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Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, in his last statement the noble and learned Lord made it clear that the Government intend to use the majority which they have in the lower House to change at least the composition of this House and even possibly its procedures. Will he, as Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, address an anomaly in the other place—namely, that Scottish and Welsh MPs can vote on English matters, whereas English MPs cannot vote on Scottish and Welsh matters? This is unjust and unfair and a constitutional abomination. What proposals does the noble and learned Lord have to rectify that situation?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the noble Lord has not been listening to what I have been saying. I did not say that we would use our majority to effect a change in composition; I said that there would be a free vote on composition—certainly on our side of the House. As far as the other parties in the House are concerned, it is a matter for them to determine whether or not they have a whipped vote. I know that the noble Lord's party favours an elected element in this Chamber.

On the West Lothian question, we take the view that every MP elected is an MP for a Parliament for the whole of the country and should vote on all the issues that affect the country.

We will seek to build consensus as we move forward with reform. I would very much welcome the involvement of the Cross Benches in building consensus.

I regret that Mr Oliver Heald—who appears to be one of a number of Conservative spokesmen on this issue—has accused the Government of contempt and arrogance because we have repeated the constitutional reform proposals that we advanced during the course of the election. If I can identify who amidst the welter of new Conservative spokesmen is the appropriate person to discuss constitutional reform with, I will be happy to engage with him or her.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said in his response to the gracious Speech:

I welcome that approach. However, I understand from a speech made last week by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and by his colleague, the right honourable
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Mr Charles Kennedy, in another place, that the Liberal Democrats have decided to abandon, unilaterally, the Salisbury convention. I thank them for giving us notice of that. Is it not an irony that the party of Lloyd George should determine that it should arbitrate on which parts of an elected government's manifesto should get through Parliament, and which should not? How do they come by that particular conclusion? Perhaps they could let the country know the percentage figure a government need for the Liberal Democrats to refrain from exercising their veto in the Lords. How popular must a policy be before it passes the McNally test?

I have outlined a substantial—

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I am sorry to distract the Lord Chancellor from his party sallies, but could he say a word about the Appointments Commission? He praised the Government's record in having set it up in the previous Parliament. There was a proposal to put it on a statutory basis. As a member of the present commission, I very much hope that there will be a statutory body. Is that part of the Government's proposals?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it is not part of the Government's proposals. It seems to us that before you come to a conclusion about putting the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis, you have to find out what will happen about composition generally, and that depends upon the free vote.

I have outlined a substantial programme of proposals and legislation—

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, what happens if both Houses disagree on the proposals? This seems to be government by wetness, for want of a better word—an excuse for not doing anything. I want a properly reformed House, which can hold any government, from my own side or from that of the Lord Chancellor, thoroughly to account. But this cannot happen if the House of Commons says we will have one form of appointment and this House says it will have to be by election or, as happened last time, six proposals are put forward, none of which is agreed to. That is not how to carry out good government.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I shall certainly not exclude a debate on the reform of the composition of this House in either House. There needs to be a debate in both Houses; a conclusion needs to be reached. I have indicated that everybody accepts the primacy of the Commons, but I very much hope that both Houses will agree. I think that there is a real appetite for reform.

I have outlined a substantial programme of proposals and legislation for this 18-month Session. We in this place have a crucial and constructive role to play in that programme. In the wake of the election, we must listen to what the electorate have said. And we must deliver sensibly on their priorities and values.
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We are concerned to uphold law and order, and the rule of law. We are determined to strengthen our justice system to protect the whole of our community. And we are keen to move forward in a consensual way on our constitutional and electoral arrangements so that they will serve us in the future as well as they have in the past.

But move forward we must. The public admire us when we do things, not when we disagree. They have elected another Labour Government. They want that Government to deliver on the important issues we face, such as fighting crime, combating terrorism, ensuring better public services and an effective justice system. We must do all in our power to repay that trust.

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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for setting out the Government's stall for, as he said, a very long Session ahead. Yet again, the Government have launched at us a veritable blizzard of Bills from the Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs. It really feels as though we are stuck in groundhog day, that never-ending day when everything repeats itself again and again.

The noble and learned Lord referred throughout his speech to achieving consensus to discussion. My experience with this Government over the past few years has been that Session after Session, we have seen an unwillingness to think through changes before forcing them through another place by guillotine and timetable Motions, with the Government then finding that they need to make substantial changes in this House when the Bill is more thoroughly scrutinised.

Today the Lord Chancellor referred to plans that would reduce the effectiveness of this House. What an irony that, at the very time that the Labour Party has become the largest group in this House, it now seeks to extend its position and control more and more.

During the election campaign, I spent time in marginal constituencies in Surrey and Dorset. I know that the noble and learned Lord spent some time in Dorset too, because we met on Waterloo station, going our various ways, to have our various effects on two constituencies. Throughout the whole of that time, not one voter said to me, "What I really want you to do is get rid of those 92 elected hereditary Peers. That would make the country better". When they did mention the House of Lords—which was admittedly not often—it was to praise our steadfastness in defending the interests of the public.

As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde made clear last Tuesday in reply to the gracious Speech,

The noble and learned Lord has referred to a free vote on composition. By indicating that, one assumes that there will not be a free vote on the other matters of procedures.
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I see from his face that that might be the case. We say that this House should not accept any dictation from the other place as to its procedures, tolerate no guillotine and accept no diminution in its powers. We believe that a cross-party approach is the right one, so we will co-operate fully with the Joint Committee. But the remit of that committee must be far wider than that currently proposed by the Government. Any Joint Committee must be able to range over the functions and operations of both Houses and their joint relationship. I hope that when the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, replies to the debate, she will be able to confirm that the Government will be rethinking their views on the matter.

My noble friend Lord Kingsland will have much more to say on constitutional matters when he replies to the debate. I regard him as the fount of all wisdom on these matters, in my life at least. I shall now turn to Home Office matters, which are within my remit.

Some of the Bills are indeed familiar, as the noble and learned Lord indicated. They are reminders of the Government's Queen's Speech of a mere six months ago, when they set out their stall for the general election with no real expectation of getting all those Bills through before calling an early election.

The Management of Offenders and Sentencing Bill received its First Reading on 12 January; it went 45 sitting days without the Government giving it a Second Reading. Surely that speaks volumes about the dangers of the Government's proposals for a 60-day guillotine.

What has happened to the Management of Offenders and Sentencing Bill? Will it still start here? There is considerable concern in the probation and prison services that the Government have failed properly to consult on the proposals. Will the Government now invite them to engage in a more thoroughgoing consultation?

We have already made our position on this matter clear. Handled well, it could be a great move forward for the justice system. But so far, the Government have handled it badly. They have created insecurity and uncertainty. It is not clear that there will be sufficient funding to ensure the proper operation of the probation and prison services. It also appears that the system that the Government have decided to adopt would undermine rather than improve the management of offenders. Indeed, doubt was cast on the Government's plans during the election campaign when leaked Home Office documents appeared in the Observer newspaper on 17 April. They revealed that the reforms could lead to the release of dangerous criminals with inadequate supervision. According to the report, the forward business plan for the National Probation Service shows that civil servants believe that the likelihood of,

is "high". It goes on to say that the plan also repeatedly warns of a high likelihood that loss of key skills from frontline staff will result in,

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So are the Government intending to press ahead with the original Bill or have they reflected and do they plan to come forward with a Bill mark 2?

We welcome the return to this House of the Charities Bill. I thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts for his hard work in leading for us on that Bill, and am relieved that he will continue to do so. I am aware that although much progress has already been made by way of amendments, further progress is still needed in the remainder of the Committee and later stages. Of course, that will be before another place has its first opportunity to cast its eyes upon it.

Two highly controversial Bills bounce back into our court, as the noble and learned Lord mentioned—those on incitement to religious hatred and ID cards. Legislation dealing with incitement to religious hatred has been twice before us, tucked into other Bills; at least now it is to be tackled as it should be, as a stand-alone issue. We have always had considerable sympathy with all those who share our determination to act decisively to prevent the propagation of religious hatred. We deplore incitement to hatred of people on religious grounds, especially if it is used as a proxy for incitement to racial hatred and as a way of getting round existing laws. However, we fundamentally disagreed with the Government's attempt to introduce the new offence of stirring up religious hatred as part of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. What appeared at first sight to be a simple change to previous legislation would, we believe, have had profound and wide-reaching consequences that could have been the opposite of what we all intended.

Freedom of speech is one of the greatest virtues and strengths of our society, and we must maintain the delicate balance between religious tolerance and the indivisible right of our citizens to engage in extremely robust religious disputation. That measure would have curbed freedom of speech without bringing any benefit. It is perfectly possible to clamp down on those who use religion as a proxy for race, and to protect civil liberties, but the Government's original legislation would have fallen badly short of that. So I hope that the Government will think carefully before trotting out the same drafting as appeared before us earlier this year.

I turn to ID cards. We debated the matter at length in a Second Reading that seems but a moment ago. The Bill attempts to strike a balance between a number of extremely serious issues—those of individual privacy, the relationship of the citizen and state versus security, prevention of fraud and control of immigration. That is why we set out a series of tests for the Bill, not only for the individual practicalities but to establish the balance between those principles and the Bill's competence to achieve some of the things that the Home Secretary talked about. We might well agree on the principles, but what we had to find out was, could the Government deliver?

During the examination of the Bill in another place, the Government failed to demonstrate our five tests. The press has carried several stories over the past week
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or so that the Government intend to redraft this Bill to make it more acceptable to another place. So we await sight of it with interest—but I have to say that light cosmetic surgery alone will not be sufficient to help the Bill to meet those five tests. The noble and learned Lord referred to general public support, but I have found that as soon as one discusses with groups what identity cards actually involve under this scheme, their support turns on its head. So we need discussion and information and to listen to the response that we get.

Other Bills are new, but on a very familiar theme. The noble and learned Lord referred to yet another asylum and immigration Bill—the fourth since 1997 and the third in my three years as opposition spokesman on home affairs. We await sight of the Bill with interest, but I have to say again, as I have in the past, repeated tinkering with the system does little to assist the orderly and fair process of justified claims for entry to this country and the removal of those who apply unsuccessfully for asylum and then fail all the appeals procedures.

There is a draft counter-terrorism Bill. We certainly support legislation that would genuinely help in the fight against terrorism, and we look forward to constructive engagement in the pre-legislative scrutiny. I am sure that that is the right way forward.

There is also yet another crime Bill—the violent crime reduction Bill. Recent figures have shown a rise in violent crime in general and crimes involving firearms in particular. Indeed, taking the longer view, it is clear that violent crime is up by 83 per cent since 1998. The total recorded violent crime hit the 1 million mark for the first time, in 2004. The number of firearms offences in England and Wales has risen every year since 1997–98; in fact, gun crime has doubled. Over the course of the past year, imitation weapons were used in 3,268 offences, which represents an increase of 66 per cent on the previous year. So we believe that the Government are right to direct their attention to try to reduce the use of imitation firearms and of knives, particularly by the young, and we look forward to working with them on those matters to ensure that the drafting catches the guilty but does not penalise those who are innocently in possession of knives. I was reminded of that matter when I read a comment by the noble and learned Lord on Friday, since at that particular time I was using a bradawl to punch a hole in a wall. I often carry it around with me—so I hope that I shall not be caught out by the new legislation.

Other Bills have been trailed for some time, such as the draft corporate manslaughter Bill and coroners' reform. However, I am a little bit confused as to who is leading on that legislation among the departments. The noble and learned Lord and the noble Baroness may be able to enlighten me later. Legislation on coroners' reform is listed on the DCA website, but it was the Home Office that published the position paper in March 2004 and announced:

Whose responsibility will it be and will the Bill start here or in another place?
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On the fraud Bill, which will have its Second Reading in this House in June, we shall support sensible and practical proposals to reform the law on fraud. We made that clear during our debates on the Criminal Justice Act 2003, when the Government sought to abolish jury trial in fraud cases. We said then and say now that it is right to reform the law and the rules managing those cases, but it would be wrong to withdraw the right to jury trial. Reforms to the law and the rules can ensure that jury trial is effective.

When the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, responds, will she take the opportunity to make it crystal clear that the Government will allow the reform to law and rules time to bed down effectively and prove their worth before they consider trying to bring forward an affirmative statutory instrument to enact Section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to abolish jury trial in fraud cases?

The Government have recently espoused the cause of fostering a culture of respect in society; the noble and learned Lord referred to that, too. We support them in that objective, but the duty to foster respect binds all of us, inside and outside Parliament. It binds the Government to have respect for the people of this country; it binds them to respect the views and opinions of those who dare to disagree with them. I give my assurance that Her Majesty's Opposition will continue to have respect for the safety and security of the people of this country and respect for the institutions of the constitution, and that we shall do our duty to scrutinise thoroughly and constructively all the measures that the Government put before this House in the next 18 months.

3.59 pm

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