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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am not sure whether the Opposition Front Bench as presently constituted will be the same tomorrow. One has the feeling that the lights are on but there is no one at home. It is a privilege to be able to cast these few words before a depleted House, apart from our Front Bench which is notably full and talented.
The indicative convention is that I should aim to finish in 20 minutes and I shall do my very best. One parlour game parodied in "Monty Python" involved the task of encapsulating Proust in 20 seconds. This feels like just such a task.
First, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Warner on his notable speech which was full of authority and experience. In the nature of things--I respond to what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, indicated as being more appropriate--I should focus essentially today on home affairs matters. In the previous Session legislation dealing with crime and disorder, human rights, data
The Human Rights Act was modified following various requests in your Lordships' House specifically to protect freedom of expression for the media and freedom of religious belief. The Data Protection Act also protected the media as well as the individual. The Registration of Political Parties Act was significantly amended as a result of requests by the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Henley. I am grateful that the Terrorism and Conspiracy Act had all-party support, although I recognise that some people still have lingering doubts.
In the coming Session we are looking fundamentally at step two in the attack on the failure of the criminal justice system to deliver public confidence and protection. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Henley, given his particular request, that the new Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill will be introduced in this House tomorrow. I do not believe that I can respond much more promptly than that. (We have an hour or so later this evening and perhaps it can be done.) Along those lines we have commissioned another first-rate document that has been out for consultation: the Prison/Probation Review. That consultation finished on 27th November. That is another indicator that we must work co-operatively with the relevant agencies. It has been a serious blot that different agencies that deal with exactly the same group of mainly young offenders have worked in isolation. That is a cause of shame and regret to us all.
The next point may be of general assistance to the House. What we propose--the Leader is writing to this effect to those who may be interested--is that as a matter of general practice after Second Reading and before Committee stage, when noble Lords have digested the text of a Bill, we will offer the same opportunity that we offered, with some success, on the Human Rights Bill, the Data Protection Bill, the Government of Wales Bill and the Crime and Disorder Bill. Noble Lords in any part of your Lordships' House who may be interested may, together with their advisers if they prefer, have meetings with officials and Ministers so that detailed questions can be put in the hope that matters can be resolved in that way. I hope that noble Lords will regard that, first, as a generous approach and, secondly, as one that is likely to be fruitful if it is worked at co-operatively. I think that that is a useful mechanism which does not necessarily require pre-legislative scrutiny in the formal way in which Mr. Rhodri Morgan's committee will consider freedom of information.
The new Bill to be introduced in this House tomorrow will, as a matter of central significance, include referral to the youth offender panel. That is entirely novel--the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, is quite right--in the context of the English and Welsh jurisdictions. It means that for the first time young offender, who critically at present slips through the net and is not stopped and assisted, there will be included a contract of programmes and activities to address the causes of offending behaviour, including familial problems, underlying psychiatric problems and, in particular, the scourge of our time, drug addiction. All those contracts will involve reparation either to the victims--which is not always appropriate for various reasons--or to the wider community.
We must protect witnesses, whether they are vulnerable female witnesses in allegations of rape or sexual assault or domestic violence. We have to think of the position of children. They have not been properly looked after in the context of the criminal justice system. I am afraid that statistical research evidence--I do not refer to anecdotes--demonstrates that 75 per cent. of children who have been abused sexually or physically have said that had they known what they would have to go through in the court process they would never have reported the alleged crime in the first place. We have failed a significant segment of our population. The question of evidence about previous sexual behaviour has already been dealt with. That will be in the Bill.
The asylum Bill will deal with what the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, rightly described as a present national shambles and disgrace. We want to be fair. We want to be firm. We want to have judicial involvement. We have set ourselves some pretty firm targets which we intend to meet.
There will be the age of consent Bill. We have our ECHR commitment to that. It will equalise the age of consent for homosexuals and heterosexuals. As I said on the last occasion the matter was discussed in your Lordships' House, and responding in particular to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, the measure will provide for a criminal offence specifically focused to protect boys and girls where they are particularly vulnerable or where the position of trust is particularly strong. We also want to take forward an initiative to strengthen codes of conduct generally to protect the 16 and 17 year-olds from sexual advances from those in a position of trust.
It may well be that the European Parliamentary Election Bill will return to your Lordships' House, but I do not wish to intrude indecently into private grief. I do not therefore outline the substance of its provisions.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked about the Access to Justice Bill which was introduced by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. That is appropriate in the context. (Perhaps I may say that it is possible to read two documents at the same time. It makes one cross-eyed, but not cross--I have some good news in a moment.) The Lord Chancellor's initiative will be the first effective measure for rather more than a century to make a determined attack on the deficiencies of our justice system, which plainly does not deliver speed, efficiency or true access.
On the funding of political parties, one has read the report of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Neill, with care. There were 100 recommendations. We intend to have a draft Bill published before the Summer Recess next year. That will give political parties and everyone else who has an interest the opportunity to comment. We shall consider all representations made to us. Whether or not the Bill will contain matters about referenda remains to be seen.
I turn briefly to health issues. What the noble Baroness said is critical if we are to have a functioning health service in this country. The new Bill is a key element of our 10-year programme to modernise the system in England, Scotland and Wales. The key to it all is partnership. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady McFarlane of Llandaff, who spoke on the issue and the noble Lord, Lord Morris or Castle Morris, about the essential function of nurses. Our representations to the review body have stated that we must have a fair system of pay for nurses because it is an essential prerequisite to the modernisation and proper functioning of a National Health Service. But it is not only nurses and doctors who are in the partnership. Let us not forget the many hundreds of thousands of other workers who do unsung, unspectacular work day in and day out. Their
The quality of debate over the past five days has been remarkable. I have heard every speech in your Lordships' House today. When there were other meetings concerned with the possibility of a consensual approach to matters of reform in your Lordships' House it was occasionally necessary for colleagues to be absent from the Chamber. That was not discourteous and was not intended as discourtesy; it was imperative. I have read every Hansard entry. They are a remarkable tribute to the degree of expertise which presently resides in this House. I do not believe that one can say that any contribution fell below the high standards to which we are all accustomed. I do not suggest that I agree with every observation made, but it was a coup to have such a spectrum of discussion concentrated into five days in a way which was economic but at the same time informative.
What we are about--I do not care whether it is called "modernisation" or any other word, because any word becomes jargon if it is used more than once or twice--and intend to deliver is the transformation of our civil society. Of course we are proud of our country. We are proud of our past, but our eyes are on the future. And there is a confident future for this country if we want to work together and modernise ourselves. We have slipped sometimes; we have been slothful; we have lived on previous undoubted glories. One can understand that. I have no shame in saying that I am proud to be in such a decent country. But it is a decent country which we can make even better.
I am grateful for the privilege of being able to sum up the debate relatively briefly--seven minutes less than I was aiming for--and I hope that I have dealt with it satisfactorily in your Lordships' minds. I am content to sit down from the Dispatch Box and to take my place once more on a Front Bench which was not driven to mass resignation.
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