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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I intervene only because the noble Lord mentioned me although I have many thoughts about what the noble Lord has already said. I think that the noble Lord is in fact making out a strong case for Scottish devolution, but I will not have it suggested that I would be at home in any party other than my party, the Labour Party. I put it to the noble Lord that he is completely misunderstanding the difference between devolution and independence and I am afraid that he is showing very little understanding of Scotland or its people.
Lord Beloff: My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Baroness has confirmed exactly what I was saying. She argues--I understand her argument--that what is important is to understand the Scots whether they are members of the Labour Party or of any other party. She says that we must understand the Scots. I try to understand them. However, what the noble Baroness does not see is that something which is to change the
Lord Beloff: My Lords, I cannot see why we should not have precisely the questions that appear in the present referendum Bill: "Do you wish to have a parliament in Scotland? Do you wish it to have tax-varying powers? Do you wish to have an assembly in Wales?" I cannot see any fault with those questions. I find fault only with the people to whom those questions are addressed.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that a decision will be taken by the elected representatives of the whole of Britain, with information being available about the wishes of the Scots? Does the noble Lord accept that the elected representatives will have a decision to take?
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, it is clear that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, had some considerable anxieties about the election and its outcome. I confess that I, too, had certain anxieties, but of an entirely different character. My anxieties were based on the fact that the former Prime Minister and his government had given a great deal of attention to the matters of Northern Ireland--more than any of their predecessors over a long period. Indeed, much progress had been made, at least in setting out some kind of structure or basis upon which talks could take place involving the British and Irish Governments and the various democratic political parties in Northern Ireland. My anxiety was that any incoming government might not have quite the same impetus or commitment with regard to attending to our long, difficult and, some would say, entirely intractable problems.
However, whereas the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is continuing in his anxiety, I have been much reassured by the comments and the statements made by the new Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Dr. Mowlam. Indeed, I am reassured not only by their words. We in Northern Ireland have come to judge politicians more by their actions than by their words--and I am reassured by their actions in coming to Northern Ireland where the Prime Minister delivered a particularly fine speech which left many people right across the Province much reassured that the peace process will be continued and, indeed, built upon.
That leads me on to some of the concerns mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who spoke of the principle of consent or self-determination as outlined by the former Democrat President, Woodrow Wilson.
That principle was clearly accepted by the previous government because the principle of consent was a foundation of the entire approach taken by the former Prime Minister, John Major, who regarded it as entirely appropriate that in the outcome of any political discussions there would be a referendum--a referendum in Northern Ireland, not a referendum in the United Kingdom as a whole. There would also have to be a referendum in the Republic of Ireland because any change in the constitution of Northern Ireland would require the people of that jurisdiction to have their say. However, as far as I am aware no one has suggested--not the noble Lord or any other Member of your Lordships' House--that when there is a settlement in respect of Northern Ireland (which is an integral part of the United Kingdom) there should be a referendum in the rest of the United Kingdom. Perhaps in passing I may indulge in some boyish chiding and say that I noticed that when it was suggested that there should be a referendum, Northern Ireland was not included as part of the jurisdiction which should have that referendum although we still regard ourselves as very much a part of the United Kingdom.
Therefore, I believe that it was accepted by President Woodrow Wilson--but I suppose that that must remain uncertain since he is not here to confirm or deny it--and it was certainly accepted by the previous Conservative Government that it was entirely in order for part of the United Kingdom (as long as it was a proper jurisdiction) to have its own say. It was also accepted that the rest of the people of the United Kingdom would be glad to afford that other part any assistance that might be required to put things properly in order. Therefore, I am enthusiastic--and I am encouraged and invigorated in a somewhat stuck peace process--that we have a government who are prepared to take up the baton and
I want to see devolution for Scotland and Wales moving forward, not only because I believe that it is right and it will be evidence of the will of the people of Scotland and Wales, but because the momentum and constitutional dynamic will create an engine of progress for Northern Ireland. If there were to be devolution for Scotland and Wales it would be extraordinary indeed for Northern Ireland to have a statute book and yet no legislature of its own. It would have a local government that had even less accountability and power and yet nothing between it and Westminster. It would have quangos galore, far more per head of population than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, but no possibility of a more accountable government that governed with the consent of the people. I want to see devolution for Scotland and Wales because it is right, but I also want to see it because I believe that it can move Northern Ireland forward.
I am also delighted to see the Government's commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights being incorporated into domestic law. One of the only matters on which the political parties have thus far been able to agree in many years of talks has been the need for a bill of rights in Northern Ireland and that the easiest way of doing it is to incorporate the European Convention. If there is something on which we have found it possible to agree in Northern Ireland surely your Lordships will not disagree with it in this Chamber. Such agreement is so precious in Northern Ireland that, surely, it should be taken as an example of something upon which we can combine.
I regret that two matters have not been included. I trust that it is only in this Queen's Speech and in this Session that they have not been included. The first is the absence of a commitment to proportional representation for Westminster elections. The second is clarification of the funding of political parties. As to the first, one has the peculiar situation in Northern Ireland that every other election is by PR/STV--local government elections, assembly elections and even the European elections--whereas in every other part of the United Kingdom there is no PR. In Northern Ireland we have proportional representation. One would have enjoyed it and found it an encouragement to positive and constructive voting at Westminster elections--something of which one has not seen much evidence in past elections in Northern Ireland. I think that that would have been a great encouragement. I hope that it will not be long before we see indications along those lines. We have seen indications that the question of the funding of political parties will be addressed. That is a positive matter.
I make one appeal. Where one has devolution, or in the case of Northern Ireland a clear regional identity--but at this point without devolution--one is likely to have regional parties. I hope that the issue of the funding of political parties will not be looked at solely in so far as it affects this Parliament but also in so far as it represents regions, particularly those that have separate forms of government.
Finally, in Northern Ireland in the medium term one is looking at political progress. I know that all those in your Lordships' House share the desire for progress. But in the immediate future one has the marching season, parades and all of the divisiveness that may be evidenced there. I welcome the indication that the North Commission report will be fully implemented. I hope that that Bill will come before your Lordships' House soon. But in advance of it can the Government indicate that the views and recommendations of the commission on parades that is already in existence will have, if not the force of law, certainly considerable force in the mind of the Government? When it comes to policing, anti-discrimination and so forth, these are matters on which progress can be made in conjunction with the political progress that I know all of your Lordships wish to see and that I now know, with more certainty than perhaps was clear before the election, the new Government also wish to see.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, although like many others to begin with I was a supporter of devolution for Scotland in the 1970s, in the more recent past I have expressed grave doubts about the proposals that have been made for a devolved parliament or assembly. There are two main reasons for this: first, the cost of yet another tier of government; secondly, the conviction that the Government's proposals, as I understand them, will not work because they have never squarely faced up to the West Lothian question. That will lead inevitably to increased friction and dissatisfaction with the Westminster Parliament and thus, in a few years' time, to an overwhelming demand for outright independence. Alex Salmond has said as much. I do not think that there is anything else on which I agree with him. But I do agree with him about that. We are sailing into very dangerous and uncharted waters. One of the very worrying aspects is that many people in Scotland see devolution as a universal panacea--an answer to all of their problems. It is not. I do not believe that anyone in Scotland would be happier or better off if Scotland had its own Parliament. I fear that disappointment is inevitable. The union of the parliaments has not served Scotland badly.
The Labour Party won a huge majority in the election, fought on a manifesto which in many respects did not differ radically from that of their Conservative and Unionist opponents. One of the areas on which they differed most radically was the question of devolution. We must assume that the wish for a devolved parliament in Scotland is much stronger than the previous Government could ever have been made to believe. Surely then, we should not oppose either the referendum Bill or the subsequent Bill, if the Scots vote for it in the referendum. I believe that we should concentrate on trying to persuade the Government to amend their proposals so that they have a better chance of working.
I am aware that the referendum Bill has already been published. Indeed, I have a copy beside me. But that does not mean that it cannot be amended at Committee stage in either House. I ask the Government to think very carefully about this matter. If they will not do that, alternatively they may introduce an English referendum Bill as soon as time can be found for it. Although we have not yet seen the White Paper setting out the devolution proposals in their final form, the proposal is that foreign affairs, defence, finance and social security should remain within the remit of the Westminster Parliament. Why social security? That seems to me to be a domestic matter that should be dealt with by the national parliaments. It would be one less bone of contention between those national parliaments and Westminster were that to be so.
If that were so, what would the Members of the Westminster Parliament do with themselves three or four days of the week out of five--twiddle their thumbs at the taxpayers' expense? I wonder whether a proportion of the various national MPs elected by their fellows in the same party political ratios as they had themselves been elected could form the Westminster or United Kingdom Parliament. Alternatively, a number of MPs, possibly one per Euro constituency, could be elected at the same time as the Euro MPs. They could sit next door when necessary, say one day a week, while the rest of the time their Chamber could house the English Parliament. In that way you would save a lot of salaries and a new parliament building, while preserving the traditional venue for the English Parliament--surely rather dear to their hearts. You also save the necessity for a fourth tier of elections. I am afraid that the normally apathetic electorate will not turn out in any great numbers for yet another set of elections, particularly in bad weather.
What I am not clear about is what it is envisaged that the role of this House will be regarding devolved legislation. Will it come here for scrutiny or are the devolved parliaments to be single-chamber? Perhaps the Minister could clarify this when she comes to wind up.
I can only hope that the Government, in spite of their huge majority, will listen to suggestions, face the problems which present themselves, try to find solutions to them which will work, and take the necessary time to do so. I hope they will put the unity of the United Kingdom before anything else, otherwise they will go down in history as the Government who destroyed it.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, we have had some brilliant speeches in what has been a very interesting and fascinating debate. Some of the most valuable contributions have been on the constitution, but I think now is the time for a change of bowling. I make a special plea on one aspect of the gracious Speech which I mentioned briefly at Question Time. I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Speech as a whole. It is just what the country needs. It will lead towards greater prosperity in years to come, certainly in the next five years.
I want to try to ensure that disabled people have a share in that prosperity. They have always been at the back of the queue; they have always been relatively neglected. I am very disappointed that despite a list of fine Bills, which I support enthusiastically, there is no provision for improving the situation for disabled people.
We have debated the Disability Discrimination Act at great length. The House knows how disappointed some of us were with its provisions. It is run by the National Disability Council, which has no powers of enforcement. All it can do is advise the Minister, which means that the Act is almost a dead letter. If it cannot be enforced then it has no real meaning to disabled people, nor to employers, nor to the providers of the various goods and services. What was presented by the Tory Government when they were in office, provided very reluctantly and under great pressure, was a vehicle--but a vehicle with no engine. We have to provide that engine.
The description of the Act looks good and sounds good; in fact, it is no good because of the lack of authority. We must therefore have a commission with power and one which is able to enforce the law regarding disabled people.
I was very disappointed with the answer of my noble friend Lady Blackstone. As I said, I warmly support the Bills in the gracious Speech. I recognise that not everything can be done with one magic stroke. Of course I recognise the difficulties, but I repeat that disabled people are all too easily squeezed out. It is too easy to say, "Let us deal with them later on". I hope the Government will not do that in relation to a commission.
My noble friend Lady Blackstone says that the Government are pressing ahead with discussions to see how the Act can be improved. But it cannot be improved without a commission and a commission needs primary legislation. Changing and improving the Act, welcome though that may be, is simply not enough. Admittedly, the Government will not find it easy to find time for additional legislation but they should bear in mind that
I am very glad that my noble friend Lady Hollis will reply to the debate. She does not need to be reminded of her own views on the need for a commission and will be more aware than I am of the Government's dilemma in not being able to do everything at once. But this goes to the central point. The Government made commitments in opposition. The present Opposition will be only too glad to jump on them if every single commitment is not met overnight. I repudiate such an approach. The Government, however, will be faced with the problem of how far, how fast and how comprehensively they can move.
I understand the problem. But disabled people must be given a high priority. Above all, they need this commission. I hope that my noble friend is able to reassure me tonight that my noble friend Lady Blackstone's response at Question Time was an initial response and something on which to build. I would like a specific commitment that there will be primary legislation for a commission.
Regarding the Act, I did not like the way the last Government excluded those who worked in firms employing fewer than 20. They were quite wrong to do that. I hope that my noble friend Lady Hollis will be able to assure us that the matter is being dealt with by the new Government. I do not think that it requires primary legislation. I see my noble friend shakes her head. I hope that we can have a specific assurance in that regard.
The first important comprehensive Act affecting disabled people was in 1970, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, piloted by my great friend Alf Morris in another place. It became a very important Act, making a provision as of right for certain facilities to be given to disabled people by local authorities such as adaptations in the home, meals and telephones. Since the passing of that Act, it had always been accepted that such provisions were given as a right until a recent court case involving Gloucestershire County Council. The case went to the Court of Appeal which, wisely and very reasonably in my view, ruled that the Act said that where a need was assessed that need should be provided for by the local authority and that need should be recognised as the ordinary word, "need". When need was identified, the provision should be made regardless of the resources. In other words, the council could not plead lack of resources. Under the Act it had to make cuts elsewhere and give disabled people the provisions.
On appeal to the House of Lords, the Law Lords, in their infinite wisdom, changed the Act. By a narrow majority they decided that resources had to be taken into account. By that monstrous decision they changed the requirement in the Act from a duty to a discretionary power. So all local authorities can now say, "We lack resources. We are short of money; ergo, we cannot provide disabled people with what they need". I hope that if my noble friend the Minister finds time she will be able to reassure us that new legislation will be introduced to restore the situation to what it was
I have a PS to make. Echoing what was said earlier, I regret that there is not just one Minister for disabled people. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for ensuring that no fewer than three marvellous Ministers have responsibility for disabled people. Tom Clarke did a great deal for disabled people when he was shadow spokesman. Nevertheless, if there were just one Minister he or she would be a focus for disabled people who could straddle all departments. It is more than a nomenclature. It is an important symbol to disabled people and to the public. I hope that the Prime Minister can be persuaded to think again and to appoint one Minister for disabled people.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, when I first entered your Lordships' House, I was advised that a good occasion to make my maiden speech would be in the debate on the gracious Address. That was because I could either comment on something that was contained in it, or alternatively point out something that was missing from it. This is my maiden speech from this side of the Chamber--a place which I must confess I hoped never to find myself. But I believe that advice still holds, and I have to note with some disappointment a number of omissions from the Government's legislative programme.
There is a serious constitutional issue involved in the failure to mention a Bill to introduce maternity leave, paternity leave, additional rights for part-time workers and a selection of all the other social regulations that are such a burden to our competitors in Europe. Instead, the Foreign Secretary lost no time in announcing to Brussels that, without getting a single concession in return, we would give up our opt out on the social chapter and sign up to future European directives that would impose it on us. If the Government think these matters are such a good idea, why do they not make them part of our domestic law, passed by this sovereign Parliament? If by chance the Government should later discover that they are wrong--as they have had to admit that they were over nearly everything that they espoused since they were last in power--then, so long as it was legislation passed by Parliament, it could be changed. This is because no one Parliament can bind future ones or pass irrevocable laws. To change a European law, however, we need the kind co-operation of Brussels, France, Germany and Italy, to say nothing of Greece and all the other countries whose Governments are in thrall to their trade unions. Having the bureaucrats of Brussels do their legislative task for them is just a way for Her Majesty's present Government to make sure that Parliament will not be sovereign over the unions ever again.
Then we come to another proposed diminution of the powers of this sovereign Parliament. I mean the Scottish tax raising assembly, or parish council as the Prime Minister has contemptuously described it. I have no
That brings me to the subject of law and order. To reform the Crown Prosecution Service to convict more criminals is something we can all applaud. Police on the beat and not pushing paper are something we can also all agree with--even though some of the regime of paper pushing was imposed in the interests of civil rights--civil rights of the criminals, not of the public. Fast track punishment of persistent young criminals sounds all very well, but fast track to where, I ask myself? I had 20 years as a magistrate in juvenile courts. What we do not need is a fast track to more conditional discharges and ineffective probation orders, which hardened young criminals regard as, as they put it, "getting off".
I recall the present Government's opposition to our proposals for secure training centres for persistent juvenile offenders which were to provide education and training within a disciplined regime. Now the Government propose to bring in what one newspaper described as "Chain gangs for juveniles". We will examine the proposals with interest when the Bill is published, but I hope that it will deal with such questions as who is going to supervise all this graffiti scrubbing; what will happen if the juvenile fails to co-operate; and whether this punishment will be cost effective. The idea is not new. Some 450 years ago, minor criminals in Florence were sentenced to scrub the pigeon droppings from the cathedral.
Still on the subject of being tough on crime, there is no direct mention in the Queen's Speech of the subject of longer minimum prison sentences for persistent drug dealers and other criminals. Locking persistent criminals up ensures that they are out of the public's way for a long time. The party opposite vigorously fought against our proposals in the last criminal justice Bill. Having adopted so many of our policies for the purpose of getting themselves elected, I am disappointed that this is one that they have not. There is in fact only one passing reference to the drug trade as part of a general context at the end of the Speech, but I welcome the initiative
The Labour Party concentrated a great deal of misinformation during the election campaign on the subject of pensions. Despite that, the Queen's Speech gives us no idea of what the Government are going to do about the ticking time bomb of the inevitable bankruptcy of the state scheme. Indeed, there is no mention at all in the speech of pensions or pension reforms. One can applaud the appointment of Mr. Frank Field, the new Minister of Social Security, as being a person who is not only an expert on the complexities of social security, but as one who takes a realistic view--someone who "dares to think the unthinkable", in the words of the Prime Minister. The question unanswered in the Queen's Speech is how to reconcile Mr. Field's favourable view on the Conservative scheme for private pensions with a minimum guaranteed by the state for the next generation, with the vague manifesto pledge merely to "encourage" private pension schemes. Apparently, the Government are not going to try. The Minister said in a television interview on Saturday:
The Government's plans on trade union law are interesting. There is not one reference in the Speech to trade unions. The words simply do not appear. It reminds me of the curious incident mentioned by Sherlock Holmes in The Silver Blaze; the dog that did not bark. However, this omission itself also raises an important constitutional issue. The Labour manifesto made a passing reference to,
The Chancellor, during the election, said that if elected he intended to "hit the ground running". What he did not say was that he would hit the ground running away from his responsibility always to control interest rates. The significance of this step is this: in just two weeks in power the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given up one of his key functions to the Governor of the Bank of England.
The Foreign Secretary proposes to hand over irrevocably to Brussels powers that could easily be exercised by Parliament and to follow that by surrendering our veto in four major fields. The Government propose to siphon off other powers of Parliament to Scottish and Welsh assemblies and English regional assemblies. The proposal to have a strategic authority for London with an elected mayor will remove from Ministers and Parliament responsibility for control of the police, fire and ambulance services and London transport.
Those are just the thin end of a very large wedge. In fact, all of those proposals and the modification of the agenda for Prime Minister's Questions in the other place have only two objects in view. The first is to diminish the powers of this Sovereign Parliament. In the Queen's Speech, this was described as "decentralisation". The second is to enable Ministers to shuffle their responsibilities on to others. Instead of answering awkward questions, Ministers will be able to hold up their hands and say, "It's nothing to do with me, guv". Your Lordships will need carefully to scrutinise all plans to cede the rights and powers of Parliament to outsiders--and here I am not merely referring to Brussels.
After so much criticism, I should like, in conclusion, to offer some congratulations to the party opposite. It has been given a great trust and considerable power by the British people and we all hope that it will exercise them wisely and well. I congratulate all the new Ministers on the Benches opposite on their appointments, especially the Whips who have the hardest but the best job in your Lordships' House. I wish them all success. In particular, I wish well the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, who is responding to the debate, for she showed me enormous kindness when I first joined your Lordships' House. This House has a reputation for courtesy, politeness, reasoned debate and co-operation between the parties, something that the other place may now be able to emulate with the influx of a large number of women members. I know that I can speak not only for myself but for all my colleagues in saying that the Government can rely on that attitude continuing while--for the short while, I hope--we remain in opposition.
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, it is very significant and important that Northern Ireland is at the top of this Government's agenda, as it was in the last. The common approach of all parties to the problem
I decided to speak today for one reason. I wanted to make sure that before allowing his instincts to come into play the Prime Minister considers certain additional facts which were not contained in his speech. His instincts may have been to return power over the rate of inflation to the Bank of England and to accept the Social Chapter. But, as he said about Northern Ireland:
I have no intention of quoting dozens of statistics and facts, but it is important to bear in mind throughout four points. First, the IRA's campaign has gone on for 27 years. Today that campaign is run by people who have grown up in that environment of violence almost from day one of their lives. Secondly, in Northern Ireland only 10 per cent. of planned IRA incidents actually take place. Intelligence and security measures deter 90 per cent. before they occur. Between 7th October last year and 13th April this year there were 41 major attacks on our security forces. From that, one can realise the number that were actually planned. Thirdly, we have had two recent security force tragedies; the murders of Corporal Restorick and Constable Bradshaw and several civilian tragedies. Other incidents where shootings took place and where explosives were detonated had been intended to kill dozens of our soldiers and police.
The last fact to remember is that it is the quality of our security forces--the police backed up by the Army--which is holding the situation in check. Highly professional operations, such as the recovery of the deadly Barrett sniper rifle and the arrest of the active service unit in South Armagh, are good examples of what I mean.
I believe that the Prime Minister should consider who he is dealing with. Sinn Fein/IRA is the answer. Some people may wish to believe that Sinn Fein and the IRA are separate. The facts are that Sinn Fein, predominantly Adams and McGuinness, has two places on the IRA army council. That is a minority of two out of seven. While Adams does not have control over the IRA, contrary to what they say, Sinn Fein has a great deal of influence. That is shown by, for example, the cessation of activities, including beatings, intimidation and so on, for three weeks prior to the election to maximise the Sinn Fein vote. It is now continuing to control that violence until after the council elections which take place in Northern Ireland on Wednesday. I am convinced that it will try to do so also until after the general election in the Republic on Sunday, 8th June.
Therefore, we are dealing with Sinn Fein/IRA. Its members do not cease using violence because they do what suits them and no one else, and I might add that they have always done so. They feel that time and time again violence has prompted a small movement in government policy. I give just one example. After the Canary Wharf bomb incident there was an immediate reaction of setting dates for talks.
For the vast number of low-level activists, the IRA culture is a way of life. They depend on the IRA purse for a living. That living is earned through organised crime, intimidation, fraud and protection rackets. Why would they wish to lose a livelihood of 27 years just so that two Sinn Fein representatives could attend talks when their only aim, as the Prime Minister stated, is unattainable, their only stated aim being to achieve a united Ireland in the shortest possible time.
They will not cease to use violence because the IRA culture cannot survive without it. How many people realise that the everyday brutality which occurs in our Province is predominantly against their own community; for example, the everyday type of occurrence of three masked thugs with baseball bats breaking into a house and dragging outside a 16 year-old boy and then slowly and viciously battering his legs and arms to pieces? Why? Only by the use of terrorism can the IRA culture of crime continue.
At that level, one is not dealing with romantic Irish patriotism but with cowardly, criminal thugs who do not do anything for the good of anyone else, including Gerry Adams, let alone a British Government.
There is one other consideration which should have a bearing on the Prime Minister's instincts. Many will be surprised by what occurred in the election in Northern Ireland. Why did so many people vote for Sinn Fein two weeks ago and why will they do so again in
I shall quote four isolated phrases in Section 4, which may come as a surprise to people who were junior Ministers in Northern Ireland. Section 4 deals with the constitutional position of Northern Ireland Ministers and it states:
Peace talks are aimed at rectifying that. However, after 27 years, you cannot expect local accountability at the level of the Northern Ireland Office to occur in the short term. The Prime Minister could act now, however, just as quickly as he has with Prime Minister's Question Time, by returning to the district councils some of the powers taken away from them years ago. Today, the district councils are capable of and willing to work together and they have shown that in several places. The vast majority of nationalists oppose violence. Recent polls have shown that to be true. But their votes for the peaceful constitutional parties seemed wasted in the face of Sinn Fein/IRA violence and lack of political accountability. Incidentally, the same can be said for the vote for those parties close to Protestant or loyalist paramilitaries. In addition, the fact that John Hume got so close to Sinn Fein meant that a vote for Sinn Fein became more acceptable, or perhaps one should say less unacceptable.
The Prime Minister said also that there may be only one opportunity given to a new Government to offer a way forward. I remind your Lordships that there will shortly be a new government in the Republic. Perhaps that presents a doubly good opportunity for a way forward. May we all hope that the new Government have the conviction, courage and determination to build on the Prime Minister's excellent speech in Armagh and that we shall move towards eventual peace in our Province.
Before I appear to be giving the new Government an open endorsement, I feel the need to run over what happened in Scotland on 1st May. Apart from the Conservative Party achieving a zero percentage of seats, albeit based on 17 per cent. of the vote; the Government won 76 per cent. of the seats based on only 47 per cent. of the popular vote. That latter percentage has an interesting effect when set against the proposals for a proportional elected Parliament. It was disappointing for the SNP to poll 22 per cent. of the vote and yet achieve only 8 per cent. of the seats. The Liberal Democrats scored a well-proportioned result--13.9 per cent. of the seats based on 13.1 per cent. of the vote. That is a remarkable but not necessarily appropriate achievement of proportionality under the essentially corrupt system of first-past-the-post.
I conclude that the new Government have quite a good mandate to administer Scotland. I am sure that they will be pleased to know that. They were fortunate to win some more rural seats, so I am hopeful that there will be less of a bias towards the industrial central belt and more understanding of the rural and remote areas. I look forward to encouraging a further legislative visit to crofting. It is in the remote areas that the greatest improvements can probably be made--by a bold government with a clear understanding of this subject which may, at first, appear peripheral.
Having said that, I should now like to turn to the criminal justice Bill, which seems to be called "crime and disorder". I should like to have it confirmed that this Bill does not try to attempt to alter the law of Scotland. Tackling Scottish measures on the back of an essentially English Bill is always an inadequate way to amend Scots law. I hope that the proposed fast-track--from offence to court appearance--will not jeopardise the legal process, and not lead to injustice. I certainly applaud any effort to bring accused persons to court in the shortest realistic period. In the case of the young, that will be most beneficial, both to the accused and the victim; and to the wider society. The connection between offending and judicial disposal is always worth stressing and reinforcing. My only caution lies in the occasional merit of being able to examine what the accused person has done in the intervening period after being charged. That is the informal equivalent of a deferred sentence.
The measures to protect children, lower the age of criminal responsibility in England and place responsibility for their children's behaviour with the parents seem to be sound, and regrettably necessary,
I hope that any review of the social security system and social policy will conclude that the focus must be upon three major areas, and must be effective. I define those areas as being: young unemployed males, young single mothers and the long term unemployed. The first need to develop new attitudes to the kind of work that they are looking for and preparing for; the second, the young single mothers, need help and encouragement within the context of their inexperience to bring up the families that we probably wish they had not had while so young; the third, the long-term unemployed, need to grasp the helping hand of training and begin to believe that they will work again.
Finally, and inevitably, I turn to the proposals for the development of the constitution. I believe that this will ultimately lead to the creation of a federal Britain. This is the only real British solution to the central problem of the Union as we know it. The problem to be overcome is no less than the domination of the British Union by the English state; that is, by its sheer scale and voting power. The risk of returning to the democratic deficit and colonial-style minority government is too great for Scotland. I put it this way. Scotland is either a sovereign political entity or just a region of Britain. I believe that the vast majority in Scotland want to exercise their sovereignty within the United Kingdom, but not on the existing terms. A domestic parliament will begin to meet that desire.
It is to be hoped that these developments can be welcomed by all partners in the British Union. Failure to do so will encourage the alternative solution: that Scotland should pursue its own sovereign path outwith the British Union. The first beneficiary of devolution will be the Scots Law. I do not believe that this Parliament is capable of doing justice to its development. It is so little understood, and forever regarded as the other system. A Scottish parliament will have the Scots law central to its heart. That, alone, I suggest is sufficient to justify its creation.
I should like to go back a little so that your Lordships will understand where I am coming from. When the Union Commissioners met for their first substantial discussions on 22nd April 1706, the English Commissioners made the following proposal of substance:
On the 24th April, two days later, the Scottish Commissioners, drawn from the Parliament of 1705, presented a radically different proposal of four points. First, that the succession should be as per the English Act; secondly, that there should be reciprocal exchange of rights and privileges between the two kingdoms; thirdly, that there should be free trade between the two kingdoms and the colonies; and, fourthly, that all laws and statutes in either kingdom were to be compatible or repealed.
The Scottish proposals dealt with the major problem of the Dual Monarchy--or the Dynastic Union: the co-ordination of Her Majesty's Governments in England and Scotland. The Scots were offering to accept the Hanovarian succession in return for free trade, the end of war and a treaty of friendship; together with the repeal of English discriminatory legislation, such as the Navigation Act and the Aliens Act. That was clearly a demand for a federal union. The Scottish proposals were rejected out of hand and an incorporating union (the Union that we know) was the only proposal allowed to be discussed.
I believe that we should bear all that in mind as we come to make the next steps in the development of the British Union. Ignoring the will of the people of Scotland will only perpetuate the inherent unfairness of the Union. I wish well the Parliament of 1997 in this respect.
Viscount St. Davids: My Lords, I welcome the commitment in the gracious Speech to introduce devolved government to Wales. As is well known to many of your Lordships who hail from the Principality, I am not a new convert to this concept and have long wished to see the return of democracy to Wales, either through a return of power to local government or, better still, the creation of a Welsh assembly with the power to govern in Welsh matters. Before my noble friends on these Benches decide that I should be denied the vote on the second count of having joined the certifiable, the insane, perhaps I may explain why I hold these views.
There exists in Wales a political problem known as the "democratic deficit"--a name taken from a learned paper written by Kevin Morgan and Ellis Roberts and published in 1993. That name is now used by the press and has even entered the portals of the Welsh Office. This deficit has come into being through both external and internal factors. Anglesey, Aberystwyth and Angle are a long way from London and even further from Brussels. As real political power moves ever eastward, Wales becomes further isolated and that isolation must be seen in the context of the centralisation of the power that, over the past 18 years, has been taken from local government. That process did nothing to reform the excesses that existed in a small number of local authorities, but rather left local government with a raft of statutory duties and little contact with the people who were called upon to vote for it.
Quango appointees greatly outnumber elected councillors. Some put the ratio as high as 3:1. To believe that quango appointments are made on a politically neutral basis would be naive. One may well ask, why does the system work? The only answer that I can find is the generous nature of the English taxpayer. Of those who oppose change I ask, would the English electorate consent to live under a similar regime?
The case for change is self-evident. To turn the clock backwards would achieve little. The fundamental changes to Welsh local government have been too great to do that and are now working well. Let us look to France and to Germany where regional government works well and let us remember that new concept that came with the Maastricht Treaty; namely, subsidiarity. Why should it stop east of the Severn?
My enthusiasm for a Welsh assembly should not be taken as a lack of respect for the magnificent achievements that a succession of Secretaries of State from both parties have brought about in the creation of what is Wales today. The Wales of tomorrow requires a different touch. I hope I may give two examples. I refer to the economic development of the north and west of Wales and the hard political decisions that are necessary which can be made only in Wales. They will not be made by a government in Westminster. The Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 in creating unitary authorities made a half-hearted attempt at providing for that level of administration that concerns police, fire, health and health and safety services. A Welsh assembly could so easily encompass this in a manner far more beneficial to the community which is served rather than by the artificial units created by the Act.
The pros and cons of an assembly have never been far from debate at any time since the failed referendum of 1979. The "con" argument has always been dominated by the cost of the assembly. I understand that the additional cost over and above the transfer of existing costs is thought to be minimal. I ask the Minister to put on record what this cost will be.
If the Government wish to gain assent at the referendum, the White Paper must be radical. It should not only state what powers are to be given to the assembly, but also argue the case for the powers that will remain with Westminster. There is in Wales a considerable cultural diversity and if the assembly is to gain the confidence of all this must be reflected in the manner in which its members are elected. This diversity is better represented by local authority boundaries than by parliamentary constituencies. To this end the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 should be revisited as there is a good case for increasing the number of authorities. The case for PR is unarguable in the context of a Welsh assembly.
There are two major problems which I hope the White Paper will address, both of which may well have defeated the legislators of the Venetian Republic. The first is how to reassure if not protect rural north and west Wales against the political and economic ambitions
I hope that the Government will be brave enough to offer that at some time in the future the assembly could be given the power of taxation. If we have a lesson to learn from attempts to reform local government, it is that to give representation without taxation leads to bad government. To separate the vote from the wallet is indeed folly. For the assembly to have no financial responsibility other than to prioritise the spending of a block grant will always add a divisive political dimension to the allocation of moneys.
If, as I hope, the assembly comes into being, future Westminster legislation will be drafted so as to recognise the power of the assembly. However, existing legislation has given to the Secretary of State the power to make orders which require the consent of Westminster. If the responsibility for such secondary legislation passes to the assembly, there will be cases where the commonality of law is broken in a manner not intended in the original legislation. I cannot share the opinion expressed by my party during the election that a Welsh assembly calls into question the integrity of the Union. History has shown us that all too often a rigid and unchangeable constitution brings about its own downfall. If our constitutional arrangements have anything to fear, it is from Europe and not from Wales.
I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate she will say what the Government will do to redress the "democratic deficit" in Wales if the referendum does not gain an affirmative vote, for the Government must have a fall back solution, and that solution should be known. How all embracing is the commitment in the gracious Speech
By now my noble friends will be convinced that I should be denied the vote on the third count of having joined the criminal class. However, I believe that we best protect our institutions by allowing them to develop if they are best to serve our countrymen and country women. A Welsh assembly is just such a development and with it we may see the return of those who succeed in the community--I do not mean that success is governed by money--to the service of local government. That is a great tradition which we are in danger of losing. The referendum offers the Welsh a great opportunity. Let us grab it with both hands and argue about the detail later.
Lord Rees-Mogg: My Lords, we have been saying pleasant things about each other this evening, or at least most of us have. I wish to join in and congratulate the new Government Front Bench. It is always pleasant to see a government in all the fresh dawn of first confidence. However, life goes on; government is difficult; and that moment is seldom recaptured. While it lasts it is right for all of us to take pleasure in it.
I wish also to congratulate what one could call the new Opposition Front Bench. I have listened to what they have had to say, both last Thursday and today. I detect a new spriteliness, a new vigour and a new interest in life which may perhaps come from being able to speak their minds more frankly now that they are free of the trammels of government. They, too, deserve the congratulations of this House. I do not wish to leave out the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. I see the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, on that Bench. In the previous Parliament the noble Lord earned the gratitude of this House on, I believe, a permanent basis for his defence of the independence of the judiciary.
Therefore I start by congratulating everyone on almost everything. One thing I hope the Government Front Bench will recognise is that this House has a genuine purpose in trying to master the real difficulties of constitutional reform and that when questions are put which may be difficult to answer or when amendments are tabled which may be difficult to resist it is the intention, certainly on the part of noble Lords on these Benches, to improve the legislation and that there is no intention of blocking it or wrecking it.
I was struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, said about her experience in Scotland. I was in Scotland during the election campaign; I was not in a battle bus. I am quite sure she is right. There is a basic will among the Scottish people to have what can properly be called a Scottish parliament. When considering the first piece of legislation, the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill, we should start from the point that the electorate in Scotland made its position absolutely clear. Having said that, one looks at the difficulties. The difficulties are as clear in the referendum Bill--it is only a first example--as they are in constitutional reform generally.
There is a striking counter party to the referendum Bill. The striking counter party to Scotland is Wales. We have not as yet had a justification for separating the idea of a parliament for Scotland from an assembly for Wales. These are not terms of art. France has an assembly with much the same powers as the Parliament that we have in this country. Those terms are indications of esteem. The esteem given to the proposed devolution for Wales is not in parity with the esteem given to the form of devolution proposed for Scotland. If there is a sense in which Scotland is a nation and Wales less fully a nation, that is utterly unacceptable to the Welsh people. What does Scotland have as regards nationhood that Wales does not have? The answer is Scottish law. Scotland has a system of law which Wales has not retained. On the other hand, as is shown in the referendum Bill, the Welsh language is held to be much stronger than the Scottish language. The Welsh people are to be allowed to answer the referendum in their own language; but, as proposed, the poor Scottish people will have to answer the referendum in English.
The issue applies not only to Scotland and Wales but also to Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is at the heart of the West Lothian question. If we are to move to devolution for Scotland because we know that that is what the Scottish people want and therefore we should not resist it, is it right to set up a system in which we have three devolutions from the United Kingdom Parliament, and one non-devolution in respect of England, in which each system is essentially different from the other? In the long term, can it be acceptable to go from a parliament for Scotland down to an assembly for Wales? One has the Welsh relationship, the English relationship and the Northern Ireland relationship. As put forward, the scheme does not provide an answer to those relationships.
One then considers other relationships. What are we to do about local government in Scotland and Wales? Let us consider the shift of power as regards Scotland because it is clearer; we understand it better. We have an important shift from powers exercised essentially by the Westminster Parliament through the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Office up to Edinburgh. But will it not be natural for there to be also a change in the power relationship between the new Edinburgh parliament and local authorities in Scotland? My friends in Scotland tell me that they are not well satisfied with the state of local government in Scotland; they do not think that it is good local government. Some of them think it natural to give powers to Edinburgh and reduce the powers discharged by the local government. I do not know whether they are right. However, it is clear that the relationship with local government has to be examined.
So, too, does the important relationship with the Treasury. If the Scottish people say yes, the Scottish parliament will have the right to additional tax revenue. What relationship will that have to the direct grant from the Treasury? Will the Treasury be entitled to say, "Now
There is the relationship inside the parties. During the election campaign, an interesting point was made by the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister. He said that the Labour Party was committing itself not to increase taxes in Scotland in the new Scottish parliament in the course of this Parliament. But can he deliver that promise? There will be a Scottish parliament. That Scottish parliament will have a majority, perhaps a coalition. It may need a coalition because it will be proportionate. That majority will have a leader. I do not know what he will be called--perhaps the prime minister of Scotland. He will not be answerable to anyone in a political party in London. If that parliament wishes to raise taxes in Scotland, and the Scottish people and Westminster have given it the power, he will not be answerable to the leader of the Labour Party--whether he is Prime Minister in London or whoever he might be. Conflict inside parties may, and almost certainly will, arise.
As regards Europe, do we look forward to a Europe of the regions? Many people would do so. Do we look forward to a Scotland which will deal directly with Brussels as regards fisheries? Will a Scottish parliament be content to have Westminster decide that Scottish fisheries should be common to the whole of Europe? That will be a difficult issue. If we had a Cornish parliament, it would not be agreeable to the Westminster Parliament giving away Cornish fish to Spanish fishermen.
On Europe we also have the problem that any claims that Scotland might have to a direct relationship with Brussels are also claims that can be made by Catalonia, Lombardy, the German Lander and Corsica--claims which might well be resented and resisted by our other European partners.
These problems of relationships come immediately to the surface as soon as the Government have the courage to confront constitutional reform. Some constitutional reform is now no doubt absolutely necessary. But the reason why governments refrain from constitutional reform is that it is exceptionally sensitive and exceptionally difficult. I hope that in our debates in this House the Government will recognise that it is our awareness of these difficulties and this sensitivity rather than any rejection of them which may make us difficult on occasion in supporting their legislation.
Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to congratulate my colleagues on the Government Front Bench on their ministerial appointments. It is also a great pleasure to welcome the Speech, which is one of the most radical of gracious Speeches. It has a quality about it that will strongly appeal to millions of people who have just cause to complain of Conservative
The first aspect to which I wish to draw attention is devolution to Wales--a matter close to my heart. The setting up of a Welsh assembly to improve the way Wales is governed and to strengthen the unity and cohesion of the Welsh nation has been an aim of Welsh politics for over 100 years. Many of us in the House today have worked persistently over the past few decades to establish such an assembly. In particular, I must mention the contribution of my noble friend Lord Cledwyn, who has been one of the pathfinders.
I followed very carefully the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg. In Wales it has been a long and slow journey to get where we are. Those who know the Labour movement in Wales will also know that it has been necessary to make difficult compromises; and there have been disappointments. So against that background I have not the slightest doubt that the new Government's commitment to the setting up of a Welsh assembly is of the greatest significance in the long history of the Welsh nation. I believe it opens the way for constructive work for Wales, in Wales, in the years ahead. It can be the basis for further development if such development is shown to be necessary or desirable.
I therefore thank the Government for giving devolution a top place in the timetable in fulfilment of the promise in the manifesto. It is fulfilled in the referendum Bill introduced in the Commons on the first day after the opening of the new Parliament. I believe that the proposed Welsh Assembly is well within the reach of the Welsh people. Given a strong lead by the Government and with the co-operation and good-will of those who believe in devolution, I believe that a Welsh Assembly is also within our grasp.
I sincerely hope that the Conservative Party in Wales will come to adopt the positive approach towards devolution, to a Welsh assembly, that was eloquently expressed in this House this evening by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids. I thought his speech a substantial contribution to the debate in Wales. Here we have the voice of a Conservative Peer speaking for devolution. I therefore hope that fresh thinking will emerge within the Conservative Party within Wales.
I now turn to another part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland. There is in the tragedy of Northern Ireland, as ever, a challenge for the whole of the United Kingdom. I greatly welcome the paragraph devoted to the Province in the gracious Speech. I note that the paragraph omits the word "compromise". But there can be no trust and confidence without a willingness to compromise on the part of all the parties in the Province. The paragraph then emphasises the Government's determination to seek reconciliation and a political settlement which has broad support, working in co-operation with the Irish Government. At the same time it recognises the anxieties, the concerns, at some well-publicised features of life in the Province, such as tensions over parades, discrimination in the workplace,
I acknowledge, of course, that the last Conservative Government took many of these matters very seriously. But the new Government is in a position of great strength in another place and authority in the country. I hope that all the parties in Northern Ireland will take account of that fact and will begin to work together in common harness.
I welcome the promise of a Bill to incorporate into United Kingdom law the main provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the UK is already a signatory. These are the basic rights which belong to and should be enjoyed by all people, whatever their colour, religion or race. Looking back at our various debates on the subject one can see how the position has gradually changed beyond one of reluctantly ratifying the convention in 1951, to granting individuals the right to petition Strasbourg in 1966, and to the promise of a Bill in this Session to incorporate the convention as part of our law. It is not only in Northern Ireland that that promise will be welcomed. I believe it will also be welcomed right across the rest of the country. It is of practical importance to all citizens and will at the same time enhance the country's reputation. We are most fortunate in this House to have among us the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to whom we are hugely indebted for leading us towards the goal of incorporation of the Convention for several decades. I now look forward to seeing the Bill to which my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is personally committed.
There is one final matter that I wish to mention briefly which is not unrelated to basic human rights; it is, at least, related to civilised life. During recent years there has been a worrying tendency for some health authorities to decide who is to have access to modern medical technology and who is to be denied it. Given the ever-growing demand for better health treatment in the light of what new medical and scientific discoveries can make available, is there not a need for the whole subject of access to expensive, sophisticated medical technology to be looked at by an ad hoc committee so that a new strategic direction can be given by Parliament to the National Health Service as to what Parliament expects the NHS to provide? Or is it right that judgment on access to such technology should be left to the managers of the different local authorities in their own communities?
The gracious Speech has been a long time coming. Expectations in the country are very high. The new Government have immense authority, but also great responsibilities. Experience shows that government is never easy. However, I trust that this Government will not be diverted from its central task of implementing the manifesto commitments.
Lord Belhaven and Stenton: My Lords, like sitting on this side of the House, the subject of Scottish devolution is by no means new to me nor to many of your Lordships. We have been here before in various
Since then we have had a very long time to sit down and think seriously about what is actually involved. Since then we have also had the European Commission and Messrs. Kohl and Chirac who, I imagine, would quite like to split Scotland from the rest of Britain on the well-known and tried principle of "divide and rule". However, they might not be so keen on splitting Bavaria from Germany or Brittany from France.
It would be churlish of me not to congratulate the Labour Party on their spectacular victory in the recent election. But I will say this: if they are going to give parliaments to Scotland and Wales and later to the English regions--which I have heard suggested--they may be dividing England up as it was divided (as we remember from our history books) in Anglo-Saxon times into Mercia, Wessex and the rest. Furthermore, they are marching bravely into the heart of Europe which they imagine they can influence, though many of us are quite certain that they cannot. If the Labour Party are going to give yet more powers to the European Commission and the European Parliament, it seems to me that it will be not only your Lordships' House which may be in danger of becoming redundant; we shall not have much left to do here in either House of Parliament. Perhaps we might turn the whole place into a museum or a Japanese hotel like the large building across the river.
Back to Scotland. We have not yet found the answer to the West Lothian question. I feel that Her Majesty's Government might possibly award £1 million from the lottery for someone who could find the answer. I am not sure that the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, did not come close to it this afternoon, but we should have to think about that and bear in mind if we have a federation that England is so much bigger than Scotland and Wales. England would be very much the preponderant partner in the federation and it might be difficult.
We are in a situation today where a large number of senior Ministers are Scots. We have in this House the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, there is also the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary and a few others. There is a formidable team from north of the Border. I believe that people may well be saying, and I hear that they are saying that, not content with ruling England, the Scots also want their own Parliament to legislate for themselves without southern interference. As a Scot resident in England, I have heard that more and more often in the past few weeks.
Apart from the West Lothian question, other questions arise. My noble friend Lady Blatch put one: is Scotland to continue to be over-represented in the House of Commons? Also, we must look to the future. Let us suppose that a Labour Government were elected
I am sure that on this side of the House we will be constructive about the matter, even those of us who disagree with what has been done and think it is a disaster. However, we shall try to do our best not to obstruct the elected government. Perhaps Her Majesty's Government could help us by providing answers to questions which baffle me and my noble friends. I hope that the Scottish people will have these serious issues put before them clearly. It seems to me that many people in Scotland fail to grasp the seriousness of the matter. They want to remain in the union but they also want a Parliament which will inevitably have many of the trappings of sovereignty and will, incidentally, be very expensive. Who will pay for it?
I believe that if the Scottish people want a real parliament, they should support the SNP. Independence or the status quo are and always have been in my opinion the only serious options. I hope that they will come to understand that and will reject the Government's proposals in the referendum.
We should remember that when we are considering important constitutional change we are not just legislating for this Parliament, with its large government majority in the other place, but for the foreseeable future. I imagine that the proposals might work in the short term. They might work for longer on the supposition that the Labour Party would win election after election with overwhelming majorities. As that is highly unlikely, these measures will in the course of time come under increasing and mostly, I believe, hostile scrutiny, especially in England. I very much hope that, in their own interests, the Scottish people will reject them.
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, I thought I would be the third to speak about Northern Ireland today but I am the third and a half because I listened with interest and care to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, who has a deep knowledge and understanding of Northern Ireland affairs. I wish to speak about the beloved Province to which I belong. It has long been a wonderful part of the world in which to live, with friendly, intelligent people, always humorous and sometimes wise. Unfortunately, things have been getting much worse over the last 18 months. Small and large communities are at loggerheads, sectarianism and hatred are rife and there seems little chance of things getting better in the foreseeable future.
It is time for a fresh look and to understand what has been going wrong. I therefore heartily welcome Dr. Mowlam as our new Secretary of State. She is not new to Northern Ireland but I shall not be surprised if it takes her a little time to get to grips with the situation.
I believe, indeed I know, that fear is the root cause of the present distrust and suspicion between communities. Unionists believe that the Government have been giving way to encourage Sinn Fein to join talks and they are fearful that by guile and subterfuge they will find themselves pushed towards a united Ireland. Nationalists and republicans are afraid of attacks on individuals or communities by loyalist paramilitaries, and I much regret that they have justification. They are also afraid of what the IRA will do, and it should be remembered that the IRA have murdered more Roman Catholics than Protestants in the past 30 years. Almost all nationalists now believe that the failure of the ceasefire in 1994-95 was the fault of the former Prime Minister, John Major. They also fear for the future.
These fears have been encouraged by fudges and statements with double meanings. The framework document is a good example and no attempt has been made to counter the false propaganda about the ceasefire put out by Sinn Fein. Those remarks were put together before the Prime Minister spoke in Belfast on Friday afternoon. It had been my intention to offer one piece of advice to the Prime Minister and to Dr. Mowlam. It was to do nothing which would increase the fear in any section of the community in Northern Ireland but rather seek to dispel it. Church leaders and many others have been making every effort but a lead from the Government was required. On Friday, the Prime Minster gave such a lead. He spoke plainly and simply and I can almost feel that the clouds have started to lift and that there is hope for the future where formerly there was little hope.
The Prime Minister's speech was wide ranging and laid out plainly many matters of doubt. Particularly welcome is his request that Articles 2 and 3 in the constitution of the Republic of Ireland be amended. To the IRA those articles give authorisation and legality. The Prime Minster made plain that the Government would respect the wishes of the people in Northern Ireland. That is very important. He gave the IRA one more chance to renounce violence for good and to make it possible for Sinn Fein to join the other democratic parties in talks. He also made plain that if the IRA does not respond quickly there will be no place for Sinn Fein and the full weight of the security forces will press upon all terrorists. It is such plain speaking for which we have long been waiting.
In one respect the Prime Minister's speech raised a doubt with unionists in general. He may not know that the framework document was written by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin. It was intentionally written in a convoluted manner and the Northern Ireland Office should have known better than to accept it. There is a widespread wish in both parts of Ireland to develop useful working relationships on all manner of subjects and I have no doubt that in an atmosphere of peace those will quickly develop. Perhaps after a few years it may be helpful to formalise some of them, but I believe it
Recent fears have been increased by foreign intervention in the affairs of Northern Ireland, particularly from the Republic of Ireland. That interference has multiplied in the past few years and is much resented by unionists, to whom it is totally unacceptable. It is the secrecy of it that is so disturbing and the general perception has been that the Northern Ireland Office obtained the agreement of Dublin before taking any initiative. That is a shocking state of affairs. If the Prime Minister can control that interference and Articles 2 and 3 are amended, there is real hope that the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic will progress in an atmosphere of mutual trust.
Perhaps I may give one piece of advice to the Prime Minister and to Dr. Mowlam; that is, they should carry on as they have started. But they should not give too much attention to the advice they will receive from the Northern Ireland Office. They may become confused and lose their direction. They must do what the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, suggested; that is, they must start to fill the democratic vacuum. I hope that they will quickly start to give additional responsibilities to our local councils.
On Friday the Prime Minister gave an indication of his determination to help Northern Ireland to go forward in peace. I welcome that most heartily, as indeed does everyone in Northern Ireland except perhaps those who have a continuing interest in terrorism. He has made a good start. I wish the Prime Minister and his Secretary of State, Dr. Mowlam, God speed in their efforts to bring a genuine peace to Northern Ireland.
The Marquess of Bath: My Lords, while I am delighted by the Government's intention to introduce a measure of self-government for both Scotland and Wales, I am concerned that there are no plans to follow that with a reappraisal of the constitutional status of the English regions unless there should be some demand in evidence that that may be desired. I feel bound therefore to claim that interest for the inhabitants of Wessex. I am hopeful that there will be similar demands from all of the other English regions. I should like to think that the UK might now be approaching the time when devolution will be introduced on an even wider scale, and that the intended legislation on behalf of Scotland and Wales will set a pattern for what may later be applied elsewhere.
The appeal of devolution is that it offers a region far greater control over its own quality of life while encouraging the cultural diversity between different regions in a manner that will individualistically enhance the lives of those who dwell there without interfering in the concept of a broader based UK sovereignty under whose aegis the macro-economics and the defence of the realm will continue to be organised on their behalf. Such emphasis upon
At this point in time, when we stand on the brink of fuller co-operation with Europe, it would be a move greatly appreciated by the other nations whose regional structure is already significantly stronger than our own for this country to present itself in terms of the more pronounced geographical definition of the English regions while furnishing them with new political responsibility to enhance their emergent status. In that way it will prove easier for us to emerge in a constitutional shape that will enable us to guide rather than to hinder the formation of a European political union yet to come, in the forefront rather than following in the wake of a movement which I anticipate will be shaping our identity over the coming half century.
It can certainly be argued that the English regions do not even know where their own boundaries should be drawn. But the heartlands are where those identities have been best preserved. I should like to think that those could be made the distinct nuclei around which the concept of their re-emergence might be encouraged. Prior to the proposal of any specific legislation on behalf of the English regions, I am hoping that the Government will initiate a consideration of these matters within the county councils responsible for the welfare of those heartlands.
In the case of Wessex, I believe that the Government should invite the county councils of the five counties which constitute central Wessex--the county councils of Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Berkshire and Hampshire--to meet together to discuss and determine the areas where their quality of life may be collectively improved with a view to realising a greater sense of cultural fusion and economic welfare. Each of those counties may be expected to host such assemblies on a rota basis. I hasten to add that that would not constitute an additional tier of government; it would be the councillors already elected within those counties who would have the right to attend the assemblies. It would be only at a later date, if this Government chose to set up a Wessex witan on an official basis, that there would be a requirement for councillors to be elected to it direct, replacing existing county council elections.
Once the Wessex witan was already functional, at a later date--perhaps five years later--the areas which surround central Wessex would need to determine whether or not they wished to proclaim themselves as lying within the borders of Wessex or the borders of a neighbouring region whose heartland I am anticipating will have acquired similar political identity at the same time as ourselves. I am foreseeing that a future map of England will include the following regions: Wessex; South Thames; North Thames; Trent and Anglia; Middle England; Lancastria; Yorkshire and Northumbria--a total of eight regions in all.
The case for determining the precise borders of Wessex is as delicate as with many another region. There are areas of West Sussex, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Devon and Cornwall where I would certainly wish to be guided by local feeling before proclaiming that they should be included within the Wessex identity. Being half Cornish myself, I know that Cornwall proudly proclaims its separate identity, even from Devon. But if the region were to be presented as Wessex and Cornwall, with special emphasis on the Cornish people being firmly in control of their own quality of life, I cannot predict where they might finally elect to stand, as a separate region or in association with Wales and Brittany or in association with an extended Wessex. But these I regard as problems which lie beyond the establishment of a political heartland for Wessex.
A problem which perhaps worries us most of all concerns whether the creation of these regions might incur additional taxation to be levied in surplus to that which is under the strict control of our central Government. The regional assemblies will indeed require funds to finance their useful activities. I am wondering whether a system might not be possible where each of these assemblies might receive a per capita and per hectare rebate from the inland revenue which has been collected throughout the United Kingdom as a whole. This sum would be theirs to spend as they might wish in lieu of funds which would formerly have been at each county council's disposal.
The concept of an England regionalised will stand in total contrast to what we were beginning to become; an England which had lost its empire while failing to identify a role in the world which it now could play. The creation of a separate parliament for Scotland and an assembly for Wales will certainly be steps in the right direction. But I sincerely hope that this Government will not miss out on such a unique opportunity to make catalytic decisions that will ultimately bring both Britain and Europe into the 21st century.
Lord Gisborough: My Lords, in spite of the greatest recorded drop in crime over the past three years since records began, everyone would still be delighted if the new Home Secretary succeeds in further reducing it.
Recently there has been a spate of multiple rapes by children. One case was on a foreigner at Little Venice. There have been several others reported in the press involving children as young as 12 and victims even younger. I find it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the behaviour of these young rapists, behaving in an utterly unnatural way for their age, have been influenced by the sex and violence seen on video, film, the Internet and "top-shelf" magazines, which may be they cannot buy themselves, but which they can certainly have made available to themselves.
Violence in the media has been reduced over the past year or two, but even now there is hardly a Hollywood film without its ration of sex and violence. Years ago it did not seem necessary to be explicit in detail; perhaps playwrights were better then. If this Government are
The Home Secretary has talked about greater measures of punishment for the young, but experience has shown that more subtle means have more effect. One such initiative already happening is that of the presentations to young tearaways of the "Prison Me, No Way" initiative, when prison life is explained to the mothers and sons who end up in tears at the thought. The young frequently promise to desist from crime. At the end of one session, one mother was nearly sick at what she had seen.
Yet by the year 2000 there is likely to be 10,000 teenage criminals. The effort to improve the situation must be made through all the agencies--the social services, housing, youth and drug agencies, and so on. For the Home Secretary to talk of severe punishment was just election talk.
Having said that, there is an inability to punish the very small core of very young offenders who know that nothing can be done about them in the last resort, yet this small number is responsible for a very large proportion of the crime and the distress that it causes. I have no doubt in my own mind that where a young child is a perpetual criminal, the cane should be reinstated to the armoury as a punishment of last resort.
As regards fast track punishment, as I understand it the stipendiary would determine guilt and the magistrate would pronounce sentence. This will actually lead to more delays. I believe that the views of the Magistrates' Association, which actually knows what goes on in the courts and how they operate, should be closely listened to.
I am very sorry that the Government intend to further penalise pistol shooters. I must declare an interest as I have a pistol that will not be affected by the present Act, but will be by the proposed Bill. The shock and horror of those who witnessed the appalling events at Dunblane is fully understandable. But that horror should never have been allowed to be an excuse for action which was devoid of logic. The 1996 Act was strict beyond reason and ensured that no one could keep a pistol outside a gun club. It left no room for the pistol owner to take his pistol outside without committing an offence.
Pistol shooting is an Olympic sport. The requirements for safety have been fully satisfied and more. Any new legislation will be purely to punish pistol shooters rather than to promote safety. Mr. Blair has said that this Government is for all the people. There are 60,000 innocent and well-disciplined pistol shooters who are also part of the people. They should be allowed to practise their sport and not to have it outlawed. This is all on account of one man who lied to get his certificate and where the police utterly failed to do its duty within the existing controls of the time. Had Hamilton needed two referees, writing under separate cover, as required now, he would never have got his licence.
The police are going to have to build target centres for their armed response units to practise. The Army will also need to practise. It would make good economic sense for civilian clubs to be allowed to use those ranges for their sport.
Yet there is no saying that a policeman or a soldier may not go berserk with his pistol. I remember in the Army in Egypt one trooper lost his cool with the dhobi wallah; that is the laundryman. So he got his half-track out and drove it backwards and forwards across the dhobi tent. I suppose on present form the Government would withdraw all half-tracks from the Army. Will the police and the services be allowed to retain side arms?
However, I do have some sympathy with the Government over the control of airguns. The use of almost every waymarking sign in the country as a target by air gunners indicates just how many are taken out into the countryside. There have been countless cases of the misuse of airguns.
Nothing was said in the gracious Speech about the Government's previously stated intention to open the moors to public access. I must declare an interest. Only 16 per cent. of walkers actually want open access, but the right granted to them will extend to every egg collector, saboteur, air gunner, long dog man and other layabout. The moors need a great deal, and long and late hours, of management in the form of heather burning, bracken control and vermin control. There are difficult problems to tackle, such as the menace of tick. If an influx not so much of walkers, but of vandals, near to the towns--those areas most enjoyed by walkers--drives off the management, the unmanaged and unchecked heather and bracken will soon deter the hardiest walker; tick will flourish; and wildlife will disappear. So much will come from Mr. Blair's statement that he would like to protect wildlife. Indeed, 55 per cent. of walkers already run their dogs off the lead to range the moor. Alternatively, the sheepmen will overstock with sheep and turn the moor from heather to grass.
Before the Government succumb to the political wishes of the vociferous rambling minority, they must try to find out and to understand how the moors are managed or they will do them irreparable damage and make them much less attractive to the 84 per cent. of walkers who just want to walk the footpaths. The Government can legislate when they wish and how they wish, but they cannot legislate against the inevitability of nature. There is a lot more to it than just transferring political rights from the occupier.
I have never bought a lottery ticket, but one thing that I think that the Government could do to advantage is to limit the size of the prizes. I really cannot see the point of prizes of many tens of millions of pounds, which would probably be beyond the ability of most people to manage, when they could be limited and spread so that a larger number of people could benefit.
Unemployment has been dropping over the past few years by some 5 per cent. annually and the jobs have largely been sustainable. That has been particularly visible in the north-east with the inflow of industry, such as Samsung. Unemployment fell from March to April by 51,000--these are all sustainable jobs. Whether we shall remain an attractive venue for foreign investment when we have the social chapter remains to be seen.
I am sorry that the wealth of the utilities is to be squandered for short-term employment for the young. It would seem so much better if the utilities could be put on notice to invest that wealth, thus creating further wealth, more real jobs, foreshadowing more tax receipts from future profits, and causing training by the necessity of increased labour demand. The economy and infrastructure of the country would then be that much better off as a result, leading to further genuine and sustainable employment.
Much has already been said about Scotland. I do not look forward to devolution, but if Scotland and Wales are to govern themselves, it is imperative that England should have the same privilege. Why should England be ruled by the Scots and the Welsh--over-represented as they are? That is the only way, to my mind, that the West Lothian question can be resolved. I hope that the vital questions that were set out by my noble friend Lady Blatch will be answered.
Inflation has hit the target. Unemployment is showing one of the greatest drops since records began. The pound is strong. Britain is bequeathed to the Labour Administration in a much better state than ever inherited by any government before; and with all that Mr. Blair says that he has to undo 17 years of maladministration. Oh dear! If things now go wrong, as they have with every other Labour Administration, the Government cannot blame their predecessors. We know that their intentions are good, like the road to hell. But I genuinely hope that they will succeed better than I fear may be the case, given their policies.
I am interested in the success of UK Ltd, regardless of who is in power. I was sad when the Labour Party jeered when my noble friend Lord Cranborne expressed our feeling that we wish success to the Government. It is sad that they do not understand that it is possible to put the welfare of the country before politics.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, as I rise and survey your Lordships' House, I am reminded of the story of the visiting preacher. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will not object if I relate that story. A visiting preacher at a local church found that attendance was sparse during his sermon. At the end of the service, the visiting preacher asked the church officer whether the church had failed to advertise the
With one and a half exceptions, I have listened to every speech and, as the debate has evolved, I have noticed that one of the features of it has been that all noble Lords have offered their congratulations and good wishes to my noble friends who, in the Christian term of my noble friend Lord Longford, have been "promoted to glory" on the Government Front Bench. If I do not add my congratulations I fear that that may be interpreted as meaning that I do not wish my noble friends well. I do wish them well and I offer them my sincere congratulations, but I must put that in context. For a fair number of years, I was a director of a professional football club in Scotland and I do not care to relate the number of managers to whom I gave my wholehearted support one week only to see them sacked the following week. I mention that only to put my congratulations in context.
For me, this gracious Speech is something of a watershed. I am sure that no one present will be surprised that I have chosen as my subject the legislation for the establishment of a Scottish parliament, the forerunner of which will be the legislation to conduct the referendum. I must at once thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale for their kind references to me and to my work with the Scottish Constitutional Convention. I am very grateful for those kind remarks. In the Scottish Constitutional Convention lies the blueprint for the establishment and creation of a Scottish parliament. I know that my friends in government will take that blueprint and use it as the foundation on which to build the superstructure of the parliament for Scotland.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, opening the debate on behalf of the Opposition, said that the Conservative Party was strongly in favour of the preservation of the unity and integrity of the United Kingdom. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, ended her speech by saying that the unity of the United Kingdom had to be placed before all else. On both counts there is nothing between us. The Labour Party holds very dearly the unity and integrity of the United Kingdom. The debate is how one preserves that unity and integrity. Those who argue that devolution will lead to a break-up should study more closely what has happened in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is already broken up. I argue that devolution will bring it back together again.
I relate one or two facts. One hears that confession is good for the soul. I did not particularly enjoy the general election campaign. If I have not enjoyed the real thing I have not enjoyed the replay of the campaign in some speeches today. It is not my intention to replay the general election campaign, but it must be emphasised that the Conservative Party now has no seats whatever in Scotland nor in Wales. It has no European parliamentary seats in Scotland. Of 1,600 elected local councillors in Scotland, only 14 are Conservative. They control no local authority in Scotland or, as I understand it, in Wales. I do not gloat when I say that; I say it to
During a fairly long political career--my great ambition for 30 years has been that a Scottish parliament should be created--I had begun to believe that my political life would be lived in vain. But the gracious Speech now gives a clear indication and provides great hope that my political life in one respect--the creation of a Scottish parliament--will be fulfilled. I was delighted to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Owen. He paid tribute to the late John Mackintosh and the part he played in the development of the debate on devolution. I watch with interest as the queue begins to form to take credit for the creation of a Scottish parliament. I do not consider that I am worthy to join that queue, but I should like to add three names to that of John Mackintosh. One is my lifelong friend Alex Eadie, former Member of Parliament for Midlothian. The second is the late John Robertson who in his parliamentary days was Member of Parliament for the Paisley constituency. The third name may surprise your Lordships. Although we have parted company politically, I still want to place on record my gratitude to Jim Sillars.
When 25 years ago the four of us--the three I have already mentioned and myself--wrote a pamphlet on a parliament for Scotland we were to begin a debate that took all of us by surprise. Usually, when one writes pamphlets one has a single print run and one must buy 98 per cent. of the copies to give the impression that it is a bestseller. We had three print runs of that pamphlet and could not satisfy demand. During the general election campaign and since I have received countless requests for copies of the pamphlet. It was that which began a debate that has stretched across all political parties and no political parties in Scotland. It resurrected the whole question of a Scottish parliament.
The referendum Bill will soon be before another place. Having passed through the other place, it will come to your Lordships' House. I leave a suggestion with my noble friends on the Front Bench. It is time for innovation. I would like us to do something meaningful in relation to the referendum. We have become bogged down in this country: every vote that is cast has to be cast on a Thursday. It is outrageous that in the elections to the European Parliament the people of the United Kingdom vote on a Thursday but the votes are not counted until Sunday because that is the day on which the rest of Europe votes.
I am grateful to my friends in another place for the urgency with which they have introduced the referendum Bill. Had it been delayed, I would have argued that we should have had a two-day referendum--on Saturday 29th November and on
An exciting time lies ahead. I see in the gracious Speech the fulfilment of a long-held desire on my part. The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, referred to the democratic deficit in Wales. The democratic deficit in Scotland is even more exaggerated. There are 1,600 elected councillors, 72 Members of Parliament, eight European MPs--1,680 elected representatives for a population of 5.5 million. Statistics have shown that, per head of population, Scotland is the most under-represented country in Europe.
Those who argue that a Scottish parliament will mean that we are over-governed should look at what has happened to Scottish local government in the last three reorganisations. In 1974 the number of councillors was reduced from 6,000 to 3,000. The 1995 reorganisation was unwanted in Scotland. Part of the reason why the United Kingdom has broken up is that unpopular legislation was forced on an unwilling population. It did not happen in England. When the commission of inquiry was established in England to examine reorganisation of local government and the report was put before the Department of the Environment, no reorganisation took place. Explain that to the people of Scotland. There was no inquiry in Scotland; just reorganisation. The poll tax was introduced in Scotland as an experiment. When it became England's turn to have the poll tax, the whole thing was withdrawn. Explain that to the people and then answer the question: what has led to the break-up of the United Kingdom?
The question is not whether devolution will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom but rather whether devolution will repair an already broken United Kingdom and satisfy the desire of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, and, I am sure, every Member of your Lordships' House, to preserve the unity and integrity of the United Kingdom.
One thing is absolutely certain--the status quo is not acceptable. When William Hague went to Scotland at the weekend someone should have told him that time had moved on since he made that speech as a 16 year-old. I understand he is about to get married. For that reason alone, he will need to learn that you have to surrender power gracefully. The one thing Westminster has to understand is that it will need to surrender power with the greatest grace possible.
That is not what I was going to say in my speech. What I was going to say is that I move in relatively high Tory circles. Note the use of the word "relatively". It is interesting to note that Mr. Blair is given considerable good will by those high Tory circles. That may not be surprising, as when he went to address the Eton College Political Society its president said to him, in the way that young men do, "Mr. Blair, sir, judging by your views you could be a Conservative", to which Mr. Blair replied, "I have got to change the Labour Party first". That was two years before he became leader of the Labour Party.
It seems to me that the present First Lord of the Treasury is now probably the most powerful man that England has seen since Oliver Cromwell. I say that because he has created the Labour Party in his image as a method of making him Prime Minister, and he has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Now he has become Prime Minister he does not have the people who when Mrs. Thatcher became Prime Minister--the Carringtons, the Pyms, the Whitelaws of this world--had been more senior Cabinet Ministers than she had been when the previous Government were in power. He has no peer pressure in his Cabinet. He has just a praetorian guard of close acolytes. I should remind your Lordships what Tacitus said of the praetorian guard: "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?", or who guards the guards themselves?
I do not in any way make any accusation of impropriety, immorality or lack of patriotism of the present first Lord of the Treasury. In fact I would do the exact opposite. I totally concede that he is as honourable a man as it is possible to have in English politics; I totally concede that he is a man of enormous integrity; and he is a great patriot; but he has greater power in England than any man since Oliver Cromwell. So perhaps he could be described as Lord Protector in a wart-free zone.
The chief executive has nicked the powers of the Sovereign. The House of Lords, because it no longer represents real power, has been emasculated. The party machine does not allow the House of Commons to think. The present vast number of Labour Members of
If I were Mr. Blair I should have done exactly the same had I thought I could get away with it. I do not blame him. What I am coming to is the essential need to reform this Chamber. My remarks are addressed as much to my own Front Bench as they are to the Government Front Bench. In 1979, I wrote to Mrs. Thatcher saying, "Dear Prime Minister, many congratulations on being Prime Minister. Will you please reform the House of Lords because unless you do so one day there will be a Labour Government"--I thought that they would arrive a little earlier--"and they will do it sillily?".
The proposition of a silly reform of the House of Lords is high on the Labour manifesto. Therefore, I am urging my own Front Bench to use their residual powers to try to persuade the Labour Government, Her Majesty's present advisers, to put forward a serious reform package which will enable me, as a hereditary Peer, to leave these red Benches without minding. But if I have to leave these Benches because the party opposite has produced a reform entailing the disenfranchisement of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, but the continued enfranchisement of Lord Kagan, had he still been alive, that would be very silly.
It is essential for the health of our body politic that there is reintroduced to it the checks and balances of a Whig constitution. The words at the beginning of an Act of Parliament show what that should be. However good, Christian or patriotic, if you have too much power it goes to your head and you do not remember that when the Roman consuls had a triumph they had on the back of the chariot a lictor who said, "Remember you are only human". I also wrote about that to Mrs. Thatcher. She said, "I will always remember the lictors", but I do not believe that she gave them a thought from the day I wrote it until the day she left.
Lord Balfour of Inchrye: My Lords, having inflicted a speech of almost 20 minutes duration in the corresponding debate last October, it will probably come as a relief to your Lordships to know that my remarks tonight will be comparatively brief.
After remaining undisturbed for so long, it seems likely that in the future the composition of your Lordships' House will be radically changed. Like other noble Lords and, I may add, knowledgeable members of the public, I cannot fully appreciate why we are to meddle with one of the country's institutions which works rather than with the many which do not. Indeed, persons from all walks of life with whom I have discussed this matter have, more often than not, expressed respect and admiration for this House and confirmed how it has accurately reflected public opinion on a wide range of subjects which we have discussed here.
Unfortunately, many others are ignorant or prejudiced. In recent months, I have observed how media presentation of your Lordships' House has been either deliberately misleading or downright mischievous. In this connection, I wholeheartedly agree with the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Tenby that a committee should be set up to examine the public relations of this House. I fear that it is not only timely but necessary. The talk of reform is in the air although no reference is made to it in the gracious Speech.
I believe that we should talk not so much of reform as of modernisation and would therefore hope for some element of compromise in the solution, possibly along the lines proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, in The Times newspaper a few months ago. But if that is to be the case, and even if it is not, there is one aspect of the hereditary peerage which cannot be ignored any further if it is to enter the 21st century with either credibility or connection with the society in which we live; namely, our denial of women's rights. Whatever the logic behind the abandonment of female succession in the late Middle Ages, it is now both abhorrent and wholly unsuited to the modern world. The Victorian attitude towards women, which was brutally summed up in the couplet,
As your Lordships know, there have been failed attempts to address that issue in the past. Two of those were initiated in the past five years by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, to whom I willingly pay tribute for his endeavours. Some have shrunk from supporting them as they wished to avoid any legislation involving the hereditary peerage being presented for debate.
But legislation of some sort or another is coming and, if it is coming, then let it come to some moral purpose. Whether or not a hereditary title continues to hold some parliamentary connection, it will still remain a legal rank and privilege with power to affect our community in a variety of ways. The fact that women are excluded, solely by virtue of their sex, from this power and privilege is both absurd and wasteful, as well as being very probably illegal under European law.
Of course, the fiercest reformers in this field would like to see primogeniture irrespective of sex introduced for any hereditary position, but even I can see the distress and material disarray that would be caused by the dispossession of eldest sons who have lived their entire adult lives in the service of an assured inheritance. It is possible that this would be a proper measure for the next generation. But for the present I believe a more acceptable compromise that would address the problem with the minimum disruption would be to confirm all peers in their titles on a given date, the 1st January, 2000, for example, and from that date to deduce their successor according to the rights of heirs general; that is, according to the same laws of succession as currently govern the Crown.
In addition, I would suggest that heiresses, under this system, to those peerages which have become extinct since the Second World War might be permitted to petition for the right to them. That would have the benefit of immediately introducing 20 or 30 women into the peerage, and, under the present circumstances, into your Lordships' House. I recall clearly, the recently expressed wish of both the main political parties to have more women playing an active part in politics. That gives me an opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, whom I believe I can justify describing as my friend, if not my noble friend, on her translation to the Front Bench.
Surely the answer which I have given today is no more than common justice even if the hereditary peers are sometime in the future to be excluded from this House. After all, our privileges then would be no different from those currently enjoyed by the Irish peerage. I hope that we, as a body, are permitted to continue serving this country, but I know that such a thing cannot and will not be if we persist in remaining an institution that specifically denies the basic rights of more than half the population.
Lord Alport: My Lords, some years ago--I think it was in 1981--I introduced into your Lordships' House a Bill entitled the Constitutional Referendum Bill. Its object was to ensure that any major constitutional change--for example, the abolition of the House of Lords or a second Chamber in Parliament--would be the subject of a referendum.
On Second Reading, my Bill was strongly attacked by my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Eccles in speeches which carried their combined eloquence and authority. The grounds for their criticism were that referenda were contrary to British political practice and liable to undermine Parliament. My Bill was subsequently sunk without trace. It seems that now things have changed. Referenda on constitutional matters are accepted by all parties for Europe and are proposed in the gracious Speech, in this Parliament, for devolution and even for London government. I am sure that your Lordships will forgive me if I feel just a little satisfaction at being in some small way a pioneer.
Although the reform of your Lordships' House is not included in the gracious Speech, when in due course the Government's proposals are formulated--and if they conform strictly with the manifesto--I think that the overwhelming victory which was won at the last election will be the equivalent of a referendum. But if there is to be any major change in the powers and method of composition of the second Chamber which is not set out in the manifesto, I think that a referendum should be held.
So far as concerns devolution, I am strongly in favour of a parliament for Scotland and an assembly for Wales. When I was a boy, a much loved Presbyterian minister, the late Mr. Davidson, spent much of his spare time when I was in Edinburgh showing me that marvellous city and teaching me Scottish history. In the High Street,
The creation of the greatest achievement of these islands, the Commonwealth, was shared by men and women--statesmen, soldiers, administrators, traders, settlers and scholars--from all the four races over the past four centuries. But in the changed circumstances of Great Britain I believe that the time has come to restore the sense of self-government to the historic nations which form part of it. I would only say that a Scottish parliament must have power to levy taxes within acceptable limits.
As far as London is concerned, I have always felt that the abolition, as opposed to the reform, of the LCC was a decision inspired more by party political prejudice than by sound policy. It is obvious that London, like all the great cities, needs such a strategic authority and should have a Lord Mayor elected by popular vote. I have only two caveats. The first is that this must not affect in any way the present status of the Lord Mayor and the Corporation of the City of London. Secondly, the idea of an elected mayor should not be extended to towns in general. I am thinking particularly of towns like Colchester where, to my personal knowledge, the present system of drawing the mayor from the longest serving councillors has been an incentive to able men and women to become councillors and to devote their time and talents to the wise development and administration of the borough.
Therefore, I think that the constitutional proposals contained in the gracious Speech are ones which I would support, subject to the provisos that I mentioned earlier. There is only one that I should like to add and it is one that I wish had been included in the gracious Speech. I should like to see the length of a parliament reduced from five to four years. I am not always keen on American political precedents, but I think it is right that the Executive, as in America, should be elected every four and not every five years. After all, as has been said, we have an elective dictatorship and five years is a long time to have the same dictator in power. That would have prevented the long, dreary and bilious year of the last Government and might also have prevented the disaster which the Conservative Party suffered at the recent election.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alport, on a statesmanlike and interesting speech. I congratulate the Government on a famous victory. It was indeed a famous victory. In the London Borough of Brent, from which I come, it was taken as proverbial among Labour Party members that the Labour Party would never gain Brent North. It simply goes to show that never is a short time in politics.
I congratulate my opposite number, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, on her success in changing places, but which is Philip Swallow and which is Professor Morris Zapp is a question on which I shall not venture an opinion. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, on his accession to a post from which I look forward to hearing him many times. I wish also particularly to congratulate three people on their success in this election: Melanie Johnson in Welwyn Hatfield, Gisela Stuart in Birmingham Edgbaston and Ben Bradshaw in Exeter. In saying these things I do not speak in any party spirit. I believe those results contribute to the ideal of a nation at ease with itself. I believe they show that the Conservative Party is not the worst loser at this election; that dubious honour, I think, is reserved for the Daily Mail.
I remind the House that there were two winners at this election. Doubling one's party's seats is, I think, by any criterion, winning. Where our two parties agree we have, as near as makes no difference, a two-thirds majority. Where we do not, we have an alternative source of ideas, and that is a greater power than is often allowed. Our aim in this Parliament is constructive opposition. In uttering those two words together I am setting up a see-saw. Everyone will appreciate that whether a see-saw is up or down depends on the people on both sides and not just one.
I wish to respond to one or two remarks that have been made during this interesting debate. I listened with a great deal of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I shall read what he had to say with care. I was reminded of the remark of the Institute for Fiscal Studies on present spending plans,
I express my full agreement, and that of these Benches, with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, said about the mandatory life sentence for murder. If he introduces the Bill of which he spoke, we on these Benches will support it, and I hope to be involved in that process. But uncharacteristically the noble and learned Lord made what I think is the only error I have heard him make in speaking in this Chamber. He said that in another place the principle of mandatory minimum sentences was not opposed. It was opposed from our Benches from beginning to end but because in another place we are not always able to put down our own amendments, we were able only to make that opposition effective by voting against the Second Reading, which we did.
Constitutional reform has taken up a good deal of today's debate. I listened with particular interest to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who I believe did not understand my question: if the English are to vote on devolution, what alternative is to be put before them? It must be understood that after this election the status quo is no longer an option. A cause which is not able to win a single seat in either Wales or Scotland is not a viable cause. I do not think that the Conservative Party's result in those countries was a just result. If any
Speaking as an Englishman, I believe that the union of our countries has immeasurably enriched what is otherwise a somewhat in-turned English culture. Were the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, to succeed in his ambition of rebuilding Hadrian's Wall, and if the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, and her compatriots were prepared to extend hospitality to me, I should think long and hard on which side of that wall I wished to be.
It is sometimes discussed as a question how far a government should reverse the legislation of their predecessor. I was brought up, as it is possible that the Prime Minister was also, on the precedent of Mr. Churchill's decision in 1951 not to reverse the bulk of the legislation of the Attlee Government. I stress the words "the bulk"; I need only mention the word "steel" to show that that is a relevant consideration. It is almost unknown for a government to reverse none of the legislation of their predecessor. There is also quite a substantial difference between 1951 and now. The reforms of the 1945 Government enjoyed a great depth of popularity in 1951. In 1951 the Labour Party polled a higher percentage of the vote than the Conservative Party, and a higher percentage of the vote than it polled in 1945 or 1997. That thought may have given Churchill pause when he considered reversing his legacy. That is not the situation today. At this election the Conservative Party scored a lower percentage of the poll than since the election when my great grandfather replaced Sir Robert Peel as Home Secretary--and I repeat as Home Secretary, not as Prime Minister.
Nevertheless it is true that one should think twice about reversal. I believe that there are three cases in which one can legitimately consider reversal. The first is if the distaste that one feels is such that if one tries to come to the Dispatch Box to defend the measure the words simply stick in one's throat. Experienced Ministers may tell me that one should not feel that too often. That is fair enough, but if one never feels it one ceases to be a human being. The second is if the measure is a roadblock between the new Government and everywhere to which they wish to go. The third is if the measure creates so much mess that the Government cannot afford--I use the word "afford" in its literal sense--to continue it.
There are two measures which seem to me to meet all those criteria. The first is the deprivation of benefit from asylum seekers, on which the noble Baroness and I have fought side by side. The second, on which we have also fought side by side, is the restriction of housing benefit for single people under 16 to shared accommodation, of which there is not enough to go round in the whole country, and what exists is in the wrong place. If the noble Baroness has to discuss that with the Treasury--and everything has to be discussed
If there is to be co-operation, it is a good idea to have it with recognition of the difference as well as the similarity. The noble Baroness's party and mine sometimes seem, like England and the United States, to be divided by a common language. Since we often want many of the same things, the fact that the reasons for which we want them are somewhat different is not always understood as it should be. If that were understood, co-operation would be easier. I am reminded of a former American colleague who told me that he thought many of his compatriots believed that if you woke up an Englishman suddenly at three o'clock in the morning the affected English accent would drop off and he would speak "good, red-blooded American". When I do business with the party opposite I am occasionally reminded of that story.
I do not need to remind the House of our dedication to the control of the executive. But when we come to the need to control secondary legislation, we mean it. The noble Baroness may tell me that it is not as important as achieving social justice. If she does, I shall tell her: if you achieve one without the other, you will be lucky if you keep it five minutes. That must be understood.
We look forward to other measures to control the executive: the incorporation of the European convention and in due course, and, I hope not too long delayed, a freedom of information Act. I heard on television the Prime Minister addressing the new parliamentary Labour Party in Church House. It was a magnificent occasion; however, I did not have the impression that the need to control the executive was particularly high on the Government's mission statement--which is why other methods of controlling the executive must be thought about.
Here I touch on a number of points about which I believe the noble Baroness and I may agree in many areas. We on these Benches always tend to dislike what we think of as "top down" measures. We do not like using the state to enforce a particular pattern. There was an unfortunate moment early in the general election when it looked as though the election might be fought between a party that thinks married women with children should stay at home and a party that thinks they ought to go out to work. The view of these Benches is that personal choices of that sort are not proper for the state to make, but it is the state's business to make it easier for people to take whichever of those choices they wish to make.
That is why I hope that this Government will be dedicated to the defence of child benefit. If we look at the finances of families in real poverty, child benefit is crucial. I hope that will be remembered. When we come to discussing, as I am sure we shall many times, issues arising from the debate on single parents, I hope it will be understood that their right, if they choose, to stay at home and care for their children, just like their right if they so choose to go out to work, will be defended.
I understand that Mr. Frank Field was speaking in his private capacity when he talked about "developing peer group pressure on single mothers to find work". Were that to become government policy, the noble Baroness might find that she was the one being subjected to peer group pressure; and in applying that pressure I might perhaps find some unexpected allies.
We are also much concerned on these Benches about what may be described as treating people as though they were plasticine, forcing them into a particular mould because it suits the state's convenience. I cannot help wondering whether there is something of that behind the Government's new welfare to work proposals. At first sight they appear attractive. However, when we realise that they are very largely modelled on what the last Government did for 16 and 17 year-olds--a compulsory programme making provision backed with a benefit sanction--then we begin to see some of the snags that might possibly result.
I was a little disappointed earlier this afternoon not to receive the assurance that I expected that the words "full benefit" in the Labour manifesto implied a continued commitment to the existence of a safety net. I had understood that that was the party's commitment during the election. I am not usually in the habit of trusting government, but perhaps on this occasion I have done it too much. If the Minister can assure me that my original interpretation was right, I shall be delighted.
The Government's proposals seem to me to rest on two quite serious misapprehensions. One is the notion of a dependency culture. I believe that that is imaginary. May I ask in this context that when it appears on 5th June or perhaps earlier, the noble Baroness will look at the users' report, The Citizens' Commission on the Welfare State, which is about to be published by Care in the Community. She will find that the users say that one reason why a dependency culture does not exist is that benefit levels are simply too low to be attractive. The Department of Social Security has always viewed itself as a honeypot surrounded by benefit-seeking wasps. It occasionally overrates the attractiveness of its own benefits.
The second reason why it is a myth is the extent to which, even if work is less well paid than benefit, people regard work as part of their identity. As one person put it, without it they are just a statistic. There are many things seriously wrong, most of them in the area of poverty traps. I hope to address them on 3rd June and will not detain the House with them now.
When we consider the provision that the Government are bringing in, there are warnings from the 16 and 17 year-old programmes. First, we must consider what happens if the provision is not there. There must be a safety net provision continuing benefit until the programme offered by welfare to work is actually available. Secondly, we must be sure that even in times of Treasury stringency--which occur in all governments--it will be a genuine quality programme. I remember the employment training course which offered a course in carpentry when it could not afford any wood. That was not just conservatism, it was part of the illness of government. No government can hope to be immune from it so care should be taken on that front.
The Government must also allow people to judge for themselves whether or not provision is adequate, especially where they are dealing with childcare, where the opinions of the child as well as the mother must be listened to because otherwise it will not work. I remember the example offered by the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, on the youth training case of the young man who wanted to work with animals and was sent to work in an abattoir. That again is part of government. If coercion is used to back that kind of action the result will be trouble; for example, if we send a pacifist to work in an arms factory, it may be a black day for hawks.
The proposal for a forced programme, even if it is one with a choice, backed by a benefit sanction is a proposal for the introduction of peacetime conscription. That is not necessarily always wrong. But when we had peacetime conscription it was backed by the vital safeguard of medical examination. For instance, a young man was interviewed in last week's Big Issue. His mother was a schizophrenic who would not take her medication; his father became violent and he himself became an alcoholic. It is no use conscripting him to a training programme; he is not able to do it. Therefore, if he is given a benefit sanction, he will only steal. That is why I say the programme must be backed by medical examination. If there is no such provision in the Bill when it comes I shall table an amendment to provide one.
Finally, it is a matter of human dignity. I agree with the witness for the Church Action on Poverty hearings from which the Churches' report resulted, that the Department of Social Security should not have the power of life and death. We should not withdraw from people who are, at worst, bloody minded a basic protection which the state extends even to Rosemary West.
I congratulate also the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham. She has a testing time this evening, being the holder of a portfolio of social affairs but having to range over such a large number of subjects. I should like also to say how delighted I am that the Lord Privy Seal, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, reached his high office. I remember him, in another world, as a distinguished Commissioner. After a period--I suppose one may say--of being relatively in the wilderness, he has come storming back and I wish him too the best of luck.
We have had a long day and a varied debate. Your Lordships will be relieved to hear that I shall not touch on every issue raised. However, I want to begin by congratulating the Government on the contents of the gracious Speech. I say that because, if one contrasts the contents of the gracious Speech with the contents of the Labour Party manifesto of 1983, one cannot help but be struck by what a long way the Labour Party has travelled in the past 15 years. That manifesto, (memorably named as the longest suicide note in history) became a legend in post-war British political life. We were to abandon our nuclear weapons; come out of the EEC; re-nationalise a wide range of industries; and redress the imbalance which apparently had occurred between management and labour as a result of the reforms of my noble friend Lady Thatcher in the early 1980s.
When one reads the gracious Speech today, what a remarkable contrast that makes! Why has it come about? It has come about because my own party has made its policies the nation's policies; and the only way the Government could get elected was to adopt those policies which had become the nation's policies. I wish the Government the best of luck, but I hope they realise that they are the trustees of something we have created.
I make one exception to that. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, reminded us that the policies on devolution were not Conservative, but Liberal policies. I am very glad to concede that because they are the one part of the gracious Speech with which the Opposition will take real issue with the Government in the coming month. We recognise that constitutionally, under the Salisbury convention, we are bound to vote for those measures which were in the manifesto both at Second Reading and at Third Reading. But Members on the Benches opposite should not be under any illusion: we shall fight very hard for every amendment in which we believe. I am sure that Members opposite would not wish otherwise. Our main energies are going to be concentrated on the measures for devolution and perhaps, depending on its shape, the proposal to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights in our law.
It would be foolish to pretend that these issues are simple to solve because they are not. I was very struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, said when she referred to the Sword of Damocles, which, it has been said, is hanging over some of my noble friends who sit behind me--namely, the hereditary Peers. I would like to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, who I believe made the remark in good humour, that whatever Sword of Damocles may be hanging over my noble friends, it will not deter them from doing their duty as indeed it did not deter in times past their ancestors from doing their duty as well.
Before I discuss, in more detail, the devolution legislation, I should like to say something about the nature of the constitutional discussion which has taken place today. It has been dominated by two instruments, the referendum and the idea of extending judicial power in our constitution to control the Executive. In principle, we have no objection to either; but, remember, these two instruments have become more prominent because the Executive has steadily gained power over the legislature. It has ceased to become parliament controlling the Executive, and it has become the Executive controlling parliament. The one thing I do not see in the Government's proposals are proposals to change the balance between the Executive and the legislature in our nation. If that balance of power were changed, we might have to rely less on these other measures. I hope that speedy consideration will be given by the Government to looking into the ways in which in both Houses the powers of the legislature can be increased so that the Executive is more accountable. In those circumstances, it might be less needy to rely on referendums and, indeed, less necessary to extend the powers of the judiciary in the future.
Several important questions arise in relation to Scottish devolution. I do not expect the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, to be able to answer them all tonight. Many noble Lords have referred to them. There are two central issues. The first was raised most forcefully by my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. It is the question: is it really fair to ask the people of Scotland to take a decision about their future without having before them the legislation, properly amended, upon which that future will be based?
The second question relates to majorities in the referendum. Incidentally, I was most struck by the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie: that he agrees with everything in the referendum Bill, except for the two questions. I am at a loss to discover what else is in that Bill apart from those two questions. Is it really true that if there is a turnout of 10 per cent.--to take a ridiculously low figure--with 5 per cent. plus one in favour, Her Majesty's Government will regard that as legitimate grounds for
We have heard nothing about an issue which exercised enormously Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Asquith. I refer to the division between reserve powers and those powers which are devolved. And who is to pay? Mr. F. E. Smith once said, memorably, in a debate in 1912, "Everyone but those that want them". Will that be true in this case? We need to know where the burden of taxation will fall. That is important to England, as well as to Scotland.
What about the judicial systems? What will happen if a devolved Scottish parliament exceeds its constitutional power? Who will decide whether or not it has exceeded its power? Will we need a new constitutional court? Who will choose who serves in that constitutional court? What will be its relationship to Scotland, to England, to Wales and to Northern Ireland also? What if a devolved Scottish parliament passes a measure and the Westminster Parliament passes a measure and those two measures contain rights and obligations for private people which conflict? Which system of law decides which set of rights and duties prevails? Which court will decide such matters? From the point of view of the individual citizen, those are all crucial issues which need to be considered.
I quote again Mr. F.E. Smith who said that between union and separation, there is no middle way. If the referendum gives Her Majesty's Government a fair wind, it is the Government's responsibility to prove Mr. Smith wrong; because if Mr. Smith is not proved wrong, the whole basis upon which the country has been structured for hundreds of years will fall away. I say to the Government, "Do not underestimate the responsibilities that you hold on this issue over the next 18 months. They are enormous and we will hold you accountable if you do not live up to them"--
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