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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, may I say how much I welcome the opportunity to respond today on behalf of the Government to this extraordinary debate? I thank most sincerely the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and others, for their congratulations on the Labour Party having won the election. It is refreshing to have it acknowledged that we have in fact won.

I thank noble Lords for their warm words, but may I also say how grateful I am that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, are back in their respective places? It is right that they have always dealt with all of us with courtesy and expedition, and the noble Lord's telegraphic way of dealing with things is something that we very much enjoy. So I join those who welcome their return.

It has been another full and valuable debate on the gracious Speech, and I thank all Members who have contributed to it. If I may, I add my commendation to the noble Lord, Lord Alliance, for his maiden speech. It was wonderful to listen to because there was rapt attention in this House. The noble Lord is an exemplar of why those who migrate to this country are so important and why the contribution that they make should never be undervalued.

I thank him too for acknowledging that there are a number of us in this House who may not have been born in the United Kingdom but who feel that this is our home and make a contribution to it—I see the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, nodding his assent to that comment.

It is important, because we should remember that migrants make a disproportionately positive contribution to the wealth of the United Kingdom, accounting for 8 per cent of our working population
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but 10 per cent of our GDP. I know that the noble Lord will have made his contribution to that statistic. Twenty-three per cent of migrants work in the public sector; 11 per cent of higher-skilled posts in the public sector are filled by migrants and 37 per cent of the health workforce in London are migrants. Therefore it is right that their commitment should be encouraged and that the noble Lord should speak of integration and the challenge that we all face.

I look forward to this Session because, as my noble friend Lord Graham made plain, there is no Bill in the Session that has not excited attention and interest in this House. To that extent we know that we have kept our finger on the pulse of what the people in this country and indeed this House deem important. The programme proposed in the gracious Speech is ambitious, befitting the lengthy Session that we are entering. It is also a programme of opportunity to continue the progress that the Government have made in the two previous Parliaments and an opportunity to refine our systems to establish the best platform for a progressive third term.

Home and constitutional affairs have been central to our focus over the past eight years and will remain so as we move forward in this Parliament. I make no apology for the number of Bills that we have had during those eight years because significant change has taken place as a result. We now have a framework within which to work and to deliver. I say, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, that it is interesting how there are complaints about every Bill save for the Bill in which the noble Lord is particularly interested. We welcome each Bill and I know that the noble Lord welcomes the return of the Charities Bill. It is often said that it is a longed-for Bill, and I am sure that he would not have liked to see it out of our programme.

As today's wide-ranging debate has so aptly illustrated, it is entirely appropriate that we should have such a breadth of debate, because the subjects that concern us today are matters about which people care deeply: safety, tolerance, balance and just law and robust, modern democratic arrangements. During the previous two Parliaments we have achieved much in each of those areas. As my noble friend Lady Henig made plain, we have cut crime by 30 per cent. We have refocused the criminal justice system around the victim and tackled key drivers of crime such as economic conditions, drugs and poor parenting.

It was therefore right that the noble Baronesses, Lady Linklater, Lady Bonham-Carter and Lady Stern, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, should focus and hone in on the challenges with which we are now faced, particularly in relation to the way in which prison is used as a means of delivering safety and security, but also rehabilitation.

I am grateful that I am to be the new prison Minister. I find that being the tenth child, just because one comes last down the pecking order does not mean that one cannot make one's own contribution. I hope that I will be able to make a contribution in that role; not least, as many in this House will know, because
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these are issues for which I have had great passion for the past 30-plus years. So, our ability to change and to deliver a system which is effective and fair and which meets the needs of individuals, children and perpetrator and victim is of real significance.

We have also introduced devolution to Scotland and Wales and have delivered key reforms in race relations, human rights and your Lordships' House. It is right that a major part of our debate today focused on those issues. Many speakers raised the West Lothian question and asked how we are going to deal with that and with reform of this House. If I may respectfully say so, notwithstanding the fact that when I looked down the list of speakers, I thought that the usual suspects would all speak on the subject of criminal justice, it did not surprise me that the major part of the debate focused on House of Lords reform and constitutional change.

All the changes that we have delivered, the investment that we have made in our security and the great progress that we have made in modernising immigration and asylum, together with arrangements to meet the demands of the age, we have done in partnership with statutory bodies, community groups and concerned citizens to ensure that the powers we have introduced are taken up and used to make a real difference. The gracious Speech offers a most welcome chance to solidify that proven foundation by extending the opportunities and protections that we have already delivered to ensure that everyone benefits from the modern progressive Britain we are working to create.

I turn, first, to some of the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. She asked primarily about the NOMS Bill and what we are going to do about offending. She inquired whether the content was yet finalised. Those issues are still undergoing intense work. The most important point, about which we all agree, is that we have to get this right. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, commented on the time that we have taken and the journey that we have travelled. But what is important is that we have made that journey together, and in consultation, with those delivering the service.

I understand that people will say that there has not been enough consultation, but this Government listened and, along the way, we have changed to respond to perceived needs. The determination that I hear around the House to address this issue is felt very much by the Government. Two consultations were carried out in 2004 on early design work. Discussions with officials have taken that work forward and we now have in place a joint consultative council. The whole thrust of NOMS is to strengthen the management of offenders and the protection of the public.

The sentencing system has gone through a huge amount of change, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, made plain. I very much welcome the noble and learned Lord's measured comments and appreciate his concern about the impact of sentencing change on the criminal justice system. However, we are
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balancing the proposals and trying to move forward precisely to ensure that sentences work more effectively—not least in reducing the offending, which, as the noble and learned Lord says, is simply too high.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, also asked which house the coroners will be living in—the Department for Constitutional Affairs or the Home Office? I can tell the noble Baroness that they have found a new, comfortable and warm home with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor in the Department for Constitutional Affairs. There, they will probably receive the tender ministrations of my noble friend Lady Ashton, who has been rightly commended for all her hard work. Therefore, I do not feel that I need to trouble my little head about how they will be cared for because I know that they will be in superb hands.

The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, asked what had happened to the corruption Bill. This Government remain absolutely committed to reforming the law of corruption with regard to bribery. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, reminded us, we published a draft Bill on this matter in 2003, and we intend a revised Bill to be presented to Parliament as soon as is reasonably practicable.

The noble Lords, Lord Maclennan and Lord Goodhart, also asked about the Civil Service Bill in the legislative programme. The consultation exercise on the Government's proposal for legislation for the Civil Service ended on 28 February, and we are considering those responses. Noble Lords were right to say that the Bill had been awaited for more than 150 years, so I hope that they will forgive me if we take a little care to make sure that the result is worth the wait. It is something which I know that noble Lords will be very anxious to look to.

I come to the main body of the debate, which surrounded the issue of House of Lords reform. I was delighted that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor dealt so comprehensively with those issues. I hope that noble Lords will accept that the Government have listened to the demands that we should try to approach Lords reform in a consensual fashion; that was mentioned by a number of noble Lords during the debate, including the noble Lord, Lord Waddington.

What does that consensus mean in terms of delivery? We have proposed a Joint Committee to look at the way in which the House works and contributes to the parliamentary process. We have also promised a free vote on the way forward on composition. To answer the noble Lord's question, I say that that free vote is in relation to both Houses, not only the Commons. The free vote is there for all Members on our side; obviously, we do not seek to bind Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or any others who wish to take a different view.

We must view all this in the context of two principles. We have all accepted that there is no place for hereditary membership of Parliament; the hereditary principle has comprehensively gone. Any settlement of the House of Lords must continue to recognise the supremacy of the House of Commons.
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Noble Lords have repeatedly made reference to commitments made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine. I make it plain that the commitment in the Government's manifesto honours that. We genuinely believe that it is the best way forward.

When making his statement, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, made it plain that the compromise in the terms that he set out,

Noble Lords will remember that, when the matter came before the House at that stage, there was a manifesto commitment in the Labour Party manifesto that would have removed all hereditary Peers.

We think that the situation has been honourably dealt with. The issue must be dealt with using great sensitivity and care, as several noble Lords made absolutely plain. The compromise that we now put forward is the most important one. We very much pray in aid what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. He has real experience, having tried to deal with the exercise once, of the need for compromise. If no one changes, there will be no movement. I endorse what he said about the need to look at the issue in that regard.

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