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Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. However, I should point out to him that I believe he will find that a good percentage of those Members came from one of the most involved professions with an interest in those particular Bills; namely, the legal profession.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I cannot remember whether it was particularly lawyers who were defeating me on the different occasions that I was defeated in this House. Indeed, it is not my particular memory that lawyers were the ones sticking the knife in. I have had lawyers do so, as have many others. However, at this time of night we should not cast aspersions on a very honourable profession and one which I have the honour to be part of; indeed, I see that other lawyers are present in the Chamber tonight.
I must now bring my remarks to an end. Some pretty fundamental questions have been raised by this Unstarred Question as to just how we can ensure that the views of minorities, whomsoever they may be, are heard. It may be the case that we are all minorities. We must consider how those views can be taken into account when government, especially in another place, have such an overwhelming majority. I dare say that the same questions would also be raised were we to have proportional representation. Just because the majority wishes something, that does not always necessarily mean that minority views or beliefs should be ignored in favour of those of the majority.
In a multicultural society--not an expression that I like, but one for which I suspect there is little alternative--such problems will be even greater. They are the ones that the Government should address and certainly those which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will, I fear, have to address in the 12 minutes which remain for him to make his speech.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, what a feast has been provided at the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood. I shall be acquitted of discourtesy if I do not mention the identity of every speaker with his or her particular points. If I were to do so, my 12 minutes would have come and gone. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, offered me the final benefit of the poisoned chalice of extra time. However, happily and in a civilised way, he snatched it back because he used all of his 10 minutes.
It is idle to think that all minorities are stereo-typical. They are not. Indeed, they vary with time and change. I should like to give your Lordships examples. My wife is Indian, so she is plainly in a minority in this country and in an apparent minority because her skin is brown. Her religion is Hindu. Therefore, had she lived in India, she would have been in the majority in that great multicultural society which remains a secular democracy, governed by the rule of law. As it happened, my wife was brought up in Durban in South Africa and was, therefore, part of a grossly oppressed minority for a substantial period of her adult life when she was living there, at a time when both her parents never had a worthwhile vote.
On the other hand, I am in a minority in my native land, Wales, because I speak Welsh. I am one of half a million; 2 million plus do not speak Welsh. I am in a minority where I live in Gloucestershire, in Evenlode, which is a hunting village. I believe I am the only Welsh speaker. I am constantly grateful that the English Liberation Army does not come and burn my house down. I am certainly in a decided minority in your Lordships' House. It will astound your Lordships to understand that I am not a hereditary Peer, nor have I ever been a member of the Conservative Party. So I am doubly disabled.
The fact is that the attraction of the United Kingdom is that it offers diverse tolerance. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is not present in the Chamber this evening. I like him and his vulpine sense of humour. But he is profoundly mistaken in the effect that his remarks had. I readily accept that most people take notice only of the headlines, whether in newspapers or concerned with the media as a whole. However, the noble Lord was wrong. There are no two ways about it. The greatness of this country, which remains great, is that it is decent and tolerant of dissent. That was the significant reason why the year 1789 came and went and we had no guillotines
We have much to learn from the United States. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, which was echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. The Americans are able to deal with differences, though not perfectly in every way. They did desegregate the armed forces, but I am bound to say rather late in the day; and it was Truman who did it. That great President is much maligned. He was a public servant. He was asked what he was going to do when he went back to independent Missouri. Having been President of the United States in times of the most appalling stress and difficulty he said, "Put the grips in the attic". We need more people like that in politics.
If I may take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dean, we need more stubborn and mulish independents who want no place or preferment but who believe that the ideal of public service with no selfish, immediate purpose is still a noble one. It is from minorities that some of those public servants sometimes come. We need people to ask, "Who are these people to tell us what to do?". Indeed, some would ask who am I to say that as I am speaking from the Front Bench. I say it because I mean it. I bear in mind as a cautionary guide what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said immediately after 1st May:
I wish to address one or two points put by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas--I am breaking my own rule--because they deserve a reasoned response. He asked the Government to respect diversity. I entirely agree with that. We respect diversity and we shall continue to do so. He asked for fair and open consideration of others' views. I hope that we have made a beginning there. Certainly in the Home Office, the Home Secretary has stated firmly that all Parliamentary Questions must be answered as fully as possible and that all letters, whether from members of the public, Members of Parliament or the press, should also be answered as fully as possible. A number of your Lordships have been kind enough to say that they have detected a change for the better--not a perfect solution--at least in the Home Office.
The noble Lord asked us to be strong in dealing with misbehaviour. I agree with that. We have supported absolutely the Nolan crusade. We have invited Sir Patrick Neill to continue that work. We intend to bring forward legislation to deal with what has been a running sore in our society; namely, the funding of political parties, the registration of political parties and in particular the serious continuing vice of donations from foreign sources for questionable purposes. They do things better in the United States.
We shall not delay as regards the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights. There has been enough delay. Even in your Lordships' House 50 years allows for mature consideration. As I said earlier in answer to the Question of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, we intend to issue the White Paper next week and to place the Bill before your Lordships as soon as possible. We have done away with the primary purpose rule in immigration. We have set up an asylum appeals tribunal in national security cases. Those areas were blemishes on our body politic and we have done away with them. As we promised in the manifesto, we have asked the people in Scotland and in Wales how they wish to be governed on a decentralised basis. In many ways I regard highly the way in which we have organised ourselves in this country. Part of my purpose is to improve that organisation, not to diminish it. We have suffered from centralised state control in a way which crept up on us. We hardly noticed that. The noble Lord, Lord Dean, is absolutely right. Enormous constructions of local government which existed at the end of the 19th century were destroyed largely for ideological purposes. The freedom to act locally in financial terms according to the wishes of the local electorate has been substantially leached away.
One has to be careful if one complains too much about spin doctors with regard to the press and if one complains that politicians ask themselves how a measure will fare with the voters. One must be careful because we represent the voters. The voters are the people who put us in a position to serve. The voters can withdraw their mandate at any time. It is tempting for someone to say that a policy is populist simply because many other people agree with it but he does not. One needs to be cautious about thinking that simply because a large number of people want something that one disagrees with, it is automatically wrong. The levers of power are with us at the moment. I think it was the Tammany Hall politician who said that when one has hold of levers of power one should be sure to pull them. I omit some expletives!
The Prime Minister has made it perfectly plain that he is alert to this matter. We have a large majority in the Commons. However, I assure your Lordships that certainly in the Home Office time and again Ministers have said, "This could be pushed through; we ought not to do it". I believe that a decent respect for other people's opinions is not only morally right, it is politically efficacious. Therefore one has the penny and the bun. That is a lifelong ambition of mine which I hope to see translated into practice.
The noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, asked about the ECHR. The purpose of having those rights in writing is that we believe that structural mechanisms are valuable. First of all they inform the citizen of what he or she is entitled to. Secondly, they form a basis for obtaining remedies in the domestic jurisdiction. It is shameful that people have to wait year after year and apply to Strasbourg when they could be accommodated here. What is equally important is that when governments know that written rights are incorporated in domestic legislation, that informs the mind and disciplines political policy and political action. When Bills are put before your Lordships' House or another place a Minister may be asked whether he is able to certify that a measure is in conformity with the incorporated ECHR, in the same way as now we have financial memoranda which are sometimes of value and sometimes not.
I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said. If I had a day and a half to reply, or at least an hour and a half, I could not do justice to this subject. All I can do is to assure your Lordships that the Government are embarked on a venture which we hope will change the political landscape of our country forever. The changes we are embarked upon are equivalent to the changes that were introduced in the context of the National Health Service after 1945. Nothing will ever be the same again. That means that over-powerful governments will be subject to check. I do not make a partisan point as regards my next point as I believe that it would be ignoble to do so. If the Conservative Party wholeheartedly joins in the election, the assembly in Wales is likely to produce a result
Twelve minutes have passed. I am sorry that I cannot deal with further points. It is true that in our society discrimination against women and against ethnic and other minorities is endemic. There is no point in pretending the opposite. There is a long way to go as regards the Armed Forces. Dr. Reid and the CRE have made a start. There is a long way to go with the police. Sir Paul Condon and his predecessor have made a noble start with regard to the police. We know that things are wrong. We know that there are things wrong with this House. Perhaps I am becoming colour blind but I do not see enormous numbers of women and I do not see many ethnic minorities represented here either. I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, and your Lordships who have contributed to the debate. All of us who sit in this House whether on the Opposition Benches, the Liberal Democrat Benches or the Government Benches, are enormously privileged to do so. We are privileged and we must seek to do the right thing.
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