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Lord Warner: My Lords, that is a question for debate, but the short answer is that the money spent on input has to relate to the output achieved. The criminal justice system does not always score highly on that scale.
Lastly, I shall say a few words about the public. The crime and disorder measures that the Government have introduced and are introducing this Session have at their core increasing public confidence in the policies and processes for tackling crime and disorder. I am sceptical about opinion polls, but in preparing for the debate I tried to find a recent opinion poll on which party had the best policies on law and order. I found that a MORI poll conducted in July for the Mail on Sunday--hardly a staunch supporter of the Government--found that more people thought that Labour had the best policies compared with the opposition parties. It was not an overwhelming vote of confidence, but it suggests that the Government might be heading in the right direction for the public. That view is reinforced by the English Housing survey published two weeks ago, which revealed that the number of people who thought that crime was a serious problem dropped by a third in the past two years. In some neighbourhoods, the drop was by more than half. That suggests that people think that the Government are adopting the right approach in tackling crime and disorder and that a bit more of the same would not go amiss.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham, on his maiden speech with sincere warmth, but not at such length as would prevent him from going for a well earned cup of tea. With that in mind, I assure him that I shall not speak about policy towards children.
My contribution to the debate will be modest. My sense of the general atmosphere tells me that there will not be much place in the next few months for non-partisan contributions from Cross-Benchers who do not hunt.
The first is the reform of your Lordships' House. I warmly welcome the clear statement of the Leader of the House that the Government will bring forward their proposals for further legislation before the next election and are seeking to establish a Joint Committee on the parliamentary aspects of further reform.
I do not want today to deal with the balance of elected and appointed Members of the House. As a member of the Wakeham Commission, I fully support its recommendation that the House should comprise a mixture of appointed and elected Members in a proportion that gives all regions of the United Kingdom a voice through election and gives a voice to other areas of experience and expertise through appointed Members.
I shall concentrate on how appointed Members reach the House. I welcome the establishment of the Appointments Commission, under the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, to appoint Cross-Benchers. I hope that the Government and the other
The Royal Commission felt strongly that the authority of appointed Members of your Lordships' House would be compromised for as long as appointment rested on the patronage of the Prime Minister. It may be argued that political parties should have the choice of those who are to take their Whip. Like the Royal Commission, I acknowledge and advocate that nominations by the Prime Minister and leaders of other parties should carry great weight with the Appointments Commission, but that should fall short of total control. If party leaders had total control over party appointments, the logical corollary would be that the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties should be able to nominate directly rather than having to do so through the Prime Minister.
A better solution, which is most likely to quell public misgivings about appointments, is that all nominations--party affiliated and others--should be made through the Appointments Commission, which should contain a nominee of the three main parties and the Cross Benches to see that political considerations were properly taken into account. I hope that all parties will support that in the preparation of proposals in the period leading up to the election. It is an important aspect of the future authority and public standing of your Lordships' House.
The second issue to which I urge the Government to give further attention before the election is the West Lothian question. After the next election, Labour may well have a majority of United Kingdom seats but a minority of English seats. Apart from the landslide of the last election, that has been the normal situation since the war when there have been Labour majorities in the other place.
With the greatest respect, the Opposition's suggestion that only Members of English constituencies should be able to vote on legislation affecting England is not a solution. It would mean that Labour Governments of the United Kingdom, but not Conservative Governments, would have difficulty in passing legislation that affected only England. That, I believe, would be unacceptable. Not only that; it would be an important step towards separate English, Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and, through that, a step towards the break-up of the United Kingdom, although I am sure that the authors of the proposal do not intend that. For that reason, I profoundly hope that a future Conservative government would not persevere with that proposal.
I believe that the only solution to the West Lothian question may lie in a more informal self-restraint on the part of government parties of both sides not to push through seriously opposed legislation affecting one part of the United Kingdom by relying on votes from areas not so affected. In the British constitution
The final matter to which I urge the Government to give attention is one in which I have a personal interest--the preparation for a Civil Service Act. I have come to the conclusion only reluctantly that such an Act is desirable. Previously I have believed that, provided both parties respect the conventions governing an impartial Civil Service--as I believe they have--the flexibility provided by the absence of legislation is an advantage.
But we now live in a world where everything is being codified. It is possible that at some time in the future the Civil Service will become a political football between the main parties, as has happened in other countries which have even had the Westminster and Whitehall tradition. That would undermine once and for all the non-political nature of the Civil Service, which I consider to be an important asset of this country.
Many of us were very encouraged by the Government's response to the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and by the Government's affirmation of their resolve to put in place defences for Civil Service neutrality. Those defences depend to some extent on a Civil Service Act on which the Government sensibly said they would consult before introduction. For that reason, I was not surprised by the lack of a reference in the gracious Speech to legislation on the Civil Service. However, I hope that when the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General replies tonight he may be able to tell us that consultation will begin in the near future with a view to legislation on this matter being introduced in the next Parliament.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, from these Benches I welcome the maiden contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham. I hope that he will not be constrained by party Whips when matters concerning the care of young people are debated in this House. I, for one, will look forward to his support on future occasions.
I am delighted to respond to Her Majesty's gracious Speech. Legislation on matters relating to the Home Office is a mixed bag. Cracking down on crime, criminals and benefit fraudsters is laudable. However, it is clear that this Government have turned law and order policy into a Dutch auction, with both the Conservatives and the Labour Party aiming for the high ground.
Although we welcome some of the measures proposed by the Government, we are concerned that too much emphasis is currently being placed on the problem of yob culture--being tough on crime--at the expense of a sufficiently wide range of measures to address the causes of crime. The Government's duty is also to lead; not simply to compete. The amount of money spent on tough measures relating to crime is
There are, of course, significant omissions in the Home Office Bills; for example, we need a national network of neighbourhood mediation programmes to help to prevent conflicts between neighbours escalating into crime. That would do much to improve the quality of life on deprived housing estates. We need a range of other measures to address the personal, family and social problems that often confront offenders. In particular, we should like to see a youth offending team plus a regime for 18 to 21 year-olds. Here, I certainly welcome not necessarily the political opinion but the valuable and effective work that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and his youth justice boards are doing.
Where are the measures to identify the positive benefits of immigration, particularly in a country with a static or declining population? We shall pay a heavy price if we simply stick to being Little Englanders when we know that the prosperity of future generations depends on the working population of today. Where are the measures that would, once and for all, remove the stigma of vouchers handed out to asylum seekers? That remains a blot on our civilised values concerning the care of victims of torture.
Of course, the Home Office will say that some of those matters are under review. However, it is unlikely that we shall see the implementation of such measures this side of a general election. After all, the measures proposed clearly indicate that such an election is due in the not too distant future.
I have another concern, referred to by other noble Lords. It relates to the creation of a substantial number of criminal offences since this Government came to power. As is often asked, do we need all those measures? Should we not allow a breathing space for our criminal justice system to bed down? A good example is the proposal for a curfew order. The Home Secretary has admitted that introducing curfew orders for children under the age of 10 was a mistake. As has been pointed out, not a single order has been issued since the law was introduced.
Let us consider other measures in the criminal justice Acts. We have not even had time to measure their success or failure before embarking on further legislation. I suspect that before long the Home Secretary will admit in the other place that some of the measures have no impact on crime and disorder in the community.
We recognise that there are serious problems in troubled inner city areas and that they need to be tackled. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, who spoke eloquently about those concerns. However, we have serious worries about curfews for under-16s. We note that the Association of Chief Police Officers expressed concern about the practical implementation of some of the new measures and, in particular, about the practicality of curfews. In part, that is due to the doubts abut their workability and whether the police forces have the
Blanket curfews will needlessly penalise law-abiding youngsters who are out for legitimate reasons, such as playing sport or other after-school activities. There is also a risk that they will worsen already fraught relationships between some young people and the police. Ample evidence already exists of adversarial relationships between young people and the police. Why add to that?
There are alternative and more constructive ways to address these problems. In particular, we know that many young people in deprived localities cause trouble because insufficient provision is made for them to engage in positive activities. In Peckham, which has been cited as an example and where Damilola was killed, over 100 youngsters have been excluded from schools. They have nothing to do. Further investment is needed in constructive activities such as youth clubs and sporting facilities, as well as in mentoring schemes. My own organisation, NACRO, commented that a network of support and constructive activities will do far more to reduce the likelihood of youth delinquency than simply extending an idea that so far has proved to be unworkable.
More generally, removing young people from the streets does not address the problem that leads some people to become involved in crime and anti-social behaviour in the first place. Curfews may keep potentially troublesome young people off the streets but they do nothing to address the problems which may lead them to offend in the first place. That needs to be looked into. Legislation can be effective only if all else fails.
I turn now to the new powers to address alcohol-related anti-social behaviour and violence. Some of the measures announced in the Queen's Speech are eminently sensible and should help to address some of the situational factors that link alcohol consumption and crime. In particular, we welcome the new powers for councils to ban drinking in some public places--so long as they are used sensitively and appropriately--and provision for tougher action against publicans who repeatedly flout the law.
We have concerns about the introduction of fixed penalty notices along the lines of tickets for motoring offences. That may not be conducive to good police/community relationships. It may be difficult for the police to distinguish between high-spirited revellers and those whose drunkenness may result in crime. Moreover, we fear that there may be significant variations in the extent to which those measures are used in different neighbourhoods and localities, which is likely to undermine public community confidence. Therefore, there is a question as to the workability of those provisions.
As well as addressing situational factors which may contribute towards alcohol-related crime and disorder, there is a need to expand and develop education, treatment and rehabilitation programmes similar to those which have been employed effectively in work with convicted drunk drivers.
I turn now to the regulation of the private security industry and bouncers. Clearly, with large numbers of people entering the city and town centres at night, especially at the weekend, and the limited police manpower, the private security industry--and that includes bouncers--plays a key role in maintaining good order for the foreseeable future. The absence of any real regulation to date has been a cause for concern. It is clear that inappropriate people are often being employed in the security industry. Regulation is long overdue.
I cite a couple of examples. Manchester City Centre attracts an average of 75,000 people on Friday and Saturday nights who are policed by just 30 police officers augmented by 1,000 door staff and bouncers. Nottingham has about 30,000 night-time weekend visitors who are policed by 12 to 15 officers augmented by 400 door staff and bouncers. There are an estimated 100,000 door staff and bouncers working throughout the country. Who regulates them? No one. It is for those reasons that we should certainly welcome the regulation of that industry.
The Government seem to seek easy answers to the problems of yob culture, social exclusion and treatment programmes. We welcome many of the measures announced to deal with the situational factors associated with alcohol-related crime and disorder. However, we are concerned that the Government's rhetorical emphasis on the so-called yob culture should not deflect attention from the wider social causes of crime and the importance of tackling social exclusion and addressing the problems which many offenders face.
In that context, we welcome the proposal that ex-prisoners and children leaving care should be classed as priority needs for local authority housing and that councils should carry out a census of rough sleepers once a year. Links between homelessness and crime are well established and lack of access to housing is a major barrier to rehabilitation. Prisoners who are released homeless are more than 2.5 times more likely to reoffend than those with homes to go to. Providing ex-prisoners with accommodation and reducing homelessness will go a long way to reducing crime.
Further changes could be made to the law to tackle homelessness among ex-prisoners. When those who come out of prison have no job and no place to go, the risk of reoffending is very high indeed. Until 1995 housing benefit was available to meet the rent payments of convicted prisoners serving up to 12 months in custody. In April 1995, the rules were changed to limit that provision. For convicted prisoners, housing benefit is available only to those
Local housing departments and housing associations should not be permitted to operate blanket bans on offenders or particular groups of offenders in their allocation policies. We are pleased to note that the Government have now begun to address that issue. Housing benefit restrictions which have reduced benefits to below the real level of rents should be reversed. The stock of affordable rented housing in areas where there are shortages should be increased. Increased levels of housing and capital investment should also be made available. Is it not about time that we examined those issues?
But the most contentious issue is legislation restricting trial by jury in certain cases. The Government have suffered major defeats in your Lordships' House and yet they are back to their old tricks. The Government have now established the principle of Xtwo strikes and you are out". They have already had two strikes. Why are they aiming for the third one from your Lordships' House? Is it not time that the Government stopped their insatiable appetite to promote criminal justice legislation? Since Labour came to office, we have had the Crime and Disorder Act, the Criminal Justice and Courts Act, the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act and many other orders. As a prominent politician once said, XBad laws are difficult to justify. They are even more difficult to implement". The only consolation we have is that some of the measures proposed by the Government will fall by the wayside when the general election is called. Criminal policies should never be based on one-upmanship, or Xone-upwomanship", but they should be based on sound research supplemented by care and concern for all people in our society.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am delighted to contribute in today's debate as two of my particular interests in your Lordships' House are coupled neatly together in terms of health and home affairs. I want to endorse also the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath about the legislation to be brought forward in respect of the health service.
Clearly, legislation which will modernise the NHS in line with the NHS plan will, by and large, be extremely beneficial to the users of the health service, who will be placed, perhaps for the first time for many years, at the centre of the organisation of healthcare delivery. When that is coupled with the substantial extra investment that the Government are putting into the NHS, it is clear that there will be a major reshaping of the NHS to meet the standards of care which people expect.
I believe that if we look at the details of what is proposed in the health and social care Bill, we can see that there are many elements there which will make it possible to see and deliver improved performance in
There are also other measures which are long overdue; for example, proposals to make it easier for nurses and other healthcare professionals to prescribe medicines, making nursing care an NHS responsibility and therefore free of charge in all settings. Those are all beneficial and valuable proposals which I am sure your Lordships will want to endorse.
However, I express reservations in respect of what is Chapter 10 in the NHS national plan, which is concerned with providing new arrangements for protecting and representing patients' interests. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, was kind enough to remind the House of the debate that I initiated on the future of community health councils. There was much in what he said in his earlier remarks to your Lordships that I would endorse absolutely.I make it clear that as a former director of the Association of Community Health Councils I am not blind to the faults that CHCs have and have had in the past. However, I am fascinated by the sudden espousal of the value of community health councils displayed on the Conservative Benches.
I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, published a Green Paper that proposed the abolition of CHCs. He had to back down from that in light of the cogent arguments put forward at the time. I also am aware that Kenneth Clarke, when Secretary of State for Health, remarked that he would have abolished CHCs at the same time as he removed local authority representation from health authorities had he realised how little fuss there would have been at that stage. The support for CHCs from the Conservative Benches is a new phenomenon but none the less welcome.
The Government's proposals contain much that is beneficial to the users of the service. The scrutiny role that is to be given to local government will be an extremely important part of the armoury and will ensure that the health service is more accountable. But, if local government and local councillors who will be engaged in those scrutiny exercises have independent resources that are knowledgeable about the local health service, informed by what is going on, by the work that they do on complaints and local advocacy and who would be able to provide and service that scrutiny function on which they could rely, it would be even more effective.
I want to associate myself with the remarks of the noble Earl, who highlighted the problems that there will be in any system of advocacy that is not seen as independent of the local NHS bodies. To have people who are not only paid by the local NHS body, but located within it and seen to be accountable to the chief
To remove that system of independent support for patients and at the same time to remove the mechanism that allows the work that the CHC carried out in terms of individual representation in responding to consultation, in monitoring what was going on in the service and in integrating that to bring together an informed view of what is happening in the local area is a substantial mistake. That point was aired extensively by Members of this House on all sides in the short debate that we had earlier. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will have taken that back to his colleagues in the Department of Health.
I trust that he is making progress in convincing them that that would impede what I am sure otherwise would be the serene progress of the Bill when it is introduced into your Lordships' House. I refer to unhelpful references being included in it to abolish CHCs or, if CHCs are to be abolished, what is to replace them must be palpably better and more able to deliver an independent service that is able to operate in a way that integrates all the learning that CHCs currently have.
I want to focus on what has been done in respect of crime and the measures that are outlined in the gracious Speech. We should be delighted that there has been a clear reduction in crime since the last election. The figures suggest that crime overall is down by 10 per cent and that domestic burglary is down by 21 per cent. Those are the lowest levels for a decade.
However, it is important that that progress is maintained across the country and that work is carried out to look at the incidence of violent crime and disorder. Noble Lords may know--I declare this interest--that I chaired the Metropolitan Police Authority, which is responsible for policing in London. Progress has been made. There has been an 8 per cent reduction in burglary since the beginning of the financial year. In some boroughs, but not all, there have been reductions in the incidence of street crime. That may give an indication that the levels are beginning to turn round. That is progress and I am sure that we all support it.
In the measures to be put forward in the coming year, the Government are clear about the importance of what has colloquially been called Xcracking down on the yob culture" and giving the police the powers that they need to deal with disorder and crime. On the idea of new fixed penalty notices for offences such as being drunk and disorderly or using insulting words or behaviour, although there may have been initial concerns about the practicalities, as people look at how that may operate it can be seen that it would have beneficial effects which we should all support. I am sure that your Lordships' House will want to support powers to close down disorderly bars, wider powers of arrest and perhaps for the first time powers to tackle kerb-crawling effectively, which are all positive points.
It is critical that the police are given the resources to carry forward that work. The Government have been quite clear that spending next year will rise substantially. The proposed figure is some 10 per cent--again the biggest increase for a generation. That is extremely important.
In relation to London, the Mayor of London, who is independent of political party, has announced that he is minded to put forward an increase of 60p per week in the amount that Londoners pay, on average, for police in the capital. For my part, I am clear that if that is to happen, that money should be spent on the improvements in the number of police officers in London. Certainly the intention of the Metropolitan Police Authority is that we should budget for more than 1,000 additional police officers in the London area.
I also want to make it clear that it is essential that those extra police officers are based in the boroughs so that they are visible on the streets of London, which is what Londoners want. Those extra officers must not be allowed to disappear into specialist units at New Scotland Yard.
We must recognise that in the past 10 years--that pre-dates the current government--a number of factors has combined to reduce the visible presence in the boroughs. First, a number of specialist units have been created or expanded. Such specialist units are important and carry out essential work; for example, putting highly trained expertise into murder inquiries or into tackling racist and hate crime. However, a by-product has been that some of the officers have been transferred from the boroughs.
Secondly, there have been severe problems in recruiting and retaining police officers in the London area, which has led to vacancies. As I speak, the Met is now some 370 officers below establishment. That is being addressed by a substantial pay increase, amounting to some #3,500 in the pay awarded to London officers who are newly recruited. I am pleased to say that there is evidence that the figures for recruitment and retention are improving.
Thirdly, there are comparable levels of vacancies in the civil staff who support the work of police officers. There are about 1,000 such vacancies because of the high turnover. Therefore, about 250 to 300 police officers backfill civil staff vacancies. That means that they cannot be deployed elsewhere because of the work that they have to do in backfilling such vacancies. I hope that tomorrow the police authority will agree a substantial package to improve the pay and conditions for civil staff and that that will ensure that the vacancies can be filled and police officers can be returned to traditional policing duties.
Fourthly, there has been a trend in the past decade for resources to be transferred to the rest of the country. That has seriously affected the Metropolitan Police, with the adoption of the police funding formula which failed adequately to address the needs of London. Two weeks ago in your Lordships' House I referred to the extent to which London subsidises the rest of the country. At that time I said that the subsidy
With that level of subsidy being passed from London to the rest of the country, it is surprising that successive governments appear to continue to transfer resources from London to the rest of the country. I do not deny that there are needs in the rest of the country, but that seems to ignore the level of need that exists in London.
London contains some of the most extreme pressures on policing in the country yet the police funding formula continues to penalise London. The impact of that has been not only to push up precepts in London but it has also meant that at the same time there has been reduced policing in the boroughs. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary addressed that by increasing the special grant for London, but I suspect that more needs to be done if the imbalance is to be redressed.
Hand in hand with any increase in the resources to the Metropolitan Police must be a recognition that the efficiency of their operations must be subject to thorough scrutiny. I am aware that it is only a few years ago that the Metropolitan Police Service adopted double entry book-keeping. It may be felt that that is a new concept; that it is not right for the police to rush into it; but that is the case.
The Metropolitan Police Service can and must be streamlined and must improve its processes. It cannot be right that police officers should spend six or seven hours in custody suites to complete paperwork following an arrest. Therefore an investment in technology will help to allevaite those inefficiencies and enable resources to be re-invested in front-line policing. More needs to be done in that area and an external review will need to take place to ensure that that happens.
I note also that there is to be a police Bill. I hope it will be possible to address one other specific problem that exists for police authorities. I refer to the arrangement for the payment of allowances to authority members. I emphasise that I do not have an interest in this, in that members of the London Assembly, like myself, who sit on police authorities are not eligible to claim member's allowances. But the reality is that, certainly for a police authority covering the metropolitan area, members will be spending approximately 100 working days a year on authority business. That is three times what people were originally promised when they applied to become authority members and it will have a severe impact on their existing and future employment. The maximum allowance of time for reading and so forth fails to address that issue, and I hope that an opportunity will be taken in the passage of the Bill to review the matter and ensure, not only in London but also in some other police authorities, that the system of allowances is addressed.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Kirkham illustrated, I felt in a most moving way, the advantages to a child of being brought up in a loving family. I hoped that the Government would bring forward proposals in the Queen's Speech which could play a part in strengthening the family.
Mr Blair is a family man and must know that children of parents bound by their marriage vows to a lasting relationship are far more likely to have a stable upbringing and to get a good start in life. He must have read the research which shows that the children of unmarried couples are twice as likely to see their parents split up and that the decline in the institution of marriage has meant more and more children being deprived of a stable upbringing with the consequences of which we are all aware; that is, more of them dropping out of school, failing to hold down a job and some of them drifting into crime.
Yet not only are there no proposals in the gracious Speech to strengthen the family and encourage marriage, but a government Minister, Miss Tessa Jowell, said recently that the Government would not promote marriage as the ideal context for bringing up children for no better reason than that it might upset the offspring of the unmarried as though the assertion of any standard is not likely to upset somebody. All that comes after a Session in which the Prime Minister associated himself with a major attack on the traditional family and traditional morality by supporting the attempt to repeal Section 28, and on top of the Government forcing through a Bill to reduce the protection which young boys used to have against the intentions of older men minded to prey on them and abuse them. It is sad, and there will be a reaction against that contempt for standards and refusal to give proper protection to young people.
My second disappointment is that there is nothing in the gracious Speech to strengthen Parliament. The Prime Minister has a poor record as a parliamentarian. In fact, he has the worse Division record of any Prime Minister since the war. Time and again he was taken to task by the last Speaker for making important announcements about government policy outside Parliament rather than within. He has diminished Parliament by refusing to allow it to be the forum, the sounding board of the nation at times of crisis and when momentous decisions have been made. It is astonishing, for instance, that Parliament was not recalled when the fuel protest took place. It is astonishing too that no debate was allowed when the decision was made to commit troops to a European defence force.
But recently far worse has happened. Under recent proposals all government Bills will be timetabled. And if business is taken after 10 o'clock at night in the Commons, voting on that business will be postponed until the following Wednesday when the Government supporters will deign to be present at a time convenient to themselves.
If that was all about making Parliament more family friendly it would be bad enough--surely people should not go into the House of Commons to change the rules to make life easier for themselves. But the changes will not just make life easier for the Blair babes to get to bed in good time; it will also make life much easier for the Government, and that is an important point.
Up to now I have always been against an elected Chamber. I broadly supported the proposals of the Wakeham Commission, of which the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who spoke a few minutes ago, was such a distinguished member. But so effective have this Government been in neutering the Commons that I am beginning to wonder whether perhaps I was wrong. The argument for a thoroughgoing constitutional settlement with an elected second Chamber assigned functions which would never be countenanced had it not got a democratic mandate grows stronger as the Commons, far from reforming itself, drifts further into impotence.
I am afraid that to finish I must strike an even more sombre note. Recently the Prime Minister appointed a Minister for Patriotism. That is odd when this Government have spent much time attacking our identity as a nation. If we look at devolution we can study how people now see their country and where their loyalties lie. If we look at the polls on people's attitudes we will see that, since devolution, fewer people look upon themselves as British; that the very word is becoming obsolete as a result of the follies of this Government.
I hope that those who produced the report under the auspices of the Runnymede Trust are not typical. But they did not do much to encourage patriotism and love of Queen and country when they declared, without any foundation of truth, that Britishness has systematic racial connotations. Not much patriotism was shown by Mr Jack Straw--he was responsible for nominating some of the people to that committee--when he talked of the Xbaggage" of Empire; nor by Mr Blair when, in speech after speech, he derided history.
Those latter day socialists seem to have no comprehension that what we were has made us what we are; that, for instance, the strength of our institutions has, almost alone among European nations, enabled us to escape tyranny and/or conquest; and that it is our imperial past, of which the Commonwealth is the child, it is our ties of history with America and countries throughout the world and the use of the British language throughout the world that enable us to play a role far beyond the shores of Europe.
I cannot help but feel that new Labour's complete lack of understanding of these matters is bound to shape, and to some extent does shape, its attitude towards the European Union. I am not saying that this Government have a fixed federalist agenda, but I do say that their general beliefs and attitudes make them pretty relaxed about the European Union taking on more and more of the attributes of a sovereign state. First, it had its own flag; then its own anthem; then its own citizenship; then its own currency; and now its own defence force and constitution. According to what was said by Mr Prodi yesterday, it also has its own capital city.
I am not relaxed about it because if year after year there continues to be a leaching of power from the member states to the centre and never any traffic in the other direction, we will finish up with what Mr Prodi says he wants; a single political unity.
Despite the battering which our national institutions, national identity and patriotism have taken from this Government, I believe that the British people are still proud of the role that we, as a country, can play not only in Europe but world-wide. The British people want us to be in Europe and to have a happy and profitable association with other members of the EU. But I do not believe that they want to see us lose more of our ability to run our own affairs to an ever burgeoning Brussels bureaucracy, let alone see our identity lost in a European state with folk dancing the sole expression of nationality, as in the former Soviet Union.
The British people are not Xbarking", to use the elegant expression of Mr Patten. They know that we do not have to finish up this way but that it is the way that we could finish up. One day, a Government with a lot more spunk than this one may have to say, XEnough is enough!".
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I want to assure the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that I have never swerved in my devotion to my country, to my language, to my anthem and to my flag--it just happens to be Welsh. I am pleased that the coalition in Wales of the Liberal Democrat and Labour Parties is forging direct links with Brussels and will continue to do so.
I very much welcome the private security industry Bill which is proposed in the gracious Speech. It has long been the policy of those on these Benches that organisations which are engaged in that industry should be licensed in order to monitor the training, character and integrity of those who are employed in it. However, that is a matter for Monday's Second Reading debate and I do not propose to address the issue any further.
However, another criminal justice Bill is to be introduced to Xcrack down on yob culture", as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, put it. The Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 received the Royal Assent on 25th May last. It was declared to be an Act to consolidate the powers of
On 30th November last, a fortnight ago, we had both the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000, which amended Section 161 of the previous Act, and the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 which contained, in Schedule 7, 44 paragraphs of amendments to the consolidating Act of the same year extending over some 10 pages, and in Schedule 8 repealed the whole or part of 23 different sections of an Act which had received Royal Assent only a few months before.
The criminal justice system cannot take that constant shaking around. It takes time for legislation to settle down and for the courts and agencies involved to come to some conclusions as to whether the latest fashionable solutions work. Crime prevention measures have been introduced. Although the Home Secretary provided a significant and substantial budget of some #383 million to deal with that, only 2 per cent of it was spent in the first year. And now we are off again!
This time, the Home Secretary finally recognises that the introduction of curfew orders for the under-10s was a mistake. I opposed the Motion that Section 14, which contained that provision, should stand part of the Crime and Disorder Bill. In the debate on 10th February 1998, I said that the whole of the proposed scheme for the under-10s was cumbersome and ineffective. Chief constables, local authorities and magistrates have clearly felt the same because no orders have been made.
Now, without any piloting or consultation, it is proposed to extend that type of curfew to 10 to 16 year-olds. It is objectionable in principle that young people who have done nothing wrong are to be cleared off the streets simply by reason of their age and the fact that one, two or three other young people of the same age have been engaged in trouble. In practical terms, the huge cost in time and resources can be so much more constructively directed. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark referred to the twin pillars of order: the police and the co-operation of the public. The one needs the other. One cannot demonise young people while young people demonise the police. One simply cannot change the way of life, habits, attitudes and recreations of young people by wielding the big stick of the criminal law and the criminal justice system.
At night, young people have taken over the streets. That is the case throughout the country, not simply in inner city areas. They are ebullient, full of life, occasionally aggressive and they drink too much. There is nothing particularly new in that. MVVD--multi-volume vertical drinking, to which the noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred--was not unknown in my rugby club. I remember it in my youth. Indeed, going further back, I remember that my father, when he policed the streets of Wrexham, North Wales, was
Perhaps today young people have more money in their pockets, but the idea that the police should go around creating no-go areas, arresting youngsters, spending time finding out who they are, questioning their excuses for being on the street when a curfew order is in operation and then taking them home afterwards is ludicrous--just as imposing on-the-spot fines is ludicrous. One has only to think of the situation in which a young person is so aggressive or drunk that a policeman feels that he must interfere and speak to him. Is that the moment to remove money from his pocket? Clearly, it is not.
I have no illusions about young people today. I was involved in the Philip Lawrence case and in the more recent Hungerford Bridge case where two students were thrown into the river. I know of the effects on young people of too much money, drugs, drink, truanting and so forth.
The problem to be addressed is one of attitudes. However, the measures which have already been introduced to deal with certain youngsters, for example, parenting and anti-social behaviour orders--not a specific ban--have not as yet been tried or properly assessed. When they were introduced in various pieces of legislation I suggested that they were merely gimmicks, but as yet we have not seen the effects of those orders. The pilot schemes of other initiatives which we supported, such as youth offending teams, are only now beginning to be assessed by the six national evaluators headed by Dr Norman Davidson. Experiments are beginning with intensive supervision and surveillance programmes to target hard core repeat young offenders in the main metropolitan areas.
Projects in restorative justice are being considered in Brixton to deal with bullying and street robbery, and the Youth Justice Board is to co-operate with organisers of the Philip Lawrence Award to recognise outstanding collective achievements by young people in active citizenship. Had the noble Lord, Lord Warner, been in his seat I would have said how much I had been impressed by the direction in which he had steered the Youth Justice Board, of which he is chairman. I am so impressed that I had hoped he would have said one word to challenge the Government's new proposals, as did the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. Unfortunately, in that I was disappointed.
There are many positive initiatives currently under way. I refer to the youth inclusion programmes of NACRO, to which my noble friend Lord Dholakia alluded, that involve young people in constructive activity. In Wales NACRO CYMRU is engaged in
Yob culture is unpleasant, irritating, invasive and anti-social but it is not the core of crime in this country. The real problem is the pervasive drug culture which is illegal, dangerous and uncontrolled. There is room for serious debate as to whether the public interest is best served by maintaining that culture underground to the huge financial advantage of drug barons who control their empires with blood and sometimes, in my direct experience, death. So much burglary, theft, street violence and criminal activity of all kinds is attributable to our failure to tackle the problem face on. I do not know for how long responsible politicians can avoid the need at least to ascertain the facts and consider the options by means of a royal commission, for which we on these Benches have long called.
If we must have yet further legislation, I hope that when the Bill is published it will be positive and constructive. What we do not want, and shall oppose, is another Dutch auction, to use the phrase of my noble friend Lord Dholakia, between the Home Secretary and the Shadow Home Secretary on crime and punishment issues. In that category comes the renewed mode of trial Bill which cannot become law before the general election and will be overtaken by the Auld report which is imminent. This measure merely smacks of personal machismo on the part of the Home Secretary. To bring back that proposal in the Queen's Speech is empty posturing. If the Government concentrate on the good things that they have done and really tackle the drugs crisis and forget the baubles in the shop window because of an impending election they shall have our support.
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, in rising to welcome the contents of the gracious Speech, I congratulate the father of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. Based on my experience, he was obviously a very wise police officer.
When I was preparing my speech I was visited by some friends who had a minimal interest in politics and constitutional matters. They saw that I was busy in my study and asked what I was doing. I replied that I was busy with the Queen's Speech. I was tremendously honoured to be asked in all seriousness, XIs that the one that she makes on Christmas Day?" Chance would be a fine thing!
Since coming to power this Government have placed on the statute book numerous measures to help local communities to win back the streets from people who commit crime and cause disorder. They include new final warnings for young offenders, anti-social behaviour orders for persistent troublemakers who intimidate witnesses and victims and measures to
My many years' experience as an operational police officer indicate that we need to do more, and I believe that the measures in the gracious Speech take forward the objective of making the streets safer for all our citizens. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said that that was not the real concern. However, that is the major concern of people in this country. Surveys reveal that people are not concerned about serious crime but the quality of life on the street. For example, they cannot walk along the street without being disturbed, pushed off the pavement, or seeing people urinate in doorways, being drunk and swearing. That is the perceived problem.
Everyone was horrified by the recent tragic murder of Damilola Taylor. At the heart of that tragic murder is a culture of bullying at school and in the community. I remember well my maiden speech in this House in October 1998 which, ironically, addressed the question of bullying in secondary schools. I said then, and repeat now, that bullying occurred in all walks of life and should be treated extremely seriously. One of the difficulties lies in finding out that bullying is taking place. Police officers are only too well aware that victims or witnesses are frightened of being labelled as grasses or snitches. Individuals, quite understandably, believe that they may be intimidated because they have told the authorities what is going on.
Noble Lords have referred to the amount of time taken by police officers in processing a prisoner in the police station after arrest. The provision allows the police not to issue a fixed penalty in the street--they could if they wanted, but I suggest that if it is a violent incident the person concerned would be arrested--but at the police station, perhaps after the prisoner has sobered up the following morning. He would be given the option of accepting the fixed penalty as opposed to going to court. That makes eminent sense because the police officer can go straight back out and carry on policing the streets, which is what he is paid to do.
The gracious Speech provides for regulation of bouncers and door supervisors to ensure that they are not involved in committing crime and creating disorder. There is evidence that some of those people get involved in--as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, rightly mentioned--the selling and supplying of drugs. It will be a great help if we can regulate the people in that industry.
There is the power to arrest kerb crawlers in some of our cities and towns who cause such misery and embarrassment to innocent women going about their lawful business. Again, that is a quality of life issue.
There is the power, where it is needed, to impose curfews on those under 16. Perhaps there has been some misunderstanding with regard to that. Where youngsters are causing problems, which may be because of home conditions or circumstances at home which are causing them to react, the idea is to take them back home and find out what the circumstances are. That will cause a kick-in of the provisions. Perhaps the conditions can be looked at and the youngsters can be kept on the straight and narrow.
Some of the scenes on Friday and Saturday nights in our town centres are a disgrace to a civilised community. In this country, quite rightly, there should not be any Xno go" areas. The police should have the powers they need to deal with those problems. Therefore, I welcome the Government's proposals.
I have long complained of the lack of regulation of the private security industry. At this stage I should declare an interest as the president of the Joint Security Industry Council and also as vice-president of an organisation called EPIC. That is an organisation of ex-police officers, many of whom are involved in the security industry. I also have two non-executive directorships in security companies.
I recall Sir John Stevens, then Chief Constable of Northumberland and now the Commissioner, producing a wealth of research which showed a remarkable number of people operating in the private security industry with serious convictions for dishonesty and, in some cases, murder and rape. The private security industry has a key part to play in reducing crime. These measures are welcomed by those responsible organisations in the security industry. It is an industry that employs thousands of people--far more than the police service--and by driving out the
I hope that the establishment of a private security authority will achieve the success that the Gaming Board did some 30 years ago. It snatched the gambling industry in this country from the jaws of gangsters such as the Krays and the Richardsons. It created--I am proud of this--the cleanest and most respected gaming regime in the world.
I recall following a van on the M1 recently. The van bore the legend on its side, XNazir Ali & Son, Security Consultants". Then it said, XYou've tried the cowboys--now try the Indians"! It is to be hoped that the Bill will eradicate the cowboys.
Finally, we have probably all suffered from car crime at some stage in our lives. That has been targeted by the police and it has fallen by 15 per cent since the last election. The Bill will crack down even further by protecting the motorist from car theft and removing, again, the cowboys from the car salvage trade. It is big business. Each year 12,000 stolen vehicles are never recovered. Many are resold with a new identity. Again I should declare an interest as a consultant with a company which provides indelible, covert encryption on vehicles and other property.
Recently my son had his car stolen. It was a brand new, quite expensive car. The thieves broke into his house while he was in bed to steal the keys of the car. At about 4 a.m. he was woken up by the police asking him if he could check and see if his car was there. He had a tracker device fitted to the car which was triggered as soon as the car was driven away. The thieves were arrested and he got his car back in mint condition, so he was quite happy with the circumstances. But that illustrates the measures that can be taken if we think carefully about the matter.
I conclude by recalling the craze in the North East of ram-raiding where vehicles were driven into shop windows to steal the contents to make a rapid getaway. I am not proud that the craze started on Tyneside. But fortunately some of those lads were not very bright. I remember two of them committing their first offence and escaping with goods worth about #700. About a week later Jimmy said to Geordie, XI'm a bit short. Let's do another ram-raid". XTo hell with that", said Geordie, XLast time it cost me #1,000 to get my car repaired". That illustrates that the police have some advantages in the people they are dealing with. Would that all wrongdoers were of that calibre. I commend the provisions in the gracious Speech to your Lordships' House.
The NHS Plan says that it believes in maximum devolution of power. It says that the centre will not try to take every last decision. It says that there will be progressively less central control and progressively more devolution. Those are laudable aims, but will they be realised?
The NHS Plan created a Modernisation Agency with responsibility to spread best practice and stimulate change. That too sounds like a good idea. Who could argue with spreading best practice? But the Modernisation Agency is in addition to other central agencies or bodies with similar agendas. There are the regional offices of the NHS and the new Commission for Health Improvement, not to mention the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and the Audit Commission. What is an NHS manager to make of that? To how many bodies will he or she have to report?
There is always a tension between the right size and style of activities at the centre compared with those locally. I am concerned that the resources being siphoned off to support the new Modernisation Agency and the Commission for Health Improvement may not be best use of NHS resources. How many people and how much extra money will be absorbed by those bodies? What value for patients will they deliver?
Another part of the plan is the creation of a system of earned autonomy linked to a traffic-light system of red, yellow and green. The principle is easy to understand: let the good performers get on with it and concentrate efforts on the rest. The worst performing organisations--those with red status-- will be the most heavily interfered with. They will have the reverse of earned autonomy. The red light bodies will have more interference--more visits from the Commission for Health Improvement, heavier involvement from the regional offices and more oversight from the modernisation agency. The Government have already decided that 25 per cent of health bodies will have red status and so one in four will get that kind of interference. Is this really a plan based on devolution of power?
And how, precisely, will NHS bodies be classified into green, yellow and red? This is hugely important. My noble friend Lord Howe referred to the categorisation by the King's Fund in last week's Health Service Journal using criteria outlined in the NHS Plan. It showed a marked regional bias, with most of the red status bodies being in the deprived areas of the north and most of the green status bodies
There are many detailed questions. How often will categorisations be checked? Will there be appeal procedures for health bodies which believe that they have been unfairly rated? Who will review the arbitrary percentages? What additional resources will be used in operating this system, as this too will suck money away from patient care? Significant sums of NHS money will be held back from the general system of resource allocation for a new performance fund--eventually #500 million a year; a vast amount, enough to build three or four new hospitals every year. That will be dished out according to the traffic lights. Are the Government satisfied that there are robust systems to measure performance in the NHS to underpin this system? Do those systems command the support and respect of the NHS bodies affected? Are the Government happy that the money will be used effectively? How can the NHS bodies plan if they are worried that the lights might suddenly change from yellow to red or from green to red?
I understand that already in this current year a significant amount of performance money is being held back for allocation to bodies based on how well they are doing. Is that system working well in practice? Is it directing performance funds to the most deserving health bodies? Will that system, with which the NHS is becoming familiar, underpin the new, much more ambitious, #500 million performance fund? If that is not the case, precisely what system will be used? Many people in the NHS need answers to those questions.
Improving the performance of the NHS is a non-party matter. We all want to see a path towards an NHS which constantly improves its performance and delivers more and better patient care. But we must be careful to ensure that the involvement of the centre is well designed and involves as little central intervention as possible. I do not make a case for no intervention. That is unrealistic. But I do make a case for devoting the bare minimum amount of resources to central activities, thus maximising the money available for patients. At the end of the day, patient care and health improvement are delivered by the front-line staff, supported by their managers. A worthy aim should be to liberate those managers and keep the heavy hand of the centre as far away as possible.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, I have followed with interest those parts of the Queen's Speech which relate to crime. The emphasis on addressing certain aspects of the problems of crime in our society is of course to be welcomed. The attempt to do something about the unacceptable anti-social behaviour and alcohol-related violence which makes life such a misery for our law-abiding citizens should be supported--such as giving councils greater powers to ban drinking in some public places and tougher action on publicans who repeatedly flout the law. Giving priority to children leaving care and to ex-prisoners for local authority housing is likely to
However, as we have already heard, the proposal to impose curfews on those under 16 years of age is much more complicated. Not only is the problem of the adequacy of police manpower to implement such a scheme a very real one, but also the potential for damaging delicate relations between the police and very difficult young people is high. Curfews would simply have the effect of pushing the problem out of sight while doing little to address the causes of it. However, I do know of a scheme initiated by the police in Hamilton, Scotland, that has been successful. It has cut crime on the streets after dark and has helped to protect youngsters at risk. It has also involved the police in very positive initiatives such as a football club for children who otherwise had nothing to do. But they--the police--do not see this initiative as a curfew. It is, rather, an exercise in child protection, which is very different. If the Government were able to make it possible for similar initiatives to happen in England and Wales, they would have our support.
However, there are existing trends in this country relating to the imprisonment of children and young people which the Queen's Speech does absolutely nothing to address and which should be of the greatest concern to each and every one of us. I really wonder whether Members of your Lordships' House or people in the country at large are aware that we are now locking up children of 12, 13 and 14 years of age in detention and training centres which are essentially child prisons and that we are doing so at an increasing rate. There is an important distinction to be made between detention and training centres and local authority secure units. The former represent the nearest equivalent to prison, where the regime has a punitive rationale and the children are called Xtrainees". The latter, which cater for exactly the same group of highly disruptive, dysfunctional and even dangerous children who have all committed imprisonable offences, have a therapeutic rationale.
According to the Youth Justice Board, on 5th December there were 93 children of 14 years and under in detention and training centres and a further 49 aged 15 and 16, making a total of 142. I believe that figure to be 142 too many. I am well aware that since the Youth Justice Board began its work in setting up youth offending teams the general thrust has been to address offending behaviour, to promote non-custodial penalties and to start to implement the principles of restorative justice, all of which are greatly to be welcomed. But despite those aspirations, the reality is that we are imprisoning more children and young people than ever before, and the younger the child the faster the rate of increase.
The population of 15 to 17 year-old boys has more than doubled since 1993 and about 12 per cent more under 18 year-olds are being detained than a year ago. The figure for girls is even worse. Their numbers have increased fivefold since 1993, and despite a commitment from the Government that after April, 15 and 16 year-old girls would not be held in prison but
After the Medway Secure Training Centre opened in 1998 and was forced to close less than a year later following a fire, it was the subject of a highly critical report. It then reopened, despite strong recommendations from many quarters that it should not do so. It was followed by two more STCs, all in the teeth of evidence that these regimes do not and cannot help such children to change their behaviour and attitudes and thus stop their anti-social and criminal ways. Instead, they reinforce them. The recent follow-up inspection at Medway noted improvements, but also indicated that there was a long way to go. These institutions are far too big and far too remote from the homes of the children who are sent there. The lack of adequate numbers of experienced professional care staff means that achieving anything lastingly positive is an impossible task.
Local authority secure units provide all these elements, at a fraction of the cost, which is around an unbelievable sum of #2,500 per week in DTCs. Local authority units must comply with the Children Act which, if noble Lords will forgive the acronyms, DTCs and YOIs do not. For those children who do need to be locked up--I certainly believe that there are those who need to be in a secure unit for the public safety and for their own safety, and as a children's panel member in Scotland I have on a number of occasions committed young people to secure accommodation--then it is these units which need to be made available in much larger numbers.
In March this year, a Written Answer from the Home Secretary stated that local authority secure units have to keep some places free and unavailable to the Youth Justice Board Xfor welfare purposes", thus making the distinction between those who offend and those who do not. I am glad to say that in Scotland, where no child under the age of 15 is imprisoned, and very few under the age of 16--even then, only briefly--the children's panel system makes no distinction, but regards all children in trouble, whether or not with the law, as in need of help with their welfare.
It is little wonder that the Children's Society, which just the other day produced a report called Tough Justice, has urged that no children under the age of 18 should be imprisoned anywhere. These people work at the coalface, as it were, as I did at one time. They have a deep understanding of the problems. Furthermore, we should greatly welcome the wholehearted endorsement of the report from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, who is not in his place, feels that this is Xunrealistic". If the limitations of knowledge and understanding and, indeed, the imagination of sentencers and the Youth
We have a solution in the local authority secure units for those who need to be removed in the interests of public safety, and we have a wide range of community penalties which do attempt to address the core of the problem. We must stop demonising our children and locking them away in greater numbers and at greater expense than almost any other European country, believing that there is no effective alternative, because there is.
Finally, I believe that it is also a question of common humanity. In these tearaways, for whom violence and aggression is a common, casual and routine experience, such behaviour must always be condemned and never condoned. But the behaviour is not synonymous with the individual. The individual in this case is a child who, like all children, has a fundamental need to be cherished--somehow. Meanwhile, what we are currently doing is ineffective, counter-productive and wrong.
Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, as we jump between health and home affairs, I am tempted to begin with a topic which bridges the two. I think both noble Lords on the Front Bench may be aware of my interest in the effects of diet on criminal behaviour. I was particularly pleased to see a mention of this in the Committee on Toxicity's report in July on Adverse Reactions to Food and Food Ingredients, which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was good enough to bring to my attention when it came out. Although the committee rather played down the evidence, and the Home Office has never been too keen on it anyway, it was good to see the link made in its recommendations for research, especially in the area of childhood hyperactivity. I believe that mainstream recognition of this factor, in some behavioural problems at least, is long overdue.
But it is about other Xalternative" approaches that I principally want to speak this afternoon, in the hope of discovering more about the Government's policy towards complementary and alternative medicine. CAM, as we are now learning to call it, was the subject of a recent inquiry by a sub-committee of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, on which I was fortunate to serve as a co-opted member. It is noticeable that CAM is still barely mentioned in policy documents. It was not, perhaps understandably, in the gracious Speech; not, so far as
What our committee has done, most ably chaired by my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant, is to map out a way forward under a number of headings, notably regulation, professional training, research, information and delivery. We shall have the opportunity to debate our report in due course, so it would be wrong to go into detail today; but it would be useful if the Minister could give the House an idea of the Government's thinking on some of these fronts.
Much of what we recommend is, I hope, good common sense. Therapy bodies need to organise themselves better and more transparently, and put in place proper systems of regulation, which in many cases need not be statutory. Practising doctors and non-medical practitioners need to work more closely together and train to the same standards, under independent accreditation. Medical schools need nowadays to familiarise their students with CAM, so that doctors will know at least as much about the possibilities as their patients. CAM practitioners need to be better schooled in evidence-based medicine. Access to therapies on the NHS should continue to be through GP referral.
Where we have asked the Government to step in is in two areas where we felt there would be little progress unless they did, to the disadvantage of patients at large. The first is research. It is true that in the past some therapists, not usually from the major disciplines such as acupuncture or osteopathy, have been reluctant to test what they have been doing in a methodical way. Now the problem is more to do with a lack of infrastructure, know-how, and especially of funding. We ask the NHS R&D Directorate and the Medical Research Council specifically to pump-prime this area with some dedicated funding to create a few integrated centres of excellence, on the successful American model. This would do more towards discovering what works for what conditions, and how safely and economically, than any other approach. I believe it has the potential to pay handsome dividends in public health, and I very much hope that the Government share this vision.
The expectation of the dental and medical authorities, and it is fair to say of the Government also, was that the safety and effectiveness of fluoridation would be confirmed. That expectation was disappointed. In addressing the five principal questions that were asked, the report is studded with phrases such as Xlimited quantity", Xmoderate quality", Xa small number of studies", Xneeds further clarification", Xsurprising to find that little high quality research has been undertaken", Xinsufficient quality to allow confident statements", Xnot...enough good quality evidence...to reach conclusions". Important gaps in the evidence base were identified.
I pay tribute to the Government for having agreed to institute a high-quality scientific review--the first and only systematic, that is unbiased, assessment of the evidence in half a century of water fluoridation. I pay tribute to them for now taking steps, through the Medical Research Council, to put some much-needed research in hand, not before time. I cannot, however, pay tribute to the dental lobby in the aftermath of the York report.
I am aware that many of your Lordships have had briefings from the British Dental Association, the British Fluoridation Society and/or the National Association for Equity in Dental Health. I am aware, as we all are, that briefings by professional bodies, including professors of dentistry, carry weight with the public, are likely to be believed and therefore bear a particular responsibility for accuracy. These briefings and press releases are little short of extraordinary.
I have collated four pages of statements culled from these documents, with alongside them for comparison quotations from the text of the report itself. I can give the flavour of them in two or three short examples. I have placed copies in the Library for those who would like to read more.
This is an important public health issue. It is not the Government who are likely to be misled by such inaccurate statements--at least I hope not--so much as local councils, the public and, dare I say it, Members of Parliament, who have even been urged to put down Questions on this false basis. It is essential to put the record straight. Anyone in doubt about the facts should, as always, go to primary sources. The York report is a long one, but the summary and conclusions are only four pages each and are not hard to understand. I would urge any noble Lord who is thinking of tabling Questions not to rely on briefings, whether from dentists or opponents, but to go to the report itself.
Because I am known to oppose the fluoridation of water, I have taken the greatest care to keep in step with the leading scientists at York and to write and say nothing in interpretation of their report which goes beyond the evidence. I have the permission of Professor Sheldon, the founding director of the NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at York, who chaired the advisory board which oversaw the whole review process, to quote him as follows.
One prime example is the encouragement of a move towards care trusts. This is a vital step in attempting to see that individuals do not fall into the gaps in provision between health and social care. It is often the most vulnerable who do so. Indeed, XMind the gap"--the echo of the Underground platforms--might be a good motto for the Secretary of State to bear in mind. We surely all look to a seamlessness in care provision as an ideal for which to aim.
It is a gap in the care of the whole person upon which I wish to comment. The Secretary of State, when outlining plans to improve GPs' surgeries, particularly in the inner cities, reminded us that primary care is the first port of call for patients. Indeed, it is within primary care that we have the greatest opportunity to make a lasting difference to the well-being of individuals and strengthen the fabric of communities. But, as I look ahead, I see an increasing risk of isolation and a loss of a caring community for many people. Isolation, of course, leads to the disintegration of health and of order and cohesion in society, for no one is an island.
With the decline of the traditional supportive family unit, increasing numbers of single-person households, an ageing population, the proliferation of headphones and mobile phones in the street, of dot.com shopping
Of concern is the fact that primary care within the National Health Service is ill-equipped to improve matters. Healthcare is becoming increasingly fragmented. Shopping precinct drop-in surgeries, NHS Direct, large GP co- operatives, developments in information technology, increasing medical specialisation, even in general practice, have all come about with good reason, but they have greatly increased the chance of an individual patient falling into the gaps through a lack of consultation and joined-up care.
Time pressures in traditional general practice mean that consultations are all too brief and there is little chance to listen carefully to the many factors--disease of body, mind, spirit, emotions and relationships--that can precipitate ill health. All these factors can inform the medical diagnosis.
People need to be heard, understood, believed and valued. Perhaps that is one reason why increasing numbers are turning to complementary medicine and alternative approaches to healing and good health--the noble Earl touched on CAM. They receive a particular treatment which may or may not be helpful but, above all, they are buying attention and time to be heard. It must also be a cause for concern that many therapists are unregulated and have no medical training. They may be unable to draw together the signs and symptoms that become evident and a key diagnosis may be delayed.
I recently chaired a House of Bishops working party, which included members of the medical and healthcare professions, to assess the state of the ministry of healing in the Church of England in the contemporary healthcare context. The substantial report--some 400 pages--A Time to Heal was published in May this year. Many of the recommendations, together with a Guide to Good Practice which was sent to all clergy in the Church of England, reflect the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to healthcare that overtly includes the spiritual dimension that is so frequently overlooked or ignored. If life becomes more isolationist and lacks the meaning that community brings, then spiritual loss and pain will become increasingly significant, often manifesting itself through the only acceptable route--that of physical pain and sickness.
The importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to healthcare was brought home to me not long ago when I confirmed a patient in the neurological ward of one of our hospitals in the diocese. It was a moving, communal occasion, as the other patients, the nurses, the neurosurgeon and the manager of the unit, as well as the chaplaincy team shared in the simple service, all of us united in care for the wholeness of the patient.
I believe that the training of doctors, nurses, clergy and theological students in the pastoral and spiritual aspects of collaborative healthcare and ethics will become increasingly necessary. I urge Her Majesty's Government, when looking to take forward the
At the end of the day, modern, efficient surgeries will have a limited impact on health. Providing training in pastoral and spiritual care and time for hard-pressed doctors and nurses and all those involved in social and healthcare to offer more truly joined-up treatment and care will be a vital step in reversing the trends to which I have alluded. If that happens, XMind the gap" will no longer be an echo that points to deficiencies in our NHS provision.
Baroness Gale: My Lords, I was pleased to note that the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill was included in the gracious Speech. I had personal satisfaction in seeing the Bill published yesterday. In my previous role as general secretary of the Labour Party in Wales, I helped to draw up the Labour Party manifesto for the Welsh Assembly elections in 1999. One of our commitments in the manifesto was to the introduction of a children's commissioner for Wales.
A Children's Commissioner for Wales was the first recommendation of the Waterhouse Report on child abuse in North Wales, presented to Parliament in February this year. This measure is included in the Care Standards Act and is now being put into effect. The Children's Commissioner, Peter Clarke, has been appointed and will soon take up his post. He is a man of great experience; and I am sure that everyone in Wales will welcome his appointment and wish him every success in his demanding new post.
The new Bill will extend the power and role of the children's commissioner. The interesting point about the new measure is that it came into being as a result of close co- operation between the Assembly and Westminster. The Bill is based on the recommendations of the Assembly's Health and Social Services Committee in its report, A Children's Commissioner for Wales, published in May this year.
This is an excellent example of devolution working at its best. Those of us who campaigned for devolution for many years can now see the benefits. The introduction of the Bill shows clearly that the Government are prepared to embrace the central concept of devolution--with different parts of the United Kingdom tackling today's important issues in their own ways. It is the first example of XWales only" primary legislation since the establishment of the Welsh Assembly. It shows, too, that the partnership is working well: I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Wales for his commitment and dedication in ensuring that the wishes of the Assembly were listened to and are now included in the Bill.
In the past, children's voices have not been listened to: we are all aware of the tragic cases of child abuse. We have debated and discussed reports in your Lordships' House. The children's commissioner will not, of course, be able to prevent all cases of abuse. But at last the children of Wales will have a much greater degree of protection, as well as the new powers in the Bill ensuring their welfare and rights. I am delighted with the measures set out in the Bill.
In conclusion, I am certain that over the years this new post of Children's Commissioner for Wales, and all its implications, will be closely watched and that it will provide a good example to others, who may wish to follow the Welsh example. Much is expected from this new post, but one thing is certain: the children of Wales will be the beneficiaries.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, this is a health and home affairs debate in which I wish to speak only about the constitution. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, was particularly welcome. One hopes that it will warrant a considered response. Noble Lords on all sides of the House will have taken note of the recent criticism of the monarchy and disparagement of the parliamentary process, which could well engender disintegration of the constitutional structure. Dismemberment of your Lordships' House and devolution have already weakened that structure.
The purpose of this speech is to consider some of the questions arising and to suggest, as I have discussed with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, with whom I always discuss what I propose to do, that there should be a full debate on the constitution arranged through the usual channels; and, if that cannot be done, that a curtailed debate should perhaps ensue on the Motion of my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree currently to be found listed under the XNo Day Named" business in the Minutes of Proceedings.
As concerns the Monarch, the criticism in the Guardian newspaper and in the Early Day Motion, not normally debated in the other place, could be directed to undermine our evolutionary, constitutional structure under the Queen in Parliament, the
The people are simply entitled to know where this Government stand and in due course to read the intentions of all political parties, including my own, in substance and in some detail in the election manifestos. They need to understand how such intentions will affect the monarchy, the constitution, the Commonwealth, international relations, the economy, voluntary bodies and much else besides. If there is not to be a political turmoil of unimaginable distress and disaster, implementation of any such measures would have to be approved by a very substantial majority of the people on a referendum.
On another plane, in the Quintine Prophesy of Xelective dictatorship", the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, identified a virus that would infect, debilitate and destroy the body politic. It is indeed sad and most unfortunate that the wisdom of the noble and learned Lord is not at the disposal of the House this evening to prescribe an antidote, as his prophesy has now been all but fulfilled. That is not because the bread of the hustings has become the telly-snack, but because the parliamentary process--the dignity of Parliament--has been disparaged in favour of the doctored spin, the contrived leak and overt ministerial dissension, which has pre-empted debate in Parliament on what is the business of Parliament. It is also because the Parliament Act is now routinely misused for a purpose for which it was never intended; namely, to enforce government by decree.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington--whose personal and political integrity is not to be called in question--considers, as Leader of the House, that this House should be treated as subservient to another place. Albeit that since 1911 this House, by convention, has acknowledged the supremacy of another place: it has never been subservient. Its independence was expressly preserved by the Parliament Acts and remains as such under the House of Lords Act, which altered the composition of this House but in no way changed the powers and functions of this place. In particular, one refers to the exercise of the function, as sole guardian of the constitution, asserted by Lord Bryce (over 80 years ago) and as accepted by Lord Home of the Hirsel in his report on the House of Lords.
The untoward constitutional precedent set by resort to the Parliament Acts on the War Crimes Bill has been misused to forge a sort of Sword of Damocles suspended over the head of this House, as a permanent
There was much ado in the White Paper and in the debate on the House of Lords Bill about Xmodernising Parliament". But no proposal, indeed, no attempt, has been made by government to seek to safeguard the constitution, much of which is unwritten. No such measure was envisaged in the gracious Speech.
On the benign assumption that our evolutionary constitutional process and structure shall remain such as it is, a parliamentary reform Bill, an enabling measure, was read for the first time today. That Bill subsumes amendments moved and withdrawn on the then Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill which was spoken to on Report by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and by my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree and on Third Reading by my noble friend Lord Cranborne--the originator of this concept, albeit by another means, the concept being to seek to safeguard the constitution from piecemeal erosion by statute at the behest of government.
So, what should be done to safeguard the constitution from disintegration or from erosion? It can only be respectfully suggested to your Lordships that such is a question worthy of your Lordships' consideration in a full debate as soon as may be convenient. The measure of requisite clarification and assurance as I have agreed with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, cannot possibly be afforded in winding up on this debate.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I regret the absence in the gracious Speech of government proposals to improve the system for dealing with asylum seekers and for the support of asylum applicants. I realise that we are now in a pre-election situation and that there are not many votes in ensuring fair treatment for asylum seekers.
I do not question that this country in most cases is carrying out its basic obligations under international treaties and agreements. It is certainly carrying out the letter of them if not the spirit. How we deal with these, in many cases, desperate people who seek to escape from tyranny and threats to their lives and well-being has a great bearing on how we as a country are judged by the rest of the world. It is a test of our humanity and of our civilised values. I submit that at the moment we are failing in that respect.
During the past few months, as a result of the Government's dispersal scheme, I have got to know a lot of people who are labelled Xasylum seekers". Some of them have become friends. I have got to know a shop assistant from Ethiopia and her friend from Eritrea; a college lecturer from Zimbabwe; journalists from Iran who are highly educated, intelligent and energetic people; teachers and students; and Kurds from Iraq. I do not comment on the validity of any of their applications; that will be sorted out in due course. However, having talked to these people I realise that they did not come here to seek a comfortable life. They are not, as some of the tabloid newspapers would have
What is wrong with the system as it is currently operated? On 7th July I spoke in your Lordships' House of the way in which the dispersal arrangements are operated. I shall not repeat what I said then except simply to say that little has changed. The national providers and the local housing service providers are still in many cases simply not carrying out the contracts that they have with the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) or with the Government.
I wish to mention one or two aspects of what happens to people when they claim political asylum in this country. First, they have the problem of getting here. Some noble Lords may have seen yesterday's Daily Mail which ran a big story on a gentleman from Iran who has tried 20 times to get across the Channel from France. He will continue to try until he succeeds. Due to the XFortress Britain" policy which is now in place, people are finding it almost impossible to get into this country to claim asylum, as is their right, without putting themselves in situations of acute danger. Yesterday my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby said,
At least part of the voucher system is being reconsidered as a result of a revolt that occurred last summer at the Labour Party conference. However, a tiny detail of it is being reconsidered. A much more fundamental review ought to take place, because the voucher system is a disgrace to a civilised country.
However, people have to apply for asylum. The provision of legal representation and support are at best a lottery. There is meant to be a one-stop shop system. Where I live, the nearest one-stop shop is 30 miles away in Manchester. No transport is provided. Before dispersal, some people were provided with solicitors in the south of England. No funds are provided for the necessary telephone calls, postage, faxes and so on. These are not trivial matters but issues associated with their future. In many cases, they may be life and death matters. The quality of legal support and the assistance given are dismal.
I know of people in the north of England who have to travel 250 miles to Croydon for interviews. Some in the south of England have to travel to Liverpool for interviews. There seems to be no joined-up thought in that regard. People are told that they must turn up at 11 in the morning. They are provided with no money for an overnight stay but simply tickets for travel to and from the place of interview. The whole system is designed to make the situation as difficult as possible. It is an obstacle course. That cannot be right. Whether or not a person is entitled to asylum in this country, the system should ensure that the right decision is taken rather than providing obstacles.
Many of those people need friends with them because they do not speak the language; they are in a foreign country. Many are bewildered. There is no provision for transport for friends. Volunteers from the local community where those people have settled temporarily have to provide their own transport. The local voluntary group in my area attempted to obtain funding. It received a small amount from local authorities but made effort after effort to obtain funding from different grant-making bodies. It failed, despite what I believe were excellent applications. Far from being cushy, cosy or comfortable, the system is stacked against the applicants at almost every stage. That cannot be right in a civilised society.
In conclusion, perhaps I may tell noble Lords about someone I met last week. To my surprise, I found myself on Thursday night on a bus travelling from Budapest to Sarajevo. The journey took 12 hours. The young lady next to me on the bus was returning to Sarajevo for the first time in six years. She had been a
Some may say that once the war was over, she should have returned to Bosnia where she belongs despite the fact that there would have been no job for her. I believe that the dispersal of people of different ethnic origins, backgrounds and cultures throughout Europe enriches us. In many cases it invigorates our economy. Culturally and socially it is an enrichment. We should welcome it. This country's attitude is now far too defensive. All that we seem to bother about is keeping as many people as possible out of the country. But many of the thousands who manage to get here--as my noble friend said, there is almost certainly no legal way to do so--are fully entitled to asylum. We should welcome them and value the contributions they will make in the future, remembering the many refugees in the past who have enriched the society of this country.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, having attended here for so many years, people often ask me, XWhat is great about this House?" I reply, XThe humanity." I hobble about slowly these days with a stick. However, yesterday someone hobbling even more slowly was helped to his seat by an assistant. No doubt he later made a great speech. He is an eminent person having held one of the highest positions in this country. He was treated with great respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, spoke with humanity. It does him enormous credit. I hope he will not think I am patronising him when I say that he is a young and vigorous man and, as the years pass, he will realise that he is contributing to the humanity of this House, as he demonstrated by his speech today.
The police are all-important in the prevention of crime. I want to concentrate on one essential question. Is the penal policy of the Government any different in essentials from that of the former government? After three and a half years in power is the policy of this Government any different from that of Michael Howard? Michael Howard was condemned by every humane or liberal-minded person--certainly by all the Labour people I knew. Michael Howard was supposed to be the worst Home Secretary on record. Within four years the prison population had increased by 50 per cent despite no increase in crime. Is this Government's policy any different?
One of the most astute dialecticians of the age will reply to the debate. I know how clever he will be. There are 30 speeches to reply to; he will ignore this speech. He is a very clever man. I do not expect an answer today. No answer is available that is any good and he has a lot of other business on hand.
I ask this question. Is the policy of this Government on penal matters any different from that of the former government? It would be sad if it were not. The Government always said that their policy would be totally different. What are the facts? In the age of Howard, the prison population went up by 50 per cent despite no increase in crime. This Government have kept it fairly steady, but it is going up now. Some forecasts say that it may go up a lot in the next few years; others disagree. I was given an Answer in the House on that some time ago. The Minister may be too busy to reply tonight, but I am at least entitled to ask him the question, which may come back to haunt him in his dreams: do the Government have any plans for reducing the prison population in the next few years instead of letting it increase?
I understand that there are more life prisoners in this country than in the rest of Europe put together. There are currently 4,000 more people in prison than what is regarded as the official norm. Are the Government doing anything to alter policies or are they sticking to the same old Howard policy? I shall be lucky to get an answer, but the issue will come back again and again.
When they have a moment to spare, the Government may well say that the number of people in prison does not depend on them. There was no legislation to produce the 50 per cent increase during the age of Michael Howard. There was simply an atmosphere that no one doubted was created by the Government. My subsidiary question is whether the Government accept any responsibility for the number of people in prison or whether they say that the issue is nothing to do with them and is just down to the courts.
As I draw to a close, I shall try to hold out some hope to the Government. I am not so simple as to suppose that any penal reformer would last more than five minutes as Home Secretary. My dear old friend the great writer Evelyn Waugh once said, XIf I were Home Secretary, we would all be murdered in our beds". If
At least the present Home Secretary, who is an enlightened man and a Christian socialist, has said that he wants prison to be constructive. How can it be constructive if the numbers are increasing? That is the crucial question. This is not a brilliant idea of mine. All the penal reform organisations and the House of Commons have said the same. I hesitate to quote the Chief Inspector of Prisons, whom I admire more than anyone else in his field, but anyone reading his reports will reach the same conclusion as I did: that it is impossible to call prison constructive when it is so disgracefully overcrowded.
So there it all is. Do the Government agree that they are essentially pursuing the same policy as Michael Howard? There have been one or two good things, such as tagging, and one or two bad things, but in the essentials the policy is the same. It is no good Ministers denying that, because it is the general opinion. I talk to people involved in all aspects of the penal system and everyone agrees that there is no difference between the policy of this Government and that of the previous government. Leaving aside the past three years, are they going to make a difference in the future?
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, it is always a pleasure--indeed, it is a great honour--to follow the noble Earl, whose views on penal reform are always succinct. There is no doubt in any of our minds that he is a very considerable human being.
Having listened to a substantial proportion of each day's debate on the Queen's Speech in this House, I am struck by the way in which the Government's thinking is coming off the rails. I do not mean that as a quip or a comment on the present deplorable state of our railways, but the cracked rail seems to reflect the state of the Government's thinking on a number of issues.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, opened the debate euphorically last Thursday, banishing the condition of economic bust to Never Never Land and claiming perpetual economic boom as the Government's domain. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, corrected the imbalance in her assessment with a gentility that I could never muster.
I would feel more assured of the Government's command of the economy in the global marketplace if they occasionally hinted at the faintest possibility of a recession in the not too distant future--not necessarily one of their own making, but one thrust upon them by external forces. What would then become of their long-term spending plans for the NHS and other services, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, at
It is not easy to find new subjects on the last day of the debate on the Queen's Speech, but I shall say a little about what has become known as postcode prescribing--the situation in which certain drugs are available in certain health trust areas, but not in others. I think that the Minister agrees that that is inequitable and tends to create a two-tier health service.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence is responsible for examining new drugs and advising authorities on their use. Unfortunately, the process takes time. As many of the new drugs are expensive, there is a suspicion that a reference to NICE is a delaying tactic that means a rationing of availability. My honourable friend Dr Liam Fox in the other place has come up with the idea of an exceptional medicines fund to reduce postcode rationing and restore clinical judgment to its proper primacy in deciding on treatment. I commend that proposal to the Government.
We have heard a great deal about the partial availability of beta interferon, which can bring relief to sufferers from multiple sclerosis, but there are other drugs and treatments, such as enbrel and remicade, used to relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis, that are available in the United States but are not widely used here, despite clinical judgments in their favour. I hope that the Government will look again hard at the issue, because they could relieve a great deal of suffering and improve the lives of thousands of people.
Like my noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Howe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, I also wish to draw attention to the reference in the Queen's Speech to the proposal to extend the functions of the children's commissioner for Wales, established under the Care Standards Act, which we passed in the last Session. I do so for two reasons. First, it stems from a prime recommendation in Sir Ronald Waterhouse's extensive and thorough report on child abuse in North Wales, entitled, Lost in Care.
The contents of that report shocked all who read it. As the noble Baroness said, the report stated that there should be an independent children's commissioner for Wales whose duties should include ensuring that children's rights are respected through the monitoring and oversight of the operation of complaints and whistle-blowing procedures, examining the handling
Sir Ronald's recommendation, which mainly concerned children in care, was endorsed and amplified by the National Assembly, which sought special primary legislation to extend the commissioner's functions to cover the protection of all children in Wales. That, of course, has meant that the Care Standards Act 2000 must be amended. That is essentially what the Bill now does so far as concerns Wales. Why the benefits of the Bill, of which the Government are clearly convinced, are not extended to England is a question for the Government to answer. Personally I would appreciate the views of my noble friend Lord Kirkham, who made such an eximious speech earlier in our debate and who is clearly interested in this aspect of care.
I also focus on the Bill which relates to the commissioner because it is a landmark in the Assembly's history. It is the first time that the Assembly has applied to Parliament for primary legislation to meet a perceived Welsh need. It means that the arrangements laid down by the Government of Wales Act for the provision of special Welsh legislation are beginning to work, even though the draft protocol on the primary legislative procedure to be followed by the Government and the National Assembly has yet to be formally agreed between them.
I believe that the lack of a clear understanding and transparent collaboration to date led to arguably inappropriate provision for Wales in some of the measures that were presented to your Lordships last Session. The very fact that we now have to adapt the Care Standards Act to the needs of Wales with this new Bill is proof of that. It is hoped that that period is drawing to a close.
This is not the time to discuss the Bill in any detail. However, there are obvious caveats related to the proposals. While there is clearly a proven need to safeguard children in the care of the statutory authorities and, indeed, to safeguard their interests more generally, the position and responsibility of parents must not be undermined. Most of us would consider that parents should be encouraged and supported in their role, as my noble friend Lord Waddington suggested earlier.
I hope that we shall have an interesting discussion on the Bill when it comes before your Lordships and that the Government will assist us by providing a synopsis of the Assembly's views so that we may take proper account of them in our deliberations. I urge the Government to assist us in that because I know that I am not the only Member of your Lordships' House who finds it difficult to follow the proceedings of the Assembly on the Internet, aspiring nerd that I am as well as bard.
This Parliament has seen more constitutional reform than any Parliament for a very long time, certainly since the Parliament elected in December 1910. The programme for reform has been strongly supported by the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, not only have we supported it; we have actively co-operated with it through the membership of some of our leaders in the Joint Cabinet Committee. I believe we could say that the programme is one which the Liberal Democrats have initiated. These are constitutional changes for which we have been calling for many years. It is our agenda to which the Labour Party is a latecomer, although it is welcome for all that.
This is almost certainly the last time in this Parliament in which we shall debate a gracious Speech. It is time to review what has been achieved in terms of constitutional reform and to consider what remains to be done.
I start by referring briefly to two Bills enacted at the end of the last Session which have constitutional implications. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act has gone some way towards cleaning up the political process by requiring transparency for substantial donations and by limiting spending on election and referendum campaigns. We welcome it. The Freedom of Information Act is not the Act that we wanted, but it has been greatly improved as a result of scrutiny by Select Committees in both Houses and by further improvements secured on the passage of the Bill through Parliament. It represents a useful first step but it needs--and we hope will get--further improvement.
Only one Bill in this Session has constitutional implications--the Regulatory Reform Bill, which will involve significant shifts from regulation by Act of Parliament to regulation by order. It will need to be examined with great care. We shall have the opportunity to look at it on Second Reading tomorrow week. Therefore, I do not propose to say any more about it now.
That leaves four main issues: the Human Rights Act, electoral reform, devolution and the future of your Lordships' House. I take, first, the subject of human rights. The incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into United Kingdom law through the Human Rights Act is up and running. It is off to a good start. No doubt many bad human rights points are being taken in the courts, but the judges are proving themselves to be adequately robust and have thrown them out. Many members of the
One decision that was pilloried was the decision of the Scottish court in Stott v. Brown, which held that the obligation of the keeper of a car to disclose the name of the driver breached the convention right not to incriminate oneself. That decision was overturned by the Privy Council a couple of weeks ago. I believe that it is unfortunate that that very sensible decision of the Privy Council received little or no publicity in the media, whereas the original decision had a great deal of publicity.
Even in relation to human rights, where I believe the Government have achieved much, there is more that needs to be done. First, we need a human rights commission to inform and educate people about their rights and to help them to enforce them. Secondly, we need to ratify the 12th Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights which will provide a free-standing ban on discrimination to supplement the more limited ban on discrimination which is at present contained in Article 14.
I turn to electoral reform. What has been achieved is not something contained in a single Bill but in several Bills which have produced several different systems. We have the additional member system for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Assembly. We have STV in Northern Ireland. We have the closed list system for European Union elections. We have the supplementary vote system for the Mayor of London. Those are steps in the right direction and I believe that they have justified themselves.
Many people have criticised the closed list system, in particular for EU elections. We should prefer an open list. But first-past- the-post is, frankly, the worst kind of closed list system because the electors are voting for a closed list of one.
We want to see proportional representation introduced as soon as possible for all local government elections. That is essential to avoid the corrupt and complacent single party government which is found in all too many local authorities. That is perhaps relatively uncontroversial because many local authorities have already multi-member wards. But it is an important step forward.
The final and crucial step would be to have a referendum for proportional representation at Westminster. The constitutional implications of that are, of course, enormous. Even if a very limited system were proposed, as by the Jenkins Committee, an absolute majority of one party in the other place would be relatively rare and coalition government would become the norm, rather than the exception. We believe that to be a desirable result, but that is something for the people of this country to choose in a referendum.
The next issue is devolution. I have no intention of discussing Northern Ireland, which is a subject for a different debate in which I am not qualified to take part. I am not in a position to say whether devolution
There is no simple or clear-cut answer to the West Lothian question. I start with a couple of propositions which are clearly not the answer. The first is a separate English Parliament. That would be the high road and, I believe, a very quick road to the break-up of the Union. An English Parliament would very soon be seen as becoming more important than the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It would control most of the present Whitehall spending departments. Conflicts would undoubtedly develop between the UK and English Parliaments and if, as is likely, the English Parliament became seen as the dominant body, I believe that Scotland would opt very rapidly for independence.
Secondly, I believe that the solution is not to have a formal exclusion of Scottish MPs from voting on issues relating only to England and Wales. That could cause chaos. If an opposition had a majority in England and Wales, they could hijack government Bills and turn them into something very different. In other words, the opposition would set up a government of their own in relation to England.
Our view is that no formal solution is to be found which is workable and we need to develop a constitutional convention. A government whose majority is dependent on Scottish votes should not legislate for England and Wales in a way which is unacceptable to a majority of the Members of Parliament from those nations. But the government should be able to use the votes of Scottish MPs to stop unwelcome legislation being forced upon them by the opposition.
That means that the legislative programme for England and Wales would have to be negotiated between the government and the opposition on the probably relatively few occasions when the majority was dependent on Scottish votes. I admit that that is an untidy solution but it is workable.
Finally, I turn to the question of the reform of your Lordships' House. Stage One has been completed. In that, we on these Benches backed the Government. That meant that the House of Lords Act had the legitimacy of having been backed by parties which together represented a clear majority of the voters at the last election. The reforms of the House of Lords Act have given your Lordships' House greater legitimacy and authority and I think that it has shown that during the present Session.
During the debates on the House of Lords Bill, many Members of this House doubted that we should ever reach stage two. It now seems that we face a different danger. To judge from the messages coming from the Government, there will indeed be a stage two. The Government will include stage two plans in some detail in their manifesto and if they win re-election--and I must say that few people would bet against that
It is also likely that the government plan will minimise the elected membership of your Lordships' House, restricting it to one of the smaller options proposed in the Wakeham Commission report. If that is true, I believe that in your Lordships' House we face real problems. I was by no means encouraged by the statements in the last Session that the proposed Joint Committee of both Houses would be restricted to discussing the implementation of a second House of Lords Act and could not discuss its composition or powers.
Ninety years ago, the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 referred to an upper House being constituted on a popular and not an hereditary basis. Frankly, I find it astonishing that the Government are now apparently contemplating an upper House with only a small minority of elected Members. The composition of your Lordships' House is of fundamental constitutional importance.
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