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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

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and place a copy of the replies in the Library. In the unusual circumstances of the Opposition amendment, my noble friend the Leader of the House will wind up the whole debate, with particular reference to the amendment.

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 Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, be allowed four minutes, eight minutes or 15 minutes?

Lord Carter: My Lords, as a Front Bench speaker from the Dispatch Box, my noble friend will have 15 minutes.

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

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when they were in Opposition. I am simply following a recent precedent. The last occasion was the debate on the Queen's Speech in 1996. It is longer since the Conservative Opposition did so, and I explained the reasons in my speech. But what is totally unprecedented is the extraordinary jumble that we shall have at the end of today's debate. We accepted the arrangement on the understanding that it was the result of a request made by the Leader of the House, for reasons best known to the Government.

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 Strathclyde: My Lords, I shall make a very brief intervention at the end of the debate. I shall be surprised if I speak for more than two minutes.

Parliamentary Commissioner (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

3.15 p.m.

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.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord Lester of Herne Hill.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

3.16 p.m.

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday last by the Baroness Pitkeathley--namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows--

    "Most Gracious Sovereign--We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to

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    thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament",

and on the amendment moved by the Lord Strathclyde, at the end of the Address to insert,

"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.

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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.

The Narey reforms are having a real impact, reducing delays and ensuring that our criminal justice system protects the rights of defendants as well as the rights of victims and the wider community.

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,

    "would save the valuable time of all those engaged in the criminal justice process, including witnesses and victims. It would help to ensure that the energies of police officers could be spent protecting the public, rather than going backwards and forwards to magistrates' courts".

He added:

    "Justice delayed is justice denied".--[Official Report, 27/2/97; col. 1282.]

Despite my party's previous sceptical view, I believe that the arguments for change are compelling. We are virtually alone in the western world in allowing defendants to choose the venue in which they are tried. North of the Border in Scotland it is the prosecution that decides. We propose that that decision should rest with the magistrates. That view is shared by the party opposite. The Conservative home affairs spokesman, the honourable Member for Ryedale (John Greenway), said in another place:

    "On either-way trials, if we can trust magistrates to decide guilt or innocence, why cannot we trust magistrates to decide whether cases are sufficiently serious to be tried by a jury in a Crown court?".--[Official Report, Commons, 27/2/97; col. 438.]

Over 90 per cent of all criminal cases are already dealt with in magistrates' courts, including summary offences such as assaulting a police officer and indecent exposure. More serious cases will continue to be sent by magistrates to the Crown Court for jury

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trial. Current estimates suggest that out of more than 1.8 million defendants who are prosecuted in the courts each year only 18,500 elect jury trial.

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