a present vice-president of the Association of Police Authorities, I declare my interest in this debate. I will make my remarks primarily about policing and the proposals in the gracious Speech that touch on the changes indicated in the forthcoming policing and crime Bill. We do not know when this Bill will be brought before the House or in which House it will be dealt with first. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us that. I will also touch on my other interest, Northern Ireland, which to a large extent includes policing.
I believe that the Government's proposals on direct elections to police authorities will decrease confidence in the police because unrealistic expectations that cannot be met will be raised among communities. Setting aside the fact that I am not convinced that the public want yet more elections—we can barely encourage them to come out and vote in substantial numbers in any elections—I believe that they will be further confused between directly elected council members and the proposed directly elected police authority members. The two will look pretty similar and in the main will probably be white, middle-aged men, as they seem to be at present. Are they more likely to address the concerns of some of our most vulnerable and victimised communities, as well as represent people from diverse backgrounds? I do not think so. In fact, what will happen with the Government's proposals is that there will be almost in-built decreased diversity among police authority members. This would indeed be most unhelpful, given the huge and largely successful efforts made by police authorities to ensure that they reflect the communities that they serve.
Why do I say that? Work done recently by the Electoral Reform Society, whose analysis of the likely outcome of police authority membership—if we use the Government's model based on the 2007 local election results—found that the Conservatives would win two-thirds of the seats on police authorities outside London, with only 38 per cent of the popular vote; Labour would have 18 per cent of members, with 22 per cent of the vote; and the Liberal Democrats would have 13.3 per cent, with 24 per cent of the popular vote. In 10 policing authorities, Labour could have no representation and would get only 10 members on police authorities in the three southern regions out of a total of 176. Is that really what the Government intend? It is imperative that the Government use a fair voting system if they want to avoid such an outcome. That would also enable better representation of women and younger people, as well as achieve better diversity in police authority membership.
Frankly, I have to tell your Lordships that the independent members of police authorities have brought an enormous range of skills and experience as well as diversity to police authorities. I would not want that to be lost in any way in new proposals for direct elections. I support the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, on those issues. I worry that we will lose the expertise and skills that we need to strengthen police authorities, which I absolutely support. I fear that these same people will not put themselves forward to the electorate in the way in which practised politicians tend to do.
I believe that we must be absolutely clear about the possible consequences of competition between councils and police authorities and about who is responsible for the community safety agenda. Of course, the two must work closely together; they do already and that must be continued and enhanced. Affecting the balance of power at this level might badly damage co-operation between partners when we are just beginning to manage the interface well.
Although Northern Ireland was not mentioned in the gracious Speech, we on these Benches very much hope that there will be legislation in the forthcoming Session to devolve policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. That would have a number of positive effects. First, the transfer of powers could be viewed as a final piece in the jigsaw puzzle of the peace process. It would mark a major step to the normalisation of the political situation. Secondly, while a number of measures have already been put in place to provide for better transparency and accountability in operational matters and performance, the formal devolution to the Assembly will create the cross-community ownership of resourcing and policy matters. Thirdly, there would be enhanced opportunities for joined-up government. Criminal justice matters do not reside within a neat silo. There are some obvious opportunities for any future Minister in working with other departments.
However, we must not underestimate the challenges that face Northern Ireland in policing and justice matters. The Patten report recommended that 7,500 police officers should be maintained until 2010. The Treasury seems intent on reducing this to some 6,000 in the near future. It would be difficult for a newly devolved justice system to preside over such a reversal. I urge the Minister to take note that we will oppose such a reduction in policing levels. There is still much to do to come to a peaceful conclusion for the people of Northern Ireland and I am hopeful that the Government will do all that they can to ensure that they succeed in devolving as much of their responsibility as possible to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Lord Judd (Labour)
My Lords, what exactly are the objectives of penal policy? At the heart of it should be concern for the victims of crime and the need to protect society. Crime should be punished; what is acceptable behaviour and what is not should be made plain. Substantial as distinct from cosmetic commitment to these precepts makes it essential that the overriding priority is given to rehabilitation. This makes sense economically because without it there will be all the costs and pain of repeated reoffending and the costs of repeated imprisonment. Currently, two-thirds of those leaving prison reoffend within two years. Rehabilitation makes sense because it protects society by reducing the number of victims and demonstrates the values of society that we want the criminal to embrace. People matter and most people have the potential to be positive, caring and decent. They need not be enslaved by selfish, destructive criminality. We are all capable of living better lives and we can literally find ourselves in striving to do so. It is here that I believe our penal policy is in danger of going backwards.
Too many people are being kept in overcrowded, inadequate prisons where a criminal culture is able to thrive in uncivilised living conditions. Too many prisoners are released as addicted as ever to crime or, worse, even more addicted. Bullying, drugs and ruthlessness flourish. Good, high-quality and dedicated prison staff, of whom there are many, find it almost impossible to set the tone and do the creative and imaginative work with prisoners that they would like. The resources at their disposal are frequently far from adequate; that is true of work experience, education opportunities and health. The Howard League for Penal Reform recently reminded us in a telling report that, overall, job experience where it is available at all fails to build up pride in financial reward related to effective and productive work. The work available is unlikely to stretch the inmate's positive and responsible potential. Meaningful and appropriate training is minimal. The job experience does nothing to develop an understanding of belonging to the wider society and of the social responsibilities that go with it. Prisoners do not pay income tax and there are no national insurance contributions.
The same dismal story applies to prison education. Highly committed, overstretched educational staff are frustrated by the shortage of facilities and of programmes to stretch prisoners' imagination and help them to discover their positive capabilities and self-respect. Some very exciting work is done, but too often it is done despite the system and not because of it. I declare an interest as a trustee of the Ruskin Foundation. We have been glad to support the development of a lively prisoner-run newspaper in Haverigg prison in the far-flung parts of Cumbria. Without proper provision for work and education, how can we claim to be taking rehabilitation seriously? We fail society by failing to reduce the scale of reoffending. It is quite frankly irrational and painfully ridiculous.
Perhaps most counterproductive of all is the large number of people in prison who should not be there at all. With mental illnesses and disorders, they should be in specifically designed secure centres where their conditions can be properly addressed. Again, this would make sense economically. To spend more money on locking these people up in institutions where, however hard conscientious staff may try, their condition is likely to be aggravated makes no sense whatever. It results inevitably in further high costs and sometimes dangers to society when these people are released. It is an irresponsible waste arising from the misapplication of taxpayers' money, because taxes should obviously go to relevant provision.
As my noble friend Lady Corston powerfully argued in her hard-hitting report, too often the plight of women in prison remains deplorable. It is a sad commentary on our society that imprisonment frequently masks the nightmare of women's lives outside. It is quack medicine of the worst order and the real issues go unaddressed. As the Prison Reform Trust convincingly argues, the Corston report requires urgent implementation. I well remember being told by an exasperated member of staff in Holloway prison, "Perhaps the one good thing we are able to do by having women in here is to protect them from their nightmares outside".
During my time as president of the YMCA, I was able to witness the association's work with young offender institutions. The life stories of numerous offenders repeatedly demonstrated that they were themselves the victims of abuse, neglect and the inadequacy of social provision. What they badly needed was love in the form of healthy, enduring relationships with people who cared about them, a sense of belonging and imaginative support. That is the hard-headed approach. These young people need security. They need people who will take their hands and walk with them back across the complex and what can be the intimidating threshold between life inside and life outside into a positive and self-confident role in society. They need identifiable people who will remain a stable point of reference in their lives. Continuity of relationships in overcoming disrupted lives is indispensable. The system can work against this too easily. I have known young offenders who were frightened of being released. What a commentary that is on our society.
Too much of the prevailing political language about penal matters is highly irresponsible. It fosters prejudice and nurtures the ignorant, sensationalist parts of the media. When it becomes an ill disguised competition to demonstrate the most macho attitude, it is unforgivably damaging. It is no good saying, "A few sentences have been taken out of context", when everyone knows very well that those sentences were put in simply so that they could be taken out of context and used in the wrong way for the wrong reasons.
How on earth the proposed vast, impersonal, warehouse-like Titan prisons can possibly help has yet to be convincingly demonstrated. What we do know is that examples from the United States are depressing. Front-line experience and research repeatedly make it clear that what is really required is a range of smaller secure units with regimes as relevant as possible to the individual prisoner, where really effective rehabilitative work can be undertaken.
My last point is this: we all know that we must have a national regeneration of social responsibility, social solidarity and respect and status for public service, so that public service is not seen as an also-ran, second-class career. There is no alternative. Without this, penal policy is destined to fail. If greed and selfish opportunity are seen to be the creed of too many at the top, where is the credibility in calls for action aimed at those at the bottom of the pile? The foundation for a successful penal policy cannot be a society that says, "Do as too many of us conspicuously don't do, and do what we say you must do". That is no approach and offers no context for a successful penal policy. The change has to start with us. Our age of blame needs to be replaced by one of honest self-examination: how far are we all, every one of us, responsible for the tragic stories before the courts?
Baroness Stern (Crossbench)
My Lords, it is always a great privilege to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, given his commitment to a humane and rational penal policy. Certainly, watching the development of the criminal justice system over the past 10 years has not been a cheerful experience. We have a prison population of more than 83,000, including many people with learning difficulties. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, for reminding us of that, and I would ask: should they really form part of our prison population? We have a widely condemned plan to build mega-prisons; we have had bad reports from the United Nations and the Council of Europe on the juvenile justice system; and the Probation Service is being reorganised. I am not sure how many times it has been reorganised since 2000; perhaps the Minister can tell us.
I have just read in the magazine Computer Weekly about an offender management IT system called C-NOMIS for which the estimated cost of £234 million in June 2004 had risen to £690 million by August 2007, and it does not work. There may have been other uses to which that money could have been put. I have also just read about a budget for the Ministry of Justice that I understand has to be reduced by £1 billion over three years. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm that. I did not find any measures announced in the gracious Speech that will help us out of the dysfunctional situation so admirably described by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
I shall concentrate briefly on one notable development since 1997: the growth in the number of criminal offences—the unstoppable urge to criminalise. Here I refer to the work of a distinguished American academic, Jonathan Simon, Professor of Law at Berkeley in California. His most well known book is called Governing Through Crime. It is about the United States and, to reduce it to basics, he argues:
"Social problems ranging from welfare dependency to educational inequality have been reconceptualized as crimes, with an attendant focus on assigning fault and imposing consequences".
The result of this process is not to make communities safer but the opposite. Professor Simon states that the outcome is,
"to erode social trust and, with it, the very scaffolding of a 'free' society".
Although he does not write about a similar process in the UK, he could well have done so. We have seen a similar trend. Social problems have been redefined as criminal problems.
Criminal punishment and the possibility of sentencing someone to prison have crept into many areas where they can achieve nothing but harm. I still find it very hard to understand the one example I shall give. When I mention it in other countries, it is greeted with some disbelief. I refer to the law that we passed in 2001 that made it an imprisonable offence to fail to ensure that your child goes to school. I remember the first victim of this law, a woman struggling to bring up three children on her own, who had overcome heroin addiction and had serious health problems. Figures were published last month which show that between 2003 and 2006, 71 parents, most of them mothers, were imprisoned; and that in 2006, 2,952 were fined, most of them also mothers. Yet last year, in spite of all this, it is reported that truancy figures were at their highest since 1997.
I remind your Lordships of the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, from the Conservative Benches in this House in 2005. He said:
"The major political parties in our country will have to stop competing with each other to see who can propose more and more custodial offences ... is it really sensible, bearing in mind all the social implications of the situation, to gaol a mother for not sending her child to school?".—[Hansard, 9/6/05; col. 1042.]
I was very pleased at the end of the previous Session to receive a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Bach—tidying up loose ends, I presume—in response to a Written Question I tabled in June 2008 asking how many new imprisonable offences had been created since 1997. It was obviously a great deal of work to obtain this information and I am grateful to the Minister for arranging for it to be done. The answer is that there have been 1,036 new imprisonable offences since 1997, with a big acceleration from 2003 onwards. I have struggled to imagine what all these new crimes could be—133 last year and 137 the year before.
It is in this context that I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, said about the Government's proposals on prostitution. There can be no doubt that women are trafficked and forced to work in the sex industry, and I welcome the ratification at last of the Council of Europe convention for action against trafficking. However, there is considerable difficulty in establishing what the numbers are and how widespread it is. I have read many different figures and I hope that the Minister will be able to help us on this.
There is also no doubt that many of the women engaged in prostitution are from backgrounds of poverty and drug abuse. How the Government think the measures they are proposing in the new legislation to criminalise certain forms of sexual activity with prostitutes will make either of these problems any less widespread is not clear. I am afraid I am more convinced by the arguments of those who have said that these new measures will put the women at risk and do nothing to deter traffickers. I was impressed by the common sense of a member of the Brixham Women's Institute who told the Independent newspaper,
"I am all for decriminalising prostitution rather than all this undercover stuff so we can treat drug dependence and check for venereal disease".
With many of these social problems, two approaches are possible: one is to try to deter people from their problem behaviour by threatening punishment, criminal conviction, imprisonment, a criminal record and a consequent push into the group of the socially excluded; the other approach is harm reduction, giving help, showing ways out and trying to change the lives of the people involved and their families. Can the Minister tell us what evidence supports the decision to go for criminalisation in the approach to prostitution rather than for harm reduction, and will these new offences be imprisonable? Has anything been learnt from the legislation on imprisonment for those who do not get their children to go to school and its effectiveness?
I end with two unrelated points. First, in regard to the use of restraint in secure training centres, I note that the Government were not given leave to appeal to the House of Lords against the Appeal Court judgment in July 2008 which quashed new rules introduced by the Government allowing the restraint of children in secure training centres for the purpose of maintaining good order and discipline. A number of noble Lords will be relieved by that decision as many of us have been involved over a considerable period of time in raising this matter with the Government. It would be helpful to know how the Government intend to proceed and whether any further legislative action on this is envisaged.
Secondly, I welcome the fact that provisions about coroners' inquests will come before us at last. I hope the Government have listened to those who have been urging adequate funding to ensure that bereaved families have access to appropriate legal advice when they are involved in an inquest.
Baroness Hanham (Shadow Minister, Home Affairs; Conservative)
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, have dealt with criminals and people in prison, a number of whom will be those whose details are held on the DNA database. We started today's business with another short discussion on the retention of DNA. I make no apology for returning to the subject, as I suggest that the opportunity to address the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights is now presented by the policing, crime reduction and airport security Bill. The judgment was clear in that it deemed the retention of an innocent person's DNA or fingerprints to be an infringement of their right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act, so there will now be even more pressure on the Home Secretary to implement the removal from the database of those who have not been convicted.
During the debates on the Counter-Terrorism Bill, we pressed to the vote, although were ultimately denied a further opportunity as a result of the other place invoking privilege, the proposal that not only should there be a wide debate on the whole question of the database, but there should be statutorily enforced guidelines on how people can find out whether they are on it and how they get off it, which at present is impossible. The judgment goes further than even we had anticipated or hoped. While the Minister said this afternoon that consideration—I believe that was his word—would have to be given to the judgment, I invite him and the Home Secretary to use this legislation to ensure that, for once, the liberty of the individual is upheld.
In his response to the Question on this matter today, the Minister said—I shall not quote him as I do not have his exact words—that innocent people had nothing to fear from having their DNA kept on the database, but that is straining at a gnat to catch a camel. No Government should be justifying keeping any details on the citizens of this country unless there is a defined statutory reason for doing so. A range of bodies have pressed this point: the Information Commissioner, now the European Court of Human Rights, the Government's own DNA database ethics committee, the Home Affairs Committee of the other place and the Economic Affairs Committee of this House. That is significant opposition. It is time for the Government to listen and to put this matter right. There are at least 1 million innocent people in this country whose DNA information is kept on the database and every single one of those should be off it.
Sir Ronnie Flanagan produced a long and thoughtful report on the police service, with some 33 recommendations. That resulted in a Green Paper, From the Neighbourhood to the National: Policing our Communities Together, which has now been followed by the policing, crime reduction and airport security Bill. There is probably little disagreement that greater accountability of the police to local people has come strongly to the fore. Sir Ronnie offered a number of options on how that could be done. The Government have opted for the election of a majority of members of the local police authorities, while my party favours the election of a police commissioner to whom the chief constable would be answerable.
With regard to the Government's proposals, what discussions have been held with the Local Government Association? I declare here an interest as an elected councillor. This option would place a different set of elected members into a community representative role. At present, councillors are represented on the police authorities and bring the view of their communities and their local authority to the matters being dealt with and I expect that there will be at least some antagonism to rival representatives. As my noble friend said in her excellent contribution at the opening of this debate, the danger of such elections is that there would be room for single-issue candidates to be elected and the electoral areas may be very small. This is an important matter and I believe that the Local Government Association's view is crucial to how it progresses. We will return to this in Committee.
Another aspect that we understand will be in the Bill is the creation of a new police pay review body. So long as it is given the opportunity not only to recommend but to have its recommendations accepted rather than overridden, it is likely to be welcomed. A great deal of ill feeling was caused when the current body's recommendations were overturned by the Home Secretary. It is to be hoped that, with mechanisms to enable parties to give evidence before recommendations are made, some of that distrust, which has continued, will be dissipated.
I shall touch briefly on the borders, customs and immigration Bill. Many other noble Lords have addressed this, but the fact must be underscored that during this Government's tenure of office there have been seven immigration Acts. The promise this time is that they should be consolidated into one Act, but here again are further changes being made to the UK Border Agency, completed in its current form only in April this year and now subject to further change with the incorporation of the Customs and Revenue but not, apparently, the police. It is vital that our borders are secure. The Minister said in his opening statement—rather rashly, I thought—that our borders are among the most secure. To have a force that does not include the police seems therefore to be missing the point.
Finally, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, in speaking on the trafficking of humans. I am glad to know that at last the Government have signed, or are about to sign, the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, but that has been a very long time in coming. Last year up to 4,000 women in the United Kingdom were victims of trafficking, so it is a sad fact that, as the Government support this vital measure against the degrading lives into which people are forced, often on the offer of a better life in this country, the human trafficking unit should have had to close because of a reduction of money. Perhaps we can be let into the secret of how the Government now expect this terrible problem to be kept under control and how they can fulfil their obligations under the convention. As the noble Baroness said, the global impact of this foul trade must be stopped. This country ought to be at the forefront of ensuring that it is.
Lord Tyler (Spokesperson in the Lords, Ministry of Justice; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, will forgive me if I do not follow her precisely but revert to the issues of constitutional reform that a number of speeches today have concentrated on. In 1997, I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues in both Houses felt that we in this country had at last elected a Government that would take seriously our constitutional anachronisms and the acute democratic deficit. They started well; indeed, in the other place my colleagues and I came under attack for voting too often with the Government. That was scarcely surprising, because much of their agenda was in fact our agenda and owed its origins to the Cook/Maclennan agreement in the run-up to the 1997 election, which argued for a radical and coherent programme of reform of precisely the type that some members of your Lordships' House have been calling for today. For us, devolution was as important as fair votes, human rights were as vital as parliamentary reform and, most important, they all fitted together to create a picture of a Britain with a modern, responsive constitution for which we felt that we not only needed to work but needed urgently to achieve.
In his 1996 book, Tony Blair said that he wanted to make Britain a "young country"—whatever that was intended to mean. Yet when he left office, our constitution was not just old but was creaking under the strain of a hotch-potch of unco-ordinated change masquerading, in many cases, as real reform. We had moved from a simple democratic deficit to a much more serious sense of democratic disengagement. The real risk that we now face is that people will begin to think that nothing can ever change even if they vote for it. To keep on doing nothing simply means that more people will continue to think in that way.
Reformers in all parties were therefore pleased when the new Prime Minister last year made TheGovernance of Britain a real priority for effective parliamentary democracy in Britain. Indeed, in his first Statement to the House of Commons he spelt out the changes that he wanted to see. Not all of us would endorse every single one of them, but I think that we would accept that there was a new sense of priority, drive and direction in No. 10. He included limits on prime ministerial power, statutory powers for Parliament to decide on international treaties, a final say for Parliament on war and peace, a real change in the role of the Attorney-General and the right for the House of Commons to scrutinise the appointment of key public officials.
Since then, Jack Straw has published a litany of consultation documents on everything from managing protest near Parliament to the voting age, via war powers and weekend elections. He has worked assiduously to piece together consensus between the parties, if not between the two Houses, on the reform of this place, which is no small achievement.
However, The Governance of Britain programme is set to become nothing more than an exercise in prevarication, as many in your Lordships' House have indicated today. Indeed, it now rivals the prolonged resistance to female suffrage. Never have there been more measures that we are told need "further consideration"; never have there been more "useful contributions to the debate". We waited seven years for the Government's publication on electoral systems at the beginning of this year and not one single substantial recommendation was there in it.
So what now? What of constitutional renewal? In common with several speakers in your Lordships' House today, I sat on the Joint Committee that scrutinised the draft constitutional renewal Bill. I and my noble friend Lord Maclennan agreed, as did, I think, the majority of the committee, that the Bill was in various ways a disappointment. This has been a constant theme today. Some of us branded it a "ragbag of retreats", picking up the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. However, the committee made some good recommendations. A minority of us sought to strengthen the report and to press the Government still further. We managed to persuade the committee to include an unprecedented final chapter which deplored the Bill's timid collation of disparate proposals. What is the result? The Government, having pulled these issues out of a distant public policy jungle, have now kicked them firmly back into the legislative long grass. One can almost detect the proposals nestling there, with frogs croaking way, heard but never listened to.
In common with many other Members of your Lordships' House, I therefore ask the Minister a simple question: where is that Bill? The gracious Speech states that the Government,
"will continue to take forward proposals on constitutional renewal, including strengthening the role of Parliament and other measures".
You do not need to be a QC to spot that taking forward proposals is not the same as bringing forward proposals. The Bill does not as a result appear in the Government's list of Bills for this Session.
The draft Bill was unambitious, but we must surely lament the complete absence of legislation, not least because there was an opportunity to widen its scope and make a real difference, as recommended by the Joint Committee. The constitutional reform agenda is not a side issue or just a distraction from the global economic crisis; the very inability of our political system to react and respond to public concern threatens our economic and environmental fate as well as our democratic future.
If we want some new evidence of the attitude of the Government to the relationship between the Executive and the legislature, we need look no further than the debate in the other place yesterday. A number of noble and learned Members of this House have already referred to the Damian Green affair from a much more expert point of view than mine, but as a former shadow Leader in that place I was scandalised and shocked to find that the Government intervened in yesterday's debate with a guillotine and a three-line Whip and insisted on making what should have been a matter for the whole House and the whole of Parliament—that is, to defend our rights and responsibilities—a partisan measure under the influence of that guillotine and three-line Whip. Even so, a large number of government Back-Benchers revolted, as they surely should do in defence of that institution, and supported the amendment in the name of my right honourable friend Sir Menzies Campbell, which was lost by only four votes. Effectively, the Government intervened in that debate and pulled the rug from underneath the Speaker as well as the whole House. What does that do to strengthen Parliament? If it is an indication of the attitude of this Government to the relationship between Parliament and the Executive, we have a huge and growing problem, which the public find increasingly demonstrates not so much that our society is broken as that our political system is dangerously cracked.
If we are to get anywhere near the "young country" that Tony Blair told us that we should create by the time of the next election, Ministers in this tired Government will have to take action to renew our constitution. It is no time for novices, but it is no time for ditherers either. Just like the American people, who showed such enthusiasm for real change in November, the British people, too, are now impatient for change. Let us get on with it.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Labour)
My Lords, I join others in commending the Government for exercising restraint in their legislative programme. So often in previous years, a huge list of legislation was contained within Her Majesty's gracious Speech and we knew that poor law would be created because of the shortage of time, because it could not possibly be well enough considered and because the pressure on draftsmen and draftswomen would be considerable. The Government have learnt that less is more.
The thrust of the current proposed legislation is towards ameliorating the effects of the economic crisis on the lives of families up and down the country, which is as it should be. I applaud the Government. The coming years will undoubtedly be very hard for many of our citizens. I know that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet are alert to the human pain that is involved in living with uncertainty and debt and in fearing the loss of your job and your home. It is therefore right that Parliament should concentrate on these issues.
Only two of the Bills in the list of 14 relate to criminal justice. Here, I declare my interest as a practising lawyer in the criminal courts and as the new chair of Justice, the all-party law reform and human rights organisation. I follow in the footsteps of many great lawyers and feel honoured and humbled to have been elected to this role. Members of this House will remember that Lord Alexander of Weedon, sitting there on the Conservative Benches, was one of the great chairmen of Justice. I learnt much from him in my early years in this House, when we came together on common causes such as protecting jury trial.
After Lord Alexander's death, the chairmanship moved to the Cross Benches, where the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn, became a great champion again for liberty and justice. Thereafter, the position fell to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. As your Lordships heard today, he is still making the case for human rights and constitutional reform.
The torch has now passed to the Labour Benches. That is how it should be, because, if I have learnt anything, it is that the rule of law is too important for it to be constrained by tribal politics. Law matters; law is one of the twin pillars in our great democracy. If we do not protect it, I am afraid that we will be in great danger. I have therefore to warn my noble friends on the Front Bench that I will continue to cast light on the legislation coming through and at times provide uncomfortable criticism. That is a proper role for those of us in this House. Wise politicians know that criticism is what keeps our democracy health and alive.
The two Bills that relate to criminal justice are the coroners and justice Bill, which we hope will reform the antiquated system of coroners' adjudication over deaths, and the policing and crime Bill. As always, I am rather concerned about the detailed provisions of Bills that they should respect the principles of human rights and respect access to justice and good governance. It is essential that in legislation we do not just fiddle with existing arrangements and fail to create law of sufficient quality to last. I am happy that the coroners and justice Bill will provide for the appointment of a chief coroner who will support national standards of coroners.
I had the good fortune to chair a working party for the Royal College of Pathologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health after the miscarriages of justice involving infant deaths. We made a number of recommendations on the role of coroners, and I hope that the Government will take a look at those recommendations, most particularly that when a pathologist is instructed in infant deaths, he should have experience in paediatrics.
One concern that I share with Justice is that the reform of the law relating to homicide, which I understand will now be included in the coroners and justice Bill, will be considerably less coherent than the wholesale reform recommended by the Law Commission. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, made mention of this. It would be much more sensible if a holistic view was taken of homicide law rather than it be dealt with in this piecemeal way, looking simply at the partial defences.
I am afraid that I am also unconvinced by the proposals for directly elected representatives to police authorities, particularly at a time when national priorities are so crucially relating to terrorism and serious crime. What may seem populist could easily hinder efficient policing and cause subsequent frustration. I agree with the comment that there could be capture of such authorities by special interest groups on populist platforms, especially on issues such as sentencing, and that we may find that this is not a progressive move.
There are also proposals for a sentencing council for England and Wales. Again, I am very concerned that we are attempting to straitjacket the discretion of the judiciary. The existing arrangements with the Sentencing Guidelines Council and the Sentencing Advisory Panel have been in force for only a very short time. They appear to be working, and we should allow them to bed down before we embark on yet further change. It is important to preserve that very delicate balance of judicial independence with government policy.
All of us who practise in the courts are interested to hear about the detailed proposals on anonymity of witnesses in criminal trials. I hope the Government have in mind that the House of Lords has already commented on this in the Davis case, in which the Law Lords said:
"No conviction should be based solely or to a decisive extent upon the statements and testimony of anonymous witnesses".
I hope that that is kept in mind in the drafting of legislation.
We have heard from a number of noble Lords about concerns on the surveillance society. I have spoken often in this House about my concerns about how we embark on constitutional change and erode civil liberties without too much thought for the consequences. Our society depends on very important mortar binding the citizen to the state. Once we interfere with that and fritter it away, it is very hard to bring it back. The social capital that exists within this country is considerable, but it relies on there being this level of trust.
I chaired the Human Genetics Commission and, at the time, expressed concern about the DNA proposals and keeping the DNA of persons who were not convicted of an offence or who volunteered their DNA. That was some eight years ago; the legislation went through, and I felt like a lone voice at the time. I echo the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. I hope that we revisit this and that there is some sort of wider debate about the retention of DNA. I remember going to the United States and the FBI expressing concern and amazement; here in Britain we have the great benefit of something that does not happen in America—that populations volunteer to give their DNA. A child dies in a village and all the men happily give their DNA. The FBI was amazed at that volunteerism, because it does not happen in America; it was surprised that people were not somehow over-protective of their privacy. Now I hear people saying that they volunteer their DNA assuming, and being told, that they will have it removed from the database once the person is convicted, but they are finding that it is impossible to have it removed. That is wrong; it erodes something very important within our society.
There are two other Bills that one should mention, and I shall mention them very quickly. One is the borders, immigration and citizenship Bill, which significantly reduces rights of appeal and challenge. I am concerned that we should not remove those rights of appeal, but I am like others relieved to see that protections for children are now being introduced.
I wanted to end on a positive note. The proposed equality Bill is a great achievement, which will bring together 100 pieces of legislation and provide for the first time a comprehensive single equality Act, codifying and simplifying the rights of all members of society. That Act will be a statement of the society that we hope to become, one in which there is no discrimination, in which every child can grow up and feel that they can grow up free of judgments being made about them based on the colour of their skin, their religion, their gender and their sexuality, whether they have a disability or not. That is the kind of society that we must want to bequeath to our children. The Government are to be congratulated on the work that has gone into the Bill. We may be living through hard times and they may last for a while, but they may provide us with opportunities to reconfigure our society, to recover our sanity and reclaim what we might think of as being the great or the good society, in which everyone has an opportunity to be the best that they can be. I strongly commend the Government for the steps that they have taken and I hope that the Bill will have a lot of support in this House.
Finally—and my noble friend on the opposition Benches mentioned this—our constitution is precious. It is our architecture. I commend the idea to the Government that they set up some kind of body that can look at the way forward with regard to constitutional change. It is like the foundations of a house. You have to know where the foundations are and understand where the crossbeams are before removing them. Too often we have done things without that consideration.
Lord Campbell of Alloway (Conservative)
My Lords, the excellent speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, can be carried forward into another dimension. We do not know where we are or where we are going. It is apparent from the gracious Speech that we are likely to have another constitutional Bill of some kind and that the extant Bill will be withdrawn. That is what is apparent. In those circumstances, it is of some importance that the constitutional entitlement of the Lord Chancellor to advise Cabinet and a Secretary of State as to withdrawal or amendment of a Bill before presentation should be revived.
This entitlement was established in the early 18th century when the Lord High Chancellor first attended Cabinet and first became a Member of this House. As it evolved, the entitlement was exercised by successive Lord Chancellors as spoken to by my noble friend the shadow Lord Chancellor on the debate on two reports of the Constitution Committee: on
By acceptance of the Great Seal an amendment was accepted and the office of Lord Chancellor was retained. With it, his constitutional entitlements and obligations were retained, other than those subsequently abrogated by Parliament by statute. As asserted by my noble friend Lord Kingsland, by virtue of the oath taken under Section 17 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, this entitlement of the Lord Chancellor, at the initial conversion of government policy into law, should be exercised to ensure guardianship of the rule of law and conformity with structures, procedures and constitutional principle.
The purpose of this speech is to persuade revival of the resort to the entitlement and closure on the combined appointment of the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice—an amalgam of disparate conflicting functions that inhibit the exercise of those functions with distressful consequences, as exemplified by the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, which does not appear in the gracious Speech.
The criticism is of the combined appointment. It is not ad hominem. I could not very well stand here and criticise a fellow Bencher of my era. I am not prepared to do so. But that does not detract from what I hope will be the force of my criticism of the arrangement. I will give a few examples, which all happened: they are not imaginary. There was no resort to this entitlement on the Counter-Terrorism Bill, which proposed 42 days pre-charge detention. It is wholly apparent from the voting list that that clause would have been withdrawn if either of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg or Lord Falconer of Thoroton, were Lord Chancellor. But they were not; they had gone. It could not be exercised in the constitutional renewal Bill because we have the combined appointment. It would have been withdrawn by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, because he said in evidence to the Joint Committee that apart from the Civil Service there was nothing of significance in the draft Bill. That was in paragraph 368 of volume 1 of the report.
One could go a little further. In the recommendations of the report, one in particular deals with the evidence in open session on
"is not a blueprint; it is a roadmap. This is part of the process, but it is beginning anew".
That is all very well, but this concept is utterly fallacious. The purported intendment was to transfer executive powers to Parliament and control the exercise of war powers proposed in the Government of Britain triology. It is amazing that that answer was given.
I will conclude fairly swiftly. The crux of the justification for the revival of the entitlement and for closure of the combined appointment is the reasoning of the report. The reasoning was that there was no underpinning principle, no provision as to implementation of the intendment, the long and short titles were defective, reform of the prerogative should be approached in a cohesive manner, not imposed by personal statutes, there was much work to be done before the Bill could be introduced and the Government should reflect on wider constitutional issues. Against that, surely there is a strong case for revival of the resort to the entitlement which exists. It would not require legislation because a statute is not required to operate extant constitutional entitlement and obligations.
My Lords, when one observes how, on a regular basis, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs appears to feel that she has to make a pronouncement on the latest criminality, when one finds chief constables communicating through the press on such issues as the now happily defunct 42-day detention or how cannabis should be categorised, and when the Government seek to legislate as though law and order were predicated on the assumption that most of our citizens are potentially bad, one could be forgiven for believing that our nation is losing its way. The gracious Speech contains nothing to reassure me that the present Government have a clue about how to deal with what is happening out there in the big wide world.
We have gone through a period when we could easily accept the words of a previous Secretary of State that our Home Office is "not fit for purpose". We have seen that department sub-divided but still not improving in its efficiency. Our current Home Secretary briefly believed and articulated the idea of solving knife crime by bringing the perpetrator face to face with the victim in hospital. She may now have modified her position, but she is not alone in her knee-jerk approach to crime and justice or in pandering to the public through such superficial and irrelevant pronouncements.
In Northern Ireland, we have a chief constable who, virtually weekly, publicly advertises the threat from dissident republicans. There have indeed been some dissident IRA incidents; I would be interested to know if anyone has been convicted of these crimes. However, if I was some boisterous young republican, I would be so heartened by the chief constable's fearful obsession that I would be rushing off to join one of those dissident groups. That is not what the chief constable should be doing. He is effectively recruiting terrorists—but is his "If it should happen, I told you so" approach not consistent with the Government's attitude to such matters?
Within the past 18 months, I have, as a participant in the police service parliamentary scheme, had the privilege of patrolling with the Metropolitan Police. It brought me back in some ways to life before Parliament. Despite my admiration for the Met officers, however, I was deeply disturbed by the extent to which small groups of teenagers and young people were being stopped and searched at random. Now the Government's newest initiative appears to promise that this practice will be extended to any citizen, who can be stopped at random and required to produce identification.
What does that do? It alienates young people and sets them at variance with our police. It closes off a vital line of communication and, perhaps, information and, ultimately, intelligence—this at a time when we continue to place the godfathers of the drug trade in ordinary prisons, where they corrupt other inmates, or ODCs, as we used to call them—ordinary decent criminals. The godfathers, with their displays of power and wealth, their access to drugs and privileges, are able to continue to run their evil trade with minimum hindrance. Instead of continuing with such a flawed and self-corrupting system we might have expected the Government to introduce steps to isolate the godfathers of the drug trade under the strictest security and, indeed, extreme peddlers of international terrorism. What a difference it would make to have a couple of extra high-security prisons, where physical contact with the outside world was impossible except with those who supervised the inmates. Instead of hounding our young folk on the streets, should we not be seeking to protect petty offenders in prison from the influence of the most dangerous people in our society by keeping them well apart?
We should acknowledge that the godfathers of the drug trade are guilty of treason, for is it not the drugs money that sustains those who kill our soldiers in, for example, Afghanistan? I visited our troops there about six months ago; they were brave and dedicated young patriots who deserve our thoughtful and effective support. Think about it, and about whether the Government should be more effectively regulating the criminal godfathers in society rather than introducing more and more Bills that inhibit our rights and freedoms.
Briefly, on a matter that is implied rather than stated in the gracious Speech, is your Lordships' House content that, without any detailed consideration, GCHQ is planning to listen in to all our mobile telephone calls and to scrutinise all our e-mails? Is it content that, effectively, the Government are permitting us to move inexorably towards becoming a totalitarian state? While I am aware of several brave ladies, particularly in this House, who know much, much more than me about intelligence gathering, I have some experience. Anti-criminal and anti-terrorist intelligence is about small chinks in the enemy's armour. It starts from there and develops like an inverted pyramid. It does not develop or succeed from adopting a broad-brush approach and hoping that a villain will suddenly appear at the top of a pile of irrelevancy.
That brings me back to communication with ordinary citizens on our streets. We will not have a chance of maintaining normality and a relatively healthy society if we continue in the direction that this Government are taking us. Most people are decent, and that includes our teenagers, who are no madder, and certainly no more mischievous, than we were at their age. It is my firm hope that this House will, in this coming year, do nothing to infringe the rights and freedoms of this nation. As with 42 days' detention, we will have none of it—although we support our Government's declared objective of keeping our nation safe.
I shall add one other thought, without explanation. It is a story for another day as I do not have time now, but it speaks for itself. If we believe in the human rights of the individual, and I do, why should an Iranian homosexual fearing persecution in his own land be accorded asylum here when two Christian families with seven small children, whose church was attacked and 17 of the congregation murdered in the Peshawar district in Pakistan, be denied the same protection without right of appeal?
I implore our Government to do better. If the means are flawed, the objective will be lost.
Lord Dholakia (Deputy Leader, House of Lords; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I apologise for having missed the earlier part of the debate. I was attending a meeting involving delicate and long-standing issues affecting community relations.
The Queen's Speech, which reflects the Government's legislative programme for this parliamentary Session, deserves criticism more for what it leaves out than for what it includes. In particular, there is a series of issues related to criminal justice and the penal system which remain in acute need of reform and on which we have repeatedly pointed out the need for change to the Government ever since they came to office in 1997. It is a shame that we are again missing the opportunity to fundamentally reform our criminal justice system. Let me spell this out. A key recurring issue is the lack of help or supervision for short-term prisoners when they leave prison. Most of the offenders sent to prison each year receive sentences of less than 12 months. Prisoners serving short sentences do not receive supervision from the Probation Service and their reconviction rates are higher than those of other prisoners. It is not surprising that prisoners who receive least help should have the highest reconviction rates. As a result, these offenders are often caught up in a revolving door of imprisonment, release, reoffending and further imprisonment. They are responsible for much of the high-volume offending which causes such distress to residents in high-crime areas. The Government should commission the voluntary sector to provide resettlement services for these prisoners in every area of the country.
Yet again, the Government have failed to bring forward legislation to reform the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act despite their acceptance of most of the recommendations of the Home Office review group five years ago. The review group proposed the shortening of the rehabilitation periods which must elapse before offences become spent and ex-offenders do not have to declare them when applying for jobs. Sensitive occupations such as work with children and vulnerable adults would have remained exempt from these proposals. Such a change would greatly reduce the scope for unfair discrimination against former offenders and, because employing offenders reduces reoffending, would also increase public safety. If the Government will not introduce this reform, I feel duty bound to promote a Private Member's Bill on the subject. I trust that the Minister will indicate whether they welcome such an approach.
I see nothing in the Queen's Speech designed to tackle this country's overuse of imprisonment. If the prison system is to stand a reasonable chance of rehabilitating prisoners, prisons must not continue to be swamped by the pressure of numbers. Instead of ploughing vast resources into expanding the prison system by building enormous, Titan prisons, the Government should set targets for limiting the size of the prison population by introducing legislation requiring sentencing guidelines to take account of the capacity of the prison system.
Nor does the Speech contain anything designed to prevent the community sentences supervised by the Probation Service being used for low-level offenders with little likelihood of reoffending. It is important to concentrate Probation Service resources on work with more serious or persistent offenders, particularly those who would otherwise receive ineffective short prison sentences. A way of concentrating probation resources on those more serious or persistent offenders would be to reverse the decline in the use of fines. The Government should consider introducing a "day fine" system, which would relate fines more precisely to offenders' means. This would help to make fines a fairer and more credible punishment for offenders of all income levels.
The Queen's Speech should also have contained provisions to reduce the imprisonment of people who have breached community supervision—either community sentences or post-release licences—for example, by missing or being late for probation appointments. The number of recalled prisoners has escalated alarmingly in recent years as probation officers' discretion over breach proceedings has been progressively restricted. This has made a significant contribution to the overcrowding of local prisons. A graduated scale of punishments for breaches of supervision orders should be introduced, with prison used only when less severe penalties have been tried first.
Ever since I entered this House I have drawn attention to the position of minority ethnic people in our criminal justice system, which is now worse than it was when the Stephen Lawrence inquiry reported. The disproportion in the use of stop-and-search powers has become even more extreme and the proportion of the prison population from minority groups is now significantly higher than it was when the Government came to office in the late 1990s. I would like to see a clear statutory duty placed on all criminal justice agencies to adopt numerical targets for reducing racial disproportionality in all their operations. I am seriously concerned about allegations of racial discrimination that have surfaced in the Metropolitan Police. The high level of financial settlements and the decisions of industrial tribunals clearly indicate that racism seems to have affected the police and policing decisions.
We need to revisit the Macpherson report, published in 1999. We need to ensure that the CPS, courts, legal professions and the prison and probation services can work with local authorities and communities to guarantee justice and equality for all. We must work to repair the damage done to community relations by restoring confidence in the criminal justice system. The system cries out for accountability and consultation with local communities, which need to be restructured, strengthened and properly resourced. We have yet to see systematic joint training across criminal justice agencies aimed at a co-ordinated and consistent approach to fairness and equality in the delivery of our justice system.
I would also have liked to see the Queen's Speech signal the Government's intention to establish a women's justice board with a remit in relation to women similar to that of the Youth Justice Board in relation to young offenders. Most women sent to prison are neither violent nor dangerous and the majority have few previous convictions. A women's justice board could set standards for meeting female offenders' needs for resettlement and rehabilitation, mental health services, family contact and culturally appropriate support for female foreign nationals. It could also set targets to reduce the damaging use of custody for women.
Today's serious economic challenges are inevitably and rightly receiving priority attention from the Government. However, the challenge of improving our criminal justice system is just as vital a part of ensuring the fabric of a healthy society as the challenge posed by the economic crisis. It is regrettable, therefore, that the Queen's Speech did not contain a range of measures designed to produce a more effective criminal justice system. I certainly welcome the Government's intention to simplify immigration legislation. This is long overdue. Over the years my noble friend Lord Avebury and I have asked the Government to consolidate this complex legislation. May I ask the Minister what is intended by "simplifying immigration law" and "the path to citizenship"? We do not want a piecemeal approach but a coherent consolidation of the plethora of legislation enacted since 1971. Of course, I will have more to say when we receive proposals for "probationary citizenship". Suffice it to say at this stage that the process of citizenship must encompass the rights of all people to live in peace, get an education and a job and raise a family. It is a social contract encompassing the whole community. Its aim must include social inclusion, tolerance, equality and a diverse society where human rights flourish. To delay the process for those who have established their right to remain here would be counterproductive. Surely the last thing we want is to have the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, putting an "L" plate on migrants because he is not satisfied that the applicant speaks the Queen's English. On that count, I do not think I would have qualified for my citizenship.
In conclusion, the lines are clearly drawn. We look forward to interesting debates in coming months.
Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract (Labour)
My Lords, Members of the House may recall that on
The arrogance of these solicitors is matched only by their greed. After a decade of inaction by the Law Society, a handful of cases are finally surfacing before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. The hall of infamy includes firms such as Raleys, Ashton Morton Slack, Wake Smith, Lopian Wagner and, of course, Beresfords. I add the firm of Thompsons in the north-east, a trade union firm with an excellent reputation. How could we forget Jim Beresford who, thanks to the British Coal litigation, became a multimillionaire, with a personal income exceeding £15 million per annum? Having given evidence to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal against his former solicitors, Beresfords, a retired miner, John Straw, tuned to some other miners and said, "Me and thee went down that dusty pit for 25 years to earn his private jet, £140 million and a mansion near Wetherby. I had four children and I never had a holiday, because I could not afford one".
I am sure that the actions of these lawyers are limited to a few firms. Nevertheless, the effect on the miners has been such that they have lost out, after many years in the coal mine, and they are suffering. Over the past years, going back 20 years, to my time in the other place, I have been introducing Bills on this dreadful bronchitis and emphysema. I go to my local hospital from time to time and see men who cannot breathe and who cannot live without oxygen. They have no strength at all to fight their corner, and it is the same for the widows. What I want is what I asked for in the previous debate; will the Minister consider at least attempting to form some legislation that will stop the disgraceful practice of these people getting so rich at the expense of the miners? I have seen cases where the solicitors received their £2,200 and the miner had received £1,000 compensation, and the solicitors had the cheek to take deductions from that amount.
I had hoped that I would not have to rise again after my 2006 debate when I requested action, but unfortunately I have had to do so. I am becoming a very old man; I do not always feel it but I sometimes do. I shall never rest until justice is brought about for these unfortunate people. I know that people can listen to me, sympathise and imagine what the situation is like, but people should go around these hospitals and see these men—many of them are not old men—fighting for life with not much life left in them. Some of them cannot lift a cup of tea to their lips; and a minority of lawyers have taken money off their compensation.
I hope that the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner will continue, as it has in recent times, to push the lawyers to refund the money. Some of them have done that, but nothing near the amount that is necessary. I appeal to my friend the Minister to take what I have said this evening into account and give it serious consideration. I wonder whether there is any action at all that can be taken against these solicitors, bearing in mind that they have accepted an agreed payment from government for their services and then they stole money from miners' compensation.
I am not tying all the solicitors' profession with this business, because that is not true, but there are firms that are doing it, and I believe that some action should be taken to put right the terrible things that these solicitors, who people trust, have done. When you go to a solicitor, people trust that they are going to get the best advice. Some of these miners have never been to a solicitor in their lives; they trust them and they have been let down by a profession that we all ought to be able to trust. I hope that my contribution tonight will bear some results and that pressure will be brought to bear on these solicitors to pay back every farthing that they stopped out of miners' compensation.
I am sure that the whole House will agree with the points that I have made. I hope that action will be taken, and I press my noble friend the Minister to take the necessary action and at least attempt—even if it is not possible in legislation—to take every possible action to get this money returned to the miners.
Lord Sheikh (Conservative)
My Lords, the subjects of home, legal and constitutional affairs touch the lives of every single citizen in the United Kingdom and have been of much policy interest in recent years. I should like to focus on the problems of binge drinking, which has created a major headache for large numbers of people, has disastrous health consequences for a number of people, and is partly responsible for a crime epidemic that lies at the heart of much misery in our country.
Although I am a teetotaller, I am not suggesting that people should totally abstain from drinking, but I am sure that we would all like to see people drinking in moderation and behaving responsibly. If you go to any town centre on a Friday or Saturday night, what do you see? You see people drinking excessively, fighting among themselves, confronting the police and security staff, causing property damage and dirtying the streets. This type of behaviour is unacceptable and needs to be corrected urgently.
The cost of binge drinking in the United Kingdom is estimated to amount to around £20 billion. This includes the cost of alcohol-related illness and crime, the cost incurred by the police and local authorities, industry and the National Health Service. Figures produced by the Office for National Statistics show that the number of alcohol-related deaths in the United Kingdom doubled between 1991 and 2006, with a 4 per cent increase between 2005 and 2006 to 8,758 in that year.
Deaths occur due to a variety of obvious causes such as liver problems and not-so-evident causes such as different kinds of cancers. In addition, alcohol plays a major role in crime and different types of disorders. There are of course bodily injuries and the cost of damage to property relating to such activities is in excess of £8 billion a year. Numerous road traffic accidents are the result of excessive alcohol consumption and hundreds of people are killed or maimed, and there is of course damage to vehicles and other properties. Drinking alcohol results in a number of domestic violence cases and in people being absent from work. There is also a problem relating to excessive drinking among teenagers and children, and a number of school children have been suspended for drinking alcohol in schools.
I should declare that I am in the insurance industry, and a considerable number of the claims that we deal with are due to excessive consumption of alcohol. These claims relate to personal injury and property damage.
One reason for the increase of binge intoxication is the gradual increase in the alcohol content of wines, beers and particularly lagers. Twenty years ago, the average alcohol content of beers and lagers was 3.5 per cent or 4 per cent. Now these drinks have alcohol content of 5 per cent or 5.5 per cent. In certain lagers the alcohol content could be as much as 8 per cent.
It seems inconceivable to me and to a great number of other people that the Government appeared so relaxed about the introduction of 24-hour drinking. Indeed, the vice-chairman of the Police Federation recently commented that,
"the Government didn't stop to think of the consequences of its actions when it introduced round the clock drinking".
This measure has put enormous strain on the resources of the police and has been responsible for an explosion in the number of incidents of anti-social behaviour. I should like to see a reversal of the Government's unleashing of 24-hour drinking on our towns and cities by providing local authorities with the discretion to apply powers as they see appropriate. Local authorities are best placed to consider the particular needs of the communities that they serve, and they are accountable to those electorates. I should appreciate the Minister's response to this suggestion.
We need to take action to address the problem of loss-leader sales of alcohol, where alcohol is sold below the cost price. A proper review of the alcohol duty regime would be helpful, with a particular view to increasing the duty on those drinks most associated with binge drinking—alcopops, super-strength beers and super-strength ciders. More effective use of the tax system to tackle binge drinking should be considered. I would kindly ask the Minister to comment on the matter of taxation in this regard.
I hope also that the Minister will be in a position to update the House on what steps are being taken as a consequence of the recent alcohol price, promotion and harm review conducted earlier in the year. The Government have reported that they received more than 3,300 representations on the Department of Health's proposals for the introduction of a mandatory code of practice for the alcohol industry. Although it is not possible to calculate the exact costs of treating alcohol-related conditions, it is estimated that the cost of treatment drugs has doubled in the past 10 years. The Alcohol Needs Assessment Research Project, published in November 2005, found that in 2003-04, a total of £217 million was being spent by the National Health Service and local authorities on specialist alcohol treatment, treating some 63,000 people for alcohol-related disorders. It is estimated that around 1.1 million people were actually dependent on alcohol.
We need to consider carefully how best we can tackle the scourge of alcoholism in this country. The UK Alcohol Treatment Trial has estimated that for every pound spent on alcohol treatment, the public sector saves £5. Yet the problem of binge drinking appears to be growing out of control. In April of this year, the number of people receiving structured treatment for alcohol misuse was 44,863, according to the Government, and the consequential costs that all of us are having to bear are spiralling.
It is apparent that we have a major problem and that the Government themselves have recognised that more action needs to be taken. I hope that the Minister can provide more assurance that appropriate action will be taken. We are looking forward to receiving details of the proposed measures. I would certainly welcome co-ordinated measures which give local authorities powers to ban "happy hours", all-you-can-drink offers and other price promotions. We should like to see cigarette-type health warnings in the media and cans and bottles must show alcohol unit content. Some of the supermarkets and retailers are selling alcohol at a cheap price and we need to consider banning the sale of alcohol at less than cost price.
Finally, it would be welcome if we considered introducing compulsory training for staff in any premises selling alcohol. At present, this training is voluntary, but we need to think about making this mandatory.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, in the gracious Speech we were reassured that Her Majesty's Government would continue to work closely with the devolved Administrations in the interests of all the people of the United Kingdom. Before I move on to talk about some of the recent constitutional developments in Scotland in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom, I wish to highlight one area where I very much hope that there will be close co-operation. It relates to the coroners and justice Bill, which has been mentioned a number of times. What progress is being made on the jurisdiction and arrangements for inquiring into the deaths of Scotland-based service personnel who are killed on duty overseas? I tabled a Question on this in April and was advised by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, that:
I have not heard anything about the content of the Bill that might reflect that, but perhaps the Minister can update us on where we have got to. It is an important issue that does not simply concern jurisdiction. Families of deceased personnel living in Scotland have to travel to the inquests and at the moment the bodies are returned to England, which is where the inquests take place.
I declare an interest as a member—I hasten to add, unremunerated—of the Commission on Scottish Devolution, or the Calman commission, to reflect the chairmanship of our distinguished chair and public servant, Sir Kenneth Calman. The commission was established by a vote of the Scottish Parliament in December last year and was subsequently given official support by the United Kingdom Government. Its terms of reference, as approved by the Scottish Parliament, are:
"To review the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 in the light of experience and to recommend any changes to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the Scottish Parliament to serve the people of Scotland better, that would improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament and that would continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom".
It started its work in April and published a first and interim report last week. By the very nature of an interim report, it did not reach any major conclusions and, in the absence of a shopping list of more functions for further devolution, it inevitably received a somewhat muted press. However, it came to one important conclusion: that the Scotland Act 1998 has worked well. To those of your Lordships who laboured hard for many hours trying to secure the passage of that legislation, I hope that that is some reassurance.
The evidence and views received by the commission indicated that the devolved institutions have established themselves in Scottish life and are widely valued by a majority of Scots and that devolution within the union remains by some margin the preferred constitutional model. In a debate in which we have discussed the relationship between government and the people, it is important to remind ourselves of some of the underlying principles behind devolution—bringing government, and indeed parliament, closer to the people. It has allowed an opportunity for different policy approaches to take account of different circumstances and for there to be different methods of delivery.
Furthermore—this is something that I always hoped would happen through devolution in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland—it has allowed for comparisons of different approaches and the opportunity to learn from each other, be it the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly or this Parliament in legislating for England. Noble Lords will recall that earlier today at Question Time my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill raised the issue of the Scottish approach to DNA samples. The Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition took a different approach and it is possible that there is something to learn there.
We should be conscious that we do things differently now and we should be able to share each other's experiences—something that goes two ways. I have to confess that the Calman commission found that the second report of this House's Constitution Committee in the 2002-03 Session, on interinstitutional arrangements in the United Kingdom, had not been paid too much attention north of the border—I was as guilty of that as anyone. There were important findings in that report about the structure of the relationships between the United Kingdom Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, and between the Government of the United Kingdom and Scottish Ministers, to which we would certainly do well to pay further attention.
The report also dwells on Scotland's place in the union and gives a persuasive analysis of what makes us a united kingdom. Behind the political and legal union, with the monarchy and the United Kingdom Parliament, are important, fundamental principles such as those referred to in the debate by my noble friend Lord Goodhart and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy: the rule of law, the culture of human rights and the independence of the judiciary. The international dimension, in which the United Kingdom exercises its functions as a sovereign state, provides us with defence and national security and a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. There is also the economic union. The 1707 Act created perhaps one of the most successful single markets of modern times, very much to Scotland's advantage. We have seen the hurricane blow through the financial markets in recent times and that economic union continues to be to Scotland's advantage. I would rather that our interests were shared with the rest of the United Kingdom than see them linked to the arc of prosperity with Iceland, as proposed by Scotland's First Minister.
It has been a cultural union—the "bond of sympathy", as the late 19th-century Scottish jurist James Bryce said—with family and business links. There was even the success that we shared in Team GB at the Beijing Olympics. There is also a common social citizenship—the fact that we value and cherish some very fundamental principles. The obvious ones are free universal school education, free healthcare at the point of need and a common system of social security benefits, which are accessed by people whether they come from Surrey or Shetland. If those people move from Surrey to Shetland or from Shetland to Surrey, those things will still be available to them as citizens of the United Kingdom.
I think that we can be confident of Scotland's place in the union. In my view, the work of the commission is to see how we can better serve the people of Scotland by building on the devolution that we already have. There was an overwhelming tide of opinion where there was a wish to transfer one particular function rather than another, and that may reflect the strength of the 1998 Act. However, the commission has agreed to look further at issues such as the misuse of drugs, drink-driving limits, firearms legislation and aspects of health and safety. We welcome the fact that, according to the gracious Speech, the Marine and Coastal Access Bill will make provision for further executive and administrative devolution to Scottish Ministers.
Crucially, we must also look at the future of finance. I think that tomorrow the House Committee is due to propose a committee to look at the Barnett formula. That will be very important provided that we all work together and that account is taken of what the Calman commission and the Welsh Assembly Government Commission on Funding and Finance are saying. The point about the Barnett formula is that it has not produced an extra penny for Scotland compared with what the position would have been if there had been no devolution. The formula continues. It establishes not the amount but the annual change in the base, the base having been established in the late 1970s. Although it has the advantage of being predictable, it does not have the advantage of accountability.
"no self-respecting parliament should expect to exist permanently on 100 per cent handouts determined by another parliament, nor should it be responsible for massive public expenditure without any responsibility for raising revenue in a manner accountable to its electorate".
I believe that that is the challenge that we now face on the question of how to make funding the Scottish Parliament's expenditure more accountable and more transparent. We want to look at the balance between a direct grant, assigning tax revenues and tax devolution itself. In a recent submission on fiscal powers to the commission, Reform Scotland recommended that each tier of government should be responsible for raising the bulk of the funding for its spending. We must look at that as we move forward because the status quo is not an option. We have been asked to improve the accountability of the Scottish Parliament and so we must look at the range of options available to make those who take the decisions on spending much more accountable to the voters.
I conclude by echoing the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who said that Tony Blair embarked on devolution but became rather frightened by it after the genie was out of the bottle. We do not need to be frightened. Scotland can be confident of its place in the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom can be confident of the glue that keeps us together. I am afraid that that fear influenced the evidence that the commission received from the United Kingdom Government. However, as Professor Robert Hazell said in his keynote address to the Constitution Unit's annual devolution conference in May this year:
"The UK government can and should be far more confident about the future of the Union than it appears to be. I have suggested that the Union rests on much broader and firmer foundations than the government seems to realise ... The panic which gripped UK ministers last summer after the formation of the SNP government was extraordinary. They confused the threat to their party with a threat to the nation. They need to calm down, be a lot more confident".
I very much hope that we can reflect some of that confidence as the Calman commission moves into its next phase.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (Crossbench)
My Lords, despite having put my name down to speak today, rather than on Thursday when health will be discussed, I assure the Government that I shall try to contribute on Bills that concern health as they come before the House. Today, I want to focus on the much awaited coroners and justice Bill. This vital piece of legislation is overdue, having twice previously been omitted from the gracious Speech. We debated this in the Moses Room in January and I hope that the Government have taken into account the many salient points that were made.
I have spoken to many colleagues in medicine about this. I am grateful to Professor Furness from Leicester, who assures me that, among pathologists, these proposals are welcome, particularly the reform of death certification and the introduction of medical examiners, which should do more to prevent the next Harold Shipman than any amount of medical revalidation. However, there are concerns about funding to underpin reform as well as concerns over whether the proposed new chief coroner will have sufficient powers to control coroners who have long experience of doing things in their own, and at times radically different, way.
The governance arrangements for medical examiners will be key to their function. With the appointment of a national medical adviser to the chief coroner, it was hoped that that person would have some managerial oversight of medical examiners, but it seems that coronial business remains the province of the Ministry of Justice, while medical examiners are creatures of the Department of Health. That seems disjointed. Are the medical examiners to be independent of coroners or a support for their work? If they are to be supportive, why are they answerable to different departments?
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, too, feels that the coroners and justice Bill is long overdue. It praises the proposals to make it easier for parents of a stillborn child or a child who dies in the neonatal period to have access to all the relevant paperwork without having to initiate litigation. The obstetricians also welcome the provision that would give coroners the power, in cases of, for example, stillbirth as a result of negligence, to demand that a hospital not only carries out a full investigation but also sets out how it will prevent the same problems from happening again.
It is a sad reflection on our society that elder abuse seems rife. My noble friend Lady Greengross posed a Question on that today. Those concerned with the welfare of the elderly and who are trying to improve their quality of life are looking to this Bill to ensure that coroners can bring cases of abuse to light. At present, some suggest that too few deaths among older people are referred to a coroner and there is serious concern that elder abuse is currently going undetected.
Coroners, area coroners, assistant coroners and those assisting them will all need to receive training on these issues and processes, particularly those pertaining to child deaths. There is a tension concerning child deaths, where investigation can prove particularly distressing to the bereaved and yet any abuse or negligence must be identified to protect other children.
I, too, have a question for the Minister on the proposed citizenship, immigration and borders Bill. How will it affect doctors from overseas who want to pursue their studies in the UK or remain here permanently if they are able to secure a position? It is worth noting that a shortfall in the number of doctors applying for posts seems to be emerging since the recent changes in the Immigration Rules.
Although not for today, I am concerned that reforms to welfare may have unintended consequences of discriminating against those with fluctuating disability from conditions such as multiple sclerosis. I hope that the Government will ensure that the equality Bill takes account of such fluctuations. I shall not repeat my comments concerning that Bill, which are already in the record of the debate in this House earlier in the year.
Let me return to the business of today. I am glad that the policing and crime Billwill include legislation on alcohol. The NHS sees on a daily basis the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. The most recent figures estimate the cost of alcohol misuse to the NHS to be £2.7 billion a year, from having to deal with violent and aggressive patients in accident and emergency, from caring for people and their families suffering from long-term conditions as a direct result of drinking alcohol and from treating the victims of accidents caused by drivers being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Why have the Government not had the courage to say, "No drink whatsoeverif you hold the car keys"? There is confusion about just what a unit of alcohol is in practice. The current guidance tempts drivers to go up to what they think is the limit, but they may well be over it. Some people are more impaired than others by even a small amount of alcohol. That is partly due to tolerance, some of which is genetic. Surely it is time that we move to a policy whereby, "Don't Drink and Drive"means do not drink and drive.
If these Bills are courageous, they can make a difference to protect the vulnerable and the innocent.
Lord Elton (Conservative)
My Lords, in the gracious Speech, the Government promised measures to strengthen the role of Parliament. One has to view with a little cynicism any promise from the Government to strengthen the role of Parliament. We have to remind ourselves that the Government existed before Parliament and that Parliament was invented to protect the British people from the Government. Therefore, the Government are offering to make a rod for their own back. Parliament was first brought into existence to protect the rich and powerful, their liberty and their money, against the operation of the Crown, but down the years, through successive broadenings of the franchise, it extended to protect the whole of the electorate, the adult population of this country, their liberty and their money from being stolen as taxes. That being so, it is extraordinary that at present the great mass of the people has almost no interest whatever about what is going on in Parliament, how the constitution works or whether it works at all.
It was not always so. There have been a number of causes of the way that has developed over the past 50 years. The most striking, and the least noted, has been the Government's increasing control of the use of information, which has been dramatically illustrated in the past few days. I well remember that in the 1960s, when I was a parliamentary candidate and took a close interest in these things, if a Minister was so ill advised as to make a statement about government policy outside the House of Commons, at a guildhall dinner, a constituency fete or anywhere else, and let out of the bag some small item about what the Government were going to do, he was immediately hauled back by the Speaker to answer in an emergency debate in the House of Commons. He made the leak; he intended to give the news in order to grab the headlines; he got the headlines all right, but they were not about the policy but about his humiliation in being brought back to the House, where he was drubbed for his misconduct.
The consequence of that was that all political announcements of consequence were made in the House of Commons, apart from a few that were made in this House. That was where the news was breaking, and the newsmen were in the Gallery to report to the people. What happens now is very different. A press conference is called somewhere in Whitehall, or possibly somewhere in Birmingham, and the press are told what is going to happen. I draw the Minister's attention to the consequences of that. It is not merely that the public are not informed about what the Opposition think about what is proposed, but they are kept in the dark about what the Government's own Back-Benchers think about it. What may be a perfectly rotten proposal that is vilified by our side is still paraded as whiter than white in the press because the hacks have reported the hacks who were invited by the Government to listen to the Government. I regret to say that it is in the spring of the life of a Government rather than its autumn, which we are now observing, that these reforms take place, but this Government or the next ought to consider reinstituting such arrangements.
It is really a job for the whole House of Commons to grab back its authority to control the release of government information and keep it within its grasp. The effect on public concern and interest in Parliament would be electric. They would know what was going on. They would know what their Member had said. They would know how it affected them. They would want to read the papers; they would want to watch the telly; they would want to ring up; they would get on to blogs to make their point.
We should never forget that the Government existed before Parliament and that Parliament was invented to protect the people and their liberty and money. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern asked a pertinent question earlier: is it wise, he said, to have so many minions of the Government occupying seats in the Chamber that was invented to control them? The Minister looks puzzled; perhaps he has forgotten that, until the reign of George I, no Minister was allowed to set foot anywhere in the Palace of Westminster because Westminster was there to control the Government. They did not want to have the Government inside. George I did not speak English and needed a Prime Minister to conduct his business.
Thence we have got to the state where now we have 21 members of the Cabinet, 26 Ministers of State, 31 Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State and 18 Whips, making 97 altogether on what is commonly called the payroll vote. To them, we add the aspirants to power, the Parliamentary Private Secretaries, who lose their post if they squeak at all against their leaders. That is another 44, making 141 tame voices in the body that was invented to control the Government. Wiser heads than mine should consider what should be done about that, but something should be, and my noble and learned friend has put his finger on it.
Parliament was invented to protect the people against the Government, to protect their money and their liberty. More than 92,000 of them in the United Kingdom—not a combined figure that we often hear—are now not at liberty but in Her Majesty's prisons in one or other of the three parts of the United Kingdom. In December this month, there were 83,322 in England and Wales, 7,798 in Scotland and 1,517 in Northern Ireland. If my arithmetic is correct—and I have done it twice—that is 92,637 prisoners living at public expense and making no contribution to the economy.
Has the noble Lord made any connection in his mind between what I am saying and what the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, said earlier: that she had elicited from the Government that the present regime had instituted more than 1,020 new criminal offences since it came to power? Can there be any connection, I wonder? Is it just possible that, if the Government had created only 20 rather than 1,020 new offences, there would be fewer people in prison? Are we going about making our society work in an intelligent and productive way?
Let us look at the people in prison, because this is the Home Office day, as it were. This point flows over into the education day, but I will turn my back on education for the moment. I remind your Lordships that 48 per cent of prisoners are at or below the level expected of an 11 year-old in reading; 65 per cent are below the skill expected of an 11 year-old in numeracy; and 82 per cent are at or below the 11 year-old level in writing. That comes from Hansard, at col. 547W of
Clearly, something is wrong on the literacy front. I have been at pains to go over that ground repeatedly with the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, with regard to what perhaps I may call the civilian education section. However, the highest concentration of dyslexic people in the United Kingdom is assembled in the sumps of our prisons. Dyslexia is a significant contributor to offending by the young and by young adult people. If we can tackle that, we shall have done something to reduce our prison population, which is a disgrace and an embarrassment. At the beginning of the tenth minute, I shall leave it at that, but I hope that the Minister thinks of it tonight.
Lord Dixon (Labour)
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to our debate today, and I look forward to many hours of interesting debate on the security Bill, the police Bill, the legal affairs Bill and the constitutional Bill. On the police Bill, I tend to agree with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. Why on earth we should have directly elected police authorities, I do not know. We keep eroding the powers of democratically elected local government, and I see no purpose in this.
As a time-served boilermaker, I always like to listen to noble and learned ladies and gentlemen. Someone told me, or I read somewhere, that we have thousands of laws on the statute book. However, we have yet to improve on the 10 commandments. I shall spend a few minutes speaking about something that should have been in the gracious Speech, and would have been welcomed by those who live in shipbuilding communities, but was omitted: legislation to deal with the Law Lords' decision of
For more than 20 years, compensation was paid to those diagnosed as suffering from pleural plaques, and there is no way in which anyone can have pleural plaques without having been exposed to asbestos. Last night, I listened to the maiden speech of my honourable friend Lindsay Roy in the other place, who paid a fitting and emotional tribute to his honourable friend John MacDougall, who unfortunately died of asbestos-related diseases.
After many representations from trade unions and MPs—I made one or two representations myself—the Government initiated a consultation exercise, which ended in September. A decision was to be made in November, which is why we expected to see something in the Queen's Speech. I worked in the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry for 37 years before becoming a Member of Parliament. Many of the colleagues with whom I served my apprenticeship and worked have died of asbestos-related diseases, and I know from experience what a terrible death that is.
As I said, there is no way in which anyone can get pleural plaques other than through exposure to asbestos. It is therefore an industrial disease. Since the Law Lords' ruling in October 2007, it does not qualify for compensation under the current arrangement, although in the past it qualified for payments under civil arrangements. Pleural plaques are a result of exposure to asbestos and the penetration of the lungs by asbestos fibres. They often cause breathlessness, pain and anxiety in patients and their families, who are well aware of the number of cases that go on to develop more serious asbestos-related diseases. Pleural plaques occur as asbestos fibres are passed through the lungs and cause a hardening of the pleura that protect the lungs. We know that the Prime Minister is sympathetic because he has said so at Question Time in the other place. He has also made two public statements saying that he wants to resolve the matter of compensation for people who suffer from this disease.
The Government set up a consultative exercise, which was to end in September, and a decision was to be made in October 2007. Three options were put forward for consultation. However, people to whom I have spoken prefer the option of new legislation. A simple two-clause Bill would suffice. A claim for payment should be allowed for a person with asbestos-induced pleural plaques and for the dependant of a person who immediately before death was diagnosed with pleural plaques. That is in line with the amendment put down by my honourable friend Mick Clapham to the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill at Report stage in the other place, but it was not pressed to a vote.
I have spoken about the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry, which is where I spent most of my working life. The conditions were vile. You worked in engine rooms where you could not see the light bulbs for the asbestos fibres that were floating about. The only person who had any protective material was the person putting on the lagging, not the fitters or the others who worked in the engine room. All he had was a Martindale mask, which was a bit of gauze and cotton wool with an elastic band that went around the ears. That was the only protection for anyone who worked in those atrocious conditions.
However, I know that asbestos and pleural plaques affect many people in other industries. The Government would do a great service if they brought forward a Bill during this parliamentary Session to deal with the anomalies that were set up after the Law Lords' ruling.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno (Spokesperson in the Lords, International Development; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, in the Welsh non-conformist tradition, the big occasion—I am sure that the Queen's Speech is a big occasion—is called the "Cyrddan mawr". The main preacher preaches for 45 minutes. He divides his sermon into three and he ends with a peroration that people will remember until the next big festival. The guidance is start low, climb higher and, when most possessed, take fire. I will just divide my speech into three and be as brief as I can.
We are here in our different ways to fulfil a vision; that is, to improve society. We want to take positive measures to make sure that society is better after we have been than it was before. This starts in the local community. The new world can begin in the parish council, the community council or the town hall where decisions and moves forward are made. Today, we have discussed things that Parliament can change, although we may have to see how the wind blows. My noble friend Lady Miller spoke of the 1 million DNA samples that are being retained, most of which were taken from totally innocent people. The Government can change that. I am delighted to hear that moves are in hand to bring about a new approach to DNA samples. Of course, Scotland is leading in that regard.
The Government are obsessed with the introduction of identity cards. I was glad about the announcement the other day that at least we are not expected to carry identity cards to be produced on demand by a police officer. But the network for identity cards is already in place; namely, the 68 passport personal interview offices in the UK. Any new applicant for a passport now has to have a personal, face-to-face interview. Some 468 officers man the 68 offices. The scheme has been introduced to prevent terrorism, fraud and identity theft, and is part of the new network of databases and identity cards. I am told that over the past year, 216,581 personal interviews were held for first-time applicants for a UK passport. Of those 216,581 interviews, how many of the applications failed? Not a single application has been found not worthy of a passport or eventually an identity card. I therefore ask the Minister whether the cost of this project at £176 million to date represents money well spent. Is it not time that the Government reviewed the policy and even asked the Audit Commission to look at it? Not one refusal among more than 216,000 interviews indicates a serious situation.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord West, for his help regarding visa applications made by children from Kampala in Uganda. I am so grateful that we succeeded in solving the problem. However, we have a continuing concern because children coming to the United Kingdom on exchange or promotional visits will find it more difficult to do so because of the new regulations, some of which are already in place with more to be introduced in October 2009. Those arranging these visits say that the regulations are unworkable. Could the Government look at this situation again? I am delighted that the Minister is ready to hold discussions with us, and I hope that the Watoto Choir from Kampala, other choirs and the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service will all be able to participate in the discussions.
I can say this about the Watoto children. Some 36 choir visits have been made from Uganda to the United Kingdom involving 600 children and thousands of host families. There has not been a single incident that could be regarded as in any way suspicious. Of course we must have legislation to protect the children of the UK and of course we must have legislation to prevent the trafficking of children. However, it needs further review to ensure that totally legitimate and commendable visits by children are not made more difficult to arrange. I hope that we can discuss the issues in a positive way and come up with guidelines that will allow such visits not only to continue but even to increase.
I came to realise why I am a Liberal when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, speak on immigration policy. I saw then why I am on these Benches and not on those Benches. The whole approach was, to me, totally unacceptable. Immigration policy must be positive and constructive. We do not want to become Fortress Britain. From the time of the Huguenots to the Ugandan Asians, people have been welcomed here because this country is a safe haven for those in need, and that should continue. I hope that when we discuss the new Bill, we can look again at one section in an old Act. Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 withdraws all benefits from failed asylum seekers, which means that we are deliberately putting children and families into destitution. So I ask the Government to accept an amendment when the new Bill comes before us that will remove that section. It is not part of our humanitarian tradition.
Finally, I urge that there should be additional co-operation with organisations that aim to put a roof over the heads of the many hundreds of rough sleepers, who are usually people from the European Union and from overseas. They come here to look for work and their dreams evaporate. I have spoken to Members of the European Parliament and I have suggested that we should consider the transferability of benefits. If people have a pension from, say, Lithuania or Poland, they could draw that pension—their money, not ours—in the United Kingdom. Why not now have a system of social benefits where the exchequers of those who fall on hard times here remit the money for payment to them in the United Kingdom? We have discussed the relationship between Scotland and England and I am glad that there is no reluctance in the new framework against benefits payable in Scotland not being immediately payable in England and Wales.
There is much to be discussed. We are a part of Europe but we sometimes have a hokey-cokey attitude towards it; we put our right foot in and then take it out afterwards. We are in Europe and providing work on a European-wide basis. We should also be providing the support which can sometimes be necessary for those who do not always make a go of it. I welcome the gracious Speech. I am grateful for most of what is in it while hoping for better things to come. It is an opportunity for us to show ourselves once again as a caring and civilised nation.
Viscount Goschen (Conservative)
My Lords, it is indisputable that the Government have the full support of the vast majority of the population of the United Kingdom in our allied countries and from all sides of both Houses in the measures that they have taken to address the real and present threats that we face from terrorism. However, they are in danger of diluting that support—and, indeed, abusing it—by utilising legislation and operational powers that were brought in under the cover of anti-terrorism requirements for totally unconnected purposes. It is dangerous in that Ministers will not be given the benefit of the doubt the next time they come to the Dispatch Box—and I am sure that they will—asking for ever further reaching powers.
There have been many notable examples. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, about the Australian version of our Regulation of Investigatory Powers Acts, RIPA, in which your Lordships' House played such a prominent role in its revision when the Bill was brought from the House of Commons in a totally unacceptable state. That legislation was sold to Parliament by the Government and Ministers as a vital measure to give the intelligence and security agencies the formal framework and powers they needed in order to pursue their surveillance activities. That is a totally legitimate purpose which the House strongly supported at the time. But what has transpired subsequently is that the assurances that were given by Ministers that these powers would be used to combat the most serious types of activities have proved to be rather different from the facts that have emerged.
An extraordinarily broad plethora of agencies concerned with the environment and education—local authorities, for example—have not been able to resist the temptation to reach for the statutory top shelf and to help themselves to the kind of surveillance options designed to keep tabs on terrorists. They might well be pursuing valid offenders, but one has to question whether those measures are proportionate to the criminal activities concerned. What message does this send to the public at large? How do the Government believe it affects public support for measures that may be used against members of the public—for example, to see whether they have put down their children for the right school?
On the same theme, the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was used to seize the assets of Landsbanki in the UK. The situation here is rather different in that that Act overtly provides for this type of situation, but the fact that banking regulation and anti-terrorism legislation were mixed in the same Act has led to utter confusion outside Westminster and to the Icelandic people being deeply insulted. Again, the public perception is that the threat of terror has been used to deal with totally unrelated and unconnected financial services issues. In responding to that debate, the noble Lord, Lord Myners, in his excellent maiden speech, was unconvinced that that bizarre blend presented a serious problem. The majority of voices think otherwise. We now have the Banking Bill before us—what a perfect opportunity to put that right.
The next example that I shall draw on was when we heard from the noble Lord, Lord West, that the police who arrested Damian Green were counterterrorism officers. In an award-winning—and, I might say, Sir-Humphrey-esque—turn of phrase, he commented that:
"It might appear to be a counterterrorism issue because of what they are called".—[Hansard, 4/12/08; col. 50.]
I know, and the House has been told, that Special Branch has been combined with Counterterrorism Command, but the nomenclature says it all: if Special Branch officers are rebranded as counterterrorism officers, surely it is reasonable to assume that that is the focus of their activities. If that is not the case then unnecessary confusion has been created, and I question why.
Unless the Government realise that using the spectre of terrorism to achieve unrelated aims is unjustified, ineffective and counterproductive, we will be more vulnerable, not less. Against that background, the chain of events initiated by the Home Secretary's department that has led to the arrest of her political opponent looks exceptionally dangerous and chilling.
Lord Laird (UUP)
My Lords, I note in the gracious Speech the reference to Northern Ireland, and I support that reference. Tomorrow,
The 1998 Belfast agreement does not require a provincial Bill. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission was asked to advise on supplementary rights, not to interfere with the UK's international obligations. It was asked to address,
"the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland",
meaning sectarian violence and division, not the full range of domestic public policy including economic and social issues. The Human Rights Commission has abused its powers by seeking to impose its own agenda as an unelected, and in some cases unelectable, group of individuals.
There is an unbridgeable gulf between the Government and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Earlier this year I asked a series of 34 Parliamentary Questions across the range of government policy. I never indicated that my inspiration was the final report of the Bill of Rights Forum in Belfast. This document is proposed as the foundation for the Bill of Rights. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, answered in the form of a Written Ministerial Statement on
I shall take just a few examples of the Bill of Rights Forum's proposals for Northern Ireland. One is the raising of the age of criminal responsibility to 18. It means that I would live in the only part of the United Kingdom where young vandals and louts could run the streets free of criminal responsibility at a time when Jack Straw is proposing tougher measurers in England and Wales. Another example is the right to continuous improvement of living standards. Only in Northern Ireland, according to the Bill of Rights Forum, must the Government increase everyone's living standards year on year as a human right for the very rich and poor alike. Another example is the right to the highest attainable standards of health. Has anyone in the large human rights industry in Belfast ever heard of the credit crunch and the economic crisis? These concepts are aspirations, not human rights.
Does anyone seriously think that we in Northern Ireland are morally or politically justified in asking for a larger percentage of central funds to indulge these "rights"? What have these so-called rights to do with the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland? What about proposals to break down sectarianism? What about proposals concerning the right to peaceful assembly? Will there be disapproval of the religious discrimination in employment practices by some government bodies?
But there is more, much more. There is the abolition of the voluntary right to join the Armed Forces under the age of 18. I underline that the proposal is to do away only in Northern Ireland with the right of someone under 18 years of age to join the forces. It is in the name of human rights. There is a right to adequate housing, reverse discrimination for favoured groups, the abolition of all oaths, restriction on freedom of expression, and the making of the right to strike a human right for all, including the Army and police. There is no end to this utter nonsense. It is very interesting that on each and every one of these and many more policies the Government have already indicated that they are not in favour—I refer noble Lords to that Statement of
Many people hope that they will not hear any more of this Santa Clause-style Christmas wish list in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission report to be published tomorrow, but I suspect that we will. I wonder whether any Member of your Lordships' House thinks that the type of special human rights already outlined should apply to Northern Ireland because of its "particular circumstances".
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, throughout its sorry, one-sided, nine-year existence, has cost more than £10 million. It has developed its own remit, ignored the obligations given to it at creation and has done immense damage to the view of human rights for one side of the community.
There are many examples of that one-sided approach to add to its support for religious discrimination in employment. Let us take the recently adjudicated case concerning the girls' school in north Belfast called Holy Cross. Despite there being two sides to this complex issue, the commission supported the case which suited its one-sided approach and managed to take it to Your Lordships' House, where it was thrown out with a rebuke to the commission by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann.
I am a citizen of the United Kingdom. I accept that there are particular circumstances that require human rights legislation for Northern Ireland. These circumstances are not about an inflated living standard and better housing and healthcare which my fellow citizens in England, Scotland and Wales cannot afford for themselves. The tactics of a large part of the human rights industry in Northern Ireland have been to impose an unelected control in the affairs of the Province, which is designed to divide us from the rest of the UK. In other circumstances, a government body that ignored its remit, wasted time, brought discredit on itself and that which it was supposed to promote and exceeded its original budget would be subject to parliamentary and governmental inquiry— so why not the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission?
As one who is genuinely in support of human rights for all, I strongly suggest that Her Majesty's Government should dispense with the services of the Chief Commissioner Monica McWilliams. As part of the United Kingdom, we should be involved with the UK Commission for Equality and Human Rights under Trevor Phillips, an outstanding human rights advocate. I have no doubt that that body could cope with the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland, which Professor McWilliams and her supporters refused to do.
Many of us take our position in the United Kingdom very seriously, in good times and in bad. We do not want more than what the totality of the union can give all of us. It is time that those with a political agenda which is not about genuine human rights but about destroying our place in the union, were exposed and confined to history. Shame on them for wasting time and money and for damaging the very concept of human rights.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine (Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, it has been a long and interesting debate. The gracious Speech, remembered as it will be more for what it omits than for what it includes, does not seem particularly fit for the serious times that we now confront, times when the social fabric of society will be ever more stretched with rising unemployment, homelessness and levels of poverty. Serious indeed these times will be for the large numbers of our fellow citizens who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
We know, a la Mr Damian Green, that the Home Office itself believes that the economic crisis will see a concomitant rise in crime and disorder, yet there are no measures to divert people, particularly those with mental health needs or learning disabilities, away from the criminal justice system into health and social care. There are no measures to end the unnecessary imprisonment of women for minor offences and no fresh thinking on why we continue with a prison system in which three-quarters of all young offenders are reconvicted within a year of release. Indeed, the opposite seems to be the case, as the march towards the white elephant that Titan prisons will become continues unabated. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, has told us that some £1 billion will need to be saved from the Ministry of Justice's budget. Can I propose to the Minister that scraping Titan prisons is one easy way to start?
Many noble Lords have spoken about the strains and stresses that the criminal justice system is under, from the processes in court to the overcrowding in prisons, right through to the lack of resources to effect a smooth transition into probation and the resumption of normal life. It was a pleasure today to add the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, to the usual suspects—the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Judd and Lord Elton, my noble friend Lord Dholakia and the noble Baroness, Lady Stern—who continue to hold the Government to account for the shameful state of our prisons.
Over the past year we have seen several reviews on which we await the Government's response, from the Bradley review to aspects of the Carter review on imprisonment, and we now have piecemeal measures to address some of the pressure points in the system through the coroners and justice Bill. Before I turn to specific measures, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, on her resuming the chairmanship of Justice. She rightly says that that role is too important for tribal politics, but given her outstanding record in defence of the rule of law, many on all sides of the House may wish to claim her for their tribe.
Despite the barracking of some of my noble friends here, I will confine my remarks to one particular issue in the gracious Speech—the establishment of a sentencing council for England and Wales in place of the Sentencing Guidelines Council—with a specific remit to promote consistency in sentencing practice. On our Benches, we recognise that, while more structured mandatory guidelines can indeed reduce inconsistencies in the system, and greater public understanding of the system is highly desirable, we are nevertheless clear that courts must retain their flexibility. The reduction of judicial discretion through formulaic systems such as US-style sentencing grids will not provide for greater justice for the criminal nor improve consistency and stability in sentencing.
We also welcome attempts at depoliticising sentencing, but we must approach reform in this area with care. For sentences to be deterrent, they must be tailored to the facts of individual cases as well as satisfying the public's need to see sentencing ultimately leading to deterrence.
The other interesting thing about the gracious Speech was what was missing, such as an area that was the Prime Minister's great preoccupation before he rediscovered his mission as the nation's banker—his pursuit of forging a new British identity for the citizens of the United Kingdom. For that task, he commissioned the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, to produce a report, Citizenship:OurCommon Bond. It is a comprehensive and thoughtful paper on where we are and where we might seek to go. At a time when the social fabric of society is under greater pressure than ever due to diversity and rising individualism, and at a time when changes to where we live and how we live are disconnecting us from each other, the Government are now silent.
The Goldsmith review, written after extensive consultation and some of the most forensic academic research of recent times, cast light on some of the more complex and intractable problems to do with law, entitlements, benefits and duties. We are all subject to these and we all derive rights as fully paid-up citizens of these areas of the law. The review sought to rationalise the very different routes to citizenship. There are currently six, it told us, several of which are rather opaque. I should declare that I naturalised as a citizen by availing myself of the automatic right to take that status after residence of five years—something that will now be abolished. I might even say that I was granted that right on the watch of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, at the Home Office in 1983. I hope that he can see some benefit in letting a few of us foreigners in.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord West, that British citizenship is indeed a privilege. For those who have acquired it, it is something that we cherish. But I hope that the loss of that right will be balanced by equally progressive measures to see migrants as more than mere instruments for economic growth, as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth.
In addition to rationalising a number of ancient outdated or disparate laws, the Goldsmith review also sought to address the importance of a common bond to bring an increasingly diverse society together. Among the new thinking are ideas to encourage youth volunteering and enhanced citizenship education from primary school onwards aimed at making young people more active as citizens.
The noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, spoke about youth radicalisation. The rollout of these kinds of measures would go some way towards engaging those who cannot immediately see how they belong in our society. The review also touched on how citizenship should be seen as an ongoing engagement which needs periodic reinforcement; hence practical measures for mentoring from older people with skills that they can pass on, discussing how these might work.
Finally, the review spoke to my particular interest, the role of newcomers. If there is a single integration measure that newcomers value above others, it is the ability to communicate: to speak English. Although, to our regret, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, does not advocate the state bearing the cost of English courses, he recommends a series of measures to strengthen participation in these courses. I hope that the Minister can tell us if he intends to act on any of these in the future.
On the same issue, my noble friend Lord Dholakia spoke for us all when he voiced concerns about the detail of earned citizenship. I remind the Minister that, rather than heeding the words of his colleague Mr Woolas in the other place, he might note that the Goldsmith review states that,
"any requirements that are imposed for the acquisition of citizenship ought to be meaningful. They should not be hurdles that are imposed to make the process a difficult one".
Briefly, on Muslims, I listened with keen interest to the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, on how difficult it is to make progress on the "prevent" strand of dealing with violent extremism. I share her concerns, and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones. We on these Benches pay tribute to the number of excellent people who are working to counter extremism. However, we do not wish to see the straitjacket of primary legislation employed to deal with and challenge ideology, however misguided it may be.
We have had a rich and varied debate, but a few themes stand out. First, there is that of a decreasing trust in the governance of Britain. My noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart, the noble Lords, Lord Williamson of Horton and Lord Norton of Louth, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate, eloquently spoke to this. A repeated point was that constitutional reform is not an add-on at times of national strain. Good institutions provide the backbone for social resilience, on which trust is founded. We on these Benches feel that our sentiments were best expressed by my noble friend Lord Goodhart in his reminder to us about how, as a society, our commitment to human rights, must be unwavering. We also heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and my noble friend Lady Miller, of the need for the Government to act now on the retention of DNA samples. The Minister can have been left in little doubt as to where both opposition parties are on this.
Where the Government's legislative programme has been thin, the debate on the gracious Speech has been extremely rich. There can be little doubt in the Minister's mind that we on these Benches will live up to our responsibilities in holding the Government to account on the measures in the Bill and those that should have been in it.
Lord Kingsland (Shadow Minister, Justice; Conservative)
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, observed, the subject matter on the gracious Speech today is extremely wide. Indeed, I suggest that his insight is a powerful candidate for being the understatement of the day. I apologise to noble Lords in advance for not responding to their speeches where they covered matters that were spoken to by my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones in her opening.
Having reminded your Lordships' House of the number of criminal justice Bills that have descended on your Lordships since 1997, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, concluded that no other country has suffered such a deluge of criminal legislation. He went on to express relief at what—to adapt the expression used by the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Ramsbotham—might be described as the anorexic nature of the Government's current legislative programme. I must say that I agree.
Subject, of course, to the detail, we welcome certain measures. The first is the coroners Bill, which will be linked to certain other justice matters. As your Lordships know, the coronial system has been with us for more than 700 years and is a vital component of our constitutional safeguards, especially where death occurs in state institutions or in the service of the state. In the draft coroners Bill, the Government describe the state of the coroner service as,
"fragmented, non-accountable, variable in its processes and its quality, ineffective in part, archaic in its statutory basis, and very much dependent on the good people working in, or resourcing it, at present for its continued ability to respond to the demands we place upon it".
In July 2003, the third report of the Shipman inquiry called for sweeping and broad reform. It said:
"The coronial system should be retained, but in a form entirely different from at present. There must be radical reform and a complete break with the past, as to organisation, philosophy, sense of purpose and mode of operation".
We will be as co-operative as we can be with the Government in seeking to produce a really fine piece of legislation fit for purpose. However, I emphasise—as indeed did my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones—that we will oppose any attempt to include the terms of Clause 64 of the Counter-Terrorism Bill in the new coroners legislation.
We also support the proposed increase in powers for the Information Commissioner. Since Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs lost the records of 25 million people, a further 277 data breaches have been reported to the independent Information Commissioner, 75 within the National Health Service, 28 in central government, 26 in local government and 47 in other parts of the public sector. This situation is quite unacceptable.
Witness anonymity legislation was introduced and passed in exceedingly compressed circumstances earlier in the year, following a decision of the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House. I confess to experiencing a degree of disappointment when I learnt that the Government had decided not to adopt a proposed amendment, supported by a number of your Lordships from all parts of the House, to incorporate a special advocate scheme in the legislation. I wonder whether the Government were wise to reach that conclusion. The difficulty that is faced in, for example, gang warfare cases is that, without the mediation of special counsel, the decisive factor in the trial is likely to be anonymous evidence of someone whose anonymity prevents him from being cross-examined on grounds of credibility.
I hesitate to comment on partial defences to murder without seeing the text of the Bill, but I found myself inclining towards the views expressed on the matter by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
The gracious Speech is perhaps more significant for what it does not include, such as constitutional renewal, as many of your Lordships observed. This got as far as the Joint Committee report of
The importance of some of the components of the constitutional renewal proposals has, in my view, been somewhat exaggerated. The Government have talked up the significance of transferring powers from the Executive to the legislature. But, as a number of your Lordships have observed, such as my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, while the Executive control the legislature, the value of this apparent transfer is extremely limited.
I recall that, at the time of the Constitutional Reform Bill debates, the Government made a great deal about the importance of the separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature, but looked extremely embarrassed when anyone mentioned the equal importance of the separation of powers between the Executive and the legislature. This is a matter that the Government were not prepared to confront and make no effort to confront in the constitutional renewal legislation. While they fail to do that, the value of this legislation, even if it gets on the statute book, will, in my submission, be extremely limited.
There are two matters that I want to touch on that are part of that story. First, there is the question of the status of the Attorney-General. Opposing views have been quite strongly expressed today in your Lordships' House. Your Lordships will perhaps not be surprised to learn that I side with the view expressed by my noble and learned friends Lord Mackay of Clashfern and Lord Lyell of Markyate. It seems to me that the trump issue is the guarantee that when the Attorney-General gives legal advice to the Government he gives that advice independently. The Attorney-General is never responsible for the advice itself; that is entirely a matter for him. But he is responsible for reaching his conclusions about the contents of that advice independently. The only real way in which we can guarantee that that advice is independent is by the requirement that the Attorney-General comes before Parliament, if necessary, to justify his independence. I do not see how we can get that guarantee from an official who is not a parliamentarian.
The other matter that I want to touch on is the question of treaties. I would go much further on treaties than the constitutional renewal Bill, which simply wants Parliament to ratify treaties. That has proved valueless where treaties have given away individuals rights of citizens, either to international organisations or to other countries. I am thinking particularly of the arrest warrant legislation and of a matter that is very close to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart: the extradition treaty with the United States. Here, in secret, government Ministers gave away the rights of individual citizens without Parliament ever being informed about it. Therefore, what Parliament should be aiming at is to be able to see the drafts of these treaties before they are signed, because once they are signed the Government are committed and there is very little that Parliament can do about it.
I would not like the House to think that the Opposition are not deeply interested in constitutional reform; we just have no illusions about what the Government are saying about the nature of the reform that they are proposing. I was also extremely grateful for the perceptions of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway on the powers of the Lord Chancellor following the 2005 Act.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, made an observation about the intentions of the Opposition in relation to the Human Rights Act. I would like to reassure him about that, to the extent that I am aware of what the Opposition are likely to do when they become the Government. There is one very big and obvious gap in the current human rights legislation, which has to be filled. The Government have used the human rights legislation to resile from some of our most fundamental common-law constitutional principles. Trial by jury is one; the use of propensity evidence in criminal trials is another. There are many others, too. Your Lordships will recall all the drama of the attempt to ouster judicial review. These are matters on which continental jurisprudence is silent, because its approach to the criminal law and the way in which trials are conducted is quite different. It has nothing to say about these matters. Yet we should have something to say as a nation about them and they should be enshrined in some fundamental legislative provision.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Labour)
My Lords, it is heartening to hear the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, speak as he does about the common law and the way in which it should integrate better with human rights legislation. Can I take it from him, therefore, that when or if there were to be a Conservative Government we would be talking about human rights plus, rather than human rights minus?
Lord Kingsland (Shadow Minister, Justice; Conservative)
My Lords, in those areas that I have mentioned to your Lordships' House I can certainly guarantee that.
The other absent matter, which those of us who featured in the consideration of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill earlier in the year will intimately and vividly recall, is the follow-through of the constructive work on the rehabilitation of offenders. Powerful speeches have been made on this point by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and many others from all Benches. The fact of the matter is that the Government will always be in a terrible mess, in the whole area of prisons and probation, unless they are prepared to recast their policies in such a way that the frightening percentages that the noble Lord mentioned fall dramatically. This can be done only by addressing constructively the question of reoffending. Without succeeding in that policy, everything else that the Government do in this area will fail. I would advise the Government to transfer much of the money that they are spending on accumulating data banks on this and that to changing the reoffending statistics. If the Government succeed, that will transform the whole picture in the area of prisons for the good of the nation.
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, perhaps I may suggest to him that he addresses the issue of whether we have or require a two-tier system of imprisonment, whereby there are what we might call ordinary prisoners—the average offenders—but also high-grade godfathers within society who should not be allowed to corrupt the prison system. I would be grateful if the noble Lord addressed that issue.
Lord Kingsland (Shadow Minister, Justice; Conservative)
My Lords, it is a matter for the judiciary to decide what particular sentences anyone gets. I would be totally opposed to the permanent continuation of any kind of prison regime that meant that certain prisoners could stay in prison indefinitely because, for one reason or another, they had been sent to prison at a time when a judge thought that they were a danger to society.
However, it is a vicious circle, is it not? Until there is enough leeway in the running of prisons to run proper programmes to rehabilitate prisoners, you will never provide the circumstances in which the reoffending rate will drop. I am inclined against the idea of a two-tier system. I am speaking personally. Whether you get two years or 20 years, basically you should be subject to the same regime—you just have to spend rather more time there if the sentence is 20 years, rather than two. You should be able to benefit from everything that the prison can offer in making sure that when you leave you do not reoffend.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and apologise for intervening again. In so far as we are concerned with the welfare of society, which is why we send people to prison, should we not be concerned with the simple prisoner—the person who may, through some intellectual or physical disability, find himself in prison? The ordinary, decent prisoner should be protected against the godfather of crime who is dedicated to corruption, terrorism and drugs—the noble Lord knows what I am saying.
Lord Kingsland (Shadow Minister, Justice; Conservative)
My Lords, this is a matter that we might take up beyond the confines of the Chamber. My view is that, whatever you are inside for, you are basically entitled to the same opportunities; so that when you get out you do not reoffend. That is the fundamental principle to which we should stick.
I am delighted to say that there is no Bill to accumulate data in a central database. In a speech to the IPPR on
"a step too far for the British way of life".
The appetite of the Government for collecting data about the lives of their citizens appears to be insatiable. More and more people are being signed up to the public sector to scrutinise "the lives of others". Why?
I think that the first reason is that the Government do not trust the people. The man in Whitehall, as has so often been said, knows best. Secondly, in the name of security, the Government appear to believe that any curtailment of liberty is justified. The noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, spoke particularly well on this issue when talking about RIPA. She said that the key to controlling this very unhealthy instinct of government is proportionality. The threat has to justify the degree of intrusiveness, and that principle should apply to data collection. In fact, we have already gone over the top, and we are in danger of going right over the top if the Government persist in what I regard as a completely ludicrous programme to have a central store for every single communication between private citizens in this country.
I apologise for the length of time that I have been on my feet but I turn briefly to the question of Damian Green. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, relieved me of the responsibility of saying anything about warrants due to his accomplished analysis of paragraphs (b) and (c) of Section 8(3) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, as your Lordships heard earlier. My noble and learned friend Lord Lyell of Markyate made an extremely perspicacious analysis of the legislation under which Mr Green was arrested. I respectfully adopt his argument. It seems to me that if there had been a breach of national security by my honourable friend Mr Damian Green, the Government would have arrested him under the Official Secrets Act. As the Government did not arrest him under that Act, bearing in mind the circumstances in which the Act was passed in 1989, it is hard to see where the criminality arises.
Particularly surprising is the revival of this extraordinary offence of misconduct in public office, which appears to carry a life sentence. I ask the Minister what activities that ancient crime covers. When was the last successful prosecution? Was the CPS consulted by the police on its use before the arrest was made? Have the law officers been consulted? I hope the answer is yes, because it would be quite astonishing if the answer were no.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said two things about what I regarded as an extremely powerful and convincing speech by my noble friend Lord Waddington, who is a former Home Secretary. First, he talked about the speech contradicting the great traditions of freedom in this country; and, secondly, he said it was about fortress Britain. First, on the great traditions of freedom in this country, nothing in the speech of my noble friend could be construed as an attack on the asylum system at all. Secondly, on fortress Britain, all my noble friend was saying, with his typical powerful coherence, was that there is a limit to the number of new people that the resources of this country can absorb. In no way was the speech anti-immigration in principle; it measured what I thought were quite disturbing statistics against the resources that we have for housing, social services and so on. That is the point my noble friend was making and I hope the Minister will deal with that after I sit down, which is now.
Lord Bach (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this excellent debate on the gracious Speech. We have had nearly 40 speeches of real quality from noble Lords on all sides of the House, bringing distinctive views and great depth of knowledge for the benefit of the House. As the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has said, quoting the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, the sheer breadth of the subjects—the business of the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice—that we have covered today is striking. As the Minister charged with answering the debate, I am conscious that I have only 20 minutes, or any further time which the House is good enough to allow me, which will not be very much, to answer 37 speakers who have spoken over six or seven hours. That is a feat which would tax the wisdom of Solomon let alone a Minister in your Lordships' House.
I cannot attempt to encompass all the matters which have been raised, but I hope to demonstrate the energy and purpose in the programme that the Government have put before Parliament. The departments are providing commitment and thought to the many serious issues they face. Of course, at the moment our main focus is on the economy, as the gracious Speech made clear, and the Bills put forward in the debate seem to follow on naturally from that overriding priority. At a time of economic downturn, we will continue to focus on two things: first, building up our communities and, secondly, bearing down on those who would damage or destroy them.
The Government's legislation this Session develops our achievements over the past decade. Crime is down. That does not seem to be accepted by the party opposite, and I cannot think why not. It is the basis on which we should proceed. Crime is down, and the risk of being a victim continues to fall and is now at a historically low level. This Session's coroners and justice Bill will continue this focus, prioritising precisely those people whom the criminal justice system is designed to favour and help, who have not been helped enough in times past: the victims. The best service we can give to victims of crime—I am sorry if this causes amusement, but it seems to me to be a serious point—is to reduce crime. Guns and gangs are a blight on some of our inner cities, and the Government make no apologies for tackling this scourge. Indeed, if we did not attempt to tackle it, we could and would be criticised by the world outside. The Bill will provide further protections for witnesses of gang-related crime.
Nor do we make any apologies for helping the police to tackle crime. I think I had better keep to myself my feelings about the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. Personally, I do not agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said about it. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said that at the moment the police are not interested in burglary. That crime has been cut by more than 50 per cent during the past number of years, and a debt of gratitude is owed to the police for having achieved that figure. There are now neighbourhood police teams in every part of the country, a record 140,000 police officers and 16,000 police community support officers. I was grateful for what my noble friend Lady Henig said about what the police have done. The police and crime reduction Bill, to which my noble friend referred, will further increase the effectiveness and accountability of policing and strengthen communities by stopping crime and disorder taking root in them.
We will continue to build on our record of reforming our democracy. In this House, we will soon be seeing the party funding Bill, about which no noble Lord spoke. However, we will have plenty of time for it after Christmas. There is a constitutional renewal programme, which I shall talk about in a little more detail because many noble Lords on all sides had interesting things to say about it.
The House will scrutinise our programme very carefully. That is as it should be. This is a scrutinising Chamber, and unless we are properly scrutinised there is always a danger that the law will not be as good as it should be. The contents of the Speech show the determination that we continue to bring to our work.
I shall move forward as quickly as I can and try to deal with as many issues as I can. I start with the coroners and justice Bill. We think it will deliver a more effective, transparent and responsive justice and coroners service for victims, witnesses, bereaved families and the public. It will put victims and witnesses at the heart of our system. It is described as being in some ways a modest Bill. I do not think it is. I am grateful for the support it had around the House, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland.
Lord Campbell of Alloway (Conservative)
My Lords, I apologise and shall be very short. Can the Minister say yes or no to whether he will deal with the constitutional entitlement of the Lord Chancellor, before presentation to Parliament, to give advice? Yes or no? I do not need the reasoning.
Lord Bach (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My Lords, I listened carefully, as always, to what the noble Lord said. I do not think I will have time to deal with that tonight. There are so many issues that I need to talk about, and that will not be one of them. I will talk to the noble Lord outside and write to him with a response.
I was grateful for the support around the House for the Bill—the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, from the Cross Benches supported it in very clear terms. Of course the House will want to scrutinise the Bill to see that we have the detail right. On the issue of the special counsel, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has received a letter from the Secretary of State. We will undoubtedly debate those matters in future and I will not spend time on them now.
On the sentencing commission, we propose to implement the unanimous and majority recommendations of the working group under Lord Justice Gage. That group rejected the introduction of a US-style sentencing grid—we do the same—and called for the strengthening of the current role and functions of the Sentencing Guidelines Council. We support that evolutionary approach. I make absolutely clear that in giving effect to the working group's recommendations, there is no question of individual sentencing decisions being tied to the availability of prison or probation resources.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, hoped that we were not going to touch the law on homicide this year. I fear that, as I think he heard during his speech, he is likely to be disappointed on that. I think that his question is: why not comprehensive reform, if reform at all? The Law Commission's recommendations for this important and sensitive area of law are very ambitious and wide-ranging. We want to get this right and intend to proceed on a staged basis, so we will be looking at changes to the partial defences of provocation and diminished responsibility, but again, that will be a matter of debate and great interest in this House later on.
I am again grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, for saying that, at least in principle, he supports what the Government intend to do on data protection. The use of information underpins our ability to deliver improved public services. In introducing a power to remove or modify legal barriers to data sharing by secondary legislation, we will be giving effect to one of the recommendations of the Information Commissioner in his review, with Mark Walport, of data sharing. As proposed by the Information Commission, the order-making power would be subject to a number of safeguards.
On private inquests, it remains our intention to legislate to ensure that inquests have all the information central to an investigation into a death, including information that cannot be disclosed without harming the public interest—for example, for reasons of national security. We are reflecting carefully on the points raised during the passage of the Counter-Terrorism Bill and will set out our position when the coroners and justice Bill is published.
I turn to constitutional renewal. I am delighted that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who cannot be here this evening for a very good reason, about which he has written me a letter, mentioned Milton. Milton was not just a great poet, he was a politician. This part of our discussion would have been of considerable interest to him slightly less than 400 years ago. For the first time in my life, I agreed with a Guardian leader last Saturday, when it said that Milton was probably the second greatest poet in the English language, and that the 400th anniversary of his death should be celebrated more widely than it looks as though it will be. At least we have mentioned him in the House today. I think that the House will be pleased about that.
The Bill represents real change to the role of the Executive in our system of government. It also provides measures that will ensure good governance. It is not a final blueprint for our constitutional settlement; it is part of the wider governance of Britain programme; other significant measures do not require legislation. By way of example, separately, the Government are taking forward measures such as allowing Parliament a greater say in committing UK troops to armed conflict overseas.
As we have heard, the Bill is a product of extensive consultation. Very distinguished Members of this House have been on the Joint Committee, and many of them have spoken eloquently today. We have listened carefully to their views, we have very much taken them into account—the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, asked me about this—and we are very grateful for their recommendations. However, the House wants to know what is going to happen to the Bill. I can do no better than quote, if the House will forgive me, from what the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice said to the other place last Thursday:
"The constitutional reform Bill is specified in the Gracious Speech. Everyone knows that what has changed since then is the overriding imperative of dealing with the world economic downturn, but the Bill will require parliamentary time".
A little later on in his closing speech he said:
"The reason why the subject was referred to in the Queen's Speech in those terms is that a slot for the Bill could not be guaranteed. That is why that formulation is used. My earnest intention, which requires negotiation with the usual channels as well as with my colleagues, is that the Bill should be brought forward. I cannot guarantee that, not least because of the negotiation with the usual channels. We shall have to see what progress is made on other Bills, but that remains my earnest intention". —[Hansard, Commons, 4/12/08; cols. 228-29.]
I do not think that anything could be clearer than that.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart (Spokesperson In the Lords (With Special Responsibility for Civil Service Reform); Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, there was a general view in the Joint Committee which considered the Bill that the part that dealt with the Civil Service could be separated from the rest. A number of noble Lords raised that matter today. Might it not simplify the matter temporally and intellectually if the Government followed that advice?
Lord Bach (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My Lords, the noble Lord will not draw me into an answer tonight; I will take it back to the department. I think that those noble Lords who want to see such a Bill should be optimistic as a consequence of the quotation of which I have just reminded the House.
Some interesting points were made today about constitutional reform, particularly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who commented on the Supreme Court. For my sins, in the department I am responsible for the Supreme Court, and I am disappointed that he is not more enamoured of it. I hope that he will be present on its opening day in October next year. There are two reasons for it. It does something for the separation of powers, but I put that to one side. In the long term, it will enhance the already incredibly high reputation of the highest court in the land, because it will make it much easier for the general public to see what happens in it. I visited the building, which I think will be distinguished. It is a very public, friendly place, although its prime purpose of course is to decide the most important points of law.
Many other points were made about the constitution. I do not have time to deal with them in any detail, I am afraid, but I have taken them all on board. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, commented on devolution. He is obviously a proponent of the devolution settlement, which is not all that common these days, but I am very grateful for what he had to say. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, mentioned the human rights anniversary, and I am very grateful to him for doing so. It is a very important anniversary, and we should be very proud of it.
I do not think that the House will be surprised that I say practically nothing about the reform of the Attorney-General's role. The Government are still considering proposals on reforming it. I heard the comments of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Mackay of Clashfern and Lord Lyell of Markyate, and the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and I very much took them to heart.
My noble friend Lady Goudie and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, mentioned the simplification of immigration laws, to which we are committed. We published a partial draft Bill in July—it has been commented on—which illustrates our approach. We intend to bring forward a full draft simplification Bill later in the Session, which will build on the support for changes to simplify immigration law from all those involved with it. I am glad that that has received support.
The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, commented with strength on communications data. He referred to the collection of communications data perhaps in rather scaremongering terms. Such data is currently held by all communications service providers. It is used regularly for law enforcement. It consists of information about where and when a phone was used. It does not include or involve the content of such a call. All that will be lost in due course with the adoption of new technologies. We are consulting widely with all parties, political and otherwise, on the way forward on this very sensitive matter. It is no good pretending that this information does not exist. It does and it has been used to obtain convictions.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs; Liberal Democrat)
Lord Bach (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. There is a difference, which is one reason why we are consulting to see how far we should go. It is a matter on which we will no doubt seek her opinion and that of others. I accept that it is an issue.
There are a number of issues on the borders, immigration and citizenship Bill. There will be a duty regarding the welfare of children, which I think will be widely supported around the House. I will not go into the details now. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked about police involvement and coming together with HM Revenue and Customs. She asked why the police should not be a part of it too. I understand that the police will be involved from the start and will work closely with the UK Borders Agency.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, thought that airport security would not be part of the legislation. As I understand it, it will.
Lord Bach (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My Lords, I understood her to say that it was not going to be. We are clear about that.
On directly elected crime and policing representatives, the police and crime reduction Bill will implement key priorities from the Government's policing Green Paper to increase police accountability. We disagree that there should be an abolition of the police authority and a single elected police commissioner. We are looking at plans to facilitate more effective collaborative working of police forces at regional and at national level by improving operational processes and clarifying government arrangements, including measures to reduce bureaucracy through repeal of unused or unwanted Home Office legislation. That is all I intend to say on that subject tonight.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, made a powerful speech on prostitution. I would ask her to be a bit patient and to see how the Bill turns out. Behind our thinking is that we want to do everything we can to protect vulnerable women. Many women involved in prostitution are highly vulnerable. They have either been groomed or brought into it compulsorily by evil people. We want to do everything we can to protect them, and that is why we are shifting the balance so that the focus is on what may be described in the future as the sex buyer—the person responsible for creating demand in the prostitution market, which in turn creates a vile trade in which women are trafficked for sexual exploitation.
Our intention is a worthy one in that it will send a message that forces men to think twice by making it clear that if they pay for sex with someone who is being controlled or exploited, they will get a criminal record. The penalty we intend to impose at the present time will be a maximum fine of £1,000. We think that the Bill will help vulnerable groups through measures to tackle the demand for prostitution. We look forward to debating and discussing the issue, but it needs to be tackled because of the way in which vulnerable women are being taken advantage of. We certainly do not seek to criminalise prostitutes; rather we want to ensure that they are no longer exploited to the degree that they are at present.
Many speeches considered the dangers of alcohol and what is happening in that field. The Government have plans to address alcohol use in legislation but I do not have time to go into the details now. However, I take on board what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Neville-Jones and Lady Finlay. It is an important topic that we will come back to.
As for the Damian Green incident, I am not going to say anything. I do not want to prejudice an ongoing police investigation and I refer the House to the Home Secretary's Statement in another place. As my noble friend Lady Quin said, the full facts are not yet known.
I turn finally to two issues, the first of which is prisons. I think that we will be discussing prisons both at Question Time tomorrow and again next week. Many noble Lords are very interested in this subject and have spoken with great passion about it. All I want to make clear is that it is important that we provide enough prison places for serious offenders. Clearly there are people in prison who should not be there, including those with mental health issues and vulnerable women. The report of my noble friend Lord Bradley is due to come out early in the new year. We accept that prison is not always the right answer for less serious offenders, and our support for community sentences is there for everyone to see. Since we came to power, we have increased spending on probation by 67 per cent in real terms, so anyone who thinks that all we are concerned to do is send people to prison is wrong. Some must go to prison, but others should serve community sentences.
I want to refer to the excellent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller. She referred to extremism and radicalisation. A number of things have happened since she left her office. The Government strategy called Prevent is designed to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism. This is a long-term challenge and a top priority for us. Success in countering terrorism means more than success in the pursuit or disruption of terrorists; we cannot arrest our way out of the problem we face. Delivery in partnership and at local level is essential and we are working closely with key partners, including local authorities. Some £45 million is being made available over the next three financial years as part of the area-based grant to support local authorities' priority work to tackle violent extremism in their communities.
On RIPA, my colleague, the honourable Vernon Coaker MP, when addressing the House of Lords Constitution Committee recently, agreed that there had been occasions when local authorities had used RIPA powers inappropriately. John Healey, the Minister for Local Government, has recently written to all local authority chief executives emphasising the need to use the powers only when it is necessary and proportionate to do so. The Home Office is revisiting the codes of practice on surveillance and covert human intelligence sources. This will clarify the test of necessity and proportionality. I am grateful for the important points that were made on that subject during the debate.
My noble friend Lord Lofthouse made, in many ways, the speech of the day—it certainly impressed me—on the issue of compensation for coalminers. He will understand that, because proceedings are taking place as we speak—he mentioned them himself—I cannot comment on the merits or otherwise. However, I promise to take his request back to the department and to see whether it can do anything further. I am grateful, too, for what my noble friend Lord Dixon said.
It is time for me to end.
Lord Bach (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My Lords, I am not giving way. I want to say to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that, as the legal aid Minister, I would very much enjoy debating the subject with him. Like him, I feel it is one of the great achievements of this country. It needs to be protected but we have to accept that there are limited resources for it at this time. What is important is that it should get to the people who need it most.
Lord Bach (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My Lords, I have not sat down and I am not giving way. My time is up. I look forward to the forthcoming Session, as I hope do Members who have taken part in the debate. Of course there will be challenges to the Government; we look forward to those challenges and stand on our record. The issues we have debated today are serious and important and I commend the programme to your Lordships, particularly those parts of it emanating from my department and the Home Office. I look forward debating them with noble Lords shortly.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.