|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. The issue of drugs is far too important and complex to be dealt with in this Chamber today. However, my concern is that a police force in a very high profile and public manner has been selective in its implementation of the law. Can the Minister tell me whether that is because the Metropolitan Police has manpower problems or because it is now a new Labour policy to allow the Commissioner to choose which parts of the law should be enforced?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, the matter is not quite as simple as the noble Baroness suggests. There is enormous discretion for the police over what they do when an incident or perceived crime takes place. In many ways the Association of Chief Police Officers' guidelines are almost a mirror image of what is happening. The discretion at constable level has been removed in Lambeth by the Commissioner for a period of time. That is wholly consistent with the ACPO advice on discretion. It is not the case, as expressed by the noble Baroness, that the police always act; they have discretion under the law. That is what the police are trained to do. So there is no wider agenda here. It is a useful exercise chosen by the Metropolitan Police and we all look forward to a proper evaluation after the six-month pilot.
Lord Desai: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the interesting observation made by the right honourable Member of Parliament for Kensington and Chelsea that we should have a larger debate on drugs should be welcomed by all sides of the House, including the opposite side?
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the use of discretion often brings the law into disrepute? Could not the good practices of Lambeth be followed by other chief constables to achieve a uniform policy on whether or not to bring prosecutions?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, for all I know, similar policies might well be operating in other parts of the country. Discretion is used at the lowest level of the police force by those who, with their local knowledge, are the best judges of when it is appropriate, not Ministers in Whitehall or politicians in Westminster. We must leave it to the best judgment of the police. If there are defects in the law, that is the responsibility of Parliament. There are grounds for a wider debate on the issue. This is a useful pilot in a very small part of the country. We shall all be interested in the proper evaluation of the pilot in some six months' time.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not have those figures. We shall be evaluating the pilot in six months' time. It is not for us to second guess on a daily basis what is happening. We want to get the overall picture. The figures requested by the noble Lord will be available in due course because that will be part of the evaluation.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, having taken into account the results of the interesting experiment in Lambeth and the other debates and discussions that he is encouraging, will my noble friend be able to share with us at some date in the near future how we should bring all these experiences together so that Parliament can accept its responsibilities in determining whether a change in the law is necessary?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am in the mood for short answers today and the answer to my noble friend's question is yes. In due course we shall be able to have a debate, but it needs to be based on facts. As anyone who reads the public prints will see, there is a considerable dispute between doctors and researchers about the good or bad effects of cannabis. In a short debate last Thursday the House considered the correlation between acquisitive crime and class A drugs. The Government's priority is to deal with class A drugs.
Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the fact that some parts of the criminal law are enforced with more vigour than others is as old as the criminal law itself? Does he further agree that, when we have thought twice about it, none of us would wish it otherwise?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Earl. Another good example is the even sentencing policy. I know that in different parts of the country we see some wild sentences, particularly from magistrates, for what is in effect the same crime. That is what they are there for--to make local decisions. The noble Earl is right. I agree with every word he said.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, can the Minister say what is the Government's attitude towards chief constables and their immediate subordinates deciding not to enforce some of the ridiculous European regulations that are currently extant? Is the noble Lord aware that the country as a whole would be pleased to be relieved of the quite slavish following of the letter of the law regarding Europe when it is well known that our colleagues in Europe, particularly the French, enforce the law just when they think they will?
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, as a member of the Executive, is not the Minister somewhat worried by the reply he gave to the noble Earl, Lord Russell? He said that the law is being administered differently in different parts of the country. What are the Government going to do about that?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said. Under the law, chief constables and their forces have degrees of discretion. I hope no one is suggesting that we remove their degree of discretion. Therefore, there are bound to be differences. We would not have 43 chief constables if we did not expect differences. We would get rid of them, as one of my noble friends hinted last week when we were discussing police retirement. We do not have a national police force in that sense. We have to leave it to the good judgment of chief constables to use the discretion that Parliament has allowed them.
Lord Rea: My Lords, following this experiment with so-called "soft" drugs, will the Government consider rethinking their policy regarding hard drugs? In particular, will they consider allowing more prescriptions of clean heroin to habitual users who cannot or do not want to kick the habit? That has been shown to have great health benefits for the users concerned as well as wider benefits for the community in terms of a great reduction in acquisitive crime.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, we will do everything we can to get people off hard drugs. When people come forward to drug programmes to come off class A drugs--sometimes it is done by substitution--they should be assisted in doing so. If that is not happening, we will need to look into the matter.
The Department for International Development has on numerous occasions declared that its mission statement is the elimination of poverty. But in its 1997 White Paper it said that DfID was also responsible for encouraging economic growth. The 1997 White Paper said that the Government would,
We believe that the Bill should reflect the fact that many valuable projects can lay the foundations for sustainable development and poverty reduction. However, these projects cannot be said to lead directly to poverty reduction. That is why we believe that the funding of projects which lead indirectly to poverty reduction and lay the foundations for the reduction of
Lord Judd: In speaking, I intend to try to deal with the various amendments which have been collected together for the suggested grouping. However, at the outset--I undertake not to bore the Committee by repeating this over and over again--I should declare an interest as having worked for most of my life both voluntarily and professionally in this sphere--indeed, I am still doing so. In particular, I should declare my position as a member of the Oxfam Association, a trustee of World Aware and of the Overseas Development Institute and my professional role as Senior Fellow of Saferworld.
I think that the amendment which has been suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, runs the danger of opening a Pandora's Box. I, too, seek closer definitions, but I suggest to the noble Baroness that the wording that she has chosen for her amendment might stretch the Act into every possible and conceivable interpretation.
I shall speak first to Amendment No. 2, and then to Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 9 and 10. In so doing, perhaps I may add a word or two of support for some of the other amendments in this grouping. Amendment No. 2 deals frankly with vision and purpose. I know why I sit on this side of the House. I do not sit here to seek to reduce poverty; I am on this side in order to fight for the elimination of poverty. For that reason, I am rather disappointed with the wording of the Bill.
Perhaps I may ask Members of the Committee to turn to the foreword written by the Secretary of State for International Development to the White Paper on international development published in 1997. In the second sentence, she states that:
What is the yardstick by which "reduction" can be measured? Having worked all my life in this area, I hope that I am not open to the charge of naivety. I can see how difficult the elimination of poverty will be. I am probably dubious as to whether it can ever be achieved. However, if that is not our purpose, how do we measure the significance of the reduction? As the Bill is presently worded, we might achieve a reduction of something between 2 and 5 per cent and then pat ourselves on the back by saying that the purpose of the Bill had been fulfilled: poverty had been reduced. We
Amendment No. 3 deals with tied aid. I know that the argument put forward by my noble friend on the Front Bench is that the wording of the Bill as it stands sets up sufficient moral authority to resist any pressure which might amount to a drift back into tied aid. Perhaps I may say at this point that those of us who have worked at the front line on third world issues have seen all too frequently the waste, damage and counter-productivity of tied aid. I have a deep respect and genuine affection for my noble friend on the Front Bench, but I know that she is incapable of being devious. I suggest that she needs to look again at what she said in her contribution to the debate on Second Reading. At col. 748 she states that:
Again, I suggest that we need to adopt a belt-and-braces approach in this area, and in this amendment I have attempted to show how that might be provided. But we certainly need to be told by the Minister why the word "only"--which she emphasised in the debate on Second Reading--is not included in the Bill.
Amendment No. 4 attempts to spell out what is poverty. It is a term which can be used very subjectively. Again, in the debate on Second Reading and in much of the comment surrounding the Bill, we have heard a great deal about the commitment of the Secretary of State. I should stress here that I take second place to no one in my admiration for the Secretary of State. I believe that we have in place a first class person, working with an excellent department. That is why, in some respects, I find this Bill a little disappointing.
There may be future Secretaries of State who have different purposes and may put forward other interpretations of poverty. That is why I have attempted, as I see it, to spell out one interpretation. If the Minister and her colleagues have a better interpretation, I am sure that we shall all give it sympathetic and careful consideration. But it is certainly not only a matter of a quantitative measure of income: it can be relative; it can involve human rights; it can involve the conditions of existence; indeed, it can involve spiritual dimensions. In this context, it is a shame that, where we are looking to the spirit of our Secretary of State and the fine department that she has working for her for a lead on what the Bill
I turn now to Amendments Nos. 9 and 10. Again, these concern the tightening-up of the Bill. No one could possibly take exception to what is in the Bill, but, as we have all learnt, the environment is a global issue, a global challenge. Under the Bill, it would be possible to support sustainable development projects in a particular country which did not contribute to the sustainable condition of the global environment. If such projects did not contribute to a sustainable continuance of the global environment, in the long run they would undermine anything that was being achieved in that particular country itself. The amendment seeks to spell out the relationship between a commitment to environmental concerns in a particular country and the inescapability of the environmental dimension internationally and globally. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to reassure the Committee in that respect.
I welcome Amendment No. 5 and its reference to human rights, which is highly relevant to what I have been trying to argue. I also welcome Amendment No. 12, which makes an important point about civil society. I very much look forward to hearing what the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, will say about this because I know of his deep interest in the issue, which is central to matters of development. It is a very helpful amendment.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page