John Stephen Monks, Esquire, having been created Baron Monks, of Blackley in the County of Greater Manchester, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde and Lord Lea of Crondall, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, it is with very deep regret that I have to inform the House of the death yesterday of the noble Lord, Lord Acton. On behalf of the whole House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lord's family and friends.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, I am unable to provide a date for the ending of detention of children for immigration purposes but we remain determined to end this practice as soon as possible. Working with NGOs, we are designing and testing alternative arrangements to protect children's welfare while ensuring the return of families who have no right to be here. We are making significant progress.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Will she make available in the Library every week a list of the numbers of detained children, where they are detained and their ages, so that we can end this practice and monitor it if a list is available for us to refer to? Will she accompany three or four of us to Yarl's Wood so that we can see the situation there for ourselves?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, it is perfectly reasonable to make these arrangements. We will certainly be glad to arrange a visit to Yarl's Wood. The number of children in detention is either zero or two. I cannot give an exact figure as it depends on whether the two
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Lord Soley: Is it not time for both parties in the Government to admit that they made promises to the electorate on this emotive issue which they cannot keep because, if they do, they will end up taking children into care or forcefully separating them from their parents? That admission from the Government is long overdue. We all want to minimise this practice to the absolute smallest limit, but let us be realistic and not make promises which we cannot keep, as the Government have done too often on matters such as this.
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I do not accept that. We are going to keep this promise. We are trying to go upstream of the previous procedures for requiring families to leave by encouraging voluntary return. We are engaged in that pilot with the help of NGOs. We will, and must, honour an undertaking that we have given.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, bearing in mind that the Royal College of Paediatrics and others have said that significant harm is caused to children detained for immigration control purposes, why has this process not been brought to an end? Will the noble Baroness give a date when the facilities at Yarl's Wood and other places of detention are to be dismantled so that such detentions cannot happen again?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I wish I could give a date. We cannot do that because, as things stand, we are taking seriously the whole business of how we bring about a situation whereby it is no longer necessary to detain children. It requires time to get the right procedures in place and, if I may put it this way, it is an earnest of our seriousness that we are going into considerable detail to get the right procedures.
The Earl of Listowel: Will the Minister consider extending from two weeks to three months the window for families to consider voluntary returns? Is she aware that in Sweden in 2008, 82 per cent of families chose to take the voluntary return route?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I am aware that this figure of a fortnight has got around to being perceived as some sort of deadline, whereas a fortnight is the absolute minimum period that the families are given to consider voluntary return. I do not want to set a timetable for the other end. We would obviously like to achieve a high rate of voluntary return which would take place as soon as was possible and at the least cost to the taxpayer.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: But, my Lords, the noble Baroness has not answered my noble friend. The coalition agreement states that the Government will end the detention of children for immigration purposes. Her honourable friend Damian Green said on 6 September in the other place that the policy was to minimise the detention of children. Why the change in policy?
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, if, in fact, children of school age and their families are still being detained together, will the Minister assure the House that education in outside schooling will be provided?
Baroness Neville-Jones: The emphasis of our policy is obviously on keeping families together. I trust that we will not be in a situation in which children are detained for any length of period at all; but certainly if they were, education would be a very important factor.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, has the Minister taken a view on whether families should be deported to countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan and Zimbabwe, and particularly on the impact, which could be considerable on those being deported, of sending families with children back to those countries?
Lord Rooker: Can the Minister confirm that Yarl's Wood, which was opened on my watch as a Home Office Minister, remains a removal centre and not a detention centre? As she will find out, if people are reluctant to go and they have children, it is not possible to organise removals economically and humanely by knocking on their doors; nor, if one wants to keep the family together, is it possible to do so other than by the family spending a minimum short period in a removal centre. That is not detention in the normal use of the word.
Baroness Neville-Jones: The noble Lord points to some of the difficulties that arise. In our view, it is certainly not humane to knock on people's doors and require them to go absolutely immediately to a train or plane. Indeed, removal to a centre such as Yarl's Wood, which has facilities, is sometimes the right procedure. The situation varies from case to case but we entirely accept that the procedure to be followed should be humane and in the interests of the family, and the children in particular.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, is it possible to persuade the border agency not immediately to deport children, often by breaking into their homes in the early hours of the morning, but perhaps, as was suggested just now, to give the family a little more time to consider its position and return to the country from which it comes so that the children can be brought round to understanding what is going on? There is a great deal of evidence from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and others to show the huge effect on young children of suddenly being forced out of their homes in the middle of the night and compelled to go to a totally strange environment.
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I entirely take that point. The Government are trying to learn these lessons, and we are piloting this scheme precisely by going down the road of giving families more time and more options, particularly for voluntary departure. The scheme is absolutely in the spirit of the point mentioned by the noble Baroness.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, tackling dementia is an urgent priority and the Government are committed to the delivery of better-quality care for all those with dementia. Ensuring that people with impaired faculties or disabilities receive the best type of care that they require is one of the reasons we are accelerating the pace of improvement through a focus on local delivery and accountability.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: I thank the noble Earl for that response. Is he aware that people with dementia who are also blind and deaf have a really difficult life? They are trapped in a kind of living hell and require urgent attention. The Minister said that the Government are accelerating the process. To what extent is that happening, and can he guarantee that the Government will support a campaign to provide all the facilities necessary for people of this kind?
Earl Howe: The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, as so often, is absolutely right. Those who have dementia and also suffer from sensory impairment have a particularly difficult time. That is why we have signalled, in the recently revised operating framework for the NHS, that improving dementia care will be a priority. However, the noble Lord may also like to know that we have today published a Written Ministerial Statement, which he can read in Hansard, showing that we aim to accelerate the pace of improvement in four ways in particular: by improving early diagnosis and intervention; by improving care in hospitals; by improving the care of dementia patients in care homes; and by reducing the use of anti-psychotic medications. Those are the four priorities that we think will make the most difference.
Lord Laming: My Lords, can the Minister inform the House what steps the Government are taking to ensure an adequate supply of community-based nurses who have been specially trained in dementia care, not least to support carers?
Earl Howe: My Lords, an informed and effective workforce is clearly central to the delivery of the dementia strategy. The Department of Health has
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Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that family carers have two main concerns about dementia services. The first is that they are patchy and are not uniform across the country and the second is that they are not co-ordinated across acute voluntary, independent and family care. How will the Minister ensure that those two issues are better addressed under the proposals in the White Paper?
Earl Howe: My Lords, there are several prongs to the strategy which will be needed to meet the concern of the noble Baroness. One is to drive up quality standards through a proper tariff for these services and another is better regulation of providers. As the House will know, the NICE quality standard was published in the summer, which will improve commissioning to deliver greater efficiencies, not simply in a financial sense but also to deliver a better pathway of care for patients, with a focus on outcomes.
Baroness Hussein-Ece: My Lords, can my noble friend tell us whether those with special educational needs have a higher preponderance of dementia? What is being done to address those needs and to drive up standards of care, given that the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia concluded that some care being given to dementia suffers is dehumanising? Can my noble friend please outline what is being done for those people with special needs who are diagnosed?
Earl Howe: My Lords, my noble friend has hit on an extremely sensitive and important area. My answer to her is similar to the one I gave on a previous question: we must focus on outcomes. That is the main theme of the recently published implementation paper. This morning, I was speaking to a representative of the King's Fund, which has done tremendous work in this area. This is one aspect of its work, of which I am sure we shall be hearing more.
Earl Howe: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate rightly calls attention to the needs of those with aural disability. The Government's plans for audiology are in gestation at the moment. Unfortunately, it is too early for me to tell him, but I shall aim to write him a letter at the earliest opportunity.
Baroness Greengross: My Lords, in declaring an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia, I ask the Minister what plans the
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Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. The national dementia strategy quite rightly recognises the need to improve the quality of care for people with dementia in hospital and that is identified in the new implementation plan as one of the key priorities for action. Of course, the main priority has to be to avoid admitting dementia patients to hospital in the first place, if possible. We should admit them only when it is strictly necessary and we should discharge them at the earliest opportunity. We have set priority areas for all hospitals to take urgent action, including appointing a senior member of staff to improve the quality of care for people with dementia and to look after the training of staff in hospitals.
Lord Touhig: My Lords, between a half and two-thirds of people with dementia never receive a formal diagnosis. That could be improved if GP practices, the mental health services and the royal colleges were to develop dementia care pathways. That was a recommendation by the Public Accounts Committee in the other place in 2008. What progress has been made in developing those pathways?
Earl Howe: My Lords, progress is being made thanks to the quality standard published by NICE in the summer on dementia care. That will underpin the outcomes framework that we shall look for in the care of dementia patients. He is absolutely right in what he says: two-thirds of people with dementia never receive a diagnosis in the first place; the UK is in the bottom third of countries in Europe for diagnosis and treatment of dementia patients; and GPs do not feel adequately trained in this area. So there is a lot of work to do.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what rate of interest they propose to pay to people who have paid too much income tax because of mistakes by HM Revenue and Customs; and what rate of interest they propose to charge people who have paid too little income tax for the same reason.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, HMRC interest rates are linked to the Bank of England base rate and are currently 3 per cent on late payments and 0.5 per cent on repayments. The interest position in instances of error or delay by HMRC is considered on a case-by-case basis.
Underpayments arising from the current end-of-year PAYE reconciliation exercise will not attract an interest charge, provided that people who have been notified of an underpayment contact HMRC and agree a payment arrangement.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that helpful reply. The situation in Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is another example of the problems which have been left by the previous Government. My noble friend will be aware of the disturbing and complacent evidence which was given to the Treasury Select Committee in another place on 15 September. Apart from the uncertainty and distress which has been caused to something like 6 million taxpayers and the minimal rate of interest which is being paid to those to whom Revenue and Customs now propose to refund something, a large amount of money has been written off. What is the overall cost of what has happened in the department, against a background of trying to cut public expenditure?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, as my noble friend points out, this is another part of the inheritance which we are getting on with having to tidy up. On his specific questions, I can only apologise to the taxpayers who are caught up in this reconciliation exercise. We are trying to make the process as painless as possible. The bills for those owing less than £300 are being written off. That will entail a cost of some £600 million. The cost of the overall exercise, in which 90,000 letters a day are going out between now and Christmas to clear it up, will be up to £10 million.
Lord Newby: My Lords, in the light of the very low rates of interest involved in this procedure, does the Minister accept that for most taxpayers, what matters most is not the rate of interest but the speed with which repayments are made? Can he give the House an assurance that HMRC is taking every possible step to make repayments as quickly as possible?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, it is worth reminding ourselves that the great majority of PAYE self-assessments are done online-by 75 per cent of people who are self-assessed. For that largest group of taxpayers, repayments are in the ordinary course made as soon as two to three working days from filing, although there may be a slight delay in the peak in the year around 31 January. For the sort of exercise we are talking about, repayments are normally made within seven working days. That is indeed the thing to focus on rather more than the precise rate of interest.
Lord Sassoon: The amount of tax which is now due under this reconciliation exercise is some £2 billion from 1.4 million taxpayers, although, as I said, all amounts under £300 individually, which is for about 900,000 taxpayers, will be written off.
Lord Eatwell: My Lords, the House will agree that underlying the interesting question from the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, is the notion that HMRC should be fair. It seems to be very unfair that the rate of
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Lord Sassoon: My Lords, the previous Government brought in the current interest rate regime within the past year, and after extensive consultation, on the basis that late payments are calculated at 2.5 per cent over the bank rate and repayments are 1 per cent less than the bank rate, subject to a minimum of 0.5 per cent. This regime is similar to that of other countries ranging from Australia to the United States. Indeed, of the six or eight countries surveyed, Japan is the only one that does not apply differential rates to payments and repayments. So, in that sense, the system does reflect a due degree of fairness.
Lord Myners: My Lords, can the Minister reconcile his comments about fairness with the reported remarks in the Financial Times of 19 August from Mr David Hartnett, the Permanent Secretary in HMRC, that he proposes henceforth to take a gentler and easier line on tax avoidance?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I do not have the precise context in which Mr Hartnett made those remarks. However, in relation to the PAYE reconciliation exercise that we are talking about, the fact that interest is being waived for people who have underpaid, that balances under £300 are being written off and that those who do have to make further payments will be able to make them over a number of years, particularly where hardship is concerned, represents an appropriate response in this case.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, we regard Argentina as an important partner. We have a close and productive relationship on a range of bilateral and multilateral issues, but we will not discuss the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands with Argentina unless the Falkland Islanders so wish.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, that is a most informative reply, but the noble Lord will be aware that some time ago Argentina withdrew unilaterally from the joint commissions on fishing and oil. In the light of the rather absurd statements recently made by the President of Argentina on the subject of oil exploration in Falklands' waters and other matters, can the noble Lord say whether that represents sensible co-operation? It does not seem to me that it does.
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Viscount is quite right that in 1995 Argentina withdrew from the hydrocarbons co-operation declaration and subsequently withdrew from the fisheries co-operation arrangements. We can say only that it is a pity. The benefits to Argentina would be there, were it ready to co-operate, but it has shown a determination not to do so. That is Argentina's loss.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, at the time of the Falklands invasion in 1982, the then US Administration were extremely supportive to us in terms of reconnaissance and so on. However, the current US Administration have latterly made some rather unhelpful remarks in respect of the Falklands. Have we made appropriate representations?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I can confirm that the US position has not changed, regardless of the allusions to which the noble Lord has referred. The US recognises the UK's administration of the Falkland Islands. We are in regular touch with the US on this issue, as on many other issues. We expect that dialogue to continue.
Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan:Does the Minister agree that the UN decolonisation committee is normally concerned with the liberation of subjugated peoples rather than the transfer of ownership of islands that are largely uninhabited and are liable to be uninhabitable for a long time to come? Surely the role of the British Government at this time, nearly 30 years after the cessation of hostilities, should be to try to achieve a decree of reconciliation between the megaphone diplomacy of the Kirchner Government and the obduracy of many of the islands' elected councillors, who do not seem to realise that they live in a world in which their nearest neighbour could be a friend rather than a source of hostility?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Except on the question of the Falkland Islands and its right to self determination, which I am sure that the noble Lord would not be against, we wish with Argentina-an important country and a member of the G20-to establish better relationships. But it is very hard if all the time the counterpropositions and withdrawal of co-operation we have described occur. The noble Lord is touching on a relevant point as regards the decolonisation committee, which is rather outdated and full of language about colonies, British imperialism and so on. We have moved far away from that because the Falklands Islands is a self-governing overseas territory under the British Crown and that is what it remains.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, will my noble friend explain his views on why 12 Commonwealth countries supported the Argentines in the UN committee? Is that not a source of some regret to us?
Lord Howell of Guildford: It is always a pity when there is not full agreement, particularly among our fellow Commonwealth members with whom we operate closely on many issues. But they have their point of view, to which they are perfectly entitled. The debate goes on, but it is not a binding debate as no binding resolutions are involved. I expect that the debate will continue, particularly among not so much Commonwealth countries but other Latin American countries.
Lord Brett: My Lords, the Minister makes the point that Argentina is an important partner. When last did the Government seek to re-engage with Argentina, particularly on the outstanding fishery and oil issues, which clearly are of importance? When, equally, has the Foreign Office sought to ensure that our position as a country is understood throughout the rest of Latin America with our Latin American allies?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I mentioned the difficulty of getting co-operation, which we certainly have on offer, over the two items that the noble Lord mentions. But on other things we are engaged. We are dealing with Argentina as an important country, which, incidentally, is a very beautiful country and is, potentially, a country of great wealth and prosperity. We are dealing with it on science, mining, education and energy. This is a very positive agenda, which we welcome. But on these difficult issues involving the Falkland Islands, we have seen the non-co-operation which we deplore and we would like to see it replaced by active co-operation.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who appeared before the decolonisation committee many times in the 1970s, defending the World Bank's position that it could not lend money to the PLO because it was not a sovereign state. Does the Minister agree that the empty-chair policy is not very enlightened? As we have heard, many Commonwealth countries are members of that committee. Would it not be appropriate for at least the United Kingdom to be present?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord obviously has considerable experience on this issue. If he is talking about the decolonisation committee, I am not sure that we are even entitled to be on it. Two members of the Falkland Islands Government have a place on that committee and have made their views clear. I am not sure that those views prevail or are the majority view, but they have made them very clear indeed; namely, that Falkland Islanders do not wish to end their present status. They wish to remain as they are. That is the right approach. If the noble Lord is talking about another committee, perhaps I should have a word with him afterwards about that.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, no one would have enjoyed this debate more than my beloved friend and our good colleague Richard Acton. He loved this House and the House loved him. He made us laugh, but his contributions were always telling and to the point. He was immensely proud to have been reappointed to this House as a life Peer after his service as a hereditary Peer. I was proud to have been his friend. Our sympathies go to his wife Patricia, to his son Johnny and to his family and friends. We will miss him very much.
I am delighted that so many noble Lords have chosen to speak in this debate and that we have been promoted to a prime time spot. I want to debate the purpose of our second Chamber both now and in the context of promised reform. I have no doubt as to the vital role of the House of Lords in the revision and scrutiny of legislation. While I do not agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said in his article in last week's edition of The House Magazine, he was certainly right about this Chamber's effectiveness. My experience as a Minister for 10 years, with the many defeats that I suffered, confirms that, but I have no complaints because the Lords was doing its job in holding Ministers to account and improving legislation. However, I did not follow the logic of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when he gloried in the defeats suffered by the Labour Government but warned off Labour Peers from challenging what he called the "clear mandate"
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I remind the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and noble Lords opposite that, in its excellent analysis of the conventions, the Joint Committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Cunningham, in its description of the Salisbury/Addison convention, refers to manifesto Bills-but which manifesto? We are indeed in new territory and I suspect that the noble Lord, whom we all admire, is developing a new convention, which in essence says that the coalition Government ought not to be challenged in your Lordships' House. This House has won a deserved reputation for its ability to cause Governments to think again, but a Government will think again only if they are defeated or believe themselves to be in danger of defeat, and that means making necessary concessions.
We now have the new circumstances of the de facto majority that the coalition enjoys in your Lordships' House. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, when he winds up, will say, "Well, the Government have already lost some votes". So they have, but let us see what happens when the heavy legislation reaches us. Let us see what happens when a number of substantial Bills have been through your Lordships' House. If the coalition is determined to win every vote in this place, the work of your Lordships' House is bound to be devalued. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that he should not dismiss this concern out of hand. It is shared by many Members and is highly pertinent to the more substantive reform of your Lordships' House, because it goes to the heart of what it is that we are here to do.
The Government have made clear their intent to bring forward for pre-legislative scrutiny draft legislation on Lords reform by the end of the year. This is prior to a substantive Bill being presented to the Commons by November next year. The cross-party group under the Deputy Prime Minister is working on a draft Bill, so this is an excellent time to debate the role of the House in a post-reform world.
All too often, discussions on Lords reform have been confined to membership and the form of election and have shied away from an analysis of the impact of democratic legitimacy on the work and nature of the second Chamber, but surely it is time to grasp that nettle. I have no doubt that, with an elected House, the dynamics will change; an elected House will have a major impact on the Commons and on our constitutional arrangements. Vernon Bogdanor wrote in the magazine Political Insight:
"An elected upper house ... would replicate the Commons with its confrontational politics and whipped majorities. It would be more powerful than the current House of Lords, because it would conceive of itself as being more democratically legitimate. For that very reason, it would make Britain more difficult to govern".
As a supporter of reform, I am entirely comfortable with a more assertive House, but I am puzzled as to why many of my fellow reformers are so reluctant to acknowledge it. An elected Chamber will behave
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The debate would be much more honest if the Government acknowledged this and opened up a discussion now. We need to discuss and consider whether we want an elected Chamber to be able to use all the current notional powers of the Lords or whether we need to codify or legislate to define the powers that are considered suitable for an elected, though subordinate, Chamber. I am convinced that we need to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, may think that those who wish to raise these kinds of questions are opposed to reform and see this as a delaying tactic. He will know that I support reform, but, equally, I believe that unless the issue of powers is resolved now it risks unfolding when legislation reaches Parliament and this reform attempt will go the way of many previous reform attempts.
The House of Lords, of course, will debate this in detail when the reform Bill reaches us. I wish to ask the Minister about timing. In a paper slipped out by the Government just before the Recess, it is stated that the reform Bill will go to the Commons in November 2011. I assume that that would mean the Bill coming to your Lordships' House in or around February 2012. However, the Session is due to conclude at the end of April 2012, so there will be little time to consider the Bill, particularly taking into account half term, Easter and the pressure of other legislation. Under the terms of the Parliament Acts, if a Bill has had longer than a month in the Lords and has not been agreed to, or the Lords has passed amendments that are not agreed between the two Houses, the Parliament Acts could be used to force the Bill through. I do not think that that would be acceptable.
Let us be clear: this House should scrutinise Bills in reasonable time and not procrastinate or filibuster. This Bill will be of immense importance and it is surely right that we should be given sufficient time to deal with it effectively and for amendments to be able to go back and forward between the two Houses. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to satisfy me on that point and on the Government's willingness to lead a substantive debate on the appropriate powers for a reformed second Chamber.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I feel as if I have bumped into a Radio 4 programme, "Just a Minute", where you have to speak for two minutes without hesitation or repetition on a given topic. The Question before us, on what the purpose of this House is, is the key question that we need to answer. I believe in the supremacy of the House of Commons. I believe that this House is here to reform legislation and to pass it down to the elected House, which is accountable to the voters, for its consideration. In the end, the Commons must have its way.
I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord. He was honest enough to acknowledge that making this an elected House, or having an elected element, will change the nature of this Chamber. If we are going to have an elected House, I shall stand for election, but I am not going to knock on doors, saying, "Vote for me. I'm very good at reforming legislation but I won't do anything to upset the House of Commons", or, "I am going to do this for you and I'm going to challenge the House of Commons". I certainly do not think that would be appropriate, because it would undermine the authority of the Commons, lead to conflict and, most importantly, mean that no one was here doing the very important job that this House does.
The Deputy Prime Minister is very fond of telling people that he wants to "repair our broken politics" and that we need reform. I say to those in the House of Commons that they should first put their own House in order, for that is the bit of the system that is broken, and leave this place alone. How many people in this Chamber would stand for election? I suspect very few. What sort of people would stand for election, including me? They will be the B team; they will be the people who could not get elected to the House of Commons, or felt that they were not able to. All the expertise and knowledge which come to this House, and the experience of people who have had careers and done other things-all the things that people complain about a lack of in the House of Commons-would be lost. This Chamber works. Leave it alone. It is not broken.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, I suggest that we do not regard Lords reform as solely about future changes to the membership of this House. We also need to address how the existing House can and should perform its functions better. A week ago, a booklet was circulated to your Lordships on the work of the House in the past year. On page 19 is set out the policy committees' reports for the year. Vast areas of public policy are entirely absent. There is nothing on any of the public services, education, health, law and order, energy, transport, defence, immigration or on welfare, yet in all these areas Members of the House possess great expertise which is largely untapped. In my entire five years as a Minister in the education and transport departments, I was never once called upon to give evidence to a committee of the House on domestic policy. Our record as a deliberative assembly-if I may differ from the noble Lord-is not much better. In my year as Secretary of State for Transport and as a Cabinet Minister accountable to this House, there
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A century and a half ago, Walter Bagehot said that the cure for admiring the House of Lords was to come and look at it. I fear-if I could dissent from what I know is the consensus in your Lordships' House-that this is still too often true today. Being objective about ourselves, I recognise that we are diligent and public-spirited, that now and then we strike a chord of issues of public interest and that, occasionally, we act as a constitutional backstop. However, we have failed to develop modern procedures or committees for scrutiny or deliberation, and, across large swathes of public policy, we are practically non-existent as a parliamentary assembly. We need to improve our existing House as well as debating a future one.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, on that theme of improving the existing way in which we operate, perhaps we could have one reform this afternoon on which we all agree: that is, that we should take charge of the time allocated for debates. It is surely ridiculous that this extremely important subject allows only two minutes for individual Members of your Lordships' House, while the debate on the Olympic Truce permits 10 minutes.
On the timing of this debate, I am bemused by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, because he was the very distinguished co-author of the 135-page, 2008 White Paper. If he wanted to spell out exactly what the role of your Lordships' House should be, why did he not do it in 2008 and why now?
We have had 100 years of discussion about the role of your Lordships' House, and it is clear that some want it never to end. Some believe that a snail's pace of reform is the appropriate approach-some very big and important snails have recently arrived from the other place who clearly take this view-regardless of the fact that they presumably stood on successive manifesto commitments for reform, in 1997, 2001 and 2005. I presume that they also took note of the overwhelming majority in the other place in favour of democratic reform. It is extraordinary that those who want to codify the role and responsibility of your Lordships' House do not want to go the whole hog and introduce a written constitution, because that is what it is.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, may believe that, but I do not believe that many of his colleagues who support hastening very slowly indeed also want a written constitution. This is a ploy to paper over party divisions and delay the very proper parliamentary scrutiny of the draft Bill that is now due next year.
Those who believe in the primacy of the Commons should look carefully not only at the White Paper but at all the previous analyses of the best way to elect your Lordships' House. I believe in evolution not revolution. Those who insist on pinning down precisely what your Lordships' House should do post-reform are revolutionaries.
Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, the coalition is already making heavy weather of its agreement to replace this House with an elected Chamber, so we must be vigilant. The frank account of the Government's thinking by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in our debate in June gave fair warning of the dangers of forgetting principles and playing politics. He talked about the Government's thinking and said that an elected Chamber would do what we do and have the same powers that we have. He said that its priority was,
I have heard many clarion calls for radical change in my time, but never one as feeble and unconvincing as that reply that he gave to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. He might just as well have said, "I know this is topsy-turvy but it's part of our deal with the Lib Dems so we are stuck with it".
"Lords reform is like opening the lid of Pandora's box: who knows where debate might lead if there is no firm guiding principle behind it? So will the noble and learned Lord answer, just this once, the basic question? Exactly what problem is this package aiming to solve? Is the House too strong or too weak? Is the aim to enable us to defeat all Governments more, with "more legitimacy", as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, used to say, or what?".-[Official Report, 7/2/07; col. 714.]
Those were valid questions then and they are even more valid now, so I look forward to hearing from the Government later this afternoon what they have to say on those issues. Vague assurances on a vital issue of constitutional reform simply will not do. Until we know precisely what powers a reformed second Chamber will have, we cannot subscribe to the wanton destruction of this House in the interests of a new political class that lacks the acknowledged expertise and cherished independence of this institution.
Lord Wills: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Hunt's call for codification. As noble Lords will know and as we have heard again today, the key issue
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I believe both in an elected House of Lords and in the primacy of the House of Commons, and I do not believe that they are axiomatically incompatible. The key to resolving any incompatibility must lie in the codification of the functions of this House-to put beyond doubt the respective roles of the two Chambers and their relationship. Convention and custom, upon which we can often rely successfully in our constitutional arrangements, always need to be scrutinised for their adequacy in radically new circumstances-and a wholly or partly elected House of Lords would be radically new circumstances.
I recognise the deep concerns that are felt about codifying our constitution, and to some extent I share them. But we must also recognise that our constitution has in recent years been subject to a creeping codification with no adverse consequences-quite the opposite, in my view. So I do not believe that we need fear such codification of the functions of this House. However, any constitutional codification raises complex and challenging sets of issues, and this debate has illustrated again the importance of fully exploring them so that that debate can be adequately informed.
For that reason, I conclude with a plea to the Government. The previous Government established a working group-a galaxy of wise and distinguished experts from all the main parties and from none, including distinguished Members of this House, to explore these issues without any assumptions about the outcome. The general election intervened before this group could get under way. Please would the Minister commit to getting that group under way? It makes no assumptions about the outcome or its conclusions, and I have no doubt that it will produce invaluable work that will aid policy-making on all sides of the debate. If he will not convene the group, perhaps he could tell the House why not.
"At what point will the House get the chance to debate what a Second Chamber is for, what it is to do and what its powers are? Surely, all we are talking about at the moment is its composition, which seems to be the wrong way round".-[Official Report, 29/6/10; col. 1666.]
He was right-hence this afternoon's debate. However, there are some prior questions. What is any Parliament for, whether unicameral or bicameral? What is its role in relation to government and, in a bicameral arrangement, what are the relations between the two Houses, their respective functions and the basis or bases of their legitimacy? Those questions must be addressed in any consideration of the purpose of the House of Lords. Although in life we often have to get on with practical action without answering all underlying questions, there can be times when to do so implies some definite
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Reference is frequently made in debates on this subject to democratic legitimacy, and the assertion is made that only election as we have come to understand it can deliver that legitimacy. It is not enough to assert that principle to make it true. Democracy is used to describe many quite different political systems. In our own society, criticisms are often made of a political class that seems to have lost the confidence of the population at large. The evidence for that is the low turnout in elections, and not what is said in cheap and cost-free comments to pollsters on doorsteps. In trying to understand and respond to why the electoral legitimacy of the other place is not quite all that it is cracked up to be, we really do need to discuss long and hard what we believe society to be and how we call our rulers to account. The Prime Minister may be on to something with his talk of the big society, even though it is rather hard to understand. The current enthusiasm for fairness as a guiding principle also has much to commend it, but again raises more questions than it answers. Even my own favourite yardstick of what makes for human flourishing does not automatically translate into specific policies.
Some things are clear, however. In a complex society such as modern Britain, increasingly a community of communities, it is more important than ever that our political processes are genuinely transparent and accountable. What our representatives do is more important than how they get there. No less important is who they are and the extent to which the rich diversity of peoples in our country have people to speak for them and their multiple needs and aspirations. Unless we answer some of those prior questions about the nature of politics and the role of government and parliaments, it is very difficult to engage directly with the narrower focus of this afternoon's debate.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, I think that we are all very clear what the purposes of this Chamber are: first, to act as a revising Chamber with regard to legislation, which was tremendously important in the last Parliament because the House of Commons had virtually ceased to legislate and programmed everything; and, secondly, to hold the Government to account. That was, again, demonstrated very clearly in the previous Parliament, when the Government were more preoccupied with passing Acts on terrorism and so on than with human rights, liberty and so forth. We therefore have tremendously important responsibilities.
I do not propose to repeat the very well rehearsed basic arguments about election and non-election, although I suddenly discover that we have great publicity as a result of the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, pointing out that it would undermine the sovereignty of the House of Commons. He failed to mention that it would also undermine the position of individual Members of Parliament in their constituencies. Instead, I want to
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I start with two-minute speeches. I do not recall any precedent for them, but I would be rather surprised if the media do not suddenly say, "Well, here they are, all making two-minute speeches at a new rate of expenses", then work out the cost-effectiveness of those speeches. The arithmetic is not terribly difficult, but this is not a laughing matter. In that context, one should also say clearly that the bureaucracy has somehow come up with a form for claiming expenses where you have to decide each month what rate to claim, whereas we all know perfectly well that we come here sometimes for a short time and sometimes for a very late-night sitting. We ought to have the flexibility to be able to decide the appropriate level within given ranges.
The other thing that somewhat endangers us is that we are clearly in a coalition now and, as a result, it will be more difficult for the opposition forces to defeat the Government by way of persuasion, whereas in the previous Parliament we certainly had the opportunity to do that by persuading the other parts of the House to go along with us. It appears that that will no longer be the case.
Finally, on the size of the House, again there is a considerable danger that we are getting so large as to be open to ridicule. We ought to be gravely concerned about that, because all these recent developments lead to the position of the House being undermined and the call for it to be an elected Chamber.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, the role of the appointed House of Lords is entirely clear. It is advisory: to advise on policy, to scrutinise legislation and to offer revisions to it. This House is well fitted to performing that role, drawing as it does on the knowledge and wisdom of the two principal groups of its Members: senior and experienced politicians and very distinguished individuals from many other walks of life. This House invigilates the Government and presses and prods them and the House of Commons to think again, to think harder and to explain themselves. It is never a rival to the elected Chamber. An elected second Chamber could not perform the same role, nor would its ambitions be so modest. Its Members would believe that they had a duty to those who had elected them to use their democratic authority not just to advise and advance a point of view but to insist on what they thought was right. The gentle and persuasive critique of an appointed House would be replaced by the clash of two elected Chambers.
It may be that the Deputy Prime Minister has a cunning plan to define and constrain the role and powers of the elected second Chamber. Perhaps he intends to legislate to entrench the existing conventions, or something like them. There would be two possible consequences of that. The parties could use the list system to place pliant individuals in the second Chamber. What benefit would that be to politics and to the country? It would lose the virtues of the existing
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Codification will not work. We have seen how the European Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament have all gradually gained powers. Elected Chambers will always seek to do that. For the umpteenth time in these debates, I ask the essential question: how will the replacement of an appointed House by an elected House improve the performance of Parliament? To say that it will make the second Chamber more democratic or legitimate does not answer the question. I suspect that the Government are not interested in improving the performance of Parliament. All Governments regard Parliament as a nuisance. We must be on guard to ensure that so-called reform does not weaken Parliament, which is-or ought to be-a restraint on executive absolutism and the safeguard of our liberties.
As we have heard, we are a check and balance for the other place, a wise counsellor and an adviser. Where those in the other place are inexperienced, we are experienced; where they are partisan, we are objective; where-it could be argued-they are lightweight, we are definitely heavyweight. If only the public understood-and if only the other place understood-the work that we do.
When I look around the Chamber, I struggle to think of another legislature in the world with such a deep well of expertise in every field you can think of. We have healthcare professionals, lawyers, athletes, television presenters, journalists and so on. When one looks at the 100 members of the Senate, one sees that 57 list law as their occupational background, 27 list business and 16 list education-real diversity there.
The reason that 40 per cent of amendments made by this House are accepted by the House of Commons is the quality of this House's advice and the level of our expertise. This would be lost were we to be elected. We have heard that we would challenge the primacy of the House of Commons. This House is unlike any other upper Chamber in the world in the way that it is made up. We do not have to copy another nation or nations. This country has never copied; historically it has always created and originated. We have always led the way. The idea of this Chamber becoming a
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In building a business from scratch, I have always tried to change things and build through relentless, restless innovation; but with this House, we should heed the old saying: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". To change the nature of the House would be completely to devalue it. The whole purpose of this House as a check and balance would be diluted and destroyed. This cannot happen, because-ironically-it is the appointed House that is the guardian of our nation, the unelected House that is the cornerstone of our democracy.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I believe firmly in an elected House, a House elected indirectly on a list system geared to the result of a general election. Some who are of my view believe that the Cross-Benchers would represent those who have abstained. I believe that the problems raised by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, can be sorted out in a new constitutional settlement between the two Houses. My only concern is to what extent during the course of the reform debate we are taking into account the agenda that is being pursued in the House of Commons following the Wright recommendations.
The House of Commons has set up a group called Parliament First. Noble Lords should be far more engaged in the work of that group in the Commons, which is currently dealing with the powers of Select Committees, carryover, the treatment of Lords amendments, the treatment of Private Members' Bills, pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, the taking of evidence by Public Bill Committees, parliamentary commissions of inquiry, the role of the Merits Committee and a number of other issues, all of which would be affected by any change in the constitutional settlement between the two Houses.
Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, the late Lord Hailsham used to say that if the House of Lords were abolished, we would have an elected dictatorship. Sometimes I wonder whether this House in its present state would be strong enough to stand up to a House of Commons of the extreme left or the extreme right with a large majority. An elected senate would be a stronger House. It would also be more democratic, with its Members called senators.
We have to separate the peerage from this House. Every photograph of the House in the press shows Peers wearing robes, which cuts us off from another place and the general public. An elected Chamber is some way off, particularly one called a senate, but I think it is the way we should go.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, despite the views of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, I believe that this House works remarkably well. Last week, as has already been mentioned, my noble friend the Leader of the House had an article in the House Magazine in which he set
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In my brief time today I will say what any reform of this Chamber should avoid if it is to continue to serve the public interest. First, this House must not become just another place of partisan politics in a pale, or even more highly coloured, version of another place. Elections, which will be controlled by the party machinery, will take us firmly in the direction of a politicised House.
Secondly, this House must not lose the wealth of expertise and experience that an appointments system delivers. We see this in particular on the Cross Benches but all parts of the House possess an extraordinary breadth of experience and knowledge. We must not forget the particular contributions of the Bishops' Bench. Elections simply will not deliver what our current system does deliver.
Thirdly, we must not undermine the primacy of the House of Commons. As has been said today, it is inevitable that an elected upper Chamber will robustly challenge the conventions that preserve the current balance between the two Houses. We must ask ourselves whether it is more or less likely that another House of elected politicians, jostling for position with another place and stripped of the experience and expertise that we currently have, will achieve what we have achieved in the past. Will that serve the public interest? I think the answer to that is clear.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I am thrilled to join this succession of tweeters. The abolition-that is what it would be-of the House and its replacement by an elected second Chamber would be a constitutional upheaval, the outcome of which cannot conceivably leave us with an unchanged relationship between the two Houses. The 2008 White Paper advised us that a reformed second Chamber would almost certainly be more assertive, but rather strangely went on to state:
This position has been swallowed hook, line and sinker by the coalition Government. On what grounds do the Government make the assumption that "a more assertive House" will wish to continue to operate,
Those of us who claim that an elected House would demand more powers are accused of failing to explain how such powers would be granted if they were dependent on the agreement of the primary Chamber. This is the point. There is of course no guarantee that they would be granted. As the noble Lord the Leader of the House told us on 29 June:
What is virtually certain is that an assertive elected Chamber would none the less demand greater powers. If, as is likely, the primary Chamber refused the demand, the scene would be set for a continuing and bitter struggle between the two Houses. The Government and those on other Benches advocating an elected Chamber clearly do not wish to acknowledge that possibility. Such self-deception is worrying and dangerous.
I have not said anything that has not already been said, but the more people who say it and the more often they say it, the greater the hope that the coalition Government may see the light. I certainly hope that is the case.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, though I had spent a lot of my life on the political fringes, the range of exceptional experience, ability and independence of view that I found on my arrival to your Lordships' House came as a very welcome surprise and has convinced me that the balance and value of what history has delivered to make today's House of Lords is more than worth fighting for. What we have is a typical British accident, but one that works supremely well.
As your Lordships will know, normally I find myself making the case for equality and non-discrimination, but on this issue I want to strike exactly the opposite note: that is, that the membership and composition of the two Houses of Parliament are, and must continue to be, absolutely different from each other, for that difference makes all that is best out of the partnership between the two Houses. The crucial difference, of course, is that one is elected and the other is not, and that the elected House is the master and has the last word while the other-misleadingly called the upper House-does not. The Members of the first House, the elected House, are recruited, rather like soldiers in a regimental system, and are bound to each other in solidarity, whereas the membership of this House is much more individualistic and independent. Most of us are selected through a very strict process.
In short, we all have independent experience and expertise that are very different from those in the other place, and we must remain so. Why, otherwise, should we need-as others have said-two different Houses? It is because the deciders-the Commons-may well be able to take a broad view but they have to take account as well of the distinct and often different judgments that emerge at this end of the Building. That very difference-the input from two directions-is the fundamental of our Parliament: in other words, vive la différence. If either of the two Houses was to lose its distinctive quality, which is what would happen if elected Members began arriving here, the mother of Parliaments would become a much less effective place and much less of a model to the world, and the British constitution would suffer a gravely damaging blow.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, were we to move to a wholly elected House of Lords, in my view we would do immense damage in three directions. First, we
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The creation of a wholly elected House of Lords would do immense damage to the House of Commons as Members elected to this House, by whatever method, will not replicate the size and number of constituencies of the other House. The respective elections could not be held on the same day: to do so would be utterly pointless. Elected Members of this House could say to Members of the other House, "I have a much better mandate than you, my friend. I was elected by more people and I was elected more recently, so you just listen to me". Anybody who thinks that the balance between the two Houses will remain as it is today has another thing coming to them. You do not need to know very much about constitutional history to know that the United States Senate was first an appointed body. Then the House of Representatives was foolish enough to allow the Senate to be elected. Who is top dog now? That process did not take very long and will inevitably happen again, whatever restrictions are imposed on the relationship between the two Houses. This House will say, "I want supply-to hell with the Parliament Act-and I want more Cabinet Ministers".
The third place where the damage would be done is quite clearly in this House. We would lose the Cross-Benchers, and that would be a terrible thing. There would be no military experience to speak of here. There is none down the other end; you can be quite sure of that. You would lose the Bench of Bishops. I think we made a great mistake in getting rid of the Law Lords. There just would not be the experience. You would have just the B team, the failures and the duds who could not even make it there and who were insufficient in number to make a Government. That is what you would get in this place, and then you would get the pernicious influence of the Whips. I have said enough.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, grateful as I am for this short debate on the important issue of the function of the House of Lords, I hope that at some point before we consider legislation we will have a proper, full-scale, two-day debate, because the most important issue is: what function do we wish the House of Lords to perform? Once we have decided on that, you tailor everything else to make us able better to fulfil that function.
I regret to say that I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said at the start of this debate as regards the folly of electing a House and hoping that it will stay the same as the present one. The Scottish Parliament has been in business for slightly over 10 years. It is already seeking more powers. If the
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You have the choice of either having re-election, in which case you get accountability-undoubtedly there would be people wanting to get the power to demonstrate to their constituents that they had delivered what they had promised-or not having re-election, whereby, frankly, you have no accountability whatever; you elect me on day one and I do precisely what I want for the rest of the 15 years or so for which I may be elected.
We have at the moment a constitutional convention-the Cunningham agreement. It is vital that we decide, first, whether we wish to change that in any way. If not, we stick with what we have, because we change the Cunningham convention at our peril. We are living in very strange times in politics. Things that would have been thought impossible a year ago are now happening. Coalition government is one; changes in the Scottish Parliament are another; and the Welsh Assembly is becoming a Scottish-style Parliament. If we have an elected House, you do not know where that is going to lead.
The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, I spoke in the reform debate of 1999 and now speak in a similar debate, having spent the intervening years outside this place. This distance from Parliament has confirmed for me that the purpose and reform of the Lords is too important an issue to be left as a wrangle between the two Houses, between parties, and over primacy. My concern is rather how we should further democratise Parliament as a whole. I should like to see the issue decided much more by the public; but first we need better to engage and inform them about aspects of the current system which we Members of this House know would be lost in a fully elected membership, but that the public might think are worth retaining.
For example, it would be a tragedy not to keep in some form that part, currently 25 per cent of this House, which is independent from party politics-namely the Cross-Benchers. That is attainable through a mixed membership. Independence brings many beneficial features, including the chance for Members to think, act and vote according to their consciences, and to debate freely the contentious topics untouched by the other place. Indeed, a modern reformed House of Lords should recognise that, rather than being a lesser other place, it could be celebration of public involvement in government.
Rather than narrowing down politics to tighter control by professional politicians, should we not be opening up our second House to the British people? If
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Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, the theme running through the ongoing debate about the future of this House is the ignorance in the other place of the working and-dare I say it?-the effectiveness of this House. It applies to all parties and has certainly, so far as I can recall, ever been thus. One of the effects of this is the unawareness among many of our colleagues in the Commons of just how well they are presently served in the current legislative relationship between the two Houses. To take one example, flagship Bills have been given six times the amount of Committee time in this House compared with the other place. We pose no constitutional threat.
The pros and cons of an elected House have been rehearsed many times during this debate: the expense, and the problems of finding candidates of sufficient quality. However, transcending all that in constitutional terms are the powers that an elected House would seek-nay, demand. There is only one place that those can come from-the House of Commons, and how popular would that be down there?
Much has been made of the present lack of democratic legitimacy in your Lordships' House. Perhaps I may respectfully suggest that that is precisely how it should be-no challenge to the supremacy of the other place. Rather, we would do well to build on the present structure of our House, which, it can be argued, is probably working more effectively than it has ever done in the whole of its history, but with one major proviso: we must have a strong statutory Appointments Commission and, indeed, one that is proofed from any gerrymandering on its composition.
Finally, there are two bedrocks which any changes in this House must enshrine, so well articulated by my noble friend Lord Forsyth. The first is the ability of this House to get the Government to think again and the second, which to some degree is a corollary of the first, is to provide that in principle the Government should in the end get their business.
As a new Member who joined your Lordships' House in June this year, I am fully aware that this is the second Chamber in our parliamentary system. We are the revising House that sometimes asks the other place to think again. No party has a majority and the Conservative Government have to persuade the House of the merits of their case. However, at the end of the day the will of the Commons takes precedence if no agreement can be reached.
If we move to an elected second Chamber, this noble House will become democratically legitimate. No matter what is put in place to guarantee the supremacy of the Commons, the fact that Members sitting on these Benches are elected will change the whole relationship between the two Houses. That may be something that this House wants to do but, if that is where we go, we have to be prepared to face up to the consequences of that fact.
What we will not get away with is having elections at the same time as the local or European elections on some national or regional PR list system, with Members being returned and this House carrying on as before because we have the Parliament Acts and the Salisbury convention. Maybe we will need a Clegg or a Taylor convention so that we codify how the Government would deal with a newly elected House of Lords elected midway through their mandate. The candidates will have stood on their parties' manifestos and some Members will have been returned to this House with the democratic authority to oppose specific elements of the Government's manifesto put to the country some years before.
From my few short months in this House, I suggest that there is much here that the other place could learn from. No one likes change and that is as true of this House as it is of any other organisation or workplace. As we begin these discussions, we should do so with caution, proper debate and careful consideration of the consequences of any proposals for change.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, the purpose of the House of Lords is to scrutinise legislation, especially legislation which the Commons has not had the time or the inclination to scrutinise; to hold the Executive to account from a less partisan perspective than exists in the Commons; to create and sustain a core of men and women of knowledge and experience with a duty to contribute to public debate in Parliament and outside; and to act as an ultimate backstop to prevent a temporary Commons majority riding roughshod over Britain's constitution and its people's liberties. A moment's thought should convince any objective observer that these functions are best discharged by an essentially appointed rather than elected House.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, I had the privilege of being Chairman of Ways and Means for five years when the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, was Speaker. Both she and I believe totally in the primacy of the House of Commons. Having said that, I hope that the coalition Government will fully take on board the probing questions which she asked earlier this afternoon.
I have one thing to add: the public trust the House of Lords and at the moment it is a fact of life that they do not trust the House of Commons. We have a very strange situation in that the one part which the British public trust is to be removed or dramatically changed and the other part is just to be tinkered with. As many noble Lords have said today, we are here to revise and to challenge the Government of the day and to do that
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Lord Haskel: My Lords, speaking at the end, it seems to me that this debate proves that we are a House in transition. Being a House in transition we have to tread very carefully; for instance, during this period there surely must be a balance of party groups. You cannot have an unelected House of Parliament in transition where one group of unelected party politicians has a majority. Not only is it a mockery of democracy, but it also inhibits our current work of revision. The triumphs of the House, listed in the article by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and repeated in this debate, happened because the Labour Government did not have a majority in this House. A majority in this House also allows the Government to be sloppy-perhaps the Opposition too, but that does not matter so much.
I know that the public's attitude to the House of Lords is very mixed, but for how long will they put up with unelected Peers, in a majority, with real power over their lives? In my view, it will not be long because the public are becoming more interested and more informed about the work of this House. As Liz Hallam Smith, our Director of Information Services points out in her paper to the Information Committee, if we are to have a reform agenda, the process will be enriched if we have an informed public. The public are becoming well informed and soon they will ask what is our purpose and what are we here for. It will not just be a matter for parliamentary debate. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to that point.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I wish to speak in the gap, which is somewhat unexpected in this debate. We are debating the function and not the membership of this House, although they are closely related. The essential function of an appointed House in a democracy is to protect the electorate from any structural or systemic failure in the elected Chamber which leaves them exposed to overmighty Government or the leeching away of their freedoms. I wonder how many of the electorate know that if it had not been for this House, any one of them could, on any day, have been told, without warning, that their name was on a piece of paper signed by the Home Secretary and that they were to be put in detention for three months without appeal and without access to a court, a judge or a jury. We stopped that on the day and night of 10 to 11 March 2005. That is what the House is for and that is what it did.
The other House had lost control of the Government, although they had a huge majority, because the Government control candidature and standing again, and Members' careers depend entirely on pleasing the
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Lord Bach: My Lords, my party's manifesto on House of Lords reform stated that we will hold referenda for moving to a democratic and accountable second Chamber. However, as is rather painfully obvious, we are not in power and therefore await the new Government's draft Bill with eager anticipation. Will it include mention of a referendum, for example? Almost as fascinating will be the reaction of Conservative Peers. As the Leader of the House has so often told us, and as appears so clear from this debate starting with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, they are absolutely eager for reform of this House. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has said it so many times and with such conviction that I almost believe him.
In the limited time that I have, I want to ask the Minister two direct questions. One is about the existing House and the other is about a reformed House. First, the here and now. Commentators and experts rightly argue that since the coalition was formed, the Government have a political majority in this House and can get their way at the first time of asking. Labour never sought a political majority. This House lost its political majority with the removal of the vast majority of hereditary Peers, but it is back again. Therefore I raise this question: is the role of the Liberal Democrats in this House now the same as that of the departed hereditaries? In other words, is it to back up a Conservative Government with their votes when necessary? How can the Government justify this state of affairs? How can the House be an effective revising and scrutinising Chamber if the Government have an inbuilt political majority? This is a question not just of political importance but of constitutional importance and I believe that it deserves an answer.
As regards a reformed House, the question posed by my noble friend Lord Hunt about timing needs an answer and I hope that we will get one this afternoon. Is the Minister confident that there will be sufficient time for the Bill to complete its passage through Parliament, having been debated properly in this House in keeping with its significance as a major constitutional change?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for bringing forward this short debate and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. It has been a good debate containing a great deal of wisdom, distilled and concentrated through the pressure of time. It is perhaps a good thing that it was moved from the dinner hour
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Several Members raised issues that might be described, as my noble friend Lord Elton observed, as commenting on the nature and character of the House and the style and manner in which it fulfils its purpose. Although not strictly speaking the terms of the debate, I understand why noble Lords consider those issues important and hope to be able to refer to them if I have time. The debate is on the purpose of the House of Lords, and many Members have given examples of what they think that is. The Government believe that its purpose can be summed up as threefold: first, to scrutinise legislation; secondly, to hold the Government to account-exactly the words used by my noble friend Lord Higgins; and, thirdly, to conduct investigations. I hope that this tallies with the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. Indeed, I think that all noble Lords have shown agreement with those three principal purposes of the House.
I will say a little more on each of those in turn, but I will do so in a constitutional context which recognises the primacy of the elected House of Commons. That is the cornerstone of this country's parliamentary system. The work of this House should complement that of the House of Commons. That was widely recognised by noble Lords. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that it is increasingly important that the two Houses work closely together, whatever the shape of this House.
Let us turn to the purposes in more detail. First, there is scrutinising of legislation. This House shares the role of law-making with the other place. However, this House, rightly, has a reputation for thorough and detailed scrutiny of legislation line by line. In the 2008-09 Session, Members spent 60 per cent of their time debating and scrutinising legislation. We made 1,824 amendments to Bills. It is a matter of pride in which all noble Lords will share that legislation leaves this Chamber much improved as a result of the thorough consideration it receives here.
I should like to tackle the canard laid by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Bach, about the arithmetic of this House. The arithmetic of this House has not been fundamentally altered by the existence of the coalition. After all, those on the Benches opposite greatly outnumber that of any other single party in this House. An argument will be won by winning the support of noble Lords across the House. It always has been so. Indeed, the Cross-Benchers are there to be influenced and their opinions supported. No Government have a majority in this House, even in coalition. It is argument that is sovereign, I like to think, in your Lordships' House.
The second purpose is described as holding the Government to account. In their speeches, many noble Lords considered it to be key to the House to hold the Government to account. I guess that that is what is happening at the moment. In the Chamber, about 40 per cent of time is spent this way. Through Questions and debates, this House challenges the Executive and holds it to account. In the 2008-09 Session, noble Lords asked 484 Oral Questions and more than 5,500 Written Questions. Many noble Lords have stood at this Dispatch Box and can testify to the rigour with which noble Lords hold the Government to account. The partially reformed House has no doubt become more assertive, defeating the Government on average on 50 occasions per Session. Outside the Chamber, in the Grand Committee Room, a further purpose is conducting investigations. The Committees of this House are one of its great resources. Their membership draws on a wide range of experience, and their reports are influential and well respected.
While respecting tradition, the House of Lords has also been prepared to embrace change and look forward with a renewed purpose. We need procedures which will help us to continue to fulfil our purpose. Over the past 18 months, this House has made a number of changes to improve its ability to scrutinise legislation and to hold the Government to account-for example, the new approach we have adopted to scrutinise Law Commission Bills. I am sure that the Leader's group chaired by my noble friend Lord Goodlad will look into the working practices of this House and will propose further improvements. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, considers that we should be clear about the purpose of the second Chamber before we consider further reform. I reassure him that the cross-party committee on which served my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, will consider this issue with their colleagues. As part of their remit, they are considering the function and powers of a reformed second Chamber. There is no reason to suppose that their recommendations will impact on the conventions of the House without them being fully considered by that cross-party committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Wills, asked about the working group to consider the constitutional implications of reform. I can confirm that it will be necessary to put the conventions on a statutory basis to reduce the powers of the second Chamber. A reformed second Chamber should have the powers that this House currently holds. The Government are not setting out to reduce the powers of this House. The cross-party group will be considering the conventions and codification as part of its deliberation. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who also asked about that issue.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am not a member of the joint cross-party committee, but the advice I have is that that is the case, that the Parliament Acts will not
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A further matter for the cross-party committee will be how to handle the potential risk to the expertise of the House in the independent Members. The committee will address outstanding issues, including the proportion of Members who should be elected. If the reformed second Chamber were mainly elected, there would still be a role for Cross-Benchers. As with the current House, Members of a reformed second Chamber could access expertise and experience in a number of ways, including via the committee system. The noble Baronesses, Lady Boothroyd and Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, asked what role there would be. If there is a mainly elected House, there would be a role for the Cross-Benchers.
Several noble Lords suggested that only an appointed second Chamber could continue to fulfil the functions and purposes of the House as the Government have described them. The Government do not accept that. We believe that elections will not undermine the ability of the House to fulfil its functions but will enhance it. There is no doubt that this House will continue to develop its role during its transition to a wholly or mainly elected Chamber. The Government recognise the need for an orderly process of transition from the current House to a reformed second Chamber. The Government are clear that this House performs its role well and can be proud of the work that it does. We strongly believe that there is not a noble Lord, whatever his or her views, who does not want the best for this House. The Government share this view and hope to have a constructive debate when we publish a Bill in draft early next year. I can assure noble Lords that there will be no pressure to rush pre-legislative scrutiny of this draft Bill. I can almost hear my noble friend the Leader of the House saying it in those terms. Indeed, I am sure that there will be many further opportunities to debate this issue, and I look forward to them.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, perhaps I may take the noble Lord through the timetable. Before the Summer Recess, the Government published a programme showing that they hoped that the Bill would go to the other place by November 2011. There is not much time between November 2011 and April/May 2012 for a Bill to go through both Houses. Can I assume from what he has said that the intention is that the timetable will be lengthier than that?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I can assure the noble Lord that the pre-legislative process is extremely important. We cannot get a satisfactory resolution of this issue unless all parties to the discussion feel that they have a proper opportunity for debate and for giving their input. At the moment, a relatively small group of people is setting about the task with a purpose. The all-party committee is representative of the senior figures of this House and of the House of Commons. Its draft Bill is the material with which Members of this House will be able to debate and the whole process
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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I would imagine that it will take the form of a Joint Committee of both Houses, but I am not in a position to suggest that form. The draft Bill will be debated by this House. It will be up to this House to determine that.
Lord Bates: My Lords, it is my privilege to lead off in what I am reliably informed by the House of Lords Library is the first time that the Olympic truce has been debated specifically in your Lordships' House. Perhaps I may express at the outset to the distinguished list of Members who have put their names forward to speak in this debate how grateful I am that they have rallied to the cause at such short notice. In securing this debate and in my enthusiasm to accept the time slot allotted by the business managers, I failed to recognise that many of the distinguished Members who would have wanted to take part are at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. In particular, my noble friends Lord Coe and Lord Moynihan have asked me to place on record their sincere apologies. They very much wanted to be here to support this debate, but unfortunately they cannot be.
On 7 October, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, as chairman of the British Olympic Association, spoke in this House of the importance of the Olympic truce in his excellent contribution to the millennium development goals debate. Following that, he wrote to me saying that he hoped that the Government would respond positively to this debate. In that regard, our chances of securing a positive response are much improved by the fact that my noble friend Lady Rawlings is responding on behalf of the Government, given her intuitive understanding and commitment to international relations.
Despite this UN resolution being agreed to by all member states, it has hitherto been totally ignored at a government level. Today, the Olympic truce is seen purely as symbolic, accompanied by a flag outside the stadium and a peace wall inside the Olympic village, but that was not always the case.
At the outset of the ancient Olympic Games, the truce was not an optional extra; it was its very purpose-it was not symbolic, but sacred. In 776 BC the Greek king, Iphitos, frustrated at the perpetual state of war, consulted the oracle at Delphi, who proposed a sporting competition every four years that would have as its aim the bringing together of military and political leaders in one place where they could seek to resolve their differences peacefully, with athletes competing together as Olympians rather than as citizens of a city state.
The sacred truce was remarkably successful. The ancient Olympics ran for 1,168 years, until they were ended by the Romans in AD 394, and during that time violations of the truce were extremely rare. By contrast, in the 116 years of the modern Olympiad, the Games have had to be cancelled three times due to war, have experienced major boycotts on five occasions and have twice been the focal point of terrorist attacks. In ancient Greece, people stopped fighting to take part in the Games; in the modern era, we stop the Games in order to keep fighting. What is it that we have lost in 3,000 years of civilisation that makes even today the notion that combatants may exercise restraint during a period of truce such a distant dream? I suggest not that the concept of the truce has been tried and found difficult but that it has been found difficult and left untried. To coin a phrase, I believe that we can do things differently next time.
The reason for this optimism is a remarkable visionary, Jeremy Gilley, a British documentary producer who began a campaign in 1997 to get the international community, through the United Nations, to advance one day of global peace-the campaign is called Peace One Day. In 2001, that campaign was endorsed unanimously by the United Nations-like the Olympic truce-and was proposed by the British Government. In 2007, 2008 and 2009, Peace One Day brokered a one-day truce in Afghanistan between warring factions, including the Taliban. The truce allowed health workers from UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and many other agencies to move into areas hitherto unreachable due to violent conflict. As a result, over a period of three years, some 4.5 million children were immunised against polio. It is an utterly inspiring story, which shows what can be done with just one day of truce, let alone the prospect of 20 or 30 days. This reminds us that the value lies not in the truce itself but in what it allows us to do. When the guns fall silent, the voices of reason have a chance to be heard above the bomb and the bullet and, when the guns stop, the delivery of vital humanitarian aid can start.
Specifically, I urge the Government to consider what initiatives they could take to exploit the opportunities presented by the Olympic truce surrounding the London 2012 Games. Could they consider hosting a G8-style summit on the theme of truce? The aspiration would be to seek to advance the case for peace and reconciliation
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This reminds us of the supremacy of politics and the deficiency, in the final equation, of violence as a means of achieving the lasting resolution of disputes. I believe that the Olympic truce represents a golden opportunity to advance a fresh vision of an international society, with the alluring prospect that the legacy of London 2012 will be not just sporting venues, medals won and records broken, but lives saved and hope restored. All that is required for that to happen is that, in their ambition, belief and courage, our athletes on the track and in the field are matched by politicians and diplomats in the corridors of power.
Lord Puttnam: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for raising this issue and for making the debate possible. I have little to say other than to support him entirely in his aims. I hope that the Government and others listen.
I will add just two thoughts, which I hope may be helpful. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, touched on, there has been a precedent with UNICEF, whose days of tranquillity-sometimes called the corridors of peace-have been remarkably successful. There have been about a dozen of them since 1985. As the noble Lord said, most recently, in December of last year, more than 3 million children under the age of five were immunised against a particularly virulent form of polio. That was achieved with the support and co-operation of the Taliban. If you can deal with them, I suspect that you can deal with almost anyone. That is important. Certainly UNICEF would powerfully support the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Bates.
My second, possibly more significant, thought concerns the special symbolism that ties the notion of peace to the Paralympics. I know that Paralympians are not necessarily thrilled when they get separated in any way, shape or form from the Olympic Games, but to me the Paralympics are a special, symbolic issue. There is a tragic and all too obvious link between violent conflict and disability. That link is extraordinarily well symbolised by the presence of victims of conflict-most recently in Afghanistan-in the UK's 2012 Paralympics team. I mention three. Private Derek Derenalagi, a member of the 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, was injured in Afghanistan in 2007, losing both legs. He is now a successful javelin thrower and part of Team GB. That is quite extraordinary. Lance Corporal Terry Byrne lost a leg in Helmand province and is now a developing Paralympian cyclist. Jon-Allan Butterworth, a former RAF weapons engineer, lost his left arm in 2007 and is now a part of the Great Britain cycling development squad. These are all extraordinary examples-and there will be more. I have no doubt whatever that, when we are watching on Channel 4 the Paralympics 2012, other victims of the violence in Afghanistan will be representing this country. I cannot think of anything more moving or more symbolic to support the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, is making.
Over the weekend I watched a quite remarkable film-I doubt that it will be seen in many cinemas in this country-called "Lebanon". When I was watching it, it struck me that you had to have a powerful lack of imagination to have any time whatever for the concept of war. For an hour and 40 minutes, you are inside an Israeli tank in Lebanon in 1982. Anyone who can watch that film and come away from it thinking that there is anything to be said for violent conflict has a breadth of imagination that I clearly lack.
This is about having the imagination and guts to do something that many people think is impossible. However, we know that it is not impossible-UNICEF has proved that it is not impossible-and I commend the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for raising the issue. I hope to God that people listen.
Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for raising this subject, primarily because it takes people out of the normal boxes in which they think. A few of us will do sport, a few of us will do international development and a few of us will do other things, and we try to look at them across our little silos. I have often berated parts of government for not talking to each other-indeed I have a standard speech for doing so-but we all do it. This has brought home to me the fact that we occasionally think that sport does X, international development does Y and other things do other things. However, it also shows the power of the Olympic Games as an international celebration and how they can go on to mean something else.
The Olympics have clearly grown in most people's eyes over the past few years. The ending of the Cold War did more for the Olympics than anything else because it is no longer a "them and us" situation and
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However, the idea that a mass celebration-it is not just a nation's celebration, but a worldwide celebration-should aspire to do something more is a good one. We can celebrate something tangible in a sporting context. That by the time you get to the field you should be on even terms and have a chance to interact as equals is probably the greatest idea of sport. Let us assume that we all have the same budgets and preparation, although here I am possibly going back to my normal silo. If the Games can take place and people can watch, they are surely a very good vehicle for taking forward other ideas.
The London Games have set themselves a very high benchmark in being concerned with legacy. An international legacy that can be built on, or at least a model for our country that other nations can follow, is incredibly difficult to achieve. If London gets it right, it will be surpassed fairly quickly because it will have taken the first steps on a difficult road-we are almost guaranteeing that we will take the first step.
The programme for international inspiration is probably the most interesting of the many projects that are emerging at the moment. The organisers are saying, "We will take this abroad, speak to other nations and try to get young people involved in sport". Are we going to try to develop the idea beyond our legacy and prepare it for the Olympic legacy? Do we want to leave something that will be remembered and which somebody else can pick up, take forward-it will be Brazil next time-and expand and grow? Hopefully, we may even bring it home one day. If we can do that, we will have done something very special.
When we look at the ancient Games, we always forget the other games that went on at the time and how they became a circuit building up to the Olympics as the major event. I suggest that we try to bring in competitions such as the Commonwealth Games and the various world championships and make them more a part. We were talking about silos. The organisers of the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games like to talk to themselves rather than to each other. Indeed, they have squabbled in the past about which has the greatest participation in certain sports. For instance, I heard doubt expressed for a long time about whether Scotland takes hockey seriously in the Olympics because it enjoys the Commonwealth Games more. If one can see the bigger picture, silly interactions of this type will hopefully be cut down, helping sport along the way.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, has started a very interesting discussion. I feel that most of us are not well enough prepared to go into it at any great length, so I shall sit down in a few moments. How are the Government making sure that we as the host nation are starting something that can be carried on? How
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Let us go further. Then, you had to be Greek, not a trouser-wearing barbarian, which I believe is the ancestry of just about everyone taking part in this debate or listening to it. We can go beyond that and reach out to see how we can touch the rest of the world. When the Minister responds, if she could give us an idea about reaching out so that something that starts with the Olympics will go on and be renewed and given greater incentives at various points, we would be doing good here. We have proved that people are interested in the Olympics. They want the Games and will take time out to watch them. Surely, asking people who are taking time out to watch the Games to take time out to stop killing each other with such vigour is not that big a shift.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: My Lords, I, too, am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has raised this important subject for debate this afternoon. I would like to speak briefly about the inspiration of the truce for young people and artists. Whereas the role of the Government is very important, the role of other organisations such as LOCOG, the Cultural Olympiad and the Olympic Festival are also important. I remind the House that I am chair of the Cultural Olympiad Board and on the board of LOCOG.
My job and that of the team preparing for Festival 2012 is to make sure that some of the best creative talent in the world and in this country can give their best in the run-up to Games time. It is interesting that as we develop the programme with some of the world's greatest artists, including many of the UK's brightest, one theme keeps returning as an inspiration for the festival's creative commissions. For many artists, the story of the Olympic truce and the idea of what the truce can do is an inspiration.
In ancient Greece, artists were part of the Olympic celebrations, which meant that when everyone in the ancient world agreed to a truce they came to watch not only the sportsmen but the artists. That idea of intertwining sport and art is exactly what we hope we can achieve in this country in 2012. In 2012, artists will have the chance to speak to the world, and the opportunities are greater than ever before in our history if we think about the millions-or probably billions-who will join in by watching digitally.
Of course, artists will do what artists want to do and we all know that the only way to get the very best shows, concerts, performances, exhibitions and events is by giving them the ability to do exactly that. What is so interesting is that so many artists and talented creative and cultural partners are already turning to the idea of peace and truce as a theme that they want to pursue with their creative work preparing for 2012. It is what they want to say to the world. That is not
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Let me give noble Lords a couple of examples of the sort of projects that the idea of truce is inspiring. On World Peace Day this year, the Cultural Olympiad launched a creative collaboration with the charity Peace One Day, whose founder, Jeremy Gilley, has achieved so much through the power of film, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, reminded us earlier on. The project that we are working on together will involve young people in creative workshops who will then end up making their own short films in our programme called "Film Nation: Shorts". The best of those films will be shown in the Olympic Park in 2012 and will be showcased by Peace One Day at its World Peace Day concert at the O2 next year. That scheme for young people is sponsored by Panasonic. I mention that only because its company motto is:
Another example shows how these themes of truce and peace are something of which this country has a lot to offer the world in 2012. I am talking about the experience of people in Northern Ireland and the extraordinary and difficult route taken towards resolving that conflict. For all of us, a highlight of the Cultural Olympiad programme so far has been the Pied Piper project in Belfast, a performance bringing together primary school children and their families from across Catholic and Protestant communities, in a powerful example of the way in which music can foster friendship and reconciliation. The Cultural Olympiad and its festival will have as one of its most important partners Derry-Londonderry city of culture 2013, which like us has put the theme of peace and reconciliation at the heart of its creative programme. We share a passion to show how the arts can illuminate and support the process of peace and will be sharing creative commissions to help Derry to build up its programme in 2013, and a legacy beyond.
The inspiration of the Olympic truce is a powerful tradition of the Games and for London 2012. I am delighted that the inspiration will enrich also our education and cultural programmes. LOCOG intends that from September next year schools will be invited to learn about the principles of building bridges, community cohesion and conflict resolution in a major initiative around the idea of Olympic truce. We are working in 15,000 schools in the UK and building up to working with 12 million young people in schools in 20 countries around the world. I hope that the Government will support this wonderful work.
The UK's creativity was one of the strengths that won us the Olympic Games, and our arts and creative industries are envied worldwide. We want our festival in 2012 to show the UK at its best and to be a springboard for economic growth and cultural tourism. As Boris Johnson's cultural adviser memorably said:
Culture is what attracts vital tourist income, and London 2012 is our chance to show the world how wonderful our cultural institutions and creative artists are. I hope that the Government think very carefully about how best to ensure that, come 2012, we show off what sets this country apart: its arts, its culture and its creative industries. We also want a festival that raises the bar for artistic commissions, inspired by the themes of Olympic truce, which future Olympics could find hard to beat. We have the talent and ambition, and we hope that we have the Government's wholehearted support.
The Lord Bishop of London: Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, both for introducing this subject and for the way in which he introduced it, as well as the very practical menu that he has drawn up for government comment. I join those who have talked about the role of sport and art in the ancient Olympic Games. Of course, those noble Lords who actually know the site of ancient Olympia will know that it was a combination of Wembley Stadium and Westminster Abbey. There was constant reference to the temple of Zeus and the sacred truce, which the noble Lord, Lord Bates, recalled, was believed to be policed by Zeus himself, protecting travellers to the sacred territory of Elis for the seven-day period before and after the Games.
There is a beautiful Greek word for the truce-ekecheiria. It meant a holding of hands. That was the vision extended to people. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, remarked, we should not be bemused by, or too idealistic about, these ancient precedents. The terms were somewhat limited, as he suggested. The ancient Greeks were notably pugnacious. Aristophanes made his point about "trousered barbarians" in his play, "Lysistrata", which describes a sex strike by the women of ancient Athens in a "make love, not war" campaign. The women say:
So there was very definitely a limitation on people's sympathies. That in some way should be an enormous encouragement to us, because there has been an expansion of idealism in connection with the Olympic Games, and we should not cease to underline that point. In the medieval West in the 10th and 11th centuries, there was a "truce of God" movement in the area of modern Europe that includes France and Germany in an attempt to curb the endemic warfare among feudal barons. In some form or other, that truce lasted for nearly three centuries. The modern truce movement has already been described by other noble Lords and, inspired by those precedents, More Than Gold-the ecumenical body which brings together all the Christian churches concerned with making the London Olympics a success-has already pledged itself to support the initiative of a truce. Led by a member of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, it has pushed out that
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Speaking as Bishop of London, I am chairman of London Church Leaders; that group represents the 650,000 Christians who worship at least once a week in more than 4,000 churches in the Greater London area. It includes the Archbishop of Westminster and leaders of free and black-led churches. We have already discussed ways of applying the truce to London, where-I make this point particularly-with experience of street-level work and street pastors spreading in various forms throughout the capital, we see the truce as potentially very significant in assembling the enthusiasm and commitment of young people to combat gun and knife crime. We already have bodies working on that, so we have a network which could make a substantial contribution.
Noble Lords have, absolutely rightly, talked of the international dimension. We are focusing on what can be done in the environs of the Olympic stadium itself and looking for ways of co-operating with other agencies to make the truce effective. Internationally, when your Lordships look at the reach and influence of the great world religions, it will be vital to get them on board very soon. I think of the recent visit of Benedict XVI, in the margins of which was an attempt to see how we could work effectively with Vatican agencies internationally, to push some of the agendas in climate change and development which have been promoted to that important sphere of questions and policies which are beyond the partisan battles in which we all participate. It seems to me that this is another candidate for the kind of co-operation with international faith networks that the Pope was talking about.
The ancient truce was proclaimed throughout Greece by three heralds; we shall need rather more. We will need credible heralds to carry the message to every community in the street around the stadium, and will want to proclaim the Olympic Truce and make our small contribution to the general effort. At St Paul's Cathedral, we intend to organise an event bringing together not only Christians but supporters of all the nine major, recognised religions in London to proclaim the truce. It seems that we will have to work out very carefully a process of commending this and penetrating the community at depth. We hope that the truce will be proclaimed in every one of those 4,000 churches of Greater London and, because we already have solid interfaith relations, we will be working with friends in mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras and temples to ensure that this really exemplifies one of the things which sold the Games to London-our extraordinary cultural diversity and extraordinary experience of cultural and religious harmony. In that spirit, I once again thank the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for initiating this important debate.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, is to be congratulated on having obtained this debate on an Olympic Truce, and to have done so in good time for thought to be given to the question well ahead of the London Olympic Games in 2012. We have heard a lot about the benefits that the
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It is all too easy to decry the idea of an Olympic Truce, which after all was not invariably effective even among the city states of ancient Greece. It is easy to say that it is hopelessly utopian. Attempts to use the concept of an Olympic Truce in the 100 years or more since the Games were revived have tended to fall on deaf ears, alas, and to be ignored by the parties to violent disputes around the globe, but that is no reason to shrug our shoulders and walk away. Rather, it is a reason to be a bit more imaginative and practical in developing the idea in the context of the London Olympics. It is probably utopian to hope that every conflict will cease temporarily for the duration of the London Games; and it can be argued that a mere cessation of hostilities for a few weeks, followed by their resumption, would not bring a huge amount of benefit. However, the idea of an Olympic Truce is in essence a form of conflict prevention, and the scope for improving on the international community's performance in this field is considerable. Hardly one of the conflicts that have broken out since the end of the Cold War-both those between states and the even more numerous ones within states-came out of a blue sky. Most were preceded by plentiful signs that hostilities were going to break out. What was lacking was not forewarning, but any effective action taken to prevent it happening.
We all know that the cost of successful conflict prevention, in terms of resources, is a tiny fraction of that of dealing with the conflict once it has broken out, so would it not make very good sense to use the occasion of the London Olympics in 2012 to reinvigorate the international community's efforts at conflict prevention? I suggest that any such initiative would need to be focused on the United Nations. Its charter enjoins it to rid the world of the scourge of war, and its track record in conflict prevention over the years has been a good deal better than it is ever given credit for. However, it is short of resources and often short also of that indispensable commodity, political will, without which conflicts are seldom prevented.
I hope the Minister will say that the Government will give careful thought to ways in which the UN's capacity for conflict prevention could be strengthened, and to how best that could be achieved by making use of the occasion of the London Olympics and the noble and ancient concept of an Olympic Truce. After all, Britain plays an important role still at the United Nations as a permanent member of the Security Council and as a major donor to help achieve the millennium development goals that the House debated only last week. Can we not put that role to good use
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In conclusion, perhaps I may do something that is virtually unheard of in this House and complain about having been given too much time to speak-a problem that I notice has assailed every other speaker in the debate. Earlier this afternoon, we had a very important debate in which the speakers were limited to two minutes. Last week, we had a debate on the millennium development goals in which the speakers were limited to four minutes: that is, half a minute per millennium development goal. I am moved to suggest that this is not the way in which railroads ought to be run. I am not asking the noble Baroness to respond-I know that these matters fall to those other than her-but I hope that on the Olympian Areopagus where the usual channels have their meetings, they might think a bit about the absurdity that they create by the rigid application of these rules. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, who is looking into these matters, might think about that, too.
Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for raising this debate and for kindly reminding me that I might have the opportunity to sneak in and make a few comments as time allowed. I have listened to the discussion with interest. I declare an interest as a Paralympian. The idea of an Olympic and Paralympic Truce is a wonderful ambition, but I wonder whether we might widen it to think about the power of sport to change the world.
The Games themselves are about two weeks of competition, but also so much more than that. They are about the influence we have over physical activity and how we encourage young people to think differently about themselves. Sport has such a strong power to influence society and bring about change. We need only to look at the athletes from countries that won medals at the Commonwealth Games to see not just the celebrations among the athletes but those among people at home.
What I know from sport is that young women who do two hours of physical activity a week are less likely to be teenage mothers, more likely to stay at school, more likely to have career ambitions and less likely to be in abusive relationships. This is something that we should want for all young people. Sport helps set the tone to achieve some amazing things. The truce might be a long way off but maybe we should think about baby steps along the way.
The Olympic and Paralympic Games have huge power to influence and bring about change. By hosting the Games in 2012 we have an opportunity to set a mark for the other countries that will follow us to try to reach. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned International Inspiration. I have huge pleasure in being an ambassador for that charity, which is about the legacy of the 2012 Games. I recently had the opportunity to travel to Jordan to see the influence that London is having on the rest of the world. There, young girls have the opportunity to play together and learn, which
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Baroness Billingham: My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for securing this debate on the Olympic Truce and congratulate all today's speakers on their excellent contributions. It has been a glittering cast of speakers, who have lifted this debate far beyond the boundaries that I anticipated. This is something of a first for me. I have taken part in many debates. In some I have been full of confidence, knowledge and conviction. In others I have been less informed but have had enough facts at my disposal to make a half-decent presentation. However, when on Friday I was asked to wind up today's debate for the Opposition, I was flummoxed. I had never even heard of the Olympic Truce-but not any more. Following today's debate and the contributions from around the Chamber, and some intensive Googling and trawling through Hansard to find previous speeches over the weekend, I am now happy to pronounce myself fully truce-conversant. In fact, I will undoubtedly declare myself to be a world authority on this matter in the time-honoured way of politicians who have always, down the ages, taken such a stance.
What is the truce about? We have heard much this afternoon. We now know that in 776 BC the peace-loving King Iphitos yearned for the warring factions to cease killing each other-a noble thought. He made what can only be described as a grand gesture, using the four-yearly Games in Athens as a catalyst for change. He decreed that for three months around the Games peace would prevail. Furthermore, penalties would be imposed on any nation that broke the truce. Thus, for more than 1,000 years the truce became part of the Olympic legacy. The king was inspired to this plan of action following visits to Delphi, where he witnessed the Games and consulted the oracle.
I, too, visited Delphi some years ago. I was struck by the magical feeling of the place. It is a place of stunning beauty, high on the side of Mount Parnassus, with an area sculpted out of the mountainside. It is breathtaking. I remember sitting on the sun-warmed stone steps around the sporting arena, looking down and imagining the sporting activities there, and looking even further down beyond the arena to the Sea of Corinth sparkling beneath us. It is a great place for reflection, and a visit to the nearby cave of the oracle gives an even more mystical feel to the whole experience.
As we bring ourselves back to the Chamber today, let us evaluate the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, that the 2012 Games to be held in London should recapture some of the peace and tranquillity that a truce would bring. No doubt there are many merits. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, reminded us, the United Nations sets the tone for this and gives us an object lesson in how it can be dealt with. However, my practical intuition has in its mind's eye a negative thought, for which I apologise but cannot avoid. I have a vision of a meeting between the noble Lord, Lord Bates, the Prime Minister and all the Ministers
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It is a pleasure for me to wind up the debate on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition and I do so as a keen observer of the merits of the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, but I fear that my response can only be delphic.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Bates for tabling this Question on the timely, important subject of the Olympic Truce. Tributes have rightly been paid to him; he has pursued this matter for some time with much passion. I am truly grateful to all the speakers who obviously care and have made such constructive contributions. I say "timely", not lightly, as the Government are just starting the process of preparing their resolution on the truce for the United Nations. As is often the case, your Lordships' House is ahead of the game.
The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, enlightened us about the Olympics, being a great sporting lady herself, as we all know. I had heard about the truce only because I had listened to my noble friend's impassioned speech this June. I was fascinated then, and am more so now after hearing all your Lordships' speeches.
This Government take the truce very seriously and will be taking measures to make sure that it is properly observed and promoted in relation to the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games. The IOC revived this concept only in 1992, calling on the international community to observe the Olympic truce for the duration and to table a resolution in the United Nations in advance of their Games. While each resolution reflects the specific ambitions of the individual host country, they represent a consistent ideal,
We have used the UK's hosting of the Games to promote these benefits directly. The London 2012 Get Set programme explains the Olympic values in a new and engaging way. More than 14,500 schools have now signed up to the programme. The International Inspiration programme is active in 13 countries and has given more than 6 million young people increased opportunities in sport. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, mentioned UNICEF, which is part of this. I thank my noble friend Lord Addington, who so often enlightens us on sporting matters, for his eloquent contribution to today's debate, for his close involvement in the establishment
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The UK has actively supported the Olympic Truce resolutions in advance of recent Olympic Games to demonstrate our support for the ambitions of the respective host countries. In doing so we have sought also to highlight the UK's role as host country for 2012, which we must not forget is Her Majesty's the Queen's Jubilee year.
As the host country for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, Canada sought to promote through the Olympic Truce the contribution that sport can make to peace. The UK co-sponsored United Nations General Assembly Resolution 64/4 of 19 October 2009 to support Canada's ambition. Canada's resolution placed greater emphasis on people with disabilities and the Paralympic Games than previous resolutions. The Paralympic Games were inspired by the Stoke Mandeville games in 1948 and the UK may look at disability as a theme for our resolution. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, rightly stressed this idea, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, reminded us clearly of the importance of the truce in this area.
The Olympic Truce was established around 776 BC to create a period during which the athletes, pilgrims, artists and their families could travel in safety to participate in or attend the Olympic Games and return to their respective countries. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, in his most eloquent and witty speech, reminded us of the sacredness of the truce and of his project involving nine religions. As my noble friend Lord Bates pointed out in his speech in your Lordships' House on 14 June, the truce was very rarely violated during the almost 1,200-year history of the ancient Olympics. Offenders were sanctioned by suspension from the Games and tended not to reoffend.
Following my noble friend Lord Bates's two suggestions, first that the Government might consider including in the resolution targets, such as the UN millennium development goals on conflict resolution, the Government have not decided on a theme for the resolution and would be happy to consider all suggestions-many of which we have heard today. That is why this debate is so important. Traditionally, the text of the resolution is not controversial, which enables it to attract wide support from the UN membership. Secondly, he suggested that the UK might organise an intergovernmental conference during the 2012 Olympics. All my noble friend's ideas are very interesting and we know that many heads of state and government will be in London during the Games but it is too early to say what meetings may take place at the margins. However, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with his great experience of the United Nations and his many ideas, is right to say that there is a chance to benefit the rest of the world in conflict prevention and that this idea should be considered. Interestingly, though, the Olympic protocol dictates that no political conferences of intergovernmental meetings take place in the margins of the Games.
As the host country, the UK will be promoting a fresh resolution calling for the continued observance of the Olympic Truce for the 2012 Games, as has every nation since 1992. The UN General Assembly session will begin in late September 2011 and we expect our resolution to be adopted in October or November of that year.
Once again, I thank all noble Lords for all their suggestions in this debate. It has been perfect timing and most helpful in identifying the areas to be considered for the framing of our resolution. Perhaps I may write to noble Lords who have asked questions that fall outside the debate about the truce.
We look forward to hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London in the spirit of the initiative to provide an exciting and memorable experience for the competitors and the spectators, and to foster a spirit of international harmony and co-operation.
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