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Baroness Young: My Lords, I am extremely sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in his remarks, but that matter has not been settled in Europe and it is unwise to keep repeating a statement which is not in fact true.
Lord Warner: My Lords, with all due respect to the noble Baroness, she is wrong. As I understand the position, the case of Euan Sutherland was set aside so that the Government could introduce legislation before it was put to final decision by the courts. There was a clear expectation, on the basis of legal advice given to Ministers--noble Lords shake their heads; but it is a fact and although noble Lords may not like it, it is sometimes necessary to bring out the facts of a case--that the Government would have had a court judgment against them and been forced to legislate. The Government--wisely in my judgment--held fire with that court judgment and have taken action to introduce legislation which will put the matter beyond doubt.
Lord Warner: My Lords, I understand that the Commission is not the same as the court. But the noble Baroness must understand that the Commission made a recommendation to the court and the Government were advised legally--the noble Baroness shakes her head but these are the facts--that they would lose in the court if the case was put to a final judgment. It is because this Government have regard for the European Convention on Human Rights and do not have the same record as the previous government, which had one of the worst records of European countries for breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights, that they took this step to put the law in good order to meet the concerns in the Sutherland case.
I should like now to spend a few moments on the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill. I would be willing to open a book on how often Magna Carta will be mentioned in the debates on this Bill in the coming Session, and be happy to donate the profits to a distressed lawyers' welfare fund if necessary. We can save the detail for the Bill's debates, but it is worth dwelling on two facts.
First, the recommendations of two Royal Commissions to change the right to trial by jury should not be dismissed as lightly as some are already doing. Secondly, those making the more excitable comments being aired on this subject should also bear in mind that the Bill will provide for a right of appeal to the Crown Court against magistrates' decisions to try cases themselves. I suggest that that represents a new dimension on this issue which has not been dealt with very effectively in the media. It suggests that the Home Secretary listened to the many concerns and on that he should be congratulated.
Finally, I want to say a few words on the Freedom of Information Bill, the Representation of the People Bill and the political parties Bill. Those Bills all contain measures on which the Opposition could have legislated but chose to ignore when they were in government. For reasons which have become apparent, especially over the past 24 hours, we can all understand why the previous government did not want to deal with putting party funding on a more transparent basis. For reasons that the 1997 election probably revealed, one can see why they did not want to make it easier for people to vote; and for reasons that the Scott report laid bare, I can appreciate why they did not want to make it easier for people to find out what was going on in government by having a statutory-based freedom of information regime. I welcome the Government's decision to press on in those areas.
The Government are to be congratulated on the coherence of their programme. Members of the Opposition seem to find it difficult to discern themes in the programme. As an advocate of lifelong learning I should like to help them.
Merely in the measures I have already mentioned, there are clear themes of better government, public protection and efficient criminal and social justice for neglected groups. I hope when we come to discuss those Bills in detail, we will be spared some of the time-wasting and hypocrisy from the Opposition Front Benches that we saw in the last Session.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, it is a great honour for me to find myself a Member of this House and I was particularly glad that I was privileged, however briefly, to sit in this House while its heritage, authority and spirit of public service were still enhanced by the contribution of the hereditary Peers, now sadly banished. I should also like to thank the staff of the House for the courteous way in which they welcomed me and helped me to find my way around, along with the many others who have come in in rather large numbers.
To me it is regrettable that the most independent part of this House has been removed without any credible policy for its replacement. Nobody could ever justify the expulsion of the hereditary Peers on the grounds of utility. No senate on earth has ever benefited from such a wealth of experience and dedication at so little cost to the public purse. Their contribution was informed and valuable.
During my earlier incarnation in another place I had the responsibility of steering rather more than a dozen Bills through Parliament. I have to tell your Lordships that this was the place that I and my officials feared. In the other place people stood up and made speeches
I last spoke in Parliament on 10th March 1997. A lot has happened since then: waiting times in the National Health Service have gone up; so have class sizes in schools; police numbers have gone down; the crime rate has gone up; and the beef ban remains in place, even though we surrendered our sovereignty over employment laws and a host of other matters. The principle of free access to education has been abandoned with the introduction of tuition fees by this Labour Government. The drugs budget, as my noble friend pointed out, in the National Health Service has been cash limited for the first time in its history leading, as it will do, to the rationing of vital treatments. Patients will no longer receive treatment according to clinical need, but according to postcode and the judgments of accountants.
The iron Chancellor appears to be suffering from metal fatigue since, according to the Library in the other place, his increases in tax amount to £40 billion and the OECD claims that the tax burden in this country is rising faster than in any other country in Europe. The Civil Service has been politicised. Half of the information officers in Whitehall, including those who used to serve me in the Scottish Office, have been sacked and the remainder brought under direct political control. The promised bonfire of quangos has fizzled out; they remain in existence filled with Labour placemen, a fate destined soon to overtake this House. Parliament has not been modernised by this Government; it has been marginalised by this Government.
I believe that the tradition in this House is for maiden speeches to be uncontroversial. So your Lordships will understand that I resist drawing any conclusions from those facts. If the rules of the House allowed it, I would sing a few bars of "Things can only get better"; but I gather they do not. Although there are some things in the gracious Speech which I believe to be good, I fear that I can find nothing that will deliver that particular slogan's promise.
At the end of the last Session we were treated to the unedifying spectacle of the remaining 92 hereditary Peers being held hostage lest this House dare exercise its constitutional right to disagree with aspects of the Government's legislation. To its very considerable credit, this House called the Government's bluff and stood up for the disabled.
We seem to be moving rapidly towards a situation where Parliament is under the thumb of the executive. The House of Commons is already controlled by the Government: the Lords will be appointed by them. We are becoming the biggest quango in the land. It is clear that this Government do not like revising Chambers. Why else have they opted for a one-chamber Parliament in Scotland? I fear that we are moving de
I believe that the new House must have an elected element. But before the composition is decided, the functions of this place must be defined. There will be difficult issues to be resolved in either a partly-elected or wholly-elected House. In the former we would have two or more classes of Peer. But both must be better than a wholly appointed House.
The Government's plans to reform this House are fatally flawed. They do not know what they want this place to do other than be more acquiescent towards the executive than its predecessor. Hiding behind the fig leaf of a Royal Commission, which they should have set up immediately following the general election--and waited for its conclusions before implementing any legislation--this Queen's Speech contains no mention of the Government's view on the future role of this place. I, too, look forward to seeing the Royal Commission's conclusions. I earnestly hope that when we lift the fig leaf we do not find a fig.
There are some elements in the gracious Speech which I find very difficult to accept, and I find very surprising the reasons why it is difficult for me to accept them. They are difficult to accept because I believe them to be far too Right-Wing and illiberal in their impact. The removal of the right to trial by jury was rightly opposed by the Government in opposition. To describe such a fundamental right enshrined in Magna Carta as "eccentric", which is what the Home Secretary did the other day, shows vividly how little understanding he has of his responsibilities to guard our liberties and the institutions which protect them. The doctrine that the ends justify the means seems to have survived his conversion from his radical Left-Wing days.
I am not a lawyer, but I am sufficiently familiar with the work of Lord Devlin to know that he wrote the authoritative work on trial by jury. Perhaps I may read a quote from that work, which was written in 1956. It begins:
The proposal contained in the gracious Speech to stop the benefits of youngsters who do not comply with community service orders is, to my mind, completely crackpot and lacking in common sense. I fail to see how cutting off their means of support will make it less likely that people will reoffend. Many of these youngsters have got into trouble because they have become involved with drugs; they steal in order to get the money to buy them. If money is taken from them, they will repair the loss by committing burglary,
Your Lordships will have seen the Freedom of Information Bill, which has been published. I took the opportunity to read it. There are no fewer than 13 pages of exemptions under the legislation as regards entitlement to information--indeed, 13 pages of exemptions listing the information that we cannot have. It actually makes more information secret than is the case at present. The information officer, under the Bill, should decide whether information should be disclosed, not the Government. That is what is being proposed by the Labour Party north of the Border in Scotland. How can this matter of principle be different on each side of the Border? How can it be right that there is an independent right of access to public information north of the Border, whereas, south of the Border, the Government will decide whether information should be made available?
I appreciate that time is at a premium. Therefore, in conclusion, perhaps I may add that I believe the only true system of checks and balances, which has always relied upon the goodwill and good sense of all participating parties, has been attacked with the constitutional equivalent of a sledge hammer. Out of the debris we must salvage our bicameral parliamentary democracy. I believe that the role of this House in that task will be crucial.
I respectfully submit that the duty which history and the public interest alike impose upon us is to honour the oath that we took by fearlessly asserting the independence of this House and acting as the vigilant guardians of the rights and liberties of the British people.
Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, on behalf of your Lordships' House, I have the pleasure of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, on his maiden speech. I think we have a guarantee of vitality and absence of blandness in his future speeches. Speaking for myself, I look forward to the day when he makes a controversial speech. I notice that listed among the noble Lord's recreations are mountaineering and astronomy. On his voyage here there must have been many peaks to be scaled. Perhaps we should all wish him well as he travels per ardua ad astra.
I have an interest to declare. I am chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I hold that office in succession to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan. Two other members of the committee are present today; namely, the noble Lords, Lord Shore of Stepney and Lord Goodhart. So, if I speak untimely or unwisely, I shall be corrected by them.
That is the sequel to the report which the committee under my chairmanship produced last October, the fifth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and which was requested by government. Now we have the response produced in July in the form of a White Paper and attached Bill.
Putting it at its briefest, we made some 100 recommendations, the substance of which has been accepted by government. There are points of departure, some minimalist. In some respects, government have improved and tidied up ideas which the committee had. However, there is one major point of difference to which I shall refer later. Time is very short and there will be an opportunity to debate it in much greater detail in due course. We tried to inform ourselves in preparing the report by visiting two European countries--Germany and Sweden--and then Canada, which probably has the purist system of electoral voting. After that we travelled south across the border to Washington where we found a somewhat different scene.
Within this country we had public hearings of evidence in London and very informatively, in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. The result was that we had a great deal of first-hand information about how referendums operate in this country at present. That led to some of our recommendations. Those noble Lords who have read the report will have noted in particular what we had to say about the referendum that took place in Wales.
One of the key proposals of the first report of the Nolan committee--an important and influential report--was the adoption of seven principles of public life. I hope that I may remind your Lordships of three of them; namely, integrity, accountability and openness. In the field we were considering they can be summed up in a single word; namely, transparency. We came to the firm conclusion that what the British public want is openness of information about the sources of the funding of political parties. They want to know who is giving and how much. In particular, our view was that they do not want--and we did not want--money to come from abroad. Political parties should be funded here internally by donations, but not by the state. That was another major conclusion we reached.
There are again some small departures of detail. We made recommendations about the Short money which is used for opposition parties in the House of Commons and, to some extent, here under the title of Cranborne money. We recommended an increase, which has already been taken up. We also recommended some small amounts of money for the research departments of political parties, particularly of parties in opposition, but not only in opposition, to enable them to have more back-up in preparing legislative proposals.
On the transparency point, the key proposal was that donations of £5,000 and above should be disclosed with the name of the donor and full details of the amount. Your Lordships may have noticed that lists of names of people who have given more than
We formed the view that political parties need money, but not too much of it. In America they seem to have too much and there is an endless struggle to raise money. We were given some astonishing figures with regard to how the money is spent. Up to 80 per cent of it is spent on television advertising in short bursts of not more than 30 seconds; otherwise the viewers become bored. Usually the advertising comprises denigratory comments about a rival candidate and does not promote any particular policy being put forward by the candidate who is paying for the advertising. Therefore it was logical for us to recommend a cap on party expenditure in a general election. We suggested £20 million. The Government are content with that and will, I hope, legislate to that effect. We also thought that a great asset of this country--long may it survive--is the ban on political advertising. I have mentioned America. Here money cannot be spent in that way. That is good as it creates an insatiable demand to raise more money.
I have mentioned referendums. The key, we thought, is to have a level playing field so far as possible. Each side should have some basic funding in order that both sides of an argument can be made public.
I shall not bore your Lordships with other detailed proposals. However, we became aware of the fact that current election law is extraordinarily out of date. In opening the debate the Minister mentioned the relevant Bill on this matter. When we looked at the expenditure that candidates in parliamentary elections have to declare, we found a schedule in the latest Act--which dates from the 1980s or 1990s--copied word for word from an 1883 Act. It is hopelessly out of date. It does not exactly contain references to the stabling of horses and postilions but it refers to telegrams and says nothing about banks of telephone callers trying to drum up votes. It is a completely out-of-touch and out-of-date statute.
A major part of our recommendations concerned the fact that so much needed to be done and so much needed to be put in place that there must be an effective statutory body to oversee the conduct of elections. I refer to the title of the Government's Bill on the setting up of an electoral commission. We are enthusiastic and keen that that should happen. Had time permitted I might have said something about what we said about overseas trusts, but your Lordships might regard that as controversial. I shall move on.
We thought that the effect of our recommendations might well be to discourage some large donors, whether individuals, companies or corporations, who would not want others to know precisely how much they had given to which party, and that therefore there was a possibility of a fall-off in large donations. We also thought that active steps should be taken to encourage small donations. We suggested that tax relief should be given on a gift of up to £500 rather in
That is all I have to say to your Lordships. As I said, there will be another opportunity to discuss these matters. I apologise as I shall have to leave your Lordships' House at some point to attend to other obligations.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, it is with timidity and some trepidation that I rise to address your Lordships' House for the first time in a debate which has, predictably, been marked by outstanding contributions. The difficult task that I have is made bearable only by the knowledge that every noble Lord present has faced the same ordeal, and all have clearly survived that! I too have been overwhelmed by the kindness shown to me since I arrived. I wish to put on record my most sincere thanks to everyone, Officers, members of staff and Members of this Chamber for the help and support that I have been given.
I understand that I am expected to be non-controversial. However, in the face of such important and far-reaching legislative proposals that is rather a tall order. My background leads me to take a special interest in policing matters. For the past five years I have chaired a large rural police authority in the most beautiful part of the country. I am talking, of course, about North Yorkshire! I was a member of the authority for some years before I became the chair. I have extended my understanding of police and criminal justice through my participation in the national debate as a deputy chairman of the Association of Police Authorities. I have also been a magistrate for 16 years.
There is much in the legislative programme spread before us that will affect, directly or indirectly, the police and police authorities. Let us not forget that any Bill which creates new offences--I take the countryside Bill as an example--imposes extra tasks on the police who will be charged with enforcing the legislation. Other measures will, apparently--I am conscious that we have to see the small print of the Government's proposals before making too many assumptions--underpin the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act.
The police welcome the recognition, implicit in the partnerships, that the problems facing society are not problems which the police alone can solve. We need partners working together--not operating in individual silos--to co-operate and exchange experience if we are to make a real impact on the fear of crime. It is fear of crime, and of social nuisance, rather than actual crime, which makes so many people's lives a misery.
Police authorities throughout England and Wales have worked hard and imaginatively to link up with other statutory agencies, with local government and with the voluntary sector, to form partnerships against crime. I am sure that the proposal in the gracious Speech to rationalise probation areas so that they correspond to police force areas is a practical step which will make these partnerships run even more smoothly and effectively. Genuine partnerships mean that everyone plays a part in reducing crime. I am a little nervous about some aspects of the performance culture in this field. If we really believe--and I do--in the value of partnership working, success must not be measured on police crime data alone.
If I may dare to dip one toe into controversial waters, I must observe that there will also be resourcing implications for the police if some of the Bills which we are considering today become law. Compulsory drug testing and freedom of information will both, in their very different ways, place further strain on our beleaguered budgets. Most of us--especially in the poorly funded forces--are finding it increasingly difficult to provide the resources the police need to continue to perform effectively. In my own force last year we lost 41 officers and we could afford to recruit only two.
Part of the shortfall is linked directly to the huge pension burden which authorities face. All police authorities are passengers on the steamship HMS "Police Pensions". We are all steaming, "Titanic"-like, towards a large iceberg labelled "pension costs". We know that we are on a collision course. We have shouted and gesticulated many times to the bridge, but we are still waiting to know if anyone can hear us. Meanwhile, the ship steams on, gaining speed and maintaining direction.
Finally, perhaps I may touch on the proposal to amend the Race Relations Act and refer to the work that is being done throughout the service to re-examine the way in which we police all the groups in our rich and varied communities. The Association of Police Authorities, like all those involved with policing, took very much to heart the recommendations of the Macpherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence. Police authorities are not just concerned with the effective use of resources by their constabularies and forces. Of course that is important. Consultation, another police authority duty, is also important. But I, like many of my colleagues, perceive a need to concern myself with the philosophy and style of policing to take us forward into the next century. I am sure that the police will accept our advice about the way in which society is evolving and the importance of treating individuals according to their needs.
But of one thing I am certain--and I am fairly sure that I am being non-controversial when I say it. The police deserve our support. Noble Lords will want to join me in congratulating and celebrating the award of the George Cross to the Royal Ulster Constabulary as a tangible sign of that support.
I am most grateful for the attentive reception of noble Lords. I greatly look forward to taking part in the detailed and informed debate that I am confident will take place as we consider these measures further.
Baroness Young: My Lords, I have had the good fortune to be a Member of your Lordships' House for many years now, but this is the first occasion on which I have taken part in a debate in which there are no fewer than seven maiden speakers. I start by congratulating very warmly the three maiden speakers whom we have already heard, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. She told me that she is Richmond of Yorkshire, which is the first Richmond in the world--not to be underestimated at all. I thought that she gave us a most valuable speech based on her own experience as Chairman of the North Yorkshire Police Authority and in using her valuable experience she was able to give us an insight into the working of legislation on the ground. We look forward to hearing from her on many occasions in the future.
I would have liked to have touched on many aspects of the gracious Speech, particularly on education and local government. But time does not allow me to do that today and so I shall touch on only one area of social policy, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill and the repeal of Clause 28 of the Local Government Act. The gracious Speech refers to one and not to other. None the less, I believe that it is the Government's intention to repeal Clause 28.
We have been threatened--I believe that that really is the right verb on this occasion--by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, that the Government will introduce the Parliament Act should they--as they think they might--be thwarted again in this matter. It is quite extraordinary that the Government should make that statement before they have even heard the argument from anybody at all. It is a classic instance of
So keen are the Government on this measure that they have even overturned the principle of devolution about which we have heard so much and at such length, and are insisting on introducing it in Scotland without regard to what the Scottish Parliament thinks. They are introducing it although they know as well as I do that every opinion poll shows that the overwhelming majority of the population do not want it. The Government want to have it both ways. They want to pose as the party of the family yet they do everything to undermine responsible parents; to say that marriage is best but that every alternative is equally good. They are--if I may so describe it--in a moral paralysis.
There is one person who I regret deeply is not in his place today and that is the late Lord Jakobovits. He was a man of principle and rectitude. How I wish I could hear once again what he would say on this matter.
The repeal of Clause 28 is not mentioned in the gracious Speech. The only place in which I could find it mentioned is on page 96 of the background note to the local government Bill produced by the Press Office of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. It is not available in the Printed Paper Office. I understand that it simply went to the Lobby--yet another instance of the down-grading of Parliament on a matter on which many people are very concerned. It suggests that the repeal will be tacked on to an immensely complex local government Bill, slipped in at the last minute in the hope, I have no doubt, that it will not be noticed. How ironic--but, in a way, how typical of this Government--that a Bill supposed, with a great fanfare of trumpets, to be about democracy, openness and accountability, allows such an important social change to be announced in this way.
How very dangerous to teach children--even primary school children of the age of seven--about homosexuality, which, apart from anything else, carries serious medical risks, and at the same time not allow them to eat beef on the bone.
What are we to expect in the future? We know what happened in schools before Section 28 was introduced. I have seen much of the material. I find it absolutely deplorable that these kinds of publications should be put in front of children, including primary school children. I have seen the information to be used at key stage one, which, as we all know, is for seven year-olds.
As I understand it, the reason for the repeal is that sex education about homosexuality cannot be taught effectively; it is intended to prevent the bullying of homosexuals in schools; and it will allow local authorities to give more money to homosexual groups. Perhaps I may quote two short sentences from the material attached to the Local Government Act 1988, which sets out what local authorities may do.
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