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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: As many people seem to agree I shall say no more. I hope that what I say will be of some interest, coming from a vantage point of 30 years of preoccupation with public awareness and knowledge of the law and the extent to which the general public relate to the law. I want to examine two issues. The first is the volume and complexity of lawmaking, which was touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, and the second is the issue of community in relation to the law and law enforcement. I would have loved to have heard the Queen's Speech open with the words, XMy Government, having enacted over 15 major anti-crime Bills since they came to power--more than in any similar period in parliamentary history--propose to devote all their resources to effective implementation of those Acts and to refrain from any further such legislation during this Session". Obviously, that is a Utopian hope but it is a real one. We all become so fully engaged with our particular concerns, and governments become so keen to deliver their manifestos, that the totality of what is done is lost to view.
My remarks are informed by the fact that the Citizenship Foundation, of which I am president, works with over half the state primary and secondary schools on an intensive basis. I am convinced that we are legislating in such volume and complexity that to a dangerous degree it is self-defeating. It is demoralising for those who have to deal with it, particularly the police whose chief officers often make positive noises about legislation because, I suspect, they believe that that is how they should react when a government say that they intend to do something.
The police on the ground and the courts have a very difficult life when dealing with major slices of legislation. Many justices of the peace, well referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, are at their wits' end trying to contend with new law. If anybody believes that we should, therefore, install stipendiary magistrates, he should contemplate the civic and cultural consequences of ripping out of the heart of the present system lay justices who have been the backbone of justice in this country. This process is also disorienting for local authorities which are often drawn into legislation, for example the Harassment Act and so on, and other groups that are affected by it.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, referred to teachers and headmasters. I refer to the difficulties of my profession in seeking to deal with the regulatory overburden of the Community Legal Service Scheme. It is demoralising, expensive and counter-productive, distances the public from the law, Parliament and democracy and damages its acceptance by the public who have no familiarity with the background to the legislation. They have not been asked whether they believe it to be good or bad and they have no ownership of it.
There are also great costs involved in the legislation which divert scarce revenue from enforcement. For example, in relation to the Human Rights Act we were told that there could not be a human rights commission because of expense. It is essential to the effectiveness of that crucially important piece of legislation that there is a commission to enable the public to get alongside it so that rights can be delivered to people rather than here or to lawyers. The costs of legal services have rocketed. It is easy to forget the immense extra cost, both private and public, of having to deal more and more through lawyers. To be fair to lawyers, they must grapple with legislation that is impenetrable, difficult and often ambiguous. Finally, the legislation is often futile. It does not achieve its stated purpose because it is so complicated that nobody gets round to enforcing it. Earlier reference was made to curfew orders. There is a very low take-up of anti-social behaviour orders. Banning orders under the dreaded and notorious Football (Offences and Disorder) Act have been few and far between. Although I am glad about that, that was not the Government's object.
This torrent of legislation is not just counter-productive but dangerous. In particular, criminal laws which have no public ownership can act rather like antibiotics which too often are pumped into the body politic so that they lose their self-healing efficacy and lay it open to general infection. I suggest to the Government--it may not be possible for the Attorney-General to deal with it tonight--that they give serious consideration to the introduction of an automatic impact assessment of legislation so that two or three years down the track a piece of legislation that affects the public can be investigated to see how far it has achieved its stated purpose. We are creating a land fit only for lawyers, and I speak as one.
I should like to address what I believe to be a primary source of criminality and anti-social behaviour: the breakdown of community life. There are many people in our society, a large proportion of whom are young people, who regard themselves as outsiders, almost outcasts. The body politic is only as strong as its weakest link. I have in mind individuals, families, groups and communities. If any one of those parts of a single body politic fails the whole system breaks down. I believe that we face a greater crisis in regard to criminal behaviour and democratic weakness, almost failure, than we are often prepared to acknowledge.
Earlier my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford--I am aware that he is unable to be here--referred to his father's pugilism on the streets of Wrexham. My noble friend said that it happened then, happens now and will always happen. But there is one big difference between Wrexham in, say, the 1920s and Wrexham in 2000. My father was born in the Welsh mining town of Abertillery where Saturday nights were riven by fights and drunkenness on a stupendous scale. My grandfather had the equivalent of a hearse in his baker's yard to which the police would strap comatose
But there are huge differences between then and now. First, on the whole in those days men, not kids, did that. Secondly, if they had been kids, by Jiminy cricket they would have been disciplined by their families and communities. Thirdly and most important of all, those communities were vigorous, vibrant, proud, autonomous and self-dealing. It is not an accident that the Baptist chapels which would have been attended by half those men each week had 1,500 children at Sunday school. They had their own community leaders and a sense of civic duty which was keenly felt by the best among them. They also had their own institutions and courts and were largely self-governing. So many of those things have gone.
More and more the Local Government Act 1970 will be seen as one of the most disastrous pieces of legislation in the history of this country. Today, towns like Abertillery and Sudbury, from which I come, have been stripped of their powers and have lost their pride, autonomy and local leaders. The quality of life in towns is no longer self-regulated and yet the Government continue to strip institutions and powers from them. It is a bit of a cheek that the Government should refer in the Queen's Speech to the continuing process of decentralisation. The process is not one of decentralisation, except in the great reforms in relation to Scotland, Wales and human rights, for which I take my hat off to the Government. After all, it was only at the end of the previous Session that we dealt with the centralisation of the probation service. That was a major change which removed semi-autonomous local probation committees and replaced them with local boards which are now the pawns of a central service. All of that is done in the name of national consistency. As I said then, consistency can be second or third rate.
I believe that if the Auld report suggests that justices of the peace have had their day we should genteelly take to the barricades, because the police will not be far behind. There are already indications that the Government want a consistent national service for the police. What a wonderful thing that will be, except that it will be another nail in the coffin of community life. Without vibrant, autonomous, organic, self-regulating communities we can forget about improvements to law and order, reductions in criminality and democratic vitality.
Communities must be allowed to learn from their mistakes. This is an unforgiving age, and both central and local government suffer from it. However, local communities are no different from individuals. Unless we are allowed to learn for ourselves we shall get nowhere. Broadly, I pay tribute to, and identify with, the observations on this theme by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham.
I acknowledge the excellent effort by the Government with their policy action teams. The 10th report contains the single most important finding of all 18 PAT groups; namely, that self-help is the key to everything. The essential phrase used is Xdoing and not
Finally, I pay tribute to the Government for putting citizenship in the school curriculum. There are difficulties about timing and teachers not being sufficiently prepared and having insufficient resources. But, far from some sub-Orwellian danger to the education process, I know from the work of the Citizenship Foundation--indeed, we had a launch this morning of material with Jack Straw and David Blunkett--that there is some real strategic hope that citizenship education can be made a way of empowering young people so that they take themselves seriously and have a sense of their own moral autonomy. Therefore, far from slavish adherence to the government of the day, they will actually stand up and say, XI do not agree and the reason I do not agree is one, two and three". All of that is important too.
We heard in the gracious Speech that in this Session your Lordships' House will be working on another programme of reforming and modernising legislation. I should like to follow other noble Lords in making some suggestions to this House and to the Government about making this programme as effective as possible and about the implementation of previous legislation, especially that on freedom of information. There have been calls in this Chamber for more clarity from government departments. Members of the Opposition and Cross-Benchers have called for less legislation. That is a cry that will become more popular unless the preparation of Bills before reaching Parliament is considerably improved. I believe that is a feasible objective if we draw some lessons from the worlds of modern business and technology about quality assurance, methods and validation. I hope the House will be interested in the views of a non-lawyer.
I am honoured to have been appointed to this House, and, furthermore, in its recently reformed state. However, I am conscious that the House is not and will not be taken as seriously as it should be unless it continues with its further evolution to a more democratically acceptable form. I echo the wise remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Therefore, I welcome the statement by the Leader of the House about the further work in this direction, which I hope will have the full support of the House.
I have been impressed by the effective work of this House on the Bills it has revised. But this work could be considerably improved, and, dare I say it, speeded up. Legislation is complex, but so are developing large computer programs and business systems. Both tasks have clear sets of objectives and both are based on
Currently the only quality assurance step in the legislation presented to this House is that it satisfies the European human rights regulations. When the recent Transport Bill was presented to this House, although it was intended as a strategic Bill to ensure both co-ordination of transport, environment and safety, the word Xenvironment" was not mentioned anywhere in it. One civil servant jovially remarked to me, XSo you noticed". The revising of Bills should not be an elaborate parlour game to spot the obvious omissions. An elementary application of quality assurance would have saved hours of debate in this House, although in the end a very satisfactory Act was produced. I hope my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General will consider seriously how such principles might be applied by Ministers guiding the legislation and by the parliamentary draftsmen and civil servants drafting Bills. For the proposed Bills for this Session we should have a detailed quality assurance statement before we begin our legislative discussion. The explanatory documents issued with Bills could well move in that direction.
In addition, those teams should be applying the methods of validation--a suggestion that fits with the recommendation of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, about the examination of Bills after Second Reading. For example, on the proposed Bill on court trials heard by juries I hope that there will be clearer empirical evidence than we have so far heard. Also I hope that in the Front Bench and Back-Bench arguments in the debates on the Bill, the professions of those providing evidence will not be so dismissively impugned as they were in the previous debate, which I was sorry to see descended much below the level this House should expect.
Part of the problem is secrecy. We had to rely in part on evidence provided by my noble friend Lord Borrie from New Zealand. There, as in other Commonwealth countries and the Irish Republic, openness has begun to reach into all parts of government in the way it has done for much longer in the United States of America. Although the American Government are certainly not perfect, especially regarding the dissemination of relevant information from foreign countries, that should be the next stage of freedom of information.
An urgent task for the Government and for this House in its legislation and in its questioning of government will be to ensure that the Freedom of Information Act ensures that government information becomes much readily available. A new culture of openness must be developed in the 50,000 organisations affected by the Act; for example, as pointed out by the Evening Standard last week in its account of the cover-up of a Concorde incident.
The circular to be issued by the Home Office will be very important, and, as with other Bills, so will follow-up actions based on the statements by Ministers during the passage of the Bill. I particularly welcomed the statements by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer on the release of scientific data. Already there is much more openness in government departments and agencies; for example, the Environment Agency data on flood areas and the Food Standards Agency data are now widely disseminated on the Internet. Those examples show that more freedom of information will save lives and property as well as helping people arrange their lives and the economy generally.
It is essential that Ministers and the Information Commissioner campaign and explain the new approach to open information. A transformation of the traditional British secretiveness is an integral part of Britain becoming a more harmonious and effective modern society, which I believe is the overarching goal of the legislation before us.
I should like to take this opportunity once again to commend the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for his involvement in dentistry and the dental strategy that has now been in place for four months. It is his face that is in all the dental press and it is his reputation that is at stake. If it is successful there will be significant changes to the way dentists work. Regrettably, I was unable to be present to hear the opening speeches, so I made a nuisance of myself earlier in the offices of the Official Report and read the Minister's speech. It was wide-ranging and informative but made no reference to the dental profession or dental strategy.
The strategy offers opportunities for both dentists and their patients. Implementation of the proposed measures will certainly lead to improvements in terms of access to NHS dentistry for patients in many areas. However, the Prime Minister's pledge that by April 2001--that could be about six weeks before an election--anyone who wants an NHS dentist will be able to find one will be achievable only if health authorities use their powers effectively. Unless the Government can address the funding crisis, dentists will continue to leave the NHS for the private sector.
Of course I welcome the allocation of #4 million for the Dental Care Development Fund, which will help about 250,000 patients to find a dentist. As the money is allocated directly to health authorities, they will have a greater input in the way money is spent and will be in a better position to use it to enable local dentists to treat more NHS patients. A recent poll from the Doctor/Patient partnership in the summer showed that 67 per cent of people said that they would be more likely to go to a dentist if they knew that they could definitely receive NHS treatment and 89 per cent said they had not experienced problems accessing NHS dental service appointments. Clearly, public confusion about the availability and accessibility of NHS dental services is commonplace. I hope that the Minister can confirm that this promised access campaign will not put pressure on the services provided for those patients who traditionally seek care from the community dental services within NHS trusts, including those patients with special needs.
The Government have also announced commitment payments to try to encourage dentists to return to the NHS. I fear that this is unlikely to encourage much change. To benefit from the loyalty payments, dentists will have to satisfy strict criteria--being aged over 35 and having worked for at least five out of the previous 10 years in the NHS. The 1,000 or so dentists who will qualify are likely to be already established in full-time NHS practice and would probably not be seeking to move into the private sector anyway. Dentists under the age of 35, who spend much of their time working in the NHS, will, with few exceptions, receive nothing.
Perhaps I may touch briefly on fluoridation. I am well aware that the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, will have given an opposite view to mine. The recent York Review has confirmed that fluoridation is safe and effective in reducing levels of tooth decay and is essential in the fight to reduce inequalities in dental health. The Government have announced that they will be,
The General Dental Council has made some serious decisions on modernisation of healthcare to encompass the ever increasing expectations of the public, profession and government. Reform of its constitution has been on the menu for several years, but it has not been realistic until the Health Act 1999 which makes changes possible by an Order in Council made under Section 60. The council has decided to cut its numbers to create a smaller unit which is more strategic in outlook but supported by a number of committee panels and working parties. There is an urgent need to make changes to the council's fitness to practise arrangements. There is a concern that existing procedures regarding complaints about private treatment do not meet patient needs sufficiently and there is need for a change in the law to allow direct regulation of the dental bodies corporate, as happens with the opticians and pharmacies. I know that the Minister will support these changes, but can he confirm that the Government will find time for this essential legislation very early in the new year?
There is general concern about the dental bodies corporate. Some dentists see them as a threat to their practices and others look at them as just an alternative way for patients to access services. With major players such as Boots involved and other practices being set up all over the South East, could the Minister not consider freeing up the restrictive practice, which prevents other practitioners working together to set up similar environments? At a time when the Government are encouraging small businesses and are trying to persuade dentists to improve facilities and equipment and see more NHS patients, it is utterly ridiculous that, unless it is possible to obtain one of the bodies corporate, which were set up before 1956 and are limited to 27, dentists themselves, or other groups who wish to set up a company to practise dentistry, are restricted from working together to do this. These bodies corporate change hands for hundreds of thousands of pounds and are snapped up as soon as they become available. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, could indicate whether this is not contrary to European restrictive practice law and also let me know whether he is aware of any current test cases against this legislation.
To return to health in general, I do regret the continual reference to funding. I am guilty in that I have done just that. But it is the fundamental issues that must be addressed. The assumption that greater availability of medical services, more doctors and health-related personnel, the construction of more hospitals and clinics and the development of a wider range of drugs and surgical techniques will lead to improvements in health, to increased longevity or to the eradication of disease is ill founded. Perhaps I may
That brings me to the recent report on complementary medicine by the Science and Technology Sub-Committee, on which I had the great honour to serve during the past 14 months. I also declare my interest as president of the all-party group on alternative and complementary medicine. I have just mentioned lifestyle. It is lifestyle and the maintenance of an effective immune system that are the essence of most complementary medicine. I remember discussing the relationship between nutrition and health and the harmful effect of free radicals in this House 20 years ago, when my noble friend Lady Trumpington was a junior health Minister. I was listened to with the usual tolerance of this House and then labelled an eccentric. The report, which I hope will be debated soon in the new year, makes a plea for funding for research into complementary therapies--not only the widely accepted therapies such as osteopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, herbal medicine andhomeopathy but the fringe therapies which even some members of the committee described as Xbunkum" but which do have sound anecdotal evidence as to their efficacy and are widely used.
I hope that the Minister will prepare himself and his department for the plea for adequate funding for complementary therapies and for research, for there is no doubt that a system of medicine which integrates the complementary therapies is the essential model for healthcare in the future.
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, in rising to welcome the Government's commitment in the gracious Speech to the implementation of the NHS Plan, I should like to deal briefly, as I am very conscious of the time, with one of the chief obstacles to progress; namely, the shortage of trained staff and ways in which that might be addressed. In doing so, I
Universities provide virtually all pre-registration education, and significant post-registration education, for doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives and the other professions allied to medicine. The NHS Plan sets out ambitious targets for additional student numbers. Their recruitment is certainly a challenge. Joint planning and joint working between the Department of Health and the Department for Education will be essential if the Government are to respond to the challenge. I know that my noble friend the Minister is acutely aware of that and I have every hope that the challenge can be met.
I say that because successful recruitment campaigns for nurses, often in partnership with local trusts, have led to an 18.5 per cent increase in recruitment to degree nursing programmes across the UK this year. Plans for further increases in student numbers in coming years are already in place. They rely on continuing the close working arrangements between education and the health service, in particular the adequate supply of high quality clinical placements. This will be one of the key points of focus for co-operation between higher education institutions and the NHS.
Another is moving forward the establishment of the two new medical centres announced earlier this year. They will start to teach their students in 2002. Additional student places in existing medical schools have resulted in 839 more medical students this year. A further round of bidding is now under way for another 1,000 medical student places. The results of that process will be announced in May 2001.
All of this is good news, but there is a significant gap which must be filled. An important aim for both the NHS and the universities is to reflect the broadest sections of the community in their recruitment to all the health professions. So the widening participation agenda must be linked to the health agenda.
Perhaps I may give one example aimed at opening up such opportunities. I refer to a local initiative called the Access to Medicine programme, centred on King's College in south London. It is designed to attract up to 50 students from a broader range of social and ethnic backgrounds to better reflect the local population. I have used this example because widening participation means actively seeking to draw on the talent of all groups in society. It means targeting and working with local networks of schools and community groups to reach new audiences who may not have even begun to consider either higher education or a professional qualification in a health related subject.
That is why innovative approaches and flexible delivery are crucial aspects of this work, if we are to attract new groups to these education programmes. So I congratulate the Government on expanding much more widely projects such as XPositively Diverse" which originated at Bradford Community Health
Finally, I hesitate to ask my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General to respond to a specific question. He has the formidable task of responding to four intensive days of debate in 20 minutes. However, I should be glad if he could say something in his reply about any obstacles the Government see in attracting these new students. I know, for example, that the Department of Health has set up a review of student funding arrangements. I hope that he will confirm that this will help to inform strategies for attracting more of these students in the future.
Lord Moran: My Lords, I am grateful to the Government Whips for agreeing to let me speak late in this debate. This morning I had to drive up through the floods of Wales which have brought misery to so many unfortunate people and I was not sure when I would be able to arrive. However, we did manage to get through, so I fear that I shall be able to add one more speech to those to which the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General has listened with such notable patience.
At the heart of home affairs, which we are debating today, must be the state of our democracy. I think that we need to take a new look at the way we are governed. Do we, or do we not, have government by consent and genuine consultation with the electors? Last month I was in the United States. My visit coincided with the beginning of this extraordinary presidential election, which the Americans I met took calmly, perhaps because none of them seemed to have any great enthusiasm for either of the candidates. Commentators have described the five week long proceedings in the American courts as a kind of Barnum and Bailey show, but I wonder whether noble Lords have been struck by the contrast between the agonising in America about what the majority of Florida voters really said and what went on in Nice, where the structure of the European Union was discussed by leaders who had not consulted their voters. They merely told them afterwards what had been decided. Which seems to noble Lords to be the more democratic arrangement?
In America I was also impressed by two other things. First, in a number of states, voters were asked for their views about certain local issues, with the arguments set out briefly but fairly. The questions were put by voters, not by the authorities. Voters were thus able to propose part of the political agenda. Here, by contrast, it is the Government who determine the agenda, as in the Queen's Speech. In Massachusetts, where we were staying, the voters were asked nine questions, such as whether state income tax should be
Secondly, it was pointed out to me that the parties in Congress were so evenly balanced that whoever eventually reached the White House would not be able to do much. I felt envious of a situation where political parties were more or less gridlocked and consequently hamstrung. How lucky are the Americans; how much less fortunate are we.
Reflecting on this, I wondered just how effective is our own system in consulting the wishes of the voters and seeking to meet those of their views that are sensible and reasonable. Apart from this House and the unelected European Commissioners, who run so many of our affairs nowadays, our ruling bodies--the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, county councils, parish and community councils--are all elected. But, once they are elected, they nearly all seem to feel free to do as they like and to be under no obligation to maintain touch with their electorates and ask them what they think.
Of course, many initiatives, both national and local, go through a consultation process, but too often this is no more than window dressing. Genuine consultation means more than just asking questions; it implies that something might be done differently as a result of the answers received--that the consultation will be taken seriously. Some time ago we were in Switzerland, where there was a proposal to build a new road. People in the area were being asked, XDo you want a new road? If you do, how do you think it should be paid for?". Nothing like that happens here.
We hear a great deal in this House about manifesto commitments enshrined in the Salisbury convention and repeatedly quoted by the Government as evidence of the will of the people. I wonder how valid those claims are. Most people that I know vote either against the party they dislike the most or for the general drift of one of the parties. Few of them read party manifestos. If, for example, they vote for a party because of its line on the NHS, they may not realise that they are then held to have expressed their will on everything else in the manifesto.
With us, what has been rightly described as an elective dictatorship means that the ruling party, especially if it has a substantial majority, can do anything it wants without any form of genuine consultation with the people. Sadly, our governments seem only too happy to proceed on this basis. The present government have just used the Parliament Act to ram through an Act legalising the buggery of girls of 16 against the wishes of this House, of the leaders of every faith and of distinguished medical opinion, and almost certainly against the general view of the public. Happily, no less an authority than my noble and learned friend Lord Donaldson of Lymington has suggested that the new Act is flawed and may be set aside by judicial review.
Europe is one area in which the Government do not normally consult either Parliament or the people. The Charter of Fundamental Rights was proclaimed at Nice and agreed earlier by leaders at Biarritz without this Parliament being given an opportunity to consider or approve it. We watched the usual hell's kitchen at Nice. I was puzzled to see a summit that was supposed to be about enlargement ignoring altogether the main problem--the common agricultural policy--which, in an expanded Union, must be impossibly costly unless it is drastically reformed.
We have learnt, too, that, without any consultation with Parliament or the voters, the Government have surrendered our veto in 34 areas, some of which may have serious implications for the future. This Government, in what they say publicly about Europe, are as disingenuous as the previous government, pretending in what they say publicly that there is no move towards a European state, when they know perfectly well that that is the ambition of the Commission and of most continental governments; and that after Nice the march to fuller integration will continue as before.
Even if they themselves are not averse to the emergence of a federal Europe, they know that they must move cautiously as the public clearly do not wish to see the end of an independent Britain. They are, moreover, stuck with the offer of a referendum on abolishing the pound, the one solitary instance of a decision to consult the people. They are clearly reluctant to hold one for the time being as they fear, with good reason, that they would lose it. Mr Mandelson blithely asserts that progress towards Xever closer union", enshrined as it is in the treaties, has now ended--just as Mr Hurd, as he then was, told us seven years ago that Maastricht offered us the chance to arrest the centralising, harmonising tendency.
This steady refusal to tell the people of this country what is happening and what we are doing--still less to consult them--has been going on ever since Mr Heath took us into the Community. The Government should be honest and candid with our people and ask them whether they would not prefer a better relationship with Europe, which I believe can be achieved only if we replace our full membership of the European Union--in which, manifestly, we do not really feel at home and many aspects of which, such as the common agricultural and fishery policies, do us serious damage--by a looser, more sensible relationship allowing for full trading links such as those achieved by Norway and, surprisingly, Mexico.
The Government's decision to commit a third of our Armed Forces to a European force without any consultation with Parliament or the public is only the latest and most alarming of their efforts to show us as good Europeans. It is a major step. Can your Lordships imagine the United States committing, say, the Sixth Fleet to NAFTA control? But our Government, without asking us, have done something
Mr Caspar Weinberger and Mr Cohen have warned us. Despite this, the new arrangements appear to make no provision for unified planning between the new force and NATO, for which the Americans very reasonably asked. I find Mr Cook's reassurances unconvincing. A new administration in Washington--if it does not conclude that the new force is so poorly thought out that it cannot be taken seriously--may eventually decide that NATO is indeed a relic of the past and go its own way. That would be a very serious matter for us.
The Conservatives now rightly denounce the effort to set up this fledgling European army, but it stems from the common security policies established by the Maastricht Treaty, which they signed. So they must share the responsibility for what has happened.
In the countryside, it is significant that one of the main cries from increasingly desperate people is, XListen to us". This is just what the Government do not do. They simply do not understand the problems of farmers who, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, told us last month, face a reduction in income of 27 per cent--a third--in one year from 1999 to 2000, and who are bombarded weekly with fresh instructions from Brussels.
The petrol price protests, supported by a sympathetic public, showed how exasperated many people were in the countryside, where a car is a necessity--more than ever now, given the lamentable state of the railways--and are fed up with paying the highest prices in the developed world, most of it taken by the Government. But there is no sign that the Government will really listen to or talk to country people and determine how to put things right for them.
In Northern Ireland, which is still--just--a part of the United Kingdom, drastic changes have been and are being made by the Government, like the endless unreciprocated concessions to Sinn Fein/IRA and the emasculation of the RUC, without the real consent of the majority. There was indeed a referendum on the Belfast agreement, but it was on the basis of promises which were not kept and expectations, especially on the disarming of terrorist organisations, which were not met. People in England have not been asked whether they are content that English and Welsh murderers should serve their sentences, while large numbers of Irish murderers are set free. Does that not do serious damage to the rule of law, under which I had supposed that we were all equal? I wonder whether it would have been possible to do it if the late Lord Denning had still been with us.
I have been critical of the Government, but I am a Cross-Bencher who has nothing to gain from attacking them. What I have said applies just as much to the Conservatives. It was they who pushed through the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, brushing aside those of us who opposed it so strongly in this House. On 14th July that year they bused in their troops to achieve a vote of 445 to defeat the proposal of the noble Lord,
Whatever government we have really do need to ask people what they want, and to govern with a much lighter hand. Our governments tend to treat us like illiterate peasants. But the peasants have learnt to read. The letters are now often the most interesting read in the newspapers. Our governments should wake up to that. They should try to get away from their bullying, domineering methods. What is the point of prosecuting a man for selling vegetables in pounds and ounces?
Lord McNally: My Lords, it is my honour to close the debate on the gracious Speech from these Benches. As ever, it has been a reminder of the extraordinary breadth of experience available to us in this House in addressing all aspects of government policy. It has also offered an example of persistence: we have heard how the noble Lord, Lord Moran, struggled through the floods and how my noble friend Lady Linklater was turned off two planes which were cancelled before she finally found a third in order to be with us today. We have heard four excellent maiden speeches during the course of the four days: by the noble Lords, Lord Mitchell, Lord Morgan and Lord Ashcroft, and today by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham.
This year, the Queen's Speech has been a little on the short side. Nevertheless, it has been dominated, as it was last year, by Bills emanating from the Home Office and the Law Officers. On brevity, of course, the Government cannot win. A long Speech like last year's and they are accused of legislative overload; a short speech and the pundits harbour unworthy thoughts that the decks are being cleared for a general election.
One point that has been made, both in this House and by distinguished authorities outside, is that the cascade of Home Office and Law Officer Bills in recent years is not good for the criminal justice system. We need time for new laws and new practices to bed down, rather than believing that one more tweak will make matters right. The point was made today by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, by my noble friends Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Phillips of Sudbury and by the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen. Less Home Office legislation might also
Perhaps, too, if we had fewer headline-grabbing Xquick fix" laws and examined some of the wider causes of crime and possible responses to them, we might have more success in cutting the overall crime rate. The point has been made today by my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury and in the past by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, that the direct linkage between the concept of successful communities and civic responsibility and low crime levels merits greater attention, rather than relying on short, sharp shocks, boot camps, curfews, instant fines, rapid retribution and all the instant remedies beloved of the tabloid editors but which are almost invariably useless in practice.
There has been a whiff of the hustings about a number of speeches over the past five days. Even a sober chap like the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, was thumping the Dispatch Box and proclaiming his confidence in a Conservative victory at the poll. Hope springs eternal.
On the government side, many of the concerns on policy have centred on the stewardship of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr John Prescott. In opening the debate on the gracious Speech from these Benches, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, put forward the suggestion that the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, should become a Cabinet Minister responsible for a separate transport department. I endorse that suggestion, although I must tell the noble Lord from bitter experience that, XCrisis, what crisis?", is not a rallying cry for political success.
However, I would go further. Not only would I give transport to the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, I would also give the environment, with a Cabinet seat and a separate department, to Mr Michael Meacher because he understands those issues. I would also give the regions, with a Cabinet seat, to Mr Peter Hain because he has the energy and the imagination to make a reality of the next stage of devolution and because we on these Benches believe in giving even an apostate Liberal a leg up.
But what is to be done with the Deputy Prime Minister? My solution is simple: he should be made Lord President of the Council, Lord Privy Seal and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. That would have a double benefit. In none of those offices would he have any real power but the appointment would entitle him to four ministerial cars.
Important as the issues of transport, the environment and the regions are, and as important as is the issue of health--with which my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones dealt with his usual thoroughness earlier today--at the heart of this gracious Speech are the Bills emanating from the Home Office and the law
Let us look, for example, at the Criminal Justice and Police Bill--the so-called Xflagship Bill" of the gracious Speech--with its proposal to extend child curfews. We shall look at these proposals, but if this is just an extension of existing powers introduced by Labour for local curfews for under 10 year-olds, which have never been used, we believe that this smacks of gimmickry.
We have civil liberties objections if these continue to be blanket curfews affecting all children and young people in specific areas. But we also have practical concerns, not least those relating to whether the police resources are available to enforce such curfews. The Police Federation has already warned about the implications for resources and stated that such measures could be counter- productive, take up too much time and deliver relatively small benefits.
Likewise with fixed penalty notices, although we understand the desire to tackle the Xyob culture", we can foresee problems with the idea of fixed penalty notices for yobbish behaviour. Whereas fixed penalties for driving offences relate to clear-cut crimes, these notices may affect behaviour that is less clear cut and more open to challenge. We are pleased that the Prime Minister backtracked on his proposal to march yobs to cashpoints--something that the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, rightly described as Xnonsense"--but we are still not persuaded that the current proposal is a much better idea.
As a number of my noble friends have made clear, the Liberal Democrats are simply not prepared to join the Home Secretary and Miss Ann Widdecombe in their ludicrous mud-wrestling as to who is tougher on
A number of organisations have come up with ideas for non-penal, anti-crime initiatives. My noble friend Lord Dholakia spelled out a number of those earlier. As my noble friend Lord Phillips said, we need policies in education which help rebuild and sustain communities and civic values.
We need to look at our police services in a thorough and constructive way. The Government are averse to a Royal Commission on the police, called for by the Police Federation. Our alternative would be a standing commission available to examine and listen to both grievances and suggestions for improvement.
Other areas need sober examination such as the poor morale and low priority given to remedial work in the Prison Service and the deplorable state of our young offender institutions. Was there ever a more damning indictment of a system than that the killers of James Bulger could not be transferred to the next facility in their age range because it would do them more harm than good? If that is true in their case, what is it doing to children and young people who are actually sent to those institutions?
What, too, does our system of childcare indicate when so many children who have been in children's homes and other state care end up within a very short time as young offenders? The bleak statistics quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham, in an outstanding maiden speech on what the future holds for the children in our care are shaming to us all. I recommend that Home Office Ministers read his speech in conjunction with that of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. Between them they offer a genuine third way to that offered by Jack Straw or Ann Widdecombe.
No one is saying that we do not need police or prisons. So let us stop pretending that one group of politicians are tough on crime and have all the answers and those who doubt the validity of those answers are soft on crime or criminals.
I am glad that the Government no longer accept the idea that we can combat crime with fewer policemen on the beat. Whatever technologies may be employed--the noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred to a number of them--the citizen wants to see the bobby on the beat. That may not tie in with all modern police theory or, indeed, police budgets, but it is wanted by Mr and Mrs Joe Public. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, recognised, the party that does not respond to that wish will get short shrift on the doorstep.
There are aspects of the criminal justice and police Bill which we shall support, as well as of the Vehicle (Crime) Bill and the proceeds of crime Bill. We support notification of release dates to victims of crime. We also support the regulation of the private security industry.
I turn to a Bill where the Government can assume our total opposition. The Government have reintroduced the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill. I do not know whether it was that Bill that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House had in mind when she told us in her best Cruella de Ville voice of the unimagined horrors she would inflict on this House if we showed defiance to her will. Apparently, XJay's law" states that if we use the powers that the democratically elected House of Commons gave us just over a year ago, that is both an insult to the democratically elected House and a constitutional outrage.
Let me expound McNally's law; namely, that this House should use the powers given it with prudence and responsibility. But those powers are there to be used also with courage and principle. The Government have no mandate for the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill. We on these Benches will use all our powers to delay and defeat it. If that means that a general election intervenes before the Bill becomes law, then let the Labour Party spell out its plans to restrict trial by jury in its election manifesto and we shall put our determination to resist it in ours.
On asylum, my noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lord Greaves set out clearly our position. I shall not dwell too long on the Freedom of Information Act. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, dealt well with the issue in his intervention. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, did not take the opportunity of his intervention to throw his considerable weight behind the call to make the Freedom of Information Act work.
I do not wish to detain the House longer. Ahead of us are two real treats. First, we shall have the noble Lord, Lord Cope, trying to make a silk purse out of the sow's ear which was sent him by Miss Widdecombe from along the corridor. Perhaps I can help him by drawing his attention to the advice given to his party by Mr Michael Gove in The Times yesterday. He wrote:
We then come to what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, identified as the creme de la creme--the Attorney-General himself. I remember once going to see the late Lord Elwyn-Jones with a particularly difficult problem. After studying it he said, XI don't
So let us all prepare for the feast to come, knowing full well that everyone in the House will enjoy his speech--everyone except the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House, neither of whom is sure which of their jobs he wants next.
I still have hopes for this Government. Their weaknesses are evident in the gracious Speech. Too often the Government seem to be waiting to hear what the focus groups tell them rather than acting in the national interest. The Home Office in particular seems all too ready to bend the knee to the supposed prejudices of Middle England. Too often, on too many issues, in the memorable phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, Ministers appear to be in office but not in power.
The Liberal Democrats will approach this gracious Speech as we have done all its predecessors in this Parliament. Where the Government are being radical and reforming they will have our support. Where they promote greater fairness and wider opportunity in our society they will have our backing. But when, as they all too often do, they retreat on issues of individual freedom and civil liberties we will oppose them. And if this is indeed a deck-clearing gracious Speech then these are the messages and the issues which we shall take to the country.
It has been a long and wide-ranging debate since the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, first moved the Motion a week ago, seconded so well by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. Today the debate has been improved by the moving maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Kirkham about children in care. He has been a friend of mine for some years and I was delighted that he showed your Lordships today that he has much to offer us. He is a true entrepreneur and businessman, but also a hands-on philanthropist. By his business success, he has made a real difference to many people's lives, first by creating stable jobs in his native Yorkshire and much further afield, and later through his charitable activities. He has already made a bigger real difference than most politicians can ever hope to do. His wisdom and experience will enrich the House. I look forward to hearing from him again.
Over the earlier days of the debate, we have also enjoyed the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, and my noble friend Lord Ashcroft, each of whom has shown that they have valuable contributions to make in the future.
At this time of night I shall not risk such good will as I have with your Lordships by attempting to comment on the whole of our debates over the four days, or even to deal comprehensively with today's varied contributions. I shall confine myself mainly to commenting on the Home Office aspects of the gracious Speech. I was interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who asked the Attorney-General about a possible Civil Service Bill. I look forward to the answer to that. Like my noble friend Lord Waddington and others, he also spoke about House of Lords reform.
There are five Home Office Bills in the programme and one draft Bill. That is not as many as last year, so, like my noble friend Lord Goschen, I hope that they might be better drafted. We ended up with 13 Home Office Bills last year. They were notable for their poor drafting. That was not the fault of the draftsman so much as the fault of the Home Office in giving its instructions and in trying to do too much. That was a great problem. The Home Office did not start with 13 Bills in the Queen's Speech last year; a few more were added during the year. Five may not be the final total for this year either.
Law and order is one of the stated themes of the gracious Speech. Everybody realises that it remains a major problem in our society and the theme will feature in the next few months. At least two Bills will set up new regulations and authorities. Before coming to power, the Prime Minister described new Labour's priorities as, Xeducation, education, education". In practice, they often seem to be regulation, regulation, regulation. The proposed Bill to reduce regulations is supposed to work against that tendency, but with the increases in regulation caused by the other Bills, I fear that we shall again go backwards this year.
Generally, each regulation is attractive in itself, but the totality of the burdens on industry, society or the law creates the difficulty. I agree with the more general point that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and others have made about legislation and the criminal justice system.
The Private Security Industry Bill has considerable attractions. We understand the desire to regulate in that area. It is due for Second Reading on Monday, so I shall make only a few general comments tonight. The first is that the new regulatory body for doormen at clubs and similar establishments is not to be called Ofbounce. I was rather hoping that it would be. More seriously, we hope that the Bill will be effective. We shall look carefully at the detail to ensure that it does not over-regulate. We do not want everyday organisations caught in the net because they sometimes need to exclude people from their functions. The Bill is clearly aimed at night clubs and we do not want to catch too many other people.
We shall need to examine the role and powers of the new authority and also those of local authorities, which appear to be covered by the measure and which are already concerned about the possible extra cost to them. We shall also want to consider the extent to
We shall also want to know when all the measures are to come into effect. We shall want to be reassured that the authority which is to be set up will have the capability properly to examine the necessary number of people and to give them licences. I am told that 140,000 people work in the main security industry, guarding cash-in-transit and so on. There are probably 100,000 more if we include the other people who will require licences following the introduction of this legislation. Approximately a quarter of a million people will have to be vetted and issued with licences before the legislation can start to operate unless people have to close down their operations on account of it. There is an extremely high turnover of personnel in this industry. Therefore, the authorities will have to continue to vet a large number of people.
The Vehicles (Crime) Bill will follow. Once again, it will place duties on local authorities to supervise car breakers. Attempts are also being made to avoid the appointment of a government body called XOfbreak" to supervise car breakers! The Government have resisted that temptation. Generally speaking, over the years technology has made it more difficult to steal cars. In the course of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, provided a good example of that at what one might call the Xtop end" of the market--his son, as a matter of fact! The difficulty is that, again, this Bill imposes further burdens on legitimate businesses and makes them register once more with local authorities. It will also impose further workloads on the police.
However, the biggest--so-called Xflagship"--Bill is the criminal justice and police Bill, which will follow later. As is usual with this type of legislation, it is a portmanteau Bill. It has a rather miscellaneous collection of measures within it. Among other things, it will take further the series of initiatives in the field of youth crime, many of which were conveniently listed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. Central to this work is the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and the Youth Justice Board and youth offender teams. I believe that much of the work carried out by the board and the teams and by the noble Lord is valuable, as is much of the thought that goes into it.
Frankly, I would find it easier to be more supportive if the noble Lord, Lord Warner, did not always make such political speeches. He spoke today as though the rise in crime began in the 1980s when obviously it began much earlier than that. Indeed, the level of crime began to decrease several years before we left office. He was also less than polite about noble Lords from all parts of the House who spoke about the mode of trial Bill. That is a matter of principle on which we take the same view as was stated just now.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark urged patience on us all rather than quick results and ever more legislation. As he and other noble Lords have said, youth curfews, which apparently are to be extended in this Bill, have yet to be tried. They seem to me to be a crude measure of doubtful effect.
I am not so opposed to the idea of fixed penalty notices although there are practical as well as other problems to solve if they are to be made to work in an acceptable way. The point behind them is to reduce the time spent on paperwork following an arrest by a policeman, which has been referred to several times, while still imposing a penalty. The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, referred to that too. That is the point of them. If they achieve that, then they will obviously be valuable.
Coming back to us is what is possibly now the favourite Bill of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General--the criminal justice (mode of trial) Bill. He originally described it as madness but now he supports it with all the enthusiasm of a convert. I remind your Lordships at this point that one of the principal effects, and certainly the principal financial effect, flows from the fact that 5,000 criminals, or something of that order, are expected to receive shorter sentences because they will be dealt with by the magistrates' court rather than the Crown Court.
To put it politely, it is difficult to understand how the Bill stands in relation to the report of Lord Justice Auld which is due this month. He was asked to write that report with some urgency. I believe that he was given some 12 months or so in which to write it and he will report by the end of this year. But, of course, by bringing back this Bill, which covers some of the ground covered in that report, the Government are now either prejudging what he is going to say and what they think about it or they are indicating that they are going to kick the report straight into the long grass and leave it there for years and meanwhile carry on. They would have been much better advised to wait for the Auld report, study it and then see whether it was possible to move forward on it. One cannot help thinking that the Bill is brought back out of spite because the Government simply cannot accept the idea of being defeated in this House on any of their proposals.
Then there is the Hunting Bill, also from the Home Office. For us, as for the Government, there will be free votes throughout the passage of the Bill. Neither my noble friend the Chief Whip nor I from this Dispatch Box shall guide our colleagues on the matter. But I have a question for the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General about procedure. Will this House be presented by the Government with the same three options as presented to another place and, if so, how? What will be the effect if the two Houses reach different conclusions on the matter?
Speaking personally, I shall again vote for hunting to continue, as I have throughout my time in Parliament. A ban would knock the stuffing out of the lives of many people I know and like. Those people are not so much the rich and well-dressed, who attract so
For some, hunting is their employment. For more, it is a major part of their way of life. Some follow on horseback, some on foot, some in cars. They walk puppies; they go to open days; they cheer the hounds at the agricultural show. That would all be destroyed by a ban; and all to no real purpose. A ban is not in the interests of foxes. There is no more humane method of controlling the fox population. As I said, there will be a free vote but I am clear about what I think and shall do.
Other promised Bills have not materialised. There is no proposal to amend the Asylum and Immigration Act, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, the new system is a shambles. It is not deterring would-be applicants and it is not looking after asylum seekers properly.
The provisions in each new Bill proposed will, frankly, be no good unless the police are able to enforce them. So far, under this Government, two things have happened each year. First, police numbers have dropped and, secondly, the Home Secretary has promised that they will go up next year but, of course, they do not. In the mean time, violent crime increases and the Home Secretary releases more offenders from gaol early under the curfew scheme who then offend again.
However, the programme outlined in total in the gracious Speech amounts to a thin and feeble offering for a government with a large majority. I believe that they are running out of ideas. The programme sends a clear signal that has been much read in the media, that we are to have six months of politicking and spin and then the arrogant Government will try their luck at the polls.
I return at last to the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, which thanks Her Majesty in the usual form. However, its familiar words should not weaken our thanks to Her Majesty which are genuine, particularly at this time. We are grateful to her for coming to Parliament, among much ceremony, to remind us of what it is to be British, of the ideals and lessons learned from our forefathers and of our responsibility for the future. I support the Motion.
The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, when Miss Widdecombe said at the Conservative Party conference that everyone who was caught in possession of cannabis would have to be severely dealt with, with condign punishment, a large number of her colleagues said that they had consumed
It is not long since most of our hereditary colleagues left us. Listening to the debates and reading and re-reading them I believe that the House has changed in a way that is quite difficult to describe, but the change is there. Certainly the quality and diversity of speeches is as high as ever. Those factors are by no means diminished.
The House has been partly reformed but not entirely. Quite soon we shall complete the work which we set ourselves: reform and reinvigoration of your Lordships' House. The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, asked about the convention on the Queen's Speech. As far as I am aware it is presently alive and well and I have certainly never done anything that could be taken as a breach of that convention.
The four maiden speeches were a genuine pleasure. They produced quite a spectrum, from different parties and different backgrounds. Perhaps I can pay tribute to all of them on behalf of your Lordships.
Would your Lordships allow me a brief self-indulgence? If you do not, I know that no one else is likely to do so. Since I have been here, this is the first year that we have not had a contribution on such an occasion from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. He was a doughty opponent; sometimes acerbic, always vigorous and always good humoured. He served this House very well on the Front Bench in government and in opposition. He will continue to serve the House well from the Woolsack. There is much to be done to reform our antique ways and I believe him to be the man to lead us in that task. On a personal basis, perhaps I can also say how much I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, as his worthy successor.
One thing we might consider for the future is the format of these debates. Is it possible to improve it? Can one sensibly sum up--I think not--four days of debate, concentrated intellectual effort, in around 25 minutes? Have we become in danger sometimes of having a series of Second Reading speeches on Bills shortly to be introduced and therefore lengthily to be repeated? I am not sure that we serve our ways best in
This may be the last Queen's Speech of this Parliament. One or two noble Lords seem to have hinted at that. I have the express authority of the Chief Whip to say this: there will definitely be a general election in May 2002--unless there has been one before then.
At this stage of the Parliament, this is a government which have not run out of ideas. The usual criticism from the Liberal Democrats is that we have too many ideas. As the Prime Minister said, we set ourselves a programme for the first Parliament. It is an extraordinary achievement. I say that as a purely disinterested and objective observer. The Prime Minister's first job in government has been that of being Prime Minister; the Chancellor's of being Chancellor of the Exchequer. That has been a phenomenal achievement over the past three and a half years.
I shall come to the details in a moment or two, but the hallmark of this Government has been one of authority and competence. It is difficult to remember who was Chancellor of the Exchequer before Gordon Brown took over. And we must remember that my old university friend Kenneth Clarke was not a shrinking violet. This is a man who has dominated the running of the economy of this country in a competent, prudent way which it was difficult to have thought possible at the time of the election in 1997. Obviously this is a time for looking back. No sessional programme is intended to stand alone; it is part of a coherent and continuing plan if we are trusted by the electorate the next time round, whenever that may be.
Some questions--not many--were put to me this evening. I shall not be able to deal with all of them. I shall write or procure my noble friends Lord Bassam or Lord Hunt to do so. I am not being discourteous. The House is entitled to look to me for a review of the four days, rather than for answers to specific questions, though my noble friend Lady Hayman promised I would reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and I shall do so in a moment. That is in the limited context of the Hunting Bill.
The gracious Speech said that there would be stable levels of growth in employment; there would be continued economic stability which has enabled the Government to increase the resources available for education, health, transport and police services. All of that has been delivered. It does not contain one syllable of hyperbole. As I said, it has been an extraordinary achievement. It is worth bearing in mind, though this almost seems like pre-history to many of us now, that May 1997 was not that long ago. At that time--not long ago--we were spending more on interest payments than on the entire schools programme. Government borrowing has gone down since that time by #4.4 billion. Long-term interest rates are the lowest for 30 years. There are 1.1 million more men and women in work now than when we took over stewardship. Claimant unemployment is at its lowest
There is a moral imperative here to which I do not shrink from referring. What I believe the overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens want and need is ordered, decent, structured civil society when they can have and express in their own lives the belief that their children have the prospect of a happier and better life than they. I believe that that chimes entirely with what was said earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham. Incidentally, if I interrupt myself, if there comes a time when the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham, decides to give up the day job, he would be well suited on the Front Bench. However, I believe that he might find himself more suited on our Front Bench than on his.
The moral imperative to which the noble Lord referred--and I could not agree more with what he said about nurture, the opportunity of advancement for work and for order in a child's life--is the motive and engine power which drives our agenda. I deeply and fundamentally believe that ours is a great country. I personally have cause enough to know that. We castigate ourselves too much. We are not a perfect society but I believe that we are a great hearted one. We have the confidence now more than ever to accept every challenge, to invite every question and to say, XYes, your criticisms may be justified and we can do better. But, equally, some things we do rather well".
I want to say a word or two about the public service and those who work in it. Day in and day out in the work I do now and in the work I did in the Home Office I see people who work in the public service. They do not do it for stratospheric salaries. They do not do it from an ego trip. All of them across the spectrum do the work significantly for quiet, decent satisfaction of work well done in the course of a wider community of which we are all part. My Lords, there is such a thing as society.
We have done much for working people, not necessarily only those in the public service. There is a national minimum wage; there is an entitlement to four weeks paid holiday; and there are new rights for part-time workers. I believe that that agenda, having been written by us and supported admirably by the Liberal Democrats, has changed the context of the debate, because hardly a rational argument is sought to be put against those reforms.
What have we done in the context of foreign affairs and defence? I speak from recent personal practical experience and I say that our voice is welcomed in Europe. Our colleagues in the law, in politics, in the judiciary and in all the relevant fields want to know from our experience. They will not be taught all our lessons but they want to know what they are.
In defence, for the first time in more than a decade, this year's settlement has produced a real-terms increase in the defence budget. When I speak of public service I include all those in the Armed Forces. We ask a lot of them; we ask them to do different work all over
I want to spend a moment or two on education. We wanted to get the basics right. David Blunkett is a very considerable Secretary of State--I would guess the best we have had for 25 years and more. What has that meant to those who are under-privileged because they come from poor homes? We have now brought about the percentage of children to Level 4 and beyond in English from 65 to 75 per cent and in maths from 59 to 72 per cent. Large classes for infants have fallen from half a million, which was our ruinous inheritance, to fewer than 30,000. Not bad! That is a much more fundamental and lasting redistribution than the headline redistribution of money. These matters go to the fundamentals of human life. I have no doubt that those early years are the most important in the educational context. Although there is much more to be done, we have made a tremendous start.
We have dealt with health and home affairs today. It is idle for me to attempt to repeat--even if I could fully remember--the words of my noble friend Lord Hunt. The programme of the Home Office has been set out and, somewhat surprisingly, slightly derided. The prayer of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, was, XPlease, God, no more Home Office Bills". Which ones do the noble Lord and the Liberal Democrat Benches want to discard? The Bill to regulate the private security industry? I hope not. The Bill to cut vehicle crime and reduce the opportunity to dispose of stolen vehicles? I hope not. The Bill to deal with money-laundering? I hope not. The Bill to reduce benefit fraud? I hope not. There might be a tiddler in the list concerned with mode of trial but, as noble Lords have told me on so many occasions, I shall not be troubled long with it. This is a significant programme.
The Home Office always gets the stick because it is the parent department. If we get these Bills right--of course the detail matters--they will bring about a significant improvement to our armoury, which is presently defective, to deal with serious crime. We have not sufficiently concentrated our intelligence resources on crime which is now in a different league from that we experienced 20 years ago.
I turn to fox hunting. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about the situation in the other place. I did my best to discover the position. My understanding is that First Reading was on 7th December and the Bill was published on 8th December. The present business plan is to hold Second Reading on 18th December. I have just picked up a whisper from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, which is also in my brief, that it may well be changed to 20th December. Events have overtaken me because I have been in the Chamber all day. The subsequent stages will follow in the usual way.
Let us not forget what has been said about Northern Ireland in the gracious Speech. There will be a Bill to implement the recommendations of the review of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. In that context I pay tribute to the very close co-operation that I have had from both the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
The Commonhold Bill will attract no headlines but it is desperately important to a very large number of our fellow citizens who are worried and fearful in their own homes. I have had to take a panoramic view.
I return to the theme, which I hope has been distilled, that has informed the whole of this four-day debate. The purpose of government is to serve, and all of us in this House have the privilege to help in that great work in however small a way. Why is that? I believe that we all have a deep regard for our country in spite of all its blemishes and eccentricities, and significantly because of them. It is an extraordinary place and we are living in times the extraordinary nature of which I think sometimes we barely recognise. This is a time of great national reform and fundamental renewal. The books will be written about this time in the same way as we look back into the mists of the Great Reform Act 1832.
The question comes to this: why is it that we wish to reform and renew? It is not because we have a distaste for old institutions. It really comes back to this simple question: is there any country in the world where one would rather live? The answer is always no. That is the deep and true reason why I commend the gracious Speech to your Lordships and why we are so intent on continuing on the journey that we set ourselves. We do it because we love this country and we want to make it better.
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