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I note that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, when opening this debate, used the word victim only once. It was in reference to the criminal injuries compensation scheme, where it was plainly the appropriate word to use. Perhaps he shares my lack of enthusiasm for the wider use of the word in this context, which it seems to be the wish of the Government to promote.
And now for something completely different, in the immortal words of Monty Pythonthat is, reform of your Lordships House. The House of Lords is a beguiling place, and I am certainly beguiled by it. Indeed, I am tempted from time to time to believe that any system which got me here must be a very good one and that it cannot be improved on. But I resist that temptation. We do, indeed, need reform. On this occasion, I do not want to go into what the reform should be or why it is necessary. I have made my views and those of my party clear over the years, and I accept that they do not coincide with those of a majority of the Members of your Lordships House.
I agree entirely on these matters with my noble friend Lord McNally, and I think that the proposals put forward in the very interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, are altogether too modest. In particular, I am concerned at the statement in the gracious Speech that the Government,
as I am at the emphasis put by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the need for consensus and, in particular, his clear indication that there will be a need for your Lordships House to be party to that consensus.
As my noble friend Lord McNally pointed out, consensus has never been a necessary requirement for constitutional change. There was no consensus over the great Reform Act 1832 or the Parliament Act 1911. If the House of Commons supports an elected majority in the composition of your Lordships House, as the public clearly doas they have shown in response every time they have been polled on this questionthe Government should be prepared to implement that reform, if necessary without the consent of your Lordships House. Of course consensus is desirable but if it cannot be achieved, even on the basis of the Lord Chancellors suggestion that current life Peers should be able to remain as Members for life, reform must be brought about without consensus.
During the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999 I said that I believed that we would have a democratically elected second Chamber in time for the centenary of the Parliament Act. I have not
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Lord Laird: My Lords, I rise to speak in the debate on the Address on topics relating to Northern Ireland. I know that we are all exhausted after a day-long debate on Northern Ireland yesterday, but these topics did not easily come up in yesterdays debate. This is the day during the Queens Speech debate on which topics about Northern Ireland are allowed to be raised. I totally accept that the Minister will probably not be able to answer these points today, and I am totally happy to accept a communication from the appropriate department when the time comes.
I want to take up an issue that I feel is about equality. For the full length of the civil unrest in Northern Ireland, the three voluntary ambulance servicesSt John, the Red Cross and the Knights of Maltagave unstinting service to the embattled community. Drawn from all sections of the population, the service worked day and night to render medical attention to the victims of the terrorists murderous campaign. Mostly, they ferried victims to hospitals in ambulances that were paid for from collections that were organised by each order.
Let me take, for example, one day in the history of Northern Ireland: Bloody Friday; a warm day in Belfast city, in late July 1972. The IRA attacked the centre of the city with up to 20 bombs in the early afternoon. I was there that day. All transport stopped. Turn one way and bombs were going off; turn another way, and yet more smoke and flames filled the air. Frightened shoppers and office workers ran about like headless chickens looking for safety. Many lay dead or very badly wounded.
The voluntary ambulance services without question or hesitation joined their full-time partners clearing parts of bodies into plastic bags and helping people whose legs and arms had been blown off. The scene was like a movie from hell. Contrast the work of the many ordinary people in the voluntary ambulance services who fought to save lives in dreadful circumstances with that of one of the commanders of the IRA, who was in Belfast that day and who caused the destruction in Belfast: one Gerry Adams. Today, Gerry Adams walks in and out of Downing Street with his list of demands and is treated like a head of state; nothing is refused. I do not comment at this stage on whether that is correct but I must draw attention to a reply that I received to a Parliamentary Written Question on 2 November. I asked the Government:
Is it any wonder that people feel left out and marginalised? I ask Her Majestys Government
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I move to the topic of rates capping, which came up in recent discussions on the Rates (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order. There seems to be a considerable difference between what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said in this House on 7 November about the order, when he accepted an amendment from the Conservative side that would put in place a cap of £5,000 for rates in Northern Ireland, as well as helping pensioners, with the remarks yesterday in another place of a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, who said that if the St Andrews agreement fails to work he will have seriously to reflect on the issue of the rates and what conditions will be put in place. Which is right: that which has appeared in Hansard in the Commons, or that which appears in Hansard in the Lords? They are totally contradictory. That is another example of the bullying that a lot of us seem to believe we receive in Northern Ireland to achieve a political endand if there is one thing you cannot do with Northern Irish people, it is bully us.
I wish to return to a topic that I have mentioned in this Chamber before, but on which I get no satisfaction and which grows worse: one of the cross-border bodies, Waterways Ireland. I have repeatedly warned that that organisation is descending into total chaos and mayhem, yet nothing seems to be done about it. There are currently two significant court cases involving Waterways Ireland pending in Northern Ireland, one about discrimination against someone on the grounds of race and religion, and the other on an issue of bullying. As I have pointed out before, this is an Alice in Wonderland world where the guy found guilty of bullying in that organisation is still in his postand, for his trouble, has received a 35 per cent increase in paywhile the guy he bullied is sacked.
In trying to look at some of these things, the Information Commissioner recently slapped the wrist of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland by saying that the department had refused to give sufficient information to the tribunals looking into these cases at the behest of, and for fear of offending, the Dublin Government. This is a matter for the UK authorities and the UK Parliament. I have said before in this Chamber that one of the problems we have is that DCAL has been answering questions and speaking on topics with an Irish perspectivenot my words any more, but those of the Information Commissioner.
A problem I have raised here before is transitional funding, which the Government created to fund Irish festivals from 2004 to 2006, and they are at it again for 2007. The problem is that the money is taken away from the community from which I come, for which training is required, to organise community festivals. I warn the Government that we know exactly what they are doing, and, more particularly, we know who is organising this piece of bullying.
I referred to water charges earlier at Question Time. They are another example of the somewhat unreal world in which we live in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Consumer Council took the Minister in charge of water charging to a judicial review, and won. Costs were awarded against the Minister. When the order comes back to this Chamber, according to the judge at the review, there will be a health warning that there was a judicial review, there was not proper consultation and the Minister had not exercised his duties properly. Yet the Minister put out a press release claiming victory. It is amazing, if he won the judicial review, that he will have to pay for it. It is about time we had a bit of reality.
The problem we have is that there are inside the Northern Ireland Office people who are quite prepared to use any mechanism for political ends in trying to create whatever system of politics, or mixture of politics, that they want to see in Northern Ireland. Bullying is a way that they use. I have resisted for some time the temptation to talk about one particular gentleman in the Northern Ireland Office, who is the political adviser to the Secretary of State. Despite warnings, all the topics that I have talked about today, with the exception of the voluntary ambulance service, are ones which his fingers are over. It is unfortunate, but I have to name Philip Taylor, the political adviser to Peter Hain, as the person who is causing the problems in the Northern Ireland Office. Bullying may be all right in the Wales OfficeI doubt itbut it is not acceptable in the Northern Ireland Office. We have a lot of information on this. He has been bullying Ministers, and more particularly he has been bullying civil servants. He has been taking the view that the courts in Northern Ireland will not stand in the way of political progress so he can do whatever he likes. That is not acceptable; and I look for a change in the circumstances and position of Mr Taylor.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I shall speak about reform of the House of Lords, which was mentioned in the gracious Speech. Before I do so, I should point out that we are debating what we call the gracious Speech, but it is a Prime Ministers speech as read out by Her Majesty the Queen. I have often thought that our procedures are somewhat burdensome to Her Majesty. We should have a different procedure, whereby Her Majesty reports on her own activities and then asks her Prime Minister to read the speech that he has written. Then we could properly discuss the Prime Ministers speech. I would also like to move the ceremony from here to Westminster Hall, but that is another matter for another day.
One of the great pleasures that this House often indulges in is self-congratulation. There is nothing like feeling that we are indispensable to the constitution and had it not been for our presence chaos would loom in the land and all our liberties would be lost. The Great Reform Act 1832 has been mentioned, and I am sure that before that it was asserted in the House of Commons that if reform came, nothing but chaos and anarchy would rule,
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I have always believed in and have consistently voted for an elected Chamber. I believe that is necessary because the House of Commons as it is today is an insufficient check on the Executive. While this House cannot be fully powerful, the Prime Minister of the day, with a sufficient majority, will always be able to drive a coach and four horses through our civil liberties. There is nothing that we will be able to do to prevent it. Therefore, although the gracious Speech mentions consensus, I agree with the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Goodhart, that not a single constitutional reform in this country in the past 200 years has come from consensus; not the 1832 Act, nor the 1867 Act, nor the 1884 Act, nor womens suffrage. They all came by struggle. My party played a big part in the struggle for the extension of the franchise. I hope that my party acts to implement all the manifestos that I have read that it has put forward, at least since the election of 1966, since when I have been in this country.
We have to have an elected Chamber. I know that, like many other dreams that I have had, it may not be realised and I may have to compromise. Let me say two things about the problem of a hybrid Chamber. There is no problem of a hybrid Chamber; we are currently a hybrid Chamber in the way we are elected to sit here. However, if we are going to vote on a series of alternatives between 0 and 100 per cent elected, I would like to repeat the warning that I gave in 2003 in your Lordships' House before another place voted. Free vote or not, I hope that it is not a sequential binary voteyes or noon a series of proposals. That is a way of not getting a consistent decision. It is an elementary proposition in voting theory that that is not the way to vote on multiple alternatives. I hope that another place, and we ourselves, adopt a method to rank different alternatives. Then, as someone said before, nobody will get their preferred alternative, but everybody may get their second or third choice. That is how consensus will be established. If we do that, we are more likely not to repeat the folly of 2003, when another place rejected all the alternatives put before it. That was a predictable result because an alliance of abolitionists and those who want no changes can always be constructed to block any reform proposal in another House. That is what happened in 1969.
We do not need to innovate for reform, in the true tradition of our constitution. We can look to the past to find ways in which we can implement the reform. There are two elements to it. We should follow the practice of your Lordships' House after the 1999 reform and choose from among ourselves by a voting procedure a smaller number who would stay behind. We would ask people to run to stay on after the reform, and have all of us vote on whom we prefer to stay. That gives the choice to people to show their willingness. Those who have not been active will fall by the wayside not because somebody says that that is the rule, but by the collective will of your Lordships' House. But I want to be very kind and generous to those who fall by the wayside, and use the 1969 Bill and other proposals that have been made in your
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We ought to allow another place to decide on the proportion. If we assert the primacy of the House of Commons, as many people who have been against reform have done repeatedly, the least that we can do is allow it primacy in choosing what sort of House of Lords it wants. If we do not want that, what sort of primacy of the House of Commons are we talking about? Let it on a free voteand on a rational voting basis, I hopechoose what proportion it would have, and then by our own voting procedure we could select from our numbers the appropriate size of the House of Lords that would stay behind, having come here on a non-elected basis. If we do that, it will be a good consensual way of going forward. It would put at rest the fear of those people who feel that they have been promised that they would be here for life, and that promise will not be fulfilled. Nobody need resign; nobody need go away. It is only their rights to vote that would be taken away because the membership of your Lordships House will have decided that they would like to choose a small minority among the Members who will be eligible to speak and vote.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai. It is a particular pleasure to be able to say that, on this occasion, I half agree with one of his points. He is in favour of a wholly elected House, and has always been so. I have always been in favour of an at least half-elected House. It was a pleasure to hear him say that. I think that it was the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. I have never understood the difficulty in the idea of a hybrid House, but that is not the point on which I wish to speak.
The only mention of terrorism, the point on which I wish to speak, in the gracious Speech was the promise of further action. A Statement is now expected before Christmas, and the opposition parties are positioning themselves in expectation of that Statement. I want to say a few words from the point of view of an independent Cross-Bencher who has been concerned with the question of terrorism for more than 12 years.
On the level of the threat, I shall say little. I am glad that Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller made the speech that she did. It served an important public purpose. Just as it is importantperhaps very
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Fifty-four people have been killed by international terrorism in the five years since 2001all in the horrifying incident that occurred on 7 July 2005. That has to be compared with the 3,200 people killed in many horrifying incidents, one of which was described by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, in the 25 years of Irish terrorism. We did not over-react to Irish terrorism during those awful events, and I hope that we will not over-react to international terrorism now. We learnt early in the case of Irish terrorismand at great costthat executive detention does not work; it only makes matters worse. I hope that we will not repeat that mistake.
Yet, according to what the Prime Minister said in his recent press conference on 19 October, executive detention was always, and still is, his preferred option. But he was, he said, frustrated by the decisions of the judges. I never expected to hear a British Prime Minister express such sentiments in peacetime.
There are bound to be further instances, such as occurred on 7 July, and we must do our level best to prevent them. It is also important to get across that the chances of any individual being killed or injured in any such incident are almost infinitesimally small. They are much, much more likely to be killed in a road accident. We need some political leadership to get that point across.
On the response to terrorism, we can learn a lot from the recent elections in the United States. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, President Bush declared war on terror and the axis of evil. There followed the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, but it seems that the American people have now passed judgment on the war in Iraq. They have seen that, far from reducing the threat of terrorism, it has only made matters worse. The military response to terrorism has failed. I hope we shall hear no more about the so-called war on terror.
Another matter which emerged from the mid-term elections was perhaps even more important. In the run-up to the mid-term elections, President Bush pushed through Congress legislation the like of which I have never seen. It was extremely repressive, dealing with the detainees in Guantanamo Bay. He did so in the hope that he might persuade people to vote for the Republican cause, thereby saving his control of Congress. That hope failed. The American people saw through it. I hope we will learn from that lesson. We now have all the legislation we could possibly need for dealing with the threat of terrorism, with one certain exception to which I will come.
We do not need any more legislation. We need more intelligence, of course, and to make proper, full use of the legislation we haveas well as the common law of conspiracy, as we have seen from two recent cases. My only surprise is that it has taken so long to make use of the tools we already have at our disposal. Above all, we must surely avoid legislation which sounds tough but will in fact be counter-productive.
That brings me to the question of 28 days detention. On that, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General. He said he had not seen any evidence to justify an increase over 28 days. Nor have I. Indeed, until recently the evidence of the police themselves was that they did not need more than 14 days. That was what they asked for as recently as 2003. How, then, could they have justified 90 days in 2006, only three years later? Bear in mind that the maximum for all other forms of crime, however complicated, is only four days, and that the reasons they gave in 2006 were exactly the same as in 2003.
If that is to be part of the programme brought forward at Christmas, I shall strongly oppose it. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Condon, is then in his place to make the speech he made on this topic some years ago, which I found profoundly convincing and moving. He saidI am paraphrasing from memorythat we are concerned not with putting a finite number of people behind iron bars, but with an ideological struggle which will probably go on for as much as a generation. To increase the period from 28 days might have certain tactical advantages in the short run but would be a great mistake, strategically, in the long run. Coming from a former head of the Metropolitan Police, that is surely advice that we should all seriously take into account.
In my last minute or two, I shall make two suggestions. One comes from Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, who was the independent commissioner for detained terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland for five years. The idea for such a commissioner came from Lord Scarmans report on the Brixton riots. It was adopted in Northern Ireland and proved very successful. There is happily no longer a need for such an independent commissioner in Northern Ireland, but Sir Louis suggests that we ought seriously to consider having such a person acting as an independent commissioner at Paddington Green and any other place where terrorist suspects are detained. To have such a person there who can be present while police interviews are going on and can see what the police are doing to bring forward the inquiry would do more than almost anything else to reassure the communities who are most concerned that detention periods are no longer than absolutely necessary and are not being abused. I hope that that will be considered by the Home Secretary when he makes his report.
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