The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, we are considering the options for taking forward community justice and evaluating the effectiveness of the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre as part of that. We will consider the results of this evaluation once it has been completed later in the summer.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very encouraging response. Is he aware that the time taken from first hearing to sentencing is, on average, 26 days at the justice centre, which compares with the national average of 174 days? Can he assure the House that the evaluation will be independent and will look at the benefits, both social and economic, for the whole of the criminal justice system?
Lord McNally: My Lords, I think that I can give the right reverend Prelate that assurance. We are trying to learn all the lessons from the justice centre, which is a unique and innovative court model employing problem solving, partnership working, community involvement and a single-judge approach to tackling reoffending and improving community confidence in the justice system. We will seek in the study to learn lessons across the board which we can take into the wider criminal justice system.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, can the Minister be clearer about the assurance that he has just given to the right reverend Prelate? What will be the independent component of this investigation? Will he name the people, or the areas from which they are likely to come? It would be quite improper to leave this to the Ministry of Justice to do it itself.
Lord McNally: I am not sure whether it would be improper for the Ministry of Justice to do it itself. The Ministry of Justice is very able to carry out this kind of assessment. When the assessment is completed and we draw our conclusions from it, it will be fully published and open to debate and question in Parliament.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, in assessing the effectiveness of the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre, will the Minister pay particular tribute to His Honour Judge David Fletcher, who has shown formidable and robust leadership as the single judge administering this system? Inasmuch as the Minister has already referred to the reduction in the time between arrest and sentencing, will he also say a word about the role of restorative justice in repairing the wrong done to victims, in which this court has shown such leadership?
Lord McNally: Indeed, Judge Fletcher describes his approach as gripping-meaning that he is able, through this system, to deal holistically with the problems. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is right about restorative justice, which is not unique to the Liverpool experiment. Much of the evidence that we have received shows that there is benefit both to the victim, who gets some closure in the trauma they have gone through, and to the defendant, who receives a form of punishment that points in the direction of rehabilitation as well. I also have to say that in the experiments we are conducting, we have to look at the cost of the facilities as well as the various benefits they bring.
Lord Storey: My Lords, I am delighted to hear about the robust appraisal of the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool said, the speed with which cases are handled is phenomenal, as is the high rate of guilty pleas. Another important consideration is the need to have a member of the judiciary at the heart of a deprived community, with all the strength that that person brings. Could that be part of the appraisal, please?
Lord McNally: It certainly is part of the appraisal. One factor that has played very heavily is the fact that the centre is in a deprived community and has a permanent judge of very high rank who is able to hear a wide range of cases. These factors come into effect, but we also have to weigh other factors. The study so far does not show a great impact on reoffending rates, but that has to be a factor. The overall cost of the facility also has to be taken into account in present circumstances. However, we are looking across the board and later in the summer we will be able to draw lessons from the study.
Lord Woolf: My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that this initiative followed one that happened in the United States? There, it has been an immense success. I disclose an interest not only because of my chairmanship of the Prison Reform Trust but because I was responsible for recommending to Ministers in the previous Administration that they should look at what was happening in the States and introduce this experiment here. They did so and were very impressed. The experiment provides a solution where other systems do not. Above all, it can tackle repeated offending, which is so important.
Lord McNally: My Lords, most certainly this followed a similar experiment in the United States, although I think that I am right in saying that the experiment was
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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I declare an interest as the Minister who laid the foundation stone of the centre. Will the noble Lord take into account the cost savings that are generated by virtue of the fact that the centre produces faster results than elsewhere? The right reverend Prelate mentioned 26 days and the 82 per cent guilty rate. Will the department take into account also the experiment in Salford, which took the results of the centre and spread them more widely?
Lord McNally: I hear the growl of approval; I presume it is from all the foundation stone layers in this House. I assure the noble and learned Baroness that the study will look in the round at the effectiveness of the centre. When that is done, we will report to Parliament.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they still intend to use the powers contained in the Localism Bill to appoint Councillor Mike Whitby, Conservative leader of Birmingham City Council, as shadow mayor of Birmingham, following the recent local government election results.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord or Councillor Whitby will be more relieved to know that, as a result of the amendments laid by noble Lords to the Localism Bill last night, the Government have indicated that they will be prepared to support all those that delete from the Bill the concept of shadow mayors. There will now be no opportunity for Councillor Whitby to be appointed as shadow mayor, although he would be perfectly free to stand as a candidate if a referendum in Birmingham approved a mayoral election.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. U-turns are always welcome, and this Government seem to have got into the habit of making U-turns in the last few weeks. Can I suggest another one? The Localism Bill gives power to the Secretary of State to require the 11 largest cities in England without an elected mayor to have a referendum.
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Baroness Hanham: There are powers in the Local Government Act 2000 for referendums to be held in any local authority to see whether local people want a mayor. However, we believe that these 11 cities-there are now 11; there were 12-are so important and that major cities across the world benefit so much from having a mayor that this is something that we ought to do here. Of course, it is only a direction to have a referendum. It is then up to the local people democratically to decide whether they wish to go down that path.
Lord Tope: My Lords, may I congratulate the Minister for not only listening to the views from all sides of this House and outside but for having the courage and good sense to act upon them in getting rid of shadow mayors? If that is described as a U-turn, I join the noble Lord in welcoming a Government who have the good sense to listen to views expressed by others. Does the Minister also share the view of her Secretary of State, expressed in the August 2010 issue of Total Politics, that local authorities should be able to have whatever governance arrangements they wish, provided they are efficient, transparent and accountable?
Baroness Hanham: All sorts of governance arrangements are now available to local authorities. They can decide whether they have a mayor and a cabinet, a leader and cabinet, or a leader. Now, once the Localism Bill becomes an Act, they will be able to go back to the committee system that was so abruptly removed from their power by the previous Government. Yes, it is right that local government should be able to decide how it best runs its affairs, but the local electorate should have a hand in helping it decide that.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, when the noble Baroness receives the richly deserved accolade of the freedom of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea this Thursday, will her speech include an encouragement for the royal borough to hold a referendum for the creation of an elected mayor?
Baroness Hanham: I believe that freemen in the City are allowed to drive their sheep across the bridge. I am not sure that I would expect the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to drive a referendum on a mayor. It considers that it looks after itself and the borough very well.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for the Government's good sense in recognising that the proposal for shadow mayors was not very wise. At the same time, I object to the constant accusations of U-turns in matters such as this. What is the purpose of this House if it is not to debate legislation and persuade Ministers to change their mind? What are we for if it is not for that?
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I had better declare an interest: the present Lord Mayor of Birmingham is Councillor Anita Ward who, for the best part of 20 years, was my PA in the fine constituency of Birmingham, Erdington. Is the Minister aware that the person most relieved at the Government's decision not to proceed with this preposterous idea to appoint leaders of the council as shadow mayors will be Councillor Mike Whitby himself, who is opposed to the idea?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I did say, in my opening remarks, that I was not sure who would be more relieved about the decision-the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, or Councillor Whitby. By the sounds of things, it will be Councillor Whitby.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, would the noble Baroness care to give the answer that she would give to citizens of the cities who would rather spend the cost of holding a referendum on services, particularly in the north, which has been so savagely affected by government policy?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am assuming that the noble Baroness is not speaking for all citizens or imagines that all citizens in Birmingham will hold the same view. I am sure that there will be a number of citizens who, if given the opportunity to hold a referendum, would consider that it was money well spent.
Lord Elton: Is my noble friend aware that if she looks at Hansard as far back as it goes, she will find that throughout history a change of policy by the Government is known as listening to the people on this side and a U-turn on the other?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My Lords, I am pleased to report that good progress is being made on the disposal of the RDA assets. Around 20 per cent of land and property has been cleared for sale on the open market. BIS and the DCLG are working closely on arrangements for the long-term management of the remaining property portfolio.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, is the Minister aware-she will be-that most of this property and land was bought for public purposes in order to carry out and to assist desirable development? Will she guarantee that careful attention is being given in every case where disposal is taking place to make sure that the
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Baroness Wilcox: The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is very engaged with this subject. We exchange letters almost weekly and I am very happy to answer him again now. BIS and the Department for Communities and Local Government are considering how to manage the remaining land and property assets. An announcement will be made on that soon. One option is to transfer them to the Homes and Communities Agency, which would allow local areas to benefit from regeneration of the RDA assets. I hope that the noble Lord finds that helpful.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, would the Minister indicate what proportion of the proceeds of sale will be devoted to economic development in the regions and, specifically, what proportion will be allocated to economic regeneration in the north-east, whose RDA, One North East, was one of the most successful in the country?
Baroness Wilcox: The north-east and north-west RDAs were successful and popular. Businesses and civic leaders had the opportunity to form local enterprise partnerships that covered the existing RDA boundaries but they chose not to do so. Economic ties do not necessarily match local or regional boundaries, so the answers will be different from the RDAs.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I declare my interest as a board member of One North East and as a member of Newcastle City Council. Will the Minister confirm that it is not the plan of the Government to nationalise RDA assets but that money which was allocated to specific regions will, on sale, be spent in those regions? Will she further confirm that, should there be a transfer of residual assets to the HCA, the HCA will consult within its regions on how those assets should be allocated?
Lord Hoyle: That was short and sweet. Can the Minister say whether the financial promises made by regional development agencies, particularly by the Northwest Regional Development Agency, in relation to the Rugby League World Cup and Lancashire County Cricket Club with regard to the building of its new ground will be honoured?
Baroness Wilcox: I can confirm that the Rugby League World Cup is a legal commitment of the Northwest Regional Development Agency and therefore will be honoured. The renovation of the Lancashire County Cricket Club ground is currently subject to an ongoing legal process, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it. Where there are legal commitments, projects will continue to be funded by the RDA up to closure and then by the successor body.
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, I note that the Government's stated objectives are to maximise receipts in order to create best value for the taxpayer and to create maximum long-term value for the economy, presumably the local economy. Can the Minister tell us how and by whom the second objective of long-term value will be evaluated?
Baroness Wilcox: All sorts of arrangements are being made, some of which are not yet complete. We will make an announcement soon on some of the remaining land and property assets that have not yet been disbursed. We also have venture capital funds that are being transferred to BIS. Investment decisions will remain sited in the regions and funds will be reinvested for the benefit of the regions.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Government encourage the HCA to devote some of the land it acquires to the provision of Gipsy sites, which will be in short supply consequent on the abolition of the regional strategies?
Baroness Wilcox: I am afraid I do not have the answer to hand because I was not expecting the question. However, it is a good question and I will go back, see what I can find out, and write to the noble Lord.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, the Minister has said some welcome things. I declare my interest as a member of a local authority. Will she confirm that if local authorities are interested in taking on some of the land and assets of the RDAs, even if they have to purchase them, they are given priority?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill ofOareford): My Lords, the current system of funding academies that we inherited is overly complex and needs to be simplified. We have therefore announced a review of school funding. Where there are occasional problems of classification in the current system, we look into them on a case-by-case basis. We want a system where schools with similar characteristics are funded on an equal footing and where academies are funded on the same basis as maintained schools.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he recognise that the overpayments that have been made are in some cases considerable, for example equating to around £300,000 per school in Hampshire? Does he agree with his noble friend Lady Ritchie, of the Local Government Association, who said last week that the overspends on academies arose,
Can he explain how the overpayments to academies will now be clawed back? Can he guarantee that pupils in maintained schools will not be penalised by this error, and does he acknowledge that the error illustrates once again the folly of pushing ahead with policies without adequately consulting those concerned?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, as I said in my opening Answer, we inherited the system that we operate for funding academies and for trying to ensure that the basis of equal funding is maintained, and it is inherently complex. It has been in place since 2002 and because it is complex, sometimes the classification of returns under Section 251 leads to difficulties and some of the problems alluded to by the noble Baroness. Our aim is to make sure that funding is provided on an equal basis. Where there are problems of the sort that she mentioned, the department will look into them on a case-by-case basis and, if it is appropriate, make arrangements to claw back money or in some cases pay additional money. Sometimes, the way in which this complex system operates can lead to an academy getting less than it should. We will look at this, and I hope that the funding review of the whole system that we announced some time ago will help to address these problems and enable us to reach a sustainable solution.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that some local authorities' ability to deliver services to schools that have not opted out and become academies is hindered by the fact that they no longer get economies of scale when they purchase services for those schools and therefore they become more expensive? Does he intend to compensate local authorities for that situation?
Lord Hill of Oareford: There are a number of complexities in the system. One that is not widely recognised is that, because of the way in which the LACSEG system operates, local authorities continue to receive funding for some services that academies are being funded for. So there is some double funding. It is not that an academy is getting more than it should; it is that, traditionally, the local authority has carried on receiving that funding. We need to look at that and to address all these issues to make sure that the principle of equity is maintained.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, I agree that the current funding system is too complex, which is why I announced a review when I was Minister in 2008. The consultation was ongoing when the noble Lord became a Minister-perhaps he could have encouraged his colleagues to deal with it quicker by
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Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, as a former Academies Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, will be one of the few people on the face of the earth who may have some glimmer of knowledge of how the LACSEG operates. I had not realised that he had initiated a review. I would be happy to discuss where he got to with it, because we are obviously grappling with the same issues. He will know that, because of the complexity and because the approach taken varies from year to year and from local authority to local authority, it is hard to be definitive about how the system operates. I give the noble Lord an absolute undertaking that our aim throughout is to make sure that the funding that an academy gets is the same as it would have got as a maintained school, and that a maintained school will not be disadvantaged by the development of the academies programme.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: Will my noble friend confirm that one of the difficulties that academies experience as they go through the transition is the enormous disparity between the amounts that local authorities have retained for their central expenses and therefore the amounts that are handed on to schools as they become independent? Is it correct that the disparity ranges from below 5 per cent of academies' budget to more than 25 per cent?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I am not aware of the specific percentages, but there are big variations between local authorities and the decisions they take as to how they want to spend their money, which seems to me to be proper. There are variations between years, and then, more generally, the school funding system operates in a way whereby some children in some schools in some parts of the country are funded at a significantly lower level than children in similar schools with similar characteristics in other parts of the country. As well as looking at academies' funding and trying to make sure that it follows the principles that I set out, we are consulting on the whole school funding formula to try to make sure that children in one part of the country are not out of pocket compared with children in schools with similar characteristics in another part of the country.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I declare an interest in that the diocese of Liverpool is co-sponsor of three city academies together with the Catholic archdiocese of Liverpool. Is the Minister aware of the difficulties faced by the early academies in raising their sponsorship of £2 million now that the funding arrangements have changed? It is good news to hear that there is a review. Will the review body take this into consideration?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I am aware of the point to which the right reverend Prelate refers. As the circumstances have changed, they have clearly given rise to the issue that he mentions. Obviously we continue to keep those kinds of issues under review and to discuss them with individual sponsors.
Lord Hill of Oareford: Forgive me, my Lords, I am not sure about the £400 million to which my noble friend Lady Sharp refers. If I am being slow, perhaps my noble friend and I could have a word outside the Chamber and I will attempt to answer her question.
That Standing Order 40(1) be dispensed with on Wednesday, 22 June to enable the adjourned debate on the Motion in the name of Lord Strathclyde on the Government's proposals for reform of the House of Lords to be taken before Oral Questions.
That it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider and report on the draft Financial Services Bill presented to both Houses on 16 June (Cm 8083) and that the committee should report on the draft Bill by 1 December 2011.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, 104 speakers are signed up for the debate today and tomorrow. If Back-Bench contributions are kept to eight minutes, the House should be able to rise on both evenings at around the target rising time of 10 o'clock. I remind the House that tomorrow we will sit at 11 o'clock in the morning. We will then break for Oral Questions at the usual time of 3 o'clock and continue afterwards with the debate.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, I am sure that all will agree that this is a special occasion. The House and the Galleries are full and there is an air of expectation. While some noble Lords may feel that 100 speakers during the course of the next two days is too much for them, I know that by 10 o'clock tomorrow evening we will be as fresh and as inspired by the speeches that we have heard as we are now.
Over these past few days I have been gently teased by noble Lords and others, who have speculated as to how many speeches will be in support of the Government's position. However, as a veteran of these debates, I know that there will be a wide range of views explored and exposed. That is one reason why I am so grateful that my noble friend Lord McNally will be dealing with those views at the end of the debate tomorrow evening.
For over a century, successive Governments and Parliaments have debated reforming this House, but this Government set out their proposals-incidentally, the first Government ever-on 17 May in a draft Bill for a reformed House of Lords. As we made clear in that Statement, a debate would follow, and I very much welcome this opportunity to listen to the views of noble Lords on the draft Bill and the White Paper. I particularly welcome the contribution of my noble friend Lord Strasburger, who will speak for the first time in his maiden speech later today.
The background to the debate is consensus. Consistent with that approach, the Government have made clear their intention to listen and to be prepared to adapt as we navigate our way through this latest twist and turn in what has been one of the longest of long stories. We want to get these proposals right, but we are also committed to reforming the House to create a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber. Both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Party manifestos, as well as the coalition programme for government and, indeed, the Labour Party manifesto, made that clear. Therefore our intention is to introduce a Bill next year and to hold the first elections to the reformed House in May 2015.
The long-standing role of this House as a revising and scrutinising Chamber is immensely valuable. This House frequently revises legislation for the better and holds the Government to account by effectively questioning and debating proposals. This is the traditional role of a second Chamber and is why many countries choose to have one-to provide that second view, from a different perspective. No one can doubt the commitment and sense of public service with which many noble Lords exercise these functions and no one can doubt the expertise in this place, which is used to great effect.
The Government therefore do not propose to change the role of this House. However, we believe that the composition of this House should be decided, either mainly or wholly, by the people of this country by direct election. This House, although it has many party-political Members, does not have democratic authority from the people it serves. Elections will establish a democratic legitimacy for our work to be carried out. Noble Lords will no doubt ask what democratic legitimacy will add. They will suggest that there are forms of democratic legitimacy other than election. To them, I say that elections will strengthen Parliament by making Members of the reformed House more representative of the people and able to act with their authority. Every five years, people-not party leaders-will decide who to send to do the work of this House; and they will be able to decide not only who but in what political proportions. Surely that is an incontestable right. We elect Members of the other place, we elect Members of the devolved legislatures and we elect local government-why should we not elect Members of this great House of Parliament?
Yet the Government recognise that the increased legitimacy that elections will bring gives rise to concerns that the primacy of the other place will be threatened. The primacy of the House of Commons is secured in statute by the Parliament Acts and on a day-to-day basis by the conventions between the two Houses. The draft Bill specifically provides that the reforms will not change the Parliament Acts, the conventions between the two Houses or the relationship between the two Houses. I am aware, from our previous exchanges on this issue, that many noble Lords do not entirely agree with that. Of course, over time, as indeed has been the lesson of the 20th century, these arrangements and conventions may-indeed will-develop and evolve. However, for now, we proceed recognising the present settlement between the two Houses to be adequate for the reforms being discussed. On top of that specific proposition, our proposals also contain important practical measures to reinforce the primacy of the House of Commons.
First, Members will serve long single terms, with no prospect of re-election. Noble Lords rightly esteem the independence of spirit that differentiates this House from the other place. Long single terms will uphold that independence, since elected Members will not be motivated to speak with a view to contesting the next election. They will prevent the reformed House of Lords challenging the primacy of the House of Commons because elected Members will not be accountable to voters in the same way that MPs are to their constituents and they will be less likely to compete with MPs at a local level.
Secondly, elections will be staggered. At each general election one-third of Members will be elected, which will ensure that Members of the reformed House, collectively, never have a more recent mandate than MPs. The House of Commons will determine who forms the Government. Our proposals will reinforce the distinctive character of each House by reducing the chances of one party gaining an overall majority in this House.
Thirdly, there is provision for a 20 per cent appointed element. If that is where we end up, it would mitigate the reformed House's ability to claim greater legitimacy and thereby challenge the primacy of the House of Commons. Appointed Members would be expected to bring a non-party-political perspective to the work of this Chamber as well as unique expertise.
Finally, a proportional electoral system will differentiate this House from the other place. Proportional representation systems are based on multi-member constituencies, which are larger than those used for the House of Commons. This will provide Members with a mandate that is distinct from, but complementary to, that of Members of the other place.
The coalition agreement set out our commitment to a system of proportional representation for elections to the second Chamber. The draft Bill sets out proposals for the single transferable vote proportional system. STV offers a clear link between voters and individual candidates, as candidates are selected solely on the basis of the votes that they themselves achieve. However, the Government also recognise and are open to the arguments for an open list electoral system, which would also allow voters to vote for a single individual candidate rather than for a party.
There are also further details outlined in the Bill-for example, on new powers to deal with misconduct. The draft Bill provides for disqualification for serious criminal convictions and certain insolvency-related matters, and the power to expel Members. It also provides an enhanced power of suspension. I am sure that noble Lords will welcome these proposals.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, with the greatest respect to the growl of approval that I hear around the House, I think that is nonsense. We are not seeking to change the powers, role or functions of the House. Yes, we are going to introduce elected Members, but the House already has a majority of party-political Members. Many of our proposals have been recommended in the past, not least in the Royal Commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham in 2001 and, more recently, in Jack Straw's White Paper of 2008.
Another key element of the Government's proposals is an orderly process of transition. We value the experience, knowledge and expertise that this House has accumulated. We have set out three options for transition, all of which allow for a period when existing Peers would work alongside new Members to transmit knowledge and ensure that the House continues to operate effectively. The draft Bill provides for one of those options, whereby numbers of Members of the present House would be reduced in thirds corresponding to the arrival of new Members in thirds. The views of the House will be invaluable in determining the final proposals on this issue.
There are other elements that will continue unchanged. The White Paper sets out how the right reverend Prelates on the Bishops' Bench will continue to be an important part of this House, at least in the 80 per
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The next stage is for pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill and the White Paper on a cross-party basis by a Joint Committee of both Houses. On 7 June, this House agreed to the establishment of that committee. The Lords Members of that committee have been proposed by the Committee of Selection, whose report is available in the Printed Paper Office. I am very pleased that the usual channels have agreed that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, should take the chair. In chairing that committee, he will bring years of experience and knowledge at the highest level, not least as a former Leader of this House. Pre-legislative scrutiny will allow those inside and outside Parliament to examine and contribute to the debate on the proposals. We welcome a wide variety of views and perspectives on those proposals.
I turn to the Motion tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, to which she will address herself later this afternoon, which calls on the Government to bring forward proposals for incremental reforms to the existing Bill. It will not have escaped your Lordships' notice that a Private Member's Bill in the name of my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood is before the House, and it includes incremental changes-the establishment of a statutory appointments commission, ending by-elections for hereditary Peers, introducing permanent leave of absence and dealing with those convicted of a serious criminal offence. I am delighted to say that all these issues are included in the Government's draft Bill. However, the proposals in my noble friend Lord Steel's Bill are in the context of a wholly appointed House, whereas the Government are committed to a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber, as set out in the draft Bill.
It is time for this great story of House of Lords reform to take its next step forward. This second Chamber has long held successive Governments to account. It has scrutinised and improved legislation. It has produced better laws and has made Governments think again. This need not change. However, the Government believe that in the 21st century it is right that this place should be underpinned in its work by a democratic mandate. Both Houses of Parliament should enjoy the confidence of the people.
We will listen and engage with all those with a variety of views. We will adapt and be flexible where possible. We will proceed with consensus if, as we very much hope, that is possible. However, the central principle of legitimacy through election should not be forsaken. This long story has taken many twists and turns, but now is the opportunity-perhaps the only opportunity we will have this generation-for a Government finally to act. I beg to move.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, this is an important occasion. It is far from the first time that this House has considered its own future, but it is the first time that it has considered a substantive piece of legislation on that subject-what used to be known as second-stage reform. What a pity that, as a substantive piece of legislation, the draft Bill in front of us is such a bad one.
Getting this House right is important, important to us all here as Members of your Lordships' House but important too to our legislative process, our Parliament, our politics and our constitution. At the same time we need to remember that reshaping our constitution, though undeniably important, does not rank high in the priorities of what the public want us as politicians to do. The public's concerns need to remain our concerns, such as jobs and the economy, health and education. Many of the Government's Bills that this House either is scrutinising now or will have before it soon concern these areas. Whatever else the outcome of the alternative vote referendum last month showed, it showed that the public have little interest in the kind of constitutional reform proposed. In our debate on these issues over the next two days and beyond, we would all do well to keep that important calibration in mind.
This House must not be obsessed with itself. The House of Lords needs to be about much more than House of Lords reform. This House is sometimes castigated as resistant to reform and its Members are characterised as roadblocks to reform, but I do not believe that that is true. This House has in fact seen real, repeated reform, in 1911 with the removal of the fiscal powers and the shifting of its right of veto to a right of delay; in 1949 with further changes to its delaying powers; in 1958 with the introduction of life peerages; in 1963 with changes to peerage succession; in 1999 with the removal of the majority of hereditary Peers; and in 2004 with the separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary, with the ending of the Lords as the final court of appeal and the establishment of the new Supreme Court-evolutionary change over a long period of time, but regular repeated reform.
For some, that rate of reform is too slow. They want further and faster reform. I understand that, but reform is difficult and takes time. My party has long been committed to reform. In our 1945 manifesto, for example, when a great reforming Labour Government were swept to power by a popular vote, we said,
and proposed both an initial self-contained reform to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote and a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament to propose further reform. In 2010, we proposed further democratic reform to create a fully elected second
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We believe that it was right to take part in that process, but I want to make it absolutely clear that what we have before us today-the latest attempt at reform in the shape of the Government's draft Bill and White Paper-is not a product of that process. The Leader of the House was right to issue a correction to his Statement in the Chamber recently that the Clegg committee met as many as nine times; it did not-in fact, it met seven times. Not only did the last meeting of the committee take place six months before the White Paper and Bill were finally produced, at no point did the Clegg committee ever see anything other than policy papers. It saw no White Paper, it approved no White Paper. It saw no draft Bill, it approved no draft Bill. The draft Bill and the White Paper are not a product of that committee. It is a stand-alone Bill-a coalition Bill. Indeed, given the lack of support for the Bill on the Conservative Benches in both Houses, it is a Liberal Democrat Bill.
We as a Labour Party are committed to reform of this House; that is a long-standing policy. However, following our general election defeat and the election of a new leader of our party, we are undertaking a fundamental review of all aspects of policy. Labour members and supporters are entirely able, if they so wish, to argue for a review of our party's support for an elected House. That is their right and their opportunity. Within the present policy position there are certainly differences of opinion on the Benches behind me. Many observers will expect my Benches to be divided on the issue, as are the two parts of the coalition on the Benches opposite. Indeed, many Labour Peers-almost certainly a clear majority-are opposed to direct elections of this House. I acknowledge and accept that. It is not my personal opinion, I am in favour of election and I have voted that way, but I recognise that many of my colleagues believe that further fundamental reform of your Lordships' House, and especially the introduction of direct elections, would damage the House, politics and the constitution. These are genuinely, often passionately, held views. They are not my views, but like my party, I respect them and those who hold them.
We on these Benches have our differences but the main issue on which these Benches are completely united is in our belief and judgment that this is a bad Bill. That is the fundamental difference between these Benches and the Benches opposite, because the Benches opposite are fundamentally divided. The Leader of the House argues the Government's case for reform. He has done so in his speech today; he did so when publishing the Bill; and he has done so in media interviews given since its publication, though in some, such as last weekend, he seemed to give slightly different messages. However, the words "Conservative" and "Lords reform" do not sit easily in the same sentence. It is transparently clear that in setting out the case for
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The only reason the Conservatives are able to pay lip service to the notion of reform is because essentially they do not believe that Lords reform and, indeed, the Bill before us today will actually happen, particularly in the light of the outcome of the AV referendum. The Conservative position is fundamentally divided from that of their coalition partner. The Liberal Democrats, and the Liberals before them, have long supported further fundamental reform of this House-indeed, a fully elected House. We all thought that we understood that. We all thought we knew that that was their position but now we find, following the survey by the Times newspaper, that that is not the case. Indeed, we find that, according to the survey, far from unanimously supporting a fully elected House-their party's policy-Liberal Democrat Peers are split right down the middle over whether this House should be elected at all. Further, we find that the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party-the Deputy Prime Minister-is not supporting his own party's policy either. In putting forward this draft Bill, the Deputy Prime Minister is not arguing in favour of a 100 per cent elected House but an 80 per cent elected House, as set out in the draft Bill.
For those of us not in the Liberal Democrat Party, these are deep and murky waters-waters so impenetrably deep and murky that the rest of us may not, sadly, be equipped to comprehend them fully, or indeed at all. No doubt, if you happen to be a member of the Liberal Democrat Party, all is clear to you. The rest of us await elucidation with interest. I suspect that the debate-
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I have explained that I fully accept that there are splits behind me, and everyone knows that. We have been totally open about that, but we are united in our view that this is a bad Bill. That is where the difference between my Benches and the noble Lord's Benches comes.
The debate will also demonstrate that the clear and united view on these Benches is, as I have said, that this is a bad Bill accompanied by an inadequate White Paper. Even for a Government who are making it their specialist subject to bring forward bad Bills, this is a very bad Bill. It is a bad Bill because it is badly done and because it is not up to the task that it is addressing. The Government can, for example, assert to their hearts' content, as they do in Clause 2, that nothing in the Bill,
as the Leader of the House explained earlier. Ministers can, if they wish, assert that the moon is made of green cheese. They can even put such an assertion in the Bill, should they so choose, but however eloquent such an assertion is, and however well drafted such a provision is, it makes not a jot of difference in fact, because the changes to the House as it is currently constituted, and its replacement by an elected senate,
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There will be many other areas on which to focus. Difficult issues have not been addressed to date. They have not been considered or resolved. This is a bad Bill because it does not answer the key questions on the issue. What is the role of the House of Lords? What should be the role of the second Chamber? What powers should a reformed House of Lords have? What powers do the Government want a reformed House of Lords to have? What will be the conventions that govern relations between the two Chambers? What happens to the current conventions that govern the relationship between the two Chambers? Should that relationship be codified? These and others are big questions that will have to be properly addressed, properly considered and properly resolved before any Bill to reform fundamentally your Lordships' House is enacted by Parliament. These are questions with which constitutional reformers have grappled for years. They are questions that successive Governments have considered for years. They are questions that were considered in depth by the Joint Committee on Conventions, chaired by my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling-the conclusions of which included that the conventions would need to be considered again if substantive proposals on composition were brought forward, as they have been in this draft Bill, and approved by all parties in both Houses.
However, the Bill ducks those questions because, to Liberal Democrats, such questions and those who raise them are roadblocks to reform. They believe that those who pose such questions are just anti-reformers slipping into constitutionalist disguise. However, we on these Benches do not accept that. These are real questions and genuine constitutional problems. We certainly wrestled with them when we were in Government and wanted to proceed with Lords reform. Other Administrations have done the same. What is simply not adequate or sufficient is to do what this Bill tries to do-just to put the questions aside as though they do not matter. They do matter and they-
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: I have listened very carefully to the noble Baroness, but, with great respect to her, it seems to me that her entire speech is predicated on the fact that she has been presented with a Bill. She is not being presented with a Bill. She is being presented with a White Paper.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, if the noble Lord were to read the White Paper again and reconsider it, he would find that within it there is a draft Bill. It is the draft Bill about which I am addressing my remarks.
We on my Benches give the House warning that when the draft Bill has been finalised, if it ever comes before this House, it will be properly scrutinised. Some Members of the House were disquieted by the way that we, as an Opposition, scrutinised the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill earlier this year. We may not necessarily scrutinise the Bill in the same way, but the Government need to know that if it comes before the House, we will scrutinise it with the same focus and intensity. However, we are a long way from there. First, we have the Joint Committee of both Houses. Joint Committees of both Houses of Parliament are excellent instruments. The Joint Committee is the proper committee to address all the difficult issues that require to be debated about further reform of your Lordships' House.
The Joint Committee, whose establishment we welcome, will, I am sure, do a first-rate job, and we thank all those who have volunteered to serve on it. We on these Benches thank in particular our Members from this House on the committee: the noble Lord, Lord Richard, a former Leader of the House, who is taking on the particularly onerous role of chairing the committee, two former Ministers and Deputy Leaders of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and a former Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. All are widely respected not just on these Benches but throughout the House.
Their task is a challenging, even a daunting one, as is the task before all members of the committee from both Houses. The scale of that task has been made clear by the responses to the publication of the draft Bill and White Paper: almost all of them sceptical or negative. I cite only two responses. The House of Lords specialist, Donald Shell, the University of Bristol politics academic whose book, The House of Lords, is the acknowledged primary guide to the House, argues that some hard thinking needs to take place. He asks a key question of the Bill: do MPs really want a Lords that can challenge the Commons? A key question indeed, although one that the Bill seems wholly to shrink. I might quote Martin Kettle; on the other hand, I might cite Peter Oborne in the Telegraph, who described the Bill as.
It may be that if, as we on these Benches expect, the Joint Committee addresses itself properly to the complexities and difficulties which abound around the issue of further reform of your Lordships' House, its work may take time. The Leader of the House has already acknowledged in this Chamber that if the Joint Committee needs more time to conclude its work than by the end of next February, more time it will get. We welcome that commitment.
It may well also be that if the complexities and difficulties with which the Joint Committee will be wrestling prove as intractable as they have been for the past 100 years, the part-Liberal Democrat coalition Government may find greater attraction in the proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, a distinguished former leader of the Liberal Democrats, in the Bill he has before the House. Members of the House will recall that we on these Benches had included the bulk of the Steel Bill recommendations in our Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill before the election, but they were struck out in the wash-up by one of the parties now on the government Benches.
When the Bill eventually appears in the House, there will be a clear position from these Benches. As I said, we have many different opinions on these Benches about Lords reform. Many of my Members are strongly opposed to a directly elected second Chamber, but we are united in seeing the Bill-and it is a draft Bill-as a bad Bill. That is not a unity in papering over the cracks, as the coalition parties on the Benches opposite will no doubt seek to do, but a unity of resolve to ensure that the issues involved in further reform of this place are properly considered. It is a resolve to ensure that any Bill that comes to this House is properly scrutinised and a resolve to ensure that, if this House is to be reformed, it will be reformed by good and proper legislation, not by a Bill as bad as the one before us today.
This House, this Parliament, our politics and our constitution merit more than that. Reform should mean proper reform. That in turn means a better Bill, a good Bill. We, as an Opposition, will work to ensure that this House, our politics and our constitution get the legislation that they deserve.
Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, this is a document that we should take seriously. It is, after all, signed by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. That said, a number of contradictions and gaps in the text of both the White Paper and the draft Bill will need attention. No doubt, that forensic scrutiny will begin today. I should like to focus on just one aspect: the premise that elections are necessary because of a democratic deficit in this House.
It is widely accepted within this House that its major function is to revise and scrutinise legislation. Therefore, the issue has to be: what can be done to enhance this important function and make it more effective? The answer that this White Paper and draft Bill appear to offer is elections. I have no doubt that there will be 80, or perhaps 100 or more, contributions today and tomorrow that refute this, but the question of a democratic element is very important.
Perhaps I may briefly recap. We have our main function, which is scrutiny, and we have what should be the main purpose of the proposed Bill, which is enhanced effectiveness. We are now adding to the mix the democratic element. The next question is: are elections the only way in which to achieve a democratic element to address what the Government apparently see as a democratic deficit? My response to both those questions is that I do not believe that there is a
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It continues that such relationships complement those between MPs and constituents. This, I feel, accurately reflects the huge outreach that this House has on a daily basis with hundreds of special interest groups. Furthermore, much of the wisdom that is brought to bear on legislation in this House is minutely informed by these specialist groups. It could, I think, be fairly argued that there is already a democratic procedure whereby the wider public can, and do, lobby Members of this House and succeed in changing and improving legislation to meet the needs of that public on an almost daily basis. That is not to be sniffed at.
Of course, MPs bring their constituents' concerns to Parliament, but I would guess that there is greater opportunity to change legislation according to the expertise of specialist groups in this House because it is less political, because it is less fiercely whipped, because it does not have to deal with the concerns of individual constituents each and every day and because it is not elected.
This House is-one can never tire of repeating this mantra-different from the other place in almost every respect, but this difference stems from its function. You cannot make it similar to the other place and continue to believe or hope that its functions will somehow be improved. They will not; they will be undermined, and so severely that the growing belief that this Bill is about abolishing the House of Lords gains more credence every day.
In the past few months, reforms to many of the institutions in this country that the public hold dear, including voting mechanisms, public bodies, education and the NHS, have come before this House, which has in many cases upheld the concerns, even the wishes, of the public. What come to mind are Clause 11 of and Schedule 7 to the Public Bodies Bill, which sought to abolish, among other organisations, the Forestry Commission, the chief coroner and associated offices. It was the House of Lords that took on board the public concern and acted on it, and it still does so. I do not think that you can argue that this House is undemocratic when it so clearly acts in the public interest.
Other mechanisms whereby the public voice is heard in the Lords Chamber include the introduction of private legislation supported by community organisations that cover significant sectors, such as the disabled, refugees, victims of forced marriages and indeed of slavery, the unfairly defamed or dangerous dogs.
I have said little about genuine reforms that most of your Lordships agree would make for a more effective House. Many of these are set out in the Leader's report on working practices, which will be debated in this Chamber next week. I just wish to make it abundantly clear here and now that there is ample room for reform on matters such as retirement, appointment procedures, increasing pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, and cross-cutting Select Committees, but elections are the one thing that this House really does not need.
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, the draft Bill soon to be considered by the Joint Committee starts from the proposition that, in a parliamentary democracy, the Parliament is elected by the people. Whatever the status of this House relative to the other place, your Lordships' House is an integral and fully functional part of our Parliament. We may be the subordinate Chamber in a bicameral legislature and our role may primarily comprise scrutiny and revision, but no one can argue that we are not a fully functioning Chamber of Parliament. To use Bagehot's classification, we are, now at least, fundamentally an efficient rather than a dignified component of our constitution.
That being the case, fundamental democratic principle demands that this should be an elected House, whose composition is determined by the people. Yet while we argue and even fight for the principles of democracy internationally, our own out-of-date and largely haphazard composition derives from a historical mixture of political patronage, merit-based appointment, birth and office in the established church. If "democratic deficit" is the phrase for a failure to live up to the principles of democracy, our composition is paradigmatic of democratic deficit.
The weightiest argument that is said to outweigh democratic principle in this field-a matter alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who personally supports an elected House-is that an elected House would undermine the primacy of the House of Commons. That is the principal argument that I will seek to address, but before I do so it is worth reminding ourselves that this argument is about the primacy of the House of Commons, not about its supremacy.
The whole point of this House is to act as a legitimate check on the powers of the other place. The argument about primacy starts from the proposition that an elected House of Lords would have greater democratic legitimacy than the present House and it is said to follow that a reformed House would feel unrestrained by the conventions that limit the exercise of its powers. It goes without saying that this argument starts from the important concession that the composition of the present House indeed lacks democratic legitimacy. However, the argument about primacy does not take sufficiently into account the law governing the powers of the House of Lords, which is to remain unchanged, nor does it take into account the substantial difference in composition-
Lord Cormack: I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree with the president of the Liberal Democrats that a second Chamber elected by proportional representation would in fact be more legitimate than the present House of Commons?
The primacy of the House of Commons, I suggest, is not affected by the proposals in the draft Bill for a number of reasons. The second of those reasons is that the substantial differences in composition that are proposed between the two Houses, along with the effect that those differences will have on their relative roles and importance, support the primacy of the House of Commons. Nor does the argument take into account the conventions governing the relationship between the two Houses, which, while they may develop, will set the ground rules for how the new arrangements operate if and when the draft Bill is enacted in whatever form.
As to the law, the effect of the Parliament Acts is that this House has no more than a delaying power of one year and no power at all over money Bills. As Members of this House have said many times, the Parliament Acts were all about the powers of the House of Lords in the context of a less developed democracy, where the composition of this House was not in question. However, one should not forget the political importance of the power to appoint Peers, even in that context. The 1911 Act was passed only because of the agreement of George V to create up to 400 new Liberal Peers-not a threat, I note, that the present Government have been prepared to replicate.
Yet the Parliament Acts set conclusive limits to the powers of this House. It follows that the primacy of the House of Commons is founded on the rock of statute and not, as is sometimes implied, on the shifting sands of parliamentary conventions. After all, parliamentary conventions could not and did not prevent this House from defeating the House of Commons on the Hunting Bill and then standing firm. This House maintained its determination not to pass the Bill. The House of Commons then asserted its will, and therefore its statutory primacy, by relying on the Parliament Acts.
Lord Sewel: Does the noble Lord accept that the whole justification and rationale for the Parliament Acts was conflict between an elected House and a non-elected House and the reluctance of the elected House to have its will frustrated by a non-elected House? That was the whole argument behind the Parliament Acts.
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: Certainly I accept that, but I do not accept that it follows that the Parliament Acts will somehow be changed without further statute because of the passing of this draft Bill, or something like it, concerning the composition of this House. The powers of this House are determined and limited by the provisions of the Parliament Act passed, as the noble Lord suggests, in 1911 for the purpose that he sets out.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I wonder whether the noble Lord might reflect on a more recent example, because his argument is that the powers as defined by statute will determine behaviour. I refer him to the
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Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, what happens about any referendum in Scotland is a matter for the future. I have no doubt that the noble Lord will be taking a great part in the argument in relation to Scotland. However, the Parliament Acts are statutes passed by Parliament and they set a clear limit to the power of this House. It is within that framework that this draft Bill will need to be considered.
It is not only statute that would continue to guarantee the primacy of the House of Commons. The structure of the two Houses envisaged in the Bill will do much to reinforce that guarantee. First, the new House would be elected-or elected and appointed-in thirds, which would ensure that only the House of Commons represented the will of the people most recently expressed in a general election. That is because only one-third of the House, or slightly less, would be subject to election or appointment at the time of each general election.
Secondly, following a general election, the new Government would take office on the basis of results of elections to the House of Commons. It follows that Ministers in the Commons and in the Lords would be appointed on the strength of those results. The House of Commons will therefore control the composition of the Executive. Furthermore, the legislative programme will be the Government's legislative programme and, therefore, dependent on the elections to the House of Commons.
Thirdly-this is particularly the case on the basis of the continuing presence of the Cross-Benchers, if we were to go for an 80 per cent elected House-it is most unlikely, although not impossible, that any Government would have an overall majority in the House of Lords. The likelihood of such a majority is further reduced by a proportional system for the election of Members. A number of noble Lords, often those strongly opposed to proportional representation-the question asked by my noble friend Lord Cormack is perhaps apposite to this point-have argued that election by proportional representation will give this House a democratic legitimacy that the House of Commons lacks. However, as a democrat, I accept the people's verdict. It appears that the AV referendum result-
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me, but this is the 20th time that he has referred to his concept of democracy. Quite frankly, does he not realise that the people do not understand the Lib Dem concept of democracy?
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, if I believed that the people did not understand the Liberal Democrat concept of democracy, or our national concept
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I accept the people's verdict on the AV referendum, which has ensured that first past the post elections to the House of Commons will be a feature of our democracy for a while yet. I also accept that the electorate regard that as a legitimate system for electing MPs. It is therefore likely that we will have two different systems for election to the two Houses. Of itself, that will not undermine the primacy of the Commons; rather, it is likely to safeguard it. It is also significant, I suggest, that the link between individual Members of Parliament and their constituencies, which lies so much at the heart of our unique representative system, is a factor that will tend to sustain that primacy, because the link between elected Members of this House and their multi-Member constituencies, will, inevitably, be that much weaker.
The final point in this area is that MPs will be able to point to the fact that they are accountable to their personal electorates in having to face re-election. Elected Members of this House, elected for a 15-year single term, will have no such direct, personal accountability. They will still have, as the Leader of the House pointed out, the independence inherent in that system; it is not the same independence that they enjoy on appointment for life, but it is substantial independence none the less. I suggest that that independence is a good thing for the job that this House does.
Lord Elton: I know that the noble Lord has taken some injury time for interruptions, but he is now 50 per cent beyond the recommended time. I wonder whether he could draw his remarks to a conclusion so that others can have a fair crack at the whip.
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, I am terribly sorry, but I have taken a number of interruptions and I have had to answer them. I propose to go on, although I will attempt to draw my remarks to a close when I think that a close is called for.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I suggest to my noble friend that the feeling of the House is that he should conclude. I have every sympathy with him in view of the interruptions that he has had to take, but I feel that it is now time for him to conclude, because he has had 13 minutes.
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: So be it. Perhaps I may make one more point concerning the conventions of the House. If a future Parliament were of the view that the conventions needed explicitly codifying in order to protect their efficacy, legislation could be brought forward to bring that about, as was proposed in the 2005 Labour manifesto. I suggest that the primacy of the House of Commons is not threatened.
The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, the longest day may be an apt moment to embark on this new stage of what the Leader of the House has called the longest of long stories in the reform of this House. Whatever the deficiencies of your Lordships' House that the Bill seeks to address, a lack of opportunity to discuss and debate reform is certainly not one of them.
I shall not detain your Lordships by rehearsing all of the consistent position held by those on this Bench over many years on reform. A summary of the Church of England's response to the Bill was published three weeks ago in my name. The mixed reaction that it received put me in mind of Mrs Cadwallader in Middlemarch. She was a vicar's wife who despaired of her husband, and said:
"He will even speak well of the bishop, though I tell him it is unnatural in a beneficed clergyman; what can one do with a husband who attends so little to the decencies? I hide it as well as I can by abusing everybody myself".
The essence of that church's response was that we welcome an opportunity to reform this House, and to improve, develop and adapt its working in ways that are advantageous to the functioning of Parliament as a whole and to the service of the nation. Where evidence of improved functioning is clear and well established, we on this Bench will be ready to consider changes and to play a part in bringing them about. However, where such evidence is lacking-and we believe that it is lacking in much of the Bill-and where the test of parliamentary functioning and service to the nation is seriously in doubt, this House and Parliament as a whole should expect challenge and questioning from those on the Lords Spiritual Bench.
I anticipate that those of us speaking from this Bench in the next two days will demonstrate a concern that is wider and deeper than the narrow question of whether Bishops should be retained in a reformed House, and if so, how many. We accept that in the institutions that we represent, we have been entrusted with the spiritual well-being of the people of this country-a trust that we share with many others. Therefore, we cannot see our role in these debates as being simply to defend privilege or to maintain the present arrangements at all costs. Rather, we recognise that we have a duty to press into the debate some fundamental issues of principle, because we do not accept that the government of the country should be left exclusively to politicians, and religion to the churches and other faiths.
We shall give careful attention to four tests of what is proposed in the White Paper. The first is whether the proposals flow from a clear enough definition of the role of the second Chamber, and whether a change in the present role is implied although not clarified by what is proposed.
The second test will relate to the independence of the upper House and its ability to require Governments to think again about specific legislative proposals. If we on these Benches discern a drift towards greater party-political control, through which any governing
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Thirdly, we shall apply a test related to the question of the primacy of the House of Commons, and we shall be keen to determine whether the two Houses of Parliament will find themselves increasingly in conflict with each another. We note that the Wakeham commission expressed strong opposition to,
Fourthly, we shall apply a test to claims of democratic legitimacy. Of course we recognise that all three major parties are committed by manifesto to some degree of constitutional change. The key question is whether the amount of change in these proposals is proportionate to the perceived problem that it is designed to address. On all four tests at the present moment we remain unpersuaded.
Let me draw your Lordships' attention to the specific proposals on the place of Bishops in a reformed Chamber. We are pleased and indeed grateful that the draft Bill proposes retaining 12 places for episcopal members in the event of a reform to an 80 per cent elected House. We are glad also to see the Government propose,
Your Lordships will need no reminding of the physical expression of establishment: the outworking of the church's wider vocation to the service of the nation. Without doubt there is no better placed organisation, religious or otherwise, able to cite a presence in all communities, and have good understandings of and relationships with all denominations and faiths. In his submission on Lords reform, the noble Lord the Chief Rabbi wrote,
The draft Bill proposes that the House should contain 12 episcopal members comprising the five named senior sees and seven ordinary members. This proposal will confront the Church of England with some challenging decisions about how those 12 particular
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In short, your Lordships will find that we on this Bench will be active in furthering proposals for reform that render this House more effective in exercising its scrutinising and revising role. Without a clear definition of some new role that determines the composition of an effectively new House, we on this Bench will press the questions that we have consistently asked.
I speak from a Bench of those whose presence in the House is an expression of their service to their communities rather than any privileged influence and whose track record is of a concern for the common good. What constitutes the common good in any situation is what politics is or ought to be about. For the Christian, the common good arises partly from the imperative to love God with all one's heart and to love one's neighbour as oneself. From a Christian perspective, if God's purpose for humanity is a common purpose, we have a duty to ask how the organising of society and of Parliament makes this purpose harder or easier, more or less attainable. It is in that spirit and on those principles that we look forward to playing our part in this debate in the months ahead.
Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, the draft Bill before us confirms my worst fears. Never in my experience has an institution at the heart of the British constitution been marked down for destruction on such spurious grounds. Never in all my years in public life has the bicameral role of our Parliament been so wantonly put at risk by such disregard of the nation's best interests.
In one of his interviews last week, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, talked about reaching a milestone in history-if only that were true. Instead of a milestone, I foresee a millstone around the necks of future generations if this House is mangled in this way. In their joint foreword to the draft Bill, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister repeat the fallacies on which their coalition agreement on this issue is based. There can be no misunderstanding of what is at stake. This is not reform of the House of Lords, as they would have us believe. They are set on abolishing this House. If this draft Bill becomes law in any shape or form, it will wreck this place as a deliberative assembly and tear up the roots that make it the most effective revising Chamber in the world. Worse still, the balance between our two Houses, which has already been touched on by many of your Lordships, on which our democracy and the rule of law depends, will be lost for ever.
Why is this? Is it because the Government's muddled thinking stems from the argument that both Chambers must be elected in order to be legitimate? That is the only reason offered. No other reason is on offer. It is certainly not the inability of Members of this House to do their job to the highest standards. The foreword admits as much, when it says:
Mr Clegg, the chief advocate of the demise of this House, acknowledged our "wisdom and expertise" when the Commons debated the draft Bill last month. I tell noble Lords that if this House was judged on its record in a court of law, our acquittal would be sure and swift.
So what is the problem? I refer again to the foreword, which claims that we lack "sufficient democratic authority" -nothing more. According to Mr Clegg, our fatal flaw is that we are not directly accountable to the British people. That is absolutely true, but nor are the monarchy, the judiciary, the chiefs of the armed services, the Prime Minister, his deputy Mr Clegg or-let us face it-the Cabinet directly accountable. We in this House must be resolute in our determination and ready to resist, come what may from that government Front Bench.
The Government already hint at using their powers of duress to get their way, but I warn them that they will not overcome the growing scepticism on all sides in both Houses and outside by cajoling Back-Benchers or rattling the Parliament Act in front of our noses. Legitimacy works both ways. Legitimate questions were asked for which Members had no convincing answers during the many debates in this House on the House of Lords Reform Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I again ask in the simplest and most mundane terms that I can command: in what way would the nation benefit and parliamentary proceedings be enhanced by the abolition of this House of experts and experience, and its replacement by a senate of paid politicians? I am an optimist. I live in hope of an answer from the Government before the end of this two-day debate-thank you.
The phrase "If it ain't broke, don't mend it" is still true. That is why we celebrate great national events adorned with pageantry and why the State Opening of Parliament takes place in this Chamber. I note that there is no move to scrap that. Why? It is because they do not dare to abolish that. Their sole aim is to preserve the coalition for five years, create 300 jobs for the boys and girls on the party lists, and send us as quietly as possible salami-style to the knackers' yard.
The draft Bill's proposals for electing the new breed of Peers-or perhaps I should say the new breed of senators-are the most disjointed and disconnected possible. Under the terms of the draft Bill, elected Peers and MPs will be accountable to the electorate but some will be more accountable than others. Does that not smack of George Orwell's Animal Farm? The Labour Front Bench in the Commons dismissed the whole process as a huge anti-climax and the Back-Benchers called it a tatty roadshow, a constitutional version of fantasy football and a bag of fudge. The Tories were also restless.
No wonder the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, doubts the chances of the Bill getting through by 2015, as he stated in his interview last Saturday with the Financial Times. Mr Clegg, too, dismissed the public's indifference in a way he may regret. He said:
But the Government are losing the debate. The Government's Bill is so loosely drafted, so full of non sequiturs and internal contradictions that the Deputy Prime Minister himself admitted in the Commons debate that it represents no more than the Government's,
My Lords, that takes my breath away. What an extraordinary comment to make on an issue of major constitutional importance. The governance of this country cannot depend on best guesses and burnt-out obsessions that have no relevance or public resonance.
I have no doubt that the Joint Committee will do its best, and I wish it well, but any attempt to cajole it will only further expose the weaknesses of the Government's position. I have tabled my Motion because I believe that the Government should withdraw their destructive proposals and build on the Steel Bill on reform of this House and the relevant Select Committee reports. That would improve the way this House works within the existing legislation and conventions. Surely we cannot gamble with the constitution and Parliament's future on the basis of the coalition's best guesses.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, I would like to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice following his Written Ministerial Statement laid in the other place earlier today:
"Last autumn, the Government launched two consultations on far reaching plans to reform punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders, and legal aid in England and Wales respectively. Today, I have laid before Parliament the Government's responses to these consultations. I am also introducing the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to give effect to those measures we are taking forward that require primary legislation.
Protecting the public from crime and punishing law-breakers are the most fundamental responsibilities of the state towards its citizens. But the sad truth is that-after 13 years of government, over 20 criminal justice Bills, more than 3,000 new criminal offences and an explosion in the prison population-Labour left the system in crisis. Most of our prisoners spend their time behind bars idling in their cells with ready access to drugs. A bigger scandal still is our reoffending rates, which are straightforwardly dreadful. Within a year of leaving jail, half of offenders will have been reconvicted of further offences. The same people cycle round the system endlessly, committing more crimes against more victims. The best way to reduce crime is to reduce reoffending, and that remains the central feature of our programme of radical reforms.
Prisons must be places of both punishment and reform. Today, I can confirm that we plan to deliver a full working week across the prison estate. We will legislate to extend powers to use money earned by
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Drug abuse lies behind much, if not most, criminality in this country. It is not acceptable that drugs are readily available in prison. We are taking forward plans to reduce addiction across the prison estate, improving security and introducing drug-free wings in jails.
We must tackle other root causes of criminality, particularly alcohol addiction, mental illness and lack of skills. But we will ensure that we put taxpayers' money only into those rehabilitation programmes that actually work.
Public confidence in the criminal justice system is unacceptably low. That is why we want to take forward plans for a new offence with a mandatory minimum prison sentence of six months for adults who use a knife to threaten and endanger. We will also consult on proposals to criminalise squatting, and will bring forward legislation to clarify the law on self-defence. In addition, I can confirm our intention to improve the use of remand and reduce the number of foreign national prisoners in our jails.
Discounts for early guilty pleas have been part of the criminal justice system for decades, and for good reason. Personally, I was particularly impressed by the representations of the senior judiciary and other criminal justice experts who said that increasing the maximum discount on offer for an early guilty plea at the earliest possible stage might result in the sentence served being too short in some serious cases. I considered addressing that problem by introducing greater judicial discretion, but we could not make that work. We have therefore decided to retain the present system.
The consultation also produced strong opposition to the indeterminate sentencing framework. This was introduced by the previous Government and sold as a way of protecting the public from a small number of the most dangerous offenders, but it has never worked as Parliament intended. It has created a flawed system where thousands of offenders have already served their normal sentence or tariff but no one can predict when or if they might ever be released. That is why, as the Prime Minister confirmed earlier today, we are reviewing indeterminate sentences of imprisonment for public protection, with a view to replacing them with a more sensible, tough system of long determinate sentences. This will see judges handing down life sentences in a greater number of very serious cases, including mandatory life sentences for the most serious repeat offenders. Serious sexual and violent offenders will spend at least two-thirds of their sentence in prison rather than being released halfway through. We intend to return to the best aspects of the system before IPPs were introduced.
I turn to legal aid reform. We have much the most expensive system in the world, except for Northern Ireland, costing £39 per head of population compared with £8 per head in New Zealand, a country with a broadly similar legal system. The previous Government consulted on this subject more than 30 times since 2006
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Following careful consideration of more than 5,000 responses, I am bringing forward proposals which I believe will ensure access to public funding in those cases that most require it, encourage early resolution of disputes instead of unnecessary conflict and ensure much better value for money for the taxpayer.
I can announce that we will retain legal aid in cases where people's life or liberty is at stake, where they are at risk of serious physical harm or immediate loss of their home, or where their children may be taken into care. In response to consultation, this will include strengthened provision for victims of domestic violence and for children at risk of abuse or abduction and the retention of legal aid for special educational needs cases.
Legal aid will no longer be routinely available for most private family law cases, clinical negligence, employment, immigration, some debt and housing issues, some education cases and welfare benefits. It will also no longer be available for squatters resisting eviction.
We have also decided not to abolish the current capital disregards for pensioners and for equity in the main home in assessing an applicant's eligibility for legal aid. We will not introduce a £100 contribution from capital for those assessed as having £1,000 of disposable capital.
What all this amounts to is a balanced and sensible package of reforms of the kind that the Government were determined to achieve when we published our proposals. Our plans mean a return to common sense in the justice system. On legal aid, the overall effect will be to achieve significant savings while protecting fundamental rights of access to justice; on sentencing, we will deliver punishment, protection and a renewed focus on breaking the cycle of crime and reoffending".
Our justice policy should, of course, be about protecting the public, punishing and reforming offenders, being on the side of the victim and bringing crime down. That underpinned our record in government and led to a 43 per cent fall in crime, reductions in reoffending and serious improvements in youth offending rates. Some crisis. However, this Government demonstrate that that is not what matters in their approach to crime and justice; what matters is cutting costs, despite the impact that could have, and is likely to have, on our communities.
We think the Government are right to have seen sense and taken heed of opposition to cost-driven proposals to reduce sentences by 50 per cent on early guilty pleas. A powerful coalition of the judiciary, justice groups, the Sentencing Council and victims
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Perhaps the Minister can answer the following questions. First, can he outline why the Prime Minister ditched this proposal when the Government were so wedded to it a matter of weeks ago? Secondly, why was a decision taken to change the name of the Bill from the "Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill", as it was called until late last night, to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill? What do the Government hope to achieve by tinkering with the words?
We know from the impact assessment provided with the Green Paper that removing the option of remanding offenders in custody for certain cases would save £30 million and 1,300 prison places. Does this proposal still remain and in what form?
On IPPs, how will the Government ensure the safety of our communities when considering which offenders ought to be released? Once again, the impact assessment tells us that the financial savings in doing this will be sizeable. Obviously the focus is on saving money. Today we learn that the noble Lord is to undertake an urgent review of IPPs with a view to replacing them. When there has already been over the past 13 months a Green Paper and a consultation, why is there a need for another review?
How does the noble Lord reconcile losing thousands of experienced front-line prisons and probation staff with the Government's obvious desire to see, first, an increased number of offenders diverted into specialist drug, alcohol and mental health facilities and, secondly, more prisoners working, who will clearly need more supervision? How do those policies fit together? At this morning's press conference, the Prime Minister said savings that would have been made by the 50 per cent proposals will be found elsewhere in the Ministry of Justice budget. Can I ask the Minister to explain to the House exactly where these savings will be found and when?
The proposals on legal aid that were mooted in the Green Paper have been heavily criticised across the board. There is room for legal aid cuts-we have certainly put up alternative proposals, as have the Law Society and others-but they are being criticised because of the attack on social welfare law. Does the Minister agree that these proposals, if implemented in legislation, will decimate social welfare law, making it impossible for the most vulnerable to get legal help for legal problems, including those relating to welfare benefits, debt, employment and all but the most extreme of housing cases? Does he agree that evidence shows that exactly this type of legal help that is now given through legal aid, when given early, can and does often solve the problems involved and thus save the state money when things otherwise descend downhill? Does he agree with NACAB, which says that a pound spent on welfare benefits advice saves £8.80 in future spending; that every pound spent on housing advice saves £2.34; and that every bit of debt advice saves £2.98? How can this policy possibly save public money?
More importantly than even the financial side, how does the noble Lord argue that the removal of access to justice-because that is what it is-from some of
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This House has always seen one of its roles as to look after the vulnerable and marginalised in our society. When this Bill comes from another place, I am sure this House will continue to do its duty as far as that is concerned. These proposals are not only financially illiterate but-and I choose my words carefully-morally outrageous. I wonder how the noble Lord, with his great tradition as a liberal and a man who is a great supporter of social justice, can give his support to these proposals.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response. I will try to deal with the issues that he raised. I suppose that the first point to make is that moral outrage butters no parsnips. The issue that the Ministry of Justice was faced with, as were the Government, was that we were spending beyond our means. We had to accept, as part of the spending review necessary to repair this country's economy, a cut. I hear a groan from across the Floor, but it is no use opposition Members pretending that if they had won the election they would not have had to come into office to face some of the realities that we have faced, including having to make cuts in some areas. We can all enjoy being in office in good times; it is in difficult times that the necessary and hard decisions have to be made in government. We were faced with cutting our expenditure from £10 billion to £8 billion. Noble Lords opposite will know very well that this department really only has four big tickets; it spends on prisons, on probation, on legal aid and on staff and court services. Each of those has had to take some very difficult hits.
To take the points made, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor made clear, the decision on the 50 per cent discount change was as a result of consultation and discussion within government-something that is very common in coming to a final decision. As was indicated, there was quite a weight of opinion from the judiciary, as the Lord Chancellor made very clear in his Statement, that this was a bridge too far as far as discounts were concerned, despite some attractive possible savings and some impact. It is the truth that early pleas have a beneficial effect on victims, and some victims are spared the trauma of going through a trial. But the weight of advice was that such a discount offered to certain offenders would be unacceptable to the public
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On changing the name of the Bill to include punishment of offenders, it is partly a presentational matter, but one that I do not think we should ignore. I am very eager that we win the discussion in this country about prison reform and rehabilitation of offenders, but we will not win that debate if the public at large believe that the proposals that we are putting forward leave out punishment of offenders and concern for victims. Therefore, presentationally, the added words will reassure the public. While a large amount of the Green Paper's and the Bill's thrust is to examine ways in which to get into that cycle of reoffending, both to save the cost of reoffending and save the trauma of what reoffending does to future victims, we need public opinion to help and support us in that task. In that, we have to reassure the public that we do not forget the element of punishment in the approach to crime.
Our remand proposals remain in place and will be taken forward. The policy is to restrict the availability of custodial remand in cases where it is apparent that there is no real prospect of the defendant being sentenced to imprisonment if convicted.
The IPP was a product of the consultation. Just as a lot of the feedback on the Green Paper was against the 50 per cent discount, a lot of the evidence from the judiciary was that IPPs do not work, build up problems and leave doubt and uncertainty in the system. We have listened, we are going to consult and we will bring forward proposals by the autumn to replace the present regime.
The noble Lord mentioned the fact that the Prison Service and the probation service are going to be put under pressure by these cuts and by further demands being made on them. I think that that is true. The whole thrust of the strategy in the Green Paper and now in this legislation is to try to get more for less. There are some indications that we are not being over-optimistic in that. We are challenging both the Prison Service and the probation service to look at their own efficiencies in the way that they carry out their roles. We have a wide range of proposals right through the criminal justice system to bring in both the private and voluntary sectors to participate in payment-by-results pilots to see if there are alternative ways of delivering the service of both custody and post-custody treatment. This will also be part of a more general approach to treat people more holistically while they are in custody and post custody.
I understand what the noble Lord said about social welfare. It is an extremely sensitive subject. Again, I have answered questions before on this: you cannot have a system that is supposed to be targeted at the most disadvantaged in our society, cut the budget to that programme and not by implication cause problems for those who are so disadvantaged. The Government are not abolishing funding for social welfare law. About £50 million will be spent in this area. Not all social welfare law cases will be outside scope, but neither are
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We must face up to tough choices and focus resources on those who need them most-the serious cases where legal advice and representation are justified. We are maintaining funding for mediation services and trying to ensure that funding is directed at the most vulnerable. We are also looking at whether we can help by offering advice in those cases. The noble Lord rightly declared that that was important in this area. This is not an easy case to make in the context of legal aid but we have to face up to economic reality, as I suspect noble Lords opposite would have to do if they were standing at this Dispatch Box. I certainly have no problem in arguing the moral case: we have made the tough decisions that one needs to make in government and in doing so we have tried to keep faith with the most vulnerable in our society.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the review of indeterminate sentencing, which constitutes an injustice that has been perpetrated over a number of years. Many people are suffering as a result of those sentences having been passed on them. Are there any proposals for dealing with those who are serving indeterminate sentences and cannot get their freedom, though the tariff period has elapsed, because they cannot get access to courses?
I also applaud the abandonment of the proposed 50 per cent automatic reduction for guilty pleas. I have always opposed the concept that this Government, or any Government, should say what a proper sentence should be. Things can vary enormously, from an overwhelming case where the person must plead, to situations where there is very little case and a plea of guilty indicates remorse. A judge is in a position to judge that at the time. Do the Government intend that judges should continue to exercise such a discretion? However, I am dismayed by the reference to mandatory life sentences. They exist only for murder. Is it proposed that mandatory life sentences should be imposed for anything other than murder? That would be a very strange thing to happen.
Clinical negligence is to be out of the scope of legal aid. Surely the Government will permit the granting of legal aid for the investigation of clinical negligence, which is hugely expensive and beyond the means of anybody, particularly where children are involved. Justice demands that clinical negligence be properly supported to that degree.
Finally, on family law, have the Government considered the importance of family solicitors in reconciling parties on issues such as custody and maintenance and the enormous amount of money that they save from having these disputes settled out of court?
Lord McNally: My Lords, today we have committed to a review of indeterminate sentencing, which we hope will be concluded by the autumn. We will then bring forward proposals on what happens next. On the question of what we are doing with the people who are already on IPPs, each individual prisoner will continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis by the Parole Board. The review will look at all the ways in which these assessments operate, to ensure that the real work is done to reform offenders when they are in prison. When my noble friend sees the full proposals, I think that he will also see that we are taking a lot more care to try to address the rehabilitation of these long-term offenders while they are in prison.
I take my noble friend's point about judges' discretion. The longer I have been in this job, the more convinced I have been that we should rely on the discretion of a well informed judge, rather than on Parliament second-guessing the judiciary at long distance by too-restrictive legislation. We will see how this unfolds, because one idea that is certainly being brought forward is the use of mandatory life sentences for serious repeat offenders. I have to point out that this Bill will go through both Houses and I am quite sure that I will hear more of the argument that my noble friend deployed when the Bill comes before this House later in the year.
On clinical negligence, legal aid is currently available to those who have suffered negligent medical treatment and qualify financially to seek damages against any type of public or private medical practitioner. While these claims are for money compensation, we consider that they often raise serious issues, especially where the damages are required to meet future needs, and some litigants will be vulnerable because of disabilities resulting from the negligent treatment. However, although the issues raised are likely to be very important, we consider that there is a viable source of alternative funding to legal aid in conditional fee arrangements, which are more readily available in such cases than they are for other claims. We therefore consider that legal aid is not justified in these cases and that our limited funding would be better targeted on other priority areas.
I take the point that my noble friend makes about solicitors. One of the good things about them is that they are increasingly branching out into offering mediation services-something that we very much support.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I, too, welcome the review of indeterminate sentences, which were introduced by the previous Administration in 2003 for the protection of the public. Given that the opposition to IPPs is so strong on all sides, including-if I understood the noble Lord correctly-among the judges, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Bach, wonder why a review is necessary. Why can we not simply repeal the relevant section in the 2003 Act and leave it at that?
Secondly, as the noble Lord knows, I do not like mandatory sentences for the use of knives to threaten or endanger. Is there any evidence at all that the sentences currently being imposed by the judges in those cases are too low? If not, why do we need a mandatory sentence?
Thirdly and lastly, the most noticeable absence from the Statement is anything about Schedule 21, which imposes on judges a rigid framework in murder
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Lord McNally: My Lords, even as I was saying the words about the decision on mandatory sentencing, I had the noble and learned Lord very much in mind. I know his views on the matter. We will have to see how the matter goes through. I know that there are conflicting opinions on it. As I have said, my inclination is for a lot more judge power to be employed, rather than finding the prison population surging not because of a surge in crime but because changes have snared people who might not otherwise have been sent to prison.
On Schedule 21, we want a simpler and more transparent sentencing framework that is also more coherent. We consulted on a proposal to reform Schedule 21-as a possible simplification of the sentencing framework, rather than a measure to change sentencing practice-which sets out the starting point for determining the minimum terms to be served by an offender receiving a mandatory life sentence for murder. There was some support for revisiting the drafting of those provisions, but others took the view that the courts have already interpreted them in a consistent and flexible way. We have therefore concluded that reform is unnecessary at present.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, under civil legal aid, how many of the estimated 700,000 cases for which entitlement would have been lost under the original proposals will now be retained? What is the estimated cost of those changes to restore legal aid and advice that would otherwise have been removed? Secondly, is it correct that 90 per cent of the 5,000 responses disagreed with the proposals for legal aid?
Lord McNally: I am not sure what the statistics are on the responses. If you are about to cut a budget and you ask for opinions, I would guess that you are more likely to get more people objecting to the cuts than you are people in favour. That does not take away the validity. We had a large number of responses, and a large number pointed out various impacts, such as the point made by my noble friend Lord Thomas: sometimes solicitors on legal aid give early advice that saves problems further down the line. It is a difficult balance.
I have never tried to mislead the House by denying that, in part, the things that we have done have been for cost reasons, because of the constraints. That means that some decisions have been hard. The estimate is that we will reduce cases by about half a million-about 600,000 cases will be removed from scope. On the social welfare end, it is an extremely severe cut. Part of our debate will be about our arguments that, in this area, there has been too much publicly funded litigation and that there is much more scope for mediation and non-legal advice. That will be tested as the Bill goes through the other place and through this place when it arrives.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, the Statement refers with approval to some judicial consultation that has already taken place. Can my noble friend tell us whether judicial consultation has yet extended to the plan for a mandatory sentence for knife crime? If so, can he tell us the character of the judicial response?
Lord McNally: I know that my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor has very regular meetings with the Lord Chief Justice and other senior members of the judiciary. However, those meetings are private and he certainly has not made me aware of whether he has discussed any aspect of these proposals with the Lord Chief Justice or the judiciary. If he has, I shall respond in writing to my noble and learned friend. I am not aware of a formal consultation but, if one has taken place, I shall make him aware of it.
Lord Clinton-Davis: When mediation fails, as it sometimes can-and there is plenty of room for obstruction as far as that is concerned-does the noble Lord envisage that a remedy will be available for a person who is prejudiced by that sort of position?
Lord McNally: If you were pushing towards mediation but, as the noble Lord says, somebody refused to take up the mediation or tried to sabotage it, that would cause problems. I suspect that that would not be sufficient to enable the injured party to get legal aid if he had been outside its scope. However, again, I shall get clarification on that and, if I am wrong, I shall write to the noble Lord.
Lord McNally: In any event. However, my feeling is that, save in exceptional circumstances, mediation would be the end of the road unless people found a means of financing their litigation other than with legal aid.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who has been in the solicitors' branch of the profession for over 50 years and I admit to having had a passion for legal aid for the whole of that time. Does my noble friend not agree that legal aid has been the one thing that has allowed a citizen to get some sort of equality before the law and that the severe cuts to the scheme announced today, although long foreshadowed, will inevitably strike at the heart of access to justice?
Does my noble friend also agree that one reason why this country is more dependent on legal aid than perhaps any other on this earth is that we legislate at a greater rate than any democracy that I have yet been able to discover? I have done some research on this. The torrent of law that we pour forth from this Parliament is of itself a great creator of legal need among the whole of society, including poor people no less than rich. Is it not a sort of organised hypocrisy for us to go on doing as we do and, at the same time, to cut the citizen's access to desperately needed advice and assistance?
Lastly, and practically, will my noble friend please have particular regard to the needs of the citizens advice bureaux, of which there are over 1,000 in this country? The bulk of their effort is voluntary. To
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Lord McNally:The wider point that my noble friend makes about the amount of legislation is probably for another debate. We are not abolishing legal aid, but we are making cuts on the civil legal aid side. We will abolish the Legal Services Commission and vest responsibility for the administration of legal aid with the Lord Chancellor. We will, as I said, implement reforms to the scope of civil legal aid services, enable the courts in ancillary relief cases to make interim lump sum payments against a party with means to pay other parties' costs and facilitate the creation of a supplementary legal aid scheme by enabling a percentage of a litigant's damages to be paid back into the legal aid fund to support the funding of future cases. We will implement Lord Justice Jackson's reforms to the costs of civil litigation, abolish the recoverability of success fees and after-the-event insurance premiums from the losing party and amend the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 to cap payments made to acquitted defendants from central funds. We are reforming legal aid, we are targeting legal aid, but we are not abolishing legal aid, because I share my noble friend's concerns about its importance in our system and in the citizen's access to justice.
Lord Wakeham: My Lords, like many noble Lords in this House, I have had my say on Lords reform many times in the past. It is 10 years since my royal commission reported, and I still think it was probably the best way forward. At the time, the then Government referred to it with approbation in their election manifesto, and slightly embarrassed me by actually using my name in their election manifesto. I think the Conservative Party would have accepted it, but I accept that the Liberal party did not think it was a sensible way forward.
Our difficulty was that what we proposed then was a compromise, and nobody wanted to make any efforts at all at compromising. We proposed a partly appointed, partly elected House with the appointed part considerably larger than the elected. It was essentially a compromise, and nobody was prepared to make that sort of compromise. That is one of the lessons that the all-party committee ought to bear in mind when it considers this.
One curious fact about the royal commission was that I did not ask any of the leaders of the parties to give evidence, but I waited upon them all and asked them what they thought. I will not recount what they thought. I could not get Ted Heath the slightest bit interested in the subject, but I had a very interesting talk with Roy Jenkins before the royal commission report, and he said he was very happy with the way the House of Lords was working and did not favour any great reform. I pressed him. I said that that was what the royal commission was there to propose and that he must give me some idea. Hard pressed, he did say that
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A number of important things in this draft Bill find an echo in what we said 10 years ago. First, it separates the peerage from membership of the upper House. That is what we said then and I still think that it is probably the only way that we will ever get proper reform of this House. Secondly, it recommends 15-year terms with no re- election, as we recommended. However, we made the quite important point that the House should have the power to reappoint someone who had been elected if it thought that they would be valuable for a further term in the House. If you think of some of the expertise, that ought to be considered.
There was also, on the face of it, no great dispute about the powers of a reformed House and the supremacy of the Commons. The most worrying feature about the Bill, as has already been said eloquently by a number of noble Lords, is the question of whether that will survive in the sort of reform that this draft Bill implies. The fundamental question is-
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: I am listening to the noble Lord very carefully indeed. May I ask him to consider this thought? There are, in all, 77 bicameral systems in the world, so the House of Lords Library informs me, of which 61 are elected. Apart from Canada, by the way, we are the only major democracy that does this by appointment. Within those 61, in not one case is the primacy of the lower Chamber challenged. If it is not the case in those 61 elected Chambers, why should it be a danger for us?
Lord Wakeham: I would say two things to the noble Lord. First, I am not absolutely sure that he is completely right about that. If I recall rightly, for example, in Australia there have been moments of considerable difficulty between the two Houses. Secondly, at the time of the royal commission, if I remember rightly we looked into a number of different systems in different parts of the world and concluded that most of them had much more to do with the traditions and history of their own countries than they did with some more academic system. I do not therefore accept the view that this House should be fully elected although, as the House will remember, our royal commission recommended an element of elected Members. We were not absolutely certain. It was partly elected-a much lower part than the Government's proposal-but partly appointed.
The real worry is that if we have a substantially or wholly elected House, we will have politicians coming here with a view to undermining the position of Members in the House of Commons. I tried to say in the royal commission that anybody who ever served in this House could never serve subsequently in the House of Commons. I was told by the lawyers that that would now be ruled to be a breach of their human rights, so would not happen. We did not think that it was a very good idea to have too many elected Members. Frankly,
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The House of Lords has of course been reformed many times in the past 100 years and will continue to be reformed if it sets about it in the right way. In my view, one of the most constructive tasks that the all-party committee ought to consider is the way that parliamentary procedure should operate in order to reform this House. We have the example of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which is a perfectly good and acceptable measure, but no business manager-I have spent a lot of my life being a business manager-would ever dream of bringing it in because of the chaos it would cause to the parliamentary timetable in view of all the amendments that would be added to it. If one accepts that this measure will probably not be achieved because it is a wholesale reform, we should continue with gradual, piecemeal reform. We should look at how to set about doing that because I do not believe that the present parliamentary procedures are adequate for the task of dealing with incremental changes to this House, which in the past we were able to negotiate and agree. I think it would be very difficult at present.
Lord Morris of Aberavon: My Lords, although I have never spoken before in a debate on the reform of this House-I nearly refrained from doing so now-I do not intend to make any general remarks, save to say that, like many others, my approach is twofold: first, a fundamental respect for the need to ensure that the primacy of the elected House is not undermined; and, secondly, to express the view that, whatever changes may take place in this House, the way it exercises its powers will change considerably.
I wish to speak on one issue alone: the possibility of the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 being used to ensure the passing of the draft Bill. As I understand it, the attitude of the coalition Government is to point a pistol at our heads by threatening the use of the Parliament Acts. The coalition approach may sound strange to the Conservative part of the coalition, which knows the historical Conservative stance towards the Parliament Acts. Duress has never been the best way of achieving constitutional changes.
If the proposed Bill is to be rammed through regardless, this House and, in particular, the Joint Committee must have the best legal advice on the problems of applying the Parliament Acts. What, if any, are the limitations on their use? I recommend the study of the judgments in both the Court of Appeal and the Appellate Committee of this House in the, by now, famous fox hunting case of Jackson v Attorney-General 2006. I shall refer briefly to the learned judgments in that unusual constitutional case of considerable importance to our present deliberations. The 14 judges in the three courts who considered the issues had differences of
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Last week, I placed a Motion on the Order Paper, inviting the House to instruct the Clerk of the Parliaments to seek the advice of the Attorney-General on whether a Bill which provided for the change in the composition of this House, where the provisions of the Parliament Acts had been complied with, is capable of having legal effect. I invite the Joint Committee to take the same course.
There are sound precedents for seeking, from time to time, the Attorney-General's and others' advice, as I know from my own experience. Only a believer in a flat earth would opine that this matter could, and probably would, not go before the courts. I trust that the Government will build this into their timetable. Is such an issue justiciable? That clearly was the view of the Appellate Committee in the case of Jackson and, in the words of the late and learned Lord Bingham, such consideration,
The reform proposals go to the heart of membership of this House as we know it. It is arguable that they are tantamount to abolishing it, at least in its present form-with or without changes in name and title. I invite the Joint Committee to consider at its earliest opportunity the Bill's title, "House of Lords Reform Bill", which should reflect its contents. Would it not be better and more appropriate to call it something like "Abolition of the House of Lords in its Present Form Bill"?
The possible limitations on the use of the Parliament Act were considered in the Jackson case. Reservations were expressed by a number of judges. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, put it succinctly when he said that it was sufficient to note,
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and other Law Lords instanced some fundamental subjects that might not be amenable to change under the Act, such as the Act of Union with Scotland-which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, mentioned-judicial review and access to the courts by citizens. The noble and learned Lords, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Lord Carswell and Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, all expressed their concerns in different words. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Carswell, said that he was
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The weight of opinion, despite the expressed reservations and concerns, may well lead towards recognising a considerable supremacy for Parliament. The supremacy of Parliament, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn, said, is a construct of the common law. The issue may be whether there are exceptional circumstances that are so fundamental that even a sovereign Parliament cannot act. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, added that,
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, I apologise to the noble and learned Lord; in my enthusiasm to get at the arguments, I attempted to barge in ahead of him. That was not my intention and I hope that he will accept my apology.
I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that in a democracy the minority is always right. That thought has given me much comfort over the years as a Liberal, and it appears that it will have to give me comfort in this debate as well. I spent an engaging hour and a half yesterday in the House of Lords Library, looking through opposition speeches made in December 1831 to the Great Reform Act 1832 and to the Reform Act 1867. Five arguments were put forward. The first was: there is no public call for such reform beyond those mad radicals of Manchester. The second was: we should not be wasting our time and money on these matters; there are more important things to discuss such as the Schleswig-Holstein problem, the repeal of the corn laws or the crisis in the City that caused Anthony Trollope to write his wonderful novel.
The third argument, which was put so powerfully-indeed, in bloodcurdling terms-by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, was that if we were to embark on this constitutional terra incognita, the delicate balance of the constitution would collapse around us; mere anarchy would rule upon the world.
The fourth argument put forward in those debates was, "No, no, let us not disturb the quiet groves of wisdom within which we decide the future of the nation by letting in the rude representatives of an even ruder republic. God knows what damage we shall do if such a thing should happen". The last and fifth argument was the argument actually used by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, just a moment ago: "if it ain't broke, don't mend it".
Those are the arguments that were put forward against the 1832 Act, the 1867 Act, the 1911 Act-every single reform that we have ever had-and they are the arguments that are being put forward now. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. Perhaps I might explain before I come to the substance of the argument.
The first argument is that there is no public interest in this matter. Of course there is not; it is our business, not the public's. The public have made it very clear that they do not trust our electoral system in its present form. Is there anyone in this Chamber who does not realise that the dangerous and growing gap between government and governed that is undermining the confidence in our democracy must be bridged? It must be bridged by the reform and modernisation of our democratic institutions, and we have a part to play in that too. This is not about what the public want, it is about us putting our House in order.
The second issue is that there are more important things to discuss. I do not think so. Frankly, we have been very fortunate to have lived through the period of the politics of contentment. The fragility of our democratic system has not been challenged because the business of government and democracy has been to redistribute increasing wealth. If we now come to the point at which we must redistribute retrenchment, difficult decisions, hard choices, I suspect it will come to something rather different, as we see on the streets of Greece today and as we saw on the streets of London not very long ago. This is very important.
The third is that we are embarking on a constitutional journey into terra incognita. Of course we are. We do not have a written constitution in this country. I wish we did, but we are told that the genius of our constitution is that it is unwritten, that it responds to events, that it develops, that it takes its challenges and moves forward. Oliver Cromwell did not have to say, "We will delay the Civil War until we have worked out the proper constitutional relationship between Parliament and the King". In 1832 they did not say, "Let us hold this up until we have decided what proper constitutional balances would be achieved". If you believe in the miracle of the unwritten constitution, you must believe that our constitution will adapt. You cannot argue that that is a good thing and then say that we cannot move forward unless we know precisely and in exact detail what will happen next. Of course this will change the balance between us and the other Chamber. It will not challenge the primacy of the other Chamber, but it will challenge the absolute supremacy of the other Chamber-that is called check and balance.
The fourth argument is that this will disturb the gentle climate of wisdom in this place. I have no doubt that there is unique wisdom here, although I have to say that I do not believe it is necessarily evenly distributed-maybe in some places it is, but not everywhere. However, I am not persuaded that there is less wisdom in the 61 second chambers that are elected, that there is less wisdom in the Senate of the United States, or the Sénat in France or the Bundesrat in Germany. I do not believe that the business of election will produce less wisdom than we have here now-rather the contrary. It is not wisdom that we lack; it is
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This is where we come to the final point-the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd: "If it ain't broke, let's not fix it". It is broke; it is broke in two fashions. First, our democracy now and our institutions of democracy in this country do not enjoy the confidence of our people in the way they did. That confidence is declining. We have to be part of the reform that reconnects politics with people in this country. If we do not, our democratic institutions will fall into atrophy and may suffer further in the decline of the confidence of the people of this country. If noble Lords do not realise that, they do not realise just how difficult the current situation is in Britain.
We in this Chamber cannot leave this to others to do. We must be part of that reform, modernisation, reconnection and democracy. It is said that this House does its job as a revising Chamber well. So it does. It is allowed to revise, change, amend legislation, but is it allowed to deal with the really big things? It does the small things well, but is it constructed in a way that would prevent a Government with an overwhelming majority in the other place taking this country to an unwise and, as we now know, probably illegal war? No, it would not because it did not. I cannot imagine that the decision to introduce the poll tax and the decision to take this country to war would have got through a Chamber elected on a different mandate and in a different period, or if there had been a different set of political weights in this Chamber from the one down the other end.
The truth of the matter is that we perform the function of a revising Chamber well, but that is not our only function. We are also part of the checks and balances in this country. The fact that we do not have democratic legitimacy undermines our capacity to act as a check and balance on the excessive power of the Executive backed by an excessive majority in the House of Commons. That is where we are deficient and what must be mended.
The case is very simple to argue. In a democracy, power should derive from the ballot box and nowhere else. Our democracy is diminished because this place does not derive its power from democracy and the ballot box but from political patronage-the patronage of the powerful. Is it acceptable in a democracy that the membership of this place depends on the patronage of the powerful at the time? We are diminished in two ways. We are diminished because we do not perform the function that we need to perform of acting as a check and a balance on the Government, and we do not do so because we are a creature of the Government's patronage. I cannot believe that noble Lords find that acceptable in this Chamber .
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: Perhaps noble Lords will forgive me, I will finish now. I have already strained my time but I ask for patience. The Leader of the House is right. We have spent 100 years addressing reform in this House. It is time to understand why that is necessary-both to make our place in modern
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Viscount Astor: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, has just given a speech that I am sure will be used by every Liberal Democrat candidate who wishes to stand at an election to this House in the future. It was a virtuoso performance. I am afraid that my contribution will be somewhat more modest. I believe that the question we should be asking ourselves is how we get both Front Benches off the hooks on which they have each impaled themselves with their pride and their principles intact-I refer to my own Benches and those of noble Lords opposite.
In a Statement a few weeks ago, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde needed to be brave because he had little support from this side of the House. What perhaps was even more extraordinary was the response from the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition. Her speech could almost have been written by any Back-Bencher on this side of the House who was against reform. Listening to her today, I was still no clearer on Labour Party policy.
While I am having a swipe at Front Benches, I was also disappointed to hear the speech of the right reverend Prelate. Neither today nor at the time of the Statement did any right reverend Prelate make any mention of the other faiths which surely deserve a place in this House. Despite the fact that we have an established church, other churches and faiths should be represented here.
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