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3.58 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, in saying that I too greatly look forward to the maiden speeches which will later grace this debate. I am fortunate in having sufficient knowledge of all three new Members of the House and know the outstanding qualities that they will bring to it. I was fortunate in first meeting my noble friend Lord Tope when for a short while he was a Member of another place. He has gone on to serve with great distinction in local government. I remember also that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, brought integrity and seriousness to the work of the Commons. Since then he has devoted himself to the problems of refugees--a matter that is very appropriate to today's debate and one to which I am sure noble Lords will turn their attention on future occasions. As for the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, like millions of others I first saw him serving the nation over 50 years ago. I am also fortunate that in more recent times I have had dealings with him personally. I greatly welcome him, too, to our debate today.

Perhaps I should say to the noble Lords who are about to make maiden speeches that I expect to learn more from them than they should expect to learn from me. This is the first occasion on which I have spoken in this

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House on home and social affairs. I hope that to that extent they will bear with me if my own speech perhaps falls short of what they, as maiden speakers, might expect.

I simply say--and in doing so I endorse a remark made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch--that a year ago I spoke in the Queen's Speech debate on another topic. On that occasion I referred to Northern Ireland, which was of course the responsibility--not, perhaps, one of the most successful responsibilities--of the Home Office until 1972. I said then that I thought--I hoped that I spoke for the whole House--that we all wished the Prime Minister well in the endeavour he had set himself. I said that he should be bold and single-minded, but that he should not expect to carry everyone with him. I pay my own unqualified tribute to the Prime Minister for his achievement. He has done rather better than I then anticipated; he has carried, if not everyone, almost everyone with him. It has been very good for Britain abroad as well as good for our nation at home. I hope that the momentum will be continued.

It is normally the case that the main contents of the Queen's Speech are determined as early as July so that the parliamentary draftsman can carry on with his work. It is very seldom that the contents are decided later than September. Indeed, I cannot recall--I would be happy to give way to any noble Lord who can recall--any previous instance of a gaping hole being blown in the Queen's Speech within a fortnight of the opening of Parliament. I make the point not in order to develop my thoughts on the subject but simply to point out that in planning this parliamentary Session, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House must have allocated, let us say, 10 or 12 days to a Bill we no longer have. Although it would be beyond the spirit of our recent discussions for that space to be filled needlessly with legislation that we do not want, there is certainly room--as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, and as the noble Baroness conceded--for important legislation which might otherwise wait in the queue.

I simply say in parenthesis that a further small but useful gap would open in the legislative programme if the Government dropped all their proposals for local government reorganisation. When this House discussed the matter some months ago, opinion was almost unanimous on all sides that there was no merit whatever in the recommendations that were then coming forward. I noticed a powerful letter from the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Gilmour, among others, in The Times last week about reorganisation in the county of Buckinghamshire. I and other noble Lords have been very concerned with the proposals for Cleveland. Now is not the time to pursue the matter. Clearly, it is a subject for tomorrow's debate when local government can mainly be dealt with.

I make the point for two reasons. The first is that there is no merit in pursuing the changes when there are more important matters to which the House could turn. That is particularly the case when, as noble Lords know, we are not to be allowed full debate on the measures but are bound to discuss only statutory instruments. Also, the proposals for reorganisation will be very

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disruptive indeed of the important responsibilities for social and home affairs which are still carried by local authorities despite the fact that they have far less to do than they had in the past. I do not believe that reorganisation will make services better; I do not believe that they will be cheaper; and we shall not get greater value for money. The changes will certainly be bad for morale. I hope that the Government, in their own discreet way, if they prefer, will find a means of abandoning further discussion of local government reform.

In the Queen's Speech, there is something that at first looked like a manuscript amendment. Indeed, it is an amendment made when the Post Office proposals were dropped. It is a reference to "further measures of law reform". But last Wednesday, in response to representations from my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said that the phrase covered the introduction of a Bill to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on a criminal cases review authority. That was further made plain by the Secretary of State in another place last Friday, and was of course referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, today.

Last week the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal referred to "full and constructive co-operation" with the proposal that the Government would bring forward. That remark put me somewhat on the alert. I see that the Secretary of State used the same words in another place last Friday. I am wondering whether the Government have in mind proposals which they already anticipate will less than satisfy opinion in this House.

The noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, who is not with us today, recently gave a talk at Edinburgh University. His remarks are very important. Referring to after-thoughts about the Royal Commission report, the noble Viscount said:


    "I wish we had argued more strongly the need to ensure that the new Criminal Cases Review Authority ... is properly--which means abundantly--funded".

He went on to refer to the budgetary and investigative resources devoted by the BBC and Granada television to programmes designed to remedy what the courts and the Home Office had got wrong. The noble Viscount made a further comment which perhaps I may read to the House:


    "I hope and trust that when the new Review Authority is up and running that conclusion will be recognised and acted upon, and that it will not be undermined by the cases, which there will inevitably be, where detailed and costly investigation serves only to confirm the guilt of an appellant".

Those two points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, are most important. I hope that the Minister, in winding up our debate today, will confirm that he sees the role of the authority very much in those terms.

However, as I say, I am somewhat worried by the terms used by Ministers so far about the authority. The Home Secretary in another place went to considerable

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length to describe how he thought the new authority might function. He referred in particular to procedures that have been followed in the past, and said:


    "When the investigation was originally conducted by the police, the investigation under the supervision of the new body will be carried out by the police, although not necessarily by the same force that carried out the original investigation".--[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/94; col. 238.]

He went on to refer to an original investigation carried out by customs officers.

What disturbs me is not that that is necessarily the wrong way to proceed but that it seems that the Secretary of State is already laying down the means by which this independent authority should proceed. Prima facie, I believe that to be wrong. The authority must decide to proceed in the best possible way and Parliament, both in this House and in the other place, should give it the proper framework for so doing. Certainly, there will be full and constructive co-operation from these Benches when the Bill comes before the House, provided that it satisfies those very important criteria and is not merely a face-saving device.

There will be full and constructive co-operation from these Benches for the main recommendations of the Law Commission. My noble friend Lord Harris, on 6th June and on other occasions, has drawn attention to the importance of progress in these matters, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, in a debate on the sittings of the House three weeks ago. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, referred to the appalling backlog of unimplemented reports and said, generously, that the problem is one of parliamentary time for the necessary legislation. As the House knows, "when parliamentary time permits" is a wonderful euphemism for every government. It implies powers beyond their reach in determining the parliamentary timetable. What it really means is, "When we, the Government, take it into our heads that we want to give a Bill priority." I hope that what has been said by the Minister today will indeed result in proposals under this heading very shortly.

I believe that a majority in this House would be prepared to cede time for the repeal of some of the legislation on which we spent time last year. There was, for example, the Education Bill. I think there was a sigh of relief from some quarters when the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, indicated that we would not have such a Bill in this Session. There was also the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill and, above all, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.

In all those cases, across all parties and none, this House found important reasons to disagree with parts of the Bills. Despite that, the Government insisted on using their diminishing majority--diminishing loyal majority--in another place to reverse decisions made here.

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I have referred to the remarks of the Home Secretary in another place. He said the other day about the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill and the rejection of every attempt to amend it:


    "All the efforts of the Opposition parties have miserably failed. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act is now on the statute book, entire and intact".--[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/94; col. 242.]

I want to draw attention to the reference to "all the efforts of the Opposition parties". As your Lordships know, it was opposition across the whole House that was so important. On 25th October we discussed the amendments previously proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Carr. He felt, for reasons we fully understand, that he did not wish to table the amendment or push the matter to a Division. But the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, chose to do so on the Motion he put before the House. Of the 89 Members who voted for the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, 23 did not take the Whip of any of the Opposition parties. So much for the claim of the Home Secretary that his Bill had succeeded despite the efforts of all the Opposition parties. The plain fact is that if the Home Secretary had more humility he would recognise that on a number of very important issues the views of this House were those he should have fully taken account of and that he should have agreed to the amendments to the Bills which were proposed and carried here.

The office of Home Secretary is one of the great offices of state. It is also a most difficult office in which to succeed. But because of its range of responsibilities--including those for law and order--it is, in a sense, a trust. Of course, the decisions of the Home Secretary will be within the context of the Cabinet of which he is a member, and he will be a party politician; but that is quite a different matter from playing politics with his responsibilities.

Above all, the Home Secretary must take a long view; above all, he must take a considered and mature view; above all, he must take a view based on knowledge and not on prejudice, and, especially on emotive issues, he must lead opinion and seek to persuade. It gives me no pleasure at all to say that by any of those standards the present Home Secretary has singularly failed.

Among the many things which bear reading is what the Home Secretary said in another place last Friday:


    "My task is to provide our country with the system of criminal justice for which it yearns."

He also said:


    "From the moment when I became Home Secretary, I was determined to challenge the politically correct orthodoxies that too many people in prominent positions have held for far too long".--[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/94; col. 239.]

One of the most prominent positions--as he surely would agree--is the office of Home Secretary. And yet, over a period of 14 years, there were five Conservative Home Secretaries preceding him. If he is determined to challenge the politically correct orthodoxies that too many people in prominent positions have held for too long, he is indeed challenging the orthodoxies of his five predecessors within this period of government.

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I do not believe that the Home Secretary has served the nation well. It is with some relief that we have no substantial measures before the House in this parliamentary Session except those with which, on the face of it, your Lordships will be able to agree.


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