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Column 1111of the 1970 debate that Baroness Thatcher was one of those who voted against the introduction of British standard time and in favour of retaining GMT--no doubt expressing her well-known views about Euro-federalism.
The case is strong, and I sincerely hope that the Minister will recognise that. I hope that he will also recognise the value of retaining an element of free voting on this important issue. When the House was free to make its own decision 24 years ago, it did so by firmly supporting Greenwich mean time. I hope that it will have the same freedom if the issue is ever put to the vote again.
The question of which time zone we should adopt in relation to Greenwich mean time is certainly topical. As the hon. Lady pointed out, only last week the clocks were moved forward to put us on to summer time. According to the hon. Lady's definition and that of her hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford), we have abandoned GMT until October.
Let me add to the hon. Lady's summary of what GMT means. For purposes including navigation, cartography and the calculation of time, it has for centuries been useful to employ the concept of the meridian--a circle of constant longitude passing through a given place, and through the north and south poles. As regards time, the significance of the Greenwich meridian is that the system of standard time zones is based on mean time on that meridian. The result is that, almost throughout the world, standard time in any particular country is either that at Greenwich, or differs from that at Greenwich by an integral number of hours, plus or minus.
I trouble the House with that explanation for two reasons. First, it puts beyond doubt that whatever future arrangements the United Kingdom adopts for the calculation of time will not, and by definition cannot, affect the existence and value of Greenwich mean time. The universal benefit of GMT, as the basis for calculating time zones, is immutable. I hope that that will bring some comfort to the hon. Member who has the honour to represent Greenwich, who I am glad intervened briefly in the debate. The hon. Member for Greenwich asked me whether a proposed change could be decided by a free vote in the House. Alas, that is not a matter for me. I am sure, however, that the House would want to reach its own considered conclusion on such a matter.
Secondly, the explanation of GMT helps me to comment on early-day motion 935, entitled "Central European Time Zone", which the hon. Member for Vauxhall has signed. That motion calls on the Government to recognise the natural laws of the solar system by keeping the link with Greenwich mean time. I give her an unequivocal assurance that the Government cannot but recognise the relevant natural laws. Those laws are that the sun rises and sets, and that there are fewer hours of daylight in winter than in summer. Those certainties are unalterable by Government, Parliament, or any other human agency. Furthermore, whatever future arrangements we decide on will be linked indissolubly with Greenwich time.
As the hon. Lady said, at present the United Kingdom's time in winter is Greenwich mean time, so that in the
Column 1112summer, from March to October, our time is GMT plus one hour. For shorthand, I shall refer to those arrangements as the status quo. When, in our 1989 Green Paper, we initiated consultation and consideration of the country's future arrangements for time, a majority of respondents favoured, instead of the status quo, a different linkage with GMT--single double summer time, otherwise known as central European time or CET. That sets time in winter at GMT plus one hour, and summer time at GMT plus two hours. The effect would be later sunrises--and so later sunsets--in both summer and winter. While the responses overall favoured moving to that arrangement, the consultation also revealed strong feelings in favour of the status quo, particularly in Scotland but also in sectors of opinion elsewhere in the United Kingdom. That is among the major reasons why assessment of where the balance of national advantage lies is less than easy. As well as the hon. Lady, many other hon. Members have signed EDM 935, opposing a move to CET. Against that, numerous other Members have signed EDM 389, which strongly advocates such a move. The main objections to moving to CET that we have received fall into two categories. First, there is concern about the prospect of darker winter mornings leading to general inconvenience and, in particular, fears of more difficult working environments, and of greater risks of accident for those, such as farmers, construction workers, postmen--to whom the hon. Lady referred--and milkmen, who start work outdoors early. Secondly, there is concern that any adverse consequences of moving to CET would have a disproportionate impact in the north, particularly in Scotland.
CET would certainly entail winter morning inconvenience, although that could be overcome in some sectors by changes in working hours. Examples of industry organisations nevertheless so far opposed to CET include the National Farmers Union, and construction industry representatives. The first see difficulties in darker mornings for both arable and livestock farmers. I shall not go into detail on those now, as time has become short. The construction industry focuses on the iciness as well as the darkness of morning work and the fear of entailing greater costs for artificial lighting or time lost waiting for the day to warm up and the possible greater risk of industrial accidents. We take those concerns seriously. It should also be noted, however, that no national increase in the number of accidents in the construction industry was notified under the Factories Acts during the experiment with British standard time between 1968 and 1970, when winter time was GMT plus one hour. There are fears that the move to CET could be of disproportionate disadvantage to the north of the country and perhaps to Scotland in particular. There are two associated concerns. The first is the lateness of winter sunrise, as mornings would generally stay darker for longer in Scotland, even though the very late sunrises would be confined to the far north. I have some figures, but it is probably better that I set out the more general arguments as I have only a limited time. The second concern is that darker winter mornings in the north could lead to more traffic accidents. The hon. Member for Vauxhall stressed that aspect.
A further consideration, which carries substantial weight, is that people are fully accustomed to the status quo. That is a powerful argument. The advocates of CET need to show not only that its advantages could outweigh
Column 1113its disadvantages, but that they would do so to such an extent that the change, which would affect every person in the country, would be well worth the making.
As I have summarised the case for the status quo, I must also report the main arguments that we have received for moving to CET. Those are that substantial net reductions in road traffic casualties are forecast, that there would be some reduction in the fear of crime, that opportunities for leisure pursuits would increase, that our tourism industries would be boosted, and that there would be benefits to business, travel and communications from sharing the same time arrangements as those adopted in most other western European countries.
Of those arguments, the one relating to road traffic casualties is the most clearly supported by statistical evidence, despite what the hon. Member for Vauxhall said. The Transport Research Laboratory, which did the calculations and analysed the statistics after the debate to which the hon. Member for Greenwich referred, estimates that a move to CET would achieve a United Kingdom-wide net total reduction in road traffic casualties of 140 deaths, 520 serious injuries and 2,000 other casualties each year. The TRL's estimate is that, of those totals, the annual reduction in Scotland would be by 12 deaths, 47 serious injuries and 270 other casualties. Proportionately, that would be a greater reduction than that forecast for elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
I should also explain what is stated in early-day motion 935. Whatever the value of the statistics--I understand that the hon. Member for Greenwich would like to argue, but so would many other people and they are not my statistics--they are not merely 20 years old, but take into account fresh circumstances, such as the welcome reduction in evening drink driving. TRL has taken relevant changed circumstances into account when revising the estimates derived from the 1968-70 experiment with BST.
Column 1114The reduction in drink driving is not relevant, because the main period of drink driving is in the late evening-- roughly 10 pm to 3 am--which is well outside the time that CET would affect.
As to fear of crime, I saw the hon. Member for Vauxhall shaking her head, but successive British crime survey reports show that fear of going out in the dark is especially common among women and the elderly, with fewer journeys made when darkness has fallen. Advocates of CET point out, therefore, that the extension of daylight hours into the late afternoons and early evenings would appreciably enhance the quality of life during the winter afternoons for the people in that category. The survey found that three in five female pensioners feel "very unsafe" walking alone in the dark and that, even among young men, one in 10 feels unsafe at that time. Although CET would mean later sunrises, fear of darkness in the mornings is not nearly so great.
The response to our initial consultation paper and subsequent representations shows that one of the greatest perceived advantages of CET is the enhanced opportunity that it would provide for people to engage in leisure pursuits. For instance, the Sports Council and the Central Council for Physical Recreation support CET for outdoor sports, in which the hon. Lady takes a particular interest. Ms Hoey rose
Mr. Lloyd : I have only one minute left. Not only must I fail to reply to whatever point the hon. Lady was about to make, but I must leave out a great many other things that I wanted to say. I want to take this chance to make it abundantly clear that the start and end dates, if they are decided, will be decided by this House, by the interest of this country. The Community is not putting pressure on us--at least, not in respect of what time we choose, although in respect of the end and start dates of the change, yes it is. I agree with the hon. Lady that the decision either to move to CET or to remain as we are needs to be made soon so that the uncertainty about what is to happen in the next two or three years can be dispelled.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : When I applied for this debate I expected it to be the hors d'oeuvres before the debate on racial harassment during the debates on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill in April. Fate has now decreed that it be sandwiched between our debate last Monday and the debates that we shall have on our return.
The United Kingdom has a long history of tolerance. We welcomed the Huguenot refugees when they were the victims of religious persecution centuries ago. We welcomed the victims of pogroms at the turn of the century. In the 1930s, children came here on the Kindertransport from Germany to secure asylum. More recently, the Ugandan Asians, victims of Idi Amin, came here in the 1970s. That tolerance has been doubly blessed : it blessed those who received it and it blessed the United Kingdom, because those who came here made a major contribution to the life of our country.
That fine history is now threatened by a small minority. I am sure that everyone in the House was appalled by the election victory of the British National party in Millwall, but it was part of a wider worrying picture. In the past two years or so, there have been 14 racial murders, and there were about 9,000 reported racial attacks last year.
Anti-semitism is on the increase ; there has been hate mail and anti- semitic leafleting in the universities. Our universities should be centres of tolerance and liberalism, but they are being used by a small group of Muslim fundamentalists who are waging a vicious campaign of anti-semitism. The HUT--no connection with UHT--has been condemned by most British Muslims and banned in many Arab countries, yet it is active on 50 campuses in this country.
The Hizb-ut-Tahir is an extremist organisation which has described Yasser Arafat as "filth". It has produced a leaflet, circulating in London university, which contains the following sentence : "The last hour will not come until Muslims fight Jews and kill them . . . Peace with Israel, India and Serbia is a crime." University College London cancelled a meeting due to be addressed by the HUT.
Those who perpetrate such offensive filth should be prosecuted. The Crown Prosecution Service, however, said about the leaflet : "The Crown Prosecution Service have carefully considered the contents of this leaflet but have concluded it is not of such a nature that a prosecution for an offence contrary to part III of the Public Order Act 1986 could be brought in relation to its distribution. In the circumstances, the CPS have not passed the material on to the police."
If a leaflet calling for the murder of a religious group is not the sort of literature that the CPS believes should lead to a prosecution, one wonders how offensive a leaflet has to be--how nasty and filthy--before it warrants prosecution by the CPS.
We are faced with a small minority of mindless, militant Muslims who threaten violence on campuses ; they are homophobic, anti-semitic and anti- Hindu. They claim the right to free speech, but they misuse that right to preach a doctrine of hate and violence. Surely those who persecute others should themselves be prosecuted by the forces of law and order. The HUT is a manifestation of poison and evil. It speaks for very few, but the doctrines it puts forward carry a threat which may incite others to violence.
Column 1116Equally menacing is the flood of hate mail in north London. Many of my constituents, as I have reminded the House, were refugees from the Nazis. They fought for Britain in the last war and now, in the evening of their lives, they are experiencing a chilling echo of the 1930s. Why should they be disturbed by this evil hatred today ? We see cemeteries daubed with anti-semitic slogans and Nazi emblems. Surely the dead should have the right to rest in peace. Schools and synagogues need security staff to ensure that they will not be the victims of anti- semitic thugs. It is surely obscene that, in the last few years of the 20th century, places of worship should need to be protected and people should feel at risk when they are worshipping in a religious house.
Those attacks come from deranged, evil individuals who should be prosecuted. There are many who receive this hate mail and most of them will dismiss it as the product of a bitter, twisted mind. Others will obviously and rightly be concerned and ask themselves what will happen next. There is a danger that such anti-semitic literature will encourage others to commit acts of violence. That is why the Board of Deputies of British Jews is rightly concerned, and the Tabachnik report addresses the problem.
I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies to the debate he will be able to give the House some positive news about the Government's intentions on this matter. It is true that when we had the debate on Monday we still did not have the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), the Chairman of that Committee, is here this afternoon and I hope that he will say a few words and tell the House when he expects to produce that report. I also hope that, when the House returns on 12 April, my right hon. Friend will tell the House that the Government will consider moving amendments on this issue either before the Bill leaves the House or when it reaches another place. Racism and anti-semitism are like cancer ; they have to be eradicated at their source or they multiply their malignant growth. The first issue we have to examine is how we can more adequately enforce the law. I believe that we need to give the police additional powers. As I said on Monday night, if someone makes a racist speech at Hyde Park corner on a Sunday, he can be arrested but those delivering leaflets cannot be arrested. The police would welcome additional powers to prohibit or impose conditions on meetings and processions on the ground that racial hatred may be incited.
Under sections 12, 13 and 14 of the Public Order Act 1986, the police can impose conditions on, or prohibit, a march if it will cause serious public disorder or disruption to the life of the community and the Home Secretary can prohibit the march if the conditions are not an effective weapon. The police would like those conditions widened to include racial hatred. That would get rid of some of the unfortunate marches in London, which cause disruption, fear and anger to many people.
Additional resources are also required. Disorder in society is mushrooming and the police should be told that combating it has high priority and that additional resources
Column 1117will be devoted to that purpose. It would be helpful if my right hon. Friend the Minister would clarify the role of the
Attorney-General in bringing prosecutions. How many land on his desk and how many are determined at a lower level in the prosecution system ?
In defining new offences such as those outlined in the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth), the test must be whether it will be easier or more difficult to bring successful prosecutions. If we raise the hurdles before the prosecuting authorities, that would not be helpful.
I shall conclude, so that my two learned colleagues can contribute, by emphasising the need for speed. In the words of Lady Macbeth : "If it were done when tis done, then twere well
It were done quickly".
My right hon. Friend the Minister may be tempted to say, "Let's wait until the next Criminal Justice Bill." We want quicker progress. Amendments should be made to the present Bill in the House or in the other place. The need is pressing and there must be immediate action.
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : I thank the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) for initiating this debate and for sparing me a little of his time. Above all, I thank him for being a champion of human rights causes--especially those affecting the Jewish community. We are all most grateful to him.
All six Conservative Members in the Chamber--most of whom are good personal friends of mine--are involved in the same fight against racism of all kinds and share extreme distaste for anti-semitism in all its aspects. The House is a very decent place. We have great disagreements, but on human rights issues we work together. As a Jewish leader, I thank those Conservative Members for all their work in that cause.
I greatly appreciated the remarks of the hon. Member for Hendon, South about the Tabachnik report. I do not know whether the particular suggestions made by Eldred Tabachnik are acceptable, but I would like the Minister to say whether he shares the view that change is essential.
We only have to look at the Italian elections to see what happens when people are not sufficiently aware of the past--the heirs to Mussolini's fascism start moving towards power ; at events in what was the Soviet Union to smell the stench of anti-semitism in our nostrils ; at what is happening in parts of Germany and the way in which the German Government and people are trying, often without success, to contest it, to know that the dangers of racism are not past.
I trust that the Minister will give us hope that in this country the dangers that confront not only Jewish people but all minority races are recognised by the Government, and that they will undertake to change the law on anti-racism to ensure that it will be enforceable and enforced.
Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on being a great champion, as a Christian, of Jewish causes and a great source of pride and admiration for his many
Column 1118thousands of constituents--not only for those who are Jewish but for adherents to all kinds of other religions, who believe that this country is a haven of tolerance, decency and religious understanding.
There can be no doubt that racism, and the fear of racism, is growing in our society. Whether it is a result of the concentration in urban centres of ethnic minority groups or whether it is because the spread of fascism in Europe will inevitably have some effects here in Britain--there are already signs that that is happening--I do not know, but racism, unlike other kinds of "ism", is a cancer eating away at the fabric of free and decent societies. We realise how far that cancer can grow when we watch a film such as "Schindler's List" and witness how deep it went in a society which at the time was considered to be one of the most tolerant and reasonable in the world.
The Home Affairs Select Committee has tabled some amendments to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. It has suggested that we should have an offence of racial attack, that there should be some strengthening of the Public Order Act 1986 to take account of racial harassment, and that more can be done to strengthen the courts' powers in connection with hate mail.
It is time for the defences against racism to be strengthened and it is time for a positive effort to be made by the House to lessen the fear of racism among ethnic minorities of whatever colour or creed.
I hope that the Government will view those amendments, which have been tabled by a majority of the Home Affairs Select Committee, with understanding and support. If they do, and if they show that they are able to take the challenge of the increase in racism and the fear of racism and strengthen our defences, I have no doubt that the ethnic minorities will take continued heart that multiracial Britain is, indeed, a haven of tolerance, understanding and decency. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South for giving me the opportunity to say those few words.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) for raising this subject. These important issues need extensive and thorough debate-- rather more time, alas, than the 14 minutes that remain to me. At least the House has spent some time in recent weeks discussing new or amended legislation to tackle racial violence or harassment, and will do so again when we return after Easter.
Legislation is a very important tool, but it is not the only one, and it is vital that we do not lose sight of the wider picture of which my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South reminded us on a number of occasions, as did my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence). Racism, discrimination and anti-semitism go much further than mere questions of legislation ; legislation is crucial but legislation alone cannot provide the full solution to the problems of discrimination and prejudice. That is why the Government's policies seek to tackle the fundamental problems that lead to discrimination and disadvantage.
The Government's condemnation of all types of racial violence, harassment and discrimination is unequivocal. Such action harms not only individuals but the wider community. The trust and understanding built up over
Column 1119years between communities can so rapidly be eroded by the climate of fear and anxiety that follows racial attacks or the distribution of nasty racist literature.The Government are firmly committed to the elimination of all types of discrimination and to the promotion of equality of opportunity.
Our commitment to eliminating the barriers to full participation is expressed in two ways. First, it is expressed in legislation. Britain has the most stringent and comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in Europe. Those laws make racial discrimination in employment and in the provision of goods and services unlawful. The statutory organisation, the Commission for Racial Equality, promotes the law and offers advice and guidance on the way to avoid discrimination. The second leg of our policy manifests itself in the many programmes and initiatives that have been introduced to regenerate the economy, especially in the inner cities, the benefit of which is especially felt by ethnic minority communities. Action to tackle disadvantage and to encourage economic recovery are only two elements of our policies that are actively helping to promote good race relations. We recognise the need to work together to build a truly open society in which all individuals, whatever their race, can feel safe, secure and able to contribute as well as to enjoy that society's benefits.
In stressing safety and security, I must deal with an issue which I know deeply concerns the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South, as it does the ethnic minority communities. There is not a decent person in the country who does not share with me and the House horror and outrage that young men like Quaddus Ali and Mukhtar Ahmed can be set upon by thugs and left critically ill. I take this opportunity to offer my sympathy to the victims and their families ; I am sure that I speak for the whole House in doing so.
Investigation of racial crimes is a priority for the police and, where there are convictions, the sentences imposed by the courts can be and are exemplary. The appalling cases of the murders of Saddik Dada and Mohammed Sarwar and the taxi driver, Fiaz Mirza, show that to be so.
There has rightly been a great deal of discussion in recent months about how the law can contribute towards tackling racism and anti-semitism. The inquiry of the Select Committee on Home Affairs is close to reporting on this matter and it will be interesting to see its arguments and thoughts as well as some of its amendments, without any of the arguments and thoughts, down on the Order Paper. We have been investigating the working of the Public Order Act 1986 in relation to racially motivated crimes. I have listened closely to the points my hon Friend the Member for Hendon, South has made today about the law as well as those he made on Monday. As he knows, there are a number of new clauses--rather more than there were last night--to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill currently before the House. That debate is not yet concluded, and will resume after Easter. These are important matters and they deserve a full response from the Government, which I will give when the House returns. I hope that my hon. Friend will understand, therefore, if I do not reply in detail to the points made today about those new clauses, instead confining myself to some general remarks.
When we have the arguments and views of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, as well as our own, I believe that its investigations will be seen to have underscored the
Column 1120complexities involved in considering changes to the law in this area. We need to be satisfied that any change would make the law more effective, promote good race relations and not have undesirable implications for the wider application of the criminal law. With those considerations in mind, I do not believe that it would be sensible to embark on legislative reform on the scale proposed recently by my hon Friend, the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth), at least certainly not before the outcome of the investigations has been fully exposed to public view. I want to assure my hon Friend that we will look sympathetically at any changes, in law or practice, that can give us more effective ways of dealing with racially motivated crimes.
One point that I want to make clear is that the Government do not believe that a specific offence, whether it be of racial harassment or racial violence, would be the right way forward. The need to prove racial motivation would make it much harder to achieve convictions and would undermine the declaratory or deterrent purpose behind such legislation. Although it would be temporarily encouraging to the ethnic minority communities, I believe that in the longer run it would undermine good race relations generally.
My hon. Friend specifically mentioned anti-semitism, as did my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton and the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner). That is only one facet of a more widespread racism, but the Jewish community does have specific concerns. Like the Jewish community, I am concerned about the continuing publication and distribution of racist and, in particular, anti-semitic literature, and I do not underestimate the hurt and apprehension felt by the Jewish community.
It has long been the position in this country that people have the right to express whatever views they may have, no matter how repugnant they may be, provided that they do so within the law. If it can be shown that racist literature is intended or likely to stir up racial hatred, the authors can be prosecuted under the Public Order Act and face a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment. The Malicious Communications Act 1988 can also catch anti-semitic literature if it is sent to someone whom the author expected and intended to be distressed by receiving such material. It seems to me that most of the literature--if that is the right word for it--that I have seen complained of falls foul of the law as it is. I am interested in the particular example cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South, which had been produced by an extremist Muslim organisation and which was circulating in universities.
Mr. Lloyd : It is a good question and one that requires close attention. The obvious problem is finding who has produced the literature and having sufficient evidence to prove it so that those responsible can be convicted. As I said, the law covers broadly the type of literature--if that is the right word for it--that is complained of but the problem is identifying the culprits. The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West, who has taken a long and determined interest in these issues, intervened earlier to urge specifically the adoption of the recommendations of the Tabachnik report. Again, I hope that he will understand that I cannot go fully into those issues now. I will, however, make several remarks germane to the report.
We always need to strike a balance between freedom of speech, which includes the right to promulgate views and arguments that are silly and unpleasant, and the duty of the state to protect its citizens from abuse and publications that are conducive to strife and disorder. I am not yet convinced that the Public Order Act has that balance wrong, but I am acutely aware of the concern about the number of prosecutions since the Public Order Act came into force in 1987--a point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton--and of the suspicion that there is a lack of interest in pursuing such offences. I can assure the House that the police and the prosecuting authorities take these matters very seriously.
We are examining the current law--to see whether it is not working as intended--as part of a wider study of the effectiveness of the law relating to racially motivated crimes. The police encounter great difficulty in identifying those responsible for producing and distributing the dreadful material that we all, unfortunately, see from time to time. We are paying particular attention to whether the police have the powers that they need to investigate effectively the sources of such material. The main issue is not the nature of the material itself and whether the existing law covers it ; the major problem lies in identifying the offender so that a successful prosecution can be brought.
Of course, it is for the Attorney-General to decide whether to consent to prosecutions for Public Order Act offences involving material designed to incite racial strife. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend gives very
Column 1122careful consideration to all these cases referred to him by the Crown Prosecution Service. I believe that 19 cases have been referred to him, and I know that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton is worried that it is such a small number. Of those 19 cases, 14 have gone ahead with the Attorney-General's approval and five have not, the main reason being the unsatisfactory nature or inadequacy of the evidence. These are matters for the Attorney-General rather than me but I know that he is deeply concerned about them.
I regret that I do not have time to deal with all the matters raised, especially the organisations to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South referred. However, I stress that what we have achieved over the past 30 years or so is a tribute to the basic values of decency and tolerance to be found in the great majority of our people, whatever their background. We want to build on that foundation. Good race relations are about legislation but not only about legislation to penalise those who transgress ; they are also about promotion, advice, information, health and education. Measures that build confidence and trust and create mutual understanding are needed to go alongside the law--to underpin it and improve relationships that have gone wrong before the law needs to be called in because an offence has been committed.
I am greatly encouraged by the discussions that I have had with many representatives of ethnic minority organisations. There are real problems, but there is also a great deal of good will in those communities upon which to build.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South on bringing the arguments before us. They are essential. I hope that I have given him some encouragement, and I believe that we shall find that changes in the law can be useful. However, my hon. Friend is shrewd and practical, and has said that there is no benefit to the Jewish community or to any other ethnic minority in our simply rewriting the law in a way that extends neither its scope nor its effectiveness. I am determined to avoid doing that.
It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[ Mr. Lightbown. ]
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : Since I was elected to the House nearly two years ago, one of my great pleasures has been showing the palace to more than 1,000 visitors. When I welcome them here I say that this is a royal palace, but it is also the people's palace. I take my visitors to the Chapel in the Crypt and show them the plaque placed there by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) in memory of the great suffragette Emily Wilding Davison. I also take them through Westminster hall and rehearse for them all the great events that occurred there.
Then we go to St. Stephen's hall, where I invite my visitors to pause, and I explain how Charles I stormed into the House of Commons to arrest five Members of Parliament. I paraphrase the words that Speaker Lenthall uttered on that very spot, and I pull myself up to my full height, as no doubt Speaker Lenthall did when he looked the king straight in the eye and said something like, "May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak except with the permission of this House." I tell the schoolchildren who come to visit me that what Speaker Lenthall was really doing, in the polite way that Speakers have, was telling the king to go and take a long running jump off Southend pier.
I then tell my visitors that Speaker Lenthall was also asserting the rights and independence of the House of Commons against the Executive, and I add that in my view those rights and that independence need renewing, or reasserting.
Today the Executive is not in reality Her Majesty the Queen, although things are done in her name. The Executive today consists of the people who sit on the Treasury Bench--the Government. Over recent years--the characteristic is not exclusive to the present Administration--there has been a growth of arrogance and of the arbitrary use, and perhaps misuse, of power by Government. That needs to be curtailed. The rights and the capacity of this place to be independent of the Executive, and to be able to probe them, scrutinise them and call them to account, need to be reasserted. A kicking-off point for a renewal of the capacity of Members of Parliament to question Ministers and to call them to account would be for the House of Commons to repatriate to itself the control of parliamentary business and of the legislative programme. I am told that it is a relatively recent development that the Leader of the House, as a member of the Government, says what we shall do and what business we shall consider in this place.
It is a long overdue reform that the business of this place should be controlled by a Select Committee of senior Back-Bench Members of Parliament, with whom the Government would negotiate about parliamentary slots for their legislation. Indeed, it would be within the power of those Back Benchers to say that there was not parliamentary time for particular forms of legislation. That would be an extremely healthy step towards reasserting our rights and our capacity to control the Executive and to call Ministers to account. We have a problem with the volume of legislation. Too much of it goes through the House. No hon. Member can
Column 1124say with hand on heart that legislation is properly scrutinised here. As a consequence it is poor, deficient in many areas and contains errors. That is partly the fault of the 651 of us who form the House, but it is also due to the poor management of the legislative process by individual Ministers. We recently had an example of that when the Railways Act 1993 was found to be deficient. An amending piece of legislation had to be railroaded through the House just over a week ago to deal with British Transport police. That shows that we are not doing our job properly, and that Ministers are not advocating, and framing and piloting legislation through the House properly.
I want the House to exploit the provisions in our Standing Orders to ensure that primary legislation, including politically contentious legislation, is examined in special Standing Committees, as happens in most other legislatures around the world, such as the United States and other Westminster-style Parliaments as well. In those Parliaments, Bills do not simply pass through the traditional Standing Committees. Through the use of a Select Committee element, there is proper probing and examination of the content and intent of the Bills. Our Standing Orders include that provision, but it rarely triggered, except in relatively uncontentious legislation. That is a pity, and we should start to use that provision, particularly in relation to Government legislation.
I wholeheartedly defend our two-Chamber principle. I do not defend the way in which the other place is constituted, but its role and function are extremely important. It reviews legislation that has been badly handled by the House of Commons, and acts as a check and balance against the excessive use of power--what Lord Hailsham referred to as parliamentary dictatorship. If a party wins a general election and the arithmetic is correct, it can form a Government and railroad legislation through the House of Commons regardless of its merits and whether it has been fully examined. The second Chamber helps to prevent that, but I want to see a democratically elected chamber.
It seems nonsense that we cannot examine or scrutinise senior and important Ministers from another place in the Chamber of the House of Commons. I wish that Members of the House of Lords who are Ministers could be questioned in the House of Commons, and vice versa. If the architect of a piece of legislation is a Member of the other House, it would make sense for him to pilot the legislation through this House.
I should also consider it appropriate for Ministers who are Members of the House of Commons to pilot legislation, which they have framed and which bears their fingerprints, through the upper House. That practice would not be a major departure. It exists in other legislatures around the world, and it makes sense. I am not bothered about the rubrics--I would allow Ministers from the House of Lords to come and speak from the Dispatch Box. But, if people want to be fussy, parliamentary carpenters could be asked to erect another Dispatch Box at the Bar of the House. The appropriate Minister should be in the House to be probed by the elected representatives, regardless of whether he or she is a Member of the House of Commons or the House of Lords.
Lord Young of Graffham was, for a long time during the Thatcher Administration, a senior Minister holding a number of important portfolios. I was not a Member of Parliament then, but I would have been frustrated at not
Column 1125being able to get at him and subject him to parliamentary scrutiny. Baroness Chalker currently holds an important portfolio as Minister for Overseas Development, but we have no access to her here. Perhaps the biggest example of the anomalous and undemocratic nature of the system, and the fact that elected Members of the House of Commons cannot directly probe all Ministers, is that of the office of the Lord Chancellor, and it is time for that office to go. It is a contradiction of the concept of the separation of powers. The Lord Chancellor is a member of the Government and the Cabinet--he is a politician. He is head of the judiciary--he is a judge. He is also the presiding officer of a Chamber of Parliament. That is nonsense. It is a schizophrenic role which needs to go because it is bad in principle and it frustrates parliamentary democracy and accountability. I was concerned to read on the front page of the Observer on 6 March a report headed, "Judges outraged by Mackay". I have no intention of using this debate to go into the principle of that matter other than to say that I have tabled parliamentary questions to the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department who sits in this place. I was unable to get at the Lord Chancellor. There is a need for the matter to be scrutinised because there are allegations that the Lord Chancellor has abused his power as head of the judiciary by mixing it with his role as a member of the Government--as a politician. We need an opportunity to call that Minister to account and I regret that that cannot be done face to face.
My comments about schizophrenic roles are also true of the role of Attorney -General. The present incumbent has clearly, on a number of occasions over the past two years, been substantially embarrassed and confused--I am being courteous and probably generous to him--by his mixed role as a politician and somebody who, as in other jurisdictions, should act independently of the Executive. It is time that the Attorney-General was not a Minister and fulfilled a role separate from the Executive so that he or she could be seen and understood to be acting impartially. That is not the situation at present--certainly not with the present incumbent.
One vehicle for scrutiny in the House, which I exploit in all its capacity, is the tabling of parliamentary questions to Ministers for written answer ; long may that be so. However, it is a limited form of scrutiny which troubles me a great deal. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) has tried to table many questions relating to Matrix-Churchill and to issues that are the subject of the Scott inquiry. Under the rules of this House, those questions are blocked. There is a rule that if a Minister --in this case, the Prime Minister--says early on in a parliamentary reply that he will answer no further questions, no more questions on the issue can be accepted by the Table Office. I have no complaints about the Table Office or about Madam Speaker. I am saying that we need to review that rule because it is not conducive to parliamentary democracy or to a capacity to probe and scrutinise. I can understand my hon. Friend's frustration. Such a rule is wholly unacceptable in a modern parliamentary democracy.
One must ask about what happens during a parliamentary recess. Before some in this place go on about