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Lord Laird: My Lords, I have noted the remarks of the previous two noble Lords on devolution in Scotland. I want to mention some problems that we have in Northern Ireland which have been brought about by the somewhat unusual political settlement. It is full of good intentions, but from time to time it exposes itself as not being as successful as it might be. I take what I am about to say rather seriously; it is not said lightly. I have provided notice of it to the appropriate Minister.
It is with some regret that I turn to a serious subject that I must bring up in your Lordships' House, because I have tried other methods to highlight the problem to no effect. I refer to the state of affairs in the cross-border body called Waterways Ireland. That agency is in charge of developing and maintaining most of the waterways throughout the island of Ireland. Over the past few months I have come to know quite a lot about the body and I have formed a very high opinion of many members of its staff, of all
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ranks, on both sides of the border. I am impressed by their quality, understanding and commitment. However, the circumstances in which they operate are dreadful to say the least. Cronyism, bullying and bad management abound. I shall give a few examples.
First, on cronyism, the body's chief executive, John Martin, was told by the sponsoring departments on 2 April 2001 that, as a result of an agreement with the Irish Municipal Public and Civil Trade Union of the 30 March of that year and contained in a letter to the union's secretary general, the directors' posts must be filled by open competition. But in the case of the director of marketing and communications, a post which all of the staff and observers to whom I have talked think was specially created for a friend of John Martin, Mr Martin Dennany, there was no competition. The rules of employment in Northern Ireland were ignored to enable Mr Dennany to obtain the post.
Worse, Mr Martin then reported to the North-South Ministerial Council on 26 June 2002 that the post was filled by open competition. In turn, that was reported to the Northern Ireland Assembly by local Minister Michael McGimpsey on 10 September 2002. I have since been informed in a Written Answer in your Lordships' House that the statement to the Northern Ireland Assembly was incorrect. That point has rightly annoyed former Minister McGimpsey who said in response in the Belfast Telegraph that if he were still the Minister he would be throwing furniture about, and that heads must roll and the posts re-advertised.
Mr Dennany is a well known figure in the Irish political establishment and has previously worked in the Republic's Prime Minister's office. Many believe that it was upon political direction that the post was filled. The chief executive, John Martin, who gave the post to Mr Dennany, claims that the political direction means that he is above the law. That may be a practice in the Republic but the post is in a part of the United KingdomNorthern Irelandand is subject, rightly, to strict employment law. The post is also part funded by HMG.
That is only one example of cronyismthere are more. Perhaps one worth noting is that of the director of operationsthe number two position. John Martin is accused by my informants of drawing up a job description to suit a Mr Brian D'Arcy and of coaching him for the job. Martin proceeded to chair the panel of appointment and, of course, Mr D'Arcy was selectedagain a political appointment.
The worst charge is yet to come; that of staff bullying. The body is paralysed by a culture of alleged bullying and harassment by the chief executive and his senior circle. Allegations by almost 30 staff of all grades up to director level were made in 2001 to the sponsoring departments. Only after considerable pressure did the departments move by setting up an investigation, but that investigation has been carefully limited in its remit and thus will more than likely miss the point. What is required is a full investigation into all these serious allegations. The stories that I have been told are well documented and horrible in the extreme.
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The net effect of all these serious management issues is that Waterways Ireland is dysfunctional. The many excellent staff are not encouraged to do their jobs. There are many results of that, but the most serious for the economy of Northern Ireland is occurring in Upper Lough Erne. In Fermanagh, the waterway system and the two large loughs are the main focus of tourism. Many visit the area from all over the world and delight in the boating, sailing, fishing and so on, on Lough Erne. As it currently stands, without quick action the tourism trade next year will be badly damaged by Waterways Ireland's failure to tackle the green weed problem this year. I have received representations from those in the area who are commercially interested in tourism and who are most concerned.
Unless Waterways Ireland takes its responsibility seriously and destroys or cuts the green weeds, there will be no boating next year. Waterways Ireland refuses to undertake that task. Yet as in the case of many other issues that is its duty. Each year, its budget is not spent and millions are returned to the respective governments, so there is not a lack of funding. Also all staff posts are still not filled even after five years of existence. The total management picture is one of failure and incompetence. The spending of money is mismanaged.
I am calling for the suspension of chief executive John Martin until a full investigation into the many allegations of bullying, cronyism and mismanagement has taken place and reported upon. I also call on the Government to ensure that there is no question of the director of corporate services being removed from his post in the meantime. I urge movement quickly before key people leave the organisation and the problem grows.
I should point out that I shall return again and again to this topic until the many who keep me informed and I are satisfied. I am known to be mono-minded. The Northern Ireland department to whom Waterways Ireland reports is the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. By anyone's book, those are delightful areas to administer, raising the morale of people in Northern Ireland, putting back self-confidence and developing a feel-good factor in which political arrangements can be supported.
The truth is different. Over the past two years, the department has run out of control. Sad to say, it responds only to the Irish Government's bidding and that is usually to help some disguised encroachment by Dublin. They fought every positive idea that the language body had when I was the co-chairman. There was no support, no consultation and no offer of help in achieving targets. We were left with the idea that the department simply did not want us to do anything. Now DCAL has turned its attention to dismantling one of its greatest successes, the Northern Ireland Events company. That company has funded 108 events since 2002 alone at a cost of just over £5 million and has generated benefits in excess of £31 million for the Province. It has provided good economic sense as
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well as morale and confidence. Now DCAL has slashed the company's budget to ribbons without consultation and without explanation.
Little support ever came to the company. DCAL officials attended only two of the 108 events to see how successful or otherwise their sponsored company was. All attempts to raise the matter with the Minister have been blocked with no consultation or support. It all sounds too familiar to me.
I am not opposed to cross-border bodies because the island of Ireland is small. However, I am not prepared to put up with standards of governance which are not common to any part of the United Kingdom being brought into the United Kingdom; and I am not prepared to be disadvantaged by a political settlement that makes the administration of Northern Ireland worse than before.
The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, like other noble Lords I begin by congratulating and welcoming our maiden speakersthe noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, and the noble Lord, Lord Gould. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, for her elegant introduction to today's debate.
As we all know this is the moment in the parliamentary year when pithy quotes about the Government's legislative programme drip from the pens of the commentators. We are spoilt for choice. I am especially drawn to that of Anatole Kaletsky in the Times last week, describing it as,
"a ragbag of 'eye-catching initiatives' and fidgety nanny-state measuresin many cases deliberately confounding the paranoia of Mr Blair's War on Terror with the public's justified anger about a breakdown of law and civility on Britain's streets".
Against that background it will not surprise your Lordships if I single out the identity cards Bill as my starting point. To my mind the most significant comment made so far about that is to be found in the summary of the Home Affairs Select Committee's report on its draft. It states:
"We conclude that objections of principle should not be lightly dismissed and that the Government's proposed scheme would represent a significant change in the relationship between state and individual in this country".
Both arms of this statement are exceedingly important. First, it implies that the Government are under an inescapable obligation to take seriously the concerns and anxieties of those of a lot more libertarian frame of mind than the Home Secretary. On current evidencenot least the recent remarks of the leader of another placethis does not look at all likely.
a matter spoken to so eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedyis manifestly accurate. I do not dispute that the draft Bill has been amended.
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Nor do I in any way underestimate either the nature or the extent of the threat we face from international terrorism and organised crime, which, at least in part, is touted as the utilitarian justification for the Bill.
Nevertheless, any Bill that introduces this sort of changeand most assuredly this Bill doesmust be subject to the most intense scrutiny. For the avoidance of doubt, I have deep-seated anxietiesnot to say objectionsabout the Home Secretary's proposals. However, I do not propose to enumerate them today. For the moment it is enough to say that in my judgment the proposition itself, let alone the actual Bill as introduced today, is riddled with flaws.
In passing, I am surprised by an omission from the gracious Speech, a revision of the Computer Misuse Act, something referred to by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, last week. Given technological advances and developments since 1990, this is long overduethe more so because of the work done on the matter by the All-Party Parliamentary Internet Group and because such an update would constrain the activity of organised crime and terrorism in a much more practical and immediate way than the ramshackle and woolly formulations about ID cards that the Home Secretary has brought forward. Moreover, it would chime with the insistence of my noble friend Lady Anelay that there are sensible and practical actions that the Government should be taking now.
Some may see this as much-needed reform, others as unthinking vandalism. It matters not. We are where we are. What does matter is that the constitutional architecture and the culture of our polity have changed out of all recognition since 1997. And yet, as my noble friend Lord Patten put it, constitutional measures other than the Constitutional Reform Bill are the "dogs that didn't bark" in the gracious Speech. No doubt for some this is a source of disappointment.
In truth, however, the presumption of an apparent moratorium on this administration's instinct to tinker mindlessly with the constitution is somewhat misplaced. While its hardware, its visible manifestations, are seemingly to be left alone for a while, fiddling with its softwarewhat Peter Hennessy has called its "hidden wiring"continues apace.
In reality, this should not come as too much of a surprise. After all, this "hidden wiring" is where much of the rightly acclaimed flexibility of our constitution
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resides. That is all to the good but at the same time it poses problems. In particular, whereas changes to the hardware are of necessity subject to the full gaze of scrutiny that our legislative and parliamentary system can bring to bear, the "rewiring" of its internal and hidden circuitry occurs invisibly, to all intents and purposes, beyond the reach of any accountability and transparency. It is conducted outwith the normal checks and balances of our system.
A glance at the chapter headings of Peter Hennessy's book bears witness to the cables and fulcrums around which this "hidden wiring" spins, thus: "Premiership: Shadow and Substance", "Cabinet: The Necessary Shambles", "Whitehall: Gyroscope of State", "Parliament: The Little Room", and so on. And, within this framework, the ways in which the constitutional circuit board can be tweaked and re-routed in ways that fundamentally change the relationship between the state and the individual are legion.
is an enduring image for me. It is difficult not to apply it to the ongoing saga of Prime Minister versus Chancellor that is so inextricably woven into the current administration. Those of the party of government might like to dismiss that as mere tittle-tattle. Indeed, there would be some justification for so doing if the strains in the relationship did not impinge so mercilessly upon the concepts of Cabinet government and collective responsibility.
Observation of how policy has been conducted in recent times invites speculation that, whatever the Prime Minister's perception of his style of government, the Chancellor has reserved to the Treasury virtual control of all economic and domestic matters, leaving the international stage to his nominal master. On occasion, for instance in relation to monetary union or reform of the public services, those tensions become all too apparent, with naked hostility between the Blairite and Brownite camps, not only within the parliamentary party but within the Cabinet itself, as is plainly evident. In other words, a fragmented and fractious duopoly sits at the core of the Government, and, in so far as that is accurate, it must militate against effective and meaningful collective responsibility.
That, in turn, feeds into a palpable sense in which the concept of Cabinet government has been downgraded and sidelined since 1997. Of course there are justifications for that, in the sense that in the modern world it could be seen as too cumbersome and top-heavy an institution to be able to deliver efficient decision-making. Moreover, I accept, as I must, that this presumption of a neutering of Cabinet-style government was not necessarily initiated when new Labour came to power. Nevertheless, one could be forgiven for imagining that the process has accelerated hugely since May 1997.
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With hindsight, the now infamous Order in Council granting executive control over civil servants to Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell was a watershed in defining the Prime Minister's intent and preferred style of government. What has followedthe Prime Minister's apparent disdain for Parliament and its processes; the burgeoning growth of special advisers in Whitehall; the concentration on spin and media manipulation; what could be called back-of-envelope policy initiatives, the establishment of "sofa government" and so onis a wholesale reshaping of the style of the executive and the relationship between the state and the individual. It suggests the establishment and solidification of the Prime Minister's power base and status as primus inter pares.
In turns, departmental Cabinet Ministers have been relegated to the second division, while the two big teams of the Cabinet squabble over the premiership title. Taking that logic a little further, there is, as Clare Short has argued, a legitimate case suggesting that the Prime Minister has shifted us towards a more presidential style of government. As she observed in her resignation speech in another place:
"In [Labour's] second term, the problem is the centralisation of power into the hands of the Prime Minister and an increasingly small number of advisers who make decisions in private without proper discussion . . . There is no real collective responsibility because there is no collective; just diktats in favour of increasingly badly thought through policy initiatives that come from on high".[Official Report, Commons, 12/5/03; col. 38.]
Some may wish to imagine that, in that context, Clare Short is a less than reliable witness, not least because of her flouting of the principle of collective responsibility in respect of the war in Iraq in March 2003. But, as Graham Allen, writing in the Daily Telegraph, has observed:
Evidently, that is a supposition with which Peter Hennessy agrees. His comments in response to the review of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, are scathing. He cites a,
I am well aware that that is not a universally held view. As the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, has observed, different Prime Ministers do the job in different ways, and constitutional practice has proved flexible in finding ways of enabling that to happen while ensuring that conventions are met.
In fact, the noble Lord makes my point for me. It is precisely because different Prime Ministers do the job in different ways that the relationship between the state and the individual is subject to change. We can, and do, differ on how acceptable each individual Prime Minister's way of doing things is. Nevertheless,
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it is undeniable that the current Prime Minister's approach has shifted the relationship between the state and the individual manifestly.
"Our mission in politics is to rebuild this bond of trust between government and the people. That is the only way democracy can flourish. I pledge to Britain a government which shares their hopes, which understands their fears, and which will work as partners with and for all our people, not just the privileged few. This is our contract with the people".
Against the background of a collapse of public trust in the current administration resulting from the methodology used to justify the war in Iraq, the unedifying spectacle of Parliament wrestling with the Hunting Bill and the re-routing of the constitution's hidden wiring, we can, I think, be forgiven for supposing that that aspiration is tarnished and threadbare. Given the YouGov poll reported in today's Daily Telegraph, we have perhaps come full circle since the claim in the same document that,
"The essential principle of our British system is that of collective responsibility. Ministers are not mere creatures of the Prime Minister but, for the most part, elected representatives. Ministers [are] responsible to the Crown, Parliament and the electorate . . . An approach to one-man Government is in my view a mistake".
Those wise words may be more traditionalist than modernist and therefore not to the taste of those on the Benches opposite, let alone the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. Nevertheless, I cannot help feeling that they have particular relevance and resonate far more today than they would have done seven and a half years ago.
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