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We need to find a way in which religion, morals and law are once again indistinguishably mixed together. The severance of law from morality and religion from law has unhelpfully gone too far. Seeing the enforcement of law as the main function of law is driving us to pass more and more laws in the hope of creating security in our communities. Would not the aim of doing justice through laws which are rooted in religion and morality be a surer way of delivering a strong, secure and stable United Kingdom? We must
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Relying on the security services alone will not do it. Trusting in tough laws alone will not do it. Revenge and the desire to banish them to another island will not do it. We need to create a climate where everyone is not just a guest or a tourist but a joint home-builder in this green and pleasant land; where every citizen is challenged and given an opportunity to build a safe, secure and strong community and where their contribution, however small, is indispensable. On our own we cant get it together. Together we can get it.
Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract: My Lords, what a privilege and pleasure it is to follow the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. I had had a few jitters in my stomach about some of the contents of my speech but, when I first saw this morning that I was following him on the batting list, I thought, With my God on my side, I cannot fail.
The most reverend Primate has certainly made his mark in Yorkshire, and throughout the country, since he rose to his distinguished position. We welcome him in Yorkshire. He has never been afraid to speak his mindlet everybody be warned about thatand today has been no exception. As a member of his flock, I have watched his period of office closely. Nothing I have seen or heard has made me feel that the right choice was not made. I welcome him to this House. I enjoyed his speech very much, and hope to hear many more. I also look forward to the two maiden speeches to follow.
On 11 July last year, I spoke in an Unstarred Question debate to ask Her Majesty's Government for their assessment of the role of solicitors and the Law Society in the British Coal miners compensation litigation. On that occasion, I declared an interest, having been both a claimant and the author of an article that was published in the Times on 30 May 2006, for which I received payment; both these payments have been paid to the Prince of Wales Hospice, Pontefract. I make the same declaration today.
In that debate, I expressed my disgust at solicitors claiming fees from miners compensation when they had already received agreed fees from the Government of £2,100 per case. I said that I would use all my remaining time on this Earth to ensure that every last penny is paid back, with interest and compensation on top. I also demanded a full regulatory investigation to ensure that every offending solicitor is hauled up before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Our legal system must be judged by how it serves and protects the most vulnerable members of society. The Law Society, responsible for the regulation of solicitors, has ruled that the retired miners and their
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While the actual delivery of that compensation has been an unmitigated disaster for many of the miners, it has created a state lottery for the solicitors where every ticket is both free and guaranteed a jackpot win. If verification is required, I need do no more than refer your Lordships to the last two dozen or so Written Answers provided by Her Majestys Government in response to my Written Questions.
In my speech of 11 July, I warned solicitors in the British Coal litigation that there would come a time when I would name and shame them. The conduct of these solicitors has earned them a place on the roll of dishonour. These solicitors, often working with claims farmers and so-called trade unions, have exploited the miners and their families with a ruthless greed, the like of which I have never before witnessed in my 81 years. I ask your Lordships to bear in mind that these firms of solicitors have already been paid tens of millions of pounds in fees by Her Majesty's Government. While I will provide examples of the way in which elderly miners and widows have been cheated, there are tens of thousands in this group of exceptional vulnerability who have suffered the same mistreatment.
The misconduct of the solicitors is only to be matched by the gross incompetence of their regulator, the Law Society. In making such a statement, I refer to all its components, including the compliance directorate, the consumer complaints service and the regulation board. Permit me to name and shame at least some of the solicitors concerned, and to deal with the abject failure of their regulator.
I will start with Beresfords Solicitors and Ollerenshaw Solicitors. Dennis Rimmer, a retired miner, sought to pursue an industrial deafness claim. He instructed Beresfords, which promptly sold his claim to one of its so-called panel of solicitors, Ollerenshaw, for £200. Beresfords charged £360 for non-existent case investigation work. Ollerenshaw signed up Mr Rimmer on a no win, no fee agreement and then received £200 commission which it kept for itself. It operated a Bank of Scotland loan account in Mr Rimmers name, with a deficit of £2,993.
Although Mr Rimmers deafness claim was settled by Her Majestys Government in December 2005 for £3,750, he has not received his compensation. He complained to the Law Society. After a sham investigation, without even looking at his file, the Law Society threw out Mr Rimmers complaint. Mr Rimmer's case was then referred to Zahida Manzoor, the Legal Services Ombudsman. In her ensuing report of 31 October 2006, she found that there were issues of professional misconduct and inadequate professional services which the Law Society had failed to investigate. The ombudsman recommended that the Law Society reopen and fully investigate the case. When the issue of British Coal deafness cases was raised in another place a few weeks
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If I had time, I would tell your Lordships about the vibration white finger claim of another miner, Peter Hill. He approached Beresfords but soon found himself represented by another of their so-called panel solicitors, Bakewells. Mr Hills vibration white finger case evidenced the same financial transactions as Mr Rimmer's deafness claims. Again, Mr Hill has not received any compensation.
If I had time, I would go on to tell your Lordships about Beresfords shameful relationship with the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, Nottingham section, and the way in which clients were misled into paying the Vendside fee. As matters stand, the original partners of Beresfords are now very wealthy men and have Bentleys and country houses. However, many of their clients have been left to face a bleak Christmas. Before I go any further, I should point out that some of these solicitors, but not all of them, have already received about £100 million from Her Majestys Government for their services.
I next have the privilege of naming and shaming Watson Burton Solicitors from Newcastle. In the British Coal litigation, Watson Burton deducted £325,946 from the compensation paid to 240 of its clients and handed it over to claims farmers P R and Associates (Advisory Services) Ltd. On 27 February 2006, the adjudication panel of the Law Society found that certain named partners of Watson Burton were in breach of solicitors practice rules. What punishment did the Law Society impose on Watson Burton? Were the partners struck off the roll of solicitors? No. Were they suspended from practice? No. Were they fined? No. The partners were simply reprimanded. Is Watson Burton apologetic for the misconduct of its partners? The answer is no. Watson Burton had the arrogance to issue a statement last month saying that a reprimand was the lowest sanction and boasting that it had not been ordered to pay compensation. Watson Burton argued that parliamentary criticism of the firm was inaccurate. What has become of the 240 clients who lost some £326,000? They have, of course, been left to fend for themselves.
I next name and shame Oxley & Coward Solicitors of Rotherham. Working with Industrial Diseases Compensation Ltd., Oxley & Coward has effectively supported a claims-farming operation to the detriment of its clients. Consider the case of Thomas Foster, a retired miner. In connection with his VWF and chest disease claims, Mr Foster had to raise £1,600 to pay over to Oxley & Coward. On lodging a complaint, Mr Foster found himself having to fight the Law Society. He was subsequently represented by a Wakefield solicitor, acting pro bono, who forced the case through to adjudication, resisting all attempts by the Law Society to have it conciliated for a few hundred pounds. Eventually, on adjudication, Mr Foster was awarded £2,362. Subsequently, the case was referred to the ombudsman. She considered that there was real substance in the complaint that the Law Society had been anxious to conciliate
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I have been told that I am not watching my watch, but I make it clear to this House that, although I fully appreciate and support its policies, for me and the miners out there, this case is so important that I am going to go through with it. I spent 20-odd years on these cases, and I am not going to duck down now for a few minutes in this Chamber.
I next name and shame Moss Solicitors. That firm handled a vast number of cases for the UDM. One such case involved Trevor Mather. The Law Society did its utmost to force Mr Mather to conciliate his complaint for £200. The sum of £200 seems to have been set as the standard tariff in a secret agreement reached between the Law Society and the offending solicitors. While there were serious conduct and service issues, it was evident that any complaint in the British Coal litigation could be bought off, with Law Society assistance, for a standard tariff of £200. Mr Mather secured the services of the same Wakefield solicitor, again acting pro bono. Against pressure for an enforced conciliation, the case was taken to adjudication and Mr Mather was awarded £600. Mr Mathers case was then referred to the ombudsman. It was argued that the Law Society had misused its conciliation process to force through the wholesale dismissal of complaints from retired miners. In her report, the ombudsman found there to be real substance in the complaint that the Law Society was intent on securing a conciliated outcome, regardless of whether that was in the clients best interests. The ombudsman was strongly and formally critical of the Law Society and went on to recommend that the issues of professional conduct be fully and properly investigated.
I also name and shameand I am fully aware of what I am doingRaleys of Barnsley, Wake Smith of Sheffield, Lopian Wagner of Manchester, Ashton Morton Slack of Sheffield and Robinson King Solicitors. All those solicitors have earned their place on the roll of dishonour for their appalling conduct in the British Coal litigation.
I readily accept that these are complex and difficult issues. However, I will make available to your Lordships copies of all of the reports issued by Zahida Manzoor, the Legal Services Ombudsman, as well as the Law Societys forensic investigation reports on Watson Burton. If, after reading all of that material, Peter Williamson, the chair of the regulation board, still maintains that the Law Society is doing a wonderful job, I will loan him my Davy lamp. Clearly, his need for illumination is greater than mine.
Finally, is there a way forward? The answer is yes. Is it to be through the Law Society? The answer is no. Will this matter be resolved by the new Solicitors Regulation Authority? The answer is again no. In respect of regulation, we need to take solicitors out of the equation and create a truly independent and competent regulator to tackle this awesome task. The solicitors have had 10 years to put their house in order and have failed dismally. Therefore, it is my intention to lodge a full report with Her Majestys Government in order that these matters may be subject to urgent review. That report will contain my findings and recommendations. I shall append to it the generic and individual reports issued by the Legal Services Ombudsman. I have every confidence that I will secure the required support from Her Majestys Government. I will also ensure that that report is made available to noble Lords. I make no criticism of Her Majesty's Government, who have made enormous funds available for payment to these unfortunate people. If noble Lords had been with me three weeks ago when I visited the wards of hospitals in my area, they would have seen these men, who need oxygen to continue to live. That people are taking the rightful compensation of these men is a disgrace, and I hope that regulations can be produced to put a stop to this terrible practice.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lofthouse. He made an important contribution, and I am sure that his words will be heeded. The fact that I do not follow him in his remarks does not mean that I underestimate their importance, and he will forgive me if I follow a different theme.
Once again, we have the opportunity to discuss, among other things, the composition of this place and how it might be changed and once again we are doing so without there having been a careful study of what the functions and powers of a reformed House should be. Least of all has there been any inquiry about whether our powers ought to change because of changes which have occurred in the other place.
The Labour Government in their first few years seemed bent on neutering the House of Commons. Through the announcement of policy in press briefings, through leaked statements of government policy to sympathetic journalists, through the Prime Minister's very infrequent visits to the place and his failure to treat the Commons as central to the nations affairs, through changes to working hours which were billed as family friendly but which in fact were changes that were friendly to the Government, and, most of all, through the curtailment of debate, the Commons became the Prime Ministers poodle. Those words do not come from me, but from a former Labour Chief Whip, who I am sorry is no longer in his place, Derek Foster, now the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland.
Iraq and other governmental disasters have restored some life to the Commons, but nobody would seriously suggest that it is not a weaker place than it was. The question is whether, with the House
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I get a bit exasperated when the Government and others who ought to know better constantly talk of the House of Lords as a revising Chamber, as though it is only a revising Chamber and has no other purpose. Of course it is a revising Chamber, but it is not just a revising Chamber, not least because the life of a Parliament cannot be extended beyond five years without the consent of the upper House. The House of Lords is in fact the ultimate guarantor of our liberty. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, made the point a little while ago, saying that the Chambers role was not only to scrutinise legislation but also to protect the fundamental liberties and rights of citizens. Those rights cannot be protected by this House if our role is simply to scrutinise and to amend legislation but then, if the House of Commons does not agree, give way. Yet that proposition has also come from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who again ought to know better.
This brings me to a fundamental point, which I am surprised has not been raised in any of our debates. I cannot see how the fundamental liberties and rights of citizens can be guaranteed if we continue to accept, as it was accepted in 1949, that the powers of the Parliament Act, an Act passed with the agreement of both Houses, can be used to amend that Act and reduce further the powers of this House without its consent. Let us be clear: if that is accepted it means that a Government determined to neuter the second Chamber could reduce our delaying powers to six months, three months, two months or seven days. Surely, therefore, our most urgent task is to see that the unfortunate precedent established in 1949 is not allowed to stand.
In 1949 nobody seems to have challenged the proposition that the Parliament Act could be amended without the consent of the upper House. Perhaps that was because everyone was too busy agonising about the then composition of the House of Lords, which no one thought could be defended. But now that the question of composition is being addressed, it is urgently necessary to create safeguards against further reduction in the delaying power. Perhaps here there really is a case for a new convention to be brought into existence by the simple mechanism of the Government agreeing with the Opposition that the Parliament Act should never again be amended without the consent of both
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I say just a word about the Home Office. On Labour's watch it has been turned into a disaster area, with the Home Secretary saying that it or a large part of itthe Immigration and Nationality Directoratehas been rendered unfit for purpose. Let us be clear, it was not ever thus. The Home Office used to implement firm but fair immigration control, with the number of foreigners admitted for settlement in the years up to 1997 being in the region of 40,000 to 50,000. So great has been the increase in the number of entrants since then that a few months ago the Government predicted that the population of Britaina country already four times more crowded than Francewould grow by 6 million over the next 30 years with new immigrants and their offspring accounting for more than 5 million of that 6 million. That is enough to populate six cities the size of Birmingham. But the Governments figures are a hopeless underestimate because they do not include, for a start, the eastern Europeans coming here. More than half a million have arrived as workers since May 2004not, I remind the House, the 13,000 a year the Home Office predicted. That astonishing figurealmost 590 new entrants a daydoes not include dependants, the self-employed or those who prefer to work in the black economy.
Forty days from now eastern Europeans already in the country will be joined by a new wave of migrants from Rumania and Bulgaria. The Government can put any limit they want on the number to be given permission to work; it will not stop people coming ostensibly as self-employed workers or students, because European law does not allow us to stop them.
Against this background, and bearing in mind the news in the papers yesterday that far from Mr Blair making progress with his promise to reduce the backlog of 400,000 failed asylum seekers still in the country, the number removed has actually fallen, the Governments pledge to introduce a Bill to provide the Immigration Service with further powers to police our borders and their determination to proceed with the development of identity cards to counter illegal immigration look like two sick jokes. The immigration they have already allowed, the immigration they are going to continue to allow and the immigration they are going to allow legally will alter the face of Britain for ever, with vast new cities or their equivalent being required to accommodate the newcomers.
The collapse of immigration control has had a huge impact on another part of the Home Office: the Prison Service. One should not overlook the fact that the collapse of immigration control is responsible for the fact that one in eight of the prison population are foreigners, with all the different management problems that that brings about. It is not that foreigners are more wicked than the people of this country, it is just that if you have no control over immigration and more people coming in, you will have more foreigners in every part of society, including prisons. It is ridiculous that with all this
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Since 1997, there have been more than 50 major Home Office Bills: more Home Office Bills than in the whole of the last century. When those Bills receive, as we know they will receive, inadequate consideration in the other place, I cannot see that we will serve the interests of the community by putting them on the statute book. Nothing could do more to restore the battered morale of the Home Office than a decision by the Government to have no more Bills, but I suppose that that is hoping for too much. Of course, we must be armed to deal with the threat of terrorism, but only the other day legislation which we were told a few years ago was being passed to meet the threat was used by the police to search a nurse who said Boo! when Mr Blair drove by. I do not find that very encouraging when I contemplate the Bills listed for the coming Session.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I start by adding my congratulations to those given to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York on his maiden contribution and say how much I am looking forward to the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, with whose work I have been associated for about 20 years. I greatly admire what he has been able to achieve.
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