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The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am now aware. I suggest that the noble Lord may want to make the leader of his party aware. He is a member of the Liaison Committee which is charged with the allocation of resources to sub-committees.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, is there a settled view among the appropriate authorities on how many committees the House can manage? Are there any physical or other limits to the number of committees we may have as regards Clerks and rooms? Only a small minority of our now active membership sits on committees, but I am sure that some of the newer Members would welcome such an opportunity. What is the view of the appropriate authorities on the future of the committee structure of this House?
The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I cannot give a definitive answer. There are restrictions in terms of rooms, support from the Clerks and membership. However, that is changing with the increasing membership of your Lordships' House. Speaking as chairman of the European Communities Committee, after a difficult period during the summer when we did not know who would be available, we managed to staff and fill all the places on the Select Committees and the sub-committees. If rumour is true that there is to be a further infusion of new Members, I am sure that the task will become easier. However, the Clerks of this House have been seriously overworked in recent times. The situation has improved, but, as the noble Lord will know, some Clerks in the Committee corridor have run two committees, which is more than flesh and blood can stand.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, no! We do not believe that the English are a violent nation. We believe that in the new millennium we have the opportunity to promote a different sense of Englishness which focuses on the virtues of tolerance and ethnic and cultural diversity and continues to celebrate the nation's powerful contribution to the world of artistic, industrial, commercial and cultural endeavour. Let us in the new millennium collectively promote a new, more confident vision of our eclectic nation.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not accept that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is in any way a racist. He has an excellent track record on that question. It is entirely a matter for individuals whether they decide to report the Home Secretary to the Commission for Racial Equality. The noble Baroness has taken his comments from an extensive programme on the question of "The Brits" on Radio Four entirely out of context. If she studies the transcript she will realise that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary was talking about the historical development of the United Kingdom.
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Home Secretary said that in their history the English began by coshing the Welsh, then they coshed the Scots, then they coshed the rest of the world through the British Empire? Will the Minister remind his friend the Home Secretary that the British Empire was largely established, sustained and expanded by Scots? They really should not be denied their role in the hall-of-coshing fame.
Does not the whole episode reveal that, as a result of their constitutional changes, the Government have released an English backlash? Having created a voice for Scotland, a voice for Wales and a voice for Northern Ireland, and having done nothing about England--which is democratically and constitutionally unjust--they will not actually resolve that problem until they bring forward proposals to ensure that England's democratic deficit is reversed. Until they do that, their constitutional changes will be inherently unstable.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall endeavour to do so. As to the question of whether there should or should not be an English parliament, as the noble Lord is well aware that is not the policy of Her Majesty's Government. We continue to have confidence in the Parliament here at Westminster. It is worth reminding ourselves that some 80 per cent of the Members of the House of Commons are English MPs. The House of Commons is entirely competent to deal with all those matters for the United Kingdom which fall to it.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, will the Minister agree with me that, although nowadays the English are of course a most peaceable people, they can nevertheless be provoked to violence by insensitive, poor, unthinking, unlistening government, such as the kind of government that provoked the Poll Tax riots in 1989, a tax of which--as I remember--the noble Lord, Lord Baker, was such a fervent advocate?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my noble friend makes a powerful political point. In our new millennium we must encourage tolerance and diversity. Those values are ones which I want to see promoted throughout the United Kingdom.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I should perhaps first declare an interest as a vice-president of the Royal Society of St George. The Minister says that the Home Secretary's remarks were taken out of context. Will he therefore tell us how it came about that there was so much leaking in advance of the particular opinion of the Home Secretary that the English are extremely aggressive and violent? Was that leaking perhaps done by Mr Alastair Campbell?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have absolutely no knowledge as to who did what leaking where, when and how. As I said, I believe that the comments were taken out of context, but there is the beginning of an important and valuable debate about what "Englishness" actually is.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, before this all becomes too serious, is the Minister aware that my experience on the rugby field leads me to believe that the English are not an especially violent race? When I was playing in a match at Twickenham many, many years ago, an English forward was lying on the field after an especially untidy scrum when a Welsh wing forward came up and kicked him vigorously in the head. The Englishman's response was simply to look up and say, "Did you wish to speak to me?"
The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees: Before the noble Lord, Lord Lester, makes his speech, I should perhaps point out that if Amendment No. 19 is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 20 under the pre-emption rules.
The noble Lord said: The Bill as it stands provides that no remedy other than damages shall be obtainable in an action brought against the police or the prosecution service unless the court is satisfied that such a remedy will not prejudice a criminal investigation or prosecution. In other words--if one can penetrate the double negatives in that rather unattractively drafted provision--the court must essentially find that the remedy is harmless to any possible investigation before it may be granted. That is an extremely stiff test, made worse by the use of the highly imprecise word, "prejudice". No degree of prejudice is specified; any prejudice will do, with the result that the test is to be applied by the courts in a vague, ill-defined and narrow way.
That stiff and ill-defined test applies to all non-pecuniary damages, including declaratory relief. In practice, that means that even where there is a clear-cut case of intentional direct racial discrimination, the court will not even be able to make a declaratory order that the police or the prosecution have acted unlawfully until it has satisfied itself completely that no possible investigation or prosecution could in any way be hindered. That is quite unnecessarily narrow and frustrates the need for an effective remedy.
The amendment aims to remedy those serious defects by providing that in exercising its discretion--I emphasise that this is a matter of judicial discretion, on which our courts are eminently well suited to decide on whether there should be a remedy--in deciding whether to award a non-pecuniary remedy--that is, a remedy other than damages, which are in any case always awarded subject to the courts' discretion--the courts should have regard to the need to avoid serious prejudice to any potential investigation or prosecution.
The requirement in the amendment for "serious prejudice" means that there must be a possibility of real and substantive harm before a complainant who has suffered racial discrimination is deprived of the relief to which he would otherwise be entitled. The amendment is modest. It preserves the vital right of the accused to a fair trial while ensuring that those who suffer from the civil wrong of racial discrimination can obtain effective remedies. Therefore, it seeks to preserve that vital fair balance between the rights of the accused in a criminal case and the rights of victims in civil proceedings.
That will mean that a court will be more able to grant a declaratory remedy where discrimination has taken place. That is important for the very good practical reason that one needs to have what is called a "finding" by a court or tribunal of an act of unlawful discrimination as a precondition for subsequent monitoring and enforcement action by the Commission for Racial Equality; for example, under Section 62 of the 1976 Act. Unless there is a finding, which means a declaratory judgment or order, the Commission for Racial Equality is powerless to take steps effectively to stop the discrimination from happening again.
As the Bill stands, the CRE will be unable to mount effective enforcement action against the police or the prosecution service unless the court is satisfied that no prejudice can arise. In making it easier to obtain a declaration, the amendment makes it easier for the CRE to use its powers where necessary. We can trust the courts to make quite sure, as they always do, that they will exercise their discretion before granting a declaration and to ensure that it is granted only in the interests of the justice of everyone.
The Macpherson report made clear that the police and prosecution service must be subject to the full force of the Race Relations Act. Although that seems extremely technical, it is not at all technical. As it stands, the Bill threatens, in the way that I have tried to explain, to restrict severely the possibility of obtaining effective redress in those, it is hoped, very rare cases where the police service or the prosecution discriminate on racial grounds. The amendment aims to remedy that fault. I beg to move.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: It is difficult not always to have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, particularly when he speaks about matters of which he has very great knowledge, as he does on this Bill and other issues.
I come to this matter very much as a layman. I am not a lawyer, as your Lordships know. However, in picking up some of the phrases used by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, it is important that where a question arises of a criminal investigation and a criminal trial, that should, at least in some respects while the matter is proceeding, take second place to the civil remedy for unlawful discrimination. I do not mean that every crime which is likely to lead to a criminal trial is inherently more important than unlawful discrimination. Clearly, unlawful discrimination can be of the most appalling character and can overtake all kinds of lesser criminal offences. That is what creates the difficulty in the whole design of this particular part of the Bill.
The noble Lord hoped that it would be possible for someone who believed he had suffered unfair discrimination at least to obtain a declaration or a decision on the matter from the tribunal or court. However, his amendment mentions relief and remedies as well as a declaration. During debate on the next amendment I shall come to the question of damages in
However, I believe that a more serious point also arises from what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said. I give an example: the police may be in the middle of investigating a criminal offence--perhaps a serious one--and take a little while to complete their investigations, find the people they are looking for and gather all the necessary evidence, and so on. That can take a long time. In the course of that, someone who is involved may believe that the person being investigated has committed unlawful discrimination and begin the legal process for civil action against that character. That may occur while the criminal investigation is still proceeding. If the tribunal or the court decides that there has been unfair discrimination, the CRE then becomes involved and, presumably, from that point on, every morning looks over the shoulders, as it were, of the police who are investigating the crime. The same is true not only of the police in the course of the investigation but of the prosecuting authorities in the course of deciding whether or not to bring a prosecution, as well as of the court itself once it leads to a case.
I believe that, at least in ongoing cases, the mechanism of the race relations aspect of the case should await the decision of the court on the criminal offence. To do anything else seems to me to risk prejudice. Of course, I fully accept that that does not entirely extricate us from the problem. In a way, criminal investigations which do not lead to a court case in a comparatively finite period of time are never fully closed. The file is closed, as it were. However, if new evidence arises, maybe some months or, in some cases, many years later--I read of such a case recently in a newspaper--the file can be re-opened. If one had to wait until the file was completely closed, the race relations aspects would never cut in at all. Therefore, I am aware that there is a difficulty about the matter. But with respect to the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, I do not believe that either has been successful in hitting upon the solution to the problem.
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