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Queen's Speech — Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:53 pm on 27th May 2010.

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Photo of Lord Dear Lord Dear Crossbench 3:53 pm, 27th May 2010

My Lords, as other noble Lords have done, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, to the Front Bench. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord McNally. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs-four or five speakers back-mentioned his long political association with the noble Lord, Lord McNally. Mine goes back a good deal longer than that-in fact, all the way back to University College London when we were rather disreputable undergraduates together. We have come a long way to arrive here in your Lordships' House today. We are undoubtedly wiser, older and, I think, better looking-certainly on his part.

I think that the noble Lord would join me in expressing relief not to be facing another monster criminal justice Bill, policing Bill or evidence Bill, with which we have had to put up, certainly during my past four and a half years, and, in his case, for a good deal longer. Instead, we are asked to endorse a repeal of unnecessary criminal offences. I say, "Hear, hear" to that. If anyone is looking for a list, I will willingly add some to it, but it is something which needs addressing as a matter of urgency.

Today I should like to highlight a number, but by no means all, the issues that are important. Indeed, I should have liked to have spoken at length, as others have, on the whole structure of government and, in particular, the structure of this House-but I refrain from that today. In no order of priority, I wish to go through a number of issues and then concentrate on a rather more important one.

First, crime is undoubtedly reducing numerically overall, but public concern about lawlessness seems to continue at a high level. One might well say that the fear of crime outstrips the reality. I contend that that is driven by what is often called the yob culture. Anti-social behaviour, which seems to gain in its virility and impetus almost on a weekly basis, is seen in its more extreme form in binge drinking. We are asked to consider, later in this Session, tackling low-priced alcohol. That is probably good, but it is probably only one small step down what must be a very long road. There was a time, 10 or 12 years ago, when we were trying very hard to bring about the growth, or even the implementation, of a café culture or café society. I do not think that we have done that. We may never get there-certainly not in the short term-and we need to look very closely at licensing hours, which may be too long. Certainly they extend too far into the small hours. We need to examine the proliferation of large drinking establishments which are clustered together in many city and town centres, to look for much better-co-ordinated action by the police and local authority, and a much more consistent and realistic sentencing policy in the courts. In other words, on this issue, we will find ourselves winding the clock back to where we were 15 years or so ago, rather than trying to develop the café culture going forward.

On scrapping ID cards, we have spent too long and too much money and effort on them, and I would endorse their immediate demise.

On the regulation of CCTV, there is a balance to be struck. Your Lordships' Select Committee on the Constitution, in a paper published in 2009, Surveillance: Citizens and the State, recommended a number of things: a statutory regime for the use of CCTV in the public and private sectors, legally binding codes of practice, a complaints system, an oversight procedure and so on. We could well use that report as a good starting point for looking at this. There is a balance clearly to be struck on this and, indeed, on other issues also.

The same Select Committee commented on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. We need to look at RIPA in a thoroughgoing review-in particular, the use of that legislation by councils. The use of RIPA to deal with dog fouling, excessively filled bins and so on debases the intent of that legislation.

On the use of intercept evidence, I have been pleased-as have many others in your Lordships' House-to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who is not in his place, in trying to introduce the concept of intercept evidence into criminal procedures. We should examine and identify ways of introducing it into criminal trials. At the same time, we should be wary of what the security services and the police have already cited as examples of where they do not want their sensitive methods and procedures demonstrated in the public arena. We need to balance that; but it is not beyond the wit of man or, indeed, the skills of this Government to find a way to address it.

On self-defence-an issue that is bobbing about, but which attracts a great deal of attention in the media from time to time-I see no need to change the law. I support what the Law Society has said at length, and there is a real need for the exercise of common sense by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service in their approach. There needs to be speedy resolution-particularly in such cases-rather than leaving someone hanging about wondering what the outcome will be, and only finding out months after the event that no proceedings are to be taken against them. Speed is always essential in the judicial process, particularly in those circumstances.

I have nailed my colours to the mast on DNA records. I simply say once again that I believe we should adopt the procedures and requirements established in Scotland. In saying so, I do not so much declare an interest in this, but mention for the record that I am chairman of a company that provides forensic examination of DNA to the police and many other organisations but has no interest in the maintenance of the records and the DNA register.

Finally, before I touch on my major point, I think we should examine whether the growth in control orders and their use is fully justified and whether the use of terrorism surveillance powers for relatively trivial terrorist offences-if that is not an oxymoron-is justified and review the counterterrorist legislation generally so as adequately to empower the police and the Security Service but also safeguard the basic, fundamental, long-established rights of the citizen. This is an issue in which it is well known that your Lordships have shown a continuing interest over the years, and I am sure that it will continue.

So far as policing is concerned-I declare an interest here because I served in all ranks of the police service for over 30 years up to and including 1997-as the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said in his excellent maiden speech, we do not want any more reviews. What we want in the public sector is leadership. So far as the police service is concerned, the need for good leadership is paramount. I commend to the Government attention to the development of leaders of quality in that service. We have made considerable gains in terms of structure, but we could look at the structure again, if not in this Session, in later Sessions.

Lastly, I want to touch with some emphasis on the Government's proposal to make the police more accountable and to have directly elected police commissioners. I could speak for half an hour on this, but time prevents me. I am not sure what "commissioner" means in these terms. If it means a directly elected police chief, I would die in a ditch over that. The Minister shakes her head, and I am relieved to know that. If we are talking about directly elected chairmen of police authorities, we should examine that. Police authorities may not like that too much, but if what we are talking about is not so much accountability, which was mentioned in the gracious Speech, but about making the police more accessible, more sensitive to local issues and more aware of what the public want, we should do that. If a direct election of the chairman is necessary, then we should do it.

However, I conclude on this warning note: it is very dangerous ground. There are great dangers when directly electing somebody to this position of having political influence, which leads to political control. That control could be overt or covert. A power to hire and fire, for example, would be taking away and cutting across the residual powers of the Home Secretary, which one has already in place in extremis. I say unashamedly that I will support the concept, but I want to look very closely at how we stop it running through into political influence and control, which I would abhor. Put very simply, being sensitive to public opinion is a good thing; being subordinate to it is another. It is a matter of great constitutional importance, and I am sure that your Lordships will treat it as such in due course.