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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, today we are discussing constitutional matters arising from legislation forecast in the gracious Speech, especially the threatened further assault on your Lordships House. We have a Prime Minister who is unashamedly concerned about his historical legacy. Under the heading of the constitution, that legacy includes the exercise of the royal prerogative in taking us, on the basis of what now seems to have been a dodgy dossier, into a war in Iraq that he has
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Bad as that dismal catalogue is, however, ranking no less high than the irreversible damage which the Prime Minister has inflicted on the ancient, tried and tested constitution of this country is what he has done to what we proudly call the mother of Parliaments. I do not refer just to the disfranchisement of English and Welsh voters by the blatant gerrymandering involving the use of the votes of Scottish MPs to steamroller through legislation affecting only England and Wales. I do not refer just to the ruthless use of the guillotine in the other place which enables whole swathes of legislation to reach your Lordships without having received a single minutes examination down the Corridora process which I understand is being threatened to be imposed on this House too. I do not refer just to the way in which many Acts are now passed in skeleton form, with the substance in secondary legislation which cannot receive more than a cursory examination and which convention prevents your Lordships rejecting or even amending.
Now we see from a scant 19 words in the gracious Speech that further changes are to be proposed to the constitution of your Lordships House itself. Some of your Lordships may recall that when we reached the final vote on the Act which removed all but a handful of the hereditary Peers, I sat next to the Leader of the Opposition and unashamedly wept in full view of the cameras, because I saw 800 years of history and tradition being ruthlessly and spitefully thrown away with no viable plan for the future of the second Chamber.
Having disposed of a large part of the membership of what was universally accepted as the finest and most effective revising Chamber in the world, on the grounds that their presence was undemocratic, the Prime Minister has replaced them with more appointed Peers than his two predecessors combined appointed. That should not be taken in any way as disparaging the Prime Minister's appointees whom we now have in this House. Very many of them, like me, received their appointments after long years of public and political service, and many have justified their presence here by their contribution to our work and the long hours of unpaid and often unrecognised work that they do. But to disguise an unprecedented amount of political patronage followed by an act of political spite as an exercise in democracy is nothing less than breathtaking hypocrisy.
It is not as though your Lordships' House is not working as effectively as it can under the self-denying conventions that inhibit what we can do given the Government's electoral mandate. This is being done to placate the left wing of the Prime Ministers party, which is disgruntled over the Iraq war and about his justifiable refusal to totally dismantle the Thatcher/Major trade union legislationas well as about the appalling failure of government policies on education, education, education, and what the Leader of the Opposition recently called the NHS, the NHS, the NHS. It is being done, I suppose, in the vain hope that the trade unions will once again come to the financial rescue of the Labour Party now that the Prime Ministers other creative forms of fundraising have been stopped.
To paraphrase an American aphorism, If it looks like a lame duck, walks like a lame duck and quacks like a lame duck, then it is a lame duck. In the dying days of his Administration, and while he is clinging on to office by his fingernails in the last Queens Speech that he will write, this lamest duck of a Prime Minister in our history has decided to throw his toys out of the pram with this final piece of damaging legislation. By all accounts he is going to introduce an elected element into your Lordships House. Some of the leaders of my own party currently appear to support this concept, but I doubt that they will continue to do so when they see the detail in the Bill and discover the working of the law of unintended consequencesat least I hope they wont.
It is not clear how anyone will be persuaded to stand for election unless the powers of this House are greatly extended, and I imagine that the other place will have grave reservations about that. Nor would an elected or partially elected House be bound by the self-denying conventions that I have just referred to, and a hybrid Housepart elected, part appointedwould be the worst of all possible worlds. Will it mean that some Members are more equal or more legitimate than others? Nor would the country get the service of the Members of this House for the present bargain price of absolutely nothing.
Lastly, but not least, there is some talk of limitation of membership of this House. I remind the Government that my Letters Patent creating me as a Member of this House, as do those for other life Peers, state:
I certainly do not intend quietly to surrender even the slightest tittle of my rights as a Baron of the United Kingdom at the whim of a time-expired professional politician who is well past his shelve-by date. I believe that that view is shared by many colleagues and friends not only on this side but also across the Gangway, who justifiably earned their honours by their services to this country. I look forward with some relish to the detailed examination of whatever Bill the Government decide to bring forward.
Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: My Lords, the Lord Chancellor, in his generally calm speech, began with a very pessimistic reflection that the terrorist threat
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With some hesitation, I shall talk about the serene and unambitious reflection which the gracious Speech makes about the future of your Lordships' House. Standing aside from party positionsthat is very difficult to do, even for a Cross-Bencherit is quite reassuring to think that there is not expected to be very much change. No one seems to be thinking of the abolition of this House or of proposing a third or fourth Chamberwhich, if we were really in an era of constitutional innovation, would surely be suggested by someone.
No one seems to be contemplating or suggesting the removal of Ministers from this House, or even a reduction of their number, although that would be a perfectly reasonable proposal, especially since the increase of the Executive, of members of the Government in the legislature, has been the largest single constitutional change of the past century, even though it is practically never mentioned. For example, there were 40 government members in the legislature in 1900, and 60 in 1939, but there are now well over 100.
As far as I can see, there is no suggestion that the role of the Lords will be very much altered. We are a House concerned with scrutiny, with revision, with debating important issuesthat is not to be forgottenand, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, rightly reminded us, with underpinning the necessity to have elections every five years. Who knows what would happen if there were no second Chamber?
It is widely consideredeven if not by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, or the noble Baroness, Lady Millerthat a good solution in the long term for the composition of this House might be a combination of two kinds of Member: elected and nominated. I thought of that particularly while the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, was speaking. That is a positive approach, which needs to be considered very carefully. All will depend, however, on the method of nomination and election.
One might reasonably suppose that many nominated Members of this House under new rules could be very similar to those who are nominated now: ex-Cabinet Ministers; a few other distinguished ex-politicians; ex-Chiefs of the Defence Staffwho does not remember the speeches of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, during the Iraq war and on other occasions before that?who have always made very important and interesting contributions to foreign affairs and defence debates; ex-ambassadors; European Commissioners; and Cabinet Secretaries. I think the best speech that I have heard in this House was made by an ex-Cabinet Secretary, Lord Trend.
We should also consider having any Nobel Prize winner, not only writers such as Sir Vidya Naipaul or Mr Harold Pinter but scientists. The Bench of Bishops might, as has been suggested, be reduced, or added to by representatives of other faiths. Having
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However, most life Peers are not like Bishops, vice-chancellors or historians; they are retired men of distinction, wisdom and long experience. I wonder if that is, in fact, correct. This might affect consideration of nominations even now. In this countrys golden age of the 18th century, either by accident or by early promotion, many noble and military commanders, Nelson and Wellington among them, came to the House while they were still in command of troops or of fleets. Why should our commander in Afghanistan not be here now and not wait until his retirement, particularly if you reflect that his grandfather, Lord Butler, was an adornment of our political system? Would it not perhaps have been better if the remarkable speech made by the Chief of the General Staff a week or two ago had been made here? Perhaps it would have been better if the speech made by Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, to which my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick referred, had been made here.
I think I have time to consider very briefly methods of election. If this happens, a majority should no doubt be directly elected by some good method, but one that is different from that of the House of Commons. Perhaps the European Parliament could be a guide. Perhaps, to begin with, Members of the European Parliament should automatically be Members of this House. But it could be that other electoral methods might be combined with that system. Why not, for example, considerdare I say ita corporate approach whereby interest groups such as trade unionists, doctors, dons, teachers, vets, lawyers, engineers, actors, journalists, municipal councillors and poets, painters and independent writers are able to elect representatives here?
In the old days of the hereditary peerage it used to be claimed with truth that that element in our legislature provided a great diversity in the membership of this House. I recall that being said by a friend of mine, the late Lord Orkney, who was proud of being the first and probably the only sergeant of the Royal Army Service Corps in your Lordships House. It will be suggested that I am proposing a corporate approach such as was unsuccessful in the fascist regimes before the war, but the essence of fascism was dictatorship and illegality,
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I hope that I will not be considered absurdly reactionary if I suggest that, among the interest groups which could elect Members to this House, we should consider a cohortI believe that is the right wordfrom the old hereditary peerage whose representatives here since 1998 have covered themselves with distinction. As for existing life Peers, I am rather tempted to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, when he said that there should be an election from the existing life Peers, and we the residue might be comfortedas again the noble Lord thoughtby being entitled to come here to speak but not to vote, as suggested in the Lords reform Bill considered in the late 1960s.
Although this will seem an eccentric suggestion I think it should be considered. Some thought could be given to a suggestion made by the poet Auden, who thought that the best way of choosing Ministers was by lot. That jury approach could also be considered as providing another cohort. These are all matters as interesting as they are important. Incidentally, I see no reason to change, much less to modify, the powers of this House, which, after all, now constitutes a reasonable if not always adequate challenge to the lower House and the Government, as even members of this Government perhaps will soon have reason to consider beneficial if they are shortly in opposition.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I congratulate the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York on his maiden speech. I felt privileged to be in the House to hear it and I am sure that we will hear more interesting comments delivered in his usual forthright manner in the future. Unfortunately, I did not hear the other two maiden speakers, but I congratulate them nevertheless.
I welcome the Governments proposed legislative programme because I believe that it builds on the foundations of previous legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, in her response accused the Government of suffering from legislative incontinence. I thought that that was a rather unfortunate phrase and I wrestled with what legislative incontinence really is. What would be the role of the House of Lords? Would we be some sort of legal revising pad for that incontinence? But I gave up that idea. However, what struck me while listening to the contribution of the noble Baroness and that of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was a refusal to recognise that any progress has been made. The glass is certainly not half fullif you listen to the criticisms, it appears to be completely empty, but the statistics belie that.
According to the British Crime Survey, since 1997 overall crime is down 35 per cent; domestic burglary is down 55 per cent; vehicle theft is down 51 per cent;
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This is not to say that Britain is now a crime-free society, but there should be some acknowledgement of the real progress that has been made. We do ourselves an injustice if we paint a picture of total anarchy and of no progress being made. Such a picture is not supported by the statistics.
The Times on 18 November reported that a review commissioned by the Home Office queried the way in which we record the statistics on violent crime. It made some important points. It condemned the definition of violent crime as lacking in common sense. This was basically because, although the police recorded 1.2 million violent crimes in England and Wales in 2005-06, half these offences involved no injury. The figure also included cases of bigamy and 217,000 cases of harassment that involved no physical injury to the victim. I would welcome the Ministers comments on that. It also expressed the view that a totally independent body should issue such statistics. That is an interesting comment.
A great many comments have been made about the Criminal Justice Act; people have said that, although it was enacted in 2003, large parts of it have not yet been introduced. Again the facts belie the accusation. In another place, Menzies Campbell suggested that 52 sections and five schedules have still not been brought into force and the Leader of the Opposition, always wanting to up the ante, suggested that 110 sections had not been brought into force. In fact it is nothing like that.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I can perhaps assist the noble Lord if he will take a brief intervention. Like him, I was concerned to check the accuracy. One figure refers to the 2000 Act and one to the 2003 Act. I am sure that the Minister will refer to this. The 110 provisions not brought into force refer to the 2000 Act. That has been checked by the Library of this House.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, as I said, there are 110 provisions. The matter was checked by the Library of this House and I can only rely on that. No doubt the Minister will go further into the matter later.
I stand by the fact that most of the 329 substantive sections of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 have been implemented and that the vast majority will be commenced by the end of the year. All I am pleading for is a balanced assessment rather than criticism for the sake of criticism.
Civil liberty is a difficult area. I am not quite sure who talked today about the tyranny of restrictions on civil libertyit may well have been the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I do not quarrel with the rhetoric; it is an important assessment that we need to make in any legislation that impacts on civil liberties. But I offer a reflection made by John Stuart Mill, who said:
The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York rightly commented that strong communities cannot be engineered. We have to remind ourselves that legislation alone cannot be the basis for a strong community. He then said that we have to meet the other person halfway. Most of us would want to do that, but there are individuals in our communities who have no intention of meeting anybody halfway. Society, as John Stuart Mill rightly said, has to find a balanced way of dealing with this.
If all the Government were doing was creating legislation that set up anti-social behaviour orders, I would be as concerned as the most reverend Primate. But they have been making many other efforts, such as Sure Start, childcare, more employment opportunities and the lifting of children and pensioners out of poverty. The Government have undertaken a range of activities that have had a positive impact on society and assisted in creating strong communities. It is a difficult balance when we see what goes on in modern society. We monitor people closely on closed circuit television and we take DNA samples from individuals, and there are those who express their concern. You have to make a balanced assessment. Some allege that recording the DNA of people who have been arrested infringes civil liberties, but it has made a huge difference in solving serious unsolved crimes such as rape or murder. The families of the victimsthe loved ones who never got justiceare at long last seeing justice, 10 or 20 years later. It is a balance and I think that we have got it right, but I understand the concern expressed by people about this legislation. The same applies to
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