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The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, may I first say how sorry I was to miss the State Opening and the gracious Speech itself because they coincided with my long-planned visit to Ireland. This is my first opportunity to say publicly to the Leader of the House how much we, the Bishops, look forward to working with him in his new role. I look forward to the maiden speeches of three distinguished men later.
The contribution I wish to make relates to the establishment of the Nolan Committee, which I warmly welcome, and its work during this Session of Parliament. I share the Prime Minister's concerns for standards in public life, expressed in his speech last week at the Lord Mayor's Banquet. I have written to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, to assure him that the Church stands ready to assist the deliberations of his committee in any way possible and that we shall be submitting evidence together with our ecumenical partners.
Your Lordships will be well aware that there is plenty of sleaze and corruption in the Bible. We recall that King David, however special his role in the Old Testament, was guilty of lying, murder, adultery and gross favouritism. King Solomon, we are told, had 700 wives and 300 concubines who, we are informed, "turned his heart from the truth". By comparison, the finest scoops of today's tabloid press are very feeble affairs. Moreover, readers of English literature from Geoffrey Chaucer to Anthony Trollope, and indeed to Susan Howatch and Joanna Trollope, will be aware of a rich tradition of sleaze within the Church. So I feel I can speak with a certain authority as well as humility.
The issue before us is quite fundamental: what kind of society do we want to build? Central to any true vision we may have for a good and prosperous country will surely be a law-abiding people who hold in common shared values of honour, justice and integrity. And in building these values, we in this country owe so much to the Judaeo-Christian tradition which has nurtured in successive generations a shared, broad understanding of what is good and honourable behaviour and what is bad. Christianity remains embedded in our society and culture more deeply than many people realise. Nevertheless, there is a real anxiety that our society and its values are becoming more fragmented. The myth is gaining ground that what is good and right is no more than a matter of subjective individual opinion. The impressive essay Values: collapse and cure, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, recently published, tackles this myth with great persuasiveness. But the erosion of shared values which inspired his essay is still in train. That seems to me the backcloth to the Nolan inquiry into standards in public life. How are we to
The first key element I believe we should consider is humility. There is nothing wrong with politicians and other public figures such as newspaper editors setting out publicly what they believe to be good, right and true in different areas of life, including morality and ethics. Indeed, it is important that they should do so rather than hide behind the myth that these are simply matters of individual opinion or that they should be left to the Churches. Just as politics is too important to be left to politicians, so morality is too important to be left to the clergy or moralists. What matters is how it is done.
Whoever adopts a self-righteous tone in discussing moral behaviour is highly likely to fall flat on his face because it will not be too long before his own weaknesses are exposed. It is worth noting that in practically every service in the Church of England, all present, whatever their station in life, acknowledge their weaknesses and sins and pray for forgiveness. That is a wise starting point for moralists.
In contemporary culture we have tended to lose that basic insight. Let us therefore bear in mind our imperfections and our constant need for what the Bible calls grace. But it would be quite wrong to draw the conclusion that public figures should prudently regard moral and ethical standards as a no-go area for debate or comment. For example, all Members of this Chamber make implicit moral and ethical judgments each time they vote. There is no good reason to be embarrassed or reticent about that fact.
My second general observation is that indiscriminate cynicism of the kind that treats with disdain an entire class of people, such as politicians, damages our democracy. For me, the death of John Smith was a moment of truth. Right across party lines it was clear that his unshowy integrity and his commitment to serving others were the standard honoured and embraced by a large majority of people in public life. Individual lapses and failures are simply not valid grounds for withholding trust and indeed gratitude from the majority of people who seek to serve the community through politics.
However, the trust of the people in any institution surely depends on the perception that those running it are in fact seeking to serve the good of others, not just themselves, and that they are also telling the truth. That in turn depends on the observance of standards which reflect values of service and honesty. So, from where do those values come and how are they to be nurtured?
At a fundamental level, beliefs about truth and about being here to serve something bigger than ourselves derive historically from religion and, in my view, need continuing nourishment from religion. The replacement of fairly widespread sleaze in the 18th century in both Church and state by the sort of ethical standards we continue to expect today owed a great deal, I suggest, to the surge of nonconformism, the evangelical revival and the Oxford movement in the 19th century. I simply do not believe that the maintenance of those standards would ultimately survive the loss of widespread belief in a meaning and purpose of life bigger than the
But since the right motivation is not enough by itself, all of us need guidelines and codes to help us realise the good intentions in practice. Such codes are vital for institutions as well as individuals, mobilising authority and peer pressure behind ethical norms and translating general values into specific expectations. In such apparently dull documents as Guidance for Ministers, civil servants and the like are the crucial undergirding structures on which public trust can rest. It is most welcome that the Nolan Committee, among others, should consider where the structures may need extension or reinforcement.
However, there is no area of life in which the correct ethical decision can consistently be found by reading from a rule book. Time and again, different ethical considerations pull in different directions and doing the right thing involves the arduous exercise of judgment and conscience. For that reason I can understand why the Nolan Committee comprises practitioners rather than moralists. The values may not need theologians to state them but they certainly need people of experience and integrity in public life to wrestle with the dilemmas of applying them.
I believe that we should also gladly acknowledge that alert public media have an indispensable role in exposing the tendency of all power to corrupt and in investigating cases of dishonesty and self-serving in public life. Without the work of independent journalists, we should all be far more vulnerable to the abuse of power by people in authority. I know many individual journalists of the utmost honesty and scrupulousness as well as ability. But in helping to uphold values such as integrity and honour, the media must also expect to be judged by the same standards. It is a worrying sign of a society's ill health if the trust of people in the integrity and honour of much of the printed media in particular is at such an apparently low ebb. If too many people start to treat newspapers cynically as comics, and as sources of entertainment rather than of fair and reliable reporting and comment, we shall all be the poorer.
In conclusion perhaps I may offer one further reflection as we begin this Session. I think we all agree that one aspect of maintaining public trust is that, when a significant mistake is made, somebody takes clear responsibility for it. The way in which responsibility is properly taken depends on the seriousness and circumstances of each case. But if nobody takes responsibility, public trust is weakened. There is a corollary. In a moral society there must also be the possibility of fresh starts for those who take responsibility for their failures and show penitence. The aim is not to knock as many people as possible off their
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, it is a rare privilege to follow the most reverend Primate. But it is also rather frightening because my purpose is limited and intensely practical. The purpose is to invite your Lordships on all sides of the House to consider whether the investigations under the War Crimes Act either to inculpate or exculpate should continue and whether the Government should not now intervene to end those investigations.
I have given to my noble friend the Minister due notice of my intention to raise this matter. I should be grateful if we could have her views either today or at least before 7th December when the War Crimes (Supplementary Provisions) Bill, which is concerned with the institution of proceedings, is due to have its Second Reading.
The tentacles of delay have already taken hold, for unless and until these investigations are concluded, the Crown Prosecution Service cannot decide whether or not to seek the consent of Mr. Attorney as to the institution of proceedings. Your Lordships may well ask when the Crown Prosecution Service will seek such consent; when it will be granted or withheld by Mr. Attorney, taking into account wider considerations of public policy such as those referred to by the right reverend prelate the Bishop of St. Albans in a previous debate on the matter in your Lordships' House --the backlash factor-- and when those proceedings will be instituted. When, allowing time for the defence to prepare their submissions, will the inevitable applications be made to the court to quash the indictments on grounds of delay and abuse of process? When will the substantive trial start and end? When will the appellate process, which, unlike Scotland, can only operate after conviction, end? Years and years later.
Each year of delay is prejudicial to the defence and affects the prospects of a fair trial. Any scintilla of recollection not already fossilised in reconstruction will continue to suffer that sea change of erosion. There is an inherent hazard of conviction on mistaken identity, as acknowledged by the appellate court in Israel which quashed a conviction when innocence was established by chance on a document being found which was not available at the trial. If delay defeats justice, a delay of upwards of 50 years where the crucial issue is one of identity knows not the name of justice.
The investigations started in 1988 and 1989 under the Hetherington-Chalmers inquiry, which was set up as the result of a letter sent by the Wiesenthal Centre to my right honourable friend the then Prime Minister in 1986 containing a list of 17 people. When the inquiry was set up by the Home Office in 1988, 10 of those people were thought to be living in England. A Scottish Television list contained the names of 34 people, seven of whom were thought to be alive in England.
In the wake of the 1991 Act the Metropolitan Police War Crimes Unit took over the investigations, which continue. On 11th October 1994 a Question was tabled to ask Her Majesty's Government when the inquiries were expected to be concluded. In a Written Answer of 25th October the Government, with all but Neronic disdain for quotidian circumstance, declined to answer the Question. They said:
Is it not apparent that the material upon which that Answer was given emanated from the Home Office, which is responsible for the police? It did not come from the Lord Chancellor's Department, although it was signed by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who answers for the Crown Prosecution Service in your Lordships' House. How long ought this symbiotic situation without dichotomy of responsibility that runs itself into stalemate to be countenanced in the conduct of our home affairs? Those 28 persons have been candidates for prosecution since before 27th June 1974--and we know not for how long before. They are the rump remainder of 356 suspects who were interrogated, 229 having been excluded, including all those living in Scotland, and 112 having died before that date. According to the Written Answer, in 10 cases interim reports had been submitted by the police service to the CPS and in seven there were subsequent substantive reports.
It is not understood what is an interim report and what is a substantive report if, after a substantive report, the Crown Prosecution Service sends the whole matter back to the police and says, "Continue with the investigation". That is what happened and that is what is happening today. It is not known whether any of the 28 were on the Wiesanthal list of 10, or in the 301 case files, or for how long they have been under investigation. A Question has been tabled for answer on 28th November.
Have we not crossed the hump-backed bridge where justified inquiry has become an instrument of unjustifiable oppression? How much longer should we scrape the barrel? How much longer should we rout around the stale truffles of evidence on which to seek to put these men on trial? The Official Reports of both Houses--I have been through them --confirm three things. First, the 1990 Bill was tabled on the basis that these trials, as recommended in Part I of the report, should take place on the evidence as it then stood; that is, evidence which neither House had seen. Some noble Lords may remember the speech of my noble friend Lord Waddington, who put the case to the House. Secondly, it was common ground between all Members who spoke in your Lordships' House and in another place--either for or against the Bill ---that if there were to be trials they should be fair trials and a fair trial cannot take place when there have been years of delay.
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