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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the Minister in full flight but, although the hour is late, I have a question about the White Paper. The Minister said that the latter would be published in the summer. I gave dates in my speech and, when people return from their holidays, my suggestion would give them three weeks during which they could study the document. Does the noble Baroness consider the time she mentioned to be adequate?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I cannot confirm the dates at this stage; indeed, I do not believe that they have as yet been decided.

I should like to throw back a question to those Members on the Opposition Benches, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Should the electorate favour the plans for a Welsh assembly and a Scottish parliament, do the Conservatives intend to contest such elections? Alternatively, is their abhorrence of what we propose such that they will stand aloof? It would be helpful at some stage to have an answer to that question.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, asked whether there would be a minimum vote requirement. That does not exist in any part of the UK's constitution. Given the

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interest and the high turnout at the general election, I cannot believe that that question is other than a hypothetical one.

I turn now to some of the points raised about the Welsh assembly. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, asked why Wales would not have primary legislative powers. The assembly would take over the current powers of the Welsh Secretary of State and make the secondary legislation determining how policy would be implemented in Wales. It would also democratise Welsh quango government which the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, vividly described. Again, if the vote in Wales is "no", then obviously we would have to consider the matter. However, we believe that question to be hypothetical.

The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, asked for reassurance against the domination of the whole of Wales by South Wales. Yes, we are proposing an electoral system with a degree of proportionality and area committees to ensure that all interests are considered. We are not proposing a talking-shop for Wales: it will have a budget of £7 billion and very real responsibilities in health, education, social services and economic development to make a difference to the people of Wales.

I was also asked about Northern Ireland by the noble Lord, Lord Owen. I welcome the remarks made in that connection by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice and by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. The internal arrangements within Northern Ireland, including a devolved assembly, are part of the agenda about the talks on the future of the Province; but they will be held within a comprehensive framework of relationships with Northern Ireland, the Republic and Westminster.

In addition, on constitutional matters, there were a number of contributions on the question of the fate of your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, asked why measures to reform this Chamber were not brought forward earlier; the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, asked why they had been brought forward at all and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, asked that the House should be reformed in such a way that would send him away happy. Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, spoke about a system that would make our daughters happy. The proposals have not been put forward in the first Session because of the pressure on legislative time, especially for constitutional reform. That pressure is immense but we shall introduce the Bill as soon as time permits.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, also asked about elections to the European Parliament. These will take place during the summer of 1999. I can tell the noble Lord that elections of MEPs to the European Parliament will eventually be subject to proportional representation, but we cannot yet confirm the timing of those changes. They will need some consideration and I doubt that such electoral changes will be in place in time. Of course they may be, but I rather doubt it.

Questions were also raised about the European Convention on Human Rights. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked whether that simply meant a transfer of power to non-elected judges. I believe that many of

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the questions and concerns of the noble Baroness were answered by the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Thorndon, drawing on his experience of New Zealand. At present, British people who believe that their human rights have been breached have to go to Strasbourg. However, with incorporation they will be able to argue for their rights before our courts. Parliament will remain sovereign; the courts will continue to interpret and apply the law which will now include the rights and freedoms protected under the European convention. In response to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, I can also confirm that incorporation of the convention will apply to Northern Ireland.

Finally on this matter I was asked whether the freedom of information legislation would imperil the independence of the Civil Service. We believe that it will strengthen the workings of government. We are committed to preserving the impartiality of the Civil Service. A White Paper will detail our proposals.

I move to Home Office questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, scorned our proposals. I have to say that a Tory record in which crime has doubled since 1979 and in which the number convicted has fallen by a third is not a record I would wish to be proud of. The noble Baroness asked about the position on handguns. That question was also asked by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough. We believe that the firearms Act does not go far enough. We believe that all handguns should be banned but we are committed to a free vote. Is the Conservative Party? Part of the money needed for that measure is already built into our spending plans. It will cost an additional £19 million, bringing the total sum to £166 million.

I was asked whether the Home Secretary's taking full responsibility for prisons meant the ending of an executive agency. It does not but it means an accentuation of ministerial responsibility in terms of a Minister answering questions rather than a civil servant. I was asked about sentencing by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. Sentencing policy will form part of the crime and disorder Bill. Consideration is being given to the Court of Appeal having a duty to produce sentencing guidelines for major offences, as it already does for rape and drug cases. We shall of course consult with the senior judiciary on this. As for the mandatory life sentence for murder, I am sure we shall return to that subject.

I am mindful of the time and I move on to health. I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, whether the Labour plans would increase bureaucracy. On the contrary, we are not only concerned that the 60 per cent. of the population who currently enjoy fundholding should continue to have a quality health service, we are also anxious about the delays that the other 40 per cent. experience. We believe that reforming the internal market will save £1.5 billion for patient and pensioner care. It is worth reminding ourselves that waiting lists and waiting times are rising. Meanwhile, in the past year, 37 of 100 health authorities were in deficit and 111 of 425 trusts were in debt. As with law and order, if I were the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that is not a record I would care to boast of.

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I turn to questions raised on the DSS and welfare to work proposals. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, scorned the ability of the welfare to work scheme to create jobs. What would the noble Baroness prefer to see, an ever increasing spiral of disaffected young people who are not even employable, or the offer of a chance for real and worthwhile job experience and training leading to recognised qualifications which I hope will take them into permanent jobs? The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, talked about the wealth of utilities being squandered in getting young people back to work. We come from different worlds. I believe that the true wealth of this country lies in the skills and abilities of its people which our programme of welfare to work will muster.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, knows that we have inherited policies on housing benefit, asylum seekers and other matters that I, alongside him, resisted as strenuously as I could. He will also know that the savings from those programmes have been built into the previous Government's expenditure plans which we have inherited. To mitigate the effects of those proposals we shall have to find savings elsewhere in the DSS budget. We do not yet know whether we can do so. If we can, we shall, but no decisions have yet been taken on that. What will happen to young people who do not take part in the new deal? The new deal offers young people a real opportunity to better their prospects for finding work. We are not offering them the option of remaining permanently on full benefit.

My noble friend Lord Ashley referred to disability. We are committed to comprehensive and enforceable anti-discrimination legislation. There are several Ministers--two in the DfEE and myself in the DSS--with particular responsibility for that. As he will know, we shall pursue their rights actively.

To conclude, welfare issues are close to the heart of any Labour Government. We created the welfare state; we created the NHS. That 1945 Government built institutions that were widely admired and widely copied and put down deep roots. We cherish them and we glory in that inheritance. But we must reform the system. The welfare state has taken the strain of long years of social division, public squalor and economic failure. The policies of the last Government interlocked to increase the costs of welfare while at the very same time they increased inequality, poverty, dependency and division.

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