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Alun Michael: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the basic democratic right is the right to vote and that nobody can exercise that right without being registered to vote? Therefore, dealing with the 3.5 million or so individuals who are not registered to vote is not just something that comes after the sort of changes that he is seeking-it needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
The Deputy Prime Minister: Urgency? The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues had 13 years to do this. How often are they going constantly to ask us to do things urgently when we have had only three weeks and they had 13 years? Of course we need to find the 3.5 million people who are not on the register, alongside the progress towards individual voter registration, but I say this to him: please do not sit there all high and mighty and pretend that we are somehow responsible for a problem that he and his colleagues in government created over the past decade.
John Thurso: I am delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend is not bound by any strict and rigid arithmetical formula, and I applaud his commitment to more equality. Within that, does he accept that the quality of service that one can give with a constituency of 3,400 square miles is dependent on the time available, which is greater in metropolitan constituencies where travel is not such an issue? Will he ensure that that aspect of rurality is taken into account in any plans that the Government have?
The Deputy Prime Minister: Clearly the job of being an MP in sparsely populated and very large rural constituencies is a great challenge, which my hon. Friend knows more about than most. That is exactly the kind of thing that we will need to take into consideration as we progress with this measure.
I should like to turn to reform of the other place, which we all agree must now happen. It should be up to the British people to elect their second Chamber-a second Chamber that must be much more representative of them, their communities and their neighbourhoods. To that end, I should like to announce the following measures. First, I have set up a committee, which I will chair, to take forward this reform, composed of Members from all three major political parties, as well as from both Houses. Secondly, the committee will be explicitly charged with producing a draft Bill by no later than the end of this year-the first time that legislation for an elected second Chamber will ever have been published. Thirdly, the draft Bill will then be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses during which there will of course be ample opportunity for all voices to be heard.
Make no mistake: we are not starting this process from scratch. There is already significant shared ground between the parties that will be taken as our starting point. I am not going to hide my impatience for reforms
that are more than 100 years overdue. Subject to the legitimate scrutiny that the Bill will deserve, this Government are determined to push through the necessary reforms to the other place. People have been talking about Lords reform for more than a century. The time for talk is over. People must be allowed to elect those who make the laws of the land. Change must begin now.
The Deputy Prime Minister: Let me just confirm that the committee will hold its first meeting as early as next week, and that its members will be the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who is the Minister with responsibility for political and constitutional reform; the Leader of the House of Lords; the Deputy Leader of the Lords; the shadow Leader of the Lords, the Leader of the House of Commons; the Deputy Leader of the Commons; the shadow Leader of the Commons; and, of course, the shadow Justice Secretary, to whom I give way.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Blackburn for his support, and there is something else that he can help me with. He may have heard that as part of our plans to rebalance the relationship between citizen and state, we are inviting people to tell us which unnecessary laws they believe should be repealed. The right hon. Gentleman is well placed to advise us on where to start, given that he held so many high offices of state in various Departments over many years at a time when the statute book groaned with the addition of countless new laws, regulations and offences. The process of identifying unnecessary laws is part of a broader programme to end the unjustified intrusion of the state into ordinary people's lives. Legislation has already been introduced to scrap ID cards and cancel the national identity register.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP):
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Deputy Prime Minister has just announced a major new committee
to look into the second Chamber of this Parliament, without any consultation with most of the parties in the House. He has announced that it will involve the three main London parties without any participation by or consultation with the smaller parties in the House. Is it in order for him to so brightly exclude the minority parties in the House in such a despicable way?
Chris Bryant: Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It has been customary in the House for the appointment of Committees to be subject to votes in the House, so it is not for the Deputy Prime Minister to announce the creation of a Committee of this House or of another place.
Dr McCrea: Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have listened carefully to your ruling that that is a point for debate, but the problem is that the Deputy Prime Minister will seemingly not be willing to debate it with those Members who are not from the three major parties.
The Deputy Prime Minister: May I first remind Opposition Members that what was customary over the past 13 years was that an announcement such as this would have been made in the press before it was made in the House? At least I have come to the House. Secondly, it is totally legitimate for us to create a committee composed of the three UK-wide parties, all of which were united in having manifesto commitments at the general election to reforming the other place. As I have announced today, the draft Bill that we will publish before the end of the year-the first one on the subject in the past century or so-will be followed by proper pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses.
I am grateful. Before my right hon. Friend concludes, may I raise a matter that has been of concern to Members in all parts of the House, which is
that of extending anonymity to defendants in rape cases? Will he make a few remarks on how he sees the Government being able to incorporate the views of all Members in taking the matter forward?
The Deputy Prime Minister: The Deputy Leader of the House tells me that there is an Adjournment debate about the matter tonight. It is a difficult and sensitive issue, which my hon. Friend is right to raise. It has been raised many times and I read some articles in the press about it again this morning. Everybody is united in wanting the conviction rates for rape to increase. Everybody wants more support to be provided to victims of rape so that they come forward in the first place, while also wanting to minimise the stigma attached to those who might be falsely accused. However, I want to make it clear that, although the Government have proposed the idea, we want to listen to everybody who has a stake or expertise in or insight into the matter. If our idea does not withstand sincere scrutiny, we will of course be prepared to change it.
Today is only the start of many hours of lively debate on the issues that I have mentioned, and I welcome that. We have a hugely ambitious programme to transform our constitutional and political landscape so that we achieve a better balance between Parliament and the Executive, clean, transparent politics and power handed back to people. Given the scope of that package, we will inevitably disagree about some of the detail. However, let us not lose sight of the things about which we agree. Let us not forget the scale of the damage that this Parliament needs to repair, and not take for granted the chance that our constituents have given us finally to get it right.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. An exceptionally large number of Members is trying to catch the Speaker's eye in the debate. I remind hon. Members that Mr Speaker has imposed a seven-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
The slaughter in Cumbria last week showed how difficult it is to anticipate and prevent every event, but so far politicians of every hue have wisely resisted the temptation to produce instant solutions or demand legislation. The only instant comment that I have seen was a suggestion about merging police forces. I hope that Ministers in the new Government will treat that favourite Whitehall recipe with deep suspicion. The previous Conservative police Minister, whom I shadowed in the mid-1990s, was David Maclean and he resisted an over-centralised approach. I commend his approach to the new Ministers present. The larger the force, the more remote its leaders from the community that they police. Although there is tension between dealing with terrorism and major incidents and policing local communities, good management and co-operation are the answer rather than structural change.
We had a good example of that in Cardiff on Saturday. The bigots of the English Defence League came to our city to spread hatred and division. The police had to
handle them and those of us who marched to oppose them. They had to do that on a day when the South Africans were playing Wales at rugby, the West Indians were in town for a cricket match and the Stereophonics were performing in concert. Hundreds of police were ready for problems and I commend all the forces who sent officers to help South Wales police maintain order. I also commend the good sense and good humour with which South Wales police managed the day. In the end, a couple of dozen English Defence League members came and went, while 1,000 people of all colours and religions marched under the banner of Unite Against Fascism in a quiet, peaceful demonstration that had real authority and truly reflected Cardiff's nature as a multiracial city that is determined to maintain harmony. We want to celebrate difference and value each other's strengths instead of looking for division. The police lead showed that they get that point.
My second home truth from Cardiff is the success of our violence reduction project. It is not led by police or politicians, but by a medic, Professor Jonathan Shepherd, an A and E specialist, who brought his skills as a scientist to an analysis of violence. Basically, he asked why the number and seriousness of injuries in car accidents were decreasing while injuries from violence were increasing. Over more than a decade, painstaking analysis has revealed a lot about violence in our city-things about which we thought we knew, but did not. Joint work by the NHS, the police and other agencies through the local crime reduction partnership has worked-measured not by police statistics or arrests, but by a drop of more than 40% in the number of victims coming to A and E for treatment. That is a real drop.
We need such a scientific approach to crime and policing, and I commend to Ministers the report on justice reinvestment that was published by the Select Committee on Justice a few months ago. Good work is being done by the police, Crown prosecutors and prison officers, but our report showed the need for better co-ordination and greater co-operation across agencies, both inside and outside the criminal justice system.
Too great a focus on agency priorities and targets blurs the clarity of purpose to which all parts of the criminal justice system ought to contribute. In particular, the Sentencing Guidelines Council needs clearly to focus on the extent and gravity of reoffending. I hope that Ministers in the new Government will require great clarity of purpose from that body, which is dominated by judges. I am not sure that that is a good thing, because as Victim Support told the Committee very clearly in its evidence, other than not to have been victims in the first place, victims want confidence that they will not become victims again in future. That must be our purpose in this House.
I am proud to have played a part in drawing up the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004. That measure made life hard for the bad guys and avoided burdening the good guys with bureaucracy, and it has worked, so I commend to Ministers the idea of extending its remit beyond agriculture and food packaging to industries such as construction and catering. The temptation for Ministers-and indeed for Members of Parliament-is to legislate when we see a problem, but that is not always the right answer. The challenge is to design
legislation that works. As Gibbon warns in "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", laws rarely prevent what they forbid.
I urge Ministers to heed that warning in relation to the growing issue of internet-related crime. There is a consensus that teamwork is the answer, with the Government working with industry, MPs of all parties and civil society to design out internet-related crime. The United Kingdom has led the world on internet governance. If that term puts people off, may I point out that the governance of banks seemed boring and esoteric before everything went pear-shaped? Governance matters. A partnership approach is vital, because the internet is so fast-changing, chameleon-like and universal that traditional legislative approaches will not work. There is not the time.
Let us promote a co-operative approach to internet safety as well as to the more mundane aspects of criminal activity in our local communities. What counts is what works-what counts is what reduces crime and the number of people who are made victims. The partnership approach works, and I commend it to Ministers and the House as the right approach.
The Deputy Prime Minister will not be surprised that I am a strong supporter of much of his great repeal Bill which, after all, is the natural conclusion of the great battle over freedom that has taken place in the past five years. I hope that that Bill represents a step change not only in the law, but in attitudes in the Government, so that they will not think that in order to catch the guilty, we must punish the innocent, or that to prevent terrorism and crime, we must treat the whole country as suspects. If that step change happens, it will augur well for the future.
It is a paradox that the new politics is ushering in a return to some ancient rights. The reform of the libel laws re-establishes freedom of speech; the reform of freedom of information re-establishes open government; and reform of the DNA database re-establishes the presumption of innocence. In addition, the prevention of unnecessary intercepts, along with measures against the retention of data and the proposals on CCTV, re-establishes privacy. All those are worth while, and by themselves would justify the existence of the coalition if nothing else did.
Of the three pillars of our national traditions-liberty, justice and democracy-those proposals support the first two, so I offer two cheers for the great repeal Bill, not three. The reason for two rather than three cheers is that some things are missing from it. There is nothing on those great blots on our judicial landscape, by which I mean, first, the use of secret trials in which suspects-usually, but not always, terrorist suspects-are tried without knowing the allegations or the evidence against them, which is completely inimical to British law. That was introduced by the previous Government and I hope that this Government will remove it.
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