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Queen's Speech — Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:07 pm on 27th May 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 6:07 pm, 27th May 2010

My Lords, in our parliamentary new world, I would like to talk about one area of work already trailed by the noble Lords, Lord Filkin and Lord Rooker, and on which the House, through its working groups, prompted by the Lord Speaker, have already done a great deal of work. It is work for which this House would be particularly well suited with or without the Commons and the Joint Committees. We would be well suited because the work would and should involve all sides of the House and the coalition Government have made clear their intention not to be exclusive, because good government should be as inclusive as possible. That is the way to the best outcomes.

Having a coalition Government does not exempt any Member of the House, whether or not his party holds office, from holding the Government to account and scrutinising their decisions and actions. There is a distinction between government and Parliament that has been eroded over the years. I disagree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, about that.

I have not been the only one of your Lordships over many years to question the quantity of legislation with which Parliament and the real outside world is faced and to ask whether it is necessary. Is not its objective covered by earlier legislation? Is legislation always the best way to address a particular problem? I suggest that the time is right-as the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, put it, "Let's stop talking and start doing"-for the House to put in place a structure for post-legislative scrutiny. It should ask whether a particular Act has achieved what it was intended to achieve, which is not necessarily the same question as the merits of the underlying policy. Does it succeed in its own terms?It would be interesting to know in some cases whether all the parts of an Act have actually come into force, and how much has lain fallow.

What has the impact been on those who work in the particular policy area? Taking evidence would be valuable; we do so a little now at the pre-legislative stage, and I welcome the Government's proposals for public reading stages of Bills, building perhaps on the Scottish approach. I welcome the view that no one has the monopoly on wisdom-or, if anyone does, it is those who are affected, not those who make the laws. I am sure that we would all have our own candidates for such evaluation or re-evaluation, and I am not going to go down the route of choosing or suggesting those candidates now.

Scrutiny, however, is not just a job for opposition. Indeed, I found in another sphere of government that there would be alliances between supporters and opponents of a given project, both vigorous questioners-the opponents because they wanted to find the weaknesses and the supporters because they wanted the project to succeed. I welcome the reports of the working groups that have been referred to today, and I trust that they will be pursued.

This seemed to be an occasion on which to raise that issue, although I realise it is important today not to be thought to be inward-looking. There are major matters of policy as well as of procedure. I have commented on the quantity of legislation in the past. Having no new legislation for a year and not many orders either would be an attractive thought but it is not going to happen, certainly not with a new Government-although we all recognise the public's preference, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, put it some hours ago, for being left alone.

However, significant parts of the coalition's programme for government are about the repeals of laws, especially in the area of civil liberties. The freedom Bill-the Liberal Democrats published such a Bill in draft some time ago-is about restoring freedoms to the citizens and rolling back the overintrusive state. I hope this will mean, among other things, an end to the notices that I find offensive around the parliamentary estate about the "offence" of trespass in what, above all, should be a public building. It was particularly sad that on the day of the Queen's Speech, Brian Haw was arrested and the Mayor of London started proceedings to remove protesters from Parliament Square. The coalition Government are set to restore rights to non-violent protest. I believe that the Metropolitan Police commissioner commented:

"The one thing we would look for in any government is to properly clarify around Parliament what it is they want and what they do not want".

I look forward to clarification and confirmation of these citizens' rights.

Part of pushing back the state-or, as the Minister put it, the citizens' control over the state-is acknowledging that other entities in the world of government may make mistakes, or what central government regards as mistakes. There is a degree of bravery required to let go. The previous Government dealt in earned freedoms and flexibilities for local government, and our coalition partners were very critical of that and argued the localism agenda. I could go further back in history, but I shall just say that I hope that neither of the coalition partners this time will bottle it. We should acknowledge that some local authorities will do things that central government does not like, and we should be careful about the constraints imposed or retained because central government thinks that it knows either how best to make savings or how best to set standards.

We need to recognise some dilemmas. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to CCTV. I have often felt that local authorities are pulled in two directions on this issue: public calls for CCTV for crime prevention, and public concerns about liberties. I suppose that the answer is somewhere in proper regulation.

One policy area which is moving fast is education, with the plans for academies. I have always thought that schools are central to a local authority's operation because they are central to the local community. I am sure that Parliament will look at how academies fit into the localism agenda when it looks at localism in the round. Local government is not in for an easy time. One concern that I have is the perhaps unmanageably high expectations and demands that will be made of the voluntary sector in providing services. There are many in this House who will ensure that we do not lose sight of that. My noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury has already drawn our attention to this.

There are many more areas of Home Office policy than one can cover. Immigration proved in the election to be a thorny area, not least for my party. I hope we will look at the issues in the round and address what causes people such anxiety, not least housing and jobs. I am ashamed to say that in my own borough candidates with an obviously Asian name did not get elected, while others of the same party were elected in the same ward. It has made me wonder what people today would have made of my name on the ballot paper.

The House expressed its concerns on control orders not so long ago. I look forward to putting our legislation where our speeches are. Sentencing was mentioned by those who can speak far more authoritatively than I can. I will simply say that it is a happy coincidence that the approach to sentencing trailed by the programme for government, including neighbourhood justice panels, restorative justice and so on, is also money-saving.

In summary, on the whole: the less legislation the better. Let us find ways of reviewing legislation already on the statute book-and whatever may join it-through mechanisms at which I think this House could excel. In Parliament, as in life, it is not just what you do; it is the way that you do it.