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Lord Carter: My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord says. But these are rather unusual circumstances. Conservative Members have made much of the fact that this is the first time in 50 years that the Conservative Opposition have proposed an amendment. So it is certainly unusual under a Labour Government.
I thought it right to provide a health Minister to deal with health issues, which are so important. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will speak after every other speaker except the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. If they raise health issues, my noble friend will undertake to write to them
I agree that it would be a good idea for the Procedure Committee to examine the rather unusual structure for our debates on the Queen's Speech. However, I am surprised to receive a criticism from the Liberal Democrat Benches regarding the fact that there is more than one Front Bench speaker after sitting through many hours of debate during which up to three Liberal Democrat Front Bench Members have spoken on many items of business. The Liberal Democrats' argument seems to betray a certain lack of colour co-ordination between the pot and the kettle!
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I apologise to the House for prolonging this discussion. I wonder whether the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip, who is always enormously helpful and charming in the House, can explain what precedent there is in our procedure for this remarkable state of affairs.
I remember an amendment being tabled to the humble Address in the glorious days when the noble Lord's party sat on this side of the House. I seem to remember his noble friend Lord Richard making very effective use of that device. There was no attempt, either by myself or by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in any way to "double pack" the reply from either Front Bench. The House may disagree, but we seem perfectly well up to doing it on our own, and a single Front Bench speaker would be enough. This is an odd departure--unless the noble Lord can find another precedent to dredge up from the past to compare with this one.
Lord Carter: My Lords, as I said, there is no precedent. This is the first time we have done it. I thought it would be helpful to the House if the extremely important subject of the health service was dealt with by a health Minister. My noble friend will reply to all the questions that may be raised about health and will write to noble Lords on any questions to which he cannot reply today. In the particular circumstances of the Opposition amendment, I thought that this was the best way to deal with the matter. The House may not agree, but it was an honest attempt to provide an answer. There is no precedent. I thought it a good idea.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, perhaps I may put the record straight. It is perfectly well precedented for an amendment to be tabled to the Motion on the Queen's Speech. Noble Lords opposite did that many times
I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, although I am not sure that this is a matter for the Procedure Committee. However, if my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, were able happily to deal with a similar situation in 1996, I am not sure why the same could not have been done today.
Lord Carter: My Lords, as I said, it was an honest attempt to provide an answer to a particular problem. I note that of the last three speakers, two will be from the Opposition Front Bench. I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who will in a sense be winding up in relation to his amendment. I presume that he will to some extent be replying to the speech of my noble friend the Leader of the House.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I beg leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 so as to enable the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration to investigate complaints received directly from members of the public. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a first time.
"but regret the failure of Your Majesty's Government to reduce the burden of taxation and regulation and deplore the incoherence and the lack of vision of the measures proposed by Your Majesty's Government for the coming Session of Parliament".
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, the Home Office is introducing nine Bills in this legislative Session, almost one-third of the Government's overall programme. As has been well trailed, in my comments I shall cover the range of Home Office legislation, and later the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will set out the legislative programme for the Department of Health.
A large number of noble Lords will be speaking in this debate, many for the first time. I look forward to listening to their important and valuable contributions. No doubt they, and other speakers, will raise interesting, difficult and awkward questions. I shall endeavour to respond to those in writing should they so wish and will place copies of my replies in the Library.
The measures that we are introducing in this Session deal with real issues of concern to the people of this country: tackling crime, combating drugs, dealing with discrimination and reforming our democracy. They will build on the changes that we have already made to modernise our public institutions and help build a society based on both rights and responsibilities.
Some of the measures are controversial--change often requires tough and difficult decisions. And I am sure that your Lordships will want to subject each Bill to your usual rigorous scrutiny and debate. One thing is for sure, however: the likelihood that your Lordships will be seeing much more of me over the next few months at the Dispatch Box.
I shall deal with each measure in turn. Since the election, we have been laying the foundations of what is nothing less than a crusade against crime. As a result of the Crime and Disorder Act, there are now 375 local crime reduction partnerships up and running across the country; a major reform of the youth justice system is under way; and new powers are in place for the police and local authorities to tackle the problems faced by our communities.
We are also investing £400 million in tried and tested schemes to reduce crime: CCTV schemes, anti-burglary projects and targeted policing initiatives. Money is also to be spent on reducing drugs misuse and ensuring that those arrested by the police are offered effective treatment to get them to kick their habit. We know that much property crime is driven by drugs. In some cities, research shows that almost half of those arrested by the police have used heroin or cocaine at some point in the recent past.
The Crime and Public Protection Bill will therefore extend drug-testing powers to those who commit a high volume of acquisitive crime. Following the success of drugs-testing regimes in prisons, the Bill will also include new powers focused on those serving community sentences. Ensuring more effective community punishment will be a key part of the Bill. It will, therefore, also modernise the Probation Service, ensuring improved enforcement and extending the use of tagging. That is just one part of the modernisation of the criminal justice system as a whole.
A further change proposed by Narey in 1997 was that it should be for magistrates to take the decision as to where triable either way cases should be heard. That followed an earlier recommendation of the 1993 Royal Commission on Criminal Justice. There was unanimous support from the Royal Commission for the changes now being brought forward by the Government, with one critical and important change.
The Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill proposes to implement that change, with an important safeguard. It will give defendants a right of appeal to the Crown Court. I fully understand the concerns that many noble Lords may have on this issue; indeed, my party took a sceptical view at the time that this matter was put to the House by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. He said then that the change offered substantial advantages and that it,
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