Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Tyler: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor address the issue of public opinion? Does he share my surprise that the opponents of reform seem completely to ignore evidence of strong public support for reform? Does he not agree that to obtain and retain public consent for the institutions of parliamentary democracy is extremely important? Will he confirm that he has seen the substantial public opinion poll published this morning by the Hansard Society, showing that 82 per cent are in favour of a majority elected membership of this House and only 6 per cent want to retain the fully appointed House? When those who reckon that they understand and appreciate the work that we do are asked, 92 per cent say that they would want an elected element to this

7 Feb 2007 : Column 723

House. Does the noble and learned Lord not agree that, were the Labour Government to have 82 per cent, let alone 92 per cent, support for any of their other policies, the Prime Minister would be a much happier man?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am sure that many of our policies have 92 per cent support, though it would be wearisome of me to list them now. And yes, I am aware of the opinion poll. The debate in both Chambers that will reach its climax in terms of composition should also be informed by what the public think should happen. That should be our hope and it should be very much reflected in our debates.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for repeating the Statement made by my right honourable friend Jack Straw. I can assure him that the fact that it sounded no better on repetition was not a reflection of his reading of it. Jack Straw laid great emphasis in his Statement on reaching a consensus. What consensus does my noble and learned friend believe exists among his noble friends sitting behind him? How does he evaluate the level of support towards that consensus? Secondly, can my noble and learned friend explain the point, in paragraph 18, of a “partially open list” for elections? I have grappled with that concept and it is beyond me, but perhaps he can apply his legal mind to it and explain it. Finally, as there is great emphasis on the need for accountability driving change, can he explain to me how accountability is served by election for a 15-year term with no possibility of seeking re-election?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it would be unwise of me to try to estimate how much support for change there is behind me, as my noble friend asks. I know that every one of my noble friends has an open mind and will be very keen to engage in the debate. That is why they are here and why they would pass the continuous assessment that the right reverend Prelate has in mind.

A partially open list means that one can either vote for the party list or vote for someone on the party list. If the votes that the person one votes for individually are high enough—sorry, if the party list gets to a point where someone is elected from that list, if the votes for the individual are that high, he or she gets on rather than the person at the top of the list.

Lord Dubs: Tell us again.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, if you understood that, you are a lot cleverer than I am. Thirdly, accountability comes from the fact that one is elected by the electorate.

Lord Cobbold: My Lords, the White Paper says that the Government believe that the work of the Lords will be enhanced if it is comprised of the widest range of views possible. Is it not already comprised of the widest range of views possible?



7 Feb 2007 : Column 724

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I do not think it is comprised of the widest range of views possible. The views represented here are most excellent, but given the geographical, regional, racial and gender breakdown, they most certainly do not reflect the views of this country.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to the long-term nature of these proposals. How does the White Paper suggest we address a situation, which we have seen in recent years in Turkey and in Italy, where parties have come from nowhere and formed Governments? Such a party could find itself with virtually no Members to support it and no Ministers in this House. Is that addressed in the White Paper? Does the noble and learned Lord agree that, if it is not addressed, it makes the White Paper's proposals inadequate, especially if there had to be a sudden top-up of Members in such an event and one wished to confine the membership of the House to 540?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I have to confess that we have not dealt with the problem of a party from nowhere becoming the leading party in the other place. If a party from nowhere did so, the least of the country's difficulties would be what went on in the Lords. We would be looking at the Commons.

Lord Richard: My Lords, perhaps I may reassure my noble and learned friend that there is at least one supporter on these Benches who is still very firmly in favour of an elected element in this House. Is he aware that I am very anxious that the Government should proceed on the basis of various Labour party manifestos over the years in which we said that we wanted a predominantly, but not exclusively, elected second Chamber? I welcome the steps that the Government are taking in that direction.

I wonder whether my noble and learned friend can help me on something else. I listened, as I always do, to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, with great interest and some amusement. I listened as I was wondering what Conservative Party policy on this was going to be; but came it not—not a glimmer of what it was. After a curmudgeonly and negative approach, we got: “We should have a period of mature reflection”. We have been reflecting maturely on this since 1910. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that even I have been reflecting maturely on it for about 15 years. I do not know how much longer we are expected to go on reflecting maturely on it. The fact is that his mature reflection is designed to be a Conservative veto, and we cannot accept that.

Finally, has my noble and learned friend had any indication from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that Conservative policy is now to back 80 per cent? At one stage, when we started, their policy was to leave the House as it is. That changed into support for a wholly elected House. That now seems to have changed to an unwholly elected House. It makes no sense to back a wholly appointed House in the name of a wholly elected House which you cannot at this stage get. It makes no sense at all. But that is perhaps not surprising.



7 Feb 2007 : Column 725

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, without sounding too craven, I should like to express my gratitude for the noble Lord’s support. I also agree that it was very difficult to identify the policy of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He spoke longer than I did in the Statement, but I still could not determine his policy. It is a bit rich for him to complain about a lack of consensus when he cannot even in his own mind reach agreement on his position.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, speaking perhaps as a Bernard Matthews turkey for a moment, and also, as noble Lords know, as someone in favour of a large chunk of elected power, I welcome parts of the White Paper. It has been timid in proposing only 50 per cent, and disgraceful on the “ajar” list—for want of a better word. It is also a great pity that it has not faced up to the fact that life Peers deserve to be culled just as much as hereditary Peers. I know that if that was suggested, they would behave like shop stewards of the Liverpool dock labour scheme, because I have seen it already. When the hereditary Peers were pushed out, my noble friend Lord Ferrers pointed out that it would be the turn of the life Peers next, but they all said, “Oh no it isn’t”. The Government have ducked the issue. There must be a proper limit on the number of Members. That is why I say, even though I know that I am in a minority on this issue in this House—

Noble Lords: Yes.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, there they all are, behaving like shop stewards saying, “We want to stay! It’s perfect! It’s wonderful!”. Can the noble and learned Lord not persuade his colleagues to be bolder?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: No, my Lords; I think that that is the right conclusion to reach. Evolution of this House is the best way forward. That is the way that this House has always changed in the past and that is the way we should move forward.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, can my noble and learned friend confirm that in responding to the White Paper he recognises that two of the proposals on which we have been working for some months—the statutory appointments commission and removal of the hereditary principle—are not the same as the status quo? Those are neither insignificant reforms nor reforms that would challenge the principle of the primacy of the House of Commons—unlike the 50:50 approach which, as my noble friend Lady Symons said, would almost certainly create a very difficult problem.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree entirely with the first part of my noble friend’s statement. If you introduced a statutory appointments commission and put an end to the remaining hereditary Peers staying here, it would be a significant change. The question is whether one should go further.



7 Feb 2007 : Column 726

Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Procedure Committee

4.25 pm

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara) rose to move, That the first report from the Select Committee be agreed to, except for paragraph 8 (HL Paper 15).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should explain briefly why we wish to leave out paragraph 8 of the first report. This paragraph deals with the scrutiny of regulatory reform orders and followed proposals on the issue from the Government. It has, however, been overtaken by a report from the Commons Select Committee on Regulatory Reform, which recommended something slightly different. The Government have agreed with that committee. The matter will therefore come back to the House once the Commons’ position is clear. I beg to move.

Moved, That the first report from the Select Committee be agreed to, except for paragraph 8 (HL Paper 15).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Procedure Committee

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara) rose to move, That the second report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 25).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the second report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 25). —(The Chairman of Committees.)

Lord Tordoff: My Lords, are we now on to the question of Third Reading amendments?

The Chairman of Committees: No, my Lords, we have passed that.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Business

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure for five minutes. The Minister has been detained, but I am assured that she will be here in good time.

Moved, That the House do now adjourn.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Minister has arrived. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.



7 Feb 2007 : Column 727

Serious Crime Bill [HL]

4.27 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, before I do anything else, I must offer my abject apology. I was listening to my noble and learned friend, but I came downstairs to find that the debate had ended. I am deeply sorry to have kept the House waiting even for one second.

I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill is important and significant. It gives us a major opportunity to address a number of serious issues. In moving that the Serious Crime Bill be given a Second Reading, I want to emphasise the difficulties with which, as your Lordships will be aware, we deal every day. Teenage girls are taken from their homes in eastern Europe and trafficked into the UK for the purpose of forcing them into prostitution, while drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine make their way on to our streets, destroying lives and communities and causing harm that costs more than £15 billion a year. Criminals are living comfortably off the proceeds of all these crimes. These issues are what this Bill is about.

As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made clear, the Home Office is committed first and foremost to ensuring the safety and security of the citizens of the United Kingdom. We are bringing forward a legislative programme with this principle at its heart, and an essential part of that is the Bill now before noble Lords. Its measures will help law enforcement agencies to prevent and, we hope, reduce such harm, take away the profits made from the suffering of those trafficked for sex or addicted to drugs, and put a stop to the types of fraud that cost the taxpayers of this country billions of pounds.

The Bill results largely from a consultation on the Green Paper, New Powers Against Organised and Financial Crime, published last July. We received a broad range of responses, the majority of which were supportive of the policy ideas set out. We have listened to the comments made and I and my ministerial colleagues have met a range of stakeholders and interested parties—including, for example, the Information Commissioner, Liberty and the Law Society—to listen to their views and to ensure that the need to protect us all is balanced with appropriate safeguards.

Developing on the Green Paper, the Bill sets out four key areas where we felt that improvements could be made: the creation of a new civil order, to be targeted at those involved in serious crime and designed to prevent their involvement in serious crime in the future; taking forward the work undertaken by the Law Commission on the law in relation to encouraging or assisting crime; improving the prevention of fraud through the sharing of data across both the public and private sectors; and, finally, improving the current regime for recovering the proceeds of crime.

A key area contained in the Bill but which was not contained in the consultation paper is the provision to merge the Assets Recovery Agency with the Serious Organised Crime Agency. This is being done to maximise the skills and expertise of both agencies in going after the profits of criminals.



7 Feb 2007 : Column 728

An additional area for which the Bill makes provision but which was not included in the Green Paper is an extension of the surveillance powers available to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which are currently available only for tackling serious crime relating to ex-Customs and Excise matters, to serious crime relating to ex-Inland Revenue matters as well. This is necessary to address emerging patterns of criminality targeting the direct taxation system. These proposals take further the new approach to tackling organised crime first outlined in the 2004 White Paper, One Step Ahead.

While the provisions in the Bill are targeted at different elements of serious criminality, they have common features. First, they reflect a commitment to reducing the harm caused by serious crime. Rather than focusing on particular outputs such as prosecutions or seizures, they focus on preventing crime wherever possible. Secondly, they reflect careful work with law enforcement practitioners, identifying the key gaps in the current system and giving them the tools that they need for the job while ensuring that these tools are truly necessary and, most important, proportionate.

I will take your Lordships through these measures a little more comprehensively and provide some clarification in certain areas that seem initially to have caused some confusion and mistaken reporting in the media. I hope that your Lordships will feel content after these matters are explored more fully.

Part 1 of the Bill creates the serious crime prevention orders, the SCPOs. These are aimed at the prevention of the kinds of crimes that I mentioned at the outset. The people who commit crimes of this nature are often very skilled, very intelligent and very adept at adapting their processes. In short, they are not stupid and will try to distance themselves from criminality while still raking in the profits. They will often coerce those weaker than themselves into taking risks and they will constantly seek to find new ways of making money while avoiding detection by law enforcement agencies.

The Government must be similarly flexible and innovative in providing new law enforcement tools that will help to prevent this. As a result, we are proposing the creation of the orders that I am about to explore with your Lordships. These will add another string to the bow of law enforcement agencies which is flexible enough to prevent those involved in serious crime from carrying on, but which can only be granted by the courts where it is reasonable and proportionate to do so.

Perhaps I can reassure your Lordships on a few elements of the orders. First, these orders will be able to be applied for only by the three applicant authorities set out in the Bill: the Director of Public Prosecutions, including the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland; the director of the Serious Fraud Office; and the director of Revenue and Customs prosecutions. This reflects the fact that the orders will be sought only where appropriate and in a targeted way as a result of specific investigations by law enforcement agencies into serious criminal activity.

I make it clear that serious crime prevention orders are not simply a soft alternative to prosecution. The

7 Feb 2007 : Column 729

Government are committed to ensuring that those who commit serious crimes are caught, brought to justice and punished appropriately. It is highly significant that the applicant authorities also have the responsibility for deciding whether it would be appropriate in a particular circumstance to bring a prosecution. The principle behind the orders, though, is that there will be times when it is possible, through the imposition of reasonable restrictions or obligations, to prevent those involved in serious crime from committing further acts that will bring harm to others. Prevention is a key issue that we seek to address in these provisions.

Secondly, I know that in the press coverage of the publication of the Bill there has been much mistaken comment about these orders being a way for law enforcement agencies to get around troublesome prosecutions. I assure the House that that is not the intention. When deciding whether to make an order, the courts will apply a two-part test. First, there is a backward-looking element, in that it relates to a person’s previous behaviour. The court will have to be satisfied that a person has been involved in serious crime, which will be the case if they have committed a serious offence, facilitated the commission of a serious offence by someone else or acted in a way that was likely to facilitate the commission of a serious offence, either by themselves or someone else.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page