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Business of the House: Debate, 9th December

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Baroness Greenfield set down for Tuesday 9th December shall be limited to two and a half hours.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That a committee of eight Lords be appointed to join with a committee appointed by the Commons to consider and report on any draft Gambling Bill presented to both Houses by a Minister of the Crown;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the Lords following be named of the committee:

L. Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

L. Donoughue

V. Falkland

L. Faulkner of Worcester

B. Golding

L. Mancroft

L. Wade of Chorlton

L. Walpole;

That the committee have power to agree with the Commons in the appointment of a chairman;

That the committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the committee have power to adjourn from place to place;

That the proceedings of the Joint Committee on the draft Gambling Bill in the last Session of Parliament be referred to the committee;

That the reports of the committee from time to time shall be printed, notwithstanding any adjournment of the House;

And that the committee do report on the draft Bill by 8th April 2004.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.

Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

3.8 p.m.

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday last by the Lord Ashley of Stoke—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 thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to explain next year's home affairs and health legislative programme and to put it into the context of the Government's wider

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domestic agenda. The measures that we propose for the coming Session will enable us to continue to deliver reform of public services, working in partnership with others, and to focus on social justice and secure and safe communities.

The Government are committed to reform of the National Health Service, giving more choice to patients, more freedom to NHS staff and more control over hospitals to local communities. The 2002 Budget provided the largest ever sustainable increase in NHS funding. Between 2003 and 2008, the average annual real-term increase in NHS expenditure in England will be 7.4 per cent, a cumulative increase of 43 per cent. By 2008, total UK health spending will be 9.4 per cent of GDP, well above the current EU average of 8 per cent.

In terms of secure and safe communities, one of our highest priorities is the reduction of crime and the fear of crime. Crime has fallen by 25 per cent since 1997 and we now have 9,000 more police officers than in March 1997. The police have also been given more resources, and partnership working between local agencies has been established through 376 crime and disorder reduction partnerships.

We are investing in crime detection through the national DNA database and through a national automated fingerprint system. Our reforms are about tackling the causes of crime such as poverty, drugs and lack of opportunity, preventing crime by focusing on key crimes and hot spots, bringing offenders to justice, addressing the wrong that they cause and providing opportunities for offenders to move away from a life of crime through effective punishment and rehabilitation. We are providing more health, education and childcare services and financial advice to families with children in the most disadvantaged areas. Neighbourhood renewal funding provides extra resources for deprived communities.

The Criminal Justice Interventions Programme identifies drug-misusing offenders in the criminal justice system and guides them to appropriate treatment and resettlement programmes. In our prisons, offenders are being helped to live lawful lives through education, drugs and custody-to-work programmes. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 forms an integral part of our commitment to modernising the criminal justice system. Implementation of the Act will ensure that there is a fairer balance between the rights of defence and prosecution. It will make the system more effective in detecting, prosecuting and punishing crime.

We want to see effective punishment of dangerous and persistent offenders. By January 2004, police will have the power to close premises used for drug purposes and by summer 2004 pilots will begin in testing for class A drugs at all stages of the criminal justice process. Furthermore, the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 gives authorities the power to take firm action against anti-social behaviour. Supporting young people is a priority within the updated drugs strategy. We want to inform young people and their parents about the dangers of drug abuse and where to go for help. The Department of Health, together with

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the Home Office and supported by the Department for Education and Skills, launched a 3 million a year communications campaign called Frank. The Department of Health is also making substantial funding available to support local drug education and prevention work. In 2003–04, this amounts to more than 17 million.

We are putting victims and witnesses at the heart of the criminal justice system. We have taken action to protect and support those who are prepared to take a stand at the centre of our campaign to tackle anti-social behaviour. The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill will take our support for victims a stage further. It will ensure that better services are provided for victims and witnesses of crime by setting out in statute the support, protection and advice that victims can expect and establishing an independent commissioner for victims and witnesses.

We are committed to tackling violent crime. Domestic violence accounts for a quarter of all violent crime. Growing up in a household with domestic violence can have a negative impact on a child's health, behaviour and school attainment. One in three child protection cases show a history of violence against the mother. Our strategy is to tackle domestic violence and is based on prevention, protection, justice and support. We are investing 84 million to tackle this unacceptable crime and we are working with the Department of Health in this area. A pilot education and support programme for midwives to promote routine antenatal inquiries about domestic violence began in March 2003. The final evaluation is due in April next year.

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill follows extensive consultation on the domestic violence proposal in the Command Paper, Safety and Justice. The Government's proposals on domestic violence will give the police significant new powers to deal with domestic violence offenders, to protect victims and ensure that, in cases of domestic violence, the criminal justice system is focused on the needs of victims. It complements a wide programme of work on crime reduction with a specific focus on violent crime, increasing the legal protection of victims of domestic violence and bringing offenders to justice.

Implementation of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 will provide further protection to vulnerable children and adults. Sexual crime has a profound and damaging effect on the social fabric of communities, and the fight against it is a high priority. The Act will strengthen the sex offenders register, clarify the law on consent and modernise the list of sexual offences.

Part of building safe, active communities is building confidence and trust in the security of UK borders while welcoming those with the right to be here. Further reform of the immigration and asylum system is necessary in this area. The proposals in the new Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Bill support our balanced immigration and asylum policy, tackling abuse of the asylum system and illegal immigration. It will encourage properly managed legal migration that benefits the United Kingdom

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economically and socially and will help to integrate legal migrants, genuine refugees and new citizens. The proposals build on the success of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and will further help to reduce abuse of the system and restore public confidence.

We are committed to continued reform as necessary of the asylum system to ensure that those in need of protection are identified quickly and those who try to exploit the system are prevented doing so. A fair, efficient and speedy system that provides an effective remedy but discourages dishonesty is in the interests of all and will build on the important work that the Government have already done in this area. Asylum applications have halved in the past year. Record numbers of failed applicants are being removed and the numbers of claims awaiting an initial decision have fallen to the lowest in a decade.

We have also made good progress in speeding up the process. More than 80 per cent of new cases are now decided within eight weeks. Measures in the Bill will introduce a new offence of trafficking for labour exploitation, including domestic slavery, following the introduction of the trafficking offence for sexual exploitation in the Sexual Offences Act. We are also introducing new powers for immigration officers to arrest people for immigration-related crime such as bigamy and forgery. The new legislation will focus on the part of the system that is most in need of reform, introducing clarity and decisiveness into the appeals and removal process. We are replacing the current appeal system with a single tier of appeal, reducing the opportunities for unsuccessful appellants to lodge multiple appeals simply in order to delay their removal from the United Kingdom.

We are also making it clear that those who seek our protection must be honest with us in return, rather than deliberately destroying or disposing of their travel documents to make process of their claims or removal difficult. Those who cannot explain how they arrived without travel documents should not expect to benefit from our protection. Measures relating to withdrawal of support from people who have no right to remain have proved controversial. However, that has been misrepresented by many in the media. The policy of withdrawing support from failed asylum seeker families is designed to encourage families to take up voluntary return, not to make them destitute. In the rare cases where it becomes necessary to end support, our obligations to children are paramount but this is certainly not an integral part of the policy as some might have one believe.

Those people who do have a right to remain in the United Kingdom should be welcomed and made to feel part of our society. We are taking steps to improve the way that we integrate newcomers—for example, by developing new citizenship ceremonies—but we also believe that a national identity card scheme will enhance the sense of belonging, shared citizenship and identity as well as helping the fight against illegal migration, illegal working and the fraudulent use of free public services.

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Every opinion poll conducted in recent years has shown a clear majority in favour of identity cards. Our survey of a representative sample of the population showed that around 80 per cent across the country are in favour of identity cards. Identity cards will safeguard our security at the same time as helping to combat and deter illegal migration and illegal work as well as identity fraud.

The draft identity cards Bill will be published in the new year and will set a legal framework for identity cards to be introduced throughout the United Kingdom. Legislative controls will balance individual privacy with a need for police and security services to have access to identity information but only for the investigation of serious crime or on national security grounds.

We shall proceed as indicated earlier by incremental steps to build a base for a compulsory national identity card scheme. It will not be compulsory to carry an identify card and the decision to move to compulsion would be brought into effect only once the majority of people have identity cards and following a full debate and vote in both Houses of Parliament. We want United Kingdom citizens to live in safety without fear of crime and to feel part of and able to contribute to society in meaningful ways. Communities must be enabled to give something back to society. There must be a sense of social justice.

We propose in the draft Charities Bill to reform the law on charities. We believe that a vibrant and diverse charitable sector independent of government is essential for the health of our democracy. Charities help to transform people's lives and build strong communities. It is the Government's responsibility to ensure that the legal and regulatory framework and environment within which charities operate allow them to thrive while at the same time sustaining public confidence through visible effective regulation. Our reforms, which have been widely consulted on and have strong support from charities, will achieve just that.

They will include a clear modern definition of "charity" based on public benefits, a series of measures to cut bureaucracy so that charities can operate more efficiently, putting more and better information about charities into the public domain for the benefit of donors and others, equipping the Charity Commission to carry out its regulatory role even more effectively and improving the regulation of fundraising, which for many people is the face of charity.

The new community interest companies (CICs) proposed in the DTI's Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Bill represents a new way to deliver improved public services supporting social entrepreneurs, seeking to pursue enterprise in the public interest, dedicating their profits to the public good and creating real opportunities for people in areas where they are most needed.

We are also working in partnership to meet wider government aims in the areas of justice and fairness. We value diversity in society, and other government departments share that view. For example, the DTI

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Civil Partnership Bill will ensure greater equality before the law for same-sex couples. That is a positive side of equality and complements last Session's major legislation, the Sexual Offences Act, which removed from the statute book offences that discriminated on the grounds of gender or sexual orientation. The Department for Constitutional Affairs Gender Recognition Bill will give transsexual people legal recognition in their acquired gender, including from the date of recognition the right to marry and to be given birth certificates in their acquired gender. This Bill seeks to provide transsexual people with the opportunity to enjoy the rights and responsibilities appropriate to their acquired gender and to leave behind the vulnerable position, the limbo, between two genders which they presently have to endure. Justice, rights and the constitution are at the centre of what this Government are about. This Bill provides a long ignored minority with social justice, legal rights and a place in our evolving constitution.

The Department of Health Human Tissue Bill also has a role to play in enhancing social justice. The Bill will regulate retention of human organs after death and will implement changes in practice agreed following the Bristol and Alder Hay inquiries. We are fully committed to reforming mental health legislation. The draft Mental Health Bill will form a vital part of our wider strategy to improve and modernise mental health services for all. This includes increased investment in and reform of current services. The Department of Health and the Home Office are in complete agreement about the objective of the draft Mental Health Bill. However, it is vital to get the legislation right. To that end it is important that a strong part is played by Parliament in scrutinising the Bill.

Finally, I reiterate our commitment to introduce as soon as possible legislation on corporate manslaughter. We intend to publish proposals before the end of the year and to follow that with draft legislation. We shall not give up on achieving our vision for a better, safer Britain. Since we came to power in 1997 we have been committed to the reform of public services, fighting crime and tackling anti-social behaviour. The measures I have spoken of today will build on our successes to date. We have come a long way but we are not complacent. There remains much work for us to do. We hope that the House will join us over the coming year to enact those measures that we strongly believe are necessary for progress towards a safer, more secure country.

I hope that noble Lords will forgive my croaky voice and be relieved to know that they will not hear further from me today.

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