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Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. If he is not being pejorative I wish in return to be positive. I believe that there is a strong case for saying that if one regards the rights of the individual as inviolable then there are limits on executive power. I hope that that will be one of the results of the legislation which the Government are contemplating.
Next, there is the question of freedom of information, to which we hope the Government will turn sooner rather than later. Freedom of information is precisely about the individual and minorities having available to them information which too often in Britain has been available only to the Executive and to the Government.
Thirdly, there is devolution, about which the noble Lord, Lord Dean, was not too enthusiastic. It recognises that the elective dictatorship is susceptible to being broken down by the stronger local government to which he referred and by allowing centres of power other than Whitehall and Westminster.
The third issue is the question of culture, the culture of civil society which is partly made up by the media and partly by the values which we all share. I am proud to say that the introduction to my party's constitution says that:
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, might refer--and he did briefly--to freedom of association and expression. Those are rights provided expressly in the European Convention on Human Rights, which I hope your Lordships' House will shortly be enacting into law.
Perhaps I may address one remark directly to the noble Lord, Lord Williams. The noble Lord and I have shared many late nights in this House on the subject of Northern Ireland. My noble friend Lord Alderdice sits behind me. Perhaps I may say that Northern Ireland and the current peace talks are the very paradigm of what we are talking about here because there is a minority in Northern Ireland and there is a majority. The only way in which to reach an equitable settlement in Northern Ireland is to contemplate that those who are at present the majority in Northern Ireland might, at some point in the future if the people of Northern Ireland agree--and I think it will be a very long way away--become a minority in a united Ireland. In discussing that subject, it is extremely important to remember that minorities of today become majorities and majorities become minorities. Therefore, the rules that we put down are the rules that we all share.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in offering congratulations to my noble friend Lord Birdwood. I offer my congratulations to him also on his timely arrival. Some of us thought that sadly this debate might never take place. We were very pleased to see my noble friend arrive and, as a result, we have had a very useful and constructive debate.
It is often the case that an Unstarred Question of this kind is the first opportunity for one to make a speech as a spokesman on this or that from the Dispatch Box. This is the first occasion, other than at Question Time today, when I have had the opportunity to speak on home affairs. I have been amazed at the range and breadth of the debate and I offer my commiserations to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, who must wind up the debate in what I understand will be a mere 12 minutes. I shall try to keep short my remarks so that the noble Lord will have extra time, should he wish, to address all the points put to him. However, I am sure he will agree that even if we were to have a five-hour debate or even a debate lasting all afternoon on this subject, the noble Lord would have an equally difficult task in winding up a debate of this sort which covers a wide range of different subjects.
My noble friend spoke of attacks on this House as a mere talking shop. My noble friend made it clear that that is not so. He quoted from John Stuart Mill, Jefferson and Sydney Smith. I did not know the particular Sydney Smith quotation but I rather like it--that minorities are almost always right. That is very encouraging to us on these Benches at the moment. Perhaps I may add one rider to the remark that minorities are almost always right. My view, formed when I sat on the Front Bench opposite, and one to which I still adhere, is almost the opposite of that. I believe that possibly, when all Front Benches are in agreement, they are almost always wrong. I ask all Front Benches to bear that in mind. We shall try to make sure that we are not often in agreement with the Government because we feel that we have a duty to oppose. I hope that that duty will be joined in as often as not by, if I can express it in this way, our noble friends in opposition on the Liberal Democrat Benches.
Having said that, I was extremely interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said about his experiences in Colombia, and that they may have had a less than positive effect in relation to the advice given to the Colombians on the procedures to follow in creating a proper democratic government. The noble Lord might like to look at Gulliver's Travels and the descriptions which Gulliver gives of some of our early 18th century political institutions to, I think it was, the King of Brobdingnag who was increasingly mystified. He gave those explanations in all good faith, thinking that he was describing matters as perfectly as he possibly could. That is something which might bear looking at when any of us ever contemplates constitutional reform.
That brings me also to the mention by the noble Lord of proportional representation. I imagined that there would be some mention of proportional representation by the noble Lord's party. I was justified in that thought
My noble friend Lord Birdwood asked a whole range of very difficult questions. He asked what effect a Bill of Rights might have on minorities. He sought comparisons with other governments. He asked whether there should be a more dominant role for the various European institutions. He asked about devolution, plebiscites and their use. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, gave her views on referendums. I share a great many of her views about the dangers of referendums. Should we have referendums on more and more subjects, that is something which Parliament as a whole should look at in greater detail.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, will the noble Lord give an assurance to the House that when the Scottish devolution Bill is being considered in this House, he and his party will vote against the proposals for proportional representation which are likely to be put in that Bill, even though the outcome may be no Conservative representation at all in the Scottish Parliament?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I was giving my views on proportional representation. I have not said that I believe that PR is always the wrong route to pursue. I certainly would not like to see it in our imperial Parliament. There may be arguments for it on other occasions. The noble Baroness will have to wait until the Bill comes before the House to hear other noble friends of mine, and possibly myself, address those specific questions. However, as I was saying, we should be most concerned about the use of referendums, plebiscites, or whatever one calls them, on every possible occasion. If we are to make greater use of them, I see that there is a case, as has been put on a number of different occasions, for stricter controls and guidelines regarding how they should be run and in what manner.
I particularly welcomed what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said about ethnic minorities, especially as regards their role in the Civil Service. She was right to say that we have not seen enough at the highest levels. Indeed the noble Baroness quoted from the research conducted by Keith Vaz, a Member of another place. I believe that some of what he produced gave a rather negative picture. For example, he implied that there were very few members of ethnic minorities in different ministerial offices. In my eight years in government in a whole range of different departments--indeed, four different departments--I certainly did not find that to be the case. It is possible that there may not be enough of them at the higher levels of Grades 4, 3 and above, but I do not think that that is the case in
Following on from what the noble Baroness said about the position of ethnic minorities in the Armed Forces, I have to say that I greatly welcome the announcement by the Ministry of Defence that it is to conduct a recruitment campaign. Indeed, I wish it well. I hope that all like-minded people will wish it well in terms of making the Armed Forces more representative of the community at large.
I was most interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, said about this House, especially as he seemed to start with a defence of this place in the year 1983 stating that it acted as the only opposition to the then government. The noble Lord went on to say, somewhat more critically, that there were very few members of my party when we were in government who stood up to be counted, as I believe he put it, against the then government. Again, I have to say that that was certainly not my experience in my time as a Minister as I went down to defeat after defeat after defeat. Perhaps I should not exaggerate the number of defeats that I suffered for fear that Chief Whips or former Chief Whips might remember. However, I can assure the noble Lord that there were many occasions when those on my own Benches were sticking the knife in and twisting it pretty hard. I can tell the noble Lord that they were there and that they were prepared to be counted.
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