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Baroness Byford to move that the Grand Committee do consider the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/2522). 46th Report from the Merits Committee.
Most Gracious SovereignWe, Your Majestys 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.
My Lords, I am delighted to be opening todays debate on Her Majestys gracious Speech. Today, we discuss the Governments proposals for legislative and other change in legal, home and constitutional affairs for this parliamentary Session. I am also delighted to be supported by my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal, who will wind up today.
I am also looking forward immensely, as I know the House is, to hearing the maiden speech of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, the first judge Archbishop in the House, and of the noble Lords, Lord Dear and Lord Luce. We look forward immensely to what they have to say in the debate today.
We will be debating some of the most important issues facing this or any Government. The threat to our citizens from terrorism, organised crime and anti-social behaviour is a challenge not simply for today but for years and generations to come. The primary concern for any Government is public protection. We must provide it effectively. If that means taking difficult decisions to do so, we will take them. The package of measures described in the gracious Speech is an opportunity for this Parliament to ensure that our country can be protected, be that threat from international
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Our world is changing rapidly, which is a threat and an opportunity. We must have the flexibility to respond. It is in creating secure, confident communities in Britain that prosperity and opportunity can flourish. My noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal will be taking a number of Bills through the House, and will respond in detail on these Bills at the conclusion of the debate. They represent a package of measures that address some of the big issues that affect us now and that will continue to do so for generations to come.
The terrorist threat, so chillingly described by the Director-General of the Security Service and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in recent weeks, is complex and fluid. We have made significant investment in the police and security services, and the new powers under the Terrorism Act 2006 have helped us in the fight against terrorism. But we must constantly reappraise the situation to meet the developing terrorist tactics and techniques. If the current review conducted by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary reveals gaps in our capability that can be filled through legislation, we will bring forward the necessary measures.
The Organised Crime Bill will introduce measures to fight organised crime and to pursue those who profit from the damage that it does to communities. The Bill will establish a new serious crime prevention order to impose restrictions on those involved in organised crime. It will strengthen powers to recover criminal assets and will introduce new offences aimed at those who assist or encourage criminal activity but who currently incur no liability.
The Asylum and Immigration Bill will strengthen our ability to protect the public from foreign nationals who have abused our hospitality. It will give immigration officers new powers to improve enforcement, to provide for the automatic deportation of all non-EEA nationals convicted of a serious crime, and to simplify the appeals system to enable swifter deportation to take place.
The Criminal Justice Bill will toughen up trial processes when an offender fails to appear without good reason, will create new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour and violent behaviour, and will create a new offence to deal with violent pornography. It will also introduce a generic sentence for young offenders, make sentencing processes clearer, address imbalances in the process for overturning convictions and releasing offenders, and bring compensation for those wrongly convicted into line with that paid to victims of crime.
The Criminal Justice Bill is supported by an Offender Management Bill which will help break the cycle of crime and reoffending that is so corrosive to communities. This Bill will enable the Secretary of State to commission services from the best available provider, whether in the public, private or voluntary sector. The focus will be on what is required to reduce reoffending rates and to meet local needs. Those are our priorities.
Moving from the security Bills, the needs of modern citizens and consumers should be matched by modern legal services. Since the gracious Speech we have introduced the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill and the Legal Services Bill as part of a continued programme of reform of the justice system. Here I pay tribute to the work of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, on the prelegislative scrutiny phase of the Legal Services Bill.
Dealing first with the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill, I should say that tribunals are a significant part of making the justice system work. They deal with more than 500,000 cases a year, more than any other branch of the justice system and often cases which involve the most vulnerable in society. They concern those who have been victims of crime, persecution, discrimination, unfair treatment or disputes over benefit entitlement, tax, asylum or employment. Tribunals are one of the most visible parts of the justice system. Bringing tribunals into the fold of the Department for Constitutional Affairs through the creation of the Tribunals Service in April signalled the intention of the Government to have a system which would resolve disputes quickly, fairly and economically. They matter to the public, particularly to the vulnerable. Reform is long overdue and the Bill will provide the biggest changes to the system for 50 years. The tribunals Bill will also amend the eligibility requirements for judicial office in order to encourage a wider range of applicants. This will help to broaden the diversity of the judiciary and strengthen confidence in the justice system without diluting any merit requirement. The Bill will also enable creditors to enforce civil court judgments more effectively, helping to maintain respect for the decisions of the courts. At the same time this Bill will also protect those who have fallen into debt and have no immediate way out of it.
Reform of the Tribunals Service must be seen alongside the wide-ranging reforms to the delivery of justice. This includes reform to the provision of legal services. The problems with the current systems of legal service regulation were set out in the independent review carried out by Sir David Clementi: unnecessary regulatory proliferation, confusion and fragmentation; numerous rules within the legal profession that are unnecessarily restrictive and limit competition and a lack of independence in the handling of legal complaints as perceived by those who use legal services. It is right that the Government should now seek to address those problems and make the necessary changes.
The Legal Services Bill and the legal aid reform proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, which I shall be bringing forward shortly, are both designed
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I turn now to the constitutional aspects of the gracious Speech. The Government are awaiting the final report of Sir Hayden Phillipss review of the funding of political parties. The Government are committed to giving a full and considered response, the format and timing of which are dependent on the detail of Sir Haydens recommendations. Once we have received these we will consult and make decisions in due course.
My Government will also continue their programme of reform to provide institutions that better serve a modern democracy. It will work to build a consensus on reform of the House of Lords and will bring forward proposals.
I shall deal with three aspects of House of Lords reform: first, the work of the Joint Committee of both Houses which has looked at the conventions of this House; secondly, the efforts we have been making to reach consensus on the issue of Lords reform; and, thirdly, details of the process going forward.
First, I believe that the recent report of the Joint Committee examining the conventions of this House will hold its place among the best, most impressive and most significant works that such bodies have produced. I pay tribute to all those who were members of the committee and the officials who worked on it. I pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling, who did an excellent job in chairing it.
The report produced by the Joint Committee has rightly won widespread respect for the way in which it sets out so clearly and precisely the conventions which govern this House. It provides an account of those conventions which is at once clear and detailed. It sets out those conventionsand, from them, the relationship between the two Houses of Parliamentin a way which is likely to be seen as a central authority for years to come.
I shall refer to two points from the Joint Committees report. The first is that in its account of the complex conventions which govern the House the report states that it is neither appropriate nor possible to be too prescriptive, especially in terms of whether the conventions it describes could or should ever be codified into legislation. The second is the telling point that if firm proposals for compositional change are brought forward, the issues the Joint Committee has considered will need to be re-examined in the light of those compositional changes.
The Government intend to provide a considered response to the Joint Committees report as soon as is reasonably practicable. The Joint Committee report can and must be the subject of a full and considered debate in this House. We envisage that there will be a full debate on the report, as the Joint Committee proposed, to give effect to its analysis, conclusions and recommendations. In the debate about Lords reform, we have always made clear that a debate about powers needs to precede the debate about composition. The relationship between the two Houses which the Joint Committee describes is one which I believe would command respect and support even after any compositional changes.
Secondly, in line with the vital importance of consensus, we, as a Government, set out some time ago to see what degree of consensus, what centre of gravity, might be obtainable in relation to further reform. Though some were understandably sceptical, we established a genuinely cross-party group, which includes the Convenor of the Cross Benches and a representative of the Bishops, with the specific and explicit aim of seeing whether there was any degree of consensus and, if so, what. This does not mean that there is as yet any agreement on these complex and difficult issues. It means that the consensus group has been discussing the issues involved in considerable depth and detail, and, I am genuinely glad to say, in good humour and good order. We wait to see what emerges.
Finally, let me set out the way forward. It will assist your Lordships if I set out for the House the sequence we now envisage for these strands of reform. As I said, the Government will respond to the report of the Joint Committee of both Houses. I cannot at this point say when we shall make that response, but we will make it. We are working hard in government to make sure that there is no undue delay. After that, the next stage will be that this House will wish to debate the report of the Joint Committee. My right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons has referred to a White Paper. That White Paper will follow the Governments separate response to the Joint Committee and the debates on the Joint Committees report. It will be informed both by those debates and by what emerges from the consensus group. The White Paper will, in turn, be the precursor of, as was referred to in our manifesto, a free vote in both Houses of Parliament on any reform proposal. Such free votes would give Members of both Houses the opportunities to make clear their views on a range of options.
Regardless of the path of reform, there are important matters in relation to the present membership of this House. As the votes only yesterday showed, Members of this House, of all parties and of none, are loyal and dedicated servants of Parliament. They attend, they stay, they voteand they do so, day after day, night after night, very often little noticed by the other place or the wider public. But without those efforts, that consistency and that application, regardless of party affiliation, the legislative process in our Parliament would not and could not work. I know that for many Members of this House, their appointment to it for life under the terms of the legislation forms a serious
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I conclude my remarks on the further reform of this House by returning to the point about consensus. The Government strongly believe that consensus on further such reform is not only critical but a requirement. As the gracious Speech said, that is what we will be working to achieve.
The legislative programme set out in the gracious Speech rightly focuses on the key concerns facing our countrysecurity, crime, pensions and welfare. The Government will be concentrating on taking this programme forward, addressing global threats and more local issues, and providing security so that opportunity can flourish. In that, this House has a vital role to play. Of course the House will rightly be concerned about matters in which it has an expert and particular interest, including constitutional reform and especially reform of the House itself. But I am confident that it will concentrate on the range of wider issues involved here. That has always been its job, a job it always carries out exceptionally well. I know that the House will do so with this programme. I look forward to doing so in relation to these proposals, and I commend this programme to the House.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for setting out the Governments case for this torrent of Home Office, DCA and constitutional reform Bills. Like the noble and learned Lord, I look forward to the maiden speeches of three Members of this House.
Yet again, the Government are suffering from legislative incontinence. We could be forgiven for believing that this was less the Queens Speech and more the Home Secretarys speech. It makes one wonder whether he is setting out his stall ready to contest the leadership of the Labour Party. His energy in grabbing the headlines tries to mask the reality that the catalogue of Bills before us reflects the Governments own failures over the past nine years. Far from cracking down on crime, it has been a case of the systems that they have created cracking up.
Session after Session, we have seen the same unwillingness to think through changes before forcing them through another place by guillotines and timetabling motions, with the Government then finding that they need to make more substantial changes in this House when the Bills are more thoroughly scrutinised.
Let us recall that significant sections of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 and the Criminal Justice Act 2003 are still not in force or have been repealed, some of them even before being implemented. Headline policies such as intermittent custody have been brought in and recently abandoned, while custody plus is still nowhere to be seen. What a mess.
I now turn to the torrent of work that awaits us during the next year. The noble and learned Lord referred to counterterrorism legislation and the possibility that further legislation may be needed. He was somewhat cautious in the way that he presented the Governments views. The Leader in another place is less cautious. On his website, he lists, firmly, a counterterrorism Bill as part of government business for this Session. I was intrigued by the intervention last weekend of a briefing by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, whom I see in his place today. We await the results of the Governments discussion on these matters.
There are pieces of legislation missing from this already overlong list. What has happened to the Bill that was expected to reform the coroner system? Is that waiting in the wings or has it been abandoned? Will the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, tell the House which Home Office Bills will start in this House?
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has outlined the Governments plans with regard to changes to the membership and procedures of this House. It is right that any changes are made by consensus and we welcome that element of the gracious Speech. We also welcome the measured report of the Joint Committee of both Houses, chaired so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham. Like the noble and learned Lord, we pay tribute to the noble Lord and to the officials and the members of that committee for their diligence.
In the light of that report, will the Government confirm just one of the proposals? The noble and learned Lord tried to airbrush over that by saying that we must not talk about detail. He may question my use of the word airbrush, but certainly in their use of the media the Government are expert at airbrushing. Will the Government confirm that they have dropped the proposal that a limit of 60 days should be placed on this Houses right to scrutinise legislation? The noble and learned Lord nods; I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, will put that on the record later. That would have been the first guillotine in this House and we would have resisted it.
Noble Lords are aware that the right honourable Mr Straw is convening discussions about changes in composition. The noble and learned Lords Back-Bench friends have made their views on Mr Straw known with startling clarity in the past couple of weeks, and I would guess that Mr Straw is certainly not the flavour of the month with them. Of course, we shall have to await the outcome of those discussions. As the noble and learned Lord said, it is essential that we have a free vote on any principles put forward. I share the view of many that the House of
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As for the Home Office Bills, we have so far seen the text of just three: the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill, which is a carryover, Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill and the Offender Management Bill.
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill has already proceeded a long way through another place. We have already made our position clear on it during those debates. A great deal of what is proposed is already covered by the 1974 health and safety legislation. However, we will continue to consider how we can work with the Government to improve the Bill if that is possible. When the Bill reaches this House, which I understand will be before Christmas, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral will lead on it for us.
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