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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, both reports wisely referred to by my noble friend Lord Ahmed provide us with valuable insights. However, I do not think that they can be seen as the final chapter in the story; rather, they tell us in what direction we need to be heading. For that reason among other reasons, the fruits of such research will prove to be of great value when we consider how we might shape legislation in the future. Because of the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, legislation in this field needs to be carefully thought through in order that we get it right and do not produce further anomalies.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that our debates on the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill drew out exactly the point referred to by my noble friend Lord Elton? All of us condemn discrimination on the grounds of religion--whatever that may be. However, the present difficulty is that the religions mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Janner-- that of the Sikhs and, indeed, his own religion--combine with race and nationality. However, other religions do not combine in that way. Does the noble Lord agree that the difficulty lies in trying to define, in legal terms, what exactly it is that we are trying to make illegal? Drawing up the law is the difficult part of this exercise and that is where the University of Derby may be of help.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I, too, hope that the University of Derby will be helpful in these matters. That research, which will have been conducted over a period of 18 months, will give us some valuable insights. I am grateful to the noble Lord for sharing with us his understanding and appreciation of the problem. It is an issue upon which a final conclusion is long overdue.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, will the Minister give an assurance that, in framing such legislation, the Government will consult the Christian Churches and the other faiths, as well as bodies such as the Churches' Commission for Inter-Faith Relations? Furthermore, will the Government be sensitive to the need, which I certainly recognise in my own multi-racial diocese of Wakefield, to set that legislation in the context of a wider process of education and good practice?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am happy to provide the right reverend Prelate the assurance that he seeks. It is important that we continue to consult--as we have already done--throughout the period of research with all the faiths involved in this issue. It is important that, when undertaking such research, we recognise the rich diversity of faiths represented in England and Wales. I am told that we have perhaps the most diverse range of religious communities. For that reason, I believe that we must tread carefully as we progress towards framing legislation. That is an issue for the future.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, regulations allow the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to disclose vehicle keeper details to the police, to local authorities and to anyone who can demonstrate "reasonable cause" to require the information. "Reasonable cause" is not defined in law. Each application is considered on its merits, taking into account the delicate balance between the needs of those who require the information and the rights of those whose personal information is collected by the agency for specific purposes.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. While I recognise the benefit to the police of being able instantly to obtain information on a registration number by telephone--that was how the Yorkshire Ripper was caught--has the noble Lord seen reports that confidence tricksters have been obtaining information from the DVLA and then sending fake police penalty notices to the owners of cars and demanding fines for alleged offences? Does he agree that only authorised persons should be given such information and that the Data Protection Commissioner should be involved here?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I believe that I recognise the reports to which the noble Lord has referred, although I am not sure that I entirely agree with his description of what has been happening. The vast majority of inquiries relate to insurance and finance companies. Noble Lords will recognise that there is a need for those bodies to have access to such information. As regards the particular cases referred to by the noble Lord, there is a problem in relation to companies that act on behalf of landlords and place removal notices on vehicles occupying private land. Obviously, landlords have an interest in getting such cars removed, and therefore "reasonable cause" would cover those circumstances. The DVLA is reviewing its procedures to see whether any improvements can be made to exclude inappropriate use of that facility.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, of all people, my noble friend will recognise that "reasonable cause" is not precisely defined in law. The DVLA's current review of procedures, to which I have already referred, may well lead to tighter guidelines.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I believe that most people would recognise that organisations such as insurance companies need access to such information. I believe that a bureaucratic structure of licensing insurance and finance companies would be too heavy-handed in this area. There is a relatively small grey area that needs to be addressed by new procedures. The DVLA is currently investigating that.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, assuming that the DVLA uses some form of criterion for deciding who can or cannot receive such information, can the Minister tell the House whether the DVLA would consider publishing those criteria?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, these issues are decided on a case-by-case basis. Clearly, a balance must be struck between the needs of an agent for a landowner and the privacy of the person whose car is in question. These matters must be dealt with on their merits. For that reason, it is not easy to publish general guidelines.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I believe that I have already indicated that the DVLA is looking again at its procedures. If clearer guidelines are needed, they will be adopted internally. However, I believe that the need to address these matters on a case-by-case basis must be paramount, because the balance of advantage between confidentiality and information, convenience and "reasonable cause" for the body seeking information about the owner of a vehicle, differs in each instance.
Perhaps I may begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his distinguished commissioner colleagues for their authoritative and detailed consideration of a very wide agenda. I am sure that I speak for the whole House in congratulating them. Furthermore, I am delighted that the noble Lords, Lord Wakeham, Lord Butler and Lord Hurd, and my noble friend Lady Dean, who all served on the commission, will be taking part in the debate today. Obviously, they will add uniquely to our first discussion of their new programme for reform.
The Royal Commission has delivered, on time, a report that addresses all the elements in its terms of reference in a comprehensive and coherent fashion. It has delivered a unanimous report. I believe that that unanimity should be emphasised. The different commissioners began their deliberations from different political and constitutional positions but, in the end, they were united in their recommendations. In producing a unanimous report, they have established a very firm platform on which we can all work for further reform. The issues have been thoroughly analysed and clearly set before us. The first principles have been agreed: that stage of the process has been completed.
I do not intend in this debate to respond in detail to all of the 132 recommendations of the report or, indeed, to any of them. I imagine that that will be the position of most contributors. Some speakers may want to make a case for a particular proposal--others may wish, as I do this afternoon, to give a broad overview of the report and our response. I look forward to what I am sure will be a stimulating and open debate. I hope very much that it will be a positive debate. Throughout the history of attempts to reform your Lordships' House, too much emphasis has been given to the negative, to the problems with any proposed reform. The Government intend to take a positive attitude to this report, and I hope that others will do the same.
We think that one of the strengths of the report is that it is evolutionary. As such, it is firmly within our tradition of constitutional and parliamentary change. When we look at history, it is rare to say that a Rubicon was crossed in that process--a Rubicon that changed everything overnight. Perhaps the Great Reform Act 1832 was such an occasion, but even that, looking back, was modest in its effects compared to the universal adult suffrage now enjoyed which was reached over the following century in successive steps.
The Royal Commission's report takes your Lordships' House, as it is now, and builds on it. It suggests a fresh approach to the terms of membership of the bulk of the Members. It introduces a new element in the form of regional elected members. Both of these elements can be evolutionary. It does not, for example, exclude the possibility that, over time, the elected element could increase in number and importance if that proved necessary for the continued
However, these hypothetical visions of the longer term do not mean that the Government will consign the Royal Commission's report to a dusty top shelf. We do not intend that to happen. I am well aware that there has been detective work in the press; for example, trying to read the entrails of the wording of the advertisements for the interim appointments commission and attempting to calculate the date of the next general election, all aimed at showing that the Government intend to kick the report into the long grass. That is all speculation. The Government's record on reform of this House speaks for itself: it is that we say what we intend to do, and then we do it. We plan to proceed in the same way in the future.
So today perhaps I may say it clearly. The Government accept the principles underlying the main elements of the Royal Commission's proposals on the future role and structure of this House, and will act on them. That is, we agree that the second Chamber should clearly be subordinate, largely nominated but with a minority elected element and with a particular responsibility to represent the regions. We agree that there should be a statutory appointments commission.
The principles that underlie the Royal Commission's recommendations, and the Government's acceptance of them, are these. First, the second Chamber must be clearly that-- a second Chamber, subordinate to the House of Commons. If both Houses were of equal authority that would be a recipe for gridlock. Secondly, it should have the powers and the authority to act as one of the checks and balances within the constitution. It should be equipped to make a significant and distinctive contribution to the legislative process. It should foster independent judgment. Thirdly, following devolution, it should provide a parliamentary voice for the nations and regions at the heart of the nation's affairs.
The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues, rightly, first addressed the question of the roles and functions of the second Chamber. Both he and we have rejected the extreme approach represented by unicameralism. We start from where we are. The most important role of the second Chamber is to scrutinise, and, if necessary, revise legislation. But it must do so as the subordinate Chamber. The Royal Commission's report recommends that as the second Chamber is to remain a subordinate Chamber, the principles underlying the Salisbury convention should also be retained. The Government agree.
The Royal Commission's report makes a number of specific recommendations in this area, particularly with regard to secondary legislation. It raises the question of whether the second Chamber should have the right to reject, or only delay, secondary legislation. This is, of course, a recently topical question. The Government have not denied in the current debates that at present the House of Lords has the power and therefore, in one sense, the right to reject secondary legislation. Formal changes to this power would necessarily have broad implications for the other place and the balance of authority between the Houses. This is clearly a very important area where detailed consideration of the far-reaching proposals in the commission's report must be given by the whole of Parliament.
The Royal Commission makes some interesting proposals to extend the role of this House, which would not undermine the position of the House of Commons. The Government are attracted by the recommendations for a special constitutional Select Committee. This would consider the constitutional implications of legislation and monitor the continuing effects of the changes that are introduced. Another attractive proposal is that there should be additional functions for your Lordships' members of the new Joint Human Rights Committee. These proposals are all consistent with a scrutiny role and would enable this House to act on behalf of Parliament as a whole.
Following the recommendations on the role and functions of the new Chamber, the Royal Commission's report then considers its membership. What would be the chief desirable characteristics for a membership to fulfil the functions that it describes? How should that membership be best selected? It concludes that the second Chamber should be authoritative, confident and representative. Members should have a breadth of experience outside politics but be politically aware, and they should have the ability to bring a moral, philosophical or spiritual perspective to bear on the issues before them. The second Chamber should not be dominated by one political party or by party organisations. The list is undoubtedly a formidable one both as regards qualifications and characteristics. The Royal Commission concluded that all of them, except a regional voice, would best be delivered by a careful nominations system, operating within a framework of rules about the overall political balance of the second Chamber and with a continuing explicitly non-political element. The Government find those arguments persuasive. They are drawn logically from what the second Chamber should do, and how it should add value to the governance of the United Kingdom.
However, there are also other, equally important, arguments drawn from what the second Chamber should not be, which were persuasive to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues and are persuasive to Ministers. One has only to look at the cornerstone of the unified parliamentary political system in this country--the clear expression of the will of the people in a general election. Through that election, they decide who will form a government. They also elect someone to represent them individually in the House of Commons. Both those features seem to us fundamental factors that reform of the second, subordinate Chamber should not interfere with. For those reasons, the Royal Commission suggests that any proposal totally to elect a second Chamber under the mistaken view that it would increase the democratic base of Parliament would in fact undermine that democracy.
The Government agree with that analysis. It is an unassailable principle that the right to govern depends on maintaining the confidence of the House of Commons. If the representatives of the people withhold their consent in a vote of confidence in another place, the people are deemed to have withdrawn their consent. The Government fall and another general election follows. This is clear; it is democratic; and, so far, it is unchallenged. If a second body of people were also elected, perhaps on a different franchise, the clear voice of the people through the present system must, necessarily, be obscured and perhaps, paradoxically, democratic responsibility weakened.
The challenge to those who press the case for a totally elected second Chamber is to explain how they respond to that fundamental point. It may be said that the people should only be governed by those they have elected. That is true, but it does not support the case of advocates of a totally elected second Chamber. The second Chamber does not, and should not, govern us. We are not a federal government but a unitary parliamentary democracy.
The siren voices who have urged the Government to reject the report of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, as undemocratic have been loud. But, again, I challenge those who disagree with the conclusions of the Royal Commission to say whether they think that it is the analysis of the role of the second Chamber which is wrong, or the conclusion that a totally elected Chamber would not properly fulfil it. In either case, or, indeed, in both, they should offer positive alternative ideas on the role of membership of a second Chamber. The Royal Commission, after careful analysis, reached unanimous, cross-party conclusions. I suggest therefore that this is not a question to be answered by an opportunistic or partisan political view.
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