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My Lords, we return to the Queen’s Speech and I shall concentrate my remarks on the criminal justice aspects of it. My interests are well known and listed in the register: I was the co-founder of Catch22, of which I remain a vice-president; I was the chairman of Crime Concern for 15 years; and I am a regular prison visitor.
When the Prime Minister became Prime Minister and appointed the Home Secretary, the two of them were to be found rushing around the country with popular newspapers in tow seeking to grab as many headlines as possible about being savage and unkind to prisoners. It sounds like a good piece of election rhetoric to inflict as much injudicious pain as possible on those whose crimes are well known, but it is very petty policy. It is intended to reassure the public that the Government are tough on the nasty people but it comes from a nasty place. It comes from wanting to make us, in effect, more fearful and therefore to trust government institutions.
We do not need to spend more time in this House or over any part of the years to come on the subject of building new prisons and adding more prison places. We all know that our system is broken and does not work effectively. We incarcerate far too many people, we lock them up for far too long, and we ensure, by the bad manner in which we hold them behind bars, that very few are effectively rehabilitated and that they do not return to society as sound citizens. Our rehabilitation rates are poor and the return-to-prison rates far too high. What we really required in the gracious Speech was the recognition that we need to learn from other parts of the European Union and Latin America that are closing prisons, reducing the number of offenders who go to prison and moving towards civilising and supporting individuals with their mental capacity, their ability to learn and educate, and the option to contribute, again, as responsible citizens.
One thing that I have learned in my now extensive and very regular prison visits in the south of England, particularly in Kent, is that after a few years many of the men locked away for extensive periods learn the hard lessons of their foolishness and victimisation. However, under our system we are committed to retain them behind bars for maybe 20 or 30 years, paying an extensive cost, estimated to be between £48,000 and £50,000 a year—more than it costs to send a child to Eton—and, for young offender institutions, between £80,000 and £120,000, which, again, is a multiple of what it costs to send a child to the most expensive and some of the best private schools in the country.
Therefore, this multibillion pound system, which is piling on more people and more young offenders and regularly returning many more to prison, is simply not delivering success, opportunity, fairness or justice. It is not good policy to go around beating up those who are already destitute by their own failure and, on many occasions, are very highly repentant and determined to be responsible citizens of the future. Instead, we need policies committed to returning them safely to society and we need their support, as taxpayers, as contributors to the strong society that we all need.
I hope that the Minister will consider, and maybe reply, on the thought that it is about time that we had a royal commission to consider the nature of sentences, particularly for serious crimes, the length of those sentences and how the rehabilitative process should be better undertaken, learning the lessons of countries—especially Nordic countries—that have moved to much more open prison policies and offer educational and emotional support, dealing with fundamentals such as drug abuse and mental pressure issues, and taking the savagery out of a system that is not delivering us a safe society.
“This is not about protecting victims. This is not making communities safer … it adds to increasingly punitive rhetoric emanating from government. The tenor of the debate on crime and punishment seeps into the public discourse insidiously. At a time when the nation is already divided and increasingly angry, adding this fuel to the fire is irresponsible”.
Therefore, we need a royal commission to at last open up this question and stop fearing the tabloid headlines, which just want to say, “Push them away more firmly”. I noted the Prime Minister’s visit with the Home Secretary to a prison in, I think, Leeds, where they rushed along the corridors and did not talk to any prisoners in an attempt to understand the reality of their lives, instead standing with prison officers and pointing out how dreadful the people behind bars were. They are citizens—members of our communities—and they will return to our communities. If we do not deal with them properly, they will repeat their crimes at great public cost. We have to learn from the pattern of failure.
I want to make a quick comment on the stop and search extension proposed under the legislation. I have said many times in this House that it is downright folly. Coming from one of the ethnic minority communities—a black community—and knowing many young men who have been stopped and searched, I can tell your Lordships that this does not drive an effective approach to safety or policing; it builds phenomenal resentment and causes additional unhappiness and crime, and of course it is an inappropriate way to handle young men.
My Lords, I am grateful that the gracious Speech indicates that the Government intend to put more resource into the criminal justice system and the police. The difficulty is that I am not convinced by the strategy and am rather more with the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. However, I do not support the idea of a royal commission, simply because it would recommend only what it thought was politically possible. I think that people like me and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, need to push for much more drastic reform.
During a recent debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, I told the House that I have spent the last two years, among other things, taking a very close look at the UK’s prison system. I also said that I have concluded that the system is hopelessly and fundamentally flawed.
Your Lordships know perfectly well that minor offenders can sometimes go on to commit very serious offences unless the pattern of behaviour is halted early. For these younger prisoners—those younger than 26 to 30—it is essential that the causes of their offending are addressed. Very often these are illiteracy and innumeracy, coupled with a lack of hope, pride and self-discipline. That is why I proposed a new sentence of being “Detained for Training” at Her Majesty’s pleasure, or DFT for short. Release would depend on achieving the required standard of literacy, numeracy, trade training and personal conduct as an alternative to being incarcerated for a set period predetermined by the court—something that the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, touched on.
Offenders on DFT would not necessarily be accommodated in a classic prison building, and I suspect that I share some thinking with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. Furthermore, the term “personal conduct” would include abstention from substance abuse. There would have to be a cap of, say, five years for those who still did not want to comply.
Some outside this Chamber have queried the economics of my DFT proposal and the possible views of the Treasury. The latter, as noble Lords know well, is always a problem with any new policy. I am neither equipped nor qualified to lay out exactly how to run a DFT system, nor can I say how much it would cost to run, other than to observe that the current system is a very expensive way of achieving very little with prolific minor offenders.
I fully take on board the point that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, keeps making about the need for the current and any future system to be properly managed and led. The most obvious need is to keep operations separate from policy determination and accept that mistakes will be made and things will go wrong. I should like to make it clear that I do not believe that the problem with our current penal system lies with either the prison governors, at all levels, or prison officers. The problem is what we tell them to do with the prisoners.
The current economic model with regard to the prolific minor offender is that, after several community sentences, we spend, say, £40,000 on his—the vast majority are male—first sentence to immediate custody. We totally fail to address his weaknesses in literacy, numeracy and personal conduct. All noble Lords are aware of the 60% reconviction rate within 12 months, and that figure is flattered by those who are extremely unlikely to reoffend post-release. So we spend another £40,000 on the next relatively short prison sentence, as observed by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. Surely, if we properly sorted out the offender the first time round, even if it meant spending £60,000, we could avoid the cost of the second and subsequent prison sentences and all the associated harm to the community they entail.
I am not convinced by the new policy of increasing sentences for serious offences even further. The exception is the provision for deported foreign offenders, which is welcome. We know that our sentences are much longer than those of comparable states and, as a result, our incarceration rate is very high. I fear that one driver of this is that policymakers and the general public take a middle-class view of deterrence. For instance, I never use my handheld mobile phone while driving because I know that I risk having an accident and, most importantly, a prison sentence. A prolific minor offender simply does not care. I really do not think that the actual length of the possible prison sentence matters to a very serious offender at all. What really matters is the probability of being caught and being sentenced to prison, as observed by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. The most important thing is to be effective in steering youngsters away from a life of crime.
My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my interest in the register as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I also join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for the great work he did as a Minister and his co-operative way of working on local government and inclusion, which was welcomed across the House.
This debate is taking place at a time of great strain for the fabric of the areas and regions of the United Kingdom, but I suggest that Brexit is a symptom, not the cause, of these strains. It is not the European Union that causes some of us in parts of the United Kingdom to take Pacer trains that are more like garden sheds on wheels; that has over many years created the imbalance in regional investment across the country—in fact, the EU has actually helped at times with regional funds—that has seen a lack of investment in helping businesses equally in this country in terms of IT and other infrastructure; that has been responsible for lack of skills or focus on skills in certain parts of the country; or that has been responsible for the lack or imbalance of regional productivity across the country.
The cause of all this has been a lack of effective—or any—regional policy over the last 30 to 40 years, and Governments of all colours have to take some responsibility for this. When it comes to investment, life chances, life expectancy, job opportunities and a lack of hope, the real causes, as I have said, are the divided country, divided nations and divided regions. If you want to “get on with it” and bring this country together, I suggest that we need to focus on devolution and regional policy. If the Government spend a 10th of the time on this that they do on preparing for a no-deal Brexit, we could start to deal with the real causes of the divides and strains in our nation.
Welcome as the Government’s lines on devolution in the Queen’s Speech are, they are scant on detail. Devolution is not a slogan such as “northern powerhouse”; it is not one person such as a metro mayor; it is not decentralisation from an out-of-date way of doing governance from a central Victorian Government. It is fundamental and systematic change of how our country is governed, where power lies and how power and responsibilities can be used—a much more federal model, pulling down the pillars of a bureaucratic, London-centric model.
It starts here in London. Devolution never talks about what needs to change at the central level. It talks about how you give crumbs or parts of decentralisation from here down to the regions or areas, all of which are predetermined by Government and importantly—and we need to get away from this—the shadow and heavy hand of the Treasury, which blocks based on what it thinks is right from its economically London-centric view of what is needed for the regions, areas and countries of the UK.
We need to talk about a different way of governing centrally. We need a Cabinet member for regional vibrancy and economic performance and a real ministry for devolution and economic policy, pulling in powers from different ministries so that they are not arguing in silos about who is responsible. We must also do away with them being responsible to the Treasury. The Treasury stops and stalls. We need to start here, before we start talking about what I call “devolution by default”. Unless there is a national security or strategic reason for keeping them central, the models and powers of devolution should be decided by the area. It does not have to be a metro mayor or a pick-and-mix approach to what is needed on devolution. It should be down to each region.
Can the Minister therefore say what central changes will be made in government to make devolution work? Will we move away from a pick-and-mix model of devolution where you can pick and mix only certain things that have been predetermined by the centre, which would not bring around the true approach to dealing with this? What new funding models will be available for devolution? Local taxation and finance-raising powers are needed. It should be down to local people to decide through the ballot box whether something is right or wrong, not someone at the Dispatch Box here to say that it is not in the interest of local regions.
If we are serious about bringing our country together and dealing with the strains and issues that have caused Brexit, we need a different and more devolved way and better regional and local policies to do so. That has to start with a very different and radical approach to what we wish to do.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a vice-president and former chair of the Local Government Association.
The Queen’s Speech has set an ambitious agenda, and quite rightly so. Life in the communities of this country continues irrespective of the trials and tribulations of the Brexit issue. There is much in the Queen’s Speech that I welcome, as many of the proposals are signs of progress. As we implement these changes, we must ensure that we listen to the needs of our local communities. Because time is short, I will focus on only two issues which I believe my insight into local government leaves me well equipped to talk about: the Domestic Abuse Bill and the devolution White Paper.
Domestic abuse is a hugely important issue, one which I know we all take very seriously. The LGA and others have long supported the need for a domestic abuse Bill. This Bill is a legislative landmark. It will provide the first definition of domestic abuse that is not limited to violence. Women’s Aid has said that it has the potential to create a step change in the national response. I am sure all noble Lords would agree that this is promising.
The creation of a domestic abuse commissioner will also help to raise the profile of this issue and ensure that the momentum behind it continues. For their part, councils will work collaboratively with the commissioner to support good practice across the country. However, I want to highlight that there also needs to be a greater focus on prevention and early intervention, to tackle the root causes of domestic abuse in the first place. Councils are best placed to lead on this agenda, but their ability to provide support services is currently limited by significant budgetary pressures. The Government must ensure that councils, and their partners, are given the resources they need.
Ahead of the Queen’s Speech, the LGA also called for a new devolution settlement. Across the board, services can be delivered better when councils have the freedoms and funding to make local decisions. Devolution is the key to progress for local communities. The Prime Minister has shown his commitment to the devolution agenda and I welcome the Government’s proposed White Paper. It is particularly important as there have been no new devolution areas agreed in the last two years. When deals have been agreed, we have seen a focus on cities and individual negotiations. With this White Paper, we must go further. The mayoral combined authorities have already begun to demonstrate the real, tangible benefits of devolution, but that model does not suit everyone. We cannot continue to leave the rest of the country behind.
I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, refer to Total Place. Having been involved in discussions on Total Place and its early stages, I support his desire to see it being reconsidered and brought forward. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, who believes that the Treasury does not deal well with local government, might find that Total Place could be part of a good solution to that issue. As the White Paper is developed, I hope that national and local government can work in partnership to ensure that they work for all local areas. We need to move towards a package of sustainably funded devolved powers, available to all English local government. This in turn will ensure prosperity and growth across our country.
I conclude by once again welcoming this Queen’s Speech. Its proposals will allow us to work together to protect our most vulnerable residents and ensure our long-term success and prosperity as a nation. For this to happen, the Government must work with local leaders, who are best placed to understand our communities and the challenges they face. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s thoughts on a new collaborative approach. Together we can continue to make a difference for people across England.
My Lords, with the prospect of one or more general elections looming, I want to grasp the opportunity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her excellent work as a Minister in the last, long, two-year Session. She has been courteous, consultative, listening, inclusive and responsive, and I hope she will continue to be a Minister for a long time to come. That is not just cupboard love in the hope that I get a good response to the comments I am about to make.
My first point is about Brexit and national security. A few minutes ago, we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, that every effort is being made and discussions are taking place to ensure that national security is not affected. I am afraid I do not accept that matters have gone beyond those discussions. The Minister and the Government should be ready to come to Parliament if they need more legislation to ensure that the security services and the police can command the data they need and have new treaty guarantees to strengthen our relationship with the not-always-successful Interpol, to replace the loss of European Union institutions.
My second issue relates to imprisonment generally, and I broadly agree with the very eloquent comments of my noble friend Lord Hastings and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. I am a former president of the Howard League for Penal Reform, an interest I should have mentioned earlier. Generations of research demonstrate that longer sentences, fuller prisons, reduced parole opportunities, diminished prison education and other cuts are absolutely no way to relieve the tensions caused by crime. I urge the Government to develop a mature and considered prison policy rather than one founded on soundbites prepared ahead of an election, as we have started to hear.
My third point relates to the youth courts. In 2014, a committee of parliamentarians assisted by the Michael Sieff Foundation and others produced a report on the youth courts. I had the privilege of chairing the committee. A significant colleague in our unanimous recommendations was one Robert Buckland, now the Lord Chancellor. Our conclusions were welcomed by the then Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, and the signs of support from the Youth Justice Board were encouraging. However, repeated ministerial changes have left a frustrating sense of stasis. To focus on just one example of our many recommendations, we identified a lack of relevant experience in representation offered in youth justice at both police stations and courts. The cases themselves are often uncomplicated, but the defendants are usually very complicated indeed, with multiple co-morbidity of social problems, mental health problems and, sometimes, physical health problems. I would welcome an indication that these cases—which almost always occur at a key stage in young lives—can be given the priority they deserve. A good starting point would be the funding to commence training programmes and a fit-for-purpose accreditation frame- work for the lawyers who appear in those courts. Too often, the most junior lawyer in a firm of solicitors or a barristers’ chambers is sent to the youth court, with practically no information. It will not do, and it is time we moved on.
My final point is entirely different. It relates to the private security industry, which we now see protecting the public in many parts of our major cities, including this building. Private security is regulated by the Security Industry Authority, the SIA. Over 360,000 individuals hold SIA licences, and this area is becoming a more crucial part of law enforcement, justice and the protection of the public every single day. The SIA has the power to license individuals but not companies, and it cannot delicense companies as it can individuals. Some pretty bad people, as well as some pretty good people, work in the private security industry. In my view, there is now an imperative for business as well as individual licensing, to ensure that the small number of bad providers can be dealt with effectively, for example by ensuring that the tax liabilities they owe to HMRC are met without the companies becoming insolvent and then re-emerging—through the so-called phoenix syndrome—with a new name a few days later. Taken together, a national strategy combined with the SIA’s desire to upskill the profession and to regulate at both business and individual level will enhance public protection.
I hope that the Minister can offer some comfort on the four issues I have raised.
My Lords, there is undoubtedly a great deal to welcome and to commend in the domestic agenda set out in Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech, though so far it has all been sadly overshadowed by the vexed question of Brexit. I am, above all, a unionist—not a trade unionist nor an Ulster unionist, but a simple believer in the almost universally popular proverb and motto “Unity is strength”. Clearly there is strength in numbers, and we are better and stronger together. That is principally why I was a remainer on the European question, and why I hope against hope that the resolution of that question will not further drive to divide Scotland from the United Kingdom, weaken the ties between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and encourage separatist tendencies in Wales or even Yorkshire.
But it is not just the devolved nations that demand our attention. Let us not be mesmerised by the last three years of agonising and divisive debate about our future direction as a nation. I think we can all agree that there is now a need to come together. To bring the nation back together through their legislative programme, I believe that the Government should maintain a strong focus on healing the divide in this country—England—between north and south. This is not solely an English issue. If I may, I shall co-opt the devolved nations for these purposes as honorary northerners, which, in the case of Scotland and Northern Ireland, certainly corresponds to geographical reality.
There is a clear divide between the north and the prosperous, powerful region in which we sit, London and the south-east, that erodes loyalties, nourishes resentment, is the enemy of prosperity and stifles the potential of far too many of our people. We hear encouraging noises about the northern powerhouse, but we need so much more than platitudes, promises without timelines or faster trains—yes, more even than HS2. We have created a patchwork of city regions, some with elected mayors, yet we do not seem to have managed to create a unifying voice or purpose that would engage and unleash the latent power of the north.
I am immensely proud to be a northerner, born, bred and resident to this day. But I am also ashamed that the north continues to suffer from a long and complex list of disadvantages, including but by no means restricted to lower incomes, worse job prospects, vastly poorer infrastructure, cultural sparsity, inferior health outcomes and even lower life expectancy.
The metropolitan media has spent three long years wringing their hands over the fact that in most parts of the north—here I clearly exclude Scotland—a convincing majority cast their votes for leave. Was this maybe because they were not sufficiently educated? No, more likely it was because the north felt left behind—neglected, like a poor relation, insufficiently cared for. Maybe it was its way of trying to make politicians sit up and take notice. Well, we should.
I would like the acid test of all domestic legislation in the current Session to be: does it treat the north fairly—by that I mean does it treat the north equally? Does it help to draw the nation together? If we are to make our way in the world as an independent country, it is absolutely vital that we harness the talent and energies of all our citizens, from every single area and diverse region of our land. We will achieve that only if we invest in the north—not just select cities or other parts of the north where the impact of our neglect is far too embarrassing to ignore, but the north as a whole. Nurture it, care for it, seek to reduce the hurtful inequalities between north and south, and improve understanding of each other’s needs across the length and breadth of the nation. Surely we have had enough of division, bitterness and unfairness. As Churchill famously put it,
“let us go forward together with our united strength”.—[
My Lords, I am delighted to be the fifth northerner in a row in this House to speak. I have looked at the Queen’s Speech and sliced it into three: details of the expected damage that the Government intend to do to the United Kingdom; what they remain committed to; and measures that will be introduced—I suspect that means Bills, laws and our thorough involvement.
I come first to damage, on a day when I suspect no damage is being done. The only time I have spoken on the Brexit issue was in a debate on
Yesterday, I met a woman who told me that, in her family circle, her father and her aunt had died in the past three years—and they voted leave. She has four nieces and nephews who have attained the age of 18 in the last 40 months. They would have voted remain and would vote remain if there were to be a referendum. I wonder for how long the present Government believe a dated referendum result will still be valid.
I will now look at measures to be introduced. I will speak to a sentence on page 91 of the background briefing:
“A White Paper will be published to set out my Government’s ambitions for unleashing regional potential in England, and to enable decisions that affect local people to be made at a local level”.
There is a bit more information—but not much. I welcome the use of the word “regional”. It is not a word that Conservatives have used; they have shied away from it. Liberal Democrats, being federal minded, have often used it. Indeed, it is part and parcel of our policies.
The northern powerhouse has been referred to. It seems to be a regional project, but it is still difficult to understand. Does the pending White Paper suggest that the northern powerhouse shall be subject to any form of legislation? As I understand it, it is just a couple of words, like the “American dream”. I do not think it really means too much. It is a concept that the last Chancellor of the Exchequer but one introduced because he represented a constituency in the north of England.
My noble friend on the Front Bench mentioned Wales not being referred to. I find, looking in detail, that north Wales is part of the northern powerhouse. That seems a strange concept, but there we are. I do not think that the northern powerhouse is what is meant by “regional”, but I would like to bottom it out. If you want to contact it, you will find that it is part and parcel of the department of communities. It does not have a board of directors, a finance chief or a balance sheet. It does not exist in that sense; it is just a strange concept.
However, on the English devolution that may be referred to, I would like to know whether it is going to be for a “one Yorkshire”? If they introduce a “one Yorkshire” as part of the devolution concept, they will find that it is quite popular. In Greetland, where I live, in Elland nearby, in the Calder Valley and in Halifax, we do not relate to anything called “the Leeds city region”, or the combined authority, but we do relate to Yorkshire. I look forward to the White Paper, and indeed, with some hope—but not necessarily expectation —to the Government’s conversion to a “one Yorkshire”.
My Lords, the designated subjects for today range widely. Other noble Lords have focused on home affairs and justice. I could have talked of the 20,000 new police officers we are promised by 2023, or the £2.5 billion to be spent on new prisons, but that would have taken me into economic territory. I listened to the gracious Speech, and I marvelled as the monarch read out that the Government’s,
“new economic plan will be underpinned by a responsible fiscal strategy, investing in economic growth while maintaining the sustainability of the public finances”.
If the barrage of spending policies that have been made by this Government amount to a responsible fiscal strategy, then Henry VIII had a responsible attitude towards marriage. We should all be alarmed when a former head of the Treasury says, as the noble Lord, Lord Macpherson of Earl’s Court, did in this Chamber last week, that the Government are pursuing,
“a policy of fiscal incontinence”.—[
So I will not dwell on the plans for more police and more prisons. Instead, I will talk about constitutional matters, particularly how we run our elections and the danger that poses to our constitution.
As other noble Lords have said, our unwritten constitution feels to be in a precarious position. Last week in a very powerful speech the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill of Bengarve, spoke of her concerns about how disinformation campaigning is influencing elections and referenda. Here, I must declare my interest as a director of the People’s Vote media hub. I believe that it is only right that the public should be asked to give their informed consent to the outcome of the Brexit process. I want that referendum, when it comes, to be fought fairly, without the intervention of what she referred to as “cyber troops”. The gracious Speech promised an electoral law Bill, but this seems to be a relatively narrow piece of legislation, dealing with the identification and direct intimidation of voters. This would not impact on the efforts of those organisations that are prepared to put significant resources into secretly influencing the results of votes. These may be wealthy individuals, special interest groups or foreign Governments. While the Government have voiced their commitment to protecting our electoral process from interference from abroad, nothing has been done to temper that. It cannot be right that those with access to large sums of money can buy the services of cyber troops to influence the outcomes of our elections. What steps will the Government undertake to protect the integrity of our electoral processes?
I would go further than dealing with the cyber effects of so much money. We have seen how our politicians have been subject to online abuse, particularly for the stance many of them have taken over Brexit. In the worst cases, the police have taken action but online comments do not have to be death threats to be very intimidating and, perhaps, to influence what politicians dare to say and how they behave. Many of us will have been on the receiving end of online abuse, which very often is anonymous. Not so long ago, an anonymous letter was considered an outrage. The recipient would have headed straight to the police. Any such missive would have had the inhabitants of St Mary Mead heading immediately for the service of Miss Marple. Now, anonymous communications are normal. Anonymity online does not equate to freedom of speech—often, it is a direct deterrent to it—and I believe it should be curtailed. In June last year the then Digital Minister, Margot James, said that freedom to be anonymous online has been abused,
“in such a substantial way, with such damaging effects”,
that curbs are being considered. Earlier this year, the DCMS published a White Paper on online harms, but it did not confront the basic issue of anonymity. In countries with extreme regimes and vicious censorship, there can be a genuine need for anonymity, but not in a healthy democracy. As the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said earlier,
“the public discourse has been dangerously coarsened, and I believe has now become so intimidating that it poses a genuine threat to democracy”.
Anonymity online has to be curbed.
My Lords, I declare a non-financial interest as president of Migration Watch, and remind the House that Migration Watch speaks for 30 million adults in the UK who wish to see immigration reduced. Eighteen million of them wish to see it reduced “by a lot”. For comparison, only about 5.5 million wish to see an increase, so they are outnumbered by rather more than five to one. The views of this very large majority are seldom represented in this House, so I shall focus on that very subject.
The critical test for the immigration Bill foreshadowed in the Queen’s Speech is whether it will achieve a serious reduction in the currently excessive levels of immigration. It is common ground that immigration on a modest scale is a welcome part of an open economy and society. I concur of course with the contributions earlier of the noble Lords, Lord Horam and Lord Hodgson. However, at its present level, immigration is adding, directly and indirectly, 1 million to the population of the UK every three years. One effect of this is to generate a need for 240 homes in England every day. These are extraordinarily large numbers which are not given enough attention.
Yet, despite the scale of immigration, there is no convincing evidence that immigration has increased the UK’s GDP per head, nor that it has increased productivity, which, as noble Lords will know, has been pretty flat for 10 years despite massive levels of immigration.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, told us today that the Government would deliver on the points-based system which has been promised for many years. Actually, although he does not seem to know it, we have had such a system since 2009. Unfortunately, it failed to ensure that so-called highly skilled workers went into highly skilled jobs. It also led to massive abuse of study visas. Noble Lords will remember that just part of the clean-up operation took several years and involved the closure of nearly 1,000 bogus colleges—this was an extraordinary degree of incompetence. Noble Lords may also have noted the remarks made by Mrs Theresa May in the other place last week, when she urged the new Home Secretary to look carefully at the lessons that have been learned about points-based systems. She should know.
What is this new system? The Government have been coy about the details, but they seem to have chosen the label “Australian” because it sounds tough and is therefore popular with focus groups. However, they will now have discovered that the Australian system is very complex and—whisper it—depends heavily on caps on all work-related routes, yet no mention of a cap has passed the lips of the Home Office.
It seems that the Government intend to build on the White Paper which they slipped out just before Christmas. That envisaged reducing the skill level from degree to A-level and “consulting” on the present salary level of £30,000. However, as the consultation is almost entirely with industry—surprise, surprise—a figure as low as £21,000 might emerge. According to our calculations, a salary level of that kind would expose up to 9 million UK jobs to new or increased international competition. That changes according to the level of salary that one puts in, but they are the kind of numbers we are talking about.
Cue an astonishing silence from Labour, the party of the workers, and from the trade unions, which one might think would be interested in looking out for the interests of potential recruits from the UK. Meanwhile—no surprise—businesses are on the warpath to achieve the lowest possible requirements and the largest possible flow.
Finally, will this system pass the test of achieving a serious reduction? It almost certainly will not. I am not sure it is even intended. This Government must pause and think. Their proposed immigration policy could very well lead to yet further increases in net migration. We are currently at a 10-year average of a quarter of a million a year; it has even touched in the past a third of a million. Under these proposals, it might very well go even higher.
I conclude with this thought: if, for whatever reason, Brexit does not turn out well—perish the thought—and if that is followed by continued mass immigration, the Conservative Party will have dealt its own future a massive blow.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. I compliment him on his most interesting and thought-provoking speech.
I had intended to speak in the debate last week, concerned principally with Brexit, trade, foreign affairs and defence, but was committed to be away. Since today’s debate covers constitutional affairs, I should like to make virtually the same remarks as I would have made last week. Brexit, after all, brings about the most momentous change in our constitutional affairs since we joined the EEC in 1973 and, additionally, has ramifications for justice, devolved affairs and much else besides.
I congratulate the Prime Minister and his negotiating team on achieving what was said to be impossible: reopening the withdrawal agreement and making significant changes to the Irish backstop. His deal is sufficiently good to be preferable to no deal, although I do not think that a no-deal departure would be anywhere near as catastrophic or cataclysmic as the architects of Project Fear have suggested. I saw Sir Oliver Letwin on The Andrew Marr Show; he seemed to be saying that he supported the agreement reached by the Prime Minister with the EU. Yet he is one of the architects of the Benn—or “surrender”—Act, Section 1(4) of which, as my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay pointed out on Saturday, required the Prime Minister to seek an extension specifically and only to pass a Bill to implement Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement, not the one that the Prime Minister reached last Thursday. Does the Minister agree that the Benn Act is, therefore, ineffective?
The gracious Speech shows the Government’s intention to protect the integrity of our democracy. I am not a lawyer, but I was surprised that the learned justices of the Supreme Court ruled as they did on the attempted Prorogation of Parliament in July. It seems to me that they have changed the constitution by their decision that the Prime Minister’s use of his prerogative powers in advising the Queen to prorogue Parliament was justiciable, contrary to the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls. It is also most surprising that the Supreme Court justices decided this unanimously. Their justification seems to be based on their opinion that the effect of Prorogation on the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme. However, Prorogation would have reduced the number of sitting days by only three days from what was anyway scheduled. Furthermore, both your Lordships’ House and another place had clearly passed the decision on Brexit to the people in the referendum, promising to carry out their decision. Many of those who supported the passage of the Benn Act have had a much more extreme effect on our democracy.
David Cameron is said to be sorry that he arranged for the people to decide the question of our EU membership by referendum. He is quite wrong to apologise; history will recognise him as the Prime Minister who finally accepted the inevitable. We have always been more reluctant than any other member state to see powers transferred to Brussels. Opinion polls have consistently shown that a much higher proportion of people in Britain support the return of powers from the Union to the member states than in any other member state. The fact that Mr Cameron failed to persuade the EU to offer us continued membership on a basis which at least partly restored our lost sovereignty is what persuaded me that we could no longer remain uncomfortable passengers on the European train and that we would do better to get off.
It is nonsense to argue that we are too small or weak to exist without the umbrella of the EU. I have spent many years of my business life working for British firms in Japan and for Japanese firms in the UK. I do not think our EU membership has helped or strengthened our standing in the world whatever. It is rather the opposite; our soft power has been restricted by our EU membership. Brexit is not about becoming little Englanders and looking in on ourselves. It is about gaining our freedom from the tentacles of the EU bureaucracy and resuming our role on the world stage as an independent trading nation and a strong advocate of rules-based free trade and competition, underpinned by proportionate regulation which does not stifle innovation. The gracious Speech indicates the Government’s intention to work towards a new partnership with the EU, based on free trade and friendly co-operation. We should be able to negotiate an FTA that offers as near to frictionless trade as possible. I am excited by the UK’s prospects of entering into mutually beneficial FTAs with many of our important trading partners and of accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Finally, I entirely agree with the brilliant speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I trust—and ask the Minister to confirm—that the reference to the protection of the integrity of democracy and the electoral system, contained in the gracious Speech, can be read as an indication that the Government intend to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, whose unintended consequences have caused so much damage to our democracy.
My Lords, I will restrict my comments to the police and criminal justice parts of the Queen’s Speech. I will first deal briefly with three issues that have come up in this debate. The first is longer sentences for violent and sexual offences. People may imagine that I would naturally support these, and I do support long sentences for serious offences. However, there has been sentence drift upwards, and parole reduction, over the last 20 years. The consequence has been a prison population, now, of around 85,000. There is a serious risk that that is too many. It is possible that we need to look seriously at that—if we allow it to continue, we will have worse problems, not less crime. In particular, we need to be more honest in our sentencing. If we were able to say, “You will go to prison for six years, but you will stay in prison for 10 should you not behave in prison or show that you have reformed your ways”, I think people would understand that but at the moment the reverse is true. Therefore, I think there is something more to do about sentencing—not necessarily making sentences longer.
My second point concerns the point raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Hope, based on the case of Helen McCourt, a young woman of 22 who was murdered in 1988 in Merseyside, an area I used to police. Her mother, Marie, has conducted an incredible campaign, for good reason, to try to identify the place where her daughter’s body was disposed of, but I am not sure that the remedy put forward is the correct one. There is a danger when, if someone cannot or will not admit where they disposed of a body, they will have a longer sentence. I propose that they should have a discount for providing the location of the body, because there is the danger my noble and learned friend described of somebody who is not guilty being trapped in prison for far longer than they should be if there is a miscarriage of justice.
My final, simple point is that I profoundly support the suggested sobriety tagging system. We started one in the Met about four years ago and it was effective. It came from a scheme in South Dakota in America and can make a profound difference where someone’s offending pattern is based on their alcohol intake and they cannot stop. The electronic tagging of people with that problem can produce a strategic difference, but not if we run only pilot schemes; we must have a UK-wide—certainly an England and Wales-wide—solution.
I want to confine my main remarks to the proposals in the Queen’s Speech about the police, the majority of which I welcome. The confirmation of the replacement of the 20,000 police officers lost is a good thing. It will take a few years, but it is appropriate. As a result of the banking crisis of 2007 we saw large cuts in public spending. I was never of the view that the police were singled out for worse treatment, but I think the cuts went too far and that they should have been remedied earlier. Even now, it will take at least until 2022 before we see police numbers return to the levels we saw back in 2009, but it is a good thing and we should celebrate it. We have to be careful not to worship police officer numbers, but there will always be a need for a critical mass of people to provide a police service, particularly, as we have heard, with a growing population and growing demands of different types, be it online or on the streets. There will be a period when those on the front line are overrepresented by the least experienced. This is a logical consequence of rapid recruitment and its effects must be mitigated, but I cannot see how they can be avoided, because it is essential that we get those officers back out on the street.
I also welcome the plan to enhance the police covenant. Apart from its direct benefits, it will also build trust between this Government and the police service. For too long there has been a suspicion among those on the front line that they have not had the Government’s support. Whether that is true or not is a different question, but that perception has certainly been there, and the enhancing of the police covenant will help to remedy a lack of trust. The proof will be in how it develops in the coming years.
I am sorry that the proposals on policing do not touch on three big areas which I think are vital to consider for the coming years. The first—it will be no surprise to the Minister to hear me say this—is that the structure of policing remains an enigma. We have a National Health Service and a British Army; we have a Security Service and we have 43 police forces. The criminals do not quite respect those boundaries. It seems to me that our investments have been fragmented in the development of policing over the years and they will only continue to be fragmented if we allow that structure to continue. We have maximised localism, which accounts for a huge amount of inconsistency and, I fear, a sad lack of development over the years.
There is no discussion in the Speech about making prevention a strategic priority of the police in the way that has allowed massive progress in the fire service and the health service. In my view, a cross-government approach to the design of place and things—alcohol control, drug control and drug policy, self-education to help people reduce the chance of being a victim and a strategy that concentrates on young people—will have profound effects. I am afraid I have seen no clear explanation of that.
Finally, there is a need to prioritise improvement in police technology. I agree that we need people—I have already said that I support the huge increase in the number of police officers. However, the use of good technology that will enhance artificial intelligence, such as facial recognition—used properly and respecting privacy—is vital to improving the police, as well as the service they provide.
My Lords, today I wish to focus on constitutional affairs, justice, family law and wider family policy—or rather the lack of it.
In the gracious Speech there was a commitment to,
“protect the integrity of democracy and the electoral system in the United Kingdom”.
Democracy’s integrity rests on freedom of speech. We must keep resisting “no-platforming” in our universities and expose the deceitfulness of the term “safe space”. Settings where ideas or beliefs with no inclination towards terrorism cannot be discussed are dangerous spaces, because they have become sound-proofed against the reality of other people’s opinions. When religious groups have no freedom of expression, democracy is defied. Thomas Jefferson said that,
“religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God … the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions”.
Yet Christians in this country can lose their livelihood as a result of free and courteous expression of their faith.
Past Conservative Governments have been assiduous defenders of free speech, regardless of whether they shared the views provoking controversy. Mrs Thatcher’s Government condemned the fatwa against Salman Rushdie as,
“an attack … on the fundamental freedoms for which our society stands”,—[
“Whether or not we have any sympathy with Rushdie’s views is not the point”.
The rule of law and the basic freedoms of all British citizens were her Government’s guiding principles. They must be ours.
Secondly, our democracy is being eroded by egregious imbalances in constituency size, and we have a “boundaries limbo”. Current constituencies, based on the early 2000s, have widely divergent sizes of electorates. All four national Boundary Commissions submitted their seventh general review reports, reducing 650 constituencies to 600, over a year ago. This Government’s 2017 manifesto commitment to equal seats can and should be delivered, with a new set of constituencies in place for the next general election, halting the slide into 21st-century rotten boroughs, as should repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which prevented the current Prime Minister delivering a de facto referendum on his handling of negotiations with Europe.
Turning to justice, the Government will strengthen,
“public confidence in the criminal justice system … improve safety and security, and strengthen rehabilitation. For rehabilitation to be strengthened, it has to be based on evidence. The Ministry of Justice found that men and women in prison who receive family visits are 39% less likely to reoffend than those who do not. When prisoners are required and enabled to maintain their family responsibilities, this can lead to profound change and improve safety and security. The Government needs to keep their foot down hard on the accelerator of progress so every prison fulfils its duty of care to the men and women it holds, and to their families and friends who visit. At best, they partner with the prison to ensure that those who have served their sentence do not return. Helping prisoners have healthy and supportive relationships is not being soft on crime. Reduced reoffending means fewer victims, lower criminal justice and welfare costs, higher tax revenues when ex-prisoners find work—and fewer children growing up with absent parents.
Children’s welfare is paramount in family law. However, it can be used to justify superficially attractive policies which may do them more harm than good. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill referred to in the gracious Speech intends to,
“minimise the impact of divorce, particularly on children”.
Removing fault from divorce is unlikely to lead to the more harmonious post-separation world that Ministers predict. Solicitors say that much conflict is actually focused on who gets the children and for how long, and on finances. Evidence contradicting government assertions that de jure unilateral divorce would not impact on marriage or longer-term divorce rates was ignored, as was the large volume of contrary responses to consultation.
That, last week’s backtracking on internet safety and the lack of family measures in proposed legislation tempts me to cynicism about the Prime Minister’s declaration that this country will become,
“the best place to start a family and send your kids to school”.—[
Family breakdown is the elephant in the room of social policy. In 2016, the DWP’s family stability indicator found that only 58% of all 16 year-olds still live with both birth parents. The proportion was much lower in low income households. Three-quarters of all children in middle to high-income households live with both birth parents, compared to less than half in poor households. Despite family breakdown being both a driver and result of income poverty, the DWP has stopped collecting that data.
We need a rich tapestry of family strengthening policies, not threadbare rhetoric. The Prime Minister can allay my cynicism by appointing a Cabinet-level Minister to co-ordinate family policy across government and constituting the Cabinet committee repeatedly called for since the of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on the appalling death of Victoria Climbié almost 17 years ago.
A cross-party consensus is growing that social sustainability is as threatening as environmental sustainability. I cannot be as patient as the noble Lord, Lord Laming. I am not convinced that I have another 17 years ahead of me, and I am not inclined to glue myself to the roof of a Tube train. However, I can and will continue to press the Government hard for the family-strengthening policies we urgently need.
My Lords, I hope that it will be some help to my noble friend if I say that I am not looking for any response from her tonight. I look forward to the promised White Paper on devolution, which I hope will contain the answers that so many of your Lordships have requested.
This has been an immensely wide-ranging debate, and a whole galaxy of contemporary problems have been paraded for the Minister to give us the benefit of her advice on in a flash of lightning. Well, the Government are going to get rid of the course of British history in the course of a week, so I suppose the Minister can be expected to deal with our complaints in an equally short timescale. We have had it all: housing, education, infrastructure, family breakdown, deprived children and crime. I put it to your Lordships that those are not separate issues, they are all part of a social and economic phenomenon for which we do not have in this country the local mechanisms and decision-making powers to see the interrelationship of all these issues and apply a common policy to their eradication. There is nothing new in any of this. I first came into active politics at a time when Redcliffe-Maud had looked at this issue, analysed the causes and the opportunities and said in the clearest possible language that we needed 60 unitary authorities with real devolved powers. All my life, Government after Government have edged their way in that direction. Every step of the journey has been a fudge.
I await the White Paper with such interest because I hope that the crisis of Brexit has highlighted the urgency of this matter. Brexit did not create the problem. Brexit merely highlights the scale of the challenge facing this country and indicates, as your Lordships have clearly done, that we need change to mobilise the country at local as well as national level to challenge these issues. We must find a way to make effective local communities reflecting real local economies and empowerment. So, first, I hope that the White Paper will include a Cabinet Minister responsible for devolution to English local authorities. Whitehall is its own power structure and is totally divided on all these issues; each Minister has his own pet scheme. We need a Minister to grip Whitehall and force it into the devolution agenda.
The second step is that the Government must create agencies close to the areas where people are now expected to design social and industrial policies. That is a process of widespread decision-making. The Government are quite incapable of responding to that sort of thinking because their thinking is compartmentalised in the baronies of Whitehall. The local representation of officials who are close to the communities that we are trying to enhance and empower is an important part of the process.
The next step, which is of course to be welcomed, is the Government levelling up the powers that have already been given to the elected mayors. That is much to be admired, but other powers must be added to the list. The first must concern education and skills. You cannot divorce housing and social policies from the education of the kids living in those circumstances. You cannot have an industrial policy that does not prepare children in local communities with the skills and aptitude that will make them appropriate recruits to those industrial strategies.
Fourthly, the boundaries of our existing mayoral authorities are a nonsense. They are the result of a fudge, a compromise: give a little, take a little. A boundary commission is an important means of putting that situation right. Next, there are four major conurbations without mayoral authorities. If we are to get national buy-in and balance, it is critical that Leeds, Nottingham, Derby, South Hampshire and, probably, Plymouth must come over the line.
Fifthly, we have heard echoed in the Chamber today reference to the countryside somehow being different—that, once you have done the big areas, you must not have the same system. I reject that concern continually. If you want really to empower the countryside and enrich it, it must be enjoined with the wealth-creating centres that it surrounds. So, I very much hope that we will see a drive to unitary counties with mayors, not just the present compromises in the local government structure.
Finally, I turn to money. The talk is of the prosperity fund. That fund is merely a recycling of the present European funds. It is totally inadequate for the job. The real lacuna in government policy is that George Osborne’s visionary idea of a single pot, in which money was distributed as a result of strategic bidding processes—with substantial additional funds coming from the third sector, academia and the private sector to enhance greatly what the taxpayer could afford—has more or less bitten the dust with the power-grabbing of central government departments getting their money back.
I have a phrase written down: “Get the job done”. I say this to the Minister: let us get the real job done.
My Lords, Friday
The Modern Slavery Act 2015, which was informed to some degree by my own Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill, was a milestone for the United Kingdom, setting the agenda on tackling the heinous crime of slavery. Far-sighted in many ways, its main area of weakness was victim support. In order to tackle modern slavery successfully, it is essential to provide the rescued victims with the support they need to rebuild their lives and truly escape the clutches of their traffickers. In its final report, published in May this year, the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 stressed the need for improved victim support:
“It cannot be right that the Government provides no standardised post-NRM support offer for victims, who are often still incredibly vulnerable, and this can increase their vulnerability to being re-trafficked and re-exploited”.
In this Session I will bring before the House again my modern slavery (victim support) Bill with the support of the Bill’s sponsor in another place, the former Conservative Party leader, lain Duncan Smith. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for his splendid support and his very humorous way of influencing people. My Bill will give all confirmed victims of trafficking a minimum of 12 months’ support and assistance to help them restart their lives after falling victim to such a heinous crime. Two years have passed since I first introduced the Bill and I am bringing it forward again because not enough has changed. My primary concern in bringing it forward was the need to help victims on to a pathway to recovery. Quite apart from being the right thing to do by the victims, it is also manifestly in our own interest to do this.
In the first instance, if victims are left without adequate support during the 12 months following their confirmation as victims of modern slavery, they will be vulnerable to re-trafficking. This is not only a terrible trauma for them but costly to the state in terms of needing to rescue them and place them in the national referral mechanism again. In the second instance, supporting victims towards recovery is central to a successful criminal justice response. If we want to see more successful investigations of and convictions for these offences, we need to help victims feel safe and secure enough to tell the police what they know and to give evidence in court. Victims are unlikely to be able to participate in such proceedings if they are destitute or homeless. This will not help the Government to achieve their stated objective of seeking to increase the conviction rate of human traffickers.
During the summer, the Home Office settled a case brought for judicial review which challenged the new policy of providing victims with a fixed period of 40 days’ support after they have been confirmed as victims by the national referral mechanism. As part of the settlement, the Government agreed to develop a needs-based process for providing support to victims beyond the NRM process. I recommend that the Government should respond to this judicial review by taking up my Bill. It now offers a minimum period of 12 months’ support, while the provisions extending support beyond the initial 12-month period have been strengthened by making it mandatory to consider whether support should be continued. Moreover, the decision has to take place not less than four weeks prior to the end of the 12-month support period. If necessary, this would allow victims to receive further support and assistance depending on their personal situation.
Giving victims 12 months’ support was recommended by the Work and Pensions Committee, which in 2015 produced an important report entitled Victims of Modern Slavery. It strongly recommended a personal recovery plan for victims with the ability to stay in the UK for up to 12 months. Most recently the British Red Cross, in its July 2019 report Hope for the Future: Support for Survivors of Trafficking After the National Referral Mechanism, repeated these same proposals. On top of this, a coalition of 26 leading charities and civil society organisations, the Free for Good campaign, supports my modern slavery (victim support) Bill and believes that 12 months’ support for victims is a crucial part of the fight against modern slavery.
During the summer, the University of Nottingham published a revealing cost-benefit analysis of my Bill. The report concluded that providing 12 months of support and assistance to all confirmed victims after the NRM process could produce direct net financial savings of between £1 million and £7 million and indirect benefits of more than £25 million.
I very much hope the Government will support my Bill or bring forward other legislation to give victims the support they really need.
My Lords, in his wonderful speech, the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, talked about being wide-ranging. I will literally be wide-ranging, because I am talking about the creative industries. Culture is the subject for debate tomorrow, but unfortunately I am not able to be present.
We are a creative nation—always have been—and the creative industries are of huge benefit to the economy. Indeed, according to a report published by the Office for National Statistics a couple of weeks ago, we did not go into recession in the last quarter in large and significant part because of our creative industries.
Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities starts:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.
If I had more time I would quote more, because the opening of that novel is so pertinent. That is how I feel at the moment. We live in a golden age of British art and creativity, but Brexit, attacks on our essential PSBs from streaming services and, I am afraid, our own Government are lurking. Cuts to cultural funding, particularly at local level, are happening. There are other reasons for concern, such as a leaking talent pipeline that will lead to problems if not addressed.
Arts and culture lead to urban regeneration, as I have seen at first hand as a trustee of the Lowry in Salford. They offer a platform that reflects the diversity of the people of the UK. Participation promotes well-being and aids both physical and mental health, so supporting and protecting this vital, vibrant sector is of paramount importance. This starts with education.
I am sure the Minister will agree with the Durham commission report published this week on creativity in education, which said that creative thinking should run through all school life. However, the report confirms a 28% decline in the uptake of creative subjects since 2014—a decline that we on these Benches have been drawing attention to, and the Department for Education denying, for a long time.
The fact is that the introduction of the EBacc has had a significant negative impact on the offer of arts and culture in schools, resulting, as the report says, in,
“a serious imbalance in the all-round education of students”.
No less a person than Andrew Lloyd Webber castigated the Government a couple of weeks ago for cutting arts and music budgets in schools. He said the cuts are,
“the stupidest thing that could ever have happened”.
Does the Minister not agree that every child should have access to arts and culture? Access to the arts is access to our national life and, on a day when home affairs are being debated, I argue that it is also a social justice issue.
We welcome changes to the Ofsted inspection framework, which acknowledges the need for schools to develop a strategy for teaching creativity, but this is mealy-mouthed. We should be talking not about acknowledgement but, as the Durham commission recommends, the championing of schools that successfully nurture creativity. Does the Minister not agree that a category of outstanding from Ofsted must mean that the school offers arts-rich education? The independent sector does. The growing inequality between provision in the independent and state sectors is resulting in the neglect and exclusion of youngsters from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds.
“What … explanation can there be for the baffling disconnect”— this goes back to what the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, said—
“between its industrial strategy, which prizes the creative industries as a priority sector, and an education policy that is deliberately squeezing creativity out of our children’s learning?”
There is also the matter of career advancement post school. Unfortunately, the apprenticeship levy has failed the creative industries. Its inflexibility leaves significant amounts of money unspent which could otherwise help. Will the Government respond to the concerns of the industry?
Then there is Brexit. Crucially, the creative industries rely on the ability of people to move freely across Europe; they rely on the free movement of instruments, equipment and samples without expensive tariffs and border checks; they rely on a digital single market that protects our IP; they rely on investment from EU funds; and they rely on country of origin rules, whereby the mutual recognition of broadcasting licences between the UK and the EU has led to this country being the leading hub in Europe.
On the matter of broadcasting, the UK’s unique mix underpins our creative industries. Central to this are our PSBs, and in particular the BBC. When he was Foreign Secretary, our now PM described the BBC as the single greatest and most effective ambassador for our culture and our values. Well the Government must value it. Does the Minister not agree with former Tory Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, on the matter of free TV licences for the over 75s, that,
“looking back … it was wrong to impose on the BBC what was effectively a welfare policy and then to ask them to take responsibility for it”?
Of particular concern is the Government’s position on immigration, as mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. Even before Brexit, there are several creative roles on the Government’s shortage occupation list. But the Government still insist on defining those who earn under £30,000 as unskilled. As I have said before, to another Minister, I am mystified as to where this came from. It certainly did not come from anyone who works in the creative sector. In a recent Creative Industries Federation survey, 81% of those who responded said that they would face challenges if unable to hire workers on salaries below this level. Perhaps this Minister can enlighten me.
I will finish here. Liberal Democrats have consistently made the case for remaining in the EU because we know that there is no deal better than the deal we have as members of the EU—certainly not for the creative industries.
My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register, in particular in relation to the Prison Reform Trust, of which I am life president and for whose briefing I am grateful.
This is the second debate this month in which the state of our criminal justice system is examined. The earlier debate was initiated by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham and took place on
Many of the contributions today, following the wise contribution of my noble and learned friend Lord Judge, have emphasised the constitutional nature of the prison issues raised. How we treat our victims of crime reflects on the quality of our unwritten constitution, but so does how we treat those the state sends to prison. Sir Winston Churchill was right when he made his now well-known statement in the Commons that the first principle to guide anyone trying to establish a good system of prisons should be to prevent as many people as possible getting there at all. He later importantly added that it is a society’s attitude to its prisoners that measures,
“the stored-up strength of a nation”.—[
The Queen’s Speech outlined a raft of criminal justice measures, in particular the new Sentencing Bill increasing the period of sentence served in custody from half to two-thirds for the most serious offences. This has been accompanied by what the Prime Minister announced on
“to consider whether changes in legislation are needed to lock criminals up for longer”.
The Prison Reform Trust believes the review was not worthy of that name because the time available was clearly inadequate to enable the subject to be properly considered. However, it is already clear, it can be safely said, that among the main problems the justice system faces is chronic overcrowding. This undoubtedly undermines one of the purposes of punishment: the rehabilitation of offenders.
For many years now it has been accepted that overcrowding in prisons is a scourge, making rehabilitation impossible for those the courts send to prison. In view of this, I ask the Minister to identify the evidence that present sentences are too short. I know of no such evidence. All the evidence of which I am aware shows that there has been a dramatic inflation in the level of sentencing over the past 20 years. For example, the present sentences for violent sexual offending have gone up substantially. More than two and a half times as many people were sentenced to 10 years in 2016 than were in 2006. On average, those serving a mandatory life sentence spend 17 years in custody, up from 13 years in 2001, when I was a judge dealing with these matters. The average minimum term for murder has increased from 12.5 years in 2003 to 21.3 years in 2016.
It is important to remember that criminal justice is different from civil justice in that it is not conducted between two or more individuals but between the Crown and the defendant. It should be a process which conforms to the highest standards of justice. After all, in the majority of cases it involves the freedom of the citizen.
Still, it is obviously important that the interests of victims of crime are not ignored. After all, the primary purpose of prison is to protect the public. However, while the interests of victims must be taken into account, there are limits to the extent that their interests can be paramount. Inflation in sentencing constantly causes the victim to look for higher and higher sentences because often they cannot be expected to know the tariff. Also, in many cases, no sentence will be long enough to undo the harm that has been done. Thus, it is generally the judge who has to get the sentence right, based on his experience and the guidance available to him. Is not a danger of what is proposed that it takes away the judge’s discretion, which can be so important in doing justice?
Prisons have responsibility for keeping both prisoners and prison staff secure, but violence at present is endemic. We should not make the job of the prison staff more difficult by increasing the overcrowding. The present state of prisons is, unfortunately, one of which we should be ashamed.
The effectiveness of the Bar and the probation service has also been undermined. Legal aid, where it is available, inadequately compensates members of the profession for the work they have to do. The problems in prisons are accompanied by a serious deterioration in the effectiveness and morale of the probation service. The need to change is recognised on all sides.
However, as was repeated in the gracious Speech, the Government are embarking on a programme which, far from improving the situation, will, if it is carried out, exacerbate it. They are proposing to lengthen sentences for the most serious offences. This has the danger of encouraging the public to think that sentences as they are now composed are too short. In fact, they are not.
Far from being the overall re-examination of the situation required, the changes proposed are dealing with the problem piecemeal and do not take advantage of the admirable reports available.
My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in bringing to an end this comprehensive debate. It will not surprise your Lordships that my brief contribution to the debate on the Address and the gracious Speech is in relation to home affairs—in particular, policing.
The House will be aware that when an arrest is made by a police officer for an offence, an important decision has to be made about whether, once the preliminaries of identification and evidence collection are completed, the suspect is further detained or released pending further inquiries. In my day the normal practice, if there was no requirement to detain the suspect, would be to grant police bail. This could, of course, be with or without conditions and could require the suspect to return to the police station at a future date to be charged or released. If inquiries were not complete, the bail could be extended. As workloads increased and police numbers fell, it became common for bail to be extended for weeks or months, thereby attracting the rightful criticism that justice delayed was justice denied for both the suspect and the victim. In an attempt to rectify this, the law was changed by the Policing and Crime Act 2017, limiting police bail to 28 days and introducing the concept of being released under investigation without any conditions.
Since then, the law of unintended consequences has kicked in and matters appear to have been made worse. It is clear that, since the changes, thousands of serious crime suspects are being released by police without any restrictions or conditions. Under the previous regime, a suspect could have had bail conditions preventing him contacting the complainant, making him attend regularly at a police station or subjecting him to a curfew under pain of arrest. Recent figures published in a Law Society briefing show that the number of suspects on bail has dropped dramatically across the country from 216,000 in 2016-17 to 44,000 in 2017-18 and that, in that year, some 193,000 suspects were released under investigation with no conditions or restrictions.
This has led to serious consequences. For example, Kay Richardson was murdered by her estranged husband, Alan Martin, in Sunderland last year after police released him under investigation. He had a history of domestic abuse, and she had reported him for rape. Under the previous legal position, Martin could have had bail conditions preventing him from contacting the complainant, making him report regularly to a police station or subjecting him to a curfew.
Why has this situation come about? Quite honestly, it is another consequence of the loss over recent years of 20,000 police officers from the streets of this country, and it cannot be allowed to continue. This from a Government who a few years ago accused police officers attending a Police Federation conference of crying wolf and said that increasing crime had little to do with the number of police officers on the streets. That was patent nonsense to any sensible streetwise person who felt the insecurity caused by a reduced police presence, a lack of response to calls and the ever-increasing delays in the justice system, which impact every victim in the land.
It is good that the present Government have now announced a programme of increasing the recruitment of officers by 20,000, but this should be done as quickly as possible and should not be hamstrung by insisting on introducing a graduate entry system at constable level for all recruits. That would cost an arm and a leg and reduce the pool of potential excellent police officers who simply want to do what I did half an century ago with no aspiration for promotion: to join the police, don a uniform and serve the public. I am not sure that the new system has worked in nursing. These are the men and women we see day in, day out, running towards danger when everyone else, quite rightly, is running towards safety.
In conclusion, I simply say to the Minister two things. First, recruit quickly and sensibly. Give the recruits good-quality, professional training and do not ask them to jump through some additional academic hoop. Stiffen the thin blue line in the communities of Britain which are crying out for a sense of reassurance, which has been lost. Secondly, address the recent bail changes, which at present leave victims uncertain of how long an investigation will take and living in fear of being confronted by the accused, with no conditions or restrictions on where they can live, whom they can visit or when they can be out on the streets. That is particularly pertinent to domestic and sexual abuse cases and seems to go totally against the grain of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which is currently before Parliament and to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, referred. In my view, these are matters of great importance, and I ask the Minister to confirm that the Government will address them with great urgency.
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will permit me a moment or two to speak in the gap. I had put my name down to speak tomorrow, Tuesday, but then found that I could not. I decided to switch my name to today’s debate but found that the list had closed. Therefore, my only recourse was to speak now, in the gap, and I hope that the House will permit me a few moments to do so.
The gracious Speech mentioned a Bill to protect the integrity of the electoral system and democracy in the United Kingdom. Earlier this year, the High Court held that current methods for making ballot papers accessible to blind and partially sighted voters—the tactile voting device and ballot papers in large print—were not effective in enabling blind and partially sighted people to vote independently and in secret. The tactile voting device helps a blind or partially sighted voter to find the boxes on the ballot paper but it does not tell them the names of the candidates or the parties they represent. Blind and partially sighted voters are therefore dependent on assistance from a family member, friend or a member of polling station staff.
The RNIB’s 2017 report, Turned Out—I declare my interest as a vice-president of the RNIB—found that only one in four blind and partially sighted voters felt that the current system let them vote independently and in secret. Fifty-four per cent of blind and partially sighted respondents felt that new accessible ways to vote, such as by telephone or via electronic or online voting systems, were needed. Only 4% felt that no changes to the current system were needed.
Therefore, the Government need to replace the current tactile voting device with a new accessible voting system that guarantees that blind and partially sighted voters can exercise their democratic right without any assistance, just as their sighted peers do. The replacement device must allow voters with sight loss to review the candidates on the ballot paper, reliably find and mark their chosen candidate on the ballot paper, and cast their vote independently and in secret.
The Government need to say when a replacement for the tactile voting device will be available. They need to give an assurance that the next general election will be the last to use the present inappropriate device and that any replacement for the tactile voting device will be introduced only following extensive consultation with visually impaired people and their organisations. They also need to ensure that a voter with sight loss can use their smartphone or magnifier to view their ballot paper at the next general election.
My Lords, I shall concentrate in winding up primarily on justice issues. As an example, I welcome the Government’s commitment to addressing violent crime. Increasing violent crime, particularly knife crime, threatens public safety and confidence, but changes in the criminal justice system can only ever be part of the answer. Youth services in particular have been severely cut over recent years, when they needed to be increased and improved.
The promises in the Queen’s Speech include commitments to locking people up for longer. I am afraid this populist approach reflects the Prime Minister’s tone, yet it is more directed to the readership of the Daily Mail than to responding to serious evidence. Many of us, along with noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, remember the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on
Rehabilitation must be the central purpose of imprisonment: during custodial sentences, in preparation for release and during supervision following release. These points were well made in the debate by my noble friend Lord Dholakia, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Woolf, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lords, Lord Hastings, Lord Carlile, Lord Hogan-Howe and Lord Farmer. My noble friend Lord Beith added that prison is not only ineffective but extremely expensive.
The proposed Sentencing Bill will commit to strengthening community orders, addressing offenders’ behaviour, mental health and alcohol or drug misuse needs, but achieving this will require better and properly resourced community sentences when the contracts of the disastrous “community rehabilitation companies” are replaced. It is right that victims should receive more support, but the Government should start with the proposals in my noble friend Lady Brinton’s Bill to improve and strengthen the rights in the victims’ code.
The proposals for no-fault divorce are important. The time has long gone when a precondition for divorce should be the attribution of blame to the other party. Divorce should be a conciliatory process managed for the benefit of the parties, but still more for their innocent children.
We welcome back the Domestic Abuse Bill, initially a casualty of the unlawful Prorogation attempt. It will strengthen support for victims and define domestic abuse more broadly. It benefited greatly from pre-legislative scrutiny, and it is important that the changes proposed by the committee should not be watered down and be properly resourced.
The proposed new points-based immigration system was considered by my noble friends Lord Paddick and Lady Smith and the noble Lords, Lord Horam and Lord Green. I would add two warnings. First, a points system can be sclerotic in failing to respond to rapid changes in the labour market’s need for different skills. Secondly, a system that relates the right to come and work here to earnings risks excluding many of those on lower earnings whom we really need.
Had my noble friend Lady Hamwee been able to be here, she would have raised the issue of rendition. The chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee has said that the UK,
“tolerated actions, and took others, that we regard as inexcusable”.
There remains a cohort of individuals subjected to rendition and torture in which the UK Government were complicit. They have suffered reputational damage, immigration problems and stops at international ports, with no means of defending themselves or their families, who are of course also affected. Will the Government implement a durable solution to their immigration status and direct a new judge-led inquiry into the UK’s actions?
We note that the police are to be,
“awarded the power to arrest individuals who are wanted by trusted international partners”,
in an extradition and provisional arrest Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, pointed out, it is ironic that this coincides with our possible loss of the very successful European arrest warrant. It is principally directed to mitigating its loss.
I regard the measures to,
“improve the justice system’s response to foreign national offenders”,
as largely a red herring. Deportation is already available in respect of serious offenders, but the Home Office’s record of deporting offenders is abysmal. It is far more important to implement existing deportation orders effectively than to rely on new measures to deter the return of those who have been deported.
We are promised a new regulator to scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action. That would ring less hollow if the Government had not been repeatedly found in breach of the Aarhus convention for failing to comply with our commitments on environmental justice.
Strangely, we are offered a Bill on the implementation of agreements in private international law, to produce an agreed international mechanism for co-operation in justice matters. The Government hope to retain or replicate the advantages we currently enjoy in the civil justice system from a network of regulations and conventions between EU countries, at present monitored and overseen by the Court of Justice of the European Union.
However, it is pie in the sky to suggest that this can be achieved by domestic legislation, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, hinted at. These are international agreements: the Brussels I Regulation on jurisdiction, registration and enforcement of judgments; Brussels II, on family law issues; Rome I, on governing law in contract; Rome II, on conflicts of law in non-contractual obligations; and the Hague conventions, including on child abduction. They are additional to the benefits of European co-operation in criminal justice matters, which were discussed by my noble friend Lord Paddick and go far beyond the benefits achieved from the European arrest warrant, substantial as those are. We have Europol, which is a massive improvement over Interpol in terms of efficient co-operation and speed; Eurojust, which allows co-operation between judges and courts; and access to the Schengen database of information to protect national security, border control and law enforcement.
The answer the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, gave to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on these points was wholly inadequate. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, amplified the point in his speech, but even he did not meet the point that all these benefits depend on multilateral agreement between nations. They are a major benefit of EU membership—a binding system monitored by the CJEU. It was an absurd red line that we should lose so much in international co-operation in order to reject the involvement of a court to which no one can identify a single, solid, practical objection; to which United Kingdom judges have contributed so much; and in which we could negotiate continued involvement in areas of continuing co-operation.
We should all remember the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, on the operation of the constitution and his warning that,
“if you mess about with the constitution it will bite back”.
The House heard impressive speeches on devolution to the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. My noble friends Lady Humphreys and Lord Scriven, the noble Lords, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and Lord Heseltine, and many others contributed to that debate. There is, however, a hollowness that positively rattles in the Government’s protestation:
“The integrity and prosperity of the union that binds the four nations of the United Kingdom is of the utmost importance”,
to the Government. Brexit poses a massive threat to the union, yet the Government ignore the threat of Scottish independence and the fact that the form of Brexit that might be implemented could be the most inimical possible to Scotland’s economic interests.
The Government seem prepared to threaten the union with Northern Ireland in their desperation to get Brexit done against an artificial and politically imposed deadline, seeking to reconcile the clearly conflicting goals of leaving the customs union, honouring the Good Friday agreement with no border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, and treating Northern Ireland as an intrinsic part of the UK. Yet the benefits of leaving the customs union are illusory, largely based on a view of President Trump that is unrealistic to the point of being fantastical.
Finally, I support my noble friend Lord Tyler’s call for transparency and reform of election and referendum expenditure, and for greater accuracy and completeness of our electoral registers, and the call from the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, for protection from interference and abuse. Our democracy is under real threat from injustices, anomalies—including the one raised by the noble Lord, Lord Low, in the gap—inefficiencies and the risks inherent in our present electoral arrangements. We on these Benches will seek to uphold the integrity of our democracy, whatever the outcome of present conflicts.
My Lords, we have had thought-provoking contributions in this debate, as one would have expected. There is certainly no way that I can refer to more than a handful. I apologise in advance for making no reference to so many speeches made during the debate.
My noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark referred to the pending White Paper on English devolution and the tinkering —an issue on which the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, spoke with considerable passion.
My noble friend also spoke about pending legislation on serious violence. He referred to the need to involve all relevant agencies and to ensure that they have the resources, including financial resources, to help address the level of serious violence. That is an important issue, since there has just been a 7% rise in knife offences across England and Wales, now amounting to more than 47,000 such offences in a 12-month period.
My noble friend also referred to the Government’s approach to stop-gap increases in resources for social care, which are being financed by increases in the regressive council tax, rather than through government grants from taxation. Is it the Government’s intention to finance increases in resources for other areas of key local government activity in the same way as they currently approach increases in resources—presumably temporarily—for social care?
It is not just rising knife crime that needs to be addressed; the criminal justice system has been particularly badly hit by austerity. There are many examples, but one is the percentage of reported rapes reaching even charging stage, which is below 2%. Yet the number of police officers has been reduced by more than 20,000 in the last nine years. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to police numbers and pointed out that there would be a need to recruit, I think he said, more than 42,000 officers over three years to take account of current officer resignation rates, as well as the 20,000 extra police—a level that would be higher than recent recruitment rates, as well as involving significant additional costs, including on matters such as training. We await the Government’s answer on the practicality and cost of achieving their figure of an additional 20,000 police officers. There is also the reality that the number of police community support officers and special officers has declined. This does not appear to be an area which the Government intend to address. If I am wrong, no doubt they will correct me in their response.
There is also the question of the adverse impact on security of our withdrawal from the European Union, to which reference has been made in this debate. Can the Government give an undertaking that the present security and intelligence arrangements will remain after Brexit in relation to the European arrest warrant, extradition and exchange of information? I think the answer must be no, but no doubt they will want to give their own answer, rather than me trying to give it for them.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, contrasted the entry checks through our airports and the weaker checks through our maritime ports and St Pancras International. What is the Government’s response to her points, and do they agree with them?
Concern has also been expressed by more than one noble Lord that the emphasis in the gracious Speech is solely on the punishment of offenders, with proposals that even the Government accept will increase the prison population by 3,000, when we already have more people in prison than other western European countries. It seems that rehabilitation and measures to reduce the incidence of offending in the first place are going to take a relative back seat, even though that is potentially where the big savings lie and where the greatest benefits for achieving a safer society can be realised.
The Domestic Abuse Bill, which we welcome, is an opportunity to change domestic abuse from a criminal justice issue to one that is everyone’s business, tackled by health and social care, housing, education and employers, but insecure immigration status is often a tool of control used by perpetrators to abuse their partners and threaten them with deportation. Migrant women often face severe barriers to reporting and seeking help. We need safe reporting mechanisms, ensuring immigration enforcement is kept separate from the response to domestic abuse.
Domestic violence follows women into the workplace. Around one in five victims in the UK have to take time off work because of domestic abuse, and three-quarters of people who endure domestic violence are also targeted at work. I think I am right in saying that the Philippines, a number of states in the United States and, most recently, New Zealand, have all passed laws requiring employers to provide paid leave to enable survivors time and space to sort out issues such as housing, schooling and appointments with outside agencies, including the police.
My noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark raised the issue of domestic abuse victims in some parts of the country being charged by GPs for letters confirming their injuries and that they have been victims. I hope that the Government can respond.
The Government’s immigration Bill seeks to repeal EU free movement laws, so that the UK can bring in a more restrictive immigration and social security system for EU citizens after Brexit. Can I, too, ask when free movement will end if the Prime Minister’s deal is agreed? The immigration Bill would undermine the UK’s ability to get a good Brexit outcome, as it would end the free movement rules which are a requirement of the single market membership that many feel is crucial to protect rights and jobs. Ending free movement rights, impacting on the right to access healthcare or draw a pension for EU citizens, also increases the risk that EU countries will remove the rights for UK citizens.
This Bill also increases the risk of exploitation, as it paves the way for the Government to introduce their plans for low-skill visas for EU workers that allow workers to stay for only a short period in the UK. Workers on such visas are likely to be employed in sectors where there is a low coverage of collective agreements and thus more likely to be subject to poorer conditions and low pay. Bad employers may be tempted to use workers’ insecure immigration status to force them to accept poor conditions.
A number of noble Lords spoke about immigration, including the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. In my view, the Government have always sought to back both horses on immigration. The hostile environment policy and the aspiration to bring net migration down to the tens of thousands were designed to garner the support and votes of those who are fearful of people of different colour or culture coming into this country—this allegedly crowded country with certainly not allegedly struggling public services as a result of excessive austerity. On the other hand, the same Government continue to agree to as many people from outside the EU, whose number they can control, coming into the country as from within the EU, in respect of whom they say they need withdrawal from the EU to regain control of our borders. I think I am right in saying that, since the referendum, net migration from the EU, which the Government say they cannot control, has been lower than net migration from outside the EU, which they can control.
No doubt the Government privately recognise the value and benefits of migration to this country, but as a result of that recognition, what they have actually done since 2010 has been at odds with what they have said to the people of this country about bringing net migration down to below 100,000. The Government could under EU law, within the general principles of freedom of movement, have registered migrant workers as they arrive or imposed a time limit on any stay without work. I suspect that those who believe that, following Brexit, the Government will reduce net migration will be disappointed, even though the Government will no doubt continue to try to give the impression that that is the objective that they are pursuing.
The noble Lord, Lord Horam, spoke about Brexit enabling us to reset policies on immigration and mentioned the policy—or was it an aspiration?—of reducing net migration to tens of thousands a year. He raised a point about the composition and focus of the Migration Advisory Committee. I hope that we will hear a government response to that. I am not sure that the Government agree that we are a crowded country. No doubt we will find out shortly in their response. I have heard them argue that the percentage of land in this country that has been developed is very low and that housebuilding densities in our cities are lower than in many other major European cities. Certainly, the Government’s proposals for speeding up and shortening the planning application process, which will put more pressure on understaffed local authorities, do not suggest that they think we need to keep a close watch on and control over future building development.
My noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett raised concerns over the position of EU citizens, settled status, asylum seekers and fees in respect of children. No doubt the Government will respond to the points raised by her, including her question about benefits being index linked.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, gave a fascinating speech setting out his case for saying that our unwritten constitution was shifting on to softer sands. He pitched into the decisions of more than one Government, referring to the Brexit referendum, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the change in the position and status of the Lord Chancellor and recent tax laws transferring powers from the Commons to Ministers and officials. The noble and learned Lord referred to the appointment of a Minister for the Constitution, who is not in the Cabinet, and asked whether that individual had been consulted on the Prime Minister’s Prorogation of Parliament. I wait to see whether the Government give an answer on that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, also spoke on constitutional issues, in particular on the need to protect our electoral processes and democracy from the impact and effect of anonymity online. I hope that the Government will respond to her concerns, which I suspect are widely shared.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, spoke about the serious financial position of local government, which was not mentioned in the gracious Speech, despite the role that it plays in our lives. The noble Baroness argued for reform of local government financing, with devolution of responsibility and funding, and referred to the crisis in funding for social care. No doubt the Government will respond to her question about the timetable for the publication of a White Paper with proposals to resolve this issue.
What can be achieved towards improving public services diminished by austerity will be influenced by the outcome of Brexit. It is a sobering thought that MPs were asked to make a decision with huge consequences less than 48 hours after the deal had been unveiled, and in the face of a government refusal to publish any analysis of its economic impact. Assurances on workers’ rights and environmental standards have been moved out of the binding withdrawal agreement and into the non-binding political declaration. The former Cabinet Minister, David Gauke, has pointed out the damage that would result from abandoning around 70 trade agreements we already have via our membership of the EU. For every pound gained to the UK by being able to enter new free trade agreements that we might negotiate with non-EU third countries, we will see a loss up to 30 times higher. If leaving the customs union and the single market goes ahead, it will make our economy a lot poorer than it would otherwise have been. Even the Government think that losses of around 6% to 8% of gross domestic product would occur. This debate has not been specifically about Brexit, but the reality is that what we will be able to afford to do to address many of the issues and problems which have been debated today will be influenced by the outcome of Brexit and its impact on our economy and society.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter. I looked with horror as she spoke about the debate that is taking place tomorrow. She is, of course, absolutely entitled to do that but I will not respond to her points today. I also join noble Lords in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Bourne. Fulsome tributes have been paid to him today. He succeeded me at MHCLG—boy, did he succeed. I was recently at a service to mark National Hate Crime Awareness Week when someone came up to me and asked, a bit put out: “Where is Lord Bourne?” When I said that he was no longer a Minister they were quite disappointed. They waxed lyrical about how wonderful he was and how he will be missed. I will be among others who will miss him.
I will start with my favourite subject, devolution, which was the subject of the first Bill that I brought in as a Minister and which, as my noble friend Lord Heseltine said, is about everything that has been talked about this evening. It is about effective local communities and skills. When I was in local government, and when my noble friend and I went round the country, I found out how important local leadership was in the prospects for devolution. It was no surprise to me that Greater Manchester got the first devolution deal. It knew exactly where it was going and what it needed to achieve. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, asked what the northern powerhouse means and whether we need legislation for it. To me, the northern powerhouse was all about the Government’s articulation of growing the areas outside London to allow them to play their economic part.
Exactly—balancing the economy outside London and the south-east. I have the platform and can now unburden. When people say that we need regional rail more than we need HS2, or vice versa, I say that we need it all in the north. It is about time that we started to connect people to jobs more easily. My noble friend Lord Heseltine asks how we can differentiate rural and urban: actually, we all need to access skills and education and bring places of work nearer to us.
Does the Minister think that the northern powerhouse could be rather fragile if there is no legislation through which it is embraced?
I could agree with that, but I give the noble Lord the example of Wythenshawe in Greater Manchester, which has the largest council housing estate in Europe. It had one intervention, to bring the tram through it. The houses are still not worth very much, but in percentage terms they have had the greatest increase in value in Greater Manchester. That is an example of where strategic intervention really helps places to grow without particular legislation. Like everyone else, I look forward to the White Paper and contributing to it. As the Prime Minister said in Rotherham recently, we are going to do devolution properly: I know my noble friend Lord Heseltine will have great hope. We are going to maximise the power of the north, with more mayors across the whole of the north.
The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, raised Yorkshire. The Prime Minister also welcomed the establishment of a Yorkshire committee as a practical step facilitating greater collaboration on a Yorkshire-wide basis. I echo that and the bespoke ongoing discussions across Yorkshire to ensure the most appropriate arrangements. I have the scars on my back from some of the earlier discussions in Yorkshire. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and my noble friend Lord Heseltine talked about the shared prosperity fund. We recognise the importance of reassuring local areas on the future of local growth funding once we have left the EU and providing clarity on the SPF. We will consult on the fund, alongside the White Paper, so that people have an opportunity to contribute their views on its design and priorities.
There is a lot of support in your Lordships’ House for the Domestic Abuse Bill. It came first from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, but I think most noble Lords mentioned it. One thing he brought up—and I look forward to discussing it with noble Lords—was GPs charging fees to victims for providing a letter evidencing abuse. I did not know that that was the situation; I am really appalled to hear about it and I can advise him that the department of health is working with a range of other departments and agencies, including the Ministry of Justice and the British Medical Association, to assess the scale of the problem and find out how many GPs currently charge for this service and how much. Gathering the evidence is the first necessary step, but I deplore the fact that it is going on.
On equalities, my noble friend Lord Bourne talked about the Race Disparity Audit. He knows that it is to drive change by publishing authoritative data and analysis about ethnic disparities, differences of treatment or outcome affecting people of different ethnicities. The website “Ethnicity facts and figures” now covers 176 different topics across education, healthcare, criminal justice and the economy. The Government are committed to acting on the data provided. He also talked about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. At that hate crime service there was a commemoration of a boy in Liverpool who was killed because he was a Traveller. He is absolutely right that the Race Disparity Audit shows that people from Irish Traveller and Gypsy Roma groups have the highest rates of temporary and permanent exclusions. In response, the Government commissioned the Timpson Review of School Exclusion, published earlier this year. The report stressed action to ensure that permanent exclusions are only used as a last resort, and made 30 recommendations which are currently being considered.
The noble Lord also talked about the definition of Islamophobia. As he knows, the APPG definition would create practical and legal challenges. It is absolutely vital that we get it right and that any definition reflects the experiences of those who have experienced anti-Muslim hatred. That is why we are appointing advisers to lead a review on the definition of Islamophobia. As he knows, the first of the advisers, Imam Qari Asim, was appointed on
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, talked about the reform of the adult social care system. We have given government access to £1.5 billion of additional funding for adult and children’s social care next year, and we will set out proposals to fix the crisis in social care in due course. I am sorry to say that there is no consensus on the best way to reform the system, but we need to get it right. I am afraid I cannot commit to a timeline at this point.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering talked about the Hague convention. We are committed to continued co-operation with the EU in cross-border, civil and family cases after Brexit. In particular, we are keen to ensure that there are clear rules on which court should hear a cross-border case and that UK legal decisions can be recognised and enforced in the EU. We will work with our European partners to establish the exact nature of a future agreement.
On policing, the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, gave his support, and I am pleased that other Peers also welcomed the commitment to policing through the recruitment of an additional 20,000 officers over the next three years. We are also committed to wider support and protection as part of the police covenant, which I was pleased to hear the noble Lord welcome. The Home Secretary has made it clear that she will give the police the tools they need, as evidenced by the recent pledge of £10 million to equip police officers with Tasers.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, talked about the recruitment of BME officers in the 20,000 uplift. There has never been a more important time to ensure that we increase the diversity of people joining the police so that the police look like the diverse community they serve. Of course, we want to attract talent from the widest possible pool. As of March this year, we have the highest proportion of BME and female officers since records began. There is further to go, but this is a promising step towards reflecting the community that the police serve. Work by police forces is already under way to ensure that they have a more representative workforce than ever before.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked about extending welfare mitigations to Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does not have the power to instruct the Northern Ireland Civil Service; I am afraid that any legislation to extend welfare mitigations would have to be for a restored Executive.
She also talked about breakfast club funding; the Government are investing up to £26 million in the breakfast club programme, using funds from the soft drinks and industry levy revenues. The contract was awarded to Family Action in March 2018 and will run until March 2020. Family Action, in partnership with Magic Breakfast, have both been named as the leading charities responsible for running the breakfast club programme. Family Action is distributing the appropriate funding to participating schools that meet the eligibility criteria. The noble Baroness shakes her head.
I am sorry to intervene, but my question was: what will happen after March 2020? The evidence from the charities was that it is very successful but they are anxious about what will happen.
Perhaps I can follow that question up for the noble Baroness. It may have something to do with spending reviews—obviously, I cannot commit on those—but I will follow that one up for her.
My noble friend Lord Astor of Hever brought up the important issue of the legacy in Northern Ireland, particularly as it related to former servicemen. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will work with the Attorney-General and the Defence Secretary, and they are collectively determined to find a solution that works for Northern Ireland and which treats everyone fairly. I will at this point voice everyone’s appreciation for the work of our service men and women in Northern Ireland in incredibly difficult circumstances.
I turn to sentencing and rehabilitation, which several noble Lords mentioned. The Government have been very clear that violent and sexual offenders must serve sentences that truly reflect the severity of their crime, which help to protect the public and give victims confidence that justice has been served. I take the point made by several noble Lords, particularly the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, that sentences for certain offences have almost doubled in the past few years. Other noble Lords said that there is no point in short sentences. I am sure that we will have much discussion about that.
I think it is fair to say that punishment and rehabilitation are not opposites. We must do both. I totally agree with noble Lords who have made the point that we need to improve rehabilitation in prison and support our probation services in supervising former prisoners. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, asked me for the evidence that longer sentences work. Also on that point, we need sentences that properly reflect the severity of crimes that people have committed. As a society, I think we have no choice but to insist on proper sentencing, but sentencing in which we have rehabilitation and some of the basics which noble Lords have talked about today. I have seen at first hand the lack of numeracy, literacy and any basic skills within the prison population—particularly, perhaps I may say as a woman, among women prisoners.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, talked about youth sentencing. The Government think that sentencing should allow children to get the support they need to improve their lives. During the passage of the then Offensive Weapons Bill, we talked about not criminalising children at an early age when they could find a path to a far more productive life. We have sentences specifically for under-18s which provide the court with a range of community options to address offending behaviours, and, as we talked about during the passage of that Bill, custody should be not a first but a last resort, and the sentence length should be appropriate and proportionate.
Many noble Lords talked about offender health in prison—not just physical but mental health and the effect that substance abuse has. In October this year, health and justice partners confirmed to the Health and Social Care Select Committee their commitment to providing a standard of healthcare in prison at least equivalent to that available in their community. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, talked about the alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirements. As part of the review, we have looked at changes to sentencing for the most prolific offenders who could help to break that cycle of reoffending through these monitoring requirements he talked about, which start across England and Wales in 2020. More specifically, we think that the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector should have an important role in helping to shape and deliver public services to make a real difference to their communities. The MoJ and HM Prison and Probation Service facilitate a wide and varied range of opportunities for the VCSE sector to work with offenders in prisons and in the community.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and other noble Lords mentioned the current prison population. In August, the PM announced investment of up to £2.5 billion to transform the prison estate and provide 10,000 additional prison places on top of the 3,360 places already being delivered at Wellingborough and Glen Parva. However, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, we need decent, clean and humane prisons. A new national standard has been produced to assist in providing assurance through the management line and drive improvement.
Quite a few points were made on the constitution. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral talked about a written constitution. There has been lively debate on the benefits of a codified constitution. The Government welcome that debate but have no plans at this time to introduce a codified or written constitution for the United Kingdom.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who has been the speaker of sensible points over the past few days, talked about the Minister for the Constitution. Together with Cabinet Office ministerial colleagues, that Minister maintains oversight of constitutional issues across the Government, including for the union. Apparently, that oversight does not rest with one Minister or department, and the Prime Minister retains ultimate oversight of the constitution. The noble and learned Lord asked the question that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, thought I might not answer—but I will— about whether the Minister for the Constitution was consulted on the Prorogation. That is a matter for the Prime Minister to advise on; unusually, of course, the reasons for his decision have been made a matter of public record in the documents that were submitted to the courts and subsequently published. I can safely say that most of my family did not know the meaning of “Prorogation” until a few weeks ago; now, the entire world knows it.
I hope that noble Lords will indulge me for a few minutes longer. The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, talked about the United Kingdom. We are absolutely committed to the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. Our union is strongest when each of our constituent parts work together. We remain focused on ensuring that the interests of all the devolved nations are fully represented within our union and on continuing to deliver a strong and sustainable devolution settlement.
The noble Lord, Lord Beith, talked about judicial independence and appointments. Our judges are selected following a transparent, rigorous and independent merit-based process, which is key to maintaining the quality, integrity and independence of our world-class judiciary.
My noble friend Lord Bourne, the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, talked about affordable housing, which remains a government priority. We are investing more than £9 billion in affordable housing to support the delivery of approximately 250,000 affordable homes, including homes for social rent. I take the point about the phrase “affordable housing” from whichever noble Lord made it, but I remember making exactly the same point 15 years ago and yet house prices are higher and higher.
I will write to noble Lords on the subject of immigration because I have a pile of papers here and I have been speaking for almost 22 minutes. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for that.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.
House adjourned at 10.09 pm.