|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Alan Duncan: Will the Minister confirm that the civil partnerships Bill will definitely come under the Home Office and will not be bounced to the Department of Trade and Industry?
Mr. Leslie: I am afraid that, in my understanding, the DTI, leading on some of the equality reforms, will take a lead on that Bill, although other Departments will of course have a strong input on those issues, including measures on civil partnerships.
As I said, our laws need to be decided democratically and upheld by an independent judiciary. Legislation to clarify and enshrine the differing roles of the judiciary, the Executive and the legislature is necessary and overdue, and it is the purpose of our constitutional reform Bill.
Mr. Garnier: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Leslie: Not at this moment.
That Bill, which will separate the highest court of appeal from the legislature, is needed to avoid a conflict between those who write the law and those who interpret and enforce it. Acting to remove any doubts about political or partisan motives in the appointment of judges will strengthen the respect for and the stature of our judiciary. Abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor will take the politician out of the judiciary, allowing judicial decisions to be made judicially, allowing the second Chamber to be chaired by its own nominee, and allowing the criminal justice system to be administered by a full-time Secretary of State.
Mr. Garnier: Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Leslie: The hon. and learned Gentleman is taxing my patience, but I will give way once more.
Mr. Garnier: I am not only grateful to the hon. Gentleman but flattered by his graciousness. Will he tell the House whether the Government will respond to the three consultation papers issued by his Department earlier in the year prior to the publication of the three Bills that they imply?
Mr. Leslie: Many of the consultations closed on 7 November, and we are still analysing the responses. It would be wrong of us to publish legislation before we had done so, as the purpose of the consultation is to seek responses, and that is the order in which we intend to proceed.
Just as the role of Lord Chancellor is no longer appropriate for the 21st century, so too it is no longer acceptable that a small number of families have an automatic grip on Parliament based on their hereditary birthright. The House of Lords reform Bill will end that anomalous anachronism and fulfil our manifesto commitment.
While the search for a consensus on the future shape of the second Chamber will continue, we need to establish a contemporary second House whose members are more clearly appointed on merit, with the numbers and timing of appointments decided no longer by the Prime Minister, but independently of Government through a new statutory appointments commission, selecting the non-party members and vetting the party nominees.
The debate on the composition of the House of Lords will need to continue without the door being closed to further change, but the guiding principle and overriding requirement remains: that the democratically elected Government and the House of Commons should be able to deliver the will of the people, to whom we are accountable and on whose behalf we act.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I turn now to the rights agenda. This country has a deep and proud sense of our liberties, rooted in a strong tradition of democracy and freedom of expression. The Government have already strengthened those rights by legislating for the Human Rights Act 1998 and for freedom of information. The legislative programme for this Session includes giving new rights for people where currently none exists. Society needs to be as inclusive as possible. Allowing equal rights for same sex couples, for example, through the civil partnerships Bill, which I know is welcomed by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths), and giving recognition to those with gender dysphoria, or transsexual people, through the gender recognition Bill, which I know is a measure that my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley has campaigned for, are all important for an inclusive society, as are protecting the rights of vulnerable peoplefor example, standing up for the rights of children through the creation of a new children's commissioner, and protecting the rights of the mentally incapacitated in a new structure for decision making that is designed to safeguard health and welfare in a mental incapacity Bill.
On justice, democracy and rights must work side by side within a framework for social responsibility. The rights of others need respecting and protecting, and the justice system needs to stand up for the victims of crime by acting more swiftly and effectively.
As we have heard from many Members during the debate, there are nearly 1,000 reports every day of domestic violence throughout the country. Domestic violence accounts for a quarter of all violent crimes reported. Legislation and new investment will aim to protect and support victims of domestic violence more comprehensively.
We need to target the finite resources that are available for legal aid. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) spoke about this in detail. We need to target resources on those who need the help most of all, to ensure that those who are least able to represent themselves have access to justice while protecting the rights of the taxpayer, who expects value for money. That is the purpose behind the criminal defence service Bill. Legislation is already shifting the balance in the fight against antisocial behaviour, which
The programme for the Session is ambitious, and the contrast between the extensive programme of reform and modernisation pursued on the Government side of the Chamber and the position that is now taken, as far as we can discern it, by the Opposition is great. Our agenda for the long-term future contrasts starkly with the backward-looking, opportunist agenda that is pursued by the Opposition. Labour will continue to take practical steps forward, with our direction clear. The Conservative party says one thing now, but its position was completely the opposite when it had the chance over 18 years to act. It is deliberately trying to face both ways, but it cannot resist its gut instinct to hark back to the past, complaining about reform and obstructing change every step of the way.
We want to modernise Parliament so that it is more representative of all society, without the hereditary peers, with our highest court of appeal not being in a Chamber of Parliament and with the second House choosing its own presiding officer. The Conservatives want to preserve an outdated Parliament. They oppose change and shrink from bringing in reality from the outside world, even to the extent of putting the minimum number of women possible on to their Front Bench.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): My hon. Friend's role in the modernisation of Parliament is to be applauded. Does he agree with many Labour Members that the alteration of sitting hours on Tuesday and Wednesday was a modernisation too far that has been counterproductive?
Mr. Leslie: No doubt the House will continue to debate at length the issues that it regards as modernising steps forward. However, when it comes to the contrast between the Government side of the Chamber and the Opposition, there is no doubt that we stand on the side of modernisation.
As for House of Lords reform, in government the Conservatives have reformed precisely nothing. In opposition, they have been happy to have a House of Lords dominated by their own hereditary peers. Let us see the true extent of their new-found radicalism. Any party that is serious about modernisation of the House of Lords would support the abolition of the hereditary peers. Of course, the Conservatives do not. They will not do so because beneath their paper promises hides a stubborn attachment to the halcyon days of the old established order. There are the old faces who do not want any reform and who betray their true intentions in the House of Lords.
We want a truly independent judiciary, a separate supreme court, no more ministerial judges and judges who are selected independently, in turn better reflecting society as a whole. The Opposition want to have an insular judiciary that is self-appointed with no lay influence, with no appointments commission and with no transparency, headed by a diminished Lord Chancellor in name only. That is a confused and tangled policy. Their complacent attitude of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" shows that they look at the country from an
Labour has delivered government closer to the people, devolving power to Scotland, Wales and London, opposed every step of the way by the Opposition. We allowed devolution in Northern Ireland, and are now giving people the choice of regional government in the English regions too. The Conservatives centralised power in Whitehallthat is their instinct. They hate devolution, they still oppose it, and would prevent people from deciding for themselves the next steps for devolved government. Those are the dividing lines between the two parties. The debate on the Address shows that the Government are taking Britain forward, modernising our constitution and changing our institutions to meet the needs of the public today. The only direction in which the Conservatives would take Britain is back to the past. The contrast is stark and the choice is clear. I commend the reforms that we are proposing to the House.