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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, because she was kind enough to refer to me perhaps I may respond to the question which she directed at me. I listened carefully to what she said and agree with her that there is great need for a proper constitutional scheme and that the notion of simply giving home rule to Scotland quickly does not make sense. Indeed, I wrote as much in the Observer on Sunday, and I agree with her on it. However, equally, as someone who cares passionately about the Union, I do not believe that it will be a healthy union which says to the people of Scotland that some minor modifications to our over-centralised system will suffice. I believe that we must learn greater flexibility and produce a more coherent scheme.
Lord Houghton of Sowerby: My Lords, I do not recall a sitting of your Lordships' House which has been so rewarding, so deep in content and so high in quality. I have to abandon much that I was going to complain about because there are few parliamentary assemblies in the world that can produce speeches supported by eloquence, experience and wisdom to match those in your Lordships' House. Sometimes the way that people talk about the future of the House of Lords is exasperating because they are quite incapable of comprehending the unique contribution which we can make to parliamentary and public life.
We have listened to several speeches of such inspirational value to me that I feel I must comment upon them. First, I was deeply concerned with what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said about the continuing tainted problem of war crimes. I was his supporter and associate in moving to defeat the War Crimes Bill when it came from the House of Commons on two separate occasions. The trail of equivocation and undue delay, the lack of candour about the realities and the problems of the matter that we had to deal with were trying for us to listen to.
When I heard the most moving address of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, I thought: we have certainly come to something when the Archbishop of Canterbury has to come to this House and deliver a sermon on standards of conduct in public life, and show us the gravity of the situation and the extent to which public concern hopes for better things to come.
When I heard the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, give one of the most enchanting speeches that I have ever heard on the topic that he chose, I could not help feeling personally moved to listen to the grandson of my headmaster at school 84 years ago. Certainly I could not put aside one of the thrills of my life when, as a boy of 14½, I held the hand of the noble Lord's mother of the same age while we took part together in a little French play called "Le Petit Poucet". Those are memories that last forever in a lifetime, however long it may be. The
When I heard the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury talking about standards of conduct, I also recalled my time as a member of the last Royal Commission on standards in public life. For nearly two years we wrestled with the issue. The commission, under Lord Salmon, was split from top to bottom on some of the issues with which it had to deal. The first big division was on whether the commission's writ extended to the privileges of Members of Parliament. Some issues arose that were disturbing but which had to be rationalised to be overcome.
Another matter with which we had to deal and which split the Royal Commission was whether the Inland Revenue should respect the secrets of the personal circumstances of taxpayers and their conduct, when they had to make full and honest revelations of their business activities under the income tax Acts, in the belief that they had to tell the truth there but that it was not to their advantage to tell it anywhere else.
That Royal Commission ended remarkably, with Lord Salmon, the chairman, writing a minority report of his own and gathering together one or two members of the commission to join their signatures with his on that minority report. That was an extraordinary outcome. One felt that the duty of the chairman of a Royal Commission was to get an agreed report--or at least, not to be a member of the minority itself. However, we felt that that was probably something that Members of Parliament ought to regulate for themselves. Now the commitment to look at their privileges and conduct has been passed over to an independent body. That is of very great historic significance.
So many matters for the Committee of Privileges, and the privileges of Parliament--which were of course there to be protect Members of Parliament not to expose them--were getting extremely out of date. That was not a very happy experience--although I must say that I was very surprised indeed when the Minister who read the Prime Minister's Statement in the House of Commons revealed that not a single word about the last Royal Commission on standards in public life was contained in the Government's announcement. There are problems there. It is too early to say what may come out of the inquiry. I wish it well. I believe that it will work in a different atmosphere from the one in which we worked, which was mostly one of local government scandals following the Poulson revelations, the misbehaviour and bribery that were used to get local authority city centre schemes and housing schemes brought within the compass of the biggest architectural business in Britain.
Members of Parliament were not so obviously involved in those scandals as were members of local authorities. But some Members of Parliament were involved. When I questioned one member of the commission as to why he had sided with the chairman in the minority report he said, "Because I wanted to get the word 'shocking' out of his minority report in as
I want to conclude on one matter of great importance in relation to the Bill that I introduced earlier this afternoon and its surrounding circumstances. It is no good having standards in public life if you cannot maintain standards in government; and the ethics of government are strongly questionable sometimes. It is too easy to go for the doctrine that was so rife in authoritarian states of the past that "the end justifies the means". The Dangerous Dogs Act does not obsess me because I am unduly considerate in respect of cruelties to dogs, although I am deeply moved by them. That Bill was immoral. It set aside one of the fundamental convictions of British jurisprudence; namely, the discretion allowed to magisterial courts in questions that were within their jurisdiction. That was taken away. We have added a third to our mandatory sentences. There are three mandatory sentences in Britain today: treason, for which people are still hanged; murder, for which life imprisonment is a mandatory sentence, and one to which this House has already objected but with which the Government are afraid to interfere; and the third one was in respect of the Child Support Act. Again, the Government were pursuing the end without full regard to the rigour and injustice of the means. Governments themselves have to find some ethical standards, collectively. Until we achieve those standards, there will not be the confidence in government that there ought to be. When a measure like the Dangerous Dogs Act is put through (in 1991) in eight hours flat in the House of Commons on the ground that there is an emergency, brooking no delay, with the holidays coming in July in the view that the Bill must be put onto the statute book to round up these dangerous things that are abroad, I fear that we are in the grip at the present time of a sensational and emotional arousal of the public by the mass communications of the present century.
Look at the other day. A cross between a Siberian husky and a Canadian timber wolf apparently attacked a child in its own home. Half the children seriously injured by dog bites are attacked by the dog in their own home. That is something very salutary in our consideration of this problem. I thought, "Now what is going to happen--14 stitches in a baby's head? It only takes two more to produce a Dangerous Dogs Act."
On the Monday--or Friday or Saturday--that we had this disclosure, the balloon began to go up. "Pet wolf has bitten a child"; "Ban the wolves", and so on and so forth. We are in danger of falling for that and other things.
What is going to be the public reaction to tomorrow's report of the House of Commons committee on the rabies problem? That will be interesting. We have an obsession about rabies in this country, but how many cases of rabies have been discovered in quarantine kennels in Britain in the last decade? I ask; I do not know. Probably none. But we will not get a discussion in a rational spirit at all, and The Times had a leading article last Saturday about the madness of people who try to tamper with the rabies protection.
I deplore--and this is my final word--that we have not got the institutions to absorb this sensational raid on our emotions and our political judgment. We are now too prone to be influenced by the media. A campaign is started in the tabloid press, which rages on, and before we know where we are Ministers are being driven round the bend. I deplore that we do not have a dog control and welfare council, some body of independent judgment to absorb these emotional outbursts, to examine the facts and to foresee the future.
Let us look at the problem of wolves and Siberian huskies in a detached way. Who is bringing them in? Where do they come from? How many are there? We do not know enough about dog breeding--either here or elsewhere--and I think much more information should be sought about what the dog breeders are up to. They may be--especially in conditions of artificial insemination--producing crosses which they would not get by natural means. I think that is also very important.
I have now made the longest speech of the day, and I apologise. I am grateful to your Lordships for listening to me. If you have been moved as deeply as I have by the speeches that have been made today, then you have had a very rewarding day indeed.
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