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With the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill, the Government are yet again seeking to persuade Parliament to abolish jury trial in certain fraud cases. We remain opposed to the Government's proposals. By ending the automatic right to jury trial in fraud cases, the Government, who have already eroded so many of our liberties, are embarking on what could be a very dangerous and slippery slope in which the right to trial by jury could be called into question in a much wider range of cases. My noble friend Lord Kingsland will lead for us on that Bill and will have more to say about it later. I shall lead for the Opposition on the remaining Home Office Billswhat joy lies ahead!
The Offender Management Bill has already surfaced and died once at the hands of the Government. In its previous incarnation it started in this House before being abandoned. This time the Bill is starting in another place. Why is that?
We made our position on the Government's proposals clear in 2005. I have had a quick look at the Bill this morning, and nothing much seems to have changed. Merging the Probation Service and the Prison Service is a mammoth task. 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 uncertainty. It is not clear whether there will be sufficient funding to ensure the proper operation of those servicesa system that will, after all, have to manage the sentence plans of more than one-third of a million offenders. It also appears that the system which the Government have decided to adopt would undermine rather than improve the management of offenders.
I recall that during the general election last year, doubt was cast on the Government's plans by the Home Office itself. Home Office documents appeared in the Observer, revealing that civil servants had reported that the likelihood of,
The Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, is today briefing Members of both Houses on this Bill. I hope that noble Lords will excuse my absence for an hour or so later this afternoon: I thought that it was only courteous that I should at least attend his first briefing.
I turn to the border and immigration Bill; well, here we go again, my Lordsit is the fourth that I remember in a very short time. There has still been no consolidation, although that would have been sensible. We welcome measures to improve the deportation of non-EEA national prisoners. It is a shame that the Government have taken so long to take effective action and it is even more of a shame that they voted against my amendment on the selfsame issue earlier this year.
We will look carefully at the detail of the Organised Crime Bill. We expect to work very constructively with the Government to ensure that it effectively combats serious crime. It is curious that we need further legislation when the ink has scarcely dried on last years Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. We are promised yet another Criminal Justice Bill just two weeks after the previous criminal justice Bill received Royal Assent in this Chamber.
We welcome the commitment to tackle the imbalances in sentencing. However, those imbalances were mostly created by the Government in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. If the Government are committing themselves to keeping offenders in prison for longer, they must create adequate prison capacity. The current overcrowding in our prisons prevents the effective rehabilitation of offenders, and that cannot be right.
Measures in the Bill to tackle anti-social behaviour will be welcome only if they really are more than just initiatives to grab headlines in the redtops. The public expect active enforcement of anti-social behaviour laws that are already in place and not yet more legislation.
The noble and learned Lord rightly pointed out that Governments must protect their citizens. Every Government have, as a first duty, the protection of their citizens when they are, in certain circumstances, unable to protect themselves. The public are now very concerned about the current level of crime and insecurity. The public are not clamouring for the Government to pass yet more legislation to remove their individual liberty. They want something practical; they want to see more police on the beat and in their communities to prevent and to solve crimes. They want the police to have the time to respond swiftly to domestic burglaries, muggings and
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The noble and learned Lord was absolutely right to say that Governments have to make difficult decisions; that is the nature of government. The important thing is that in making difficult decisions, one makes the right decisions for the right reasons. When the Government bring forward measures in this Session, we will want to ensure that they achieve the security of our citizens without an improper assault on civil liberties. We must ensure that the raft of new legislation that is now before us is both proportionate and effective in securing the safety of us all.
Lord McNally: My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, indicated, todays debate is about issues that are at the heart of the gracious Speech, which contains the measures that form the cornerstone of the Governments approach to governance in the final months of the Blair era. A report by the Joseph Rowntree trust commented on that approach and said:
Reid concedes the need to analyse why it is that Britain is such a violent country, and why it is that European states that adopt a more subtle approach to criminal justice seem to end up with fewer criminals. But he says such work will have to wait. One might have thought that this question should be asked urgently. Instead, Britain is being treated, in the tenth and final Queens Speech of Tony Blairs rule, to yet more law and order billsnow branded Reids serenity and security agenda. Contrast this with the government in 1997: then the agenda promised freedom of information and strengthening human rights.
Of course in 1997 the Government were not working to an agenda cobbled together by John Reid and the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, aided and abetted by the Daily Mail. They worked carefully to a programme that had been jointly worked out by Labour and the Liberal Democrats under the chairmanship of Robin Cook and Lord Maclennan of Rogart. I had the honour to serve on that Cook/Maclennan committee, and it remains one of the most satisfying exercises of my political life. The sure-footed and radical burst of constitutional reform that marked the first three years after 1997 had its origins in the work of Cook/Maclennan. It was only when constitutional reform was handed over to Mr Prescott and the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs that the pace of reform
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There are many better qualified than I on our Benches today to speak about legal and Home Office matters. I look forward, however, to the maiden speech of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. He has already burst on to our public life like a 5 November rocket. I was going to say like a Roman candle, but I thought that might be misinterpreted. I look forward to his contribution today, and to those of the other maiden speakers, the noble Lords, Lord Luce and Lord Dear.
I shall concentrate my remarks on the constitutional reform agenda. It is worth reminding ourselves that at the heart of Cook/Maclennan was a shared analysis that governance at the end of the 20th century was badly in need of reform if we were to repair a dangerous disconnect between Government and people. In 1997, the Labour Party manifesto caught the mood very well when it said that its aim was,
The Conservatives are afflicted by sleaze and prosper from secret funds ... The Conservatives seem opposed to the very idea of democracy. They support hereditary peers, unaccountable quangos and secretive government
It seems a long way from those days when things could only get better. Today 82 per cent of people asked in an opinion poll say that this Government are sleazier, or at least as sleazy, as their predecessor. The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs is reported today as planning to restrict and tighten the Freedom of Information Act, and press reports indicate that the Labour Party is opposed to a cap on individual donations. On top of that, the gracious Speech yet again omits the long-promised Civil Service Bill.
The sad truth is that having taken office committed to open government and ending the culture of secrecy in Whitehall, the Government see constitutional reform as, at best, a damage-limitation exercise. What is more, as I pointed out to the Cunningham committee when we discussed the powers of the Lords, whereas the great radical reforming Liberal and Labour Governments of 1906 and 1945 had to face a recalcitrant House of Lords when pressing for reform, here in the 21st century we have the paradox of a House of Lords being the bulwark of freedom and civil liberties against an increasingly authoritarian Government.
That brings me to the references to Lords reform in the gracious Speech. They are couched in such craven terms as almost to encourage the wreckers. I realise that there is no unity of purpose on any of our Benches on these matters, but we are all birds of passage. Noble Lords will have to consider whether they want to be able to say that on their watch they
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I welcome the efforts made by Jack Straw to find consensus, but when the Secretary of State says that consensus is a requirement, I worry. That is much the same thing as giving the refuseniks a veto. If we had had to wait for broad consensus, the Reform Act 1832 would never have been passed, and the Member for Old Sarum would probably still be sitting in the House of Commons. The trigger for reform must be a clear and settled view about Lords composition from the House of Commons. The Straw proposals and the Liberal Democrat contribution to discussion have much in common. Not least, we agree with the wisdom contained in Wakeham that there should be a longish glide path to full reform. I agree with the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs that we must fully protect the interests of existing Members and retain the status of this House as a place of experience and expertise.
I recognise that there are some legitimate doubts to be addressed. I know that there is real concern in the Commons that every measure that increases the legitimacy of the Lords directly challenges the authority of the Commons. However, there is a need to differentiate between challenges to the authority of the Commons and a willingness by this House to make the Government work harder for their business than is sometimes the case in the other place. If public respect for this House has increased in recent yearsand it hasit is because we are seen to be doing our job in holding the Executive to account. I say to the other place, Go thou and do likewise.
I also appreciate the genuine concern in this House that we will, by reform, lose one of the great strengths of the Lords, which is the capacity to include in our number men and women of great professional distinction and expertise. That matter must be addressed, but it has to be done within a framework that recognises that the present system is irredeemably tainted by the cash for honours scandal. I am not seeking to be prescriptive in my remarks today; as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor indicated we will have the opportunity to discuss the Governments response and the Cunningham committee report in the near future. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, for his masterful chairmanship of a very eclectic group. We also have plenty of time to discuss the forthcoming White Paper that is now being discussed by the committee under Jack Straw.
The House that could come forward could meet all the concerns. Such a House would not have a majority of any party; it would be revisory and advisory with no powers to make or unmake a Government or touch taxation and supply; and it would have a clear set of conventions and powers established in relation to the Commons. I do not want to see a second Chamber that will challenge the pre-eminence of the Commons. I want to see it continue to do well the things that it already does well. If there are to be extensions to its powers, my first priorities would be powers over secondary legislation, European legislation and the scrutiny of treaties and appointments. Both Houses of Parliament will be too big as devolution takes hold. In due course, I see no reason why both Houses should not have about 450 Members each.
I do not believe that increased legitimacy threatens the Commons or its supremacy. A different electoral cycle, a different system of elections, and long and single terms will all differentiate the power of a reformed Lords, and its powers will also be made clear by conventions and the existing limitations on the powers of the upper House. As the Cunningham committee has shown, it is possible for the two Houses to work out amicably a working concordat. Cunningham has ended the threat of wing-clipping contained in the Hunt report and the Labour manifesto. It makes clear that the Lords retains the right to say no, but it recognises the right of the other place to have a final say. It is simply scaremongering by those who oppose reform to suggest that a reformed Lords would not act under a similar concordat. What Cunningham revealed to me is that there is a desperate need for the other place to put its own house in order. We wish the Modernisation Committee well in that task. I also welcome the Law Commissions proposals for joint post-legislative scrutiny.
If he really wants to, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs has a very full programme of radical reform in front of him. Democracy needs democrats to make it work, hence the need to re-engage our young people with our democratic institutions. We need to revitalise our democratic system and re-engage it with the people, but not at the price of the security and sanctity of the secret ballot. We need a parliamentary system that can check and make accountable the powers of the Executive, in both Whitehall and Brusselshence the urgency of reform in both this House and the other place. We need a system that preserves national cohesion while pressing ahead with devolving powers from an over-powerful Whitehall to both local government and regions.
The reform of the House of Lords is only part, but an important part, of that process. In many ways, Lords reform would be talismanic in focusing the case for further radical change. There could and should be a majority in both Houses for a reforming programme that may not give everyone their ideal House of Lords, but would go a long way to completing the Liberals unfinished business from 1911 and Labours from 1998.
The Archbishop of York: My Lords, on the feast of the conversion of St Paul, I was introduced as a new Member of your Lordships' House. The Annunciator screens listed the days order of business as, 2.30 pm: Introduction of the Archbishop of York. Terrorism Bill. I was not even searched. That was 10 months ago. I sincerely hope that the length of time that it has taken me to make my maiden speech was not a major contributory factor to the rumours around the House of Commons that, in a reformed House of Lords, Bishops would not only have their numbers greatly reduced, but that a small Bench would have to work full-time for a fixed term of nine years; perish the thought. Is this the consensus on reform that Her Majesty's Government are looking for? Let the reader understand!
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech. At the heart of Her Majesty's Governments programme is a commitment to measures that will strengthen our diverse communities. In the spirit of being non-controversial, and in critical solidarity with that commitment, my contribution is one of faith seeking understandingfides quaerens intellectumand seeking some elucidation in the gracious Speech about,
I am bound to ask whether there is an over-reliance by Her Majestys Government on the power of legislation and criminal sanctions rather than on partnership with institutions, groups of civil society and members of local communities to provide a strong, secure and stable United Kingdom. I know that a statute is a statement of public policy. But is it wise to use the statute as a means of giving confidence and assurance to fractious communities? By using the statute in this way, and as a means of curing all our ills, do we not run the danger of spinning a legal spiders web from which institutions, groups of civil society and members of local communities stand little chance of ever escaping? After all,
cannot be engineered. The changes necessary for such a desired transformation require a complete
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What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? How else can we put ourselves in harmonious relation with the great verities and consolations of the infinite and the eternal?.
I said a little while ago that what we think and what we do depends largely on what we believe and what we value most, rather than on what powers and laws we evoke. We urgently need, as a United Kingdom, to reaffirm, fan into flame and live those values which we owe to Christian legacy. Without wishing to appear syncretistic or patronising, in my experience and friendships I have seen that these are values that are held dear also in the traditions of Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism and also among those who say that they have no faith in God but are people of good will. These are the values of trust, decency, good faith, keeping ones word, compassion, care for ones neighbour, liberty, justice and, indeed, allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. The question for me is not whether those values suit us, but whether we suit them. A sane person does not say, The law of gravity does not suit me, so I can ignore it and walk over the edge of Beachy Head in security. We reject these values at our peril.
Religion concerns the spirit in humanity, whereby we are able to recognise what is truth and what is justice, whereas law is only the application, often imperfectly, of truth and justice in our everyday affairs. The common law of England has been moulded for centuries by judges who have been brought up in the Christian faith. The precepts of religion, consciously or unconsciously, have been their guide in the administration of justice. If religion perishes in the land, truth and justice will also perishso said the good noble Lord.
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