My Lords, in continuing the debate on the gracious Speech, I shall mention, though only in passing, some scepticism from these Benches about the overall plans for a Supreme Court. No doubt other right reverend Prelates will express their views again on that matter in future debates.
Today, I wish to address the proposal relating to incitement to religious hatred. That is a matter of particular concern in the Manchester diocese, where we have a large and complex ethnic mix, and where the other faith and community leaders have invited me to be their permanent convenor. In our meetings during the past two years, I have been aware of the increasing sense of insecurity felt by all faith communities, not least by the many Jews in Prestwich, where I live.
Protection against incitement to hatred is already offered to Jews and Sikhs. The Minister will be aware that, in its evidence to the Select Committee, of which my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth was a member, the Board of Deputies of British Jews expressed doubts about the value and effectiveness of a new law, on the grounds that it was likely to be no more effective than the existing laws on racial incitement—a rather damning comment—and that it might give schismatic groups a weapon with which to attack each other. The Jewish concern, clearly, is not that the law is inadequate, but that existing laws are not enforced adequately.
Nevertheless, the Board of Deputies recognised, as does the Church of England, that there is—as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said—an imbalance in relation to Muslims and other faith groups, and therefore a need to support other faith communities in seeking a new law. Equality before the law is important, and all those who experience harassment and threats because of their religion, or lack of it, are entitled to protection. However, it is essential that any new offence should be framed in such a way as to permit rational discussion and criticism of religion, even in sharp terms, and the pursuit of people's religious beliefs, including the activity of proselytising, as long as this does not cause harm to others.
What of the categories of persons against whom religious hatred can be cited? It appears from measures such as the employment equality regulations and the Draft Charities Bill that the Government's approach is not to seek to define what amounts to "religion" or "religious belief", whether by listing particular religions or by reference to a general definition. Such a broad and flexible interpretation of "religion" does not seem to me to be problematic in principle. Nor would extension of protection to those who hold no "religious belief" be problematic, though of course there would be implications for the Churches if new offences could come into play in the activity of evangelising those of no faith.
That brings me to the nature of the conduct required: the ingredients of an offence that might lead those engaged in evangelising to be at risk of prosecution. Pertinent is the decision in Hammond v Director of Public Prosecutions this year. The administrative court upheld the conviction by magistrates of a "street preacher" under Section 5 of the Public Order Act for displaying, in a town centre, a sign bearing the words "Stop Immorality. Stop Homosexuality. Stop Lesbianism. Jesus is Lord." Several people gave evidence that they were insulted or distressed by the sign. The decision to uphold the conviction appears to show that the border between that which is merely, offensive and that which is "insulting" may be easier to cross than had been thought, especially when the proclamation of what at least some Christians would see as Gospel values conflicts sharply with the values of others. Whether the Hammond judgment conformed to the requirements of the Human Rights Act is a matter on which I am not qualified to venture an opinion.
I turn now to the nature of the intention required to commit an offence. At the time of previous proposals, Christian groups expressed concerns that the provisions could penalise proper religious debate or evangelistic activity. Indeed, the Select Committee saw real difficulties in framing new offences of the kind proposed, given the rights of freedom of religion and expression protected under the Human Rights Act. I refer to chapters 6 and 7 of the select committee report.
In the Norwood case in 2002, the divisional court upheld a conviction under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. A poster in a window, saying "Islam out of Britain" was found to be an attack on Muslims, and placing it in a window deemed likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress. In the Hammond case, to which I have earlier referred, that person's behaviour was found likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress simply by reference to the fact that the same activity had given rise to distress previously. In the light of those issues, the Government's intention to include a requirement for the consent of the Attorney-General to the bringing of any prosecution is welcome, and might indeed ensure that the new offences would be invoked only in cases when it was clearly recognised to be in the public interest.
Provided that the various concerns I have expressed are satisfied, the view from these Benches is one of general welcome and qualified support. The Government are to be congratulated on seeking to rectify the present unequal protection offered to different religions and to deter religiously motivated incitement of harm against people of all faiths and none. I hope and believe that the Government will be sensitive to anxieties about inhibiting free speech and the need to avoid penalising robust argument whether in promotion of or criticism of religious belief and practice.
We know that this country now has many faiths within it. We also know that religion has tragically contributed to human conflicts and division, and still does. But I am very aware from the privilege I have of convening and at times representing the leaders of different faiths in Greater Manchester that each faith, when properly followed, has within it an enormous capacity to enable this country's different communities to live and work together in pursuit of peace and justice. From these Benches, we want to support the Government in providing a constructive legislative contribution to that process.
My Lords, in what is clearly going to be a wide-ranging debate, I want to focus on the impact of Home Office Bills on higher education, and I declare my interest as chief executive of Universities UK. First, however, I should like to say how much I am looking forward to the maiden speeches of my noble friends Lady Prosser and Lord Gould of Brookwood. I know that we will be treated to fascinating insights from the vast experience that they bring to this House.
Although we are spared the excitement of a higher education Bill this year, there is a great deal in the package of Home Office Bills that is of interest to our universities. Both the Charities Bill and the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill will affect universities. The Home Office's policies on visas will also have a significant impact.
Universities UK and a number of individual universities contributed to the Select Committee that examined the Draft Charities Bill. I thought that the committee drew out a number of important issues which I hope will lead to an improved piece of legislation. Members of this House and of the other place deserve our thanks for their work.
As your Lordships will know, many universities are charities. They already, therefore, follow charity law. However, many have been exempt charities and so have not had to register with the Charity Commission. Under the Bill, I expect that the Higher Education Funding Council for England—HEFCE—will become the main charity regulator for English higher education institutions, rather than all institutions having to register with the Charity Commission. In Wales, the Welsh Assembly will be taking on the regulatory powers, and a separate charities Bill is currently before the Scottish Parliament. However, I would welcome reassurance from the Minister that, for England, this will mean the minimum bureaucracy for the sector, which is widely accepted to suffer already from over-regulation.
There will be many questions to be answered about how the relationship between universities, HEFCE and the Charity Commission will work—for example, about HEFCE's powers to issue advice and guidance to institutions, and the operation of the Charity Commission's new appeal system. I am sure that those will be raised during the course of the legislation.
As the development of "spin-out" companies becomes an increasingly important part of universities' work—and indeed of their income—I will also want to monitor the impact of the proposals in this area. I understand that the Government are reluctant to take up one of the earlier recommendations of the Cabinet Office to allow charities to "trade", but I would not like to see further opportunities for universities to increase their income constrained, particularly when, judging from recent press reports, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is considering changes to the tax rules to help university "spin-out" companies.
Perhaps the most controversial proposals in the Draft Charities Bill were around the issue of "public benefit". The Bill will replace the presumption of public benefit for educational institutions with "the advancement of education" as a charitable purpose. Charities will also be subject to a "public benefit test". As your Lordships will be aware, the impact of these proposals on private schools generated a great deal of debate, both in the Select Committee and in the press. While no one, to my knowledge, has questioned the charitable purpose of universities, I would certainly welcome reassurance from the Minister on this point.
I would also like to welcome the Government's proposals, in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, for the protection of scientists working in our universities. Your Lordships will be aware that in recent months the University of Cambridge has had to cancel plans to build a new centre for research on animals, and construction at Oxford's new facility was delayed.
While I would not for a moment wish to stifle the views of those who disagree with carrying out research on animals—after all the universities are bastions of freedom of speech—harassment and intimidation of university staff by a small minority of protesters is not acceptable. Chris Patten, chancellor of both Oxford and Newcastle Universities and, I am delighted to say, soon to be a Member of this House, covered this issue in a recent speech. As he said,
"to use violence against research at university—against academic staff and all those in any way associated with what they do—is a serious blow against the basic liberties of a plural society".
The current law has not been sufficient to prevent harassment and intimidation. The Bill as published would prohibit intimidation of people going about their lawful business, prevent the harassment of people in their homes, and safeguard groups of employees rather than just named individuals. Please can the Minister ensure that enough parliamentary time is allocated to this Bill so that it can be carefully scrutinised by Parliament and brought into law as soon as possible for the sake of university staff.
I would also like to use this opportunity to mention the Home Office's proposals in another area—visa charges for students. International students not only provide an important social and cultural benefit, they make a considerable economic contribution to the UK while they study here and after graduation. The British Council, the Department for Education and Skills, and UK Trade and Investment recently produced a study on the global value of education and training exports to the UK economy. It calculated a total of just under £4 billion as export earnings from UK higher education's international activities. The Prime Minister's initiative has been successful in promoting the high quality of UK higher education around the world, but I believe that the Home Office's actions could now put this success in danger.
My main concern is around the cost of visas, in particular visa extensions. Despite assurances to the contrary, the Home Office introduced, without consultation, in 2003 charges of £155 for applications for visa extensions, or £250 for applications made in person. There is now the prospect of even higher charges.
There should be only a small number of students needing to apply for visa extensions or "leave to remain", as it is known. There are guidelines, but in many cases it appears that entry clearance officers are either ignoring or are unaware of the guidelines, so that the period of leave granted to students is often insufficient to cover the duration of their course. Indeed, UKCOSA—the Council for International Education—recently published a survey, in conjunction with Universities UK, SCOP and the British Council, which reveals that 36 per cent of international students surveyed reported needing to apply for leave to remain at some point. I should like to quote one comment in that report, made by a Turkish postgraduate student. She said:
"The new Home Office fees for student visa extensions . . . are outrageous. Britain tries to attract foreign students and then rip them off in this way".
She went on to say:
"I felt myself like a sheep to be fleeced".
The Home Office is now consulting to raise charges for "leave to remain" still further. Some charges will increase to nearly £500. My worry is that financial disincentives such as this will cause international students to look elsewhere. Australia, for example, has recently been successful in attracting more international students. The Government could find actions in one of their departments—the Home Office—undermining good intentions in another—the DfES. This is an issue which I intend to pursue further in a Starred Question later this month, but I would be interested in the Minister's views on the compatibility of high charges with attracting international students.
As well as dominating the Queen's Speech, as has been said, the Home Office's policies are dominating the priorities of universities this year. I look forward to examining the Government's proposals in detail.
My Lords, I have spoken before about my concerns in relation to the Constitutional Reform Bill, which the gracious Speech says will be taken forward. I do not intend to repeat myself, as it would be more suitable for me to deal with those matters on Report on the Bill, which we hope will start soon.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, described the Queen's Speech as containing a programme for reform and modernisation. I am happy to welcome proposals for reform; I find more difficulty with proposals that are only for modernisation when I do not really understand the principles on which that rests. Perhaps in concluding the debate the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, will divide the proposals in the Queen's Speech between those that are properly described as reform and those that need the supplementary description of modernisation.
I wish to associate myself very much with what the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, said in relation to animal rights and charges for foreign students. I happen to be the chancellor of Heriot-Watt University so have an interest of a kind to declare in that connection. I warmly endorse what she said on both matters. Certainly, the charges to foreign students need to be very seriously reconsidered.
I wish to make some observations about the programme in the Queen's Speech affecting the justice system. The criminal justice system in England and Wales is large, complicated and highly regulated by detailed statutory provisions. Even if proposals for change are highly meritorious, too many introduced too closely on one another are apt to lead to mistakes and failures, as the people who operate the system cannot adequately absorb them. They must be given substantial time not only to absorb the letter of the changes—it is one thing to read them and perhaps understand what one reads—but also to give effect to them in their daily practice. The proposals are intended to affect the daily practice of people who are busy and may find it quite difficult to remember all the changes that have taken place. Even if changes are highly desirable, I strongly urge that they should be introduced at a reasonable pace, and that steps should be taken to ensure that the people operating the system understand what is meant and can give effect to it.
The only other matter with which I want to deal, briefly, is the same as that which occupied the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester in relation to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. In Part 4 of it, which deals with public order and conduct in public places, Clause 119 is about racial and religious hatred. Schedule 10 expands the scope of Part III of the Public Order Act 1986 to deal with racial and religious hatred. Racial hatred is dealt with already, as the right reverend Prelate explained; provisions on it give protection to racial groups such as Jews, as he mentioned. The definition of religious hatred introduced is that it is,
"hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief".
As he pointed out, there is no specific definition of religion or, indeed, of the absence of it; he did not regard that as very important and perhaps it is not. However, it is important to see what the provision may do.
Religious groups are different in character from racial groups. The racial group is normally defined by objective criteria. Religious groups are somewhat more difficult to define, and we are accustomed to variations in religious groups. For example, we hear about Christian fundamentalists, who presumably make up a sub-group—perhaps a reasonably small one; I do not know—of Christians. We hear of Islamic extremists. Do they make up a sub-group of the Islamic religion, or are they to be regarded as having a different religion?
One problem that I see is that sometimes people engage in a course of conduct that most ordinary people would describe as hateful or very objectionable. They may try to justify that conduct by reference to religious belief or religious persuasion. If that is the case, it is very difficult to distinguish between hatred of the conduct justified in that way and hatred of the group defined by reference to the religious belief prayed in aid as justification of conduct. We have had quite a number of such descriptions in the past year or two in relation to terrorist activities, which are regarded by every right-thinking person as highly hateful and undesirable.
Like the right reverend Prelate, I am glad that the consent of the Attorney-General is required before a prosecution is brought, but that is not quite the same as a clear definition of the conduct in question. If one engages in conduct, one cannot know in advance whether the Attorney-General will agree to a prosecution if the conduct falls within the definition in what ultimately would be the Act of Parliament. At the very least, I see—the right reverend Prelate hinted at it—a dangerous chilling of the right of free speech if the provision is introduced.
I therefore very much suggest that the matter requires to be examined with great care. I understand the objectives that were in mind in introducing it, but it could contain dangers that may be avoided by careful drafting or, indeed, omission. I entirely endorse the view that the faith groups have within them a capacity for ensuring peace in our country that, given free rein, might well be more successful than any legislation.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate's story of the street preacher who was arrested for the gloom and doom contained on his placard reminded me of the American revivalist preacher, Jonathan Edwards, the protagonist of the "Great Awakening", whose 1741 sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God still inspires the religious right in that country. He preached that,
"the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them . . . And it would be a wonder, if some that are now present should not be in hell in a very short time, even before this year is out. And it would be no wonder if some persons, that now sit here, in some seats of this meeting-house, in health, quiet and secure, should be there before to-morrow morning".
That was his message, but it is not the only message. Another way to salvation was outlined in the "Welsh Revival" of 1904. Evan Roberts, the 27 year-old leader of that revival, who was sent down the pit at the age of 12, preached at Bryn Seion chapel in Trecynon on
"I have not come here to frighten you with a discourse on the terrors of everlasting punishment. I believe that the love of God is a powerful enough magnet to draw the people".
His mission strengthened and renewed the social fabric of Wales. Crime figures were down by 50 per cent and in some villages and towns all pubs and clubs were shut. Indeed, even last night I heard a discussion between commentators at the Llanelli versus Ulster rugby match about whether there would be a good turnout in Llanelli because it was a chapel town. The political landscape was changed for ever. In 1905, the following year, every parliamentary seat in Wales went to the Liberal Party and David Lloyd George, who did not hesitate to be pictured with the great revivalist and to attend those meetings, brought the inspiration of that revival to his programme of social reform—old age pensions, national insurance and the people's Budget, which he described as,
"a war on poverty and squalor, paid from the taxes of the rich".
That is why we had the Parliament Act of 1911.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said today that she was not bringing a message of doom and gloom. We are promised salvation from this Queen's Speech. I must ask myself, what, in Mr Blunkett's hell, are his particular demons? Are they the immigrant, the paedophile, the drug pusher, the yob and the terrorist? We are to live in a state of fear, pursued by those demons in our society. Mr Peter Hain, the Elmer Gantry of the new Labour revivalism, claims to save the nation. He says that Britain will be safer under Labour and that the Tories' and the Liberal Democrats' records are disgraceful. I assume that he has some messianic view of himself as the replacement Home Secretary, if not the future leader of the march of new Labour. No doubt he believes that the police services and the security services will work harder for him than for anyone else. Hence, I imagine that he supports the proposals in the Queen's Speech for a power of arrest for all offences. His approach is one with which we are familiar—round up the usual suspects.
So, immigrants and asylum seekers—another demon—threaten our jobs and our social security system, do they? Well, if you were to take out of this Government all the Welsh, Irish, Scots and descendents of immigrant families, there would be no one left, except, perhaps, Mr Blunkett. Therefore, let us all carry with us identity cards so that we can prove to the police and to the civil servants that we are all good Anglo-Saxons acceptable to the Daily Mail. Let us tell them where we live and, perhaps, our financial standing and maybe our speeding convictions. Maybe it would be useful to know our religion and, of course, whether we are engaged in terrorism or paedophilia. And if we have lost the ID cards or the technology does not work, no doubt the police services will know why we should be locked up.
So immigration is one of the demons—immigration to be conquered by the identity card. Paedophiles are another demon. People are demonised, but it is always forgotten that they are generally victims themselves, certainly in my experience. The problem is not to lock them up but to break the chain that has existed, so that their conduct will not be repeated.
The Government's strategies for the drug pusher and the drug user have failed. Gun warfare between gangs threatens our major cities. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, pointed out that gun crime has already doubled. Violent crime is up 12 per cent, according to the latest Home Office statistics. Drugs are now as readily available on our streets, and are as cheap, as cigarettes or alcohol. I am told by my clients that they are more easily available in prison than they are in the street. Pushing up prison sentences will not curb the criminal, because the potential profits of that illegal trade are too great.
While we welcome the prospect of another new Bill that relates to drugs, a constructive and sensible debate is needed on how to destroy the profits and the profiteers of the illegal drugs market and how to challenge, to rehabilitate and to treat addicts by controlling legally the supply of drugs. That, we are told, is the way forward that No. 10's own advisers counsel. But we are into election time, and, no doubt, anything that I say about drugs may be categorised as being "soft on drugs", as some unknown Labour MP said about our candidate in Hartlepool because, as a barrister, she had defended someone on a drugs charge.
The next demon is the yob. I opposed the introduction of anti-social behaviour orders on the basis that it was wrong to impose imprisonment and fines upon an individual for breach of a civil order—an order that would be obtained on hearsay evidence with proof judged on a balance of probabilities. I was concerned that chit-chat and anonymous complaints could be used to impose a severe limitation on liberty, with the distinct possibility of criminal sanctions to follow. However, the Judicial Committee of this House, in the case of McCann in 2002, decided, first, that although the application was indeed a civil procedure and that hearsay evidence was therefore admissible, its weight may well be limited and, secondly, that the allegations must be proved in those proceedings to the criminal standard. We accept that on those conditions, ASBOs are of use in the short term. But to be effective in the long term, they must change behaviour. An ASBO must only be used in conjunction with action to tackle the underlying causes of the individual's problems. It should open the door to programmes to tackle drugs and to educate and train those who are excluded from school or are unemployed. When the Government's Bill to extend the range of ASBOs and their powers is published, it is to those areas that we on these Benches will be looking.
Finally, the demon is the terrorist. A terrorist incident may happen or it may not. If we, as a society, are for ever looking over our shoulders in fear, if we are for ever making our society less democratic, less open and less just, the aims of the terrorist will have been achieved without his doing anything. That was not the way that this country behaved when threatened by world war or by the IRA. Public confidence in trial by jury was not weakened, nor was it ever thought necessary to alter the basic principle of the presumption of innocence and the need for proof beyond reasonable doubt. Indefinite administrative detention in Belmarsh, as there is now, was unthinkable in the past.
What has made us especially vulnerable to terrorist attack, anyway? This government have sought to alarm us and to put us in fear before in another area. We were told:
"His weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing".
That was a phrase which led us into the hell of war, where that "glittering sword" was whet once more. So, when we come to examine the Government's proposals in detail, we shall do so from a position of strength—a belief on these Benches in the robustness of the British people to resist fear, a belief in democratic institutions where the safeguards of liberty which we enjoy have been forged and a belief in a system of justice where they have been maintained.
My Lords, it is with great pride and pleasure and not a little humility that I rise to address your Lordships' House for the first time. Like others before me, I have been both delighted and heartened by the warm welcome, the unfailing politeness and the generous assistance I have received from Peers and from the staff of this House. This is a far more gentle world than that to which I have been accustomed.
In my preparations to enter this House, I attended, as required, the office of Garter Kings of Arms. I was thrilled when he agreed that my full title could be the Baroness Prosser, of Battersea in the London Borough of Wandsworth. I was born in Battersea, as were my three sisters, my father and my grandfather. For a while, my grandfather ran a greengrocer's shop. Such shops are hard to find in Battersea nowadays. As if by osmosis, they have become estate agents and bijoux restaurants.
The changes that have taken place in Battersea since my family and I were there can be seen as a microcosm of the changes that have taken place in society generally and, indeed, in my own fortunes. For almost three-quarters of the last century, Battersea was a travel-to-work area. Morgan's Carbon and Gartons glue factories, the Rank Hovis mill and Price's candles were only some of the sites and plants providing work for thousands of local people. Now there is a Price's candle shop, but the main sites are predominantly up-market housing.
Battersea Power Station, dejected and downcast, reminds us of the industrial past. Hundreds of men were employed there, almost all of whom were members of my union—the Transport and General Workers' Union. Many plans for the future of the power station have been discussed over the years. Who knows, my Lords? It may be one of the "lucky eight" to become a USA-style casino. If that does become the case, I am sure that the T&G will want to be in there, recognising change and organising a very different kind of worker.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Battersea became politically famous. In 1913, a British-born man of Barbardian and Irish parentage became the first black mayor ever to be elected in Britain. John Archer made history himself and then, in 1922, he acted as agent for an Indian man named Shapurji Saklatvala, who became the first black Member of Parliament, taking his seat on the Labour Benches in the other place as the Member for Battersea North. After such a promising start, one wonders why so little progress has been made in changing the face of the British political scene.
I moved away from Battersea before starting school, returning briefly in the 1960s with my young family to live on the sixteenth floor of a GLC tower block, right opposite Morgan's Carbon. The views across the river and Battersea Park were splendid, but that is about the only good thing which could be said about my tower-block-living experience. With all due respect to the previous speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, perhaps I may say that if he had spent time living in a tower block in an industrial wasteland he might have a rather different view of an ASBO.
I have always had an urge to involve myself in public life. My involvement in various parts of south London with tenants groups, playground associations and so on led to my gaining employment and all-important training, which, in turn, enabled me to gain professional employment with the Southwark Law Project. We were a newly established Home Office-funded community law centre, and we discussed avidly which trade union we should join, plumping for the then 2 million-strong T&G. My frustration with the union's lack of interest in any issues of particular importance to women workers made me more and more determined to get involved and to bring about change. My career with the T&G has been varied, tough, fruitful and, most of all, enjoyable and educational.
Throughout that period, some social change has been for the good and some for the not so good. The reduction in locally available manual work has been accompanied by an increase in cleaner jobs and, of course, cleaner air. The river has been opened up to more people but the roads are choked with traffic. The demography of Battersea has changed enormously, by both class and ethnicity, but there remain pockets of poverty and poor social housing. Upward social mobility has not been for all.
My reference to social mobility brings me to my point of substance in this home affairs debate. There is social mobility of another kind—a social mobility which starts with hope and aspiration and ends in forced mobility: forced mobility of men as cheap labour and of women and children for the purpose, in the main, of prostitution.
The trafficking of human beings is one of the fastest growing and most heinous of crimes. People trafficking is defined by the Home Office as,
"transporting people in order to exploit them, using deception, intimidation or coercion".
It is estimated by the International Organization for Migration on 2001 figures that between 700,000 and 2 million women and children are trafficked each year. In 1998, the United Nations estimated global profits from trafficking to be a massive 7 billion dollars annually.
Women's organisations in the UK have provided evidence to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, a UN convention adopted by the General Assembly in 1979 and ratified by 175 states, including the UK. The evidence was based upon the belief that trafficking of women for the purposes of prostitution amounts to violence against women. In a Written Answer on
"We are participating fully in the development of the draft Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, which has a clear victim focus and will build upon existing instruments".—[Hansard, Commons, 18/10/04; col. 484W.]
Other organisations, such as the POPPY Project, which provides housing and support for trafficked women, and CHASTE, a faith-based group, are working to provide and promote information and action.
I am aware that Her Majesty's Government have done much to try to deal with this dreadful situation. The announcement that the Government intend to establish a serious organised crime agency is a welcome one, and such a body will assist with national and international co-ordination of work currently taking place. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, for raising this issue by way of a Question earlier this afternoon because, while the role of Government is crucial, we must all play our part by ensuring that the issues are made clear and that the British public are aware of, and share our abhorrence of, such terrible crimes.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, and to be able to congratulate her on an interesting speech and, in particular, on her eulogy of Battersea. Her experience is certainly a valuable addition to your Lordships' House, and we look forward to hearing from her many times in the future. I am also happy to note from her CV that we are of the same vintage—I hope she finds that it was a good year.
I also strongly support the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, on visa applications for foreign students attending British universities. I speak as a governor of the University of Hertfordshire. It is of vital importance that we make the provision of visas for such students as simple as possible. I wholly support the noble Baroness's argument.
In the gracious Speech, the Government committed themselves to strengthening,
"the powers the police and others have to fight crime".—[Hansard, 23/11/04; col. 2.]
While such a policy may seem obvious and attractive at first sight, on further reflection it is fraught with dangers. The police force in this country has earned the rare and admirable reputation of being the citizen's friend. "If in difficulty, ask a policeman", is advice that any parent would traditionally be willing to give a child. The police were proud to be the protectors of personal liberty. It will be a sad day if that is no longer the case and if policemen and policewomen are being trained to intrude on personal liberty.
The story in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph is a disturbing case in point. The person in question is reported to have been driving along the Embankment towards Westminster when he was flagged down by two policemen. They claimed to be doing random checks and to be training two of the new category of police community support officers (CSOs), who were also present. The driver agreed to their request to search his car, during which process a Swiss multi-tool penknife and a small collapsible baton were found in his briefcase. He was promptly arrested for possessing offensive weapons and for carrying a bladed instrument in public. He was forced to abandon his car, which later received a parking ticket, and marched off to Charing Cross police station where he was charged.
If true, that is a horrifying story. How many times have we all carried knives for a picnic lunch or garden hedge clippers in the boots of our cars? Even the tools required to change a flat tyre could be regarded as offensive weapons. Whatever the risks of international terrorism, we must not allow this country to drift into becoming a police state. Police community support officers (CSOs) are now to be followed by the serious organised crime agency (SOCA). It all seems to be eerily reminiscent of other well-known acronyms like STASI or NKVD.
We in this House have a special duty to defend personal liberty as a human right. We must take special care to ensure that the wholly justifiable efforts to fight organised crime and anti-social behaviour do not become a threat to personal liberty and to the proud freedom for which generations of our forebears have fought.
I turn to the problem of drug use and the crime that flares from it. It is a global problem and a subject on which strong and often emotive views are held. I am one of those who believe that it is the fact of prohibition itself that is the principal cause of the problem. I was brought up on stories of Al Capone, and it is a complete mystery to me why the lessons of alcohol prohibition in the US in the 1920s and 1930s have not been applied to the drug problem.
Current policies, it is estimated, cost this country more than £10 billion a year, whereas if drugs were decriminalised, controlled and taxed, as is the case with alcohol and tobacco, the Exchequer would have the tax revenue to pay for harm reduction and treatment programmes and to finance all-important publicity campaigns against drug misuse.
Abraham Lincoln said in 1840:
"Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes".
Those addicted to drugs, like those addicted to alcohol, are sick. They are not basically criminals. They become criminals only when they steal or cause damage or injury to others. They need treatment, not prison sentences. Sadly, that is heresy in official circles and, as we know, our Government are intent on creating the new serious organised crime agency to conduct the next round in the war on drugs.
The hope that I wish to express is that, alongside this new initiative—in case, like its predecessors, it turns out to be a failure—the Government will instigate an open-minded, global debate on the merits and demerits of prohibition. In that context I recommend that they, and all noble Lords, study an excellent and balanced recent report produced by Transform Drug Policy Foundation, entitled After the War on Drugs—Options for Control. That report offers no miracle cures, but it examines the global situation and the practical problems and comes up with a road map for reform.
To sum up, therefore, I believe that we must stand up for the protection of personal liberty and human rights in the war against international terrorism and domestic anti-social behaviour and, in the case of the drugs problem, we should support a global reassessment of the merits of prohibition.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, on an excellent speech. She is a tremendous person. The whole speech possessed honesty, integrity and authenticity. It was a marvellous speech and I am proud to follow it.
I stand here today with some nervousness, but much awe. I feel proud and privileged to be a part of this House, a part of Parliament. I am quite unambiguous about this: I consider being in this place, having the chance to speak in this debate, to be an honour far beyond anything I ever expected in life.
Other maiden speakers have remarked fulsomely on the warmth that they have received as new Members. I echo that. People could not have been nicer to me—not just the excellent staff who work here, nor my political friends, but also my political opponents. I particularly appreciated the welcome of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who last week in this House compared me and a government Minister to Burke and Hare, the notorious mass murderers of the early 19th century who claimed 16 victims in a particularly ghoulish fashion before Burke was finally executed, and Hare escaped into obscurity after turning King's evidence. I am not sure whether to take that as a warning, an admonition, or a helpful piece of advice.
In a House of such extraordinary range of expertise mine is rather arcane: the planning and fighting of election campaigns. I have not always been successful even at that. As one newspaper commented:
"Labour's newest peer is probably best known for losing things. In 1997 it was the election campaign: he left the entire strategy— every advertisement and every poster—at the Burger King restaurant in Euston Station on the first day of the campaign. On plenty of other occasions he has lost the election as well. He lost for Labour in 1987 and 1992, and for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in 1990".
All of us have moments we would like to forget. The article goes on to say that I imported focus groups into the UK for use in politics, an importation that I am sure some would put on a par with rabies or black elm disease, with a roughly equivalent effect on the quality of British politics.
Of course, it would not have been appropriate, nor possible, for me to have made this speech without conducting my own focus groups on this august House. The results, as always, show how subtle public opinion can be. People think that the House of Lords is, at one and the same time, somewhat old fashioned and an important part of the contemporary political process, and they like it the more because there is less bipartisan acrimony.
Of course, there are difficulties with identifying some of our Members. The noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, for example, was believed to be Michael Caine and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, Des Lynam. No one ever said that the judgment of the public is impeccable.
Discovering the voice of the people has always been an obsession for me. I have always held the view that the voices of all should be heard, and should be heard equally. That was, and is, the lodestar of my political life, and from the very start I have believed that the voice of the people should be trusted. I once described the typical attitudes of the very unassuming lower middle class suburb in which I was bought up. I wrote:
"Every political judgment was rooted in a hard common sense. They were tough on crime. They were fiercely patriotic. They believed in fair reward for hard work; in responsibility. They wanted to get on. They wanted a better life".
That to me is the authentic voice of Britain, at least the Britain I know and understand best.
I have always respected that voice, always sought to hear it and always valued it. And yet I know many, and some in this Chamber, are frightened by that, fearing rule by demagogue, by populist sentiment, by ill-informed mass opinion. But I say to those who are frightened, let go of your fear. There is no dark hidden underswell of populist opinion ready to sweep away the liberalism and the judicial rights we have enjoyed for generations. There are only mums and dads and kids and grandparents; people living tough lives, doing demanding jobs, coping with change, dealing with uncertainty and grounded in values of fairness and responsibility.
Nowhere is that fear of the people greater than with the issues that surround crime and security. Nowhere, I believe, is that fear more misplaced. Of course people care about crime, because without security from crime, life for many cannot even start. It cannot get going. It is the poor who suffer most from burglary; the young and disadvantaged who suffer most from violent crime; and the elderly who see the disfiguring of their community as a disfiguring of themselves and of their past.
Crime is the most fundamental violation of a person's civil liberty that it is possible to imagine. In response to that people do not have the simple one-dimensional opinions so often ascribed to them but complex, nuanced views. They want tough sentences for serious crimes; and when it comes to terrorism they want no risks taken and no corners cut to protect their family and their nation. But it is also true that people believe that prison is not the only answer to crime and that rehabilitation is essential. They know that dealing with the causes of crime is as vital as dealing with its perpetrators.
The public have a balanced view. They do not see crime as an issue of right and left but of rights and responsibility. There is an implicit bargain between citizen and state: the state protects, the citizen contributes and liberty ensues. This contract is at the heart of our society and it is the responsibility of us all to honour it. We do not do so by leaving public concerns behind, nor by failing to respect equally all parts of the bargain. The British people value liberty, but they know that without security liberty crumbles.
The goal of politics is not to concede to fear but to defeat it. Ours have always been the politics of hope. The more secure a community or nation, the greater the chance of opportunity. The more opportunity there is, the safer our world will be. Our people do not want their leaders to form camps—some for security, some for liberty, some tough and some tolerant. They want their leaders to be bigger and more visionary than that, knowing that in this new world liberty and security must learn to coexist.
It is a virtue of this House that differences can be transcended and a bigger view taken. The public respect this House because it can achieve balance, transcend politics and play a crucial revising role. In turn, we should respect the view of the British people, and know that they too seek balanced and serious solutions to these complex and difficult social issues.
The measures outlined in the gracious Speech are right and the public are right to support them. We can trust the people. I once again thank this House for the honour of addressing it.
My Lords, I count it a singular pleasure to be the one who follows that maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Gould of Brookwood, which I found in equal measure to be both engaging and impressive as a declaration of his personal views.
I do not think that our paths have crossed physically very much in the past, but of course there is no one in British politics whose path has not crossed with that of the noble Lord, Lord Gould, in one way or another. His is a name to conjure with as a political guru. He has had a significant influence on the development of the British political scene as it now is; and, indeed, on a personal level I suppose that I could hand him some of the credit for seven years ago bringing about my translation from the other end of the building to this one; a move for which—dare I say?—I find myself increasingly grateful.
The noble Lord's arrival here under his new name undoubtedly—on the basis of the speech we have heard this afternoon—presages many more contributions of a depth and quality that we shall all listen to with great respect and, indeed, look forward to hearing in due course.
My Lords, perhaps I may also add a brief word about the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser. I discovered that she and I have something in common. Her father was a greengrocer of a kind that has no doubt been swept largely aside by the supermarkets. My father was an old-style ironmonger. His was that kind of shop where a man in a brown coat can find anything in a drawer behind him, which has almost completely disappeared under the march of the supermarkets.
I shall not attempt so wide-ranging a speech as the noble Lord, Lord Gould. I discovered that on wearing various hats which I shall not enumerate, I have an interest in many parts of the programme in the gracious Speech. However, I should acknowledge at once that the kind and generous remarks of my noble friend Lady Anelay were not an accurate prediction of what I should talk about, which was anti-terrorism matters. On that front I would rather wait and see what the Government have to say because one of the problems in that field has been too many hasty judgments and not enough reflection; and I think that the Government's proposals need to be considered.
I want to focus, albeit in the non-partisan way that my noble friend predicted, on another measure which she did not mention, but which she is evidently leaving for comment by my noble friend Lord Kingsland on the Front Bench. That is the proposed draft courts and tribunals Bill. I declare at once an interest as chairman of the Council on Tribunals. I thought that the Times did the Bill a bit less than justice in saying in its summary list that the draft courts and tribunals Bill simplifies the law relating to bailiffs. "Survival rating: 0". That is, 0 out of 5, bearing in mind prospective political uncertainties. I do not have the faintest notion whether the Bill will include anything about bailiffs, but I know that I do not see that as its main point. More importantly, I very much hope that its survival rating is a great deal more than nil, for reasons that I hope to explain.
As I have indicated, I am chairman of the Council on Tribunals and have been since 1999. That council was set up in the late 1950s after the Franks report with what is described as a supervisory role over tribunal systems.
In a sense, my interest in these matters goes back further, to some 22 years ago when, as the mere Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security and the humble servant of my noble friend Lord Fowler, I was responsible for, or in charge of in a day-to-day sense, a reform of the Social Security Appeal System, as it then was. For the first time, it transferred the appointment of the judiciary in that system to what was then the Lord Chancellor's Department and created a proper presidential system, independent to that degree of the department whose decisions were being challenged. I have always thought that that was the right way to go.
Now, 20 years later we find that what I would really have liked to do at the time, which was to transfer the administration as well, will shortly happen. However, it will be helped materially if this Bill is not only published in draft but also passed into law.
The background, of course, is that a huge amount has happened in the tribunal world since Franks and, indeed, even in the 20 years since I was concerned with the social security system. It is only recently that a new strategic look—after 40 years—has been taken at the whole tribunal world. That is greatly to the credit of the former Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who in 2000 asked Sir Andrew Leggatt to conduct a wide-ranging review. He did that very rapidly and produced a report under the heading of Tribunals for Users—One System, One Service. Its core suggestion was to bring together tribunals scattered around the Whitehall scene into a single unified tribunals service.
Not surprisingly, although it was always strongly supported by the Council on Tribunals and, indeed, by me personally, that proposal was not greeted with universal enthusiasm around Whitehall where government departments were being asked to give something up.
After a long period of negotiation a White Paper was published last July called Transforming Public Services: Complaints, Redress and Tribunals, which brought the Government to sign up to that proposal. That White Paper was greatly to the credit not only of the present Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor but also not least to the Minister's predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. He took a very special and constructive interest in this matter and produced a document setting tribunals into the wider context of administrative justice as a whole, including the improvement of decision making to avoid disputes in the first place and with a greater emphasis on proportional dispute resolution.
I should acknowledge that that White Paper will bring a wider role to the Council on Tribunals, which we welcome and are already seeking to develop. With the clear commitment from the Government to a unified tribunals system, bringing five of the largest tribunal systems from outside the Department for Constitutional Affairs together with the five that it already has, to create the basis of the unified service, progress has significantly accelerated.
We now have a senior president designate to provide judicial leadership, Lord Justice Carnwath. Within the next week or so, we shall have a chief executive designate. No doubt all of that can bring about quite a lot of progress without a Bill, but to complete that promising and worthwhile reform, we need a Bill. So I very much welcomed the commitment to a draft contained in the gracious Speech. I want also specifically to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, to her post, as she, with the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State, has shown every sign of just as strong a commitment in that field as her predecessors. I look forward to working with them in that capacity.
I wish her well. Perhaps I dare say to my noble friend on the Front Bench, bearing in mind the political uncertainties to which I referred earlier, that I hope that my Front Bench, whether it remains in opposition or should any change occur to its position, will also ensure that those worthwhile proposals receive a fair wind. If I have any questions for the noble Baroness, they are: when will we see the draft and how soon after that will it be a real Bill with a real basis for those very worthwhile reforms?
My Lords, being summoned to the office of the new party leader is always a rather nerve-racking experience, even when the leader is as benign as my noble friend Lord McNally, so I was rather relieved when I discovered that the purpose of the call was to ask me if I would become the party spokesman on issues relating to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I must say that my first thought was to wonder how on earth I would ever manage to follow the commitment and calm professionalism of my noble friend Lady Hamwee. I should like to place on record today the debt of gratitude owed to her by the whole House.
My second thought concerned the scope of the job that had just been offered me. Had I been given the task of shadowing Mr Prescott in 1997, my writ would have run large across the environment, transport, local government, regional government, planning, housing, rural issues and urban regeneration. By 2001, I would have lost rural issues and the environment and, only 14 months later, I would have seen transport disappear to the Department for Transport and electoral law to the Lord Chancellor's Department. So I rather feel that I have been asked to be a shadow to a shadow. I hope that noble Lords will forgive my speaking today in the debate on the gracious Speech, despite there being no ODPM legislation, but I am afraid that if I do not speak today, there may be no responsibilities left for me to speak about later.
The programme for what is left of this Parliament contains a huge hole where the regional assemblies Bill should have been. As the House is due to debate that topic on Wednesday, I shall not detain your Lordships on the issue, but I wish to place on record the strong feeling on these Benches that the current regional settlement is not satisfactory and that the Government must give some thought to how they resolve the mess that now exists, which is entirely of their making.
We now have a significant element of administrative regional devolution. That was initiated by the previous Conservative government but has now been overlaid by regional development agencies and a raft of regional quangos that spend billions of taxpayers' money but are only very indirectly accountable to national government. The current regional assemblies are at least some effort to create a kind of democratic framework and I have no quarrel with any of the individuals who serve on them, but those bodies have no real authority to hold either government or quangos to account. Their main function is to create strategies over which they have little or no power of delivery.
The Government's timidity in offering an elected assembly with no powers or money to the people of the north-east, along with enforced local government reorganisation, was doomed to fail from the start. We always said so from these Benches and sought to persuade the Government to pursue a more convincing regional programme. Their refusal to do so has led to the loss of the referendum in the north-east and the whole cause of regional devolution being left in limbo.
The second omission from the government programme for this term is a Bill to deal with the increasingly unfair and unsustainable council tax. Since 1997, council tax increases in some counties have soared by almost 100 per cent. That is regardless of their political control. It is no wonder that pensioners in Devon are protesting when their council tax has risen by 95.5 per cent in eight years. We will know later this week whether the rumours of a pre-election giveaway by the Chancellor to keep this year's increase to an acceptable level are true, but that does not alter the basic fact that council tax is unfair, regressive and expensive to collect.
If that were not bad enough, the Government are about to embark on a complete revaluation exercise. That will begin in the late spring, we are told. Initial estimates from the Local Government Association suggest that about 90 per cent of all properties will go up by at least one band. What sort of system is it in which people who were already struggling to find affordable homes are further punished by swingeing council tax rises? The sooner that we change to the sort of local income tax that is used in Sweden, the better it will be.
In powerful maiden speeches today, we have heard both the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, and the noble Lord, Lord Gould, talk about their background and localities. That demonstrates how important locality is, even in the Starbucks era. All local parties are now talking about localism. Although I am sure that they all mean it, we are not clear what they mean by it. Three quarters of local council expenditure comes from government grant. While that is the case, we will always have a system that is largely local administration, not local government. That stifles local diversity and diminishes public esteem for local government. It gives rise to central government interference at every level through a regime of target setting, ring-fencing and performance indicators.
The sort of aspirations contained within the Government's clean neighbourhoods Bill, although probably reasonable in themselves, do not need grand national frameworks. They need to ensure that councils have the funding that they need and are then left alone to get on with the job.
On the subject of that Bill, I should like to make a passing reference to the idea that parish councillors should be able to issue fixed penalty notices for anti-social behaviour. I have been a county councillor in a rural area for the past 12 years. Not once have I ever heard a parish councillor, or anyone else, for that matter, say that that would be a useful power to have. There are all sorts of reasons why people become parish councillors, but, in my experience, it is never to become community police. It is hard enough to get people to serve as parish councillors as it is. Not one of my parishes has held an election in the 12 years during which I have been involved. Expecting councillors to fulfil that role could drive many more away.
Real devolution, real localism, whether we are discussing regional or parish councils, must be clearly thought through. It needs to be part of an overall constitutional settlement. Some powers clearly need to be held at higher levels than others, but all powers need to be properly funded and, above all, matched by real democratic accountability.
My Lords, I take the opportunity of today's debate on the gracious Speech to raise one issue arising from the concordat reached between the noble and learned Lords the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice. I am not a lawyer, but I was a member of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House that considered the Constitutional Reform Bill. That gave me an insight into the Bill that I should not otherwise have had. Noble Lords will recall that the concordat followed the original government announcement of constitutional changes last year and it has been largely incorporated into the Constitutional Reform Bill, which reaches Report shortly.
The Select Committee considering that Bill, so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, considered many issues in a very tight timetable. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor tabled hundreds of amendments to his Bill. Many of those amendments were agreed without debate because they were said to be consequential and reflected a fundamental point of the concordat: that the Lord Chief Justice, not the Lord Chancellor (or Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs), was to be the professional head of the judiciary of England and Wales.
Many Acts of Parliament, stretching back over many decades and even centuries, contain phrases such as "the Lord Chancellor will approve", "the Lord Chancellor will appoint" or other words authorising an action that was in statute the sole responsibility of one individual, the Lord Chancellor. Those responsibilities mostly relate to the Lord Chancellor's position as both head of the judiciary and a Minister of the Crown, since both legal and executive considerations were relevant to the action. For example, the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 and the Justices of the Peace Act 1997 contain dozens of references to actions and responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor. Two Acts passed in the previous Session—the Civil Partnerships Act and the Armed Forces (Pension and Compensation) Act—also contain references to actions falling to the Lord Chancellor to discharge.
Under the rubric of the concordat, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor seeks to amend all those Acts by replacing the words "the Lord Chancellor", where appropriate, with such phrases as "the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs may if he thinks fit and if the Lord Chief Justice agrees" or "the Lord Chancellor, where appropriate, with the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice". Following the first day of Committee on the Floor of the House last Session, such phrases may need further amendment to keep the words "Lord Chancellor".
Whatever the precise wording, the position henceforth, when the Constitutional Reform Bill reaches the statute book, will be that two individuals must be in agreement before some action, previously the sole responsibility of the present Lord Chancellor, can happen. My concern is that, should the new Minister and the Lord Chief Justice fail to agree on a necessary action, there could be stalemate. Some may think that it is so unlikely that it would never become an issue; but decisions are required on this large number of Acts—perhaps some quickly because of the nature of events.
At one stage the Government suggested that the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs need not be a lawyer. Regardless of whether the Minister is a lawyer, it is possible that the Lord Chief Justice and the Minister might not agree, for strongly held legal or political reasons or, conceivably, even reasons of personal antipathy. I question whether it is entirely sensible to adulterate the straightforward responsibility of the Lord Chancellor in so many statutes, leaving the possibility of future difficulty. The wise words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, about not overloading the legal system are also relevant. Some may argue that any difficulty would resolve itself by the pressure of events—maybe so, maybe not.
I suggested, but with limited support in the Select Committee, that a parallel might be drawn with the Chief of the Defence Staff, the professional head of the Armed Forces and the Secretary of State for Defence as the executive head. The argument against that is that the independence of the Lord Chief Justice from the executive should be absolute. Ultimately, the same cannot be true for the Chief of the Defence Staff and his Secretary of State.
Nevertheless, I fear that there is a potential serious weakness in the intended application of a part of the present concordat arrangement. It may never surface, but is it a lesser weakness than the perceived one of a Lord Chancellor wearing two hats, as a member of the executive and head of the judiciary? That model served the nation well over generations; it is tried and tested and has worked for all manners of government in the past. If, nevertheless, change must be made, it might still be possible to adopt the pattern of two heads—a professional and an executive head of the judiciary—so that either the Lord Chief Justice or the Minister, but not both, inherits the responsibilities and statutes at present discharged solely by the Lord Chancellor.
My service background and experience has taught me to value a clear chain of command. The proposed arrangements do not provide one. I am not optimistic that this plea will find much favour with the Government or even the Lord Chief Justice, so I shall follow with interest how their proposed new arrangements, if they are enacted, work out in practice.
My Lords, I thank the Government for the proposed legislation in the gracious Speech to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of religion. Not only is it proof of a Government willing to confront religiously motivated prejudice and attacks, but it is also an important step towards the promotion of equality in Britain.
Before I say more about the need for religious discrimination laws, I wish to comment on the Government's legislation to fight crime and terrorism. I am deeply concerned about the erosion of civil liberties, whether through trial without jury, pre-emptive measures to lock up people without charge, like those in Belmarsh prison, or ID cards. I hope very much that the Government will ensure that all those measures will not be targeted at a single community that has been the victim of the previous legislation.
In the past I have raised issues regarding stop-and-search measures and the use of military police in places where those measures have been enforced. Rather than being founded on intelligence-led information, such measures have been taken on the basis of appearance and perception. This is wrong.
Under the Terrorism Act 2000 and the terrorism legislation of 2001, the number of Asians stopped and searched has increased by 302 per cent. That creates the perception of unfair policing. We must ensure that, whatever measures are taken, they are based on evidence rather than the gut feeling of a single official.
Accordingly, there is a need for transparency in these procedures. The Government must maintain a system of checks and balances to prevent any discrimination and abuse in the system. It is vital that we have equality across the board to ensure that all citizens in every community feel that they are equal in the United Kingdom. It is not because someone "looks Asian or Muslim" that they are a terrorist or a criminal. We must not discriminate against people just because of their colour or their looks. When legal and political institutions take seriously the concerns of every group and reflect an understanding of identity, people become much more inclined to comply without feeling targeted or coerced. I strongly believe that the people should have confidence in both the Government and the agencies delivering the service.
We are aware of the reports that say that the Government do not provide equality to Muslims. According to the Open Society Institute's overview, entitled Muslims in the UK: Policies for Engaged Citizens, of spring 2004, one third of Muslims feel that the Government have been doing too little to protect the rights of different faiths in Britain. Muslims also feel marginalised and isolated. For example, in London, Muslims make up 8 per cent of the population, yet a quarter of them live in Tower Hamlets or Newham. Furthermore, 80 per cent of British Muslims have felt subjected to Islamophobia, while one in three feels that the Government have been doing too little to protect the rights of different groups.
To understand the problems faced by such groups and ethnic minority communities, we need extra resources in the Faith Communities Unit in the Home Office, rather than an empire in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that deals with Muslim issues. Over 50 per cent of British Muslims were born in the United Kingdom. I cannot understand why we have so many officials in the Foreign Office wanting to deal with British Muslims.
For all those reasons, I congratulate the Government, in particular the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, on supporting legislation to outlaw discrimination on the basis of religion and incitement to religious hatred. The Race Relations Act 1976 already protects the Jewish and Sikh communities—rightly so. We have laws in Northern Ireland and, I understand, in Scotland that protect people against discrimination on the ground of their religion. There is a need for laws throughout the United Kingdom. Therefore, I will support the Government on the issue.
Such legislation would highlight the fact that Islamophobia—a contemporary form of racism—is wrong and illegal. Secondly, it would allow all agencies, including the law enforcement agencies, to prosecute those responsible for discriminating against people on the ground of their religion, because of their appearance, their faith or their colour.
We all know that, in the Muslim community, there is huge poverty, unemployment, social deprivation and social exclusion. We know that, in comparison with other faith groups, a high proportion of working-age Muslims have no qualifications, particularly in the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, which have the highest unemployment rate among the ethnic minorities—38 per cent in some areas. People are living in poor housing. Some 32 per cent live in overcrowded accommodation, compared with 6 per cent of the indigenous population. Unemployment among the ethnic minorities is at 7.6 per cent, compared with 3.9 per cent in the overall population in Britain.
Everyone recognises that the Muslim community has helped to support and rebuild Britain's infrastructure and economy in the past 40 or 50 years. A third of the workforce of the National Health Service comes from the ethnic minority communities. The ethnic minority communities, particularly the Muslim community, have made a huge contribution to the textile and steel factories and the transport service as well as to the GDP.
I support the Government's proposals for the incitement to religious hatred laws. They will protect the minorities. I understand that there are people in my community too who have been inciting hatred of other British citizens. I strongly believe that the new laws will stop such people inciting hatred of others. Time after time, I have said in the House that Islam is a peaceful religion. Those from my community who incite hatred have no relevance. Chapter 29, verse 46 of the Qur'an says:
"And do not dispute with the people of earlier Scripture, save in good manner, except with those of them who do wrong, and say: We believe in what has been revealed . . . to you and our God and your God is one, and to him do we submit in Islam".
In other words, there is no room for people who incite hatred between religious groups.
I hope that the legislation will help Britain to leap forward into the 21st century, by building bridges between all communities and giving equality to all citizens of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I regret that I cannot follow too closely on from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed. He and I have travelled together overseas, and I think that we share many concerns. The reason for my diverging is that I wish to turn to the home affairs of Northern Ireland, which I have visited twice this year and every year since 1978.
It is clear that society in Northern Ireland remains deeply divided, as it has been for generations, not only between the two main political and religious traditions but within them. There has obviously been major progress since the ceasefires of 1994 and even more since the Belfast agreement of 1998. Life is more normal, and things have improved for the great majority of the people. Unemployment has fallen, and general prosperity has risen. The climate for full implementation of the Belfast agreement—with any agreed modifications—is therefore favourable. However, figures for the month of September show that serious problems remain.
Sectarian or paramilitary action wounded six people in that month, four of them seriously or critically. There were at least four attacks on premises, including a police station, two bars and private houses. A parcel bomb was sent to a councillor who was also a member of a district policing partnership. I am glad to say that that bomb did no harm. Such violence, as recorded in the three reports produced so far by the Independent Monitoring Commission, shows that old attitudes are still deeply ingrained. Prejudices continue, generating antagonism, hatred and fear. Problems still occur at the interfaces between communities of opposed character. Existing walls do something to mitigate clashes, and people sometimes ask for new walls to be built. Organised crime and rackets are often linked with various forms of intimidation. That is the background of violence, which is frequently very local in character but is none the less worrying in a population of only 1.6 million.
I have described some of the obvious symptoms of a situation in which no one wants major violence—they have had enough of that—but many are prepared to live with a lower level of disorder and crime. It is a state of affairs in which reconciliation has not yet been achieved. Mutual respect, political co-operation and power sharing remain difficult aims. Behind it all lie the paramilitary groups, which are still in existence, still armed and are still training, recruiting and refusing to allow exiles to return.
I hope that what I have said has not depressed your Lordships too much. No doubt, noble Lords will have heard some of it on previous occasions from other speakers. I shall try to redress the balance by outlining some positive work that has been done and is continuing. In 1998, a very mixed group of people came together to form Community Dialogue. Since then, with help from Stanford University in the United States, it has held over 500 day and evening seminars, 50 residentials and over 300 other events. The group has had widespread media coverage, I am glad to say.
The purpose of that work was not so much to find solutions as to promote further dialogue, linked with critical thinking. The key questions have been the following. What is it that you really want? Why do you want it? What can you live with, given that others want something different? That work has been summed up in a book of about 142 pages, entitled, Peace Comes Dropping Slow, by the Reverend Brian Lennon SJ.
To give another example, my personal friend and colleague Michael Hall has published more than 60 "Island Pamphlets", which record the dialogue that has taken place with and between community groups, often across the "interfaces" that I have already mentioned. They reflect the conversations of ex-prisoners, youth groups and a variety of local think-tanks. They have discussed the experiences of prisoners' families, of cross-border exchanges and mobile telephone networks. They record contemporary and oral history, as well as charting the impact of past history on those now alive.
I suggest that those kinds of patient dialogue, often with little tangible outcome, are essential to the healing of a deeply divided society. Work of that kind can seldom be fully self-financing. It requires some organisation, some facilitation and some recording. Now that the European Union funds that are provided for peace and reconciliation are dwindling away, I urge the Government to do their utmost to enable dialogue work to continue, to involve more participants and to deepen their challenge to prejudices.
Dialogue by itself of course will not resolve all problems. There is still much to be done for and with the victims of the Troubles. Ex-prisoners also have great potential and more should be done to remove the civil disabilities that still impose burdens on those with past criminal convictions. I refer particularly to mortgages and insurance, to certain kinds of drivers' licences and to employment in the public sector.
The past in itself can be a problem. Options for dealing with that were set out in a report entitled, Healing Through Remembering, which was published in 2002. In that context, it was significant that the Mayor of Derry, coming from the Sinn Fein party, this year began a "day of reflection" in parallel with the customary Armistice commemoration. Integrated education, inter-church and inter-faith work, wherever possible at local and practical levels, all have enormous contributions to make.
I have mentioned very briefly important issues on which progress can be made. Dialogue will, I suggest, smooth the path for each of those issues. It will help to dissolve the prejudices, hates and fears that have done so much to block tolerance and agreement. It will help also to create consent from the people upwards. That is why I commend dialogue so strongly to your Lordships and to Her Majesty's Government.
My Lords, I should start by declaring a close interest in the issues that we are discussing today. I am chairman of the national Association of Police Authorities and of my local police authority in Lancashire. There are three main areas on which I shall comment; namely, the new serious organised crime agency, other aspects of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, such as new powers for both police and community support officers, and, finally, the proposals for an identity card scheme.
Turning first to the new serious organised crime agency (SOCA), I can say that there is considerable support within the policing community as a whole for the new agency. It makes good sense to marshal our efforts to fight national and international crime by bringing together the work of the existing National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, Customs and others.
SOCA will not be a police body. Indeed, it is a completely new type of animal—a law enforcement agency. I know that police authorities very much welcome the repeated assurances by Ministers and others that SOCA will not be a British FBI and that it will not be elitist and cavalier, parachuting into local communities and trampling over local concerns. SOCA will be successful only if it works in harmony with local police forces and has close connections with local communities.
Over recent years, the policing world has been engaged with the Government in a considerable agenda of reform. The White Paper, Building Communities, Beating Crime, published earlier this month, set out the next steps in that programme. SOCA is one element. But equally important is the focus on neighbourhood policing. It is in our neighbourhoods that the effects of serious organised crime manifest themselves, often in the form of prostitution or gang warfare, as my noble friend Lady Prosser pointed out in her excellent maiden speech. It is our communities which suffer the consequences.
It is therefore absolutely crucial to ensure that those connections between the national and local are woven into the statutory framework within which SOCA will operate, and that the governance of SOCA reflects—not replicates—the tripartite relationship which in policing balances both national and local interests.
We also need to ensure that there is the right interface between the work of the serious organised crime agency, the work of local police forces and the bit in the middle, or level two crime as it is known in the trade—crime that crosses force boundaries. We also want reassurance that SOCA will continue to provide the intelligence and other support to forces that is currently available from the two national squads.
I also feel bound to add that it should be adequately resourced for the work that it needs to do. Likewise, the police forces with which it will work closely should have the funding to address neighbourhood policing concerns and level two criminality.
While the serious organised crime agency may be unique in some ways, it still needs to be grounded in the same principles that are fundamental to policing by consent in terms of being as open and accountable as possible; for example, through widespread consultation and engagement, through application of the freedom of information requirements and through having the same duties as other bodies to promote race equality and diversity.
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill is far-ranging. This is neither the time nor place to go into detail, but I should like to highlight a few other aspects. First, it includes measures to streamline police powers of arrest or "policing by discretion", as it has been dubbed. I am sure that this House will want to look rigorously at those proposals in order to ensure that they provide proper safeguards to our citizens while giving our police officers the tools to do their jobs as effectively and efficiently as possible.
There are also proposals to extend the powers available to police community support officers. Those officers are already a visible and very reassuring presence on many streets around the country. They are not, as some have alleged, plastic policemen. To label them in that way is to denigrate hundreds—soon to be many thousands—of hardworking and enthusiastic community workers. They are part of the police family, but they do a rather different job from that of sworn officers. They are very accessible to and are popular with local communities. The measure of the success that they have achieved so far is that the recent allocation of more PCSOs by the Home Office was greatly oversubscribed by applications from forces and authorities. In addition to being an invaluable community resource, they are also a very diverse workforce—much more diverse than police forces—which strengthens their links with local people.
I chair my local community safety partnership. Wearing that hat, I know that many people will welcome the prospect of police community support officers having more scope to tackle anti-social behaviour and enforce byelaws. However, equally, I know that some colleagues are wary that in giving PCSOs more powers, including powers to search detainees, we will risk losing their distinctive value; that is, their capacity to be out and about on the streets and readily accessible to communities. We therefore have to find a balance here, one which maintains the accessibility and visibility of PCSOs while at the same time maximises their effectiveness.
I could not let this debate pass without mentioning two other measures which I know will be warmly welcomed by police authorities on behalf of their local communities. First, the proposed new duty on police authorities to provide information to local people about policing in their area. In many ways this simply codifies what is already happening. Police authorities are committed to giving local people as much information as possible about how their forces are performing. My association looks forward to working closely with the Government to build on that good practice in taking this measure forward.
Secondly, the new offence of incitement to religious hatred. I agree strongly with previous speakers that it is crucial that policing protects and respects the interests of all the diverse communities we serve. This new provision is important and overdue.
Finally, I want to say a word about the identity card scheme, an issue which I know arouses many strong apprehensions, but which also has strong support among the general public. For me, it is all about striking the right balance. Are the potential additional protections which identity cards could bring worth some limitation on our privacy? How do we achieve that protection without creating a big brother state? How can we most effectively capitalise on the fact that all of us now voluntarily carry various forms of ID, from credit cards to work passes, perhaps without realising that we are giving untold information about ourselves to supermarkets and stores? Can we ensure that the scheme is practicable and enforceable, and that it gives value for money? Crucially, can we ensure that it does not create an additional cause of mistrust in policing among our minority communities, but instead enhances feelings of security and community safety?
I believe that there are positive benefits, but these and many other questions will be the subject of robust consideration by this House. I look forward to that discussion in due course, and to participating fully in the detailed debates when the legislation comes before us.
My Lords, this debate is about constitutional, legal and home affairs. First, I wondered whether one should speak about matters in Northern Ireland. It is not a bad day to wish the peace process well—and we do wish it well. Secondly, is it an occasion to talk about the regional dimension and the possibility of giving some form of democratic legitimacy to it?
I was delighted at the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, when she told us about the charities Bill. I understand that it is to start over here in January. But I ask myself: and finish when? Is there any chance of it being finished in the other place by Maundy Thursday? I have my doubts.
The one thing the gracious Speech did not say was, "My Government plan to hold an election on 5.5.05". It would have been novel had that been included, but the Sun newspaper tells us that it is a major event to come.
We have heard two maiden speeches today. I heard that of the noble Lord, Lord Gould of Brookwood, and some of that of the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser. I shall read the rest. However, when I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Gould, speak about balance, I wondered whether this morning's full page advert in the Guardian taken out by the Labour Party and his maiden speech were connected.
Can we look forward to an election, because it is elections which underlie constitutional affairs? I want to make a declaration of interest as a director of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd, a non-charitable grant-making company. It is our centenary next month, and before I finish I shall refer to our booklet, for which we funded the research.
As we look forward to the election we know that there will be campaigning. Will it be vibrant or will it be dull? We know also that it will involve money. Do the election, campaigning and so forth have anything to do with Parliament? Regulation of politics is in place, certainly throughout my lifetime. Limits are laid on how much a candidate can spend at a general election, and limits are laid on how much local government candidates can spend. Indeed, I can recall regulations rationing the use of motor cars on election day. Candidates were allowed to use only 30 cars. They had a little sticker on each one. As they went to work, people used to whip them off and put them on another car.
What is the national campaign about? It is about big money paying for broadcasts, adverts, pamphlets and manifestos, and no doubt hiring helicopters and aeroplanes. At the last general election, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party spent around £12 million apiece. Three or four wealthy people stumping up £3 million or £4 million each can cover it, but I do not think that is the way forward for elections.
What is going to happen to turnout? We have been on a downward slide, although in the European election, even in areas that did not have a postal vote, turnout was higher. However, I think we do have difficulties with the number of people actively campaigning for those who want to be elected. Much of that work is done at the local level. Back in September, the New Politics Network produced a pamphlet called Life Support for Local Parties. It surveyed 12 constituencies and looked at all the active political parties in them. It is a study of decline, and quite a swift one. In one northern inner city area the total membership of the three active political parties was 309. I believe that voting and political activity are connected, and they have both been in serious decline.
We know that the Electoral Commission is due to publish its report on the funding of politics in a day or so. It may well suggest that a change should be made to the funding of politics and that political subscriptions or donations made to parties will perhaps attract a tax concession or credit. That would mean that people who encourage others to get involved in politics would have a real incentive to do it because of the financial credit. However, if the commission does not bring forward such a recommendation, I think we shall be in even worse trouble.
I hope that the Government take this issue seriously and let this forthcoming general election be the last one that is funded at the top by a few and only loosely rooted at the grass roots.
My Lords, I have only two points to make. The first is on terrorism and the other is on the law of murder.
On terrorism, I marvel that we need yet more legislation given that we have not had a single incident of international terrorism in the United Kingdom since the Terrorism Act 2000 was passed. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and my noble friend Lord Cobbold that we will get the worst of all worlds while the threat of terrorism will undoubtedly continue if we over-react to it.
Putting that to one side, however, I am delighted that, if the rumour is correct, the Home Office has at last come around to the view that telephone intercepts should be admissible in evidence, at least in terrorist cases. I have pressed that view on the Home Office—and on anyone else who cared to listen—since 1995. I hope that this overdue reform will help in securing a trial for the 12 or 14 men currently detained without trial in Belmarsh prison.
I also welcome the proposed offence of preparing to commit an act of terrorism. It is another of the recommendations that I made in my 1995 report. I tried very hard to get it into the Terrorism Act 2000, but it was resisted then by the Home Office and I failed. Again, I hope that that rumour is true.
However, there is one rumour that I hope is definitely not true, and that is that some kinds of terrorist cases are to be tried without a jury. No doubt the Government will pray in aid the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland as a precedent, but the situation in Northern Ireland was entirely different. Diplock courts were necessary because of the sectarian divide so graphically described by my noble friend Lord Hylton. It was simply not possible to get a jury to hear cases—not only terrorist cases but also so-called scheduled cases—without fear of reprisals.
Happily there is no sectarian divide in England and, therefore, there is no excuse for getting rid of the jury in terrorist cases—perhaps above all in terrorist cases a jury is necessary. So, if the rumour proves to be correct, that element of the Bill will, I suspect, have a rocky ride in this House. It is surprising that the Government have not learnt that lesson by now.
The law of murder was not mentioned in the gracious Speech. However, it is very topical for reasons I shall explain. In August, the Law Commission published its report on partial defences to murder. It described the law of murder as a mess. I suspect that no one would disagree with that view. The Law Commission pointed out that the partial defences it was considering—namely, provocation and diminished responsibility—owed their origin to the fact that there is only one sentence for the crime of murder, and that is life imprisonment. It is the huge discrepancy between the sentence if one of those defences succeeds and if it does not succeed that has led to this branch of the law becoming seriously distorted.
That was the Law Commission's view and, accordingly, it recommended that the Law Commission should be invited to review the law of murder as a whole and not only the partial defences. This should include reviewing the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment because, in the view of the Law Commission, it is impossible to consider the one without the other. However, a month ago, on
I shall make two comments on that. I do not suggest that the Home Office officials are incapable of carrying out a thorough review of the law of murder—of course not—but I do suggest that they are not the best people to do so. The review should be carried out by those with hands-on, practical experience of the law of murder, such as the Law Commission, although not necessarily the Law Commission. If the Law Commission was the right body to carry out the review it has just finished—as the Home Secretary must have thought in June 2003 as it was at his suggestion that it carried out the review—why has he changed his mind? Why is it not now the body, as has been suggested, to complete the review initiated originally by the Home Secretary? Why not let it finish the job, as it has asked to do?
One searches for the reason but one is left with the thought that the Home Secretary may have been concerned in case the Law Commission came out with a strong recommendation that the mandatory sentence be abolished, in line with much of the evidence it has already received. I hope that when the Minister replies she will say why the Home Secretary did not accept the Law Commission's suggestion that the Law Commission itself should carry out the review.
If the Home Secretary is determined to carry out the review in house, will he please consider appointing an outside chairman to carry out the work? Whether that is a judge, an academic or a senior QC matters not to me, but only if he does so will the review carry the weight and authority which is so important in this branch of the criminal law.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lords who have today made their maiden speeches. The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, has been a great champion of trade union and women's rights. She will be able to speak to the House more potently than many of the need to maintain protections for those who have little power when confronted with the might of the state. She knows why trade unionists were traditionally at the forefront of the struggle for civil liberties. She also knows that justice for women cannot be secured by reducing justice for men. She will know better than anyone that a crude response to populist concerns is not a progressive move.
My noble friend Lord Gould is a dear friend of many years. We have lively political arguments but I retain a warm affection for him because I know that his motivation is genuinely to improve the lot of the British people, particularly those who have little voice. He has never forgotten the unfairness that he saw in his early life—the inequality of the education system, particularly, which he experienced—and I have always admired his desire to create change. However, I think his romance with focus groups and with polling has led the Government into many unprincipled and misguided positions. I shall turn to that matter shortly.
I wish to address the media debate that has been created—not surprisingly—in the light of the Home Office agenda announced in the Queen's Speech. The Government were congratulated on being wickedly clever by stealing Conservative clothing—it is now impossible for Michael Howard to find a sustainable set of policies to the right of Tony Blair—and the Government continue to ratchet up law and order issues in this Dutch auction between the main political parties.
I regret what is taking place. It may be a source of celebration in some quarters that the Conservatives have been put on the back foot—that is always nice to watch—but I believe that progressive politics is not about oppressive policies. There is little progressive in the current menu. I welcome the corporate manslaughter legislation that is likely to come forth; I am very content that wiretap evidence should be placed before courts—I see it as a fundamental way of dealing with the problems of putting certain suspects before the courts—but we should be raising the alarm on some of the issues contained in the raft of legislation that is to come through the House. Showing whose truncheon is bigger in competitive displays of machismo has become standard Home Office fare. In the short-term, politicians may deceive themselves that this answers public anxieties about crime and terrorism. But the awful thing is that the erosion of principle and of established standards will become an indelible and shame-filled stain on our Government's record.
The Government deny creating a climate of fear. They are unable to see that if a legislative programme is filled to the gills with legislation on identity cards, serious organised crime and police, drugs, the management of offenders, counter-terrorism and, again, on youth justice, the public are entitled to feel that things must be getting worse. After the 43 pieces of legislation on crime that have been passed in the past seven years, they are entitled to think that we are in a desperate plight if all this additional legislation is necessary.
As with asylum and immigration, the Government's behaviour and rhetoric, while perhaps not intentional, feed into public fear and escalate panic and intolerance. Similarly, in the scandal of prison numbers, the Government cannot engage in double-speak—raging against offenders committing crimes but expecting the courts to use alternatives when, in turn, those will not satisfy the public expectations that wrongdoers should be punished in the age-old style. The hunger of the Daily Mail is unquenchable, and the Government should realise that.
We are seeing quite an extraordinary shift to the right in the belief that it wins elections, but it is reshaping our lives irredeemably. The relationship between the citizen and the state is being resettled. Politicians speak regretfully about the public distrust of politicians but there is a mutuality in political engagement. The Government's distrust of citizens is manifest in many different ways: the erosion of juries; the introduction of ID cards; the duty to inform on others, which is contained within terrorism legislation; and the willingness to hand citizens over to other states without examination of evidence. These are extraordinary departures from traditional protections and are all based on suspicion of citizens.
One of the most precious aspects of British life has been the freedom we enjoy, the respect for liberty. But in return for short-term gains, we are unpicking the mortar that holds together our social architecture.
In his maiden speech, my noble friend Lord Gould said a number of things which were profoundly wrong. He said that crime is the most fundamental violation of a person's liberty. No—the state can victimise us much more effectively than any criminal. He also said that without security, liberty crumbles. Yes, we need security, but with too much security, liberty most decidedly crumbles. He told us that the more secure a nation is, the greater the chances and the opportunities for its citizens. No—a bridge is crossed when, seeking to create security, we create a society so risk-averse, so afraid, that opportunities are greatly reduced.
I am a firm believer in the common law. Before anyone ever spoke about human rights, the common law essentially embodied everything that is contained within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Because the common law is built on case law, and we believe in judicial discretion, although it is not very popular with certain Ministers, it has the flexibility to meet the justice of given situations, and is capable of evolving. The common law breathes, in the way that so many other systems do not. Its extraordinary adaptability has made it one of the great tools of vibrant trading nations. It is another great strength of the common law that markets thrive better under common law systems. If you look around, you will see the truth in that.
Another great strength of the common law system is the jury, bringing the values of the community into the court room, deciding on the facts in cases and also protecting the judiciary from corruption where corruption is most likely to rear its head. We do not have attempts to corrupt or to assassinate judges because juries make the decisions. To play around with those facts is so short-sighted.
The common law is built on a moral wisdom grounded in the experience of ages, acknowledging that governments can abuse power. When a person is on trial, the burden of proof must be on the state, and no one's liberty should be removed without evidence of the highest standard. Yet we are talking about taking trial by jury away from people facing charges of terrorism, the most serious of charges. We are talking about the possibility of using a civil order on a lower standard of proof as a pre-emptive strike against people who may have some sympathies with terrorism. We are talking about introducing ID cards when we know, in fact, that they will never be able to deal with terrorism. The Government are creating new paradigms of state power. They may be doing it without realising it, but that is what is happening, and we will pay the price.
One of the reasons for these changes is undoubtedly globalisation. The huge shifts taking place in our world create an impetus to create hybrid systems of law. They also create fear in citizens around the world, so it is very easy to get citizens to write a blank cheque to governments in those circumstances. Cherry-picking other systems has been a favourite occupation of Ministers. If they do something in Sweden or France that works for them, why not try it here? But justice depends on very careful checks and balances, and it is easy to introduce legal transplants which do not work because our immune system is not attuned to the new initiative. Law is cultural, and it works best when it is grown in our own rich soil.
In seeking to create transnational law, we are levelling down, rather than raising the standards of some of our neighbours, whose respect for the rule of law waxes and wanes. Yes, we need greater international co-operation to deal with international crime. Yes, we need new modalities for engaging with international terrorism. But we should never sacrifice the long-established standards of protection for which we, the British, are recognised.
It is easy to persuade people that our liberty should be traded in the interests of security, but we always think it is only other people's liberty that will be traded—Arabs, Muslims, terrorists. But liberty is not divisible in that way. Terrorism laws cannot be vacuum-sealed. They leech into the system and poison the whole of the domestic law system. They affect the culture of policing and, as the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, demonstrated when describing the incident involving the man in Whitehall being stopped by over-zealous policemen, I am afraid that they can contaminate the justice system as a whole.
When I speak to your Lordships today, I speak about my concern that, in this desire to win more elections—which I, too, want to see us doing—we are forgetting some things which are even more fundamental.
My Lords, I greatly appreciated the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. I agree with her absolutely on the common law. As a non-lawyer, I respect her judgment absolutely.
I also greatly enjoyed the noble Baroness's speech because it is clear to me that I think more highly of the Home Secretary in his legal endeavours than she does. I greatly respect and like the Home Secretary, and I greatly regret the swirl and turmoil that is around his head at the moment. I do not agree with everything that the right honourable gentleman has done in the past; I do not agree with everything that he proposes in the gracious Speech. However, I think he has done a number of singularly important things. In the matter of public policy, I recognise in him a fellow social conservative under the skin—not a title, I guess, that he would like. However, I recognise that he and I are related in that way.
Thus far and no further will I go regarding home affairs. I wish to concentrate, as a non-lawyer, on constitutional and legal affairs. On constitutional matters, I have said before to your Lordships and to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, that I abhor the lack of thought and strategy that has characterised the Government's approach to constitutional matters since 1997. There has been an endemic failure on the part of the Government to attempt to gain consent by prior consultation on manifesto commitments. That led to the making of public policy on the run. The best examples of that are the proposals brought in overnight to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor and introduce a Supreme Court. Perhaps I unwisely said that policy was made on the run because these days we know that public policy is made on the great sofa of state in No. 10 Downing Street with the Minister at one end and the Prime Minister at the other. I regret the way that it has been done. I regret the way that no attempt has been made to carry people until recently.
There is an exquisitely fitting and poignant punishment for the Lord Chancellor, who should be our constitutional guardian and champion and who might have slipped into the Chamber this afternoon to listen to some of the points made about the constitution. It is extraordinary that he has not been here. However, if his post is maintained and he is forced to sit on the Woolsack, bewigged, for the rest of his service in this House, he might believe that that was a cruel and unnatural punishment. However, I do not think that even the European Court of Human Rights would come to his aid. He thoroughly deserves it.
There are some constitutional Bills that did not bark in the gracious Speech; notably on the make-up of your Lordships' House and on the position of those among us whose service is so valued—those I think of as the hereditary classes. Perhaps it is the Government's intention to let the issue fade away and run out of steam, although I doubt that it will.
However, there are some other things that might be allowed to fade away, such as the way in which we refer to each other in this Chamber. I am surprised that the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, who wishes so radically to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor, has not mused publicly about the anachronism that seems to be coming down the track at us now that QCs are themselves about to fade away. Those with that title are referred to in this place as learned, which strikes me as being anachronistic these days. There are many very learned academics with doctorates and chairs in your Lordships' Chamber who are immensely learned, such as the noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Peston. Nobody could be more learned than the late Conrad, Earl Russell, or my noble friend Lord Stewartby, that great numismatist and Fellow of the British Academy. All those people should have the title "learned", but I see my noble and learned friend rising spectrally in his place.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving way, if only to tell him that I am not noble and learned. Of course I am delighted to be noble but I am only noble, even though I have the honour of holding the rank of Queen's Counsel. That is because the expression "noble and learned" applies only to Lords of Appeal in Ordinary in your Lordships' House or former Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, sitting Law Officers or former Law Officers. I apologise to my noble friend. I do not in any way wish to embarrass him by that, but I thought that it was important to interject.
My Lords, my noble friend is exactly right, but I sense that I should be about the business of stopping digging myself into a deeper hole. I remember Lord Whitelaw, when he was Home Secretary and I was a young Parliamentary Private Secretary, ushering me into his room—the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, about truncheons reminded me. The then Home Secretary used to sit behind a positive barricade and palisade of truncheons that were presented to him by police forces up and down the land. He advised new Ministers, "When in trouble, stop digging". I put away my spade.
I wish that there had been some other measures in the gracious Speech to codify our constitutional statutes for starters, while to finish, the setting up of a free-standing constitutional commission might have been a good idea, answerable to both Houses of Parliament and free of ministerial patronage, to which all proposed constitutional reforms could be referred for discussion and refinement. That would have been a good thing.
I certainly welcome the draft Civil Service legislation. I regard that as a constitutional matter because I have always regarded civil servants as our fifth estate—I hope that I will not be corrected by someone on our Front Bench on the number of estates that I should be counting. Our Civil Service needs a properly defined constitutional position and at long last it looks as though it may get it after the 150 years that have elapsed since the Northcote-Trevelyan report, which maintained that change,
"can only be successfully done through the medium of an Act of Parliament".
Some things are to be welcomed in the draft legislation which, as I said, I regard as a constitutional matter. The Government's proposal that the Civil Service Commission should get statutory independence is good. However, I understand from the draft legislation that the commission will not be able to carry out investigations into the workings of the Civil Service code or the code of conduct for special advisers, which is bad. My honourable friend Mr Oliver Heald is absolutely correct when he says that this Bill as drafted will not protect let alone bolster the impartiality of the Civil Service from government interference. Mr Heald is indeed just an honourable gentleman. He is not honourable and learned, even though, in the parlance of another place, QCs are given that title.
I now turn to legal matters. I have no interests to declare, but I have two separate points to make if a Peer from the great unlearned in the law may be allowed to make them. My first point concerns judicial pensions, an issue that calls for the closest scrutiny. At a time when the position of so many in defined benefit schemes is in doubt and when others face a cap on the size of the pension pot that they have earned now starting in 2006, it is absolutely wrong to have a special case made for those who are, after all, members of a very secure and privileged class. They have tenure and that tenure was long ago stripped from parsons and taken away from academics. They often have the privilege of an automatic knighthood simply by virtue of the position that they reach.
The sort of successful lawyers who I hope will be retained by and attracted to judicial office have probably had three decades of high earning pension-accumulating service under their belts. My honourable friend the Conservative pension spokesman in the other place, Mr David Willetts, is surely right to say that the issue should be dealt with by looking at salary levels. The announcement should not have been smuggled out on a website. It should have been in the Queen's Speech. Trying to smuggle things out was one of those things that the noble Lord, Lord Healey, used to call a spiffing wheeze, but this spiffing wheeze has gone badly wrong.
Lastly, there is another legal issue that was sparked off by a junior Minister in the self-same Department for Constitutional Affairs, Mr David Lammy. He has been much and accurately reported as telling off City law firms for allegedly discriminating in favour of Oxbridge—or Camford as I prefer to think of those twins. Those places are now Labour's favourite targets after fox hunters and supporters of fox hunting have been legislated against—supporters such as the noble Lord, Lord Livesey of Talgarth, who speaks next—and had their comeuppance. I have no interest at all to declare on this issue save as a user, from time to time, of the services of those law firms pursuant to my declared interests in the City of London in the world of investment.
The City of London's law firms are generally excellent. They contribute enormously to the strength and reputation of the City of London by which I mean not only the historic city, but Canary Wharf, midtown and the West End which is where some of these firms have now moved. They add to the innovative zip and vim of our most successful global financial centre, here in London.
Being among the best, those law firms want to attract the best, not just from Oxbridge or Camford but from all good universities—and I am advised that there are many excellent universities with law schools. To take Cambridge as an example, that university has been excoriated by the Minister, but it has recently been judged the third best university in the known world. It is now taking some 60 per cent of its undergraduates on their merits from state schools—and quite right, too. They are there not by privilege but because they are bright, hard-working and aspirational.
What is the point of encouraging state school pupils to aim for Oxbridge and aspire to Camford, but then to follow on with exhortatory advice to City law firms to discriminate against exactly those state school students who have done so well and have graduated with such distinction? I believe that Mr Lammy is guilty of a bit of muddled thinking in that matter, and I welcome the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, has recently joined the department. She may introduce a bit of clarity into the thinking of that department, which is often sorely needed.
My Lords, I hasten to say that I, too, have no direct interest in the legal system, particularly after some aspects of that speech, although I enjoyed very much what the noble Lord, Lord Patten, had to say on a number of subjects.
Normally, I speak on agriculture and rural affairs, but today I wish to speak on the constitution, as it affects Wales. Were I to be speaking on agriculture today, I would most certainly be discussing the impact of supermarkets on farm gate prices—now hardly able to sustain a small or even medium-sized family farm. I would also have mentioned the inability of dairy farms to recoup a fair price for price in the market place. On this occasion, I shall focus on the situation relating to my home nation of Wales, especially to its constitutional relationship with Parliament and government here at Westminster.
Of the Wales Bills in the Queen's Speech, one relates to transport in Wales—the Transport (Wales) Bill, which is fundamental for sustainable transport, which I welcome. There is also a Bill that will make public services more effective in Wales and which I also welcome. There is, in addition, a Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill, which will sort out some of the problems that we have had in that sector in Wales, and combines them all under one office. That is clearly a good thing. But we are contending, too, with an education Bill, which is an England and Wales Bill and which has 40 Welsh clauses in it. When one actually examines it in detail, 33 of those clauses are re-enactments of existing legislation, and only seven relate directly to Wales.
We are having to go along with those less than satisfactory situations because we have no primary legislative powers in Wales as a result of the Government of Wales Act 1998. I have always believed in the idea of a Parliament for Wales, and I should have preferred to have seen in the Queen's Speech measures to establish a Welsh Parliament. I have been working very strongly to try to get more powers for government in Wales, for a very long time indeed. After the 1979 referendum campaign, which was not a success, we had to struggle through the 1980s and most of the 1990s, calling for constitutional convention for Wales. I was involved, as the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats in the other place, in putting in place the Government of Wales Act 1998. It was not an Act of my choice but a compromise that came out of different views held within the Labour Party, but we felt at the time that it was better than nothing.
Now we have the Richard commission report, made earlier this year. It is an excellent report—and in fact it is the equivalent of a constitutional convention of Wales, because it was widely canvassed throughout Wales at the time. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on the very effective report that he and his committee produced. But why has reference not appeared to it in this Queen's Speech? I hope that it will in the next one.
The responses to the Richard commission report have been somewhat diverse. Plaid Cymru welcomed it but still wants independence. The Conservatives want a four-way referendum, asking whether to maintain the status quo, accept the Richard commission suggestions, aim for independence or abolish the Assembly altogether. That seems to be stepping back from the brink and not being prepared even to make even a simple decision on which way they wish to jump.
The Labour Government in the Assembly have been bedevilled by the attitude of most Labour MPs at Westminster, many of whom—though not all—do not want primary legislative powers devolved, as they mistakenly assume that there will be too much loss of their own powers. Their fears may be allayed by the Sewel convention—and I note that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, is present in the House this evening and will speak later. That was an agenda put forward for the Scottish Parliament, which has resulted in the joint working on some primary legislation between the Scottish Parliament and the legislators here in Westminster. We would wish to have that arrangement for Wales.
It might allay the fears of some Labour MPs that they would lose a lot of power to know that in Scotland there has been more co-operation between Scottish MPs and Members of the Scottish Parliament on jointly working on primary legislation. Unfortunately, at present, some Labour MPs do not want to know about all that—but it is clearly the way ahead. In the face of such negativity, the First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, has stepped back from support for primary legislative powers into a less than halfway house position, as contained in chapter 13.2 of the Richard commission recommendations. One of the first statements of that is that there will be no amendment to the Government of Wales Act 1998. I need go on no further—but noble Lords can read into that the problems that would be created by taking that position.
The position taken by my party is that we welcome the Richard commission report in its entirety. However, there are some issues surrounding legal structures in Wales which are important. When one thinks of the Constitution Bill contained in the Queen's Speech, references to which have already been made this evening, one would wish to know where Wales stands in this matter. It is an England and Wales Bill. Certainly in the legal profession in Wales, there is a wish to devolve more legal powers, now that Wales has an Assembly. We are seeing great reforms here in Westminster, but we shall still be under the department with regard to the constitution.
Clearly, there is a very strong case for devolving primary legislative powers to Wales. Indeed, there has been a gradual evolution in that regard, as time has gone on, particularly in agriculture and transport. But we have no input into broadcasting in Wales, or into our relations with the European Union, which we believe is extremely important, as our GDP is some 20 per cent less than it is in England, for example. We have a lot of catching up to do. The Government of Wales Act 1998 was put into practice, and the Assembly was created.
A future Queen's Speech must come forward with details, as produced by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in his report. That would give the Assembly primary legislative powers, change the system of voting and increase the numbers in the Assembly very modestly—because the scrutiny powers of the Assembly would be vastly increased in considering primary legislative Bills. Indeed, it should be able to create Acts of Parliament. That must come before long.
What Wales needs now—after a referendum following the general election, in the new Queen's Speech—is an acceptance in full of the Richard Commission recommendations, following their validation, if necessary, in a referendum; a Wales Bill that will enact the Richard commission recommendations; and a timetable for reform that follows the Richard Commission report. It is a long-term matter that will not be resolved until about 2010, with final enactment probably not until 2013. It will take quite a while.
The timetable for reform of the National Assembly for Wales must follow the proposals of the Richard commission. I hope and expect that such a constructive attitude will be taken in the next Queen's Speech. The legislative mechanisms of Wales badly need to be sorted out in a democratic way as that will enable far more effective government for Wales. We are currently hung in a halfway house.
My Lords, we have been having a fascinating debate. Perhaps the highlight was the insight provided when we heard the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gould, and the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. Their speeches revealed to us something of the struggle that must go on continually within the current Labour Party. If I had to appoint someone to assist my own party with its future manifesto, I think that I would probably come down on the side of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. I felt closer to her speech than to that of the noble Lord, although both were, of course, excellent speeches.
Those who made up the speakers' list for this debate seem to have grouped together those of us who seemed to them to come from the Celtic fringes, in the hope that everyone else could go and take a little light refreshment and they could man their Front Bench accordingly. That is very disappointing to me because I did not intend to talk about Scotland at all. I am merely talking to a rather empty House.
In the Queen's Speech, the Government say:
"My Government will continue to modernise . . . the institutions of our country".
My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern has asked the Government to clarify a little what they mean by "modernising". We look forward to hearing the answer to that question.
I should like to remind your Lordships and the Government of the unintended effect at present of some of the Government's recent modernisations, and to ask the Minister if she can tell us whether the Government, should they be re-elected, are in the business of learning lessons for future modernisations from what they have just done.
Perhaps I may explain. The first example is hunting: all those parliamentary hours spent on the ban, and then the sledgehammer of the Parliament Act to force it into law. And now what? In fact, the pollsters tell us that only 50 per cent of the population wanted a ban in any case. Now that it is law, 70 per cent—seven in 10 of those questioned—do not want the police to enforce the Act. They do not want the law enforced.
The future remains to be seen. A ban has existed in Scotland for a while. Last week and this week, two huntsmen have been appearing in court on charges of alleged offences under the Scots' hunting ban. In at least one of those cases a longstanding hunt member is cited to appear as a witness for the prosecution against her own hunt.
What have the Government done? They have destroyed a longstanding institution—a hobby, a recreation, a sport, even a habit and tradition that binds communities together. In its place they have created division and cynicism. What does that do for people in local areas and indeed for the local police appointed to serve them?
That is hunting. Then, there is the issue of regional assemblies and local government. How often the Government seem to forget local government's importance as a familiar local institution. Local government gives local communities a focal point—people to choose, criticise and influence. It holds the community together, while they complain about it, in all sorts of ways.
The Government wanted elected regional assemblies, and they were egged on in that by the Liberal Democrats, as we have heard. They wanted something to counterbalance the unfairness for England of the lopsided devolution to the other parts of the United Kingdom. However, it turned out that the regions that they proposed and the all-postal voting that they fancied was seen locally as not only unnecessary, but damaging to the local government that already existed. The local population was asked what they thought and they said a polite, "Thank you very much; we will keep local government as it is". The lopsided devolution remains, including that which goes with it: the West Lothian question and the whole problem of how votes are to be in Parliament. I wonder whether the Government have learnt a lesson from that.
Then, there is the attack on our independent world-class universities—the limiting of the fees that they can charge their students and the oversight of student admissions by a regulator. The effect of that so far is that our most prestigious institutions are forced to reduce their intake of home students and increase the number of overseas students. That is hardly what the Government intended. I think that the Minister, from her previous incarnation, would agree.
Then, there is the Army and its need for more flexible deployment. The Government seem to have forgotten that some regiments are indeed local institutions, with hugely popular veterans' associations and clubs, as well as being local recruiting grounds. Anyone who has visited the annual Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle—four weeks' sell-out every year, and based mainly on the history, traditions and music making of Scots regiments—could have told the Government the outrage that that suggestion would cause in Scotland. That is, first, not understood; secondly, it is extremely annoying to everyone.
Hunting, lopsided devolution, the universities, and the reorganising of regiments are all examples of the Government's current problems—quite big problems—all caused by failure to recognise that institutions often have deep roots. Modernising and light-heartedly destroying, damaging or downgrading those institutions can have unexpected consequences for the soil in which they grow. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government intend to learn lessons from those present examples for their plans for the future?
My Lords, I should like to concentrate in my contribution on matters relating to children in trouble with the law and to the prospect of draft legislation following the Government's paper Youth Justice—The Next Steps. I should like to review very briefly how we got to where we are today and what we can hope the new legislation on youth justice will bring.
The thought of new legislation may raise the spirits of all those working with children and young people in trouble with the law—the many dedicated social workers, police officers and staff of youth offending teams who will have watched with some despair the increasing numbers of children and young people locked up, the emphasis on punishment rather than care and protection for some of the most damaged children in our country and the relentless shift away from a system based on knowledge and evidence. The many people working in the system want to see children protected and safeguarded from harm. They also want a system that works, in that it saves children, wherever possible, from an adulthood spent in Her Majesty's prisons having committed some serious crimes, or from behaving violently to their own families in turn, thus creating another generation of young people who see violence as the solution.
Many people working with children and teenagers who commit crime are therefore dismayed by much that has happened in policy in recent years, starting perhaps with the decision by the Government in July 1997 to set up more privately managed secure institutions where convicted children would be sent from the courts as punishment. It was not only the decision to set up those institutions that caused dismay, but the decision about their nature. The companies asked to provide them were not companies providing services in education, health or childcare, but companies providing security guards, escorting prisoners and providing adult custodial services.
I make no point about whether the companies should be commercial; I am commenting on the vision of those who set the institutions up. They did not think, "The issue here is children. We are talking of children as young as 12, so let us look towards those who know about childcare, health and education." The people who set up the institutions presumably thought, "These are bad children, so we need to find private contractors with the knowledge of how to run places of punishment". That decision enshrined a certain approach and set a tone. Since then, a number of developments have reinforced that decision, and made us see that the youth justice system is ripe for some profound change.
In July 2000, the number of children locked up reached nearly 3,000. On
In June 2003, the Joint Committee on Human Rights called on the Government to respond to the UN report, and to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12, reduce the use of custody and remove those under 18 from Prison Service custody to an organisation,
"more fully imbued with a culture of respect for children's rights".
In September 2003, the Government replied to the Joint Committee, declining to accept its recommendations, pointing out that:
"Children in custody are not just children", and maintaining that "a substantial number" of children—probably between 2,000 and 3,000—need to be locked up at any time. In November 2003, the Joint Committee on Human Rights responded to that reply by firmly restating its earlier recommendations.
In August 2004, Adam Rickwood was found dead in his room at Hassockfield secure training centre. He had killed himself. He was 14 years old. On
We must be very grateful that the new youth justice Bill will give us an opportunity to look again at these matters, and to do better. It is also a chance to integrate into the legislative framework some of the body of knowledge about children who commit crimes that has developed over decades. It is based on research and experience, and is accepted by the world community. It has two elements. One is human rights law about protecting the vulnerable, and the other is the knowledge of specialists on children and adolescents about how to guide them to grow up well socialised and able to lead useful and happy lives.
That knowledge reinforces the human rights principles. It says that children who break the law in serious ways are children in trouble. Punishment does not solve the problem. Their lives have been punishment enough already. The outstanding work of Camila Batmangheldjh, who set up and runs the organisation Kids Company, shows us that. I hope that the draft legislation that will come before us will seriously help to reduce the use of custody. Rates of child imprisonment have almost doubled over the past decade, at a period when recorded crime by children has been going down.
According to the 40th report of the Public Accounts Committee, the Youth Justice Board spent about £283 million—72 per cent of its budget—on 7 per cent of the young people with whom it works, the 7 per cent who go into custody. The Audit Commission's report, Youth Justice 2004, said that custody was expensive and ineffective, and that eight out of 10 of those locked up were reconvicted. I hope that the new measures will serve to reduce the number of minor offences coming to court, a point also raised by the Audit Commission.
I particularly hope that the new legislation will address the critical situation of children assessed as vulnerable being placed in Prison Service custody by bringing the sentencing courts and the Youth Justice Board into the safeguarding framework. The Government resisted those changes to the Children Act, but the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton—we are fortunate that she will reply to the debate today—provided assurances that the matter was being looked at by the Home Office and the Department for Education and Skills. The proposed youth justice Bill provides the opportunity to move forward on that. I hope that she can tell us this evening that that at least will be done, so that some good, however little, will have come from the deaths of Joseph Scholes and Adam Rickwood.
My Lords, I am happy to recount that I have been abolished again. I may have found a way around my abolition as a hereditary Peer in November 1999 by returning here in April 2000, but yesterday I was abolished by my honourable Scottish friends, as a feudal superior, under our Abolition of Feudal Tenure (Scotland) Act 2000. I am not sure how to get around that one or, indeed, if I want to.
I am glad that I shall be followed by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel. I hope that he will comment on the recent, in my view, over-use of the convention that bears his name. There are two concerns. One is the unanticipated frequency of use and the second is that the opposition parties in Scotland do not have any real chance to debate the content of a Bill that is to be "Sewelled"—I apologise for that new verb. A Sewel motion always comes from the executive, which has already deliberated on the matter—in private, presumably.
The House will not be surprised to hear that I regret the lack of any mention of strategic direction for constitutional development in Scotland. The Minister smiles, which I recognise with sadness—although that smile is nice. Scotland is, at present, on its way and re-finding its feet, but, once again, it will be necessary for further development so that we can see the true flourishing of the Scottish political state—which is impossible at present, due to its incorporation into the political United Kingdom. But that is not to say that I am ungrateful for the promised devolution of the railway network to the Scottish Parliament. A year ago, I set devolution of the whole railway as my one stated tangible political aim for the Session. Although the Treasury Bench turned its eyes to heaven at that moment, it has subsequently seen the light or, perhaps, a signal at green.
Praise for transport measures does not end there. I approve of the Crossrail proposals, as they will benefit, among others, Scottish rail travellers who will seek to travel on by rail and air. However, I cannot say that the alleged proposal to close 57 English railway lines would benefit rail travellers, Scottish or otherwise. So here there is substantial policy divergence—the reopening of railways in Scotland and their closure in England. Leaving those transport issues aside—yes, I also approve of the tougher stance on mobile phones—my complaint is this: that there is no statement in the gracious Speech about the constitutional direction for Scotland.
I also regret that the EU constitution referendum process will be flawed, at least in my dreams, in that Scotland is improperly described as a region, not as a nation. I certainly believe that at least the referendum should officially be counted separately in Scotland and that the result in Scotland should be recognised officially. I concede that I was impressed to hear this morning on the radio that the EU is planning to relate to the Scottish Parliament in a more serious and structured manner and that the EU will do the same with the Catalan parliament. The article in the constitution which allows 1 million people to petition for EU membership is worthy of further study.
In my everyday experience, there are people in Scotland who wish to know where the re-establishment of a political state will end. At present, we are in an uncomfortable half-way house. One option is to revert to direct rule, putting the half-awake/half-asleep state back to bed, and another is to learn to live with devolution and the subsidy which goes with it. Ultimately, that subsidy is patronising to a national community.
Then there is my noble friend's proposal for a properly constituted federation. Regrettably, a federal solution is complicated, you cannot work up any passion for it and it does not resolve the problem of England being far larger than anywhere else—by 10 to one in Scotland's case—and thus, the dominating element of a federation. The ultimate solutions are for Scotland to take back its sovereignty, repealing all the Scotland Act schedules which reserve legislation to Westminster. The choice would then have to be made over whether to seek dominion status, to preserve the British social union or whether to go for a republic. I favour a dominion, because I do not want bitterness to determine the outcome. Perhaps I may project further—the decision would have to be made regarding whether Scotland should remain in the EU and in NATO. I favour doing so in both cases, but I know that the Scottish National Party wishes to leave NATO.
This is my point—do not wait for bitterness to provoke a distorted outcome. Let the Department for Constitutional Affairs announce how a referendum on Scottish autonomy can be acquired by citizens and let us move away from the idea that only political parties can procure a referendum. It is impossible to determine the desire for greater autonomy in Scotland from the votes cast for political parties which have complex manifestos. The United Kingdom Government certainly believe in greater autonomy for constituent parts of the Union—witness the planned celebration next year in this building to mark the 1905 independence referendum about whether Norway should depart from its union with Sweden.
In conclusion, the Scottish Parliament has been enjoying its visitors in the past five weeks. My right honourable Scottish friend George Reid, who happens to be my MSP and is the Presiding Officer, told a dinner in Alloa Tower last Friday that 137,000 people had visited the parliament in the past five weeks and that the authorities there were having considerable problems coping with those very welcome visitors. The building is beginning to deliver for Scotland and, in retrospect, its cost represents only half of 1 per cent of five years' worth of block grant.
More must be heard about the future for Scotland. It must stop being submerged within the United Kingdom. The transition must be planned for now—and in a spirit of friendship.
My Lords, following the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, perhaps I may say that I do not mind speaking to an empty House, or an almost empty House, as I became quite used to that during those long nights in 1998, when the noble Baroness, the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, and my great friend and political opponent the late Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and I used to bang on until eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock, one o'clock and two o'clock night after night on the Scotland Bill. There was one occasion when we actually stopped at about eight o'clock, because, as many noble Lords will know, the three passions of the late Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish were his family, his politics and his fishing. He had the opportunity of fishing one of the northern rivers and had to catch the sleeper train; so we stopped at eight o'clock, which was most unusual. The first thing that he did when he returned was to berate the Government Front Bench for cutting short time on discussion of the Bill. But that was John Mackay.
It is now a full five years and more since the passing of the Scotland Act and the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. Since then I have just about resisted all temptation to comment on the success, or otherwise, of devolution. But five years on, and in the context of the gracious Speech, it is about time for me to offer a few comments and perhaps a few suggestions.
To my mind, the success of devolution is subject to two tests. Does it strengthen the unity and integrity of the United Kingdom while, at the same time, putting in place institutions that can create Scottish solutions to Scottish problems against Scottish defined priorities? When judged against those two tests, I believe that devolution has been an undoubted success. I have always been a devolutionist because I am a unionist.
The devolution settlement established the Scottish Parliament that has fulfilled the desire of the people of Scotland for constitutional change and greater control over their own affairs. The nationalists have been seen off; independence as a political issue has retreated; and the present leader of the Scottish National Party is engaged in some kind of political merry-go-round, first starting in Westminster, then going to Holyrood, then returning to Westminster, and now apparently—perhaps finally; perhaps not—wanting to go back to Holyrood. Confusion worst confounded and, so far as I am concerned, the more the better.
At the same time, over a number of policy areas the Parliament has produced distinctive Scottish policies: land reform, including the abolition of feudalism, and care for the elderly, although we have to admit that work still needs to be done on the future of the NHS and health service delivery in Scotland.
But it is perhaps now time to review and possibly modify some of the elements of devolution. I was never entirely convinced that there was a particularly strong case for continuing with the office of Secretary of State for Scotland once devolution was in place. So long as it does not go beyond the dozen or so people here, I can say that I advocated abolition on day one of devolution, but that did not find favour at the time. In fact, it would have brought forward the end of my career as a Minister by two months and so there would have been additional advantages.
The initial case for a Secretary of State for Scotland was based on the contribution that a person in such office could make to ensuring that the transition to devolution took place smoothly and that the friction between the Scottish Parliament and the UK Parliament—and, perhaps more importantly, the friction between a UK executive and a new Scottish Executive—could be eased. The Parliament and the Executive have not only become established but they have matured, and I wonder to what extent there remains a real job of work to be done by the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Even in a UK framework, Scottish institutions and Scottish representatives can look after and promote Scottish interests without the presence of the Secretary of State. That does not mean, of course, that intergovernmental relations should be neglected. Indeed, on the contrary, as devolved government strengthens in Wales—I very much welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey—and in Northern Ireland, as I am sure it will, it will become more important to ensure that effective ministerial arrangements are in place to manage those intergovernmental relations. It is simply that I do not think it is likely to be best done through the present model of territorial Secretaries of State.
I want to say a few words—partly in response to the noble Earl—about one aspect of devolution that has been the subject of recurrent comment in Scotland: Sewel Motions. The Sewel convention simply states the desired working arrangement between a sovereign Westminster Parliament and the devolved Scottish Parliament so that it is accepted that Westminster would not normally legislate in a devolved area except with the approval of the Scottish Parliament. The passing of a Sewel Motion is the means by which the Scottish Parliament invites the Westminster Parliament to legislate in a devolved area. Sewel Motions are at the interface of the relationship between the two Parliaments—that is the point that must be underlined.
I understand that, thus far, a Sewel Motion has been adopted on slightly more than 50 occasions. The question is: is that more than we anticipated and is it too many? The honest answer is that we did not know. We were looking into a darkened room. We did not know how the arrangements would work in practice. To those who argue that the use of a Sewel Motion inevitably erodes devolution, I say that I do not agree. The basis of the devolved settlement is there, and it is a matter of convenience and judgment when and how often a Sewel Motion is moved. I think that such Motions provide a commonsense way for the Scottish Parliament to use a Westminster route for legislation when it does not consider that there is merit for separate legislation in Scotland, where the issue is basically technical and raises no controversial policy issues, or where, indeed, if the same legislative framework were not in place north and south of the Border, a major loophole or a significant back door would be opened. Clearly, that is relevant when we come to the subject of national security. So, on the whole, I think that the Motions have been used appropriately.
However, I do have a concern, which is that I believe there is an understandable temptation in Scotland to use the Westminster route for legislation that might be controversial and raise sensitive presentational problems. Arguably, the use of a Sewel Motion for the Civil Partnership Bill came close to falling into this category.
A parliament is nothing unless it allows the different voices of the nation to be heard, no matter how uncomfortable that may be to the executive or those in charge of a parliamentary programme. A Sewel Motion should not be used as a means of securing political convenience by avoiding controversy.
The difficulty with Sewel Motions is not the number of times that they are used but the inability of the Scottish Parliament to have anything but a perfunctory involvement in the process. I think that the noble Earl also made that point. Although Sewel Motions mediate the relationship between the Parliaments, they are managed almost entirely by the two Executives. It is the Executive that sets in train the whole process and it is the Executive that decides whether a Bill has been so amended during its passage at Westminster that it goes beyond the terms of the original Motion.
There is a case for radical review of how Sewel Motions operate. I believe it would be preferable if the Parliament established a committee that could comment on the appropriateness of using the Westminster route for a particular piece of legislation. It could then monitor the progress of the Bill through its parliamentary stages at Westminster and reach a view on whether the final outcome delivered the original intention. The decision on whether the legislation should apply to Scotland—this would be a major change in the process—would be taken when the final version of the Bill was before Parliament. That would put Parliament at the heart of the process which is, after all, about the relationship between the two Parliaments but which has rather unintentionally been hijacked by the Executive.
I want to say a few words about the somewhat arcane subject of primary purpose and ancillary effect. I do so because I believe that the potential to cause difficulty and confusion here is greater than would ever be the case with Sewel Motions. The Scotland Act established two classes of legislation: reserved and non-reserved—non-reserved being devolved. A judgment must be reached on whether legislation deals with a reserved or a devolved subject. The only trouble is that legislation does not necessarily fall into watertight compartments.
Building on the so-called "pith and substance" approach, the Scotland Act, together with comments made at the time—I refer noble Lords to Hansard,
Perhaps I may pose another issue that may be more hypothetical, but I suspect may come towards us at some time in the future. If a decision were taken by a United Kingdom government to build new nuclear power stations in Scotland because of their strategic energy responsibilities, the Scottish Parliament, in my view, could not use its planning powers to stand in the way. I would be interested to learn whether the Government's present view of the effect of primary purpose and ancillary effect is the same as mine and has remained the same since 1998.
My last point is a brief one. Just in case there should be an opportunity to amend the Scotland Act, will the Government consider giving the First Minister in Scotland powers to appoint Ministers who are not Members of the Parliament? That is a common provision among small legislatures and the Scottish Parliament is a relatively small legislature. Over the past five years the Executive has had a somewhat rapid rate of ministerial turnover, with some now appearing as retreads. That is not always to be regretted, but it is not a sound common practice.
My Lords, I have noted the remarks of the previous two noble Lords on devolution in Scotland. I want to mention some problems that we have in Northern Ireland which have been brought about by the somewhat unusual political settlement. It is full of good intentions, but from time to time it exposes itself as not being as successful as it might be. I take what I am about to say rather seriously; it is not said lightly. I have provided notice of it to the appropriate Minister.
It is with some regret that I turn to a serious subject that I must bring up in your Lordships' House, because I have tried other methods to highlight the problem to no effect. I refer to the state of affairs in the cross-border body called Waterways Ireland. That agency is in charge of developing and maintaining most of the waterways throughout the island of Ireland. Over the past few months I have come to know quite a lot about the body and I have formed a very high opinion of many members of its staff, of all ranks, on both sides of the border. I am impressed by their quality, understanding and commitment. However, the circumstances in which they operate are dreadful to say the least. Cronyism, bullying and bad management abound. I shall give a few examples.
First, on cronyism, the body's chief executive, John Martin, was told by the sponsoring departments on
Worse, Mr Martin then reported to the North-South Ministerial Council on
Mr Dennany is a well known figure in the Irish political establishment and has previously worked in the Republic's Prime Minister's office. Many believe that it was upon political direction that the post was filled. The chief executive, John Martin, who gave the post to Mr Dennany, claims that the political direction means that he is above the law. That may be a practice in the Republic but the post is in a part of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland—and is subject, rightly, to strict employment law. The post is also part funded by HMG.
That is only one example of cronyism—there are more. Perhaps one worth noting is that of the director of operations—the number two position. John Martin is accused by my informants of drawing up a job description to suit a Mr Brian D'Arcy and of coaching him for the job. Martin proceeded to chair the panel of appointment and, of course, Mr D'Arcy was selected—again a political appointment.
The worst charge is yet to come; that of staff bullying. The body is paralysed by a culture of alleged bullying and harassment by the chief executive and his senior circle. Allegations by almost 30 staff of all grades up to director level were made in 2001 to the sponsoring departments. Only after considerable pressure did the departments move by setting up an investigation, but that investigation has been carefully limited in its remit and thus will more than likely miss the point. What is required is a full investigation into all these serious allegations. The stories that I have been told are well documented and horrible in the extreme.
The net effect of all these serious management issues is that Waterways Ireland is dysfunctional. The many excellent staff are not encouraged to do their jobs. There are many results of that, but the most serious for the economy of Northern Ireland is occurring in Upper Lough Erne. In Fermanagh, the waterway system and the two large loughs are the main focus of tourism. Many visit the area from all over the world and delight in the boating, sailing, fishing and so on, on Lough Erne. As it currently stands, without quick action the tourism trade next year will be badly damaged by Waterways Ireland's failure to tackle the green weed problem this year. I have received representations from those in the area who are commercially interested in tourism and who are most concerned.
Unless Waterways Ireland takes its responsibility seriously and destroys or cuts the green weeds, there will be no boating next year. Waterways Ireland refuses to undertake that task. Yet as in the case of many other issues that is its duty. Each year, its budget is not spent and millions are returned to the respective governments, so there is not a lack of funding. Also all staff posts are still not filled even after five years of existence. The total management picture is one of failure and incompetence. The spending of money is mismanaged.
I am calling for the suspension of chief executive John Martin until a full investigation into the many allegations of bullying, cronyism and mismanagement has taken place and reported upon. I also call on the Government to ensure that there is no question of the director of corporate services being removed from his post in the meantime. I urge movement quickly before key people leave the organisation and the problem grows.
I should point out that I shall return again and again to this topic until the many who keep me informed and I are satisfied. I am known to be mono-minded. The Northern Ireland department to whom Waterways Ireland reports is the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. By anyone's book, those are delightful areas to administer, raising the morale of people in Northern Ireland, putting back self-confidence and developing a feel-good factor in which political arrangements can be supported.
The truth is different. Over the past two years, the department has run out of control. Sad to say, it responds only to the Irish Government's bidding and that is usually to help some disguised encroachment by Dublin. They fought every positive idea that the language body had when I was the co-chairman. There was no support, no consultation and no offer of help in achieving targets. We were left with the idea that the department simply did not want us to do anything. Now DCAL has turned its attention to dismantling one of its greatest successes, the Northern Ireland Events company. That company has funded 108 events since 2002 alone at a cost of just over £5 million and has generated benefits in excess of £31 million for the Province. It has provided good economic sense as well as morale and confidence. Now DCAL has slashed the company's budget to ribbons without consultation and without explanation.
Little support ever came to the company. DCAL officials attended only two of the 108 events to see how successful or otherwise their sponsored company was. All attempts to raise the matter with the Minister have been blocked with no consultation or support. It all sounds too familiar to me.
I ask as a matter of urgency that the role of DCAL is examined and that proposals are put in place to make the department an instrument for good, and not—as now—an organ of despair.
I am not opposed to cross-border bodies because the island of Ireland is small. However, I am not prepared to put up with standards of governance which are not common to any part of the United Kingdom being brought into the United Kingdom; and I am not prepared to be disadvantaged by a political settlement that makes the administration of Northern Ireland worse than before.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I begin by congratulating and welcoming our maiden speakers—the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, and the noble Lord, Lord Gould. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, for her elegant introduction to today's debate.
As we all know this is the moment in the parliamentary year when pithy quotes about the Government's legislative programme drip from the pens of the commentators. We are spoilt for choice. I am especially drawn to that of Anatole Kaletsky in the Times last week, describing it as,
"a ragbag of 'eye-catching initiatives' and fidgety nanny-state measures—in many cases deliberately confounding the paranoia of Mr Blair's War on Terror with the public's justified anger about a breakdown of law and civility on Britain's streets".
Against that background it will not surprise your Lordships if I single out the identity cards Bill as my starting point. To my mind the most significant comment made so far about that is to be found in the summary of the Home Affairs Select Committee's report on its draft. It states:
"We conclude that objections of principle should not be lightly dismissed and that the Government's proposed scheme would represent a significant change in the relationship between state and individual in this country".
Both arms of this statement are exceedingly important. First, it implies that the Government are under an inescapable obligation to take seriously the concerns and anxieties of those of a lot more libertarian frame of mind than the Home Secretary. On current evidence—not least the recent remarks of the leader of another place—this does not look at all likely.
Secondly, the identification of,
"a significant change in the relationship between state and individual"— a matter spoken to so eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy—is manifestly accurate. I do not dispute that the draft Bill has been amended. Nor do I in any way underestimate either the nature or the extent of the threat we face from international terrorism and organised crime, which, at least in part, is touted as the utilitarian justification for the Bill.
Nevertheless, any Bill that introduces this sort of change—and most assuredly this Bill does—must be subject to the most intense scrutiny. For the avoidance of doubt, I have deep-seated anxieties—not to say objections—about the Home Secretary's proposals. However, I do not propose to enumerate them today. For the moment it is enough to say that in my judgment the proposition itself, let alone the actual Bill as introduced today, is riddled with flaws.
In passing, I am surprised by an omission from the gracious Speech, a revision of the Computer Misuse Act, something referred to by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, last week. Given technological advances and developments since 1990, this is long overdue—the more so because of the work done on the matter by the All-Party Parliamentary Internet Group and because such an update would constrain the activity of organised crime and terrorism in a much more practical and immediate way than the ramshackle and woolly formulations about ID cards that the Home Secretary has brought forward. Moreover, it would chime with the insistence of my noble friend Lady Anelay that there are sensible and practical actions that the Government should be taking now.
Be that as it may, it is the concept of a changed and changing,
"relationship between state and individual", that has piqued my interest. In particular, I am intrigued by its constitutional context. As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, put it:
"We have been going through a tremendous constitutional revolution in the past seven years".—[Hansard, 15/9/04; col. 1249.]
Some may see this as much-needed reform, others as unthinking vandalism. It matters not. We are where we are. What does matter is that the constitutional architecture and the culture of our polity have changed out of all recognition since 1997. And yet, as my noble friend Lord Patten put it, constitutional measures other than the Constitutional Reform Bill are the "dogs that didn't bark" in the gracious Speech. No doubt for some this is a source of disappointment.
Others, however, may feel relieved that the Government's relentless drive to "modernise" our constitutional architecture appears, for the moment at least, to have paused to catch its breath.
In truth, however, the presumption of an apparent moratorium on this administration's instinct to tinker mindlessly with the constitution is somewhat misplaced. While its hardware, its visible manifestations, are seemingly to be left alone for a while, fiddling with its software—what Peter Hennessy has called its "hidden wiring"—continues apace.
In reality, this should not come as too much of a surprise. After all, this "hidden wiring" is where much of the rightly acclaimed flexibility of our constitution resides. That is all to the good but at the same time it poses problems. In particular, whereas changes to the hardware are of necessity subject to the full gaze of scrutiny that our legislative and parliamentary system can bring to bear, the "rewiring" of its internal and hidden circuitry occurs invisibly, to all intents and purposes, beyond the reach of any accountability and transparency. It is conducted outwith the normal checks and balances of our system.
A glance at the chapter headings of Peter Hennessy's book bears witness to the cables and fulcrums around which this "hidden wiring" spins, thus: "Premiership: Shadow and Substance", "Cabinet: The Necessary Shambles", "Whitehall: Gyroscope of State", "Parliament: The Little Room", and so on. And, within this framework, the ways in which the constitutional circuit board can be tweaked and re-routed in ways that fundamentally change the relationship between the state and the individual are legion.
For my purposes today I shall focus on "Cabinet: The Necessary Shambles". Here Claud Schuster's description of the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Cabinet as,
"like the procreation of eels . . . slippery and mysterious", is an enduring image for me. It is difficult not to apply it to the ongoing saga of Prime Minister versus Chancellor that is so inextricably woven into the current administration. Those of the party of government might like to dismiss that as mere tittle-tattle. Indeed, there would be some justification for so doing if the strains in the relationship did not impinge so mercilessly upon the concepts of Cabinet government and collective responsibility.
Observation of how policy has been conducted in recent times invites speculation that, whatever the Prime Minister's perception of his style of government, the Chancellor has reserved to the Treasury virtual control of all economic and domestic matters, leaving the international stage to his nominal master. On occasion, for instance in relation to monetary union or reform of the public services, those tensions become all too apparent, with naked hostility between the Blairite and Brownite camps, not only within the parliamentary party but within the Cabinet itself, as is plainly evident. In other words, a fragmented and fractious duopoly sits at the core of the Government, and, in so far as that is accurate, it must militate against effective and meaningful collective responsibility.
That, in turn, feeds into a palpable sense in which the concept of Cabinet government has been downgraded and sidelined since 1997. Of course there are justifications for that, in the sense that in the modern world it could be seen as too cumbersome and top-heavy an institution to be able to deliver efficient decision-making. Moreover, I accept, as I must, that this presumption of a neutering of Cabinet-style government was not necessarily initiated when new Labour came to power. Nevertheless, one could be forgiven for imagining that the process has accelerated hugely since May 1997.
With hindsight, the now infamous Order in Council granting executive control over civil servants to Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell was a watershed in defining the Prime Minister's intent and preferred style of government. What has followed—the Prime Minister's apparent disdain for Parliament and its processes; the burgeoning growth of special advisers in Whitehall; the concentration on spin and media manipulation; what could be called back-of-envelope policy initiatives, the establishment of "sofa government" and so on—is a wholesale reshaping of the style of the executive and the relationship between the state and the individual. It suggests the establishment and solidification of the Prime Minister's power base and status as primus inter pares.
In turns, departmental Cabinet Ministers have been relegated to the second division, while the two big teams of the Cabinet squabble over the premiership title. Taking that logic a little further, there is, as Clare Short has argued, a legitimate case suggesting that the Prime Minister has shifted us towards a more presidential style of government. As she observed in her resignation speech in another place:
"In [Labour's] second term, the problem is the centralisation of power into the hands of the Prime Minister and an increasingly small number of advisers who make decisions in private without proper discussion . . . There is no real collective responsibility because there is no collective; just diktats in favour of increasingly badly thought through policy initiatives that come from on high".—[Hansard, Commons, 12/5/03; col. 38.]
Some may wish to imagine that, in that context, Clare Short is a less than reliable witness, not least because of her flouting of the principle of collective responsibility in respect of the war in Iraq in March 2003. But, as Graham Allen, writing in the Daily Telegraph, has observed:
"In permitting Clare Short to keep her Cabinet job, the Prime Minister has shown a willingness to put aside the longstanding convention regarding collective responsibility".
Evidently, that is a supposition with which Peter Hennessy agrees. His comments in response to the review of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, are scathing. He cites a,
"failure to use the Cabinet system—the ultimate check and balance of British central government—properly", adding for good measure:
"The language [in paragraph 6.10 of the report] is measured . . . Never has there been an indictment to match this of a system's failure at the heart of British government".
I am well aware that that is not a universally held view. As the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, has observed, different Prime Ministers do the job in different ways, and constitutional practice has proved flexible in finding ways of enabling that to happen while ensuring that conventions are met.
In fact, the noble Lord makes my point for me. It is precisely because different Prime Ministers do the job in different ways that the relationship between the state and the individual is subject to change. We can, and do, differ on how acceptable each individual Prime Minister's way of doing things is. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the current Prime Minister's approach has shifted the relationship between the state and the individual manifestly.
At the heart of this lies a simple truism, expressed by Peter Hennessy in these terms:
"The constitution does not belong to the government of the day", but to the whole population of the country. In fact, Labour's 1997 manifesto acknowledged that:
"Our mission in politics is to rebuild this bond of trust between government and the people. That is the only way democracy can flourish. I pledge to Britain a government which shares their hopes, which understands their fears, and which will work as partners with and for all our people, not just the privileged few. This is our contract with the people".
Against the background of a collapse of public trust in the current administration resulting from the methodology used to justify the war in Iraq, the unedifying spectacle of Parliament wrestling with the Hunting Bill and the re-routing of the constitution's hidden wiring, we can, I think, be forgiven for supposing that that aspiration is tarnished and threadbare. Given the YouGov poll reported in today's Daily Telegraph, we have perhaps come full circle since the claim in the same document that,
"There is unquestionably a national crisis of confidence in our political system".
I have saved the last word for the forebear of my noble friend Lord Attlee. Writing in the Daily Telegraph in 1960, he suggested that,
"The essential principle of our British system is that of collective responsibility. Ministers are not mere creatures of the Prime Minister but, for the most part, elected representatives. Ministers [are] responsible to the Crown, Parliament and the electorate . . . An approach to one-man Government is in my view a mistake".
Those wise words may be more traditionalist than modernist and therefore not to the taste of those on the Benches opposite, let alone the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. Nevertheless, I cannot help feeling that they have particular relevance and resonate far more today than they would have done seven and a half years ago.
My Lords, I shall attempt to be brief. I welcome the many positive measures on home affairs presented in Her Majesty's gracious Speech, particularly the youth justice Bill, which will make it clear that the aim of work in the youth justice system is rehabilitation. That is a welcome step forward. I also commend to your Lordships the speech made by my noble friend Lady Stern, who made a remarkably robust and authoritative evaluation of the treatment of juveniles in custody. I shall concentrate on the offender management Bill and look at the training of prison officers, as compared to that of probation officers, and at the way in which the identity of prison officers is distinct from that of probation officers.
Before doing so, I also draw to your Lordships' attention the forthcoming youth Green Paper. It is essential to the debate on anti-social behaviour and preventing crime that we address the issue of the decline in youth services over many years. It is welcome that, since 1997, the Government have invested significant additional resources in that area. However, Tom Wylie of the National Youth Agency said recently that there were problems about the implementation of services. It is a local government responsibility, and the funding is not necessarily going where it was intended to go.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, emphasised the concern that we must have about what might happen in the merging of the two services, some of which we already know. I was very disturbed to see the reports on television of how the probation service first received news of the proposed merger and how it was handled. It was reminiscent of your Lordships' experience, when we learnt of the Lord Chancellor's sudden disappearance from our constitution.
I was reminded of a visit that I made to a meeting of guardians ad litem during the implementation of CAFCASS, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, which merged two different professional groups. That meeting was just before the guardians successfully took CAFCASS to judicial review. Many of them were talking about leaving the service and moving to different work. Because so many left, as the noble Baroness will know from her previous employment, vulnerable children must now wait many weeks before a guardian can be their advocate in those important cases.
There are parallels between the training of prison officers and the training of those who work in residential childcare, those working in children's homes. I recently visited the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care—we do not have an equivalent in this country—which provides free training and consultancy to Scottish children's homes. We discussed the prevalent philosophy on the Continent—social pedagogy—which has been in place for many years. In children's homes on the Continent, staff receive two to three years' training, based heavily on child development. The other side of the training is in means of engaging with young people, including, for instance, music or crafts. My noble friend Lady Stern referred to the admirable work of Camila Batmanghelidjh with Kids Company. Her astounding work with young people is based on that approach of combining a good understanding of child development with a means of engaging young people.
The point to take from that is that social work is very different from residential childcare work. Residential childcare workers live day by day with the children for whom they care. They can be very troubled children with whom some sort of working relationship must be formed if the childcare workers wish to make good the deficits that these children have when they come into care. Historically, in this country, we have not recognised the importance of that caring role.
In residential childcare, 68 per cent of children have mental disorders and 63 per cent have conduct disorders. Yet, in the past, there has been a situation where 80 per cent of the staff have no relevant qualification for such work. Now we are beginning to move towards a better situation with a National Vocational Qualification Level 3, but that is still a very long way from what happens on the Continent.
There is a parallel here with what happens in the Prison Service. A year ago, at a YoungMinds conference—YoungMinds is a charity for children's mental health—I spoke with a clinician who had visited many prisons in her work. She said that it was so regrettable that many sex offender programmes were not, in her view, effective because the prison officers administering them were simply not skilled enough to do the job well. I hope that she is wrong.
I visited Wandsworth Prison with a number of Cross-Bench colleagues. We were very impressed at the enthusiasm of the prison officers working in the sex offenders' wing. But when one considers the level of training of prison officers, there must be a question of how well they can deliver such complex services.
The Secretary-General of the Prison Officers' Association spoke to Members of your Lordships' House recently. He reminded us that prison officer training has decreased from 11 weeks to eight weeks. He spoke about the people with whom he and his colleagues dealt. Some of them were career criminals but many were the most inadequate, poor and impoverished people in the land. He was asked what support his officers received for working in such an environment, in having close relationships day by day, week by week with such people who were troubled and who we know have very high levels of mental and personality disorders. His response was that they received "none".
That is so reminiscent of what happens in residential childcare where there is the inability to form partnerships that the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, spoke about earlier and the need to form partnerships with different agencies. But if the front-line staff working with the most troubled and damaged people have such a poor level of training, it is very hard for them to co-operate and to trust outsiders who come in with graduate level qualifications.
I hope that in looking at the national offender management Bill, we will keep very much in mind the identity of prison officers and take this perhaps historic occasion to review the training that they receive. Perhaps the noble Baroness can say whether there will be a review of the training of prison officers. When Martin Narey spoke to parliamentarians, he acknowledged that the difference between eight weeks' training for prison officers and three years' training for probation officers is very large for two groups of professionals who are supposed to work with each other.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, will have had some forewarning of my next question regarding young offender institutions. The White Paper, entitled, Justice for All, states:
"Young adult prisoners aged 18-20 present particular challenges for the correctional services and we have yet to respond to their specific needs and difficulties . . . Currently, there is no specific provision for 18-20s and the recent concentration on regimes for under-18s has put the relative lack of provision for young adult offenders in stark contrast".
I would be grateful if the Minister could outline the progress being made in terms of improving the regime, thus acknowledging the concerns raised by the Government.
To conclude, if prison officers are to treat offenders with humanity, they need the skills to work in the prison environment and to develop close relationships with what are often damaged people. That I believe is an end in itself, just as having highly skilled and well qualified staff in children's homes is similarly an end in itself. We want that for children because we recognise the deficiencies and abuse they have endured before they go into homes and we think that they should have the best, most qualified, thoughtful and reflective professionals to work with them. To a degree we must think the same of prison officers.
It is also a means to an end. If we are serious about having good rehabilitative programmes, we need a seamless service that puts offenders back out in the community, settling them down and getting them into work. Skilled prison officers are necessary to deliver it. Any educationist will say that children learn through modelling and that that is the best way to teach any subject. A good example is the best lesson. If we can show prisoners, perhaps for the first time in their lives, a model of humanity in the form of adults who treat them with respect, who respond consistently and who will not be vindictive, when they go back out on to the streets there is the hope that they will begin to treat others with more respect and dignity than they have experienced in their own pasts.
I look forward to the reply of the noble Baroness.
My Lords, as is usual in debates on the gracious Speech, the debate has been both interesting and wide-ranging. We have heard two distinguished maiden speeches from speakers whom we very much hope to hear again, although I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, will not mind if I make one small correction to her speech. The first MP of Indian descent was not, as she suggested, Mr Saklatvala, but Mr Dadabhai Naoroji, who was elected as a Liberal MP for Finsbury Central in 1894, some 30 years earlier.
I am in absolute agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, about the protection of universities and their staff from harassment by animal rights movements, and about the dangers to and damage caused by visa charges on students.
I was very much encouraged by the number of speakers this evening, starting with my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford and including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who have expressed their concern about the threat of the Government's legislative programme to human rights and civil liberties. I refer in particular to the typically passionate speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, which I believe should be compulsory reading for the Prime Minister and all Ministers in the Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs.
The debate covered the problems of all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom—not only England, but also Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Battersea. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, was particularly thought-provoking. He said that he was a devolutionist because he is a unionist, and that he felt that that has been a success. It certainly appears so to all of us south of the Border, perhaps because the Scots now get so annoyed with Holyrood that they do not have the same time and incentive to get annoyed with Westminster.
I was struck by the concerns expressed about the problems of children and young people who get involved with the criminal justice system in the speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.
My noble friend Lord Dholakia dealt with most of the Home Office Bills and I will indicate our response to the Bills from the Department for Constitutional Affairs which were referred to in the gracious Speech.
First, the criminal defence service Bill will govern legal aid in criminal cases. We of course support the principle of controlling costs and it is wholly unacceptable that 1 per cent of criminal cases account for 40 per cent of criminal legal aid. It is right in principle that defendants who can afford to pay should do so—if they are acquitted, of course, normally they recover their costs from public funds—but we are concerned that the savings may turn out to be small and that the need to assess ability to pay before legal aid can be granted may lead to significant delays. We need to be sure that the system for deciding whether legal aid should be granted is fair and speedy before we can give it our full support.
The Inquiries Bill will receive its Second Reading next week in your Lordships' House. This has not been exactly a good year for inquiries. The Bloody Sunday inquiry has taken an intolerable amount of time, it has cost an intolerable amount of money and it looks all too likely that it will leave us no clearer about the events of that day. The Hutton report can best be described as quick but naive and, of the high profile inquiries, only Butler comes out with a reasonable amount of credit—and then only from those who can translate the Mandarin into English.
The question is whether the Bill will improve the inquiry system. Inquiries should be independent, open, targeted and effective in their use of time. The Bill will help this and we give it a general welcome. We have some doubts about aspects of the Bill—for example, when we reach the Committee and Report stages of the Bill we shall want to look at the extent of the Government's powers to prevent publication of reports.
The judicial pensions Bill was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but we shall see it shortly. Here I find myself—a little to my surprise—in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Patten, although I do not find myself in anything like total agreement with the rest of what he said. The purpose of the Bill is to give judges an exemption from the proposed general rule that relief on pension contributions will not be given if the pension pot exceeds £1.5 million. It is not clear why judges need a special exemption from this tax law. They are not normally immune from changes in tax law; if the rate of income tax goes up, the amount of income tax that judges pay goes up.
Judges get generous pensions. As I understand it, they receive a two-thirds pension after 20 years' service and—this is important—most of them will have built up substantial private pension pots during their time in practice. Most judges take a substantial cut in earnings when they go onto the Bench—no doubt a good judicial pension is part of the incentive for them to do so—but it is not clear whether this special exemption is justified. If the present incentives are inadequate it would be better to be open and to increase judicial salaries, rather than to hide any increase by fiddling with the tax arrangements. We are therefore very likely to oppose the Bill.
We are likely to support the draft civil claims and tribunals Bill and we agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, in that regard. The Constitutional Reform Bill has been carried over—I shall speak to that Bill shortly—and there are a number of other Bills which involve the Department for Constitutional Affairs and other departments.
We shall support the Mental Capacity Bill, which has been carried over. It clarifies and strengthens the rights of a vulnerable section of the community and we certainly do not see it, as some have claimed, as a Bill to authorise euthanasia. The Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, which had its Second Reading today, is, of course, just that. I support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, but that is an entirely different matter.
An equality Bill will establish a single commission for equality and human rights. That is a principle which we have strongly supported, although we are not satisfied that the commission will have adequate powers.
With regard to the charities Bill, again, we welcome the modernisation of an archaic field of law. There can be few others where so much attention is still paid to a statute passed in 1603. We support the Bill in principle.
The draft corporate manslaughter Bill is, in fact, a DTI Bill, but it is dealt with here as a Home Office Bill. There are undoubtedly problems with the existing law. In frequent cases, no individual in a company is so negligent as to be personally guilty of manslaughter, but the cumulative effect of the failures of several different people is to leave the company with a wholly inadequate system to ensure health and safety. It is plainly right that in those circumstances, the corporation should be convicted of manslaughter and therefore subject to a heavy fine and damage to its reputation.
However, it does not follow, as some people have suggested, that when a company is convicted of corporate manslaughter, the directors of that company should therefore be liable to prison. That should happen only when a director is charged with manslaughter under the existing law on the grounds of his own gross negligence. However, I suggest that we investigate the possibility of extending civil penalties under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 to cases where failures of the directors have collectively contributed to a corporate manslaughter case.
Let me turn to the wider question of the constitution. Since 1997, the Government have made many changes to the constitution. We have supported almost all of them—indeed, we advocated many of them long before the Government did. But there is unfinished business. I should like to mention three outstanding issues. One is party funding, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Shutt of Greetland. He rather understated the amount of money that has been spent in the past because he referred to the money spent in the 2001 election and not to the much larger sums spent in the 1997 election, when the Conservatives spent £26 million and the Labour Party £28 million.
I think that the time has come—and I hope that the Electoral Commission will say so in its report—for a cap on the amount that can be given to a political party by any individual or corporation. At the other end, there should be tax relief, perhaps similar to Gift Aid, on small donations to political parties.
Secondly, in its manifesto for the last election, the Labour Party committed itself to a review of voting systems. That review plainly cannot be completed before the election is called, but it could at least be announced and commenced. There has been no action so far, and I hope that that will come before the dissolution of the present Parliament.
Thirdly, and most importantly, is the further reform of your Lordships' House. There has been no movement whatever for five years. The present position is simply not sustainable. Nothing is proposed in the gracious Speech. To some extent, I can understand that, because any proposals will be controversial and not suitable for what is likely to be a short Session of Parliament. But we have made our views clear to the Government.
We believe that three principles must be applied to reform. First, your Lordships' House must contain elected Members. Secondly, those elected Members must, at least by the end of the transitional period, amount to a clear majority of Members of your Lordships' House. Thirdly, those Members must be elected by a democratic and proportional system and not by some half-baked secondary system such as that proposed by Billy Bragg. We greatly welcome the initiative of five senior Members of Parliament—Robin Cook, Tony Wright, Ken Clarke, George Young and my honourable friend Paul Tyler—in publishing their proposals for the reform of your Lordships' House and their intention to produce a draft Bill in the new year. I believe that there is wide recognition in all parties, not only in mine, of the need for democratic reform of your Lordship's House.
Today's debate has covered issues that are central to the Government's legislative programme. We need to look and we will look at the items in that programme on their merits. To some, I have indicated that we will give full support. In some cases, we will have to wait to see the details before we can make a decision. Others, we will oppose. We recognise that the security of the public from terrorism and from more mundane forms of crime is of enormous importance, but so too are the liberty and freedom of the individual. Terrible evils have been done in the past in the name of security. It is ironic that in revolutionary France the committee of public safety was the vehicle for the terror.
Of course, some restrictions on liberty may have to be imposed for the sake of security, but those restrictions must be imposed only if they are necessary, proportionate to the threat and are measures that are likely to be effective. It is against those benchmarks that we will test the proposals in the Government's programme.
My Lords, first of all I must apologise to your Lordships for addressing you in the grip of a terrible cold. I hope that it will at least influence the amount of time that I remain on my feet.
The occasion opened this afternoon with a characteristically emollient speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, and was adorned by two excellent maidens by the noble Lord, Lord Gould, and the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser. I greatly look forward to hearing much more from both of your Lordships.
There was even a momentary outbreak of harmonious agreement between these Benches behind me and the Government when my noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree exhibited almost uncharacteristic enthusiasm in asking the Government to hurry up with the piece of legislation concerning the implementation of the Leggatt proposals. I hope that he limits his enthusiasm to that particular measure in future.
The Leggatt measure is a different sort of inquiries measure to the inquiries Bill that we shall be considering now in your Lordships' House. I have not had a chance to do more than glance at the Bill. However, I have one or two questions to warm the Minister up for her reply. Will the Bill have the effect of removing the prerogative of the Prime Minister to appoint inquiries? If not, will it limit his scope to do so? I ask the question for an obvious reason; because there has been much controversy recently about the appropriateness of appointing High Court judges to sit on inquiries that raise controversial political matters. Does this Bill say anything about that; or, if it does not on its face, can it be interpreted to say something about that?
Secondly, I notice that the Bill focuses on the power of Ministers to set up inquiries. Can a Minister set up an inquiry into the conduct of another Minister under the Bill? If so, how will that affect the doctrine of collective responsibility?
Thirdly, since I note its absence, will the Minister consider the possibility of your Lordships' House conducting the kind of inquiries that are recognised in the Bill? In the common law jurisdiction across the Atlantic, the United States Senate characteristically conducts major public inquiries. I would suggest to the Minister that the fact that we have a large number of Cross-Bench Members here who are aligned to no political party ought to make your Lordships' House an extremely attractive forum for conducting certain sorts of public inquiry. We have two functions as a House: we scrutinise legislation, and we have the responsibility to control the executive. Our task of controlling the executive is done mainly through Question Time, which is engaging and sometimes effective but can hardly be said on every occasion to be thorough. What better way in which to advance our role in controlling the executive than to have a responsibility for the kind of public inquiry mentioned in this Bill? Those public inquiries are all about controlling executive action.
The task of dealing with Home Office Bills at the beginning of this debate fell to my noble friend Lady Anelay. As usual, she fulfilled it in the brilliant way to which all my noble friends and your Lordships' House have become accustomed. I shall touch on one or two Home Office points before saying something, very telegraphically, about constitutional matters.
Undoubtedly the first few years of the 21st century present us with two huge policing tasks—one international and the other national. The international task, as your Lordships are well aware, is the task of keeping international terrorism under control. It is probably the greatest policing challenge that this country has ever faced, characterised by men and women whose malign instinct is to destroy other societies rather than build up their own.
But there is also an important domestic challenge. If your Lordships think back to what our society was like 30 or 40 years ago, your Lordships will remember that it was, in very large measure, a self-regulating society. Values inculcated by families and schools gave individuals not only self-respect, but respect for other people. In vast tracts of conduct, for which police intervention is now vital—and the kind of orders which the Government have had to introduce are vital—30 or 40 years ago none of that state intervention was necessary. So we face a new problem. Liberal, with a small "l" of course, though I am, I recognise that the state has been given a challenge to which it will have to live up.
In meeting these two challenges, the state must be informed by two principles. The first is the principle of proportionality. It must do no more than is necessary to solve the problem posed. Secondly, as so eloquently put by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, what we do must be in the great tradition of the common law. In the common law we have been handed down, from generation to generation, the finest set of operational instructions to guarantee liberty of any country in the world. If we are not careful, we shall throw all that away.
Curiously enough, one of the contradictions that we face has flowed from putting on our statute books the European Convention on Human Rights. I am not going to launch into an attack on the convention, because I always supported it. Although I opposed its incorporation into our law, I accept that it has resulted in much of value. But there is one area in which the incorporation of the convention is having a deleterious effect—on the rights of the defendant in criminal trials. Because the convention's jurisprudence is based largely on decisions by judges brought up in the inquisitorial system, it simply does not understand the presumption of innocence. Therefore, the jurisprudence of the European Court in Strasbourg does not reflect the presumption of innocence. Therefore, it is perfectly possible for the Government to certify Bills in criminal law which conform with the European Convention on Human Rights but which fall well below the standards of our own common law.
A classic illustration of that was the Government's decision to allow propensity evidence to be introduced into criminal trials in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. That is very relevant to our debate today. The first measures that will appear in your Lordships' House after we cease to debate the gracious Speech are two orders that define the scope within which courts will determine whether propensity evidence is allowed into a criminal trial.
I remain aghast at the Government's decision to make that change to our law. They asked the Law Commission to look at it. The Law Commission produced an opinion consistent with the jurisprudence of the past but the Government ignored it. The Government ignored everything that my noble friends, Members of the Liberal Democrat Benches and many Cross-Benchers said about the provisions. Above all, they ignored everything that the judges have said, from the most lowly of courts making decisions about crime, up to the summit of our system in your Lordships' House, where judges have consistently said that propensity evidence in a trial is no evidence at all.
The clause is on the statute book, and we will now be dealing with delegated legislation. However, we are entitled to give those draft measures the most intense scrutiny when they come before your Lordships. They are the straw in the wind. We must be most watchful with the cases that emerge from the courts to ensure that the judges allow propensity evidence in only the most flagrant cases.
My concerns lie not just in the area of propensity evidence. In Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, wide powers are given to chief constables to exchange the general principle that a police officer can stop and search you only on reasonable suspicion with the principle of search for reasons of expediency. I entirely accept that there are certain circumstances in which that is entirely valid; but not in the way that it has often been used in, for example, the area of Greater London. There could be no better exhibition of that than the recent article from the Spectator quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, about a young man who had been stopped and searched for no apparent reason. I do not subscribe to the Spectator. I read the article only because it was drawn to my attention; and I have what was said in it as the only record of fact. But if only a modest proportion of what was said in the article is right, it gives rise to great concern about erosion of the principle of arrest only on reasonable suspicion.
"we do not want to fight terrorism by destroying precisely those things terrorism is trying to take away from us.
Open, liberal democracies fail if they try to protect themselves by becoming illiberal, closed and repressive".
There is, indeed, a temptation to use the threat of terrorism to change the rules in other areas of law to make it easier for the Government and the police to achieve their result in those areas than it otherwise would be. That is a temptation that must be robustly resisted.
The worst example of that tendency in recent times is the EU arrest warrant—absolutely justified in the aftermath of 9/11 in relation to terrorism, but totally unjustified in relation to every other offence. One can now be extradited from this country to another signatory state to the warrant, even though that state does not recognise even the standards of criminal law contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. No check can be made by a judge in this country. That is not the sort of legislation that we would like repeated.
Noble Lords are well aware of what my noble friend Lady Anelay said about the Identity Cards Bill. It is absolutely critical that it must not fall into the same trap as the arrest warrant Bill or a number of others where the requirements were ill defined and unspecified and, equally, the implications of that ill definition were not spelt out. If we do not have a clear understanding of why we are to have an identity card, what specific purpose it is to achieve and what information will flow from an inspection of it, the notion that individuals have rights that they are capable of protecting against police will be no longer worthy of mention in our system of criminal law.
The Government must be vigilant to ensure that everything that they do under their new legislation is proportionate. Glancing at another Bill, I am not filled with great hope that it will be. We support the so-called Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, but we note that it will make all offences, of whatever nature, arrestable. Why on earth is that necessary? Why cannot we stick to the old system under the PACE Act 1984? What is the logic? It seems wholly disproportionate.
There is a link between all this and the constitutional issue; it is very simple and I shall spend two minutes on it in concluding.
The disproportionate approach is taken by the Government because there is an imbalance in the Cabinet between the forces of order and the forces of justice. The forces of order in the Cabinet are too strong; the forces of justice in the Cabinet are too weak. One principal reason for that is that we do not have a Lord Chancellor in the Cabinet. It is true that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has "Lord Chancellor" tagged on the end of his title; but he is not sitting in the Cabinet at the moment as Lord Chancellor. He is sitting there as a junior Secretary of State with responsibility for constitutional affairs. In relation to the great men in the Cabinet, particularly the Home Secretary, he has very little influence to ensure that criminal legislation properly reflects both the requirements of order and the interests of justice.
I earnestly hope that, when the Constitutional Reform Bill is completed and the noble and learned Lord is returned to the Cabinet as Lord Chancellor alone, with all the dignities, precedents and powers that that great office has held throughout the centuries, we will see an immediate change in the balance of order and justice.
If we do not, I will conclude that something even more radical will have to be done in the upper echelons of our politics; namely, to make sure that people who make the kind of rules to ensure order in our society do not at the same time determine the rules of criminal evidence. That is a step too far at the moment for many of your Lordships, but it may be a step that we have to take sooner rather than later.
My Lords, I begin by saying that this has proved to be another important debate on the gracious Speech. I tell the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that if that was his performance when he has a cold, I am fearful of what will happen when he returns to full strength.
I feel, as other noble Lords have said, that the maiden speeches this evening were of an extremely high calibre. In a sense, both gave us a backdrop against which the measures that we are debating are framed. My noble friend Lady Prosser talked about her life in Battersea and the relevance of some of our proposed measures—specifically ASBOs—for those who live in tower blocks and our deprived communities. She then translated her experiences into her work regarding the trafficking of women in an international context—an important aspect of the work in which we are involved. I pay great tribute to my noble friend for her work, both for the Transport and General Workers Union and the Women's National Commission. My noble friend Lord Gould of Brookwood has great experience in understanding what people think and believe. My noble friend spoke with great passion about our citizens' concerns and views, particularly in terms of rights and responsibilities. Both my noble friends spoke with authenticity about what people care about—and they spoke the truth. They will be assets to your Lordships' House and I am proud to call both my noble friends.
Building on the firm foundations that we have laid thus far, the measures that we have proposed for this coming full Session are intended to provide our nation with a modern legal and constitutional structure, fitted to the 21st century, which puts the needs of the public first, will protect us from existing and new threats at home and abroad and provide support and safeguards, in particular for those who are vulnerable in our communities.
I was delighted by the welcome given by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, to at least one of the Bills in the list and by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, with whom I agree that not every solution is available for all of the complex problems that we face. In a sense, that is why we have put such a range of measures before your Lordships' House. It is clear, as noble Lords have indicated, that we need to debate how best to protect civil liberties in our communities, especially, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and my noble friend Lord Ahmed, said, in our ethnic minority communities. It is indeed our contention that the measures before your Lordships' House will help to support those communities more effectively.
I agree, too, with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, that it is important to consider how you introduce change and how it will impact upon those at the front line; I also agree that the importance of dialogue with those involved is absolutely relevant. That is particularly true when one considers how many of the measures reflect what comes back from the front line in terms of needs. Our proposal regarding community support officers partly reflect what comes back to us.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, gave us an entertaining and considered speech. I do not make any apology for what we have before us—we do want to deal with the drug pushers, with the perpetrators of serious crime, with terrorists, with paedophilia and, I should add, with traffickers. However, we are not about trying to make villains out of people who are lawful citizens and immigrants to this country—those who contribute so much to the vibrancy, the culture and the economy of this nation. But I agree with the noble Lord that there are victims in this matter, too—those who have been trafficked, those who have had drugs pushed to them, especially the young and the vulnerable in this context.
Before I proceed further, I should address the particular point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, regarding the Peter Riddell piece in the Times, because it is an important matter to clear up. I have checked this carefully. I should make it clear to noble Lords more generally that we would never make it compulsory to carry an identity card at all times. The Clause 15 prohibition was contained in the draft Bill that was published in April 2004, and it is that—the draft Bill—to which the journalist's attention was drawn. The briefing was embargoed until one minute past midnight on Monday, which is the normal time for a background briefing, and it focused on the response to the report of the Select Committee for Home Affairs on identity cards, which set out how the Government intended to proceed. It did not in any way breach the parliamentary procedure about which the noble Baroness was concerned. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel satisfied with that response.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, also discussed the issue of modernising and reform. A number of attempts have been made to interpret the word "modernisation" but I shall give noble Lords my own interpretation because I think that it is an important point. For me, modernisation is about recognising the society and the world in which we live. We need to reflect the changes that exist within that world—whether they concern the way in which crime is perpetrated, the technological changes that can help us to enhance our security and safety, or whether they are about modernising the 1603 preamble that brought us the Charities Bill.
Reform is about doing some of the things that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has wanted for a long time—that is, it concerns joined-up thinking about how we operate. It concerns listening again to those on the front line about the changes that would make a difference in supporting communities and how we address some of these issues. As the noble Earl will recall, much within the Children Bill attempted to deal with that issue and to respond to people's needs. In my experience, most Bills contain elements of both, and so I am unable to give the noble and learned Lord the list that I had hoped to provide. I am happy to try but I think that there are elements within both.
The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, talked about the role of Cabinet and the forces of order and justice. It was a very interesting speech and I plan to read it in Hansard. I do not recognise the description of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. My noble and learned friend played an important and vital role in Cabinet discussions. But this is a Cabinet where colleagues work together to address some of the most difficult, and sometimes intransigent, issues faced by our society. That is a description that I do recognise. Perhaps—I say this with the greatest respect—I am slightly closer to this issue than noble Lords opposite.
I turn to the Constitutional Reform Bill. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester enticed me a little by talking about his scepticism of a Supreme Court, but he chose not to follow it through. I am sure that we shall hear more from the right reverend Prelate in the future. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, also enticed me slightly by referring to this matter.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, asked me specifically how Schedule 1, which I think now carries a different number in the Bill, would be dealt with in terms of all the legislative changes that were made around the Lord Chancellor. They will be dealt with as they are now—through discussion and dialogue. I believe that that is the right way forward in dealing with the issues between the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor.
I was grateful for the general support of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for the criminal defence service Bill. We have sought to engage constructively with our stakeholders. We believe that the final outcome strikes a balance between fairness to the defendant and administrative simplicity as well as ensuring that we achieve the best value from taxpayers' money.
Perhaps I may begin my short section on the courts and tribunals Bill by paying great tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree. I endorse much of what the noble Lord said. I hope that the Bill will have a survival rate, not least because it is one of mine. I was grateful, too, for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart.
In response to a specific question, the Bill will be published in March 2005. It does, indeed, cover the issue of bailiffs, who will be licensed, and the issue of how they operate within a regulated structure will form part of the Bill. I also agree with the noble Lord in recognising the work of my noble friend Lord Filkin in getting us this far. I am certain that he will ensure that I continue to push as hard as I can on the very important and interesting issue of providing a service to people. I am very grateful for my noble friend's enormous contribution in this area.
Again, I am grateful for the general welcome given to the Inquiries Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, asked me a number of specific questions about the Bill. It will not change the prerogative of the Prime Minister. In the Bill, we deal with dialogue with the Lord Chief Justice about the role of High Court judges. It does not affect how inquiries are conducted between different departments. I recognise what the noble Lord said about the enormous experience within your Lordships' House—not least on the Cross Benches. I see them as a group of people upon whom we can potentially draw, as we have done many times, to be involved in inquiries.
However, I disagree slightly with the noble Lord on what inquiries are about. A number of inquiries have not been about internal government issues. They have been far more about finding out what has happened; for example, the inquiries into Shipman, the death of Victoria Climbié, and Ashworth and the mental hospitals. All those important pieces of work have been critical in reforming and/or modernising the system. I look forward to introducing the Bill formally at Second Reading.
I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for the Mental Capacity Bill. I agree with him. I cannot emphasise enough that this Bill is not about euthanasia, but about giving protection to people who have waited a very long time. The Bill has been in the making for 15 years. I am delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, will represent Her Majesty's Opposition on the Bill. As always, he will do a superb job.
The noble Lord, Lord Patten, said that we had smuggled in the judicial pensions Bill. Clearly not, because at the weekend it was in the press and now it is in your Lordships' House. If we had attempted to smuggle it in—as indeed we did not—it was a bad effort. I was grateful for the flattery offered to me by the noble Lord. Like him, in this new job I battle with the terminology; working out who is "learned" and who is not is incredibly difficult to master. Much of what the noble Lord said about education is worthy of a separate debate, but in the context of judicial diversity, we want to ensure that we have the best talent possible right the way through the judiciary. That means reflecting on some of the issues about why people are not coming forward. I look forward to debating that further.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness has been kind enough to refer to my speech, perhaps she could deal with another point that I raised. With due respect to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, he is one of the two Cabinet Ministers in your Lordships' House and in many ways this is his day—a debate on constitutional and legal matters. However, he has not been in the Chamber a great deal to listen to what have been some absolutely fascinating speeches made by noble Lords from all sides of the House. Why is that?
My Lords, my noble and learned friend has many duties and responsibilities, as the noble Lord will recognise. On dealing with this very important debate, I had hoped that my presence would suffice your Lordships. It has been a great privilege to address the House this evening. If that does not suffice—I think that it does—perhaps the noble Lord would like to take that up with my noble and learned friend.
I turn to judicial pensions per se. As judges' pensions are set out in statute, there are very clear reasons why the Bill is needed. It is not about trying to do anything other than recognise what other employers are able to do in other situations. As judges are covered by statute we are unable to deal with the matter in any other way. I again look forward to further debates on that issue.
Turning to the management of offenders Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, more or less said what I would have said, which was that if we manage offenders better we will reduce recidivism. If we are able to support people, we could prevent them committing further offences.
I accept what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said on the importance of training. My noble friend Lady Scotland will write to him on those issues as they are very important. I did not receive advance notice of his questions on 18 to 20 year-olds, but I am not at all surprised that he raised them. We debated such issues under the Children Bill. I know that the noble Earl feels very strongly about them: again, it is back to joining up, better provision and giving of the best to those with whom we can work most. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments there. We hope that the development of the end-to-end offender management, with a single person responsible for the management of each individual offender, will result in better management and will give continuity of support and care so that that group will benefit. I hope that we shall hear more from the noble Earl on those issues as the Bill is debated.
Devolution was discussed by a number of noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, who I was sorry to hear was abolished again, and, of course, my noble friend Lord Sewel. Many issues were raised concerning the Welsh Assembly and the Richard review. It will not surprise noble Lords that I shall not go into those this evening. The Assembly has written to the Secretary of State, considering what happens after the Richard report. Meanwhile, we continue to work within the settlement.
My noble friend Lord Sewel spoke about the Sewel Motions. Since devolution there have been 55 Sewel Motions, many of them on important but marginal issues of UK Bills, ensuring that the legal systems work across borders, which is very important. I shall reflect on what my noble friend has said and I am sure that in future we shall be able to discuss those issues in greater detail.
The draft youth justice Bill is an important part of the legislative programme. I was grateful for the support from the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. It is important to get a sturdier and simplified structure of sentences which will give robust alternatives to a custodial sentence and focus on the prevention of offending.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, who I know feels very passionately about these issues, that providing the new sentence with the intensive supervision and surveillance order is meant to be a tough and effective alternative to custody. That means that we can limit custody to cases where these remedies have been tried or where they are inappropriate for exceptional reasons.
I think that will move closer to where the noble Baroness wishes us to be. I also share her distress at the death of Joseph, Adam and Gareth. As I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, I anticipate that the Department for Education and Skills and the Home Office will work very closely together to address some of the issues raised, particularly as a result of the death of Joseph Scholes. Officials have indicated to me that this dialogue is ongoing. I am more than happy to intermediate if necessary.
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill is an important piece of legislation. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Prosser and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for their welcome for the Bill and also for the support of my noble friend Lord Ahmed in his powerful speech.
The right reverend Prelate gave a general welcome to Part 4 of the Bill—the issues of incitement to religious hatred. I agree that we need a high threshold. The threshold must be appropriate. I also agree that this new offence will not and must not interfere with the vigorous public debate on religious beliefs that one would expect to see.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, made an important contribution. The Government are confident about this provision, but I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will add greatly to our deliberations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was unsure about community support officers. I believe that they are an important additional resource. They are very welcome in our communities. I accept that we need to have scrutiny about the additional resources, powers and work they will be doing, but I recognise their value. I agree with my noble friend Lady Henig that they are an important part of the police family.
I can confirm to my noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe that the clauses to tackle the animal rights extremists will come in two months after Royal Assent. I note the support given to her remarks by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
I hope that the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, are unfounded and that we can prove that to him—not least that this is not some eastern bloc-style operation. I hope that in a sense the contribution of my noble friend Lady Henig will have addressed his fears. I am very pleased that we are working closely with the police, both locally and nationally, as we develop SOCA, as it has become known.
The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, were concerned about identity cards. They were concerned about the remit of cards, their effectiveness, the systems, the cost and the civil liberties issues. I accept that we need to be clear about what we will and will not do. As my noble friend Lady Henig said, the balance will be important. However, I believe that this measure is about strengthening and not weakening civil liberties.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, feels that there will be some opposition from his Benches on this issue, but I welcome the debate. I recognise as relevant what the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, said about a technological background creeping in that is hardware, software and hidden wiring. He gave a very important speech linking the ID cards to broader constitutional issues. I think that an important part of our debates will be on the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the issue of civil liberties in particular.
I turn to the drugs Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, will agree with what is in the Bill about treatment for those with drug addiction. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that aggravating factors such as using children are very important.
The consultation process for the draft counter-terrorism proposals is under way. The issues that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, may or may not arise. The noble Lord said that our job is to be "alert and not alarmed"—a slogan, but an important one—making sure that people can carry out their daily business.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, were concerned about these measures. Consultation is very important. I hope that as we deliberate on these issues we shall look at some of the matters that have been raised, not least what the noble and learned Lord said about telephone surveillance—a matter which I have picked up.
The charities Bill is not just about private schools, although that is what gets mentioned. A lot of work is under way concerning how private schools have worked constructively with state schools to support and provide resources for students which, I think, is a good model for what charitable institutions can do. I can tell my noble friend Lady Warwick that there will be minimum bureaucracy for universities; the arrangements will be introduced with that aim in mind; and we assure her that the charities Bill affects universities by changing the arrangements for their regulation, but nothing threatens the charitable status of universities.
The noble Lord, Lord Laird, raised—I knew that he would—the important issue of waterways. Having listened to him, it would be much better addressed in separate correspondence, and I shall write to him.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, talked a lot about dialogue in Northern Ireland. I agree. The noble Lord will be aware of the intensive dialogue that is under way and noble Lords will understand why I shall not comment further. However, I listened with great care and I know that the noble Lord is in touch with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about his ideas.
In closing, let me pick up a few of the other points that have been raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, asked: do we learn lessons from what we do? Yes, and we learn them from our predecessor governments too. Is it important that we review what we do? I could not agree more with the noble Baroness; yes, it is. Do I agree with her list of mistakes? No, I do not. Some people's mistakes are other people's move into a new and better world. I accept what the noble Baroness says, but it is important that the Government are able to be frank and open and benefit from all that has gone before.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, asked about the review of the laws on murder. As the noble and learned Lord knows, the Law Commission has already done significant work. The review will be led by the Home Office with strong support from the two other criminal justice departments: that is, the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the legal secretary at the Law Offices. How it is to be set up is yet to be finalised, but we expect it to follow the lines of the highly successful sexual offences review. I hope that that answers the noble and learned Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, posed an interesting set of questions about elections, turnout, funding and so on. I think that he was hinting at when he thought that the election would be. Of course, I have no idea about that. Those are interesting debates in themselves that we need to pick up. Perhaps the noble Lord will table an Unstarred Question or a Motion for a Wednesday debate, so that we can have an interesting and lengthy debate on the matter.
Turning to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, we continue to have a clear policy of decentralising and improving the performance of local government and strengthening the regions. As for the penalty notices from Defra, our experience is that people are eager to engage at local level—parish and neighbourhood—on issues that affect their daily lives. We want to harness that enthusiasm.
Finally, I turn to my noble friend Lady Kennedy. I listen with great care to my noble friend's concerns; it is our job to address such concerns. We are a Labour Government, and I believe that my noble friend and my noble friend Lord Gould, whom she singled out, have made important contributions to that Government. I make no apology for seeking re-election; I want to ensure that we do more with tax credits, Sure Start, school funding, NHS Direct, the minimum wage and civil partnership. I am very proud of a raft of measures that the Government have introduced, and I believe that my noble friend is too.
Do I believe that those measures sacrifice our principles? I do not. I believe that as a party and as a Government we to need persuade my noble friend that those are the right measures and I will work closely with her to do so. Do I recognise the importance of common law within that principle, as the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and my noble friend asked? Yes, I do. The details must prove the case and it is important that we engage every one of your Lordships involved with those issues in doing so.
So we believe that these proposals build on a foundation already made. I echo the hope of my noble friend Lady Scotland that the House will join us to enact them and build the trust and confidence of individuals, communities and society in a better future.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Warner, I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
Moved, That the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)
On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until tomorrow.