Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Tuesday last by the Lord Dubs—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
"Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
My Lords, I am delighted to be opening today's debate on Her Majesty's gracious Speech. Today we discuss the Government's proposals for legislative and other change in the areas of legal, home and constitutional affairs for this longer-than-usual Parliamentary Session.
I am also delighted that I am supported today by my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal, and pleased to note that the noble Lords, Lord Kingsland, Lord Goodhart and Lord Dholakia, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, are either opening or closing today's debate. They have all made major contributions to the work of this House. I should like also to thank my noble friend Lady Ashton of Upholland who, along with my noble friend Lady Scotland and I, will be taking through the House some of the legislation that I am going to talk about this afternoon.
Some of the material about which we will be talking today involves legislation in which my noble friend Lord Filkin has played a part in preparation behind the scenes. My noble friend was a very valued and effective ministerial colleague. He served this House well in the time and trouble he took to ensure that there were clear and proper answers to legitimate questions. As a Minister he will be missed both for his effectiveness in discharging his ministerial role and for his determination to ensure proper accountability to this House.
The general election reduced our majority in the other place, but it indicated a clear preference for the continuation of a Labour Government. We must deliver for all of the people of this country on their priorities. We must be careful to deliver for them, and not either to ignore the meaning of the result of the election or to ride our own hobby-horses. We face a big agenda in fighting crime and terrorism. My noble friend Lady Scotland will later speak on this in more detail, and will be taking much of our proposed legislation through this House. Let me outline our proposals.
We will reintroduce an identity cards Bill. The Bill will provide all United Kingdom citizens with a reliable and secure way of proving and protecting their identity. Biometric identity cards will help to prevent the use of false and multiple identities, will help to safeguard national security, will prevent and detect crime, enforce immigration controls and secure the more effective delivery of public services. Public support for ID cards remains high; around 80 per cent of people are in favour of them.
We remain in a period where there is a significant terrorist threat. The public rightly look to the state to protect them from that threat, but within the parameters of the law, including the human rights convention and consistent with the values that define us as a nation: tolerance, fair play, patriotism and an utter determination to ensure that terrorism will not succeed or determine our politics. As promised during the debates on the Prevention of Terrorism Act, we intend to bring forward for pre-legislative scrutiny new legislation designed to ensure that our police, security agencies and courts have all the tools they need to tackle the threat effectively.
The election showed that people are concerned about immigration. It also showed that they recognise its potential to be a dangerously divisive issue. We must debate the solutions. We must not do so in a way which exacerbates tensions. We will legislate to ensure that our migration systems work for the UK to enrich our society and our economy. The immigration and asylum Bill builds on previous legislation, ensuring a migration system that is geared to the needs of the labour market and is easily understood and enforced.
The justice system must be independent and effective. The rule of law must be upheld. People fear the consequences of a lack of respect for others and for authority. They want safe and secure communities. The violent crime reduction Bill will crack down on imitation firearms and the misuse of air guns. It will target knife crime, especially involving young people. It will establish a legislative framework to combat the culture of binge drinking, yobbish behaviour and low-level disorder which is fuelled by alcohol. That culture undermines respect and costs the country more than £7 billion a year.
We will bring forward an incitement to religious hatred Bill which will make such behaviour a criminal offence. It will provide equal protection to all religious groups and will deter those who stir up religious hatred. It will not curb freedom of speech. Inciting religious hatred destroys lives. The law is able to distinguish between illegitimately curbing freedom and criminalising corrosive hatred. It has succeeded in the area of incitement of racial hatred. It can do so in the area of inciting religious hatred.
We have already published a draft corporate manslaughter Bill. Companies and other organisations should be properly accountable under the criminal law for serious failures which cause death. The Bill, which will be the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny, provides a fair basis for the application of the criminal law in this area.
Fraud moves with the times, and so should the laws designed to combat it. We will introduce a fraud Bill which will modernise the law and equip the authorities with an appropriate legal framework to fight fraud in the 21st century. Fraud fuels so many other crimes. Fighting fraud reduces funding for other crimes.
We will reintroduce the Management of Offenders and Sentencing Bill. Communities want sentencing to protect them from crime. This Bill seeks to deliver an effective integrated prison and probation service, able to bring to bear on offenders, inside and outside custody, the most effective means of reducing re-offending.
In all of the reforms that we introduce to the justice system we must recognise the critical importance of legal aid. It ensures access to justice. To be effective it must be focused on those who need it most. It is a necessary part of a fair criminal justice system.
We have today introduced into this place the Criminal Defence Service Bill. This Bill contributes to bringing criminal legal aid expenditure under better control by allowing for means-testing to ensure that those who can pay for their criminal defence do so; also providing, however, that they will normally be reimbursed where acquitted.
We must continue to ensure that in criminal trials the defendant gets proper representation. Over the past four years, expenditure on advocates in criminal trials has gone up by 79 per cent, with only a 14 per cent increase in the number of cases and a 16 per cent increase in their length. One per cent of cases account for 49 per cent of the spend on criminal legal aid in the Crown Court. Expenditure on criminal legal aid should encourage early preparation and the early identification of the real issues so that the trial focuses on the real issues. Unnecessarily long trials do not do justice and drain, disproportionately, legal aid resources.
Our expenditure on criminal legal aid drains resources away from civil legal aid. Over the past seven years, expenditure on criminal legal aid overall has increased by 39 per cent, while civil legal aid has gone down by 22 per cent. It is a priority to address this disparity.
People need to have confidence that the regulation of lawyers is adequate to ensure that lawyers are as much driven by the public interest as their own legitimate interest. We will introduce in draft this Session a Bill for the better regulation of the legal profession and those who provide legal services, reflecting in large measure the conclusions of Sir David Clementi's review published at the end of last year.
There are too many areas in life where productive activity is stifled and distorted by the fear of accidents and mistakes leading to disproportionate claims; for example, the school trip which does not go ahead, the leisure activities curtailed by the local authority, the voluntary sector bodies finding it difficult to recruit volunteers or run activities, the medical services practising defensive medicine.
The right to claim compensation where, for example, the employer or the professional is guilty of negligent behaviour is a good and salutary process which improves health, safety and professional standards. But we need to combat the culture which leads too many people to believe that where there is an injury there must be a claim. We will introduce a compensation Bill to combat that culture by clarifying that there should be claims only where there is blame and by regulating claims farmers to ensure they uphold high standards.
I move from those legislative proposals to a series of other Bills and measures which affect our constitution, the first of which is electoral administration.
Postal voting on demand was introduced into this country with the support of all political parties in 2000. The number of people applying for a postal vote in general elections has gone up steadily over the past three general elections. In 1997, before the change, it was 2 per cent—that is, around 900,000 people; in 2001 it was around 4 per cent—that is, around 1.75 million people; and, finally, in the election just gone by it was 15 per cent—that is, around 6.5 million people.
The increase in postal voting has not endangered the essential fairness and accuracy of our electoral process. The Government believe that the general election this month was safe and secure and produced a result which was fair and accurate. But there were a number of issues and allegations which arose during the course of the election which may have raised issues of public confidence.
No one would claim that it is possible to have an electoral process which absolutely prevents malpractice, but no one would claim either that any electoral process was incapable of improvement. We need to see what steps can be taken to improve security. We have committed to doing so. The electoral administration Bill will establish new measures to increase security and improve public confidence. It will also introduce measures to make elections more accessible to all members of our society and give new powers to returning officers, enabling them to deliver elections and electoral services more efficiently and effectively. While we must do all what is sensible to combat fraud, we must not so construct our system that access becomes too difficult.
I will seek to engage with the other political parties to produce as wide a consensus as possible so that there is, if it is possible, cross-party agreement—as there was on the introduction of postal voting on demand—on the contents of this important Bill.
We have no plans to introduce legislation on changing the current electoral system. I had the temerity modestly to express the view on the radio on Friday of last week that there was no groundswell for such change. I have been roundly traduced by people who have a much better connection than I with democratic politics. Perhaps I may quote one such person who said:
"Lord Falconer is disconnected from public sentiment. Who is he to turn round as soon as the votes are counted and tell the British people there is no support for change?".
Noble Lords will recognise that as a quote of the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott. I yield to no one in my admiration for the noble Lord as a fund manager. I wonder whether he is in the best position to lecture the nation on what particular electoral voting system it should have.
Finally, perhaps I may say a few words on reform of your Lordships' House. The Government have achieved a great deal already to reform our constitutional arrangements. This includes reducing the number of hereditary Peers who sit in the House; legislation to establish a Supreme Court; a Judicial Appointments Commission; and reform of the office of Lord Chancellor.
The gracious Speech confirmed that we will bring forward proposals to continue the reform of your Lordships' House. In doing so, we want to ensure that there is a proper opportunity for deliberation and consensus building. That is central to our approach. We set out clearly during the course of the election the Government's objective: an upper Chamber that is effective, legitimate and more representative, without challenging the primacy of the Commons. That involves a debate about the purpose and powers of the upper Chamber and not just about its composition.
The Government will bring forward measures to address four key elements in the reforms. These include a committee of both Houses to identify and set out the key conventions of this House and a reasonable time limit for Bills to proceed through the second Chamber. That limit—60 sitting days—would not be less than the period which this House has taken to consider Bills in the past. It would not prevent this House amending or deleting parts of legislation in accordance with its current powers and conventions. The key elements also include removal of the remaining hereditary Peers and a free vote on the composition of the House. That vote must be properly informed. We hope that there will be agreement in both Houses.
The Government are keen for there to be a proper process of deliberation and debate on all of these elements. Once that deliberation is complete, a Bill will be brought forward to give effect to the conclusions reached.
My Lords, in his last statement the noble and learned Lord made it clear that the Government intend to use the majority which they have in the lower House to change at least the composition of this House and even possibly its procedures. Will he, as Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, address an anomaly in the other place—namely, that Scottish and Welsh MPs can vote on English matters, whereas English MPs cannot vote on Scottish and Welsh matters? This is unjust and unfair and a constitutional abomination. What proposals does the noble and learned Lord have to rectify that situation?
My Lords, the noble Lord has not been listening to what I have been saying. I did not say that we would use our majority to effect a change in composition; I said that there would be a free vote on composition—certainly on our side of the House. As far as the other parties in the House are concerned, it is a matter for them to determine whether or not they have a whipped vote. I know that the noble Lord's party favours an elected element in this Chamber.
On the West Lothian question, we take the view that every MP elected is an MP for a Parliament for the whole of the country and should vote on all the issues that affect the country.
We will seek to build consensus as we move forward with reform. I would very much welcome the involvement of the Cross Benches in building consensus.
I regret that Mr Oliver Heald—who appears to be one of a number of Conservative spokesmen on this issue—has accused the Government of contempt and arrogance because we have repeated the constitutional reform proposals that we advanced during the course of the election. If I can identify who amidst the welter of new Conservative spokesmen is the appropriate person to discuss constitutional reform with, I will be happy to engage with him or her.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said in his response to the gracious Speech:
"If the Government move to reform with a real generosity of spirit and real desire to make something that sticks and gives a proper and good governance, they will have our support".—[Hansard, 17/5/05; col. 20.]
I welcome that approach. However, I understand from a speech made last week by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and by his colleague, the right honourable Mr Charles Kennedy, in another place, that the Liberal Democrats have decided to abandon, unilaterally, the Salisbury convention. I thank them for giving us notice of that. Is it not an irony that the party of Lloyd George should determine that it should arbitrate on which parts of an elected government's manifesto should get through Parliament, and which should not? How do they come by that particular conclusion? Perhaps they could let the country know the percentage figure a government need for the Liberal Democrats to refrain from exercising their veto in the Lords. How popular must a policy be before it passes the McNally test?
I have outlined a substantial—
My Lords, I am sorry to distract the Lord Chancellor from his party sallies, but could he say a word about the Appointments Commission? He praised the Government's record in having set it up in the previous Parliament. There was a proposal to put it on a statutory basis. As a member of the present commission, I very much hope that there will be a statutory body. Is that part of the Government's proposals?
My Lords, it is not part of the Government's proposals. It seems to us that before you come to a conclusion about putting the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis, you have to find out what will happen about composition generally, and that depends upon the free vote.
I have outlined a substantial programme of proposals and legislation—
My Lords, what happens if both Houses disagree on the proposals? This seems to be government by wetness, for want of a better word—an excuse for not doing anything. I want a properly reformed House, which can hold any government, from my own side or from that of the Lord Chancellor, thoroughly to account. But this cannot happen if the House of Commons says we will have one form of appointment and this House says it will have to be by election or, as happened last time, six proposals are put forward, none of which is agreed to. That is not how to carry out good government.
My Lords, I shall certainly not exclude a debate on the reform of the composition of this House in either House. There needs to be a debate in both Houses; a conclusion needs to be reached. I have indicated that everybody accepts the primacy of the Commons, but I very much hope that both Houses will agree. I think that there is a real appetite for reform.
I have outlined a substantial programme of proposals and legislation for this 18-month Session. We in this place have a crucial and constructive role to play in that programme. In the wake of the election, we must listen to what the electorate have said. And we must deliver sensibly on their priorities and values.
We are concerned to uphold law and order, and the rule of law. We are determined to strengthen our justice system to protect the whole of our community. And we are keen to move forward in a consensual way on our constitutional and electoral arrangements so that they will serve us in the future as well as they have in the past.
But move forward we must. The public admire us when we do things, not when we disagree. They have elected another Labour Government. They want that Government to deliver on the important issues we face, such as fighting crime, combating terrorism, ensuring better public services and an effective justice system. We must do all in our power to repay that trust.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for setting out the Government's stall for, as he said, a very long Session ahead. Yet again, the Government have launched at us a veritable blizzard of Bills from the Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs. It really feels as though we are stuck in groundhog day, that never-ending day when everything repeats itself again and again.
The noble and learned Lord referred throughout his speech to achieving consensus to discussion. My experience with this Government over the past few years has been that Session after Session, we have seen an unwillingness to think through changes before forcing them through another place by guillotine and timetable Motions, with the Government then finding that they need to make substantial changes in this House when the Bill is more thoroughly scrutinised.
Today the Lord Chancellor referred to plans that would reduce the effectiveness of this House. What an irony that, at the very time that the Labour Party has become the largest group in this House, it now seeks to extend its position and control more and more.
During the election campaign, I spent time in marginal constituencies in Surrey and Dorset. I know that the noble and learned Lord spent some time in Dorset too, because we met on Waterloo station, going our various ways, to have our various effects on two constituencies. Throughout the whole of that time, not one voter said to me, "What I really want you to do is get rid of those 92 elected hereditary Peers. That would make the country better". When they did mention the House of Lords—which was admittedly not often—it was to praise our steadfastness in defending the interests of the public.
As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde made clear last Tuesday in reply to the gracious Speech,
"for this side of the House, the undertaking given at the Dispatch Box by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, binding in honour on all who, like the Prime Minister personally, came to give it their assent, still stands, and we will stand by it".—[Hansard, 17/5/05; col. 18.]
The noble and learned Lord has referred to a free vote on composition. By indicating that, one assumes that there will not be a free vote on the other matters of procedures. I see from his face that that might be the case. We say that this House should not accept any dictation from the other place as to its procedures, tolerate no guillotine and accept no diminution in its powers. We believe that a cross-party approach is the right one, so we will co-operate fully with the Joint Committee. But the remit of that committee must be far wider than that currently proposed by the Government. Any Joint Committee must be able to range over the functions and operations of both Houses and their joint relationship. I hope that when the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, replies to the debate, she will be able to confirm that the Government will be rethinking their views on the matter.
My noble friend Lord Kingsland will have much more to say on constitutional matters when he replies to the debate. I regard him as the fount of all wisdom on these matters, in my life at least. I shall now turn to Home Office matters, which are within my remit.
Some of the Bills are indeed familiar, as the noble and learned Lord indicated. They are reminders of the Government's Queen's Speech of a mere six months ago, when they set out their stall for the general election with no real expectation of getting all those Bills through before calling an early election.
The Management of Offenders and Sentencing Bill received its First Reading on
What has happened to the Management of Offenders and Sentencing Bill? Will it still start here? There is considerable concern in the probation and prison services that the Government have failed properly to consult on the proposals. Will the Government now invite them to engage in a more thoroughgoing consultation?
We have already made our position on this matter clear. Handled well, it could be a great move forward for the justice system. But so far, the Government have handled it badly. They have created insecurity and uncertainty. It is not clear that there will be sufficient funding to ensure the proper operation of the probation and prison services. It also appears that the system that the Government have decided to adopt would undermine rather than improve the management of offenders. Indeed, doubt was cast on the Government's plans during the election campaign when leaked Home Office documents appeared in the Observer newspaper on
"inadequate supervision of cases leading the unmanageable policy making," is "high". It goes on to say that the plan also repeatedly warns of a high likelihood that loss of key skills from frontline staff will result in,
"inadequate supervision of dangerous offenders".
So are the Government intending to press ahead with the original Bill or have they reflected and do they plan to come forward with a Bill mark 2?
We welcome the return to this House of the Charities Bill. I thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts for his hard work in leading for us on that Bill, and am relieved that he will continue to do so. I am aware that although much progress has already been made by way of amendments, further progress is still needed in the remainder of the Committee and later stages. Of course, that will be before another place has its first opportunity to cast its eyes upon it.
Two highly controversial Bills bounce back into our court, as the noble and learned Lord mentioned—those on incitement to religious hatred and ID cards. Legislation dealing with incitement to religious hatred has been twice before us, tucked into other Bills; at least now it is to be tackled as it should be, as a stand-alone issue. We have always had considerable sympathy with all those who share our determination to act decisively to prevent the propagation of religious hatred. We deplore incitement to hatred of people on religious grounds, especially if it is used as a proxy for incitement to racial hatred and as a way of getting round existing laws. However, we fundamentally disagreed with the Government's attempt to introduce the new offence of stirring up religious hatred as part of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. What appeared at first sight to be a simple change to previous legislation would, we believe, have had profound and wide-reaching consequences that could have been the opposite of what we all intended.
Freedom of speech is one of the greatest virtues and strengths of our society, and we must maintain the delicate balance between religious tolerance and the indivisible right of our citizens to engage in extremely robust religious disputation. That measure would have curbed freedom of speech without bringing any benefit. It is perfectly possible to clamp down on those who use religion as a proxy for race, and to protect civil liberties, but the Government's original legislation would have fallen badly short of that. So I hope that the Government will think carefully before trotting out the same drafting as appeared before us earlier this year.
I turn to ID cards. We debated the matter at length in a Second Reading that seems but a moment ago. The Bill attempts to strike a balance between a number of extremely serious issues—those of individual privacy, the relationship of the citizen and state versus security, prevention of fraud and control of immigration. That is why we set out a series of tests for the Bill, not only for the individual practicalities but to establish the balance between those principles and the Bill's competence to achieve some of the things that the Home Secretary talked about. We might well agree on the principles, but what we had to find out was, could the Government deliver?
During the examination of the Bill in another place, the Government failed to demonstrate our five tests. The press has carried several stories over the past week or so that the Government intend to redraft this Bill to make it more acceptable to another place. So we await sight of it with interest—but I have to say that light cosmetic surgery alone will not be sufficient to help the Bill to meet those five tests. The noble and learned Lord referred to general public support, but I have found that as soon as one discusses with groups what identity cards actually involve under this scheme, their support turns on its head. So we need discussion and information and to listen to the response that we get.
Other Bills are new, but on a very familiar theme. The noble and learned Lord referred to yet another asylum and immigration Bill—the fourth since 1997 and the third in my three years as opposition spokesman on home affairs. We await sight of the Bill with interest, but I have to say again, as I have in the past, repeated tinkering with the system does little to assist the orderly and fair process of justified claims for entry to this country and the removal of those who apply unsuccessfully for asylum and then fail all the appeals procedures.
There is a draft counter-terrorism Bill. We certainly support legislation that would genuinely help in the fight against terrorism, and we look forward to constructive engagement in the pre-legislative scrutiny. I am sure that that is the right way forward.
There is also yet another crime Bill—the violent crime reduction Bill. Recent figures have shown a rise in violent crime in general and crimes involving firearms in particular. Indeed, taking the longer view, it is clear that violent crime is up by 83 per cent since 1998. The total recorded violent crime hit the 1 million mark for the first time, in 2004. The number of firearms offences in England and Wales has risen every year since 1997–98; in fact, gun crime has doubled. Over the course of the past year, imitation weapons were used in 3,268 offences, which represents an increase of 66 per cent on the previous year. So we believe that the Government are right to direct their attention to try to reduce the use of imitation firearms and of knives, particularly by the young, and we look forward to working with them on those matters to ensure that the drafting catches the guilty but does not penalise those who are innocently in possession of knives. I was reminded of that matter when I read a comment by the noble and learned Lord on Friday, since at that particular time I was using a bradawl to punch a hole in a wall. I often carry it around with me—so I hope that I shall not be caught out by the new legislation.
Other Bills have been trailed for some time, such as the draft corporate manslaughter Bill and coroners' reform. However, I am a little bit confused as to who is leading on that legislation among the departments. The noble and learned Lord and the noble Baroness may be able to enlighten me later. Legislation on coroners' reform is listed on the DCA website, but it was the Home Office that published the position paper in March 2004 and announced:
"The Coroner and Burial Team has been established at the Home Office. It is planning ahead for possible legislation".
Whose responsibility will it be and will the Bill start here or in another place?
On the fraud Bill, which will have its Second Reading in this House in June, we shall support sensible and practical proposals to reform the law on fraud. We made that clear during our debates on the Criminal Justice Act 2003, when the Government sought to abolish jury trial in fraud cases. We said then and say now that it is right to reform the law and the rules managing those cases, but it would be wrong to withdraw the right to jury trial. Reforms to the law and the rules can ensure that jury trial is effective.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, responds, will she take the opportunity to make it crystal clear that the Government will allow the reform to law and rules time to bed down effectively and prove their worth before they consider trying to bring forward an affirmative statutory instrument to enact Section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to abolish jury trial in fraud cases?
The Government have recently espoused the cause of fostering a culture of respect in society; the noble and learned Lord referred to that, too. We support them in that objective, but the duty to foster respect binds all of us, inside and outside Parliament. It binds the Government to have respect for the people of this country; it binds them to respect the views and opinions of those who dare to disagree with them. I give my assurance that Her Majesty's Opposition will continue to have respect for the safety and security of the people of this country and respect for the institutions of the constitution, and that we shall do our duty to scrutinise thoroughly and constructively all the measures that the Government put before this House in the next 18 months.
My Lords, I am glad to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, back on the Woolsack, despite being a Lord and a lawyer. I am also glad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, back in their previous offices. I have had a happy working relationship with all three of them in recent years. I also appreciated the work of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, when he was a Minister in the Department for Constitutional Affairs.
There are many speakers in the debate. I look forward in particular to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Alliance. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has not had time to put down his name as a speaker, because he could have added much to the debate from his experience as Chief Inspector of Prisons. No doubt he will do so in the future.
The agenda includes at least nine Home Office Bills, at least four Department for Constitutional Affairs Bills plus others from the Cabinet Office and the Northern Ireland Office. There are also Bills outside today's agenda that raise important legal issues: notably the Equality Bill and the Mental Health Bill. I want to concentrate on constitutional issues, as that is my main field. Most of the Home Office Bills will be dealt with by my noble friend Lord Dholakia and by other noble friends who will be speaking later.
However, I must mention the counter terrorism Bill, which continues unfinished business. We welcome the proposal to introduce a new offence of carrying out acts preparatory to terrorism. We will need to be satisfied that the Bill does not contain excessive restrictions on freedom of speech and we will renew our efforts to ensure that all control orders are made by judges and require at least a balance of probabilities as the standard of proof. We will try to modify the special procedure for control order cases, so that as far as possible defendants are made aware of the evidence against them.
I note also the absence of a corruption Bill. The Government have had more than two years to consider the criticisms made by the Select Committee that reported on the original draft Corruption Bill. When can we expect to see a Bill on that important issue?
The electoral administration Bill is intended to deal with justified public concern over postal voting fraud. I will leave my noble friend Lord Rennard to deal with the Bill in more detail—he is a world-renowned expert on the subject. I will just say that while increase in voter turnout is highly desirable, it must not be achieved at the cost of loss of confidence in the fairness and safety of our electoral system.
We also need, but will not get, a cap on the amount of money that can be donated by any one individual or corporate body to a political party. Huge donations made by a single person are a serious abuse of the political process. On judicial pensions, we will need a great deal of persuasion that judges need special treatment for tax purposes.
The Criminal Defence Service Bill will deal with what is unquestionably a serious problem with criminal legal aid: the fact that 1 per cent of cases are responsible for 49 per cent of the total cost of criminal legal aid. For that reason we support steps such as better case management to shorten long trials and the withholding of legal aid from defendants who can afford to pay. But that must not be achieved by methods that will reduce the fairness of trials or deny access to justice. We have particular concerns about the proposal that criminal defence work should be put out to tender. My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford will say more about the Criminal Defence Service Bill later.
I note the plan to introduce a draft Bill to implement the Clementi report. In general that is a matter to be worked out between the Lord Chancellor and the legal profession, but we are concerned with the proposal to allow outside ownership of legal practices. We believe that that risks turning legal advice into a commercial commodity. We are concerned about the development of a compensation culture, but we are also concerned about possible denial of legitimate access to justice. We will therefore hold our fire on the compensation Bill until we see its terms.
I add a brief coda before moving on. Ten organisations concerned with the law, including the General Council of the Bar, the Law Society, Citizens Advice and Justice—I must declare an interest as vice chairman of its council—have published what they call "A Manifesto for Justice", in which they say:
"We ask the main political parties to sign up to the three basics of justice: good governance and the rule of law; respect for human rights; and access to justice".
I say, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, that we sign up to those three basics and we sign up without hesitation or qualification.
I turn to the constitution. In their first term, the Government introduced some constitutional reforms of great importance. They included devolution to Scotland and Wales, the Human Rights Act, the first stage of reform of your Lordships' House and the Freedom of Information Act. We not only supported those reforms, but they were part of a common programme of reform agreed by Robin Cook and my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart.
In the Government's second term the pace slowed down. There was only one major piece of constitutional legislation: the Constitutional Reform Act. That had been our policy long before the Government adopted it, and of course we supported it. For their third term the Government have effectively abandoned constitutional reform. There is no mention in the gracious Speech of a Civil Service Bill. It has been on the agenda since the Northcote-Trevelyan report of 1853. It has therefore been unfinished business for more than 150 years.
A Civil Service Bill is needed to protect the independence and integrity of the Civil Service. Such a Bill has been proposed by the Committee on Standards in Public Life—of which I was a member at the time—and by the Public Administration Select Committee in the other place. A draft Civil Service Bill has been placed before your Lordships' House by my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, but the Government have found no place for a Civil Service Bill among the 50 Bills proposed for this Session, many of them far less important.
But even more important than that, the Government have refused to tackle the single worst aspect of our constitution: the untrammelled power of a Government with a working majority in the House of Commons to impose their will on the country. Sixty-six is a working majority that many previous governments would have welcomed with enthusiasm. But what kind of mandate do a government have when that majority of 66 is based on the support of less than 36 per cent of those who turned out to vote?
Surely the result of the election has made an overwhelming case for an electoral system that will produce a House of Commons truly representative of the people. Once again, we have the absurd situation that membership of the unelected House represents more accurately than that of the elected House the true balance of party support in the country.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to the views of my noble friend Lord Oakeshott. I remind him that similar views were expressed by his noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in an article printed in the Guardian last week. Admittedly, it was a reprint of an article written in 1998—I would be interested to know whether the noble Lord's views have changed since, and if so, why. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has won the ballot for a debate on Thursday, when we can return to the issue in more detail.
Finally, there is the future of your Lordships' House. Of all the checks on a Government with a working majority in the other place, your Lordships' House is—perhaps with the exception of the judiciary—the most effective. With an elected majority of members it would be even more effective in exercising that role.
What do the Government suggest about reform of your Lordships' House? They talk about a free vote on its composition some time in the future. Will that vote be any more free than the farcical vote in the Commons three years ago when the Prime Minister made his position all too clear for the benefit of those who wished to remain in his favour?
We have made it clear that we will not support half-baked changes to the composition of your Lordships' House, such as the removal of the remaining hereditary Peers, except as part of the introduction of an elected majority of members of this House and we stand by that commitment.
Meanwhile, the Government want to curb still further the powers of your Lordships' House. We are to have a Joint Committee to consider the conventions governing the relationship between the two Houses. Will that committee accept that the Salisbury Convention is long out of date and should be scrapped? It will not. I believe that the committee's real purpose in the Government's eyes is to give its blessing to the report of the Labour Back Bencher's committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, in the previous Parliament. The report contained some acceptable proposals but also several that are unacceptable, such as the removal of the powers of your Lordships' House to reject secondary legislation or even to delay it for more than 24 hours. On top of that, there are apparently to be time limits on the passage of Bills through your Lordships' House; a proposal that threatens our essential task of giving proper scrutiny to Bills that do not receive that scrutiny in the Commons.
Your Lordships' House was described by David Lloyd George in 1907 as, "Mr Balfour's poodle". Today it faces a future as "Mr Blair's chihuahua"; and just in case it should forget itself, the chihuahua is to have its teeth extracted. If the Government are prepared to talk seriously about real reform of the composition and powers of your Lordships' House, we will be more than happy to talk to them. But the omens do not look good.
My Lords, before turning to what I most want to address this afternoon, I will make two comments on the speech made by the noble and learned Lord. When we have previously discussed incitement to religious hatred, we on these Benches have raised the implication of such legislation for the blasphemy laws; and that must be borne in mind. Secondly, if we are to drive such behaviour to the margins, it lays important responsibilities on people in our position—we on these Benches and other religious leaders—so to conduct themselves and so to present the faith that such behaviour is driven well outside the boundaries of religious communities and religious belief. Is that not a more effective way of dealing with the issue?
Without commenting on the content and purpose of a large number of Home Office Bills, might we not all of us in the House say that we need to have a modest understanding of what the law can do to improve public behaviour? I have sat on a probation committee, and I remember being on the receiving end of legislation when Members opposite were in government and noticing how little effect it had on the issues that confronted us. I hope that the legislation that appears before the House has a genuine purpose and effect.
Parliament has a special duty to protect and nourish our constitution. It is the bedrock of the preservation of the liberty of our people and the peace and security of our society. Therefore, when Parliament is called on to consider measures for reform, it needs to exercise great care, lest in adjusting some aspects of the constitution it inadvertently collapses other parts of the building. The British constitution is unique, both in the values that shaped it and in the history of its development. In any proposed reforms we must hold on to those values and take full account of where we have come from.
We have a different constitutional history from that of our friends in the United States and even a different history from that of the continent of Europe. Indeed, it was John Adams, one of the founding fathers of the American constitution, who said of the French, "I know not what to make of a Republic made up of 30 million atheists". In other words, he saw the 18th-century French revolution as being detached from religious belief and moral values and saw that as being dangerous for democracy.
We have an unwritten constitution and a unitary structure for our constitutional life held together in Parliament, which represents the people in a variety of ways. It considers the nature of our common life; where necessary it legislates; it holds government to account; and it brings together the Crown, the government, the representatives of the spiritual life of the people, the law, and those elected to give direct voice to their constituents' needs. The form and character of those relationships and their institutional provision are always evolving and changing. I remind the House of Edmund Burke and of his contribution to constitutional reform. He managed effectively to combine a deep commitment to the liberties of the people—he was opposed to discrimination against dissenters, Roman Catholics and people of no faith and committed to their equal liberties—and at the same time he was hostile to the constitutional reform going on in his time that to him seemed to pull down the foundations and structure of our common life. He believed that constitutional reform should build on those foundations and not undermine them.
I am arguing this afternoon for a number of principles without commenting on particular solutions. First, there is a need for consistency. There seem to be two conversations going on in parallel. One conversation concerns the powers of this Chamber; the other the structure of this Chamber. There is a danger of them contradicting one another. One moves in the direction of reducing the powers of this House; and the other of increasing its credibility as we ensure that its membership has full public support. If we are able to agree how the House is to be constructed and find good public support, how then can we reduce the powers of the House? If we reduce those powers, are we not saying that we are giving up on the issues of credibility? We must be consistent.
We also need to be coherent. For too long, we have focused debate on this Chamber, but the issues that confront our parliamentary democracy affect both Houses in their capacity to represent the nations and their internal procedures and conduct of business. We cannot treat this House in isolation from a proper consideration of the form and powers and expectations on both Houses, and we cannot evade the questions raised by the result of the general election. Governments need not just majorities in Parliament but manifest public support. It ought to be of concern to all of us here that we have a Parliament that has delivered the Government a comfortable majority in the other place on the basis of the lowest popular vote since 1832. Those things ought to be of concern to us all, whatever solutions we find.
That coherence must deal with any proposals for change. Supposing it was agreed, for example, that it was in the interests of our constitutional life for there to be an elected element in this House. Supposing it was further agreed that that should happen by a different electoral system, which we thought to be fairer. We cannot forever elect in one place by one system and in the other place by another system. There must be coherence. Those questions inevitably draw together the whole of our parliamentary life.
That leads me to my last point. We must proceed as far as we can and, as the noble and learned Lord has suggested, by consensus; I know that he thinks that. From these Benches, we want to encourage debate and work on these matters by mutual consent. I hope that the noble and learned Lord and the noble Baroness who is to make the winding-up speech will give us some encouragement to believe that we on these Benches might be involved in the discussions about the future constitutional shape of Parliament. Might we dream of Parliament working as a whole and with consistency on such matters?
At a time when our world is in a fragile state and our country is passing through deep social and cultural change, we need real strength and confidence in the people in our constitutional life. If we are to make changes, let them build on the good foundations that are in place, nurturing our history, holding to our values and building fresh confidence in our politics. Anything less and we shall have failed in our duty to the people.
My Lords, noble Lords will not be surprised that I wish to say a few words about devolution, but they might be slightly surprised that they are about Welsh devolution rather than Scottish devolution. I scoured through the gracious Speech, and I found the reference to the intention to give the Welsh Assembly transport-related powers. That is a bit timid; a bit too timid. We could move a little faster, to be honest, building on the work led by my noble friend Lord Richard, whom I hope will soon join us in his place again after his illness.
Although it is not necessary to have a "one size fits all" approach to devolution across the nations of the United Kingdom, the case has been made well that Wales should move away from an assembly towards a parliament and have primary legislative powers. I have to admit—I do it with some trepidation—that, way back in 1997 and 1998 when I had something to do with these matters, I did not grasp the underlying principle that informed Welsh devolution. I thought that the slogan "A Welsh assembly for secondary legislation" was hardly the clarion call that would set the populace alight.
The case has been made; let us move on and head towards full-blooded devolution in Wales. So far as I can see at the moment, we have a hangover from the old approach that said, "The Scots are getting a strong form of devolution because they're consistently in favour of it. The Welsh are a bit more dodgy, so we'll give them a weak form of devolution". That was not a logically coherent argument, so let us move forward appropriately. I hope that, if and when that is done, it will be time to review the future role and even existence of the post of Secretary of State for Wales, and possibly that of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I notice that, while I was talking, I got a number of nods from across the Chamber on that issue. However, in some sections of what I shall say, I shall not get any nods at all from the Liberal Democrats.
I move on to reform of your Lordships' House. I very much welcome what is in the gracious Speech and what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had to say. It is right that we move towards the elimination, once and for all, of the hereditary principle as a basis of composition of a legislature. Of course there are different ways of doing that and, now that the hereditary principle does not underpin a total distortion in the political composition of the House, there may be room for a greater generosity of spirit than, understandably, there was previously. I hope that we move forward, and do so in a generous and sensitive way.
I am slightly concerned about the general process of reform. I fully accept—some of my friends and I have argued it long and hard—that there is an inevitable interaction between composition, function and powers, and you cannot get those out of balance and alignment. I am concerned that composition will be dealt with through the process of a free vote and then a Bill implementing that free vote. I do not have a great deal of confidence in that procedure. I would have thought that, on a major issue of constitutional reform—it is such an issue—it is the responsibility of the Government and other parties, after reflection, to put their proposals before the electorate and seek a manifesto endorsement.
Something as major as that requires a manifesto endorsement, if only to avoid what is at least a possible outcome, to judge from conversations that I have had with some past and present Members of the other place—that there would be great support for an elected House and for a House with diminished powers. Honestly, I think that it is difficult to square those two components of the argument. It is the responsibility of parties to bring coherent and comprehensive proposals before the electorate.
There is a need to codify and reform our conventions, understandings and practices, in terms both of our relationship with the other House—in the context of Parliament as a whole—and of how we work in this Chamber. Looking back over the nearly 10 years that I have been a Member of this House, I see that it has changed and is changing very quickly. We have a larger almost full-time House—not larger in number overall, but there is a larger component of Peers who see themselves as full-time Members of this House. They are younger. I mention softly that they tend to be more ambitious as well. That all changes behaviour. I am afraid that the poor old Companion, although not totally ignored, is often slightly fudged in relation to how things go and what is spelt out in it as to how they should go.
I remember coming into this place 10 years ago and being rather apprehensive in my first meeting with the then Scottish spokesman, the late Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove. I was apprehensive because I came from a different wing of the party from him; back in those days our party was allowed to have different wings, but that is all over now. I came in during the lead-up to a general election. Poor old Neil had been doing all the hard work and I thought that my coming in was not going to be particularly easy, but he looked at me and said, "John, thank God you're here; I can have a rest". There was not that degree of seeking for office that may be more present now. If there is ambition and that changes behaviour, I suppose that soon we will have thwarted ambition, which is likely to change behaviour even more.
I now turn to the bit where I shall run into trouble with the "Benches diagonal". It is on electoral reform. I am enormously pleased that there is no mention of electoral reform in the gracious Speech—no mention of proportional representation in general or of STV in particular. I am content with that. Of course there has been some increase in the public debate. It is interesting that very few people who favour proportional representation pray in aid the ideal typical example of it, which is the Israeli Knesset. It is a single list proportional system that, in the formation of the executive and government, hands power to the smallest, most extreme and most unrepresentative parties in the state. That is the important point.
My Lords, I shall not give way if the noble Baroness does not mind; I am running out of time. If fairness is defined only in terms of electing representatives, it misses the important fact that under our system we elect not only representatives but an executive and government. There is a clear and close relationship between the individual voter and the composition of the government. That is important because, whatever the failings are, the electorate have a say. Without it, government formation is put in the hands of a small party elite, and I do not like that one little bit.
My Lords, the noble Lord will be fully aware that the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament, with which I was involved to some extent, is not based on a strict PR system or STV. It is based on a more proportional system than "first past the post", which is the additional member system. That system is now being attacked by his noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood.
My closing point is that although there is no reference to STV in the gracious Speech, we must ensure that we do not sleepwalk into it. In Scotland, there is, effectively, STV for the European elections; STV has been agreed for local government; the Arbuthnott commission is sitting and, apparently, wishes to set aside the present additional member voting system for government—and there is some evidence to suggest that the committee is coming round to the idea of STV in Scotland.
That would mean STV for Europe, local government and the Scottish Parliament. Westminster elections would be the anomaly in Scotland. I am concerned about how long that anomaly would be sustainable and there would be pressure for us to sleepwalk into STV for Westminster. That would put real power into the hands of small party elites.
My Lords, as this is my first speech as a Back-Bencher in your Lordships' House, I should crave the indulgence that is customarily extended to those making a maiden speech. I hope that that will not be necessary. In all events, I shall listen with interest to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alliance, who will follow me.
I have been on the Opposition Front Bench for some eight years, dealing with social security and work and pensions, opposite the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, who is now on the Back Benches, too. We have had to deal with a mass of statutory instruments, Statements and Bills during that period. However, despite our varying views on the merits of this or that piece of legislation, we have both done everything possible to improve them—in the tradition of your Lordships' House. I would not like to leave that picture, which we built up over time, without expressing appreciation for the manner in which she has worked. No one knows more about work and pensions issues than the noble Baroness and she must be congratulated on her work as a Minister.
I also extend my best wishes to my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, who has succeeded me, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who has succeeded the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. They have a difficult task ahead of them regarding work and pensions. Indeed, the Labour Party started the general election campaign by doing everything possible to avoid mentioning pensions at all. It said it would rely on Mr Adair Turner's report in due course. Within a matter of days after the election, Mr Blunkett, the new Secretary of State, said he was considering the introduction of compulsory saving for pensions. Perhaps he should have said that a few days earlier, so that the electorate could have taken it into account.
Since 1997, the Department for Work and Pensions has been, effectively, a branch of the Treasury. Mr Gordon Brown took it over almost from the beginning, when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer, with an ever more complex system of tax credits which were increasingly incomprehensible. He now appears to be in conflict with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. It will be interesting to see how that works out.
We have reached a stage of crisis in the pensions industry, since the moment the Chancellor introduced his change to advance corporation tax, which took £5 billion away from pension funds, and triggered with the advent of FRS 17, the accounting standard, which made the implications clear. If one looks back, most of the legislation of the past eight years has been a disappointment at best, and disadvantageous in many ways. The stakeholder pension was introduced with a great flurry, but only some 20 per cent of the schemes have any members at all—and cover less than 2.3 per cent of the workforce. Almost everyone feels that the state second pension needs radical change. Some one-third of those entitled to the pension credit are not taking it up.
Regarding the Pensions Act, the effect of the Pension Protection Fund is further to deter companies from having final salary schemes. The sum announced by the Chancellor for the financial assistance scheme, to buy off a rebellion in another place, was totally inadequate to provide any reasonable help for those who have suffered from the collapse of their company schemes.
We tried to improve all such proposals during the progress of the legislation. But it has been increasingly clear that successive Bills that have arrived in this House from another place have not been properly scrutinised. Programming in another place means that the Commons is virtually castrated in dealing with legislation. That is extremely dangerous. We must try to deal with that and it is a heavy burden. It relates not only to work and pensions, but right across the board. Once upon a time, if you wanted to curtail debate in the Commons, half a day's debate on a guillotine Motion was required. That happened once or twice a year and if there was a filibuster or the matter was urgent, it would go through. That is different from what is happening now with programming in the House of Commons.
The worst example was when the Prevention of Terrorism Bill returned to the Commons with a mass of amendments. The programming increasingly provided that only some three hours' debate was allowed on our amendments—all of which were taken together—and the Secretary of State's speech took about an hour, a third of the total time available.
All of that is dangerous. The constitutional issues that we are debating need to be considered in that context. I agree with my noble friend on the Front Bench and my noble friend Lord Strathclyde regarding the suggestion made in the Labour manifesto that debates in our House should be curtailed to 60 sitting days. That is extraordinary, as it is not the type of proposal that should be put in a manifesto. Presumably, the intention was that one could invoke the Salisbury convention. That would be wholly inappropriate for a matter which governs the procedure in your Lordships' House.
In fact, the debates on the Pensions Bill went way beyond that limit, but no one could argue that there was any unnecessary debate in improving that Bill. Yet, that was only one Bill which went over that limit. Many such Bills went over the limit due to procrastination at various stages by the Government themselves. It is wrong that any such limit should be imposed and wrong that any legislation should be passed in another place, given the Government's now-reduced, but large, majority, which would alter our proceedings, because Bills would not properly be debated in the other place and we would be limited in our ability to put them right in this place.
The other extraordinary passage from the Labour manifesto states:
"Following a review conducted by a committee of both Houses, we will seek agreement on codifying the key conventions of the Lords, and developing alternative forms of scrutiny that complement rather than replicate those of the Commons".
As I have said, we are not replicating, we are doing it instead of them. Therefore, that proposal seems strange. The manifesto goes on to state that,
"we will . . . allow a free vote on the composition of the House".
That was not in the Queen's Speech, which made little reference to this matter, and we must rely on what the Lord Chancellor has said to give us an idea of the Government's intentions. This matter is of the greatest importance. If the committee—which, I understand, will not consider composition—is to be set up, it must look at the legislative process that takes place in both Houses. It would be quite wrong if it were confined to this House. It needs to look at the other place as well where the traditional system has been virtually wrecked by the way in which the Government have organised business.
On the composition of the House, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was inclined to attribute views to the Conservative Party. We need to consider that issue carefully. On the last occasion, when we debated five options, among Conservative Members of this House there was an overwhelming majority against an elected Chamber, and a majority of Conservative Members in the other place was against an elected Chamber.
We do not know what view the new leader of the Conservative Party may have on the issue. We also do not know what view the new Members in another place will have. After 33 years in the other place—I have to say that I rarely came to the Bar of this House—perhaps I might presume to express the hope that those new Members will come to the Bar to examine the way in which we do our business and how we flourish as a self-regulating body without a Speaker.
My Lords, my first remarks in the Chamber are ones of immense gratitude to the people of this country and to its system of democracy.
More than 50 years ago, I arrived in Manchester—the home of textiles—as a teenage Jewish immigrant with very little English and only a few pounds in my pocket—the princely sum of £14 to be precise. The generous, warm-hearted Lancashire folk welcomed me, a stranger, and helped me to get started. Before long, I began to repay my adopted country by making an increasing contribution to its industrial and commercial life—as well as to the Chancellor's coffers. Over the years, I have realised many times how fortunate and privileged I have been to benefit from the democratic traditions of this nation and the tolerance and friendliness of its people.
Let me take the opportunity to thank noble Lords for their kind welcome and, of course, I must not forget the officers and staff who have given me such gracious help since my arrival—again as a stranger, but now in this place.
Being a stranger is one of my topics today. In the past century, Britain has undergone enormous social change. One aspect of that change has been the arrival of some 3 million immigrants. That is the greatest influx in our country's history—a country whose welcome of immigrants has not only benefited it but has helped to shape its history.
Such an inflow is bound to put social strains on any receiving society. It is comforting and a great tribute to the British temperament that tensions have not been more marked. In fact, the influx of immigrants can be seen as complementing our society in helping a growing economy and, with a falling birth-rate, providing much-needed additional manpower.
It goes without saying that if newcomers, such as I once was, are to achieve a better life, they must have a positive attitude towards their adopted society and a willingness to fit in. They need to respect the traditions, values and the way of life of that receiving society. There are huge opportunities here in the UK, and newcomers should not expect the British to change their way of life for them.
The very act of migration is an act of compromise. Leaving something behind and seeking a new life is a difficult journey, but it must include a willingness to change—a willingness that I sometimes had almost too much of when I first started to make my living in the UK.
As a young man, recently arrived, I was taken by a fellow immigrant—a so-called friend—to an impressive building in Manchester. He informed me that it was the headquarters of a major textile manufacturer. Imagine the excitement in the eyes of a young man, hungry for business. He said, "If you open an account there, you are made for life". What a fool I felt when I discovered that I had walked into a university. As it happens, my connection with the University of Manchester continues to this day. Indeed, the warmth of the welcome that I received leads me to believe that textiles may, after all, have found their way into that seat of learning.
Like me, many immigrants have taken the opportunities that this country offers and have blossomed in British society. They are now making great contributions in many walks of life. Indeed, many sons and daughters of immigrants are making contributions in both Houses. Let us not forget the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition in the other place.
In the past, immigrants came mainly from Europe and the empire, making adjustment somewhat easier. But when newcomers began to arrive from societies with few, if any, links to Britain, handicapped by a lack of English—as I was—they naturally had more difficulties in adapting.
Those difficulties must be recognised and faced. There will be conflicts of allegiance, morality or equality as well as problems of communication. So let us not be deterred by notions of political correctness. We need to do everything possible to support the leaders of our ethnic communities and to support all those of moderate persuasion as we reinvest in our common purpose.
As I look ahead, I want to do all that I can to help in creating a better climate of understanding with all the different countries, cultures and religions of the Middle East, as I know the area well. Some 2,500 years ago, Cyrus the Great in Persia—the land of my birth—introduced a new concept of benevolent government. He is hailed as having written the first charter of human rights—a concept that was discussed here only recently. He was renowned for showing great respect towards the religious beliefs and cultural traditions of other races. For the first time, power was used to protect—not to degrade—the human condition.
Cyrus's standards are close to my heart. They are also close to the hearts of all the people of modern Iran. I hope that noble Lords will continue to encourage those who seek dialogue with the land of my birth—Iran—as such dialogue can only be advantageous to all in helping to bring peace and sanity to the region.
I know my countrymen. We should be under no illusion. There will be lasting peace and therefore true democracy in that region only with the support and endorsement of the people of Iran. I intend to do all that I can to play my part.
My Lords, I am sure that I speak for all Members of this House in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Alliance, on both the style and manner of his speech. I declare an interest: I have been a friend of his for 25 years.
He has had an amazing life, coming to this country at the age of 17 and within 40 years building up a huge textile business. He was chief executive and later chairman of Coats Viyella after it merged with Tootal, a company which employed 75,000 people and operated in 50 countries. As a member of that board, I watched the care and deliberation with which he discussed some of the difficult stages, such as when he had to downsize that industry, always trying to carry the trade unions with him. I watched while he dealt with the difficult problem of having to reduce activity in Northern Ireland and how he held out, during difficult political times, to keep jobs and opportunities there.
As Chancellor of Liverpool University, I watched with envious eyes the way in which he helped the University of Manchester and brought together those universities. He has made a formidable contribution to the north-west. We all look forward to hearing him speak on many subjects, not least on Iran. Many people in this country have had long and personal association with that country and it has been a tragedy to see our relations dwindle and diminish to their present state. I agree with him that there must be patient, hard-headed negotiation, as we heard during Question Time today, between Iran and the European Union—the three countries leading for it—and the United States. It will not be easy, but eventually that country will be restored to former glories and to a proper democracy.
I turn to the subject of our debate. I have been in Parliament for almost 40 years and I have watched many elections. I have been kicked out of government twice—it did not seem a good choice at the time, but in retrospect I think it was right. Despite the vagaries of our electoral system, I have watched the British people get it right in 10 elections as a parliamentarian. I believe that they got it right this time, but it was not easy.
The Government have a sizeable majority; a majority which I, when in government, would have given my eye teeth to have. But it is a fact that the people—not just the commentators and journalists—feel that this country has given a message to the Government and that they do not have the authority normally given to a government with a majority of more than 60 in the House of Commons. They would be very wise to recognise that. In handling legislation, listening and governing, they should never forget that they were unable to get support from even 36 per cent of those who voted.
Electoral systems come and go, but, on the timetable, measures and inter-relationships about which the Lord Chancellor spoke, I would be surprised if we saw a reformed House of Lords in this Parliament. But I expect that the Government will try to engineer a solution which will come before the electorate again.
Irrespective of the outcome, we will have to discuss our democracy in the round. That must take account of what has happened in the House of Commons and the half-thought-out legislation which comes to this place and is revised, time after time, in a major way. It must also take into account electoral systems and the low voting and lack of appetite for politics among the people of this country. Powers and composition will have to come together. If I had to bet, I would say that the next change in the voting system will come when we elect at least a portion—I would be content for it to be the whole—of the membership of the House of Lords. It will come through proportional representation, which will be another change in the voting system. My view, long held, is that this is a unique place. That uniqueness can be established by having some members who are appointed, but I would be happy for them not to have a vote. I believe that the voice in this Chamber has been and remains extremely powerful. We should not necessarily feel that the voice and the vote must go together.
Be that as it may, those changes must take place. I warn the Government only that it would not look sensible to the electorate if they first peel away the power of the House of Lords and then allow it to be elected. The powers as they exist are perfectly adequate, but I see only their erosion. We should be extremely careful about that.
Who knows what the French will do in their referendum on Sunday and what the Dutch will do a few days later. My personal hope is that they will vote down this European constitution and that we will hear no more of this model produced by the convention under the chairmanship of Giscard d'Estaing. It has good points, but, like the curate's egg, it also has some bad ones. I do not believe that this constitution should be continued with and I am confident that it will not be. If the French and the Dutch vote it down, it would seem senseless to go on with the procedure of ratification, but we may have to do so. That is the logical fact. If only the Dutch vote it down, as I would expect, we may be forced to go through our own legislative process.
I gather that the European Union Bill is being re-presented to the House tomorrow and that it is unlikely to be changed. With that legislation, and as part of this constitutional discussion irrespective of the vote in a referendum, we have the opportunity to look at some fundamental constitutional questions. It is also easier to do that because the Supreme Court has been established and the Conservative Opposition, who opposed that court, can look at the reality of where we are. One of the biggest problems we face is that there is considerable doubt about the exact meaning of words in the European Union treaties and now in the constitutional treaty. That doubt has been developing over the past 10 to 15 years and we are faced with a treaty, were it to be ratified by all 25 parliaments, whose wording would on some interpretation be acceptable and on others not so.
Perhaps I may give two examples. It is not understood by constitutional lawyers, who have no axe to grind on the agreement, whether the common foreign and security policy is under the European Court of Justice. Under some interpretations of the constitution, the European Court of Justice cannot involve itself in foreign policy and I see the Minister nodding her head. However, there has been drafting which leaves that case open to question. I believe that before any legislation is passed by this House, we should make our own interpretation of it. I urge the House to look at attaching to the EU Bill an interpretive declaration, which is the legitimate way of dealing with a treaty. One cannot change the language of the treaty, but within the Ponsonby procedure one can use an interpretative declaration.
In a strange way, the Government have already moved towards that by producing an explanatory memorandum. In that, they deal with another area on which there is dubiety about the exact words of the treaty. They state unequivocally that in their judgment it is not possible to double-hat the post of president of the European Commission and the new post of president of the European Council. I welcome that as I have urged it on everyone and tried to alert the House to its great danger. Bringing the executive powers of the president of the Commission into the same office as, and aligned with, the president of the European Council would be a massive integrative step.
I have no doubt that for some time no British government would contemplate it, but it is a fact that the Dutch, who have a remarkable reputation and tradition in international law, have told their Parliament that double-hatting of the presidents of the Commission and the Council would be possible. They have not changed that view, despite amendments made during the governmental phase of examining the legislation.
Again, experts argue about whether this is possible. We should make it beyond doubt. The only way to do it is to take the same wording from the Explanatory Memorandum, which has no legislative impact at all, and put it in an interpretive declaration, in which case, it could be appealed up through to the Supreme Court.
I know that there are people who do not want this Supreme Court—and I am one of them—to develop into the United States model of the Supreme Court, which interprets the law. But there is a very big difference between that and interpreting or making judgments on what Parliament meant at the time when it has bothered to add to a treaty an interpretive declaration.
I know that the spokesman for the Opposition is very experienced in these matters, having been in the European Parliament and looked at these issues for a long time. However, irrespective of the position one adopts on the constitutional treaty and of one's views on the European Union, we need to grapple with this issue. It is not satisfactory that the interpretation of what this House has believed words to mean can be changed by the European Court of Justice. That is not an acceptable situation.
Other European countries have constitutional courts. Adjusting the Supreme Court in this way, by giving it the chance to rule through an interpretive declaration, is the sort of evolutionary way in which our constitutional developments have moved. We may not be faced by the constitution at this stage because it will be rejected, but that sort of legislation and those sorts of powers are coming in. No longer can we look on European legislation and constitutional European treaties as Foreign Office issues. They are at the heart of our democratic life. They involve all departments of state. That is why I decided to raise this issue here in a debate on the constitution and not on foreign affairs.
Two other areas of the European Union Bill deserve serious examination. The first concerns the right, by a unanimous decision of the European Council, to create a European Union common defence. Irrespective of one's opinion on that, that decision should not be able to be made by Ministers, perhaps supported by whipped vote in the House of Commons. It should be made by primary legislation in both Houses.
The same applies to changes to qualified majority voting, which can involve taxation. Any such changes to the legislative framework of a treaty should be brought about by legislation and not by unanimous decisions of Ministers, voting on a decision of a government. We should insist that one cannot make changes through the simplified revision procedures as envisaged in the constitution. We should stick to the basic principle, which was, after all, upheld by previous Labour governments. In 1978, when we legislated for the European Assembly, now the European Parliament, that Labour government insisted that no changes in the powers of the European Parliament could be made without primary legislation, because we were aware of the fact that you could have made changes by ministerial decisions. We deliberately ring-fenced that aspect and said that changes in powers had to come back for primary legislation.
It is in that spirit that I make my observations on the constitution. It is part of the overall question of the relationship of the powers of this House with the powers of the House of Commons.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already offered to the noble Lord, Lord Alliance, on his most endearing maiden speech. He is rich in life's experiences and clearly in entrepreneurial talent. As a first-generation immigrant whose parents came to this country as penniless refugees on a Dutch lifeboat, I welcome him warmly from these Benches. He will clearly be a great asset to this House, and I look forward to the many contributions that I am sure he will make to our future deliberations.
I shall speak this afternoon on home affairs and focus on some of the Bills that we have been promised by the Home Office. That great department of state will be extremely busy during the next 18 months, so it is fortunate that the Ministers in it and their senior civil servants are so full of energy and resolve.
One of the early measures will be the return of the identity cards Bill. I am not going to dwell on that measure now, except to say that I warmly welcome the Bill in principle, as did a large majority of the people whom I had the pleasure of canvassing during the recent election campaign. I look forward to debating what, for me, will be the most important aspects of that Bill: what is the most appropriate and advanced technology that can be embedded in the cards; how to ensure that this major national investment is managed in the most cost-effective way; and how to ensure that the citizens of this country get the maximum benefit from the cards at the most reasonable cost.
I welcome the Government's continuing commitment to creating safe and secure communities. As we have seen again during the past two months, issues of community safety and anti-social behaviour are very high on the everyday agendas of the people of this country. As the long-standing chair of my local community safety partnership, I was appalled by the indiscriminate and completely uncontextualised use during the recent elections of violent crime statistics in crude advertisements and election leaflets from the Conservative Party. I was not alone in my reaction. That reaction was not based on party political considerations, but on the danger of undermining a lot of hard work which had been undertaken across the country by people of all parties and none to make our streets safer and to ensure that our older residents did not feel they had become prisoners in their homes but could venture out confidently.
I was interested to see that senior police officers in particular shared my concerns and made both public and private protests. There were several reasons for our reaction. The first, as I have already mentioned, was the likely effect of crude statistics on the more elderly members of our community, increasing their concerns and making them even more fearful of venturing out on to the streets of apparently dangerous neighbourhoods. Yet your Lordships know that our streets are pretty safe and that older people constitute the group that is least likely to be the victims of violent crime. It is young people who are most at risk, particularly young men, but that is the group that is least worried about the threat to its safety.
The second reason for our reaction is that around a quarter of violent crime is committed in the home as domestic violence, which we want to be more widely reported. So increased levels of violent crime are actually concealing good news—that more victims of domestic violence are being helped and their offending partners are being brought to court and sentenced.
Thirdly, our town-centre cameras are picking up scuffles and drunken brawls which would not always have been reported in the past. Crime is now being reported on a different basis, where individuals rather than the police are deciding whether a crime has been committed. However, I have been very interested in the conclusions of the extensive research that has been carried out by Professor Jonathan Shepherd of the University of Wales College of Medicine. His violence research group looked at a number of accident and emergency departments of hospitals across the country. That research has revealed that admissions to accident and emergency departments of victims of violent crime, especially on weekend evenings, have gone down.
It was a shame that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, deplored the apparent rise of around 80 per cent in violent crime without any qualification or attempt to explain that figure.
My Lords, since the noble Baroness has named me, I was quoting from Home Office figures and agreeing with the Government's own declared need to bring forward a violent crime reduction Bill. The noble Baroness cannot have it both ways.
My Lords, I was trying to explain the reasons why that figure is as it is. It is important for all of us to try to explain to people what those reasons are so that their fear should not be as great as it often is, on grounds which are not that strong.
I therefore urge the Government—because of the figures that we have heard—at the earliest opportunity to disaggregate this wide-ranging category of violent crime. Most crime at the lower end does not entail violence at all. The public would define the sorts of crime we are talking about as very minor crimes, as most of them are. If they were disaggregated you would undoubtedly increase people's overall sense of security.
The reality is that overall levels of crime are falling and have been for some time. The chances of being the victim of a house burglary or a car crime are considerably lower than they were five years ago. Of course that fact is obscured by how the media seize on individual incidents.
The reasons for the fall are many, but the initiatives that the Government have set up over the past eight years across the country have played an important part—targeting prolific and priority offenders in every neighbourhood, putting offenders who have a drugs habit on treatment programmes and meeting discharged prisoners at the prison gates and finding them accommodation and a job. Those things do not find their way into newspaper columns but they make a real difference to levels of crime.
There remain serious, if often localised, problems, such as the carrying of knives and replica guns by some groups of young people and gun crime related to drug dealing. That is why I welcome the introduction of a Bill to give the police and local communities new powers to tackle people carrying knives and guns.
Alcohol-related violence remains a problem in many town and city centres, as does the night-time economy in general. I welcome the promise of more powers for the police, local authorities and community safety partnerships to act forcefully to tackle the crime and disorder which results, and to close down bars and clubs which fuel the violence or make them contribute to its associated costs.
Strong partnerships in some of our major cities have already made a real difference in this area. Far more needs to be done to challenge some of the cultural and social trends around alcohol consumption to deal with the health risks and to minimise the criminal damage which often results.
Improving the management of offenders and helping the probation service, prison authorities and police to work more constructively and effectively together will certainly help to reduce re-offending. So I welcome the promised legislation in that area, although I hope it will be accompanied by measures to increase the capacity of the hard-pressed probation and prison services.
So the Government's legislative proposals are very welcome and have the potential to make a real difference to people's lives. But delivery rests not just on good legislation but on good partnerships between central and local government and on active local community groups, such as crime and disorder reduction partnerships, working closely with divisional commanders, local beat bobbies and community support officers.
All Members of this House will have a community safety partnership in their area. Many noble Lords may well be members. I urge noble Lords not so engaged to go along and find out what their local partnership is doing, and to join it. I know that they will be welcomed and probably put to work as advocates for local initiatives and as experienced practitioners who can help to overcome obstacles to the effective delivery of local services.
If we all really want to combat crime and to make successful the Home Office legislation that we will be considering in this Session, we need to build on the partnerships out there which are doing so much good work already. Certainly, as I consider the proposals which will come before us, I shall aim to ensure that they build on and utilise the expertise that has been developed over the past few years, both at central and at local level, and that they will enable us all to make a practical and effective contribution to increasing safety and security in our own communities and neighbourhoods.
My Lords, I suppose it was too much to hope, but I was hoping that the gracious Speech would start with a ringing declaration that the Government would dedicate their efforts to the restoration of the integrity of government and the influence of Parliament. That has not happened, but I hope that the Government, even if they cannot recognise all their other manifest failings, will recognise what an unmitigated disaster has been their determined effort to neuter the House of Commons. Perhaps now with a smaller government majority the Commons will be more difficult to ignore, and we may see some resurgence in its authority. However, unless some of the changes in procedures and working practices brought about in the previous two Parliaments are reversed—for example, the draconian timetabling of Bills, a matter referred to by my noble friend Lord Higgins—there will continue to be wholly inadequate consideration of legislation in the Commons. That means that ill considered and half-considered Bills will continue to arrive here.
That is not a figment of my imagination. Every one of us who has taken an interest in proceedings in this place knows perfectly well that the unvarnished truth is that the House of Commons has not been doing its job. It has not been doing its job because it has not been allowed to do so by the absurd routine timetabling of Bills.
Yet the Government, with no intention of putting things right in the Commons, intend to set about interfering with the working practices of this place and to restrict debate by placing limits on the time that Bills spend here. The Government's numbers in this place have been increased, no doubt in the hope that the beneficiaries of Mr Blair's patronage will be so grateful for the favour bestowed on them that they will dutifully vote to make this place as pointless as possible; but perhaps, like so many sent here by new Labour, they will find more profitable things to do on-shore or off-shore. We will wait and see.
On the composition of this place, we are told by the Sunday Times, quoting a government spokesman, that the Government are going to "finish off" the Weatherill Peers. I want a clear answer to this question: is that right or wrong? Is the future of the Weatherill Peers one of the matters to be discussed under the general heading of "composition"? I have to remind the Minister that if the Government are going to finish off the Weatherill Peers they will be in clear breach of the undertaking given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, when he accepted the Weatherill amendment in 1999. There is no doubt about it: the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, could not have been clearer. He stated:
I hope that the Minister will make the position absolutely plain in her closing speech and that there will not be a breach of that plain undertaking.
It would be scandalous if the Government, while keeping a nominated House, were to make it even more dependent on the patronage of government by removing the Weatherill Peers. It is scandalous that the Government should be bent on taking revenge on this changed House for its new assertiveness by limiting its power, when the House we have today is the Government's own creation.
Immediately, there are more pressing constitutional issues to be addressed. Top of the list is the enormity of MPs elected to Scottish seats who cannot vote on devolved matters in Scotland voting on purely English matters at Westminster. That point was raised by my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking.
That is not the only grievance that the English voter has. The Barnett formula remains an affront, with MSPs boasting of a level of public service in Scotland that, they well know, is reached only at the expense of those living south of the border. Add to that the fact that the electoral system this time around has hardly produced justice for England and I reckon that failure to address the West Lothian question will create a grievance too far, which could in time provoke a major constitutional crisis. There is no obvious difficulty in changing Commons procedures so as to stop MPs elected for Scottish seats voting on purely English matters; it could be left to the Speaker, as it is on matters of finance, to certify that a Bill comes within that category.
Then there is postal voting. The Government are clearly bent on continuing to allow postal votes on demand to, to quote from the gracious Speech,
"encourage greater voter participation in elections".
I wonder whether it has ever occurred to the Government that the decline in turnout may be due not to the hardship of having to go to a polling station but to a decline in respect for the Government and our leaders and that the best way to restore the people's interest in elections and arrest the decline in the number of people voting is to restore the integrity of government and the importance of Parliament, which brings me back to what I was saying at the beginning.
If the Government are determined to press on with postal votes on demand, they have a duty to use all possible means to try to prevent fraud and certainly no right to discard the Electoral Commission's call for individual voter registration. It is absolutely plain that, as long as postal votes are given on demand, there will be a far bigger risk of fraud than there was when they were given only in fairly limited circumstances. Therefore, the best way to contain fraud is to reduce the circumstances in which people can vote by post. The sure way to increase fraud is to defy the commission and ignore its other recommendation that there should be a ban on all-postal ballots.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Owen, I should like to say a few words about the European constitution, which, to my mind, is far more appropriately discussed in today's debate than in the context of foreign affairs. The gracious Speech refers to,
I must remind your Lordships that that is not the correct title. Its correct title is a,
"Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe".
It suits the Government to refer to it as if it were a treaty like any other, but it is not. If and when the treaty is ratified, a constitution will come into force. From that moment forward, that constitution and not the previous treaties will be the source of authority of the EU. That cannot be said too often.
The European Union established by the constitution will owe its being to the constitution and, according to Article 1.6, the constitution—not just such laws as may be agreed by the Council of Ministers—will have primacy over the law of member states. The constitution will be open to interpretation by the court. We know, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, knows well enough, what that means. The court will do its best to give meaning to the preamble, which states that the people of Europe are determined to be united ever more closely, and to Article 1.1, which refers to the states of Europe building a common future.
So much for the assertion in a letter to the Times last October by a group of leading Europhiles headed by a former Commissioner that the treaty would protect the sovereignty of Europe's nation states and set limits on what the EU can and cannot do. That is about as far from the truth as one could possibly get, save for the other assertion in the letter that the treaty gives a bigger role to Parliament. The truth there, of course, is that, although there is a token nod in the direction of national parliaments, one third of which can ask the Commission to reconsider a proposal before it goes ahead and does what it originally intended, the constitution cedes more power to the EU over, for example, criminal law, social security, immigration and asylum, trade and competition and energy, and the veto is abolished in about 40 areas, which means that more and more powers are being taken from Parliament.
The other week, a member of the Commission talked of the risk of another Holocaust if we did not accept the constitution and referred to opponents of the constitution as those who want to scrap the supranational idea. She obviously does not think that the EU has been engaged in a tidying-up exercise. The German Europe Minister calls the constitution the birth certificate of the United States of Europe. I do not think that that is all that far from the mark.
It is a matter of great regret that so little was said about that issue during the general election. To me, it is bizarre that, when the people were being asked to elect a new House of Commons, it was thought inappropriate to discuss whether that House should continue to have any meaningful powers and whether we should keep our independence as a nation or share more and more power with others to the point where parliamentary sovereignty will have become a meaningless concept.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, will forgive me if I do not follow him in his views about the Scottish Parliament. Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, was present. I welcome his remarks on Welsh devolution and the granting of primary legislative powers to that Assembly.
The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, gave his name to a convention—the Sewel convention—but it is the Salisbury convention to which most of my remarks will be addressed. Does it have legitimacy any more in the three-party politics that have emerged in this election? The question is whether Bills should pass through this House in their entirety or at all when their subject matter has been referred to briefly in the party manifesto—a party that has, by means of a defective and unfair electoral system, secured a majority in the House of Commons.
The Salisbury doctrine has a long history. I was amused that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor adopted the views of the third Marquess of Salisbury who, in 1885, promulgated its original form. It was a device to perpetuate the influence of the House of Lords at a time when the right to vote for the House of Commons was being extended to what he no doubt regarded as the lower classes. Lord Salisbury argued that this House had an obligation to reject and refer back contentious Bills to the electorate in a fresh election, so that the Government could obtain a fresh mandate for their measures.
"whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists, a second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation".
I imagine that it would have surprised Mr Asquith and Mr Lloyd George to know that "immediately" means getting on for 100 years before anything can be done finally to deal with this House.
In its guise in 1945, the Salisbury convention was an agreement between the Conservative and Labour Front Benches in this House specifically relating to the nationalisation programme of the then Labour government, so that the measures fully set out in the Labour manifesto in 1945 should not be wrecked in a way that would frustrate the expressed will of the people. The Lords could amend but not destroy or alter beyond recognition any Bill on which the country had, by implication, expressed its will. From that derives our practice of not voting against a Bill at Second Reading.
In that election, Mr Attlee had achieved 47.8 per cent of the vote; and Mr Churchill 39.9 per cent. The result of that agreement was that Viscount Cranborne, later Lord Salisbury, was able to restrain his overwhelming majority of hereditary Peers in this House from wrecking the government programme. Until very recently, the implied threat was that the hereditary Peers should behave themselves or a Labour government would abolish them.
Should that doctrine, formed under the two conditions that I have described—towards the end of the Victorian period and reinstated in 1945—apply in today's very different conditions? We say "No". The Government did not hesitate to abandon their manifesto commitment in 2001 not to introduce top-up fees.
Beyond the fact that the Government do not stick to their manifesto, there have been important changes. First, this House has such legitimacy as the Government will allow it. The hereditary Peers have had their come-uppance, with the Government promising to administer the coup de grâce at some stage. The Liberal Democrats are still working for a popular basis to this House, as pursued by David Lloyd George, by election through the ballot box rather than by appointment. But although in our present state we regard this House as being in a sense illegitimate, it is building a new legitimacy—what the late columnist Hugo Young once called an "anti-Napoleonic convention" to replace the Salisbury convention—by which we can properly claim the duty to fight authoritarian diktats from an over-powerful Government and their Ministers. The theme that ran through all our defeats of the Government in the previous Parliament was our consistent and constant support for civil rights and the rule of law.
Why may we claim such legitimacy? That is the second major change. The electoral system has delivered into the Government's hands a working majority, as many noble Lords have said, based on 35.2 per cent of those voting or 22 per cent of the whole electorate. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that the country had expressed a clear preference for the Labour Government. I do not think that those figures support his contention. In the previous Parliament the House of Commons was simply a passive agent of the Government and was rarely aroused. I am sure that the Government want to keep it that way, but we will not play along with it. The argument for proportional representation, a system of fair votes, is overwhelming. Although the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor attempted to laugh it off with comments about the views expressed by my noble friend Lord Oakeshott, the country will not laugh it off when they see the undoubted unfairness of the system under which we operate.
Of course, the elected Chamber will remain the superior Chamber, and, by and large, it should have its programme. It has, through the Parliament Acts, the instrument by which it can in the long term ensure that its will prevails. True, it has devalued that power by using the Parliament Acts for foxhunting, of all things, thereby ensuring that that issue has not been finally settled. The Government should not rely on an outdated convention but should argue for their programme on its merits. For example, the Government cannot claim to represent the popular will in seeking changes to education and health policy for England, a point that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, made. The Conservatives obtained 60,000 more votes in England than the Labour Party did, even though the electoral system, which I have described as unfair, delivered 90 fewer seats to the Conservatives. Taking into account the Liberal Democrat vote, the popular will in England was clearly against all manifesto proposals.
In the context of this debate, I shall use that observation to make two illustrations. First, the Criminal Defence Service Bill, which is about to be brought forward, is essentially a measure to cut back spending on criminal legal aid by £35 million. The manifesto declared that:
"Legal aid will be reformed to better help the vulnerable".
So, I suppose, innocent people accused of crime are not to be included in the category of "vulnerable". The manifesto also called for greater competition in the legal services market to ensure that people get value for money. It sounds great, but the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has flagged up that commitment as a scheme of "bids for briefs" in which somebody—obviously, a government official, not the client—decides the representation of a person facing a serious criminal charge based upon the cheapest bid that can be put before him. That is not the way to serve the public interest. I ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, before the Bill goes anywhere, to negotiate and agree with those who understand how the courts work if the vulnerable are truly to be protected.
The second illustration is identification cards. The manifesto sold the idea of ID cards as a protection to the public. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said that support for it remained high. The manifesto said:
"It makes sense to provide citizens with an equally secure identity card to protect them at home from identity theft and clamp down on illegal working and fraudulent use of public services. We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register".
The central issue is not the carrying of an identification card. Noble Lords of a certain age will remember the little brown documents that we carried during the war. The sting is not the requirement to carry around an identification card like a credit card; it is the national register, the database upon which everything about the individual can be collected and made available in one place to the authorities. It will include address, marital status, credit standing, car registration, criminal record, benefits record and in due course medical records and so on.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said with great enthusiasm that she welcomed the technology. Does it mean that every individual who deals with officialdom, travels or applies for a job, pension or benefits must have his eye scanned and his fingerprints taken to ensure that he is the person recorded on his identification card? Why should the people who run government have immediate access to all the information that exists about a person? People ask, "Do you have something to hide?" but that is not the right question. The right question is: why do you want to know everything about me? The database is the ultimate control weapon in the hand of an authoritarian government, yet the ordinary citizen will have to pay for it, the cost being a hidden tax on every individual.
There are many other issues that I could illustrate. The manifesto is just an advertising document containing various slogans but when the legislation comes forward it is in much more sinister terms. The Salisbury convention has run its day and should be abolished.
My Lords, perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, will forgive me. I am conscious of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, on the Woolsack and that noble Lords are advised that there is no strict control of timing. But I am also aware that if noble Lords, in general—I do not point the finger at anyone specific—speak for longer than nine minutes, the House will rise considerably beyond 11 pm.
My Lords, I propose to address noble Lords on sentencing, with particular regard to a speech made by the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, on
I owe it to the House to declare my limited credentials in taking on that task. Shortly after I became a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, I was persuaded by my great friend, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, to engage myself in parliamentary activity, for the following reason: he told me that attacks were frequently made in the House on the judiciary for imposing excessively long sentences. How times have changed. The attacks were usually made by the late Earl Longford and an old sparring partner of mine, Lord Hutchinson.
My noble and learned friend Lord Brightman said that the trouble was that there was no Law Lord—either sitting or retired—in the Chamber to repel those attacks and to explain why the allegations could not be sustained. My noble and learned friend Lord Brightman asked me, because I was the "judicial shop steward emeritus" with experience of having presided over a number of sentencing conferences for the benefit of circuit judges, recorders and newly appointed High Court judges prior to the setting up of the Judicial Studies Board, as well as informal discussions with students from the Cambridge Institute of Criminology.
I reluctantly accepted being the judicial Aunt Sally. In those balmy days, the prison population stood at about 40,000, which was roughly half the current number. Parliament had laid down the framework in relation to any given crime by setting out the maximum sentence that could be imposed, leaving it to the judiciary, consistent with their oaths, to do justice by sentencing the prisoner on the facts of the case, giving due weight to mitigation as well as aggravating factors, subject always to the right of appeal if given leave.
The Court of Appeal, in order to promote consistency of sentence, from time to time laid down guidelines for a particular type of crime, having collected a number of appeals featuring those crimes. It was well recorded in Government White Papers between 1988 and 1991 that,
"nobody regarded imprisonment as an effective means of reform".
Imprisonment was an expensive way of making bad people worse. For most crimes, not being violent, punishment in the community was likely to be better for the victim, the public and the offender.
Nearly 15 years ago, in the White Paper issued by the Government entitled Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public, it was stated:
"Nobody now regards imprisonment, in itself, as an effective means of reform for most prisoners . . . however much prison staff try to inject a positive purpose into the regime, as they do, prison is a society which requires virtually no sense of responsibility from prisoners. Normal social or working habits do not fit. The opportunity to learn from other criminals is pervasive".
A year later in the White Paper entitled Custody, Care and Justice, which was the Government's response to the Woolf report following the Strangeways riot, it was stated:
"The effects of imprisonment can be severe. It breaks up families. It is harder for prisoners to retain or subsequently to secure law-abiding jobs. Imprisonment can lessen any sense of responsibility [for their actions] and reduce their self respect, both of which are fundamental to law-abiding citizenship. Some, often young and less experienced, acquire in prisons a wider knowledge of criminal activity. Imprisonment is costly for the individual, for the prisoner's family and for the community".
I understand that the annual cost of keeping a prisoner in prison is currently £37,500.
Such was the situation prior to Mr Howard becoming Home Secretary and pronouncing his populist observation—"Let's be clear: prison works". All that means is—so long as the system successfully prevents the prisoner from escaping during his period of imprisonment—that the prisoner is disabled for that limited period from committing any further offences. All you have done is "warehouse" the particular offender. Following that unenlightened speech, the prison population has consistently grown.
What has now and for some years shocked the public is the horrifying reoffending rate and its consequences. The cost of reoffending by ex-prisoners is approximately £1 billion per year and approximately 58 per cent of prisoners are reconvicted within two years of being released. The present overcrowding of prisons makes it impossible to train prisoners so that they can obtain honest employment on discharge. It is now well accepted by the Government, the Opposition Benches and I believe the majority if not the entirety of Cross-Benchers that radical steps have to be taken, first, to reduce offending and, secondly, to persuade the public that community sentences are satisfactory options, and can and do deflect the further commission of offences.
In the past few years, following the reports of Lord Justice Auld and Mr Halliday, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 has been enacted, although a number of its important provisions have only recently been brought into effect. Section 170 of the Act sets out the purposes of sentencing as:
"(a) the punishment of offenders, (b) the reduction of crime (including its reduction by deterrence), (c) the reform and rehabilitation of offenders, (d) the protection of the public, and (e) the making of reparation by offenders to persons affected by their offences".
I am surprised that "the protection of the public" is so low down that list. I would have promoted it to second place, but that is a small point.
How does one break the vicious circle of offending, then punishment, then release after serving the sentence, and then reconviction? In his lecture, my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf gives grounds for a cautious sense of optimism, which include, first, that there is greater realisation than there has been hitherto that prison sentences are not constructive and should be used only as the sentence of last resort. Secondly, the approach to juvenile offenders has been transformed by the establishment of youth justice boards. The success of that approach has resulted in applying similar provisions to the 18 to 20 year-old offenders. Thirdly, there has been a growing appreciation of the importance of addressing the specific needs of women offenders, having regard in particular to the sharp rise in conviction for drug-related offences.
Fourthly, those with mental health problems are to be dealt with in a more appropriate setting than prison. Fifthly, piloting is taking place on restorative justice projects. Sixthly, sentencing technology using electronic tagging has contributed to reducing the prison population. Seventhly, there is now clear consultation between the Home Office and the judiciary on legislative proposals and changes in government policy as to criminal justice. A separate committee under Lord Justice Rose, the Vice-President of the Court of Appeal, assists in ensuring that the legislation will work in practice. That is not an easy job, but it is one for which he has much ability.
Time does not permit me to deal in detail with the resource implications, which are considerable relative to the actual additional work placed on parole boards and probation officers. The closed season proposal will show whether the good intentions can be put into practice. Nor have I dealt with the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which will provide authoritative guidelines to the courts on levels of sentencing.
I should like to end this contribution by saying how delighted I am at the appointment of my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham. If only he had been appointed a few weeks earlier, he might have produced the authoritative contribution which I have sought, albeit inadequately, to make.
My Lords, I shall not follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, into the important subjects he has raised. I hope that there will be other opportunities to do so. Rather I want to reflect on the wider purposes of constitutional reform at this point in our history since not only is it one of the subjects for our debate, but also a number of measures were alluded to in the gracious Speech which purport to touch on these issues. What I have to say about those measures is that I find in them no theme. They do not address what I perceive to be the principal requirement at this time; that is, the strengthening of the accountability of the central government of our country to Parliament.
It has long been seen that the parliamentary aspects of our democracy were the imitable aspects. Of course it has never been a perfect system, but its imperfections have become clearer over the past decade than perhaps at any time over the past 150 years. One to which attention has already been drawn is the whole area of the conduct of foreign and defence policy which, under prerogative powers, is largely exempt from the inevitable scrutiny of the two Houses of Parliament. In his remarks, with which I agree at least in part, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, was right to draw attention to the possibility that certain important decisions on defence could be taken under the exercise of prerogative powers and ought properly to be made accountable to Parliament. However, I do not believe that we should approach the proposition in a discrete way. It is time to subject the prerogative powers, particularly in respect of the conduct of foreign and security policy, to parliamentary control. It is quite strange that there is no automatic oversight of these matters by this House. No committee can look at the effective operation of treaties.
More widely, in the previous Parliament we saw what is regarded as the apex of the parliamentary system, Cabinet government, being brought into increasing disrepute. It has been testified time and again by external inquiries which were even set up by the Prime Minister. For all that it focused its attention primarily on the BBC in its conclusions, the Hutton inquiry revealed an astonishing lack of coherence on the most important issues of the conduct of war and peace. Six powerful paragraphs at the end of the report of the Butler inquiry spoke of how the system for the control of handling intelligence had been changed by deliberation to take it away from its direction to informing the Cabinet. Moreover, by the rolling together of the jobs of adviser on European, foreign and security matters with the role of the Prime Minister's adviser, the Cabinet had effectively been bypassed. No legislation that I could propose would bind Prime Ministers to conform with the best examples of their predecessors, but there needs to be awareness, open debate and criticism when these standards are not maintained.
After the First World War, Lord Haldane produced his important report on the machinery of government. Reflecting on the lessons of war, in 1918 he advocated certain procedural rules which we would do well to record and remember today. The main function of a Cabinet was described as being the final determination of policy to be submitted to Parliament, the supreme control of the national executive in accordance with policy prescribed by Parliament and the continuous co-ordination and determination of the activities of the several departments of state. He went on to say that in particular the Cabinet should be supplied in the most convenient form with all the information and material necessary to enable it to arrive at expeditious decisions.
I do not think it is an accident that the prime disaffection reflected in the outcome of the recent general election was not so much with the Labour Government as a whole but with the architect of the departures from these practices: the Prime Minister. His personal standing has been substantially eroded by his being perceived to be acting in ways which are, frankly, not in conformity with the democratic parliamentary basis of our constitution. It is not too late for steps to be taken to reinstate regard for these rules.
Other matters do fall to Parliament to consider, principal among which is the role of the Civil Service, the enabler of the executive arm of government. It is regrettable that nothing in the gracious Speech indicated a Bill to put the Civil Service on a proper, new statutory basis. I avoid the use of the word "modernisation", for the reality is that modernisation means different things to different people.
In regard to the Government's efforts in this area, Tony Wright MP, who has been a distinguished and hard-working chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee, pointed out that modernisation can mean more efficiency in the way that Parliament processes executive business or more effectiveness in the way in which it holds the executive to account. He said that while a little progress has been made with the former kind of modernisation, the latter kind has so far been an absent guest at the political reform feast.
It needs to be made clearer who is responsible for what executive activity to enable Parliament, through its Select Committee system, to hold Ministers to account when they are responsible and civil servants when they have been given responsibility. We have seen how Ministers can use the present system when it suits them. The present leader of the Opposition in another place was able to wrangle with the then head of the Prison Service about who was responsible for mass escapes and thus duck responsibility.
If Parliament is to regulate and intervene effectively the reform of the Civil Service—to modernise it or to get away from the role traditionally described by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, as long ago as 1985—has to be brought into effect. I do not believe that this should be done by a government who are simply relying on a one-line commitment in a manifesto; these matters ought to unite all parties. Before constitutional reform is set in concrete and before the Government feel that their standing is affected by their commitments, cross-party discussion needs to be embarked upon.
I do not take kindly to suggestions from members of the Government—who engaged in such discussions at an earlier stage of their incarnation—that they can now, because of a few lines in a manifesto which described nothing of the details of the legislation, command the support of this place. The proper legislative procedures can and should be gone through. The Parliament Acts exist and until they are amended it is right that we should exercise our powers to seek to improve the governance of our country.
My Lords, one of the problems of the debate on the gracious Speech is that one can speak only once and has therefore to choose on which area of policy to talk. I am sure that we could all speak on more than one subject but, because of my long involvement in election organisation, I have decided to concentrate on the Bill on electoral administration.
I start by declaring an interest as chair of an organisation called the H S Chapman Society, a group which brings together people like myself with an interest in elections and particularly in the secrecy of the ballot. The group involves legal advisers to all the parties, electoral registration officers and the Electoral Commission. Over the past few months we had many discussions with the then Minister, Chris Leslie, on the possible consequences of the expansion of postal voting and how to increase voter participation. I must stress, however, that my comments today are purely my own and not those of the society.
It was extraordinary that when the concept of postal voting on demand was mooted, there was an immediate assumption that fraud would be rampant, and prior to the general election, sections of the media were almost hysterical, making the wildest assumptions based on the outcome of one investigation—serious though it was—in Birmingham. This created a concern among the public about the integrity of the vote. Many of the fears clearly were exaggerated, but it was right, because of the obvious increase in postal voting, that during the election the DCA, the returning officers and the police worked actively together to improve the level of security in the process.
However, we have to be very circumspect about making accusations about any cases until they are proven. Sam Younger, chair of the Electoral Commission, put the concern in context when, in the Financial Times of
"while there has been no evidence, so far, of widespread electoral fraud, the Commission is arguing that the public perception of postal votes is a problem that needs addressing urgently".
It is to be hoped that the Bill to be introduced by the Government will respond to that call.
No matter how small the level of fraud or malpractice, it cannot be tolerated and has to be countered, regardless of whether it relates to postal voting, personation or some other electoral offence. When an offence is proven, strong action should be taken.
I am sure that the measures proposed in the Bill will be fully discussed when the Bill is presented. I trust that the Bill's principle will not be opposed; rather, that we will centre on the detail of the proposals.
I wish to refer today to only two measures. I fully support the principle that political parties should no longer receive completed application forms for postal votes, but I understand from the EROs that political parties handing in large quantities of applications at a late stage was not a major problem at this election as it had been in the European elections. However, there is a need for a real examination of political parties and their role in elections—not to restrict them but rather to clarify what they can and cannot do.
Equally, it is right that there should be a power of arrest at the polling station, or any other location, if there is a reasonable suspicion of personation. When the legislation on personation was originally drafted there were no facilities for absent voting and so it was not necessary to consider other locations, but now the situation has changed and it is.
Working in the build-up to the first elections in many countries in eastern Europe convinced me of the value of using identity cards as identification for voting. But I am not going to enter into that debate today—that is for another occasion.
Electoral registration, however, is the linchpin of our electoral system, and building the register is fundamental to improving voter participation in elections. That raises the thorny question of individual versus household registration. The current law on electoral registration is still very much based on that introduced in the 19th century, with changes grafted on. So there may be a need to examine change.
The continual decline in registration cannot be ignored. While individual registration would make it possible for a check to be made between postal vote ballot papers and the details held on the electoral register, there are other implications. There could be a situation where once a registration officer receives a form—assuming it is being done on an individual basis—he or she will presume that all members of the household have responded. But that may not be the case and rising 18s, unknown to the registration officer, will not receive a form.
There may be a third option: one form going to each household with each member of the household individually signing it and giving details such as date of birth.
Whatever process is arrived at, the level of checking has to be improved. Adequate resources have to be made available for additional canvasses over a longer canvass period. This would be assisted by the closing date for registration being brought nearer to polling day. The register should then be maintained electronically and regularly updated. The ultimate should be the production of a national register.
Nor can we continue to ignore clerical errors in the production of the register, as has happened in Hounslow and other places. No one should be denied their right to vote because of administrative defects.
Research carried out by the Electoral Commission showed the lack of understanding of the connection between political activity and governmental consequences. Now that citizenship is back on the school curriculum, perhaps that will be overcome and the importance of registration and voting will be greater understood.
Since the passing of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the Electoral Commission has carried out a review of the Act with a view to putting proposals to the Government for a further elections Bill. I hope that when that Bill eventually appears it will look at a number of wider issues relating to elections, not least the role of the commission itself and its statutory responsibility—particularly its relationship with Parliament, to which I believe it should be accountable—and its working relationship with the political parties.
There also needs to be an examination of the possible conflict of interest in chief executives of local authorities also being the returning officers for their authorities. I firmly believe that we should re-examine the question of when election expenses should start to be declared. I appreciate that the Newark case in 1997 was a reason for an examination of when expenditure should be counted as an election expense. It is said that we now have clarity, although I have my doubts. However, by making the changes, we succeeded in removing the financial level playing field which the 2000 Act was designed to achieve.
We now have a system in which any amount of money can be spent advertising a candidate—not a party—prior to the dissolution of Parliament, even when, as with this last general election, the campaign actually started well before that date. I am aware of one candidate—I know that there are many others—in a highly marginal seat who personally spent £90,000 in the run-up to the campaign, promoting himself, even before the other parties had selected their candidates. He did not win, showing that money is not always the answer; nevertheless, he started the campaign with an unfair advantage. This possible situation was highlighted across the Chamber during the passage of the 2000 Act. It certainly needs re-examination, and an alternative found.
I also firmly believe that the legislation governing all elections is in need of consolidation. I hope that a consolidation Bill will be produced before too long.
There are many other areas around the whole question of elections and election law that could be discussed: when elections are held, early voting, fixed-term Parliaments, removing the discrepancy between the qualifying age of nomination and voting by bringing both to 18—which I support—or even introducing compulsory voting, which I do not support.
In 1993, the Labour Party produced a report on electoral systems, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Plant. I was responsible for a section called "Voter Participation", which covered all the points that I have raised today, and others, including the establishment of an Electoral Commission.
As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said, all the parties have consistently supported the retention of postal voting on demand, as has the Electoral Commission. But that support has to be maintained, and it will be maintained and expanded only if there is public confidence in the process. So I believe that the Government are right to introduce a Bill that will help to restore that public confidence, and I hope that it receives support across the House.
My Lords, although he is not in his place, I should first like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alliance, on his maiden speech. His is a very remarkable story. He also illustrates one of the points that I want to make. I feel that people of his experience often find—I hope I am wrong in his case—that, because of our procedures, they do not make the extremely valuable contribution to the House that could be made, given their experience and knowledge. I shall come to that in a moment.
Secondly, I congratulate the Government on their election victory. It was a significant achievement. I suspect that they called the election just in time. As Kenneth Clarke said the other day, in the end, Labour governments run out of money.
I want to concentrate my remarks on the sentence in the gracious Speech that referred to this House. There is much to be done. The Government are right to continue their efforts, and I hope that they will find a consensus on the best way forward. This is not the time for me to speculate on what would be the best way forward, but there are some important points to bear in mind as we seek that consensus.
First, no one will get everything that he or she wants. Unless we are prepared to compromise, either nothing will be achieved or great damage will be done. That applies to the Government, my noble friends on the Opposition Front Bench, the Liberal Democrats and the House of Commons as well as the House of Lords. Ever since the Royal Commission, which I had the honour to chair, attempted to produce a compromise, everybody has told me why they wanted something different. Nobody has asked how we can make progress that everybody can live with. So a compromise of some sort is necessary.
Secondly, the changes must come about over time. We can agree a plan or a blueprint, but the implementation must take place over years. Life peerages have been a great success; they were brought in over a great deal of time, and the House absorbed them very successfully.
Thirdly, your Lordships' House and, more particularly, the other place, need to bear it in mind that this House is a very different place and does a very different job from the House of Commons. Obviously, we are a revising Chamber, and in the end it is right and proper that the House of Commons and the Government should get their way if we cannot persuade them otherwise. But that is not all. That brings me back to the noble Lord, Lord Alliance. We are a different House because many of your Lordships are not primarily politicians. Many arrived in this place because of distinguished work or great experience in a range of fields. Increasingly I think that our procedures are not designed to make the maximum use of their expertise.
Of course, many of the noble Lords to whom I refer form the backbone of the Select Committees and contribute significantly to the international reputation of our work, but I wonder whether their involvement in legislation with, of course, a number of important and distinguished exceptions, matches that contribution. I suspect that they find that some parts of our procedures are not conducive to the best scrutiny of legislation. If the Minister or the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor have any doubts, I invite them to talk privately to a number of the distinguished colleagues who have come from industry or the professions to their side of the House since 1979 but no longer play a great part in the House and ask them exactly why they do not. I think that it will be found that many of them do not believe that our procedures are necessarily conducive to getting the best out of their expertise.
The Labour Party report prepared under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, tackles some of those issues. I, for one, would be happy to see some of its aspects studied further. There are other aspects of the report with which I disagree profoundly. For example, I can see no justification for an arbitrary 60-day timetabling of Bills. Very few would fall foul of it, and in all the cases that I have seen the Government have had the major responsibility. I am in favour of timetabling but on the basis of agreement through the usual channels.
There have been many attempts to reform your Lordships' House, and some of us bear the scars. We all seem to flounder on composition. My view is that we ask the wrong question. We are reasonably clear on what job the House should be doing; the question is how we get those best suited to do that work. We need experience and expertise, particularly from those who are not primarily politicians. There are plenty of politicians in the Commons, and we certainly do not want the politicians who cannot make it to the House of Commons or any of the other Parliaments or Assemblies. As someone put it in evidence to the Royal Commission, we do not want the fourth XI of political life as Members of this House.
As I said, compromise is essential if we are to find a consensus. It was for that reason that some of us, with some reluctance, supported the idea of some elected Members of the House. They need to be few to start with, elected for a long time, and, in my view, without the option of being re-elected. They would come from and be chosen by the citizens of their region; they would not be looking over their shoulder but would be free to do what they felt best. They would be different from other Members of the House, but we already have Members who arrived here from many different routes, and we seem to have no difficulty in working together. I am still a strong supporter of the first-past-the-post system for the House of Commons, but there is a strong case for the political membership of this House being broadly on a PR basis.
With all those things, there are some practical difficulties to be got over, but those questions have been addressed many times before, and it is possible to find solutions for all of them, particularly if we do not want to fix it in five minutes. I wish the Government well in their consideration of these matters.
My Lords, I shall consider the issues of electoral legislation proposed in the gracious Speech, but first I want to consider some wider issues about the principles of fairness and democracy upon which electoral legislation should be based. Issues such as preserving the secrecy of the ballot, encouraging participation, preventing fraud and maintaining the integrity of the whole process are of course very important. But even more important should be the principle of making every vote of equal value and upholding the key democratic principle that voting should be about giving people the representation that they vote for. That principle was clearly something that was not achieved on
Something is clearly rotten in a system in which it takes 26,858 votes to elect a Labour MP, 44,241 votes to elect a Conservative MP and 98,484 votes to elect a Liberal Democrat MP. People did not vote for Labour to be given 55 per cent of the membership of the House of Commons. I accept that no electoral system may be perfect, and there may be a case for a largest-party bonus to facilitate majority government on occasions. But you cannot consider it properly democratic to give an extra 20 per cent of the seats to a party that can poll only 35 per cent of the vote so that barely a third of those voting are represented by significantly more than half of the MPs.
In the 1930s, Mussolini passed a law that meant that whichever was the largest party in the Italian Parliament was automatically allocated as of right two-thirds of the seats. All over the world, countries that were free and able to choose their representatives democratically condemned Mussolini's travesty of democracy. Yet in effect, that sort of abuse of the democratic principle has now been imposed on this country, because those elected by the present system choose to ignore the fact that it no longer serves to create a representative parliament.
Our political system has moved on from the 19th century, but our electoral system has not, and it is time that it did. Of course, the excuse of those who benefit disproportionately from the present electoral system is that alternatives give too much power to what they describe as minority parties. But what is a minority party? If it is one that represents less than 50 per cent of the voters, then all three major parties in Great Britain are minority parties. The problem is now with the largest minority exercising disproportionate power, not the threat that future legislation may require something nearer to majority support.
For the last three days of the general election campaign, the Prime Minister deployed one single argument above any other. He said that people should vote not for a party that they had chosen to support but for a different party in order to prevent a third party that they were more opposed to from winning seats. Democracy should be about enabling voters to vote for what they believe in and getting a parliament and government that represents them. We must consider what sort of democracy we have when parties have to spend so much time saying, "Don't vote for what you believe in—vote for your second choice to stop your third choice from getting in".
A simple change to preference voting, allowing voters to rank candidates in order, from one to three and so on, would prevent that happening. Even allowing a second preference, as in the London mayoral elections, would enable more voters to vote for more of what they wanted. Of course, further distortions may then occur and so-called "top-ups" may be required, but multi-member constituencies would be a better long-term solution—the system used in Northern Ireland and, very effectively, in the Republic of Ireland. The debate about how we vote in the United Kingdom will not now go away.
I turn to the issue to which I am very glad that the Government have turned their attention, albeit belatedly—that of potential postal vote fraud. It was the subject of much heated debate in this place in the run-up to the 2004 local and European elections. The imposition of widespread compulsory postal voting against the recommendations of the independent Electoral Commission taught us several things last year. First, confidence in the entire electoral process was significantly undermined. Secondly, there was only a very small additional turnout in regions with compulsory postal voting as opposed to regions with voting principally based on polling stations—a measure of about 4 per cent. Thirdly, there is a very real need to reduce the potential for abuse of postal voting even where voters have to choose to vote by post.
The recent general election has told us that the Government were quite wrong to ignore warnings about postal vote abuse over the past year. The election campaign also highlighted significant problems with large numbers of voters voting in a different way and at a different time to other voters. But once again, there appeared to be very little benefit to overall turnout, despite massive campaigns by all parties to persuade their voters to register for a postal vote. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to the increase in the number of postal vote applications in this general election—up from 4 per cent last time to 15 per cent this time. But the overall turnout of voters increased by only 2 per cent. If perhaps 80 per cent of those 15 per cent of voters voted immediately, it means that something like one in five of those people who voted in the general election voted a week or 10 days before others who had before them the full weight of all the evidence produced in the last third of the election campaign.
I welcome the fact that the Government appear to be moving in the direction advocated by the Electoral Commission, and by Members on all Benches apart from their own on previous occasions, of individual voter registration. Let me make it plain that I welcome very much the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton. But let me explain explicitly on the subject of individual voter registration that I do not personally have any problem at all with the idea that there should be a household form—but it should have individual signatures and dates of birth, which would be an effective deterrent against fraud and is very much what I sought more than a year ago when we had our debates about the all-postal voting systems in 2004.
Acknowledging the receipt of an application to vote by post is another measure that I believe would be very welcome. That was a measure that some of us fought for then and which would help significantly in improving the integrity of the process. Tougher penalties for fraud are also welcome. They will act as a measure of deterrent, but further measures to detect and prevent fraud are still required. The acknowledgment of when a postal vote has been received would be an important safeguard for voters who would know that a vote had been lodged in their name.
The issue of parties encouraging postal vote applications is a tricky one. For many decades, skilled canvassers, no doubt many of them here today, have carried applications to vote by post with them, and I do not believe that they should be prevented from doing so. Nor is it practical to suggest that parties should desist from encouraging their supporters to vote by post. The key issue in my view is to ensure that the voter has the best possible opportunity to return the postal vote application themselves, directly, using the Freepost system, to either the relevant local returning officer or to the Electoral Commission nationally.
Above all, however, it is clear that it is necessary to maintain the right of voters to vote at a polling station in the traditional way, in proper conditions of privacy and security. As the Electoral Commission has argued, that should be the default option. There is no other way of guaranteeing proper respect for the secrecy of the ballot: something we have believed in as important in this country since 1832. Any further attempts to impose again compulsory postal voting will meet the strongest possible resistance, which will be tougher since the stance that most of this House and all but one major party took was so thoroughly vindicated in last year's elections.
I mention briefly two other issues: first, the timing of voting by post. More time should be allowed for postal votes to be returned and counted, especially given the unreliability of the Post Office. It would not be a major disservice to democracy if a week after the normal polling day was allowed for postal votes to be returned. That would be a system copied from many other countries and an effective way of making sure that people can vote at the last possible minute in full awareness of all the evidence during the course of the election campaign.
Secondly, on improving voter turnout, which many of us want to see, the time has come to consider voting on a Saturday or Sunday, or preferably both: not disrupting schools and children's education and making things inconvenient for parents, but allowing people to vote at the weekend when many of them are freer to do so and not on a working day. I look forward to debating many of these issues.
My Lords, I want to say a brief word about constitutional matters. It has to be a brief word because the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has failed to give any indication of the way the Government's mind is moving. I understand that in due course there will be papers on methods of conducting our business and on the composition of the House. That will be the time to discuss in detail various matters that arise.
However, it is possible to make one or two comments at this stage. We are regaled once again with the mantra that the other place is the supreme House of Parliament. I accept that it is in the sense that it controls supply, which must place it in a lead position, but I do not accept it if it is suggested that it is the lead House because it is more in touch with the needs and wishes of the people of this country. Certainly it is more in touch with some aspects; the aspects that come up in constituency surgeries. It does not follow that it is equally au fait with some of the wider issues, for instance, in law, order or industry, where this House has particular expertise.
This House has two functions which it will always have to have: first, as a revising House. Most members of the Government say that it is a revising House and think that that is the end of the matter, but it is not. Secondly, it is also a delaying House, which has the power to cause the government of the day to think again.
The revising function splits into two parts, which are not clearly defined. The Opposition suggest revisions that are clearly unacceptable to the government of the day and are put forward merely to advertise their alternative point of view. However, a number of amendments are put forward that are intended to be and would be helpful if considered on their merits. I have been saddened during the past year in particular to notice how rarely it is that those suggestions are examined on their merits. There is a human nature element: if one served on the Bill team for some months and ended up with a flurry of work just before the debates, one would not be in a frame of mind to take kindly to someone's suggestion even if it happened to be a better idea than one previously thought, because of the prospect of the work involved in studying and giving effect to it.
The delaying power is fundamental. We must have power to cause the Government to think again, otherwise we will have an elective dictatorship. Every government, going back to early Conservative governments with whom I used to talk from time to time—at arm's length, of course—would like to get rid of any form of check or balance on their work. It is a natural reaction for any government, but it has to be resisted at all costs.
The effort in 1945 to reduce the period of delay lacked any validity as a matter of law. It was probably a sensible arrangement because a delay of more than two Sessions in modern conditions is too much, but any suggestion that we take it further should be resisted to the end.
One of the few clear indications given by the noble and learned Lord is that the Government look favourably on having a 60-sitting-day time limit for disposing of Bills. If the Opposition can control the House's business there will be no problem with that, but if the business of the House is to be controlled by the Government, I know from discussions with the usual channels that the bottom line is that the Government are entitled to decide what business should be discussed and when. As long as that is the case there cannot be a time limit, because they can simply say, "Well, you can have a day here and that's the lot". That will not do: it is a complete denial of the powers of this House.
On the delay power I am completely in agreement with the Liberal Democrats that the day of the Salisbury convention has come and gone. We now have a majority of Labour Peers in this House and the rationale of the Salisbury convention was based on the in-built Tory majority. That has disappeared—
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble and learned Lord, and he knows that I do so with great reluctance, but it is only right to point out that we are not the majority in this House: we are simply the largest party. We have six members more than any other party. Mighty as those six are, they do not give us a majority.
My Lords, I chose my words without due care and attention. I meant that there are more Members of this House taking the Labour Whip than there are taking the Whip of any other party or indeed those of us on these Benches who have the privilege of taking no Whip from any party, which is a freedom that I relish.
I still say that the origin of the Salisbury convention was when there was an overweening majority in this House, which has gone. It is true, as the noble Baroness says, that Labour does not have an overall majority—heaven help us if it did, or if any other political party did. This House is much more valuable with a balance of parties, and, I suggest, an in-built swinging majority of the Cross-Benchers, but that would be a minority view.
I add one last word about the hereditary Peers. I understand the argument that there can be no possible justification for people taking their seat in this House simply because their father had a seat here. That has gone. We now have about 90 elected hereditary Peers. As long as there are any hereditary Peers it is going to be said by ill-disposed and ill informed people that this is a House of hereditary Peers. When a taxi driver drove me here the other day, he said, "Was your father a Member?". I immediately said, "No", and explained that I was a life Peer, as were the majority of Members of this House.
That is a problem of perception rather than reality. The 90 hereditary Peers that we have render yeoman service to this House, and one can get rid of the perception problem by making them all life Peers. That will not alter the balance of this House but, as I said, it will produce a perceived democratic solution to a perceived problem and one can then get rid of the elections, which, in theory, are a complete nonsense. They stem from the arrangements that were made when the remainder of the hereditary Peers left this House.
I apologise for having made some inconsequential remarks but, unless and until the Government tell us where they are going, it is difficult to make consequential ones.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble and learned Lord. I want to speak on House of Lords reform but, before I do that, I shall speak briefly on the identity cards and terrorism legislation.
I welcomed the idea of identity cards long before it became government policy. On talking to people, I have found that, although in opinion polls the majority are for identity cards, there are lots of misgivings, especially among the young, about what the cards are meant to be. There is also a fear among ethnic minorities that, if identity cards are introduced, they will be stopped more often than the white majority population. That is the reality.
I have been disturbed to hear all the remarks about "hoodies". Suddenly, fashions are being used to target one minority or another and, before we know it, the police will be in every shopping mall asking for the identity cards of all those wearing hoods. Who knows? Next time it might be those wearing ermine robes and then where will we be? Therefore, although I believe that legislation on identity cards is good, there must be a lot of preparation to set people's minds at rest that the cards will not be used as a way of persecuting minorities rather than establishing for us a guarantee against terrorists or other people.
Secondly, I welcome what was said in the gracious Speech and in the explanation by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor about the terrorism Bill. During our long debate on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, we more or less arrived at a consensus that, as soon as that Bill was out of the way, we had to start work on the next one, which would be about acts preparatory to terrorism. I welcome the fact that a Joint Committee will be set up for both Bills, and we should discuss that.
During the debate on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, I took the view that, whatever its merits or demerits, the legislation had to be granted to the Government because the matter was urgent. Having said that, I felt that we also had to give a guarantee to citizens that we were working on something much better. I hope that in the 18 months of this Parliament we can come forward with a better Bill and reassure citizens that, contrary to what was falsely reported, we are not about to take away all their ancient liberties.
I am slowly and cautiously wading my way from areas of agreement to areas of disagreement. On House of Lords reform, I have long been a champion of an all-elected second Chamber. Perhaps my experience of the debate on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill dented my confidence a little in an all-elected Chamber. I now see that an appointed Chamber has certain merits, and I doubt very much that an elected Chamber could have done what we did. I shall have to modify my preference for 100 per cent-elected membership in favour of a slightly smaller number.
It is not at all possible to separate the composition issues from the power issues. The two are interconnected. Following implementation of the first phase of reform, the House has become more assertive of the limited powers that it has. That has been a good thing. For a long time, this House hardly ever asserted its limited powers to make the other place think again. We have done so more and more since 1999, and I doubt whether on any such occasion it could have been said that the House was being frivolous or bloody-minded. This House has that merit.
Given that, I think that the 60-day rule for Bills is liable to create more trouble than benefits. By and large, most Bills do not take that long to pass through Parliament. If one sets that standard, much energy will be diverted. I have been almost as long in opposition as I have been on this side of the Chamber. Time is the only weapon that the Opposition have against the Government. I hope that I shall not be back there in the foreseeable future but, if I am—before the House is reformed and if I am still here—I would like to have a lot of time on my hands to harass the government. Therefore, I think that the 60-day rule is probably unnecessary and, if insisted on, will waste a lot of energy.
Some thought must be given to the size of the Chamber. As we add an elected element, we will have to get rid of some people. I do not think that sufficient thought has been given to that problem. Even if we decide to have a House with, say, 50 or 60 per cent of its Members elected, we shall only be able to achieve that steadily—not immediately, unless we can get rid of about 300 sitting Life Peers. I do not think that we could possibly have a Chamber of 1,000 Peers—that would not do us any good—and so it would be good to think through the transition process. We should take stock of the number of sitting life Peers and see how we can reduce their number steadily over the period of two or three elections so that, by the third election, the House will be, say, half elected and half appointed or three-quarters elected and one-quarter appointed. That transition must be worked out in as gentle and efficient a way as possible.
Lastly, I turn to my constant obsession—that is, the Bill containing a provision on religious hatred. I shall not repeat all that I have said—I have opposed such a measure twice—but I hope that, when the legislation comes before us, it will be a free-standing Bill. It should take account of the report on the subject by the Select Committee of your Lordships' House. It should also take into account the kind of amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, tried to make. After the religious hatred clause fell through on that occasion, I had a large postbag, receiving many letters from children in Sunday school thanking me for saving Christianity, which was not my original intention. Many people were misinformed or afraid that we were about to stop the propagation of any religion and that we were about to attack freedom of speech.
When I read the House of Lords judgment in the Mandla case carefully, I see that it says that Sikhs constitute a racial community because of their common cultural heritage—that their religion defines them separately as a racial group. I do not think that you can use that judgment to do that for every religious community. It is not possible. You cannot say that Muslims constitute a racial group because they are all Muslims; that would be to say that there was no difference between race and religion, which would be nonsense. If it were true, why add religious hatred when we already have racial hatred?
There has to be a lot of careful thinking and altered thinking about what you mean by religion and how you define it, because that is a can of worms. I had better not go any further, because I shall only get myself into more trouble.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai, although I am wholly unable to contemplate the transitional process that he envisages. To me, that is wholly unacceptable.
The purpose of this speech is to assert that the constitutional role, status and privileges of this House be protected from the spectre of continuing reform referred to in the gracious Speech, which hovers over this House, bereft of any specific proposal. The speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today hardly dealt with the question to which I speak. He dealt only with a free vote in both Houses about the retention of the hereditaries, having apparently forgotten about the Irvine/Cranborne deal, which is essentially a matter for this House. Then he dealt with powers and functions, on which there was no specific proposal save the 60-day time limit. It was a vague presentation that failed to open the gateway to the mind of government as regards substantive reform. Assuredly, it did not deal with the purpose of this speech.
It is only if and when stage two—substantive reform—has been accepted as such by your Lordships that demission of the statutory hereditaries is invoked under the deal, which cannot simply be reneged on. Relevant to this speech are two questions of current concern as a hangover from the unicameral approach of the presidential style of government under the former regime—the disestablishment of your Lordships' House on the EU constitution Bill; and Speakership of this House, on which the option to retain the Lord Chancellor was foreclosed by another place at the behest of government, contrary to assurances given in good faith by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to which I shall refer if there is time.
On disfranchisement, there was no constitutional Bill to deprive your Lordships from voting on the Bill to approve the draft treaty on the constitution referred to in the gracious Speech. Contrary to the unanimous advice of the Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, in reply to the Question asked by my noble friend Lord Marlesford on
"We have proposed in the Bill that your Lordships' House would be asked for its opinion, but that the final decision would rest with the elected Chamber".
The second is:
"It is the Government's view, put forward in the Bill, that it is important that one view comes forward".—[Hansard, 6/4/05; cols. 729-31.]
The reports of Sub-Committee E of the EU Committee on the future status of the EU charter and the future role of the European Court of Justice, of which note has been taken, raise questions of serious concern about what should be removed and what ratified. There are defects that demand consideration of both Houses, in which amendments should be subject to due parliamentary process. Reference was made to some of those in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Owen. They include the need for an interpretative declaration, the need for retention of the powers of your Lordships' House, the absence of a constitutional court, and the large disagreement between constitutional lawyers on the effect of the treaty.
Then there is the Speakership. There is an interest to declare, as I have toiled in the vineyard of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cooke of Thorndon, tabled a relevant amendment on the then Constitutional Reform Bill, and supported my noble friend Lord Kingsland in his amendment to that Bill to leave the Speakership provisions, then Clause 13 and Schedule 6.
Without enabling provision, the Government attacked the privilege of this House as master of its own procedures by Commons amendments to that Bill as enacted. Section 18 and Schedule 6, by separating the Lord Chancellor from the Speakership, foreclosed on that option, as supported by my noble friend Lord Kingsland on Report. That was after your Lordships' amendments; the main one was moved, I think, by—my mind has gone.
My Lords, it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. Those amendments were to retain membership of this House and the requisite legal qualification for the Lord Chancellor. Those were accepted by your Lordships' House with substantial majorities. Of course, having been accepted, they were rejected by another place at the behest of the Government and so foreclosed on the option that I supported. That was also supported at one time by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick.
There is no more time, so I shall merely provide the references in relation to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Kingsland, when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave further assurances which truly represented the constitutional position. They were sabotaged, first by the other place and, secondly, by the Commons amendments. The references are: the opening speech by my noble friend Lord Kingsland on
Now your Lordships are faced with Hobson's choice. You must either elect a Speaker or have one nominated by the Prime Minister. Under the Bill, he will be able to nominate as Lord Chancellor anyone who has some expertise. What would happen in this House, given that the other place has foreclosed upon the assurances and has sabotaged the amendments—of which the main one was tabled by the noble and learned Lord?
My Lords, I intend to confine my remarks to the area of home affairs concerned with criminal justice and, in particular, how we deal with those in our community who offend or are at risk of offending, especially young people who are, typically, in the eye of the storm. I intend to draw on the work and findings of the Rethinking Crime and Punishment initiative, which I have chaired over the past four years and whose recommendations are pertinent to this debate. I, too, warmly welcome, albeit in his absence, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who was on my RCP board and whose enormous knowledge and wisdom in relation to crime and prisons will be a bonus to our debates.
Still at the top of the agenda in the Government's and the public's mind are the issues of anti-social behaviour, crime, public safety and talk of corresponding toughness in response to those issues. The gracious Speech referred to,
"creating safe and secure communities and fostering a culture of respect".
Of course we endorse those aims, just as we endorse wholeheartedly a Bill which aims to tackle knives, guns and alcohol-related violence.
However, my concerns are twofold. First, I do not believe that you can legislate for a cultural shift to respect. Cultural shifts evolve over time, not by diktat. Legislation can create only the frameworks within which cultural shifts might take place. But it is how people exercise powers and interpret the law that will make the difference over time. Respect is born of the experience of our relationships with each other—both individually and in groups. It is about seeing and experiencing behaviour in others of tolerance, mutual respect for our common humanity and dignity and all the attributes that we associate with civilised life. It is not a given, it has to be learned and earned—as a judge told a policeman in court last week, respect did not come with the uniform, it had to be earned. It cannot be enforced, nor should we try to do so.
Secondly, and connected to my first concern, is that while anti-social behaviour must be stopped in its tracks, using all the options in the armoury of the police, YOTs, social services, community bodies and so on, the imposition of ASBOs and the subsequent management of those people on whom ASBOs have been delivered is increasingly worrying.
For example, it is not uncommon that a young person made the subject of an ASBO has no follow up in terms of support to him or his family. The underlying problems which led to the behaviour are not addressed and there is evidence that there will be many significant problems—as I have known in my professional life. Thus, the chances are that the order will be breached. That young person may end up in prison on the basis of hearsay evidence for an offence which was not even criminal.
The system has moved the individual from the status of a disruptive, needy citizen to a needy criminal with all the attendant damage to his life prospects and society that we know about. The evidence from the Home Office in March 2005 is that 42 per cent of ASBOs are being breached and just under 50 per cent of those people are ending up in prison. More worryingly, around half of ASBOs are served on children under 18 and the statistics suggest that 10 young people are going to prison each week for breaches. That is wrong and is not an experience that is likely to engender respect of any kind for society or for the forces of law and order. It is more likely to promote further disaffection and still less understanding of how to become a decent, civilised citizen.
I fear that we do not like our young people much, although I agree how unlikeable those people committing ASBO-related offences can be. But when a senior police officer talks about "feral youths" in Greater Manchester—the area of the country which has espoused ASBOs much more vigorously than any other—he is not talking about what they do, but who they are.
I urge the Government to look hard at the manner in which ASBOs are being used, for they are, in a significant number of cases, creating still bigger problems among our young people and our future communities. Unless ASBOs are applied appropriately and in conjunction with other interventions—and I agree with the Minister when she said that it was part of an armoury of strategies that can be used—they will become, indeed, are becoming, a fast track to prison. The sanction for breach of this non-criminal order should not be imprisonment. The figures are troubling, as I am sure the Minister will agree.
A twin-track approach by the courts and the community is at work to deal with the problems of young offenders today, while addressing the profounder, long-term challenge of preventive work that is being carried out across the country. What worries people, what MPs hear in their constituencies, what police have to handle on the streets, teachers in their classrooms and parents in the home—supposing the young people in question have parents, a home or are in a school at all—are the immediate, presenting problems which demand visible sanctions to deal with them. This is the short-term, quick fix.
Meanwhile, the preventive strategies do not deliver results overnight and are less tangible or immediate, but can lead to real, long-term change. Inevitably, it is far harder to feel confident about these. Confidence and trust, particularly in our criminal justice system, are attitudes of mind which must be nurtured and, when damaged, take a long time to be restored—just like the culture of respect. It seems that at the moment confidence is low and fear is very real in some of our communities. Hoodies are the latest group to be identified and feared—and even demonised. Interestingly, even with our prison population at its all-time shocking high, studies show that our use of incarceration has not helped to make people feel safer.
At Rethinking Crime and Punishment, we recommended that what is needed to build and develop confidence in our criminal justice system is far greater involvement by the public and by local communities in the administration of community penalties, which are the essential alternative to prison and stated government policy. Reparation, paying back and taking responsibility for your actions are tougher and more desirable penalties than imprisonment.
The problem at the moment is that the very existence, let alone the range and quality of those penalties, is hardly known about or understood by the public, or even often by sentencers themselves. Confidence in them is extremely difficult to nurture. How can you have confidence in something you know little or nothing about?
Our recommendations include setting up panels of local people in every locality to decide what unpaid work should be done by young offenders and an extension of youth offending panels to include local people. A survey at RCP found that there was a significant interest in getting involved. Two-thirds of the sample were interested and one third were very interested. However, the suggestion that the young people involved in community penalties should wear orange uniforms to publicise their existence as offenders doing community punishments is nothing more than a policy to humiliate. How can we possibly foster through humiliation the culture of respect that we seek? Informing and involving local people is very different from promoting such a policy, although the Government could possibly consider making identifiable those people in charge of the projects.
However, we believe that the programmes should and must be challenging and effective. They must be properly targeted to different needs and carried out to a high standard. Poorly managed projects are as pointless as imprisonment. There are many examples of excellent community penalty projects that develop skills and engender pride in offenders while benefiting the community. Those could and should be publicised as widely as possible, for without direct local involvement and greater visibility it will not be possible to engender the confidence that we need.
As the Government intend that such programmes should represent the greatest proportion of all sentencing, with imprisonment as an absolute last resort, I hope that the Minister can confirm that it is to be given the highest priority and tell us how it will be achieved.
Finally, restorative justice and the opportunity for paying back to the community is strongly recommended by RCP. It is a process that, when properly implemented, has enormous potential to extract real benefit from the damage of offending for all concerned. It will entail national leadership, judicial oversight, local capacity building and procedures that encourage victim involvement. I hope that the Minister can indicate what concrete plans are in hand to carry that forward.
A society with confidence in itself, trust in its institutions, and which is free of fear, is a society which also engenders mutual respect among all its citizens. That includes the nurture of trust in young people themselves. They are part of the solution as well as presenting some of the problems. Let us determine to make them our allies in achieving a society of mutual respect.
My Lords, it is always a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and I welcome what she said.
I, too, want to concentrate on the criminal justice system. As we set forth on another round of legislative change, it may be helpful to review where we are today and to ask whether the Government's policies over the past eight years have led them where they wanted to go. I want to ask whether the current position on some matters represents the realisation of the Government's ambitions or whether there is room for a change of direction.
Let me start with children. In the previous Parliament, we passed the Children Act, which has at its heart a requirement that children's well-being should be promoted and that children should be safeguarded. It was in many ways a great achievement. Nothing can be more central to crime prevention that putting resources into the nurturing of children.
At that time we discussed in this House the problems of children in custody and, in particular, the need for vulnerable children who are convicted, to be held not in a prison establishment but in a more appropriate setting. We were reassured that this matter would be dealt with in a youth justice Bill that was already under active discussion. A paper was issued setting out what might be in such a Bill.
Can the Minister tell us what happened? I see no indication in the gracious Speech that the Government plan to do anything about this country's incarceration of children, which has by far the highest rate in Europe. I see no signs that the strong criticisms of the Government's policies by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I was a Member in the previous Session, have been taken on board.
In the past 13 months, three children, the youngest of whom was 14, have died in custody. Is it the Government's view that the way in which we are dealing with vulnerable children in trouble is satisfactory? Is it finished business?
In 2003–04, 3,337 children assessed as vulnerable were placed in prison service custody compared with 432 in 2000–01. That is a big change. Is it the outcome that the Government's policies were designed to achieve? Is it part of modernising the criminal justice system? Modernising is a word that has often been used by the noble Baroness to describe the Government's objectives—sometimes in circumstances that lead me to be grateful that I am rather old-fashioned. Is it an intended or unintended consequence? If it is not intended, what can be done to reform it?
There is considerable interest in this House about the sad state of women in prison. The excellent debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, on
"there is a disproportionality of sentencing practices in respect of the women who are sent to Styal".
The Government must take some responsibility for the huge increase in the number of women in prison. I welcome the small reduction since February 2004, which I am sure the noble Baroness will point out. I hope she will also note that the women's prison population rose again this month.
The Government have done little to stop the imprisonment of so many sick, abused and very needy women, and have been tardy in ensuring that they are protected when they are there. The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, called in 2002 for proper detoxification facilities to be made available in Styal prison. They were eventually established, but by then six women had died. Is there a plan to deal with the problem of women in prison?
Finally, I mention the management of offenders Bill, the starting point of which was ostensibly that the prison and probation services needed to work more closely together to ensure that each convicted person is properly supervised and helped. This is a very good idea, worthy of support by everyone concerned with the effective use of resources in the criminal justice system.
It would not be too difficult to achieve. It could be a matter of better arrangements, reinstating probation officers' visits to prisoners about to be released to their area. That was stopped because of shortage of money. Probation officers could be freed up from meeting centrally imposed targets, which it is agreed have had a very distorting effect on their work. They could be encouraged to used their skills, involve the local services, the local community and local voluntary organisations; and supervise offenders well and work for their reintegration into the neighbourhood where they live. That vision was set out by the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig and Lady Linklater.
This could have been easily done and would have given a boost to morale and perhaps renewed enthusiasm to both the services. Sadly, that was not the chosen method to bring prison and probation closer together. Instead, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, so clearly pointed out, a plan was issued in January 2004 which announced the abolition of the two services and their absorption into a new centralised organisation with regional outposts to be called NOMS. Since then—that is 16 months ago—plans have been issued and withdrawn; new plans have been issued and superseded; rumour and counter-rumour have flourished; and leaks have appeared in the newspapers describing the risk level of this new centralised service. The prison and probation services are at a low ebb because of the lack of consultation and the lack of knowledge.
I know that this House feels strongly that probation and prison officers are, in the main, dedicated public servants doing work that is difficult and important for,
"creating safe and secure communities and fostering a culture of respect", to quote the gracious Speech. Can the Minister expect the services to deliver what is needed in these circumstances? The Prison Service is dealing with the highest ever prison population. Last week, it reached nearly 75,800. The Probation Service is facing the new community sentencing structure, which came into force on
My third question to the Minister is: are the Government happy with the way these services have been treated since NOMS was announced in January 2004 and are there any changes in the offing in their plans?
My Lords, I agree with every word uttered by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, particularly her emphasis on the failure of the gracious Speech to say anything about the large number of women in our prisons. Many are suffering from addiction to drugs or alcohol, and the Government have not provided enough establishment for their treatment, even though there are empty places in facilities where treatment is provided. Apparently, those places remain empty because the NOMS does not have the money to send the women either on remand or after conviction. The noble Baroness was also right about the children, a point to which I shall return.
I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, in her review of the past eight years, in which we have had a large number of Home Office Bills. This year is no exception, and perhaps that is intended to give the impression that the Prime Minister will "focus relentlessly" on people's priorities, a cliché that he seems to have adopted from American management-speak. It was originally coined by Amazon.com in an address to its shareholders in 1997—coincidently the year when Mr Blair came into operation—when it said that its fundamental management and decision-making approach was to,
"focus relentlessly on our customers".
Fosters, the lager manufacturers, used the identical words in its 2005 global strategy. So if it looks as though the customers are demanding more action on immigration and asylum, give them another pint of the indigestible froth that was served up in the Acts of 1999, 2002 and 2004.
The Government will say that the legislation of the past few years has been successful in the sense that it is seen merely as an exercise in reducing the number of asylum seekers. The total, excluding dependants, reached a peak of 84,000 in 2002, dropping to 49,000 in 2003 and to 34,000 in 2004. But that decline was paralleled everywhere in Europe and is a reflection of the improvement in stability elsewhere in the world as much as of the measures that we have enacted to deter unfounded applications. The UNHCR published figures last Friday showing that asylum requests to 36 industrialised countries had fallen from 150,000 a quarter in 2002 to 80,000 at the beginning of 2005, but human rights violations still cause thousands to flee countries such as Iran, Iraq, Somalia, China and DRC, which are at the top of the list of asylum-generating countries as shown in the previous RDS report from the Home Office.
If Mr Howard wants to impose quotas, he should have a word with the ayatollahs in Tehran, the suicide bombers in Baghdad, the warlords in Mogadishu, the persecutors of the Falun Gong and other dissidents in Beijing and the armed gangs that 16,000 UN troops are unable to repress in the eastern DRC. So, as long as the conditions exist that prompt refugees to flee persecution, a cap on the number entering the UK would mean that other European countries would have to accept the balance, a policy that would wreck the common European policy on migration. I did not think that the Tories opposed that principle—perhaps they can say whether they do during the wind-up—but though the Tory Party is now said to be united in its antipathy to everything European, it is also ready to have its cake and eat it by enjoying the benefits of European co-operation in combating illegal migration.
This subject has been examined by Sub-Committee F of your Lordships' European Union Committee in several recent reports. In 2003, there was an examination of the way asylum claims were dealt with and of proposals for European border guards. In February 2004, there was an examination of the role of carriers in fighting illegal immigration. The sub-committee is currently engaged in an inquiry into economic migration to the EU.
Mr Howard throws all that careful analysis aside in favour of simplistic catch phrases and one barefaced lie drafted by Mr Lynton Crosby. That was the claim that the choice under Labour and Liberal Democrats was for unlimited immigration. Mr Lynton Crosby and his voice, Mr Howard, also want a bureaucratic Australian-style points system for work permits, pre-empting the discussion of Community rules for admitting economic migrants and on the added value of adopting a common framework launched by the Commission only a few months ago. As my noble friend Lord Newby pointed out last week, economic migration into the UK has met skill shortages rather than displacing other workers. It will be interesting to know what the CBI has to say about Tory policy making it harder for employers to recruit abroad when they cannot find the necessary skills here in the UK. I wonder also what health service managers would think of it.
Way back in 1997 new Labour spoke about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. After some 30 Bills dealing with crime, the number of offences has fallen, although violent crime is still rising. As has been said, the prison population is at an all-time high. That is because the Government have not addressed the causes of crime, and there is nothing in the gracious Speech that will deal with the situation in places such as Salford, where last week Phil Carroll was battered to death's door by a stone-throwing gang.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, has already referred to the comment made by Chief Superintendent Baines, who is leading the inquiry into this appalling crime. He blamed feral youths who are often fuelled by alcohol. Yet, in August this year, all-night drinking will come into force under the Licensing Act, and in their National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy the Government have discarded the use of price and availability as means of reducing the consumption of alcohol and the harm that it causes. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor estimated that in 2002 alcohol harm cost the criminal justice system over £7 billion and the economy as a whole £20 billion. I have a Question on the Order Paper asking for those figures to be brought up to date; they have undoubtedly continued to increase since then.
The problem of bad behaviour in one third of our schools will not be solved by a committee that reports to another committee in November. Again, rather than focusing largely on deterrence and retribution for unruly children, our purpose should be to identify and tackle the reasons for their behaviour. When Estelle Morris was Secretary of State for Education, she identified bad parenting as a major reason for disrespect in the classroom, but there is nothing in the Queen's Speech to help the parents concerned. For example, there is nothing about giving the Children's Commissioner for England the duty to consider the best interests of the child in accordance with international standards, a matter that the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, also mentioned.
What we have is a Bill to reduce re-offending by improving the management of offenders, based on the incontestable principle that there should be continuity between the treatment of an offender in prison and after his release. I agree with what the noble Baroness said on that subject. Whether that is best achieved, as the Government think, by bringing together the prison and probation services under a single authority or by creating better links between two separate authorities—for example, by creating a single database of offenders that both can have access to—is a matter for discussion, even though the Government have already gone a long way down the line to create the NOMS without statutory authority and after, as the noble Baroness said, inadequate consultation with the professionals. As the honourable Member for Crosby said in another place:
"The Government's consultation strategy was patchy and ineffective and did not reassure people in the probation service that they had a voice or that their concerns would be heard".—[Official Report, Commons, 6/4/05; col. 469WH.]
Having decided on NOMS, the Government should at least have done their utmost to take staff along with them, instead of the false starts last January and May—as the noble Baroness remarked—the withdrawal of Mr Narey's proposals in July and the long period of silence and confusion that followed. Even in the Westminster Hall debate just before the election from which I quoted, there were many questions still unanswered, including the crucial one of whether the local partnerships developed between the 42 probation boards and their corresponding police, courts and voluntary bodies were to be preserved in the new management structure. That is not clear from the NOMS business plan, which refers vaguely to strong emphasis on local partnerships, and the Minister who replied to the debate was equally non-committal.
I was pleased to see that the Government have temporarily shelved the plans for "contestability"—a horrible word that is not in the English language and which I hope will be abandoned by the Home Office—of the three prisons on the Isle of Sheppey. They are not failing prisons, but they were chosen because they were attractive to American capitalists, especially with the added carrot of being allowed to build and run a fourth prison in roughly the same location. The three-month moratorium on market testing is nothing like long enough to evaluate the further improvements that are likely to be achieved by partnership between NOMS and the POA, which is already producing results in the performance improvement programmes. On the other hand, the criticisms of some private prisons such as Rye Hill and Kilmarnock, in Scotland, show that privatisation can actually make things far worse and that experience also needs to be properly considered before decisions are taken. As the Prison Reform Trust argues, there is a need for a wide public debate.
Finally, I agree with Chris Mullin's observations on ministerial musical chairs. It was unfortunate that he was moved from his Africa job in the middle of our G8 presidency, during which Africa is a priority, but it is also deplorable that prisons Ministers come and go like vicars in a Whitehall farce. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, is the seventh person to hold the job since Labour came to power in 1997, and in welcoming her warmly to her office, I hope that she will stay long enough to see the present far-reaching changes through to a successful conclusion.
My Lords, my contribution to this debate will be specifically related to that part of the Queen's Speech that referred to further reform of your Lordships' House. It will dwell on what I consider to be the most important feature of reform: the composition of the House, who should be here and the process of determining that.
But, first, let me say how much I welcome the thrust of the gracious Speech. It highlighted the Government's intention to continue, as a major priority, to pursue sound economic policies, thereby maintaining stability and promoting growth and prosperity for all, policies which over the past eight years have produced low unemployment, low inflation and low interest rates. They are policies that have produced considerable economic growth, raised the standards of the British people and enabled greater investment in public services, particularly in health and education.
I also welcome the proposal to introduce ID cards. I believe that no law-abiding citizen need fear such a measure. Such a provision will enable the law enforcement agencies to tackle more effectively terrorism, the perpetrators of terror, crime in general, fraud in particular and the growing problem of illegal immigration. Of course, I wish that there was no need for such a measure but, regrettably, the nature of the world that we now live in makes it so very necessary.
However, as I said at the outset, my particular concern in this debate is the question of further reform of your Lordships' House. When I entered the House in 1997, it was not long before we were thrust into the historic proposals to remove hereditary Peers from the Chamber. In 1999, the legislation was completed and about 90 per cent of the hereditary Peers—some 600—were removed and only 92 remained as a result of the Weatherill amendment. I shall return to the question of the remaining hereditaries a little later. I do not believe that the removal of hereditary Peers from this place had much to do with advancing democracy in this country. It had much more to do with applying common sense and with removing the obvious injustice of allowing someone who had no qualification for being here, other than being a descendant of someone who may, or may not, have qualified as much as 500 years ago, to participate in the work of this Chamber. People being here without qualifying in their own right was obviously intolerable and had to end. It was indefensible and it was widely recognised as such. In the main, it is now behind us, except for a little tidying up.
Moving on, the fundamental debate was argued, in the main, on a misunderstanding of the concept of democracy. It took place in the 21st century and culminated in several votes taking place in both Houses on
I shall now deal with this concept of democracy, which is a misunderstanding of democracy as far as the work of this House is concerned. The composition of this House has never been determined by our understanding of the application of democratic terms; and, because of where we are now, no attempt should be made to make it so. To do so would, in my view, result in chaos, conflict and ultimately the abolition of the second Chamber, because two elected Houses cannot be successfully sustained.
Although the composition of this House is not determined by our concept of the application of democratic means, the question is: do we effectively contribute to the democratic structure of our country and would we fulfil that role, better or worse, by electing Peers to this House?
When I say that this House contributes to the country's democracy without itself being produced by democratic terms, as we understand them, I look to other institutions in our society that complement our democracy without themselves conforming to any form of democracy. The judiciary, the Civil Service, the police and the Armed Forces are all ultimately answerable to the elected government of the day, as represented in the other place. We of course are different from them, as indeed they are all different from each other; but then we are also different from the other place.
Our powers are limited. We know that in the end we must and should bow to the pre-eminence of the other place. They are elected by the people; they are answerable to the people; and they are accountable to the people for their stewardship. Election by the people to the other place satisfies the basic principles of our democracy and in my view that should not be disturbed.
We in this House, with our limited role of scrutinising and proposing revision, very largely complement the proposals of the other place and as such much of what we do by way of revision is willingly accepted by the Government because it is clearly recognised and appreciated that the expertise in this Chamber is valuable and helpful.
Of course there are times when our complementing role takes the form of a challenge—sometimes by delaying legislation to enable the Government to think again. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as we know we do not have, and can never have, the same authority as the other place. Obviously, the way we work and the terms under which we conduct our work will need reconsideration, review and adjustment from time to time to ensure that we are constantly effective in contributing to the nation's welfare.
Once it is understood how we function for the common good, then, in my view, it is more easily understood that it is essential to have a wholly appointed House, embracing experienced and knowledgeable people from all walks of life, with no other motive but to serve.
Your Lordships' House is now largely made up of those who before coming here have had success in the fields of science, medicine, law, media, arts, security, politics, both sides of industry and in many more areas. How could such expertise be brought together other than by appointment?
There are, as I see it, three options: first, abolish the House of Lords; secondly, have an all-elected or part-elected and part-appointed House; or, thirdly, have a fully appointed House.
There are still many in the Labour movement who believe in abolishing the House of Lords, and from time to time some of my colleagues on these Benches have expressed support for that view. They argue their case on the basis that this House is undemocratic. I say to them that their view is based on a misunderstanding of what we are about.
The campaign to abolish the House of Lords is as old as the Labour movement itself. When that view was first expressed I accept that it was fairly valid because this place was dominated by hereditary landed gentry and the aristocracy—a condition that was rightly seen as alien to a democratic society.
In 1958, with the introduction of the Life Peerages Act, the character of the House started to change, not a lot at first but it slowly progressed. But what happened in 1999 transformed this place for ever. No longer was it to be dominated by hereditary privilege but it was created as a workshop for national benefit.
If Peers were to be elected, a number of difficulties and a number of counter-productive circumstances would arise. First, elected Peers could not be expected to accept a lesser authority than elected Members in the other place. That would then result in this House mirroring the other place and cause unnecessary conflict between both Houses to the detriment of the nation.
Secondly, complications are bound to arise about the system of election to be used, the extent to which Peers will have constituencies and their role in accountability to constituents. Thirdly, would elected Peers have greater authority than appointed Peers in a House made up of part appointed and part elected Peers?
Fourthly, with elections it will be impossible to maintain the concept of a balanced House—one-third in government, one-third in opposition and one-third on the Cross Benches. I understand that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister advocates that concept. The worse feature with an elected House would be the great loss of those who bring to this House the reality that is so necessary. It is a reality acquired from years of working in the real world. They are not career politicians, but those who have gained knowledge and experience in making their way in the world long before coming here; those whose only wish is to serve the British people and people the world over.
I fear they will not, understandably, be prepared to stand for election—and their loss to our society is too great a price to pay. It is therefore my hope that a clear decision is taken to confirm that your Lordships' House will remain a wholly appointed House. We can then get on and deal with the issues that are of great importance to the people of this country.
Of course tidying up is required in respect of the 92 hereditary Peers still with us. Those 92 were elected from their respective groups on the basis that they participated conscientiously in the work of this Chamber. Therefore, I should have thought that it was not beyond the wit of man, or woman, or government or the usual channels to make the 92 life Peers and to draw a line in the sand for ever.
My Lords, as someone who needs to have a line drawn in the sand, all I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, is that I find it quite delicious to hear old Labour advocating that the people should have no choice over who occupies the larger part of their upper Chamber.
It is slightly odd that I should have any say or influence over your Lordships just because my forebear got drunk with Pitt or drunker with Walpole; I quite concede that that is not a very good way to furnish an upper Chamber. However, I have reached a contrary conclusion to that reached by the noble Lord. There is no possible authority in the modern world other than sanction by some form of political election. There is no other way round that.
The point was made that there should be people on the Cross Benches and people with expertise. In my view, we should have a 60 per cent elected and 40 per cent appointed House. Above all, as my noble friend Lord Wakeham said, in no circumstances should anybody be allowed to be re-elected.
The problem with our political system at present is the over-mighty power of the Whips. My party is every bit as badly behaved in this respect as the other party. The way that Mr Howard treated Howard Flight before the election was nothing short of dictatorial. I fear to say that I winced because I happen to think that people should be allowed to have slightly different opinions from those for whom they go in to bat. It does not make me any less of a Conservative because I do not agree with everything that every member of the Front Bench says. If some nerd in Conservative Central Office has invented some new policy, I do not have to agree with it. I am quite grown up enough to make up my own mind. That is the strength of the party Members in this House.
We all made jokes about Tony's cronies—it was rather a good joke and it went on for quite a long time—but one of the nice things was the honour with which several Labour Members in this House stood up on issues about which I was personally in agreement with them to argue with their own Front Bench. That was nothing short of a credit both to this House and to them. If, in due course, the Conservative Party gets back in to office and if I am still here, I promise my noble friends that I will be just as disloyal to them as those Members have been, because that is what I regard as my duty in this House.
Just before the 1997 election, I turned to my wife and said, "I do not see that there is a lot of harm that the new government can do. It has a pretty good economic handover coming to it, provided that it sticks to the rules that it said it would, which is to not alter Conservative economic policy for five years"—which is what Gordon Brown did, to his immense credit. The moment that he started fiddling about with it, things went a bit iffy, but that is another story. I said, "There are only two things that they are going to do. One is to ban hunting and the other is to something up the constitution".
They have banned hunting, but that can probably be put right; but our constitution is one of the most subtle instruments of government that mankind has found. It has not rested on a piece of paper; it has rested on lots of bits of paper—lots of Acts of Parliament; lots of customs; some pieces of invention. It has also had the rather clever habit of looking like an ox cart but having a Ferrari inside it. We have tended to keep the carapace of ancient forms and put modernisation—to use my favourite new Labour word—inside it to make it work.
When I said that, I had no conception what damage the Government would do. What have they done to our liberties? They have tried to abolish jury service for several crimes. They have tried to curtail habeas corpus. They have half-reformed this House in a way that has not gone far enough. Luckily, the House has not behaved as the Government thought that it would; it has shown serious efforts at checking the behaviour of an over-mighty Government. Look what they have done to the House of Commons. In the name of family-friendly hours, they have ensured that the hours start in the morning and that everything is guillotined. That gives more power to the Executive. What we are all here for? We are here to make the Executive's job difficult—not out of bloody mindedness, for want of a term, but to make sure that they have thought through what they are trying to do.
That is where I find things such as identity cards, which are the next attack on civil liberties, coming up. My dad romped up and down the north African desert in a rather beaten-up Matilda tank to try to stop people in funny hats saying, "Ihre Papiere, bitte". There is no point to identity cards. We are told that they will be used with isometric something or other and fingerprints. There is a report in the Sunday papers that none of those things work.
Lo and behold, if you are a gentleman visiting from a mythical Middle Eastern country, you do not have to have an identity card for six months. But my mother-in-law, who has lived here since 1949, does. She is a lady of distinction and is very pulled-together and organised, but if it was me, I would leave my identity card somewhere and lose it. There is no point in having an identity card unless you have to carry it. I will have lost my identity card; Plod will come along and say, "Where is your identity card?", "Ihre Papiere, bitte", or whatever; and I will get into trouble. Whereupon that mythical gentleman from a mythical state in the Middle East following a mythical religion that does not like us very much will be allowed to enter on a tourist visa with no identity card. Lo and behold, he will be out again within the six months, possibly having done some damage.
It is a crazy system. It is acknowledged that it will have no effect on social security fraud. It is acknowledged on the biometric details that if they scan your face it works for only 10 days after they have put the thing in the machine, because by that time your face has changed. The iris test does not work very well. Really to guarantee fingerprints, you have to use all 10 fingerprints. So it will not work. It will be an infringement on liberty and a half-thought-out, cock-eyed scheme.
I return very briefly to your Lordships' House. I passionately believe that we should have checks. We should ensure that governments cannot get away with things. The Government have a track record of trying to take away our liberties. It is not possible to be prouder than having an Englishman's liberties. That is what this Parliament invented. That is what this Parliament must always fight for. We must have a House—as this House has done for the past five years—to fight very hard for our liberties. It was a privilege to be here when we were discussing the Terrorism Bill. I have had stacks of letters saying, "Well done for fighting for our liberties". That makes me cry with gratitude because that is what I believe is so important.
This House must have authority—that authority can only come, at least partially, from popular election—and it must have the guts to stand up to a government intent on fiddling with our constitution and introducing more and more inhibitions on our individual liberties.
My Lords, I start by adding my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Alliance, who is absent, on his excellent maiden speech and echo the words of the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Wakeham, that he is a remarkable man and will contribute a great deal to this place.
As has been said often today, the gracious Speech includes a number of Bills relating to home affairs, including a management of offenders Bill in which the Government recognise the problem of the soaring prison population. One reason that I am glad that the general election is over is that during the campaign it became impossible to have a rational debate about how, to paraphrase the words of a former Home Secretary, to make prison work. The Tories ignored common sense and campaigned on a commitment to stop early releases of prisoners and impose longer sentences while Labour, ever fearful of the accusation of being soft on crime, competed to sound tough.
As we have already heard, Britain has a record number of prisoners in gaol. To reduce that and overall crime levels, the Government must tackle the revolving door problem—the fact that more than half of prisoners reoffend and that most of those individuals are sent to prison again and again. If we can take the opportunity of their time in prison to move them away from a criminal lifestyle, we will have prevented a large number of future crimes.
As my colleague in another place, Mark Oaten, put it, we must get prisoners out of the cell and into the classroom and workshop to learn new skills, preparing them for life on the straight and narrow when they are released. However, it is not only a matter of education and training. Another area of intervention is showing the greatest impact. That is the treatment of addiction. The type of prisoner about whom I am concerned today is the drug addict. We are learning more every year about the links between drug addiction and crime. A small number of addicts are responsible for a huge number of crimes. The Home Office calculates that the average drug-addicted offender commits more than 30 separate crimes per month to pay for his or her habit. Similarly, the Prison Service reports that over half of all new inmates—an estimated 70,000 individuals per year—have drug problems that need treatment.
The provision of drug treatment services in UK prisons has a relatively short history. Awareness of the severity of the problem has grown over the past 15 years, and the Prison Service has responded. Every prison now has a specialist drug advice service, and more than 50,000 prisoners per year receive medical help with their withdrawal symptoms.
However, the types of programmes that have been proven to deliver the outcomes that we all want—prisoners not returning to drug use and crime on release—are the ones least available in prisons. At the moment, only 5,000 prisoners per year in England and Wales get on to an intensive, abstinence-based addiction treatment programme—I am talking about a rehabilitation programme rather than just detoxification. That is less than 10 per cent of those who need it.
I have the privilege of being involved in a charity called the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPT). It manages nine prison treatment programmes, based on the 12-step model of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous. Last year that accounted for 500 of the 5,000 prisoners receiving that level of treatment. This year, after a new round of contracts, the figure will be nearer to 700. Its results are very good.
The good news is that the Prison Service plans to extend those intensive treatment programmes in the coming years, but only, as I understand it, to the level of meeting around 20 per cent of the demand. If it is a good idea to treat 20 per cent of drug-addicted prisoners—and it is; it saves taxpayers' money and reduces crime—then why is it not better to treat many more? The more effective the treatment delivered, the more crime will be prevented. Rehabilitation programmes, not just ones that offer detoxification, are needed. In the past few years the focus has been on expanding the number of prisoners receiving treatment, which is good; but it has led to an operational obsession with throughput rather than quality or outcome. These expansion plans are far too timid. It is not often that we find a crime reduction initiative that works. When we do, it should be backed to the hilt.
The other good news is that investment in prison-based drug strategies has increased significantly. But as more money is poured into drug treatment, more organisations spring up offering miracle cures on the cheap. To date, the RAPT programme is the only one in the UK to have subjected its results to independent scrutiny—a study carried out by London University. What is needed is a research project to establish which organisations and models of treatment deliver the best results so that we can be sure that investment is wisely targeted and not thrown away on the untried and untested. Only those programmes that can show that they are successful in reducing crime should be supported.
Finally, there is the matter of aftercare. I got involved with RAPT after a visit to Pentonville gaol, where I saw it at work and was both impressed and moved. What sticks in my mind is talking to a prisoner there who was in the most terrible state, close to tears and terrified. He was scared, not about what lurked on the landings of Pentonville, but about his imminent release, because he knew that he was going back to a girlfriend with a drug habit. He begged for alternative accommodation to be arranged for him. But there was nothing anyone could do; there was nowhere for him to go. The Government must address the issue of joining up rehabilitation programmes within prison with what happens outside.
At the moment, prisons are not doing enough to break the cycle of crime. There are ways that we can work together to redress that. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, referred to the need for means of tackling reoffending; I have drawn attention here to one of the most effective.
My Lords, in my brief contribution I want to concentrate on three issues. I have chosen these issues because they have been touched upon only briefly, if at all. I do not want to talk about the Bills that will come before us, because we will talk about them when the occasion arises, so I shall use this occasion to flag up three important issues mentioned briefly in the Queen's Speech.
The first relates to the Commission for Equality and Human Rights. It is an extremely important idea but it will be fraught with all kinds of problems unless we are very careful. The Speech refers to two things: a single commission dealing with equality but also one that takes within its remit the idea of human rights. I want to take each in turn.
A single commission for equality would be most welcome, for very obvious reasons. We already have three commissions and, if the European directive is to be followed, we will add two more. That is obviously far too many. It will be costly and administratively cumbersome. The five commissions, if we had them, would tend to miss out various forms of discrimination that cut across various categories.
For all those reasons, we certainly need a single commission for equality. But let me alert your Lordships' House to the problems. First, we cannot have a single commission for equality without a single equality Act, which is not yet in place. Secondly, different forms of discrimination have different histories and raise different issues. If a single commission is to be set up, it must obviously be very sensitive to the different ways in which gender, race and other forms of discrimination operate and are tackled.
We would also need to be careful about how we allocated the resources and energy of the commission. There is a fear in many circles that gender discrimination would tend to receive privileged treatment over disability or race discrimination. It is not just a question of merging the existing commissions, because they have different histories. We should make a clean break from all those commissions and start thinking in terms of a new culture, concerned not just with segmented inequalities such as race, gender and so on, but with fostering a culture of equality in general.
As I said, this commission will be concerned not just with equality but also with human rights. At the time of the Runnymede Trust's report, the members of the commission that I chaired, along with my noble friend Lord Dholakia and many others, thought that perhaps equality and human rights raised very different issues and that it might be better for this country to have two separate commissions.
Increasingly, I am beginning to feel that perhaps we should try a single commission for equality and human rights—a view also held by the Select Committee on Human Rights. However, we must be very careful that the equality agenda is different from the human rights agenda. They have different historical origins and they require different concerns.
A simple example would be the issue of incitement to religious hatred. When that issue is looked at from the standpoint of equality, it is obvious that it should be illegal and disallowed. But from the standpoint of human rights, it involves violation of the right of free speech and free expression. Therefore, one reaches a different conclusion. For example, on looking at our debate some months ago on the incitement to religious hatred, people reached different conclusions depending on whether they were looking from the standpoint of human rights or from the standpoint of equality. That is a classic example of how those two ideas of human rights and equality can conflict.
Therefore, when we have a single commission dealing with both issues, we need to be extremely careful that we do not swing one way or the other. If the Australian experience is any guide, that country has swung increasingly towards human rights and has marginalised the issue of equality. In New Zealand and other countries, the opposite has tended to happen.
Given that human rights and equality, both important as they are, do not necessarily converge, we need to take great care in setting up this commission, such that the balance between human rights and equality is nicely maintained. That will depend on how the commission is composed, how it is resourced and the guidelines that it is given.
The second issue concerns the reference in the Queen's gracious Speech about encouraging greater voter participation in elections. Why is that important? Why is it important whether 40 per cent or 90 per cent of the people vote? If citizens are not bothered about how their government is elected, why should we worry?
There are two reasons to worry. The first concerns the democratic legitimacy and authority of our institutions of government. The broader the base, the greater the legitimacy: the narrower the base, the less the legitimacy. If the government are to act decisively it is extremely important that they should have support that cuts across various regions and, more importantly, numerically it should be much larger than it has been so far.
The second reason is important and I want to stress it: an election is not simply the occasion for electing the government. An election is the only activity in our fragmented, alienated society in which all citizens commonly and publicly participate. It is the only common activity through which we initiate ourselves into the life of the community, build bonds and sustain a genuine political community. That is the importance of an election. It is not just to elect the government but also to bond the community and to provide an occasion when we can reflect on where we are going. We should be very careful to ensure that a larger percentage of people participate in electing the government than they have in the past.
The question therefore is: why is it that people do not vote in large numbers? In my discipline of political philosophy, pundits have done a lot of work. They give reasons, such as citizens do not have a sense of political obligation; or that people do not realise what it means to be a good citizen; or that many of them feel that they do not count in those constituencies that are dominated by a single party—why bother to vote when your vote does not matter?; or that the choices between political parties are not sufficiently clear; or that people are cynical—what is the point in voting when the government will disregard what they committed themselves to in the manifesto anyway? There are all kinds of reasons why people do not see the point of voting.
Therefore, it is extremely important that we should tackle those reasons in order to try to find answers. Here I may be taking a slightly different line to my party. I do not think that postal voting, e-voting and telephone voting are the answer. They may solve the first function; namely, to draw out as many people as possible to get them to vote. But they do not serve the second, most important, constitutional function of an election; namely, getting people out of their homes, bonding with each other and taking part in the most important five-yearly public ritual in which a nation engages. Therefore, that is a lazy alternative. It may become necessary in a highly consumerist society that is profoundly apolitical, but it is not the way to go. Therefore, the question arises: what can we do such that people can be deeply engaged with the political process?
Without having the time to develop the arguments fully, I suggest that we need to tackle the problem at three levels. First, political parties need to look at themselves. They need to build up trust, to avoid personal attacks so that people are not turned away from the political process, and they need to produce manifestos which are seen as covenants or solemn commitments so that people know they can trust political parties to do what they have promised to do.
Secondly, the electoral system needs to be changed, and I was somewhat disappointed to note that in his opening remarks, the Lord Chancellor said he thought that there is no scope for making any major changes to the electoral system. I think that that is the wrong way to go. Much can be said for the system of first past the post, but the same is true for moving in the direction of revising it in many different ways. I shall not bore the House with the various alternatives, but unless people feel that their vote matters, even if they live in a constituency dominated by one party, we shall not persuade them to vote. The electoral system can be modified in countless ways without disrupting an MP's relationship with his own constituency.
Thirdly, we need to concentrate more than we have so far on fostering the spirit of citizenship so that when our young people grow up, they come to realise that just as they have an obligation to keep their promise, to honour their parents and so forth, they are also obliged to take responsibility for their community, to vote and to protest against acts of injustice.
Therefore the question here is this: how can we devise not just formal citizenship education, but the creation of democratic institutions in all areas of life so that people grow up breathing in the spirit of democracy and so cultivating a sense of responsibility? Voting is then simply its spontaneous and inescapable exercise.
I have run out of time, but I want briefly to flag an issue which I think is important. It goes to the heart of what the Government are trying to do; that is, fostering a culture of respect. I shall make two points. When we talk about respect we are considering not only respect for oneself, but also respect for others and for the rules and institutions of our society. Respect is a three-dimensional activity and all three aspects are closely related. Ultimately, self-respect is the basis of morality. We would not dream of doing certain things because if we did, we would not be able to respect or even live with ourselves. It is therefore important to cultivate individual self-respect. But in order to do that—because self-respect does not grow in thin air—we must ensure that each young person growing up in our society, whatever their colour, feels valued and that they count and enjoy a certain public status. In that way, if they misbehave or act in an unacceptable manner, they feel diminished both in their own eyes and in those of others.
We need to foster a culture in society at large so that those people who mismanage public resources, or politicians who have discredited themselves, do not come back in one form or another and are not able to find themselves lucrative jobs elsewhere. Creating the kind of culture where the norms are not upheld or are systematically violated means that the children growing up in our society will not develop respect for our institutions or for society as a whole.
My Lords, I am sorely tempted to make a rather slashing speech about the iniquitous way in which our criminal justice system has been misguided by politicians over the past 10 or 15 years, and not only by the present Government, but I shall content myself with asking the Government to respond to the series of questions put earlier in the debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. I am also tempted to talk about school discipline, but I had a chance to do that during the previous Session, so again I shall content myself with asking the Government to have a look at the report of the inquiry that I chaired in 1988 to see how much of it was implemented and what effect it has had on the present situation.
I had thought to talk about respect and to say that what was needed was to foster in children a recognition of their responsibilities. However, the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, spoke eloquently on that, and I will add only that this is something for which you cannot legislate, you have to educate. That brings me back to the earlier subject.
The reason that I am here in this place is that I am one of the 10 per cent of the hereditary peerage left behind as a guarantee that stage two of the reform of the House would take place. I decided to volunteer for the role because I was concerned that the changes brought about by phase two might in fact unacceptably weaken the House. It is about that that I wish to speak.
I say that, of course, under the shadow of the possibly impending European constitution. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, pointed out, it has huge implications for our constitution and, indeed, as my noble friend Lord Wakeham observed, if it comes in it could significantly diminish the importance of what we are debating about our own future.
Too much has happened to the House that people generally have not understood. Therefore they are not concerned about it. The reason for that is that the country and many politicians have long since lost sight of how Parliament came about, what it was invented to do and what it is still for today. It was invented as a means by which the government of the day, the executive, could extract enough money out of the population to carry on the government, and possibly to exploit the population and protect them. Before the invention of Parliament, there was no formal body to which governments were answerable by anything except arms. The purpose was to raise money, and that purpose decided the composition of the new model Parliament. I am tempted to talk about the enormous number of Lords Spiritual that were here in those days and how we lost them, but we have lost them all from this debate, and so I shall skip over that paragraph.
It is important to know that Parliament was then formally, for the first time, divided into two Houses. The knights, the elected element of the shires—many of them substantial land owners—sat with the rest of the Commons in the other House, but they shared the landed interests with the Members of this House and, indeed, were related to many of them. So, the first important thing was that the Crown could never play the two Houses off against each other as the French Crown did with enormous success—such great success that it completely removed all power from its Parliament and consequently lumbered incompetently into the revolution of 1789, which resulted in the end of that monarchy and the letting of vast quantities of blood. We have been spared that because governments have never, until recently, been able to play the two Houses off against each other.
In England in 1295, when the model Parliament met, and for long afterwards, the government was the King. Those he gathered around him to conduct government business were dismissible at his will. He was the government, the government outside Parliament. Parliament was "in here", and he was "out there". Before the government "out there" could get any money from parliamentarians "in here", he had to give legally enforceable undertakings—not once but three times—that he would never levy taxes without the advice and consent of Parliament. Parliamentary control of government had begun. What has brought it to an end?
That control was, of course, resisted—sometimes by force of arms—but it was always reasserted until the glorious revolution of 1688 seemed to settle the matter with a just and secure balance between the Crown and its Ministers "out there" and Parliament "in here". "Seemed" is the word, of course, because governments were as hungry for untrammelled freedom then as they are now 300 years later.
Parliament was evolving. All but a handful of the Lords Spiritual had gone—evicted by Henry VIII's reformation—but it worked well at first. It was when George I succeeded, speaking no English, that he required a First or Prime Minister to conduct his government for him, and that Minister was already "in here", in Parliament.
In spite of the continuing shared interests of their respective Members, the distinction between our two Houses remained clear, but the distinction between Parliament and government had begun to blur. Parliament was still "in here", but so was a fragment of government. Had it remained a fragment—had it been one Minister or a few, a handful—the distinction between government and Parliament would have remained clear, but it did not and a fortiori it is not now.
Patronage in Parliament has blossomed since then. There are now no fewer than 89 government Ministers in Parliament—15 of them in your Lordships' House and no fewer than 74 in another place—soon to be supplemented by an as yet unpublished number of Parliamentary Private Secretaries.
Parliament has been invaded by government, and government wishes now—as it has wished for 700 years—not to be restrained by Parliament. While government takeover of parliamentary seats was in progress, Parliament and the dynamics within it continued to change in other and important ways. The identity of interest between the two Houses diminished rapidly, with the diminution of the agricultural sector of the economy. That became painfully clear as long ago as the Budget debate of 1911. Since then, it has been increasingly easy for governments to exploit the differences between the Houses. More important still, it has become increasingly easy for governments to represent resistance by your Lordships to any government policy as resistance not to them but to the House of Commons.
The House of Commons, too, has evolved, most markedly in the way it orders its business and rewards its Members. Until the middle of the previous century, they received no pay at all. Losing your seat did not result in loss of income—it increased your earning power. Now, even Back-Benchers with no special responsibility receive salaries that half our population could regard with envy. The financial impact of losing a seat has thus been reversed. In a House of which an increasing proportion of Members have no qualifications for alternative employment, that must be a serious consideration. That is not to impugn Members of Parliament, simply to recognise as a fact that anyone has to be more cautious about expressing an unpopular opinion if the result is likely to be a complete loss of earnings. The threshold of protest has been significantly raised.
If the loss of earnings were to result from a loss of electoral support, that would be fine. It would be the proper working of democracy. But we now have to recognise another fact of parliamentary life. In all but a negligible proportion of cases, no one can hope to be elected without the support of one of the great national parties. The parliamentary leaders of those parties and the Whips who operate them can ensure that some, at least, of those who displease them lose the party qualification and so become unelectable.
I call that the Paxman effect. Jeremy Paxman's book had already proved that it was a significant consideration for very many MPs before, in the previous Parliament, the Government took the step that made the noble Lord, Lord Desai, see the unwisdom of moving to a wholly elected House of Lords. They sought to give one of their Ministers the power to lock people up for as long as he liked without trial or recourse to justice, merely on suspicion. The fact that that proposal was massively and rightly unpopular in the Government's own party was made clear by a huge reduction in their majority. If there had been no Paxman effect, it is at least doubtful that there would have been a majority at all. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, at least, has read what was then written on the wall. If further proof of the exposure of Back-Benchers to Front-Benchers' power in any party were wanted, the sad history of Howard Flight immediately provided it.
The Government naturally represented the difference between the two Houses as a difference between the elected and unelected House. It was not. It was a difference between Parliament and Government. It demonstrated the extent to which one House of Parliament had already been weakened; and it made it blindingly clear why this Government—not just this Government but any government to come—are and always will be terribly keen to weaken this House as well.
The power of the Whips is one means of exerting pressure on the debating Chamber, but it can be done in other ways. If Members will not say what you want, gag them. If you do not like the result of their scrutiny of your Bills, stop the scrutiny. In the previous Parliament, we received one Bill with 100 clauses undebated in another place as a result of the guillotine. I do not know what the surgical connotation of that may be. My noble friend Lord Higgins said that it castrated the other House, while my noble friend Lord Waddington said that it neutered it. That is an indication of what the Government are about, and the proposal to introduce a 60-day limit here has already been shown to your Lordships as dangerous.
If you do not like the public knowing how MPs and most of your own Back-Benchers—most of all, your own Back-Benchers—react to your new policies, tell the media first so that they are writing it up while you are breaking the news in the House. In that way, the press conference debate is the only debate reported. There are no inconvenient parliamentary rules about accuracy or answerability there. It provides the perfect pitch for spin bowlers.
There are many other ways in which the Government are undermining the power of Parliament. I notice the confident smile of the Minister who knows that I have to sit down, having overrun my time dangerously. There is much more damaging material, but I have stayed here to try and protect the public, who elect the other place, from having their freedom taken away from them because the other place is no longer able to do so.
My Lords, in the Queen's Speech we saw the reference to Wales and the proposal that there will be a White Paper on the extended powers for the Welsh Assembly. Wales is of course a very gentle and peaceful country. Many leaders of the peace movement over the years have come from Wales. Some will remember the work of the Davies family of Llandinam, of Henry Richard and of Gwynfor Evans, the first Plaid Cymru Member of the House of Commons, who died recently and to whom Wales is very much indebted, particularly in the realm of peace.
We are not a warlike people. You go on to the rugby field and meet the New Zealand team and their Haka, and you are scared to death before you start to play. But we in Wales, though we won the Grand Slam, have a comparatively more gentle way of tackling this particular matter. We are a peaceful people. So it is with our development over the years, which is a development not of revolution but of evolution—a nation treasuring its identity and seeking to safeguard that uniqueness in every possible way. Each nation has its traditions and culture to preserve, and the secret is to take our place in the wider world while at the same time preserving our national identity.
I would claim that Wales has taken its place in the wider world. I never cease to remind people that Abraham Lincoln's great grandmother came from the Conwy valley, from Ysbyty Ifan, or that Thomas Jefferson and his family came from Llanberis. There are many more. Wales has sought to protect its own identity and at the same time to contribute not only to the United Kingdom but also to an even wider world.
Over the past 150 years we have seen a development in Wales, in which we seem to be reclaiming that identity in a firmer way than for many years before. There has been the disestablishment of the Church of England and the establishment of a museum, a national library, a university, a board of education, a board of health and an independent television channel—S4C. Those have all helped to safeguard that Welsh identity. And then of course we had a Minister of State for Wales in 1957; and then Jim Griffiths, whom people held in great respect, whichever party they belonged to, took his place in the Cabinet in 1964 as the first Secretary of State for Wales.
We see a gradual development—a peaceful people who do not want revolution but do want to claim their own identity. When Jim Griffiths took his place, the Welsh Office took control of expenditure in Wales. So we have seen a move during the past century towards a greater autonomy in Wales. In 1979, the first referendum did not bring about that assembly or senate that we desired. We had to wait 18 more years, until 1997, when the Labour Party kept its promise, and we had that referendum which by the narrowest of margins saw the establishment of an Assembly in Cardiff.
The powers of that Assembly are limited, however: it does not have powers for primary legislation, and Westminster still controls the purse strings. That is not so in Scotland. In Holyrood, in Edinburgh, there is far more freedom to decide on Scottish matters and, if necessary, to raise up to 3p in the pound to fund new projects. Not so in Wales. Every parish or community council has a right to levy a precept, but not the Welsh Assembly. There is also an uncertainty over authority. Certain responsibilities need clarification. When, just before the general election, we debated the Education Bill, we realised the fudge—the uncertainty of responsibilities between Cardiff and Westminster. We need to clarify in that direction.
We need to sort out those uncertainties, and we welcome the intention to present a new White Paper on the government of Wales, to be followed by a Bill. We on these Benches will co-operate wholeheartedly in ensuring that any new proposals will benefit Wales and the people of Wales. All the way the emphasis is not on revolution but on evolution. We search for ways to make the Assembly more effective and better able to act in the devolved areas, such as education, health and agriculture. There appears to be no reason at all why Wales should not be given full authority and primary legislative powers in those areas.
Scotland already has those powers, and those who accuse the Welsh Assembly of being merely a talking shop would have to think again. What is good enough for our Celtic cousins north of the Border would be good enough for us in Wales.
With added authority and ability to act speedily and effectively on Welsh issues some of those who now seek election to the Westminster Parliament might see that their contribution could be even more effective if they took their place in Cardiff in the Welsh Assembly. It would strengthen the membership of that Assembly.
The all-party commission of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, favoured such a development. The proposal is that by 2011 the Welsh Assembly should have primary legislative powers. We await with great interest the publication of the White Paper to see whether it goes along with those recommendations. It will be a two-stage process if the White Paper agrees with the commission; removing at the second stage any veto Westminster might have over decisions made by the Assembly.
We need a firm timetable to make certain that by 2011 the new powers are granted fully and the Assembly is given those new opportunities. We want a definite timetable, not just a vague undertaking to do something some time. There should be automatic progression in any stage process. I hope that today we can be told when to expect the White Paper and when the Government will publish the Bill to enhance the Assembly's stature.
I remember well the feeling of elation when the result of the 1997 referendum was announced. In one sense we felt that we were a nation again: we had reclaimed the territory. A new government of Wales Bill could be another historic step in that direction.
My Lords, for those in this House who are already thinking of their summer vacation, I come bearing news from Spain. There are now Spanish resorts where tourists voluntarily have a microchip implanted under the skin in their forearm so that they can gain entrance to nightclubs, purchase food and drink and dance unencumbered by wallets or handbags. After a quick scan of the forearm the barcode comes up, and as long as we have enough funds in our previously deposited account, we are free to rave the night away.
Apparently British companies are now looking at the great benefits and opportunities that could come from expanding on that social experiment. Think of the possibilities. We could be scanned on buses and tubes. We could have students scanned going into classes. We could have welfare recipients scanned as they receive their benefits. In fact, I am almost frightened to mention it in front of my colleagues on the Front Bench in case the proposal finds favour in Downing Street.
It has not stopped in Spain. The Venerable Bede school in Sunderland has been testing iris scanning for its dinner provision, so that when a child goes to the lunch hall, instead of swiping a card or inserting a token, he has his iris scanned to see if he has paid enough money into his account to cover his lunch. However, the school abandoned the scheme because too frequently the scanner did not recognise the iris patterns.
I have spoken before about my concerns over the introduction of ID cards. The government position remains that 80 per cent of the public supports the idea because of the convenience and efficiency involved. Think how easy it will be to travel with easyJet to Scotland, or to join a gym, or to get a video out of the rental store: no more production of utility bills, apparently. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, when the full implications of ID cards are debated with the electorate they are much less convinced of the benefits. In Australia, 90 per cent support for ID cards turned to 70 per cent opposition once the public realised what was actually involved.
It is anticipated that a card would record your name, address, date of birth, employment, marital status, sex, a photograph, and numbers from National Insurance, driving licence and passport. It would also carry an iris scan, a face scan, or an electronic fingerprint. All of those are being investigated. There is conjecture that in the fullness of time we might even have our genetic profile on the card.
As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said, it is not so much the card as the creation of the national database which is the essential component in the system that carries huge risks to our liberty. Future governments of a less benign nature could make frightening use of such a comprehensive and coherent tracking system. The Chinese are currently introducing a new high-tech card that is causing alarm to human rights groups the world over because of the impact on dissidents. We are talking about the ability to live your life free of intrusion. These invisible freedoms make the quality of our life here in Britain so rich, and yet, it is these very steps, these erosions of liberty, which may seem small but which create fundamental shifts in the relationship between the citizen and the state. Many worry about the theft of their identity and see ID cards as a remedy, but a greater worry might be the theft of your liberty by an authoritarian government.
A report on Britain's proposals for ID cards was compiled by a committee of the Canadian parliament in October 2003. It stated:
"The British ID card would not address security issues such as terrorism, and those who briefed the committee made it clear that it would not be useful in this regard".
The officials from the Home Office who briefed the Canadians made it clear that an ID card would not help with the issue of terrorism. They also conceded that there were concerns about the security and integrity of the card because the foundation documents are so easy to reproduce. Just think: every member of the European Union would be entitled to apply for and acquire an ID card. How would we test the validity of the documents that they presented to the appropriate department? There are also of course concerns about the huge cost, currently running at £5.5 billion—money that might better be spent elsewhere on the prevention of crime.
Britain wants to do something that no other western country has done, or is even proposing: the creation of a gigantic centralised database of the biometrics of every one of the 60 million citizens of this country. The biometric working group at GCHQ, one of our leading intelligence agencies, said in a report:
"Biometrics do not provide perfect, unique information. The matching process is probabilistic and subject to statistical error".
The same group warns that,
"identification errors could have dire consequences".
As a means of detecting crime or illegal immigration, the level and the frequency of checking of those ID cards would necessarily be in direct proportion to its effectiveness. It would have to be compulsory in terms of participation, and there would also be an obligation to produce the card. What would be the point of the police stopping someone and asking for their ID card, their saying, "I do not have it with me", and the policeman saying to the suspected terrorist or illegal immigrant, "Well, could you turn up at the police station a week from now?". It is nonsense. We know what would be involved in the creation of such cards.
I am happy to have additional biometric information included in my passport if that is capable of helping to police our borders more effectively; but I have my doubts. I do not want there to be an internal passport—a licence to live in this country.
The major concern for me is that the card would have alarming consequences for social cohesion—for the black and other minority communities that are already subject to more frequent police intervention than any other citizens. Lawyers in France have told me that it is those minorities—les marginaux—that are harassed to produce cards, and of the divisiveness that it creates in their society. There are likely to be huge problems over accuracy, data sharing, statutory overrides of data protection principles and a lack of audit trails—never mind computer failures, on which the Home Office of course has a track record. I have real concerns about ID cards, and I hope that they will be soundly tested in this House and the other place.
I also have concerns about the plans to introduce a law dealing with incitement to racial hatred. That is because I believe strongly that there is an important role for debate and criticism in a vibrant democracy. To close down that debate will be enormously damaging. The offence is being brought before these Houses as an attempt to appease Muslim communities that feel disenchanted over the political system as of late. I raise the matter because I believe that many people in minority communities, such as the Muslim communities, think that an offence will be created that will protect their beliefs rather than themselves as believers. As a result, they may in the end feel disenchanted with the law, because it will leave them unrequited when it fails to produce their desired outcomes. It will not mean that Salman Rushdie's book or valid criticisms of aspects of their religion can be prosecuted.
We should recognise that religious conservatives the world over—whether Christian fundamentalists, extreme orthodox Jews or Muslim fundamentalists—often seek to silence others and impose on society not merely tolerance of their beliefs, but acceptance of them. Over the years, I have had a close association with the Southall Black Sisters, a women's organisation that includes Asian women of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu backgrounds. It has struggled for many years to gain acceptance of its campaigns against violence towards women. It is clear in its opposition to the proposed new law on incitement to religious hatred, because that law would support and encourage the culture of intolerance that already exists in many religions.
Challenge has to be offered to religions, particularly over human rights issues and particularly as they affect women and homosexuals. The women in such groups have no doubt that this law would be used as a weapon to suppress dissent in their communities, particularly crushing those who are more vulnerable and powerless. I warn the Government that it may have very undesired effects.
I may be concerned about other parts of the legislative programme, but those are my primary concerns. I say to the Government that we are going through a period of change. Our societies are becoming much more diverse. There are undoubtedly new challenges, such as terrorism and international crime. There are great demands on our national purse and, of course, new technologies that provide both solutions and problems, because they could be greatly abused. As we legislate, we should be alert to the unintended consequences that can flow from the choices that we are making now. The role of this House must always be to take the long view—that we are here to warn the public of the long-term consequences of short-term initiatives. I hope that we continue to carry out that role in the weeks and months to come.
My Lords, the only disadvantage that occurs to me of having subject days for the debates on the Queen's Speech is that it puts an issue that over-arches all the subjects into an impasse. I shall speak about over-legislation, which is a profound issue. Before doing so, perhaps I may first say briefly that I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, for her comments on identity cards, which is an issue close to my heart and to these Benches. I was grateful, too, that my noble friend Lord Goodhart referred to legal aid and the potential impact on the integrity and independence of my profession of solicitors by allowing solicitors' firms to be capitalist entities—that is, owned by unrelated investors.
The Charities Bill is covered by tonight's broad subject area and, as one who sat through 34 hours of debate, I view its return with some ambivalence, although it is better that we have that Bill on the statute book early. Many amendments and improvements to it were made and I hope that they will greatly shorten our further deliberations.
The quantity of legislation tends to be overlooked as we plough through Bill after Bill. The Queen's Speech mentioned 43 Bills and six draft Bills. There are nine Home Office crime Bills of one type or another to add to the 35—or is it 40?—that have been introduced since 1997. If legislation alone achieved its purpose, we would have no crime today. The volume of criminal legislation and the creation of new criminal offences has been profligate. We would have no need for further legislation. But in truth there seems to have been an inverse proportion between legislation and the ills to which much of it is addressed.
I went to the Library today to obtain the latest statistics, which are in respect of 2003. In that year, we passed 13,407 pages of new law—4,073 pages of Acts, 9,334 for subsidiary legislation. That represents between 8,000 and 9,000 pages of net additional new law. One does not need to be a soothsayer or a wise person to realise that no culture can withstand, year after year, that level of new law making, because all of it creates new demands on the segments of our society to which it is directed and the creation of more advisers, consultants and so on.
Statistics are not easily found for the Continent, but we legislate at about two-and-a-half times the rate of Germany, three times the rate of Switzerland and five times the rate of Sweden. I have not found any country that has anything like our level of legislation. Why has that come about? It is due to a grossly over-centralised state, a governmental and electoral system that delivers disproportionate majorities, a patronage system, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that ties in a large number of men and women in the Commons, a whipping system and production line legislation that supports a "phoney mandate", whereby huge manifestos are justified in terms of the vast amount of law that comes in their wake.
The broad effects are of complication, intrusiveness, bureaucracy and an immense increase in specialist advisers and consultants. We are creating a world fit for lawyers and not all of us are happy about it. The impact on the citizen is crucial and the bulimic legislative tradition that has become ours is responsible for much citizen disenchantment and lack of democratic health.
So much of the legislation that we pass is indigestible and incomprehensible. The impact can be disabling when its intent is to help and enable, and it is distancing and disconnecting. The impersonality and lack of ownership of so much legislation is itself a problem that we have not begun to contend with.
So much of our legislation is unjust in that those who are eventually caught and prosecuted feel resentful that the world at large has been untouched. It is commonplace that the police and other enforcement authorities are in a great bind when trying to keep up with the law that we thrust on them.
I have observed the parliamentary impact even in my short seven years here. Legislation—particularly subsidiary legislation—is not properly scrutinised. Parliamentarians feel increasingly incompetent to take an active part in the passage of Bills.
What should we do? First, we need to take a long hard look at the impact of so much of the legislation that we produce. Although I am reluctant to suggest a royal commission, I believe that the difficult and fundamental series of interlocking problems might warrant the creation of one. We had the Renton report in 1975 and the Hansard Society report in 1992. We have had major debates in this place in 1994, 1996, 1998 and 2001, but we have not come near to cracking the cultural problems that I am trying to address.
We need to consult more. We need to get out the protocol on consultation that the Government nobly passed a couple of years ago and make sure that it is applied. It is not being applied at the moment. We need to ensure that consultation goes down to the grass roots because too often the only consultation is with umbrella groups that are frequently not truly representative of the people they purport to represent.
The time scale for consultation is wholly unrealistic in many cases. We need to deliberate more, and more effectively in Parliament. The proposals for a 60-day rule and many of the proposals in the Hunt report are more a reflection of the managerial ethos of the present Government than of the wisdom of what we should be doing.
We need to give more attention to public citizenship education. I pay tribute to the Government for having put that into schools, but more needs to be done. We need to have citizen summaries of new law. We need to make sure that those issues that are of popular concern are understood by the public, and that time, money and effort is spent on ensuring that that happens.
Many of the problems in relation to the European Union have to do with the complete incomprehension on the part of most people as to how that barbarically complicated set of interlocking institutions actually works. Unless we do something about that, it is a farce in democratic terms. Above all we need to be practical in our understanding of how the legislation we pass in this place will work.
I return again to the issue of decentralisation without which we will never get near to controlling the extraordinary outpouring of legislative effluent which year by year showers on the unsuspecting public.
Finally, I come to respect. It is a big word. Yes, we need respect, but we in this place also need to respect the public. I do not honestly think that we do that. If we respected the situation in which the vast majority of the public find themselves in relation to the laws that we so merrily pass, we would not be quite so cavalier in our approach and in the volume of laws that are passed. Inflation of legislation is as dangerous as inflation of money. To pretend that by laws passed in this place we can cure every social ill is about as wise as saying that one should take an antibiotic for every cold and illness. Ultimately antibiotics become ineffectual, as has so much of our legislation.
My Lords, I enjoyed the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. He repeats a theme that was introduced by the Front Bench spokesman who described what the Lord Chancellor said as a "veritable blizzard of legislation".
I listened with care to what the Lord Chancellor said and was proud of the programme which he announced. Let me remind your Lordships of some of the Bills which are forecast. First, identity cards—are we all interested in them? The answer is yes, but whether we get the legislation we want is another matter. On immigration, is there a need for legislation to change the rules? I say that there is and we will have a good debate on them. The word "respect" has a resonance in many areas and it was touched on by the Lord Chancellor. I am certainly interested in that. He also mentioned safety and security issues; violence and firearms; binge drinking; incitement to religious hatred; corporate manslaughter; and fraud and fighting it.
I am not an expert on any of those issues, but I am interested in them. I believe that subject to careful consultation the Government are entitled to say to the people of this country and to this House, "These are our views on how to tackle those problems". My noble and learned friend also mentioned sentencing; probation; legal aid and the cost of criminal defence; bringing the legal profession up to date; the compensation culture; and electoral administration.
On none of those subjects could I possibly compete with the vast range of specialist speakers to whom I have respectfully listened. I appreciate that and, as always, I shall try to listen to as many of the debates as possible. However, the Government are entitled to take some credit for deciding that these issues need to be tackled in this Session. They may be right or they may be wrong—we will have to see.
We then heard about the range of issues which will be covered by reform of the House and its procedures. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, is a long-time friend and member of a club, with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and I, of former Chief Whips with experience of getting legislation through. We are all figures men. When Michael Cocks in the Whips office used to tell us, "This is the issue of the day", someone might ask, "What about the principle?". He would say, "Principle! Principles in the Whips office? Get out there and get them through the Labour Lobby". As far as he was concerned, it was all to do with numbers.
In this place, overwhelmingly it is all to do with numbers. Let me remind your Lordships of the situation which existed when Labour came to office in 1997. In this place, 481 Conservative and 116 Labour Members then took the Whip. Just reflect on that. An incoming party was faced with the fact that it had only 116 Members while its main opposition had 481. The Liberal Democrats had 57 and the Cross Benches had 320. The tautology of those percentages is ludicrous.
After all the changes in 1997, 1998 and 1999, in 2001 Labour still had only 193 Members while the Conservatives had 173. But with the addition of the hereditary Peers—the main plank in what is to happen—Labour had 197 Members and the Conservatives 225. Labour had 197 Members of this House out of a total of 679. The situation was beginning to shift. However, can anyone tell me that, if they were in government and inheriting such a situation, they would do nothing—like the main party opposite did nothing for 18 years?
I asked the Library to give me some figures, so let me give your Lordships the number of government defeats in this House when Labour was in power between 1974 and 1979 and the Conservatives had those majorities. Of 119 Divisions in 1975, the Government lost 103. In 1976, of 146 Divisions, the Government lost 126. In 1977, out of 45 Divisions, the Government lost 25. In 1978, out of a total of 96 Divisions, the Government lost 78.
Members opposite can say, "Well, that's the way it was". Well, that is the way it was, but it is not the way it is going to be. It will be changed. Whether or not there is blood on the carpet, no self-respecting party which has been returned three times with overwhelming majorities would ignore it. There are people who would question a 66 majority; but, my goodness, there are parties all around the House which would think 66, or even 26, was a decent majority.
One then moves on. During the years of the Conservative government, when they controlled the Commons as well as this place, one comes across situations such as occurred in 1984: of 237 Divisions, the Government lost only 20. In 1987, there were 80 Divisions and the Government lost three. In 1991, of 104 Divisions, the Government lost 17. That situation changed in 1997, when a Labour government came to power. All of a sudden, this House became more effective in defeating the Government. In 1997–98, of 179 Divisions, the Government were defeated in 39. In the following year, of 99 Divisions, they lost 31. In the year after that, of 192 Divisions, they lost 36.
I come to the past four years. In 2001–02, of 172 Divisions, the Government lost 56. In 2002–03, of 226 Divisions, they lost 88. In 2003–04, of 176 Divisions, they lost 64. That is the pattern. I respect the fact that many colleagues on all sides of the House are faced with the prospect of losing their place here because they are hereditary Peers. I genuinely feel for them and their families because they are losing a privilege that, in some cases, they have enjoyed for hundreds of years.
My family has had the privilege of containing a Member of the House of Lords for the past 20 years and that is all. If I look in the eye people who have been represented in this place for 300 or 400 years, I say to them, "You can have too much of a good thing". It is not a threat; it is a reality. We have the opportunity to make changes and we should do that. It is our right; it is our opportunity, and I certainly intend to support the Government in doing it in that way.
In a third term the Government could be expected to slow down or run out of steam, but I believe that the programme which we have heard described—I have listened to many of the speakers, but not all—tackles real problems. I say to the Lord Chancellor and his ministerial colleagues that I accept the fact that it will take courage, vision and realism. It is a programme not for the past, nor the present; it is one for the future. I commend it to the House.
My Lords, we now come to the concluding part of this debate. We have heard 34 speeches so far with two more to go. Two events of today are worth remembering. The first was the introduction of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to your Lordships' House. The second was the maiden speech by my noble friend Lord Alliance.
The presence of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, will be a constant reminder of what needs to be done to reform our prisons. As a former Chief Inspector of Prisons, he has a unique insight into one of the most neglected aspects of our criminal justice system.
The contribution of my noble friend Lord Alliance will be a constant reminder of how immigrants and asylum seekers have made a unique contribution to the social, economic and, now, the political life of our country. Those who used emotive arguments during the last general election need to give some thought to the impact that they have on our minorities. Both prisons and immigration debates cry out for our leaders to give a lead. Simply exploiting the issues for political gain has little to commend it except short-term political gains. To a politician immigration is a subject designed to get more votes. To minorities it results in abuse, insult, violence and harassment. It is a question not of what the politician is thinking but more about how it is interpreted by voters in some of the constituencies. To an extent we made racism more respectable. I have been in this country for 50 years, but for the first time in my life I felt ashamed to be British.
I endorse what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said about the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. We shall certainly miss him from the Front Bench. I add that I am delighted that the noble Baronesses, Lady Scotland, Lady Ashton and Lady Anelay, are still on the Front Benches. They are the nicest people to work with and long may that continue.
My Lords, I shall take no notice.
On these Benches we did a good job defending our position and it would be a mistake to compromise on fundamental issues of human rights and civil liberties. We did not do so during the election campaign and we will not do so as far as the forthcoming legislation is concerned.
Let us for a moment look at our criminal justice system, which is at the heart of our democratic process. Regurgitating more of the same is not an answer to tackling social ills. We need to look at good practices at international level to see what works and what is appropriate.
I accept that international comparisons are notoriously difficult—how crimes are defined and categorised; how we conduct police investigations; how we prosecute; what discretion the court has in determining the sentence; and how effective are penal institutions in the rehabilitative process. Those are the issues at the heart of all criminal justice systems. Surely there is merit in examining what works elsewhere.
The starting point is to look at the relative use which various countries make of imprisonment. Why does our prison population top the league in western Europe? Of course there is a need to look at the whole issue of respect and bad behaviour. Those issues have blighted our communities across the land. The incidence and, to a lesser extent, the nature of crime varies from place to place; we should add to that the variation from generation to generation.
It is, however, clear that no matter where you live, here or abroad, all societies must come to terms with crime in their own way. The pattern of crime may be different but it is perfectly possible to look at good practices before looking at simplistic solutions such as building more prisons.
We have frequently debated the underlying causes of crime, but almost all research tends to refute rather than confirm our assumptions of the causes of crime and the effectiveness of punishment and treatments. The sound bites, the focus groups and the tabloids continue to condition the public mood by wanting tough short-term measures rather than adequate research leading to lasting solutions.
There is far too much over-reliance on prisons as a way of dealing with offenders instead of assisting with reform. How else can we explain the over 100 per cent increase in the number of women prisoners in the past 10 years; that on average two people a week commit suicide in our prisons; or that over 65 per cent of young people leaving prison reoffend within two years? Are we re-enforcing criminal behaviour by forcing offenders into each other's company?
The previous Home Secretary, David Blunkett, often had an adversarial contact with our judiciary. He felt that it had gone soft on crime and that things would change if politicians and judges were to prescribe tougher and longer sentences.
We fail to realise that the ability of the criminal justice system to influence crime is very limited. We must recognise that save for a couple of dozen inmates almost all prisoners will be released into the community one day. We need to look at how to achieve progress by more far-reaching changes looking at, among other things, the economic and social nature of crime and the level of personal motivation. Stopgap measures can be effective in the short term, but we now see that, despite the effectiveness of ASBOs, at least 10 orders a week are breached, with the result that custody seems to be the only alternative in such cases.
Internationally, and to some extent here, we are now placing renewed emphasis on trying to tackle crime in a way that does not involve the courts and prisons. We should examine the heavy use of custodial sentences by courts and the non-reforming nature of our prison work.
The Government have gone some way in developing a crime prevention strategy; for example, reducing the incidence of domestic burglary, initiatives such as alcohol and drug awareness programmes, designing safer homes, better lighting of rural streets and estates, and introducing checks on those working with children. With the establishment of the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the emphasis on the very positive work of the Youth Justice Board, there is still hope that the tide will turn.
Priority must be given to schemes for directing as many young offenders as possible from the criminal justice system. The image of community sentences as a soft option is often cited by the public. Dressing up of young offenders in identifiable uniforms, or naming or shaming them, is a recipe for disaster. Community sentences can be tough but they can also be effective. The public should be made aware of that; they should also be told that, at best, courts and prisons can make only a limited contribution. The fundamental matter in the appraisals available to us, and which the public have a right to know, is that the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and the fight against crime is important but of limited value.
The package of proposals set out in the Queen's Speech is better balanced than the ragbag of pre-election measures that the Government put before us last year. Some of the measures are welcome, and a number of noble Lords have commented on them. For example, the proposals in the violent crime reduction Bill to tackle the sale of replica firearms, to ban the sale of knives to juveniles and to provide stronger powers against pubs and clubs that sell alcohol to minors will command widespread support.
The long-overdue corporate manslaughter Bill will help to bring to book companies whose failure to meet health and safety obligations results in the death of employees, customers or members of the public. At present, unless an individual senior manager can be found guilty of gross negligence, the company cannot be found guilty of manslaughter, even if wider collective management failings within the organisation have put lives at risk. The Bill will rectify that gap in the law and provide justice for relatives of those who have died because of such failings. It is regrettable that it has taken the Government so long to bring forward that measure, but we welcome it none the less.
However, other parts of the programme for the Session are far from welcome. We particularly regret the Government's determination to press ahead with their misguided proposal for a compulsory identity card scheme. Despite their protestations, compulsory identity cards will do little to fight crime and terrorism. However, the scheme will encroach significantly on civil liberties by prescribing penalties for refusal to register, refusing access to public services without a card and requiring citizens to have their fingerprints, facial scans and iris scans included in a national register. The scheme will absorb resources that could be far better deployed on practical measures to prevent crime, to increase intelligence efforts against terrorism and to rehabilitate offenders. More importantly, money could be well spent in employing more police officers.
The introduction of an offence of incitement to religious hatred runs the risk of excessively restricting free speech. It is also likely to worsen relations between adherents of different religious faiths if it is used against members of minority religions when they advance views that may be objectionable, but which our democratic tradition demands should be countered by reasoned argument rather than by restricting freedom of speech.
I accept the Government's argument that the present position is illogical because it makes it an offence to incite hatred against people because they are black, Asian or Jewish, but not because they are Muslim. Instead of bringing forward legislation as flawed as this, the Government should set up an independent, judicially led inquiry to examine and make recommendations on that whole area of the law.
The inquiry should be asked to recommend whether further legislation is required to protect individuals from racial and religious harassment and, if so, how that can be achieved without undesirably restricting freedom of expression. A starting point would be to look at the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill during the previous Parliament. No, we do not object to the Bill on incitement to racial hatred. The question is: what sort of legislation is appropriate?
In principle, there is also much to be said about the Government's aim of creating a new National Offender Management Service. Caution has to be exercised. It has the potential to increase the effectiveness of plans to reduce reoffending by integrating offenders in prison and offenders under supervision on release. The current pilot project in integrated offender management in the north-west has produced some promising early results which show that real benefits can result from the improved planning of sentences from the pre-sentence report stage through to post-release supervision.
NOMS can provide effective custodial regimes only if prisons are not overstretched and overcrowded. It is of great importance that the Government should strongly and publicly support that approach. It means that the Home Secretary and his Ministers must adopt a high profile strategy to "talk down" the prison population, to explain the benefits of rigorous community sentences and to explain the impossibility of effectively rehabilitating offenders if prisons are suffering from gross overcrowding.
There are two regrettable omissions from the Queen's Speech which would have done a great deal to improve the administration of justice and the treatment of offenders. The first is the youth justice Bill which the Government recently published in draft form but which was not mentioned in the speech. It contains greater restrictions on the use of custody and measures to increase the credibility of community sentences for young offenders. I hope that the Government will rectify that omission in the speech.
A second regrettable omission is legislation to reform the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act on the lines of the recommendations of the Home Office review group on the Act that the Government accepted in principle two years ago. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act provides that after specified "rehabilitation periods" ex-offenders do not have to declare "spent" convictions when applying for jobs, except for certain sensitive occupations. This reform would greatly reduce the scope for unfair discrimination against former offenders and would increase public safety by reducing reoffending. I urge the Government to bring this measure forward as soon as possible.
In conclusion, we now have legislative time on our side. Your Lordships' House has unique talents, as demonstrated today, on all Benches. For our part, the Government will receive our support if they do not tamper with human rights and civil liberties, if they allow much of the new legislation to bed down and if they give a clear lead on matters such as immigration and asylum.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Wakeham, I should like to congratulate the Labour Party on winning a historic third term in office with a clear working majority. More particularly, I should like to congratulate the noble and learned Lord on remaining on the Woolsack, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, on continuing as a Minister at the Home Office, and, although she is no longer with us today, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, on retaining her position in the Lord Chancellor's office.
I must say that I lament the passing of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, from the Government's Benches. I can believe only that it occurred in a fit of absentmindedness on behalf of those responsible for making these decisions; and I trust that, once they recover from their spasm, the noble Lord will be quickly restored to the position he so well deserves to occupy. Therefore I shall not utter, or at least not yet, a funeral oration on his behalf.
As my noble friend Lady Anelay said, it was her task to deal with Home Office matters and my task to deal with constitutional matters. To say that my noble friend Lady Anelay and I are rhapsodising at the prospect of another four years of opposition would be to exaggerate. But, nevertheless, I trust that my noble friend and I will conduct our role from these Benches with what I hope is regarded by the other side as our customary good-humoured determination.
But for a moment I shall trespass on my noble friend's territory to speak briefly on the vexed issue of violent crime. Many noble Lords have spoken most eloquently on this topic during the debate; and I think there is a general agreement that we are not going to get much closer to solving this problem simply by increasing the number of policemen and expanding our prisons.
To us, a crucial component of solving the problem is missing from the Government's programme. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, referred to the issue of respect. Thirty years ago, when a child left school and entered the world, respect was an instinctive part of his or her social apparatus. It was not something that had to be consciously inculcated; it was there as a result of family upbringing and education. As a society we can no longer rely on that; and, therefore, alongside what we are doing in the criminal justice system we need a proper programme for families and schools to reintroduce what we appear to have lost.
To say that is simple; but to find the means of solving the problem is difficult. Part of the solution must be to aim that when a child comes back from school, it comes back to a home. That is not so easy nowadays with, on the one hand, so many single-parent families and, on the other, so many families where both parents work and are therefore not there when the child returns. I believe that more needs to be done to make a family a real home.
Moreover, I wonder whether I am being overly daring when I say that, in some ways, the balance of power between children and staff in school has moved too much in the direction of the children and too far away from the staff. Unless the Government grapple with this issue over the next few years, they will find that the problem of lack of respect is even further away from being solved.
I turn now to constitutional issues. I should like to deal first with the perspicacious intervention made by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, on the European Community. The European Community has become a constitutional system of great power. By the time we joined it in 1972, it was already a judicial federation; and, as a result of the Single European Act—promoted by the Conservative government of the day and ratified by Parliament—it also became a legislative federation. The reason that was acceptable was that the Community exercised its authority over a very limited area—that of trade and the movement of services and capital.
It has, in the latter years, begun to trespass into much more difficult territory, into the exercise of governmental discretion by nation states. This is a bridge too far for the European Community at the moment because it does not have the necessary legitimacy to exercise such power. It may be that in 20, 50 or 100 years' time the constitutional arrangements of the Community will have that legitimacy and respect from the nation states; but it is manifestly true that it does not yet have them. It would, moreover, be extremely dangerous to ask the European community to overstretch itself because, if it does so, it will implode, and something that is a remarkable success story will end in dust.
The noble Lord, Lord Owen, asked important questions about two such areas. The first question is whether or not the Court of Justice ought to have a role in the formulation of foreign policy and in making judgments about foreign policy decisions. The answer to that must be, emphatically, no, it should not, and that ought to be made clear by the Government as soon as possible.
The second question is whether we ought to engage in any set of arrangements which involve the integration of the Commission with the European Council. The answer again should be, emphatically, no, we should not, because this is another area which moves from a legitimate field of community activity into a field which, if you follow its logic through, would end in a federal state.
These are, potentially, component parts of our constitutional arrangements and therefore it is quite proper that we should consider them in the debate today.
Turning to the domestic issues of your Lordships' House, I want, first, to ask a series of questions of the Government. The first one flows from the intervention of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway on the subject of the Speakership of your Lordships' House. My noble friend drew your Lordships' attention to the debate that we had on the Constitution Reform Bill in which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said:
"The provisions in Clause 13 and Schedule 5 remove the automatic link between the Lord Chancellor and the Speakership of this House in primary legislation. They do not preclude the Lord Chancellor from continuing to hold the office of Speaker, if that is the will of this House".—[Hansard, 20/12/04; col. 1543.]
Can your Lordships' House continue to assume that that is the case? That is my first question.
My second question concerns an issue raised by a number of my noble friends—I recall, in particular, my noble friends Lord Waddington and Lord Elton, but I believe that it was raised by one or two other noble Lords as well—about the undertaking given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, in respect of hereditary Peers.
Let us suppose that the 92 hereditary Peers were removed summarily from your Lordships' House without more. That would give the Government a majority of 50 over the Opposition and it would be within 20 votes of an overall majority over both the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats. In other words, effectively, the Government would be one set of new peerage appointments from having a majority over both parties.
In the debate on
"will go only when stage two has taken place. So it is a guarantee that it will take place".—[Hansard, 30/3/99; col. 207.]
Can the noble Baroness assure your Lordships' House that this undertaking, given in honour by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, continues to be government policy?
The Government's manifesto says that as far as the composition of your Lordships' House is concerned, this will be a matter for a free vote in another place. Why have the Government excluded a free vote in your Lordships' House on this matter? Why should not a free vote in your Lordships' House also carry weight in the deliberation? Will the Government anticipate this free vote by publishing, for example, a White Paper? Or if the Government do not publish a White Paper, will they express a view? The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, at the last Labour Party conference, expressed a preference for an indirect electoral system. Is that still the preference of the Government or have they given some further thought to what might be another alternative? All these are issues on which your Lordships' House is eager to hear the Government express their view.
I listened very carefully, and with huge admiration, to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, about the proposed 60-day limit. When I read about this and heard about it, I was astonished to hear that another place had the constitutional authority to interfere in the procedures of your Lordships' House. I always thought that it was a hallmark of the privileges of Parliament that another place did not interfere in your Lordships' procedures and your Lordships' House did not interfere in the procedures of another place. So what business has another place to dictate how long your Lordships take over a particular Bill?
Moreover, have the Government considered that this may well be rather counter-productive? I recall, together with my noble friend Lord Saatchi, sitting on the Opposition Benches for month after month dealing with the Financial Services Bill. In the course of its passage through your Lordships' House, the Government tabled nearly 2,000 amendments to the Bill. How would the Government cope with such a situation if there were a limit of 60 days?
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, said, much will of course depend upon how the business is managed and how much time the Government give to opposition amendments. But it is always open to your Lordships' House, at the end of the day, if it feels that its own scrutiny is incomplete, to reject the Bill altogether, in which case the Government will have to wait for the provisions of the Parliament Act to become engaged.
All this seems to me to be tied up with a statement in the manifesto which talks about the role of your Lordships' House as being to complement, not to replicate. But surely complementing is what your Lordships' House is doing. Your Lordships had a wonderful illustration of this in the speech of my noble friend Lord Higgins when he described the passage of the Pensions Bill. Scrutiny in another place was virtually zero. Without the scrutiny of your Lordships' House, the Bill would have been a bad Bill. As a result of the very hard work done by your Lordships, it was at least like the curate's egg.
The existing system is a very good illustration of complementarity. The consequences of reducing the powers of scrutiny in your Lordships' House, however, would be a net reduction of parliamentary powers over the Executive. As so many of your Lordships have said, that is the crucial issue. It is not a question of whether one or another House has a particular set of powers over the executive; it is whether collectively Parliament has the right amount of control over the executive.
The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, made an extremely thoughtful speech, in the course of which he said that in an election we were electing not only a government but a parliament. We elect a government to govern and a parliament to control the government. It is the second half of the noble Lord's illustration that, I am afraid, the Government are in danger of forgetting. In a society whose hallmarks are the rule of law and democracy, control of the executive is just as important a component as the running of the executive itself.
The Government often catechise their long list of constitutional reform; but the one area that they have not touched with reform is the whole question of the control of the executive. What better illustration did we have of that than the closing stages of the Inquiries Bill? The Government wanted to transform the system of public inquiries and applied that transformation to every single activity in the country, excepting decisions of Ministers. The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, said, in the dying phases of that Bill, that that was a matter for Parliament to decide; if Parliament wanted to introduce a proper system of control over Ministers and wished effectively to indict Ministers for their misdemeanours, the Government were not going to legislate for it, but Parliament, itself, could take control.
Well, the noble Baroness has made a wonderful offer. Why does not your Lordships' House consider establishing Select Committees with real teeth that can take evidence from Ministers on oath and can subpoena papers and require Ministers to attend? Why does not another place do the same? That would be the answer to the noble Baroness's invitation—and no doubt she would nod with approval, if your Lordships' House went in that direction. If the Government will not provide the instruments of control over the executive, your Lordships' House and another place must do everything that they can, with their privileges, to fill the necessary gap.
I have noticed out of the corner of my eye that the noble Lord, Lord Alliance, is in his place. I conclude by saying what a marvellous maiden speech that was and to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and many other noble Lords said about it. What the noble Lord, Lord Alliance, has achieved in his professional career is a great inspiration to so many young people, and we are absolutely delighted that he is now among us.
My Lords, may I say how much I welcome the opportunity to respond today on behalf of the Government to this extraordinary debate? I thank most sincerely the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and others, for their congratulations on the Labour Party having won the election. It is refreshing to have it acknowledged that we have in fact won.
I thank noble Lords for their warm words, but may I also say how grateful I am that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, are back in their respective places? It is right that they have always dealt with all of us with courtesy and expedition, and the noble Lord's telegraphic way of dealing with things is something that we very much enjoy. So I join those who welcome their return.
It has been another full and valuable debate on the gracious Speech, and I thank all Members who have contributed to it. If I may, I add my commendation to the noble Lord, Lord Alliance, for his maiden speech. It was wonderful to listen to because there was rapt attention in this House. The noble Lord is an exemplar of why those who migrate to this country are so important and why the contribution that they make should never be undervalued.
I thank him too for acknowledging that there are a number of us in this House who may not have been born in the United Kingdom but who feel that this is our home and make a contribution to it—I see the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, nodding his assent to that comment.
It is important, because we should remember that migrants make a disproportionately positive contribution to the wealth of the United Kingdom, accounting for 8 per cent of our working population but 10 per cent of our GDP. I know that the noble Lord will have made his contribution to that statistic. Twenty-three per cent of migrants work in the public sector; 11 per cent of higher-skilled posts in the public sector are filled by migrants and 37 per cent of the health workforce in London are migrants. Therefore it is right that their commitment should be encouraged and that the noble Lord should speak of integration and the challenge that we all face.
I look forward to this Session because, as my noble friend Lord Graham made plain, there is no Bill in the Session that has not excited attention and interest in this House. To that extent we know that we have kept our finger on the pulse of what the people in this country and indeed this House deem important. The programme proposed in the gracious Speech is ambitious, befitting the lengthy Session that we are entering. It is also a programme of opportunity to continue the progress that the Government have made in the two previous Parliaments and an opportunity to refine our systems to establish the best platform for a progressive third term.
Home and constitutional affairs have been central to our focus over the past eight years and will remain so as we move forward in this Parliament. I make no apology for the number of Bills that we have had during those eight years because significant change has taken place as a result. We now have a framework within which to work and to deliver. I say, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, that it is interesting how there are complaints about every Bill save for the Bill in which the noble Lord is particularly interested. We welcome each Bill and I know that the noble Lord welcomes the return of the Charities Bill. It is often said that it is a longed-for Bill, and I am sure that he would not have liked to see it out of our programme.
As today's wide-ranging debate has so aptly illustrated, it is entirely appropriate that we should have such a breadth of debate, because the subjects that concern us today are matters about which people care deeply: safety, tolerance, balance and just law and robust, modern democratic arrangements. During the previous two Parliaments we have achieved much in each of those areas. As my noble friend Lady Henig made plain, we have cut crime by 30 per cent. We have refocused the criminal justice system around the victim and tackled key drivers of crime such as economic conditions, drugs and poor parenting.
It was therefore right that the noble Baronesses, Lady Linklater, Lady Bonham-Carter and Lady Stern, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, should focus and hone in on the challenges with which we are now faced, particularly in relation to the way in which prison is used as a means of delivering safety and security, but also rehabilitation.
I am grateful that I am to be the new prison Minister. I find that being the tenth child, just because one comes last down the pecking order does not mean that one cannot make one's own contribution. I hope that I will be able to make a contribution in that role; not least, as many in this House will know, because these are issues for which I have had great passion for the past 30-plus years. So, our ability to change and to deliver a system which is effective and fair and which meets the needs of individuals, children and perpetrator and victim is of real significance.
We have also introduced devolution to Scotland and Wales and have delivered key reforms in race relations, human rights and your Lordships' House. It is right that a major part of our debate today focused on those issues. Many speakers raised the West Lothian question and asked how we are going to deal with that and with reform of this House. If I may respectfully say so, notwithstanding the fact that when I looked down the list of speakers, I thought that the usual suspects would all speak on the subject of criminal justice, it did not surprise me that the major part of the debate focused on House of Lords reform and constitutional change.
All the changes that we have delivered, the investment that we have made in our security and the great progress that we have made in modernising immigration and asylum, together with arrangements to meet the demands of the age, we have done in partnership with statutory bodies, community groups and concerned citizens to ensure that the powers we have introduced are taken up and used to make a real difference. The gracious Speech offers a most welcome chance to solidify that proven foundation by extending the opportunities and protections that we have already delivered to ensure that everyone benefits from the modern progressive Britain we are working to create.
I turn, first, to some of the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. She asked primarily about the NOMS Bill and what we are going to do about offending. She inquired whether the content was yet finalised. Those issues are still undergoing intense work. The most important point, about which we all agree, is that we have to get this right. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, commented on the time that we have taken and the journey that we have travelled. But what is important is that we have made that journey together, and in consultation, with those delivering the service.
I understand that people will say that there has not been enough consultation, but this Government listened and, along the way, we have changed to respond to perceived needs. The determination that I hear around the House to address this issue is felt very much by the Government. Two consultations were carried out in 2004 on early design work. Discussions with officials have taken that work forward and we now have in place a joint consultative council. The whole thrust of NOMS is to strengthen the management of offenders and the protection of the public.
The sentencing system has gone through a huge amount of change, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, made plain. I very much welcome the noble and learned Lord's measured comments and appreciate his concern about the impact of sentencing change on the criminal justice system. However, we are balancing the proposals and trying to move forward precisely to ensure that sentences work more effectively—not least in reducing the offending, which, as the noble and learned Lord says, is simply too high.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, also asked which house the coroners will be living in—the Department for Constitutional Affairs or the Home Office? I can tell the noble Baroness that they have found a new, comfortable and warm home with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor in the Department for Constitutional Affairs. There, they will probably receive the tender ministrations of my noble friend Lady Ashton, who has been rightly commended for all her hard work. Therefore, I do not feel that I need to trouble my little head about how they will be cared for because I know that they will be in superb hands.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, asked what had happened to the corruption Bill. This Government remain absolutely committed to reforming the law of corruption with regard to bribery. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, reminded us, we published a draft Bill on this matter in 2003, and we intend a revised Bill to be presented to Parliament as soon as is reasonably practicable.
The noble Lords, Lord Maclennan and Lord Goodhart, also asked about the Civil Service Bill in the legislative programme. The consultation exercise on the Government's proposal for legislation for the Civil Service ended on
I come to the main body of the debate, which surrounded the issue of House of Lords reform. I was delighted that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor dealt so comprehensively with those issues. I hope that noble Lords will accept that the Government have listened to the demands that we should try to approach Lords reform in a consensual fashion; that was mentioned by a number of noble Lords during the debate, including the noble Lord, Lord Waddington.
What does that consensus mean in terms of delivery? We have proposed a Joint Committee to look at the way in which the House works and contributes to the parliamentary process. We have also promised a free vote on the way forward on composition. To answer the noble Lord's question, I say that that free vote is in relation to both Houses, not only the Commons. The free vote is there for all Members on our side; obviously, we do not seek to bind Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or any others who wish to take a different view.
We must view all this in the context of two principles. We have all accepted that there is no place for hereditary membership of Parliament; the hereditary principle has comprehensively gone. Any settlement of the House of Lords must continue to recognise the supremacy of the House of Commons. Noble Lords have repeatedly made reference to commitments made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine. I make it plain that the commitment in the Government's manifesto honours that. We genuinely believe that it is the best way forward.
When making his statement, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, made it plain that the compromise in the terms that he set out,
Noble Lords will remember that, when the matter came before the House at that stage, there was a manifesto commitment in the Labour Party manifesto that would have removed all hereditary Peers.
We think that the situation has been honourably dealt with. The issue must be dealt with using great sensitivity and care, as several noble Lords made absolutely plain. The compromise that we now put forward is the most important one. We very much pray in aid what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. He has real experience, having tried to deal with the exercise once, of the need for compromise. If no one changes, there will be no movement. I endorse what he said about the need to look at the issue in that regard.
My Lords, what happens if no method of choosing the composition is agreed by either House, as happened in the House of Commons last time round? The House of Commons said, "We don't want elected, we don't want elected in proportion, we don't want this and we don't want that". To everything, it said, "We don't want it". I do not see how we get round that problem and have a properly reformed House—as your Lordships know, that is what I advocate—if the House of Commons says that it does not know what it wants to do and it will not do anything at all.
My Lords, that is the whole purpose of having the Joint Committee. These issues must be predicated on the basis that Members of both Houses will behave in a proportionate and moderate manner. I know that some would say that that was a bold wish, but I still hope that good sense will prevail.
I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that the committee has been set, but there is agreement that this is the only way that we will move forward. We all agree that we must move forward, because a stalemate is not an acceptable way of continuing to do business. This House has said repeatedly that we are in the business of delivering good, effective and robust scrutiny.
My Lords, does that mean that the deal that was made—the Irvine/Cranborne deal, which was enacted and implemented under Standing Orders of this House—goes out of the window? The deal, which was recorded, was that the hereditary Peers would remain until stage two— substantive reform. I understand that that was the deal—because I was involved in it and divided the House against the Bill and lost with only 42 votes—and I would be grateful to know whether the Government will renege on their undertaking.
My Lords, the Government do not intend to renege. That is the whole point of our manifesto commitment—of proposing a new scheme through which we hope that a second stage change will be delivered. There is no point in looking back and saying that we could do it another way. We have tried other ways and the truth is that we have failed. Therefore, we must examine the situation in which we find ourselves. The committee will provide us with a way forward. We will have a free vote and we hope that we will, using those two instruments, be able to deliver a second stage.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford said that two conversations took place. Does my noble friend agree that if there are elections to this House, its authority will be advanced?
My Lords, I cannot pre-empt the conversation that will take place. We have not yet determined the way forward. There may be a number of alternatives that will be discussed by the committee. When the committee has carried out its work, we will know the choices that they have put before us and we will be able to make a decision. As I and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor have said, we on this side of the House intend to have a free vote. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford asked, quite rightly, whether the Bishops' Benches will be involved. Of course they will. They are a vibrant, active part of this House and if this debate is anything to go by, we will need their prayers more than anything else.
My Lords, I understood that the Joint Committee would be concerned, rightly or wrongly, with looking at the procedures of this House, and not issues such as composition. Is that right? The Minister seems to be implying that the Joint Committee will produce a stage two, which does not seem consistent with what was said in the manifesto.
My Lords, all those procedures will feed into the approach and the decision that the Government will take. Those two issues will thereby be linked.
I am conscious of the fact that a number of noble Lords have spoken about the identity card Bill and other issues. I have now been on my feet for 21 minutes and it is five minutes past ten. I very much want to address the other issues. I anticipate that this issue will be considered with the same interest that it has been dealt with on each occasion that it has come before the House. The House of Lords reform will be an active, vibrant, multi-faceted, interesting debate. I am sure that we will have an opportunity to enjoy that debate hour after hour. For now, I wonder whether noble Lords will content themselves with this answer so that I can show a little courtesy to those to whom I have not yet responded.
A number of noble Lords—the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, the noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Thomas of Gresford, and my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws—raised the issue of identity cards. I shall clarify certain issues for them. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, suggested that ID cards are an infringement of civil liberties, but we do not believe that they are.
The ID card scheme is about providing a single highly reliable record of a person's identity. The Bill sets limitations on the information that may be held and its use. Only Parliament can amend that. ID cards will not be issued until the person has been in the country for six months. The Government do not intend to oblige short-term visitors of less than three months to register with an ID card scheme. All foreign nationals who stay in the UK for less than three months will use their passport or the national ID card for identification purposes.
A number of noble Lords said that biometrics do not work. I respectfully remind your Lordships that fingerprints have been in use for over 100 years. Many countries have well-established systems for storing fingerprint images and matching them to identify criminals. Biometrics link physiological characteristics with ID, whereas passwords or PINs key on linking facts with ID. Those facts can be stolen or shared. Biometrics therefore offer a higher level of certainty in linking an individual with an established recorded ID.
I know that my noble friend Lord Desai has been very supportive of those issues. He properly raises his concerns specifically in relation to young people. The ID card scheme is not discriminatory. The Bill will not require individuals to carry their cards. The card scheme will be open to everyone on an equal basis, alongside rules on identity checks that are consistent with, and which do not single out particular groups, will help to reduce discrimination as everyone will have an equal means of proving identity when using the public services.
Similar issues were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, about the information that may be held on the national register. It will be strictly limited by the Bill, and will be listed in Schedule 1. It will include personal information such as name, address, date and place of birth. Only Parliament can change the information held on the register. It will not include marital status, details of licence plate, driving licence, medical records or bank details. It will be simply about identity.
I understand the concerns of noble Lords and that of my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws who asked whether DNA would be on the cards. The straight answer is that it will not. Biometrics is defined in the Bill as data about a person's external characteristics—face patterns and iris scans. That will assist in the fight against terrorism. The British security services have said that an ID card will help. Eliza Manningham-Buller said that widespread use of false documents was an essential aspect of terrorist activity. An ID card will make it more difficult for terrorists to operate. We believe that these issues can be overcome. They are important issues which we need to debate and discuss.
I was pleased to see that mention was made of the equality Bill by my noble friend Lord Parekh. It was not given a lot of attention, but we very much look forward to the equality and human rights Bill because they are important issues.
I am sure that we will have an extraordinarily exciting time. Today's contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, seemed to be restrained to issues relating to the House of Lords, but from his interest and that of others around the House I know that we will have a vibrant debate on criminal justice issues, children, women in prisons, reformation and how they link together. I greatly look forward to that debate, enjoying, as I will, the company of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and my noble friends Lord Bassam and Lady Ashton.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Andrews, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until tomorrow.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon—took the Oath.