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First, although it is rightly said that we do not have a written constitution, it is far more written than it was. Is this not a major step further towards a written constitution, which many of us would welcome? Secondly, this Green Paper of 63 pages does not have the space to mention the word devolution. Is this significant?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, on the latter question, there is nothing significant in that; we have been very clear about our position on devolution, which I referred to earlier. As to a written constitution, I have made it clear in the Statement that there are issues to consider about what should be written down and what should be codified that will require the kind of consensus we have described. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Morgan for raising the very heart of what is being proposed: citizenship.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I begin by expressing great satisfaction that the Prime Minister has shown such openness about the process of modernising our constitution and recognising that consent will ensure that it is well established. In particular, his unrivalled 10 years experience of Government at the top makes him better equipped than any previous Prime Minister to introduce a comprehensive programme of constitutional reform.
Is it recognised that transferring power from the Executive to Parliament is entirely welcome because that enhances accountability and so increases the potential effectiveness of government, reflecting better the will and values of the people? If power is to be transferred to Parliament, let it also be transferred to a reformed second Chamber. Otherwise, the risk of overload would be repeated in another form.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, who has a long and distinguished history of being concerned about constitutional reform. I agree with his comments about my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, his 10 years at the top and his ability to consider what now needs to be done. I agree that this is about increasing the effectiveness of Government. Part of that is considering the roles of your Lordships House and another place, and ensuring that we consider how they can best serve the people.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I ask the Minister for reassurance on an important point. In the discussion on the Intelligence and Security Committee, I see that various things will be done in the future that will be considered and discussed. However, the Statement says that,
I suggest that that is an extremely dangerous thing to do without further consultation. First, what you say to your friends your enemies also hear. Everything that is said in public is heard by our enemies as well as our friends. Secondly, I assure your Lordships that the difficulty in recruiting agents will increase substantially. I can think of no agent who will wish to be recruited if they know that there is going to be public discussion of intelligence matters and operations. I seek reassurance that that too is for consideration, and is not going to happen at once. I am worried about the words,
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I reassure the noble Baroness immediately that only those issues that it is appropriate to be able to discuss would be taken forward. My noble and learned friend the Attorney-General has just said in my ear that we will need to be, and will be, extremely judicious in the way we approach this. The comments of the noble Baroness, with her long experience, are well made and well understood.
On the face of it, that would include judges; indeed, it is a good description of what they spend most of their time doing. Will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House confirm that there is no intention of holding pre-appointment sessions in the House of Commons or anywhere else in the appointment of judges?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, to my knowledge there is absolutely no intention of so doing. We have described a discussion we wish to have to consider our residual role in the appointment of judges, but that is not about transferring it to another place.
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend, particularly on the inclusion of the proposal to limit the power of the Executive to ratify international treaties without decision by Parliament. Is she aware that the deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations said to me that the United Kingdom was the only member of the UN not to have parliamentary ratification for international instruments? This will certainly remedy a democratic deficit. Can she confirm that international treaties include all international legal instruments, not just treaties; for example, conventions and protocols to conventions?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am not entirely certain whether it is accurate to say that we are the only country, but the point is well made by my noble friend. I will write to her about exactly what will be included, for she has reasonably raised issues that I am not certain about and I would not want to mislead the House.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, when a Statement is made before the Recess about elections to this House, I beg the Leader of the House, first, to make sure that there is no suggestion that a House with greater democratic legitimacy should have fewer powers, because that would be completely absurd. Surely it should have greater powers to protect the public from precipitated action by a Government with a temporary majority. That is one of the most important functions that the second Chamber can perform and any new constitutional arrangement should certainly include a prohibition on further curtailment of the delaying powers of this House without this Houses consent.
Secondlyand quicklyinstead of appointing Ministers for each region and creating committees to review the public services of the regions, is the priority to increase the authority of local government by devolving more power to it? Regions may be much loved by governments but they often do not reflect any community of interest and they do not command the loyalty or affection of citizens in the way that local government does. If the Government are serious about devolution, devolution should be to existing local authorities and not to the regions.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great passion. There is no question within the Statement that I have described of the idea of a concordat between local and central government and we need to think carefully about what that should include, but there is a desire for those involved in regions to be able to express their views, to look at services and so on, and a regional committee is a proposal that may enable us to do that. As for powers, I know the strength of feeling in your Lordships House; they would be part of the discussions that we need to have.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, the Lord President referred to my new role as independent adviser to the Secretary of State for Justice on some aspects of constitutional reform. I am grateful for the intervention and this is a birthday present for me today. May I clarify my role? Although I am not a Christian I hope that the right reverend Prelates will forgive me for saying that I regard myself as instructed by the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 verse 24:
I am certainly not serving wealth because I have an unpaid post and I do not regard the Prime Minister as God. My role is to be independent and to seek in the best way I can to serve the wider interests of the people of this country. That is how I see my role without betraying my Liberal Democrat colleagues and any of the principles that I hope that I adhere to. I would like to explain that I have not had any part to play in the document and I would like to ask the question: am I right in thinking, because I have not read the document before, that there is no intention on the Governments part to repeal the Human Rights Act or to weaken the European Convention as recommended by the Leader of the Opposition, described by his colleague as constitutionally illiterate and xenophobic?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I have always been a long believer that in your Lordships House we have people of talent whom we should utilise and I am delighted that the noble Lord is available to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice in the way that he has described. There is no question at the moment of looking to repeal anything. What we have said within the
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Since the Bill was launched in this House there have been several changes of Ministers and ministries. Noble Lords who know the railway line between Edinburgh and Newcastle will know that one of the things you pass on the left-hand side is the Bass Rock. I am very glad that throughout the Bill we have had our own Bass Rock in the form of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, whom I am delighted to see in his place, where he has been throughout. He represents continuity in the process.
As I said at Second Reading and in Committee, my purpose in tabling this amendment is not to kill the Bill but to seize the opportunity presented by the creation of the Ministry of Justice and the appointment of new Ministers to review the evidence not just in this Bill but in a large number of other Bills54 in totaland in a huge amount of other legislation that is associated with it.
Last night we were due to have debated for the fourth time an amendment to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. Shortly before we were due to start I received a request from the Secretary of State for Justice to defer that debate until he had had time to consider the Bill as it stood. In discussion with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats it was very easy to agree to that and to welcome it. Indeed, I took the opportunity to pass to the Secretary of State a suggested date which he might consider, which I would have mentioned on the Floor of the House. I welcomed the request because it seemed evidence of a willingness to engage in constructive debate. We have just listened to the
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This Bill had at its genesis a paper by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, but that report was based on a false premise that there would be a stable prison population. Indeed, both he and the then Commissioner for Correction said that the National Offender Management Service, as suggested, could not come to pass unless there was a stable prison populationand there has not been one ever since. Therefore, in many ways, NOMS had a flawed beginning. However, that is not to say that we do not agree with the principle of the proper management of offenders throughout the time that they are in the hands of the criminal justice system or with the partnership of the voluntary, private and public sectors in providing their treatment. We have agreed that throughout our discussion. However, the problem with this Bill is that it is not about the management of offenders; it is about the management of the management of offenders, and in particular the introduction of a new way of commissioning probation services. Therefore, it is a falsely named Bill. Why does that matter?
One of the reasons the Government put forward for not being keen on including custody in the corporate manslaughter Bill was that they were sailing into uncharted waters and that they needed to test the temperature before they went further. We are in uncharted waters in the Offender Management Bill. The only country in the world that has gone down the route that has been proposed is New Zealand and that resulted in a gross increase in prison numbers, which worried their Government so much that it has been dropped.
Since this Bill was launchedI forget which number it is; the number of Bills now reaches 54, which is more than there had been in the previous 100 years at the Home OfficeNo.10 Downing Street issued a paper called Building on Progress: Security, crime and justice. It is the fourth policy review on this matter and has six chapters, including one of reform of the criminal justice workplace. In addition, it announced a term of reference for another review by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. He has done Wembley, he has done a legal review and he is now reviewing prisons. One of the things that he has been asked to do is to assess the management and efficiency of public sector prisons. Surely that has a key part to play in offender management, which is allegedly the subject of the Bill, yet the Carter review will not be included in the conclusions of the Bill. The management of public sector prisons has a huge impact on the rehabilitation of offenders, which is what we agreed a lot of the Bill is all about.
If that was not enough, last week, as a leaving present, the former Prime Minister landed on the desks of those who cared to pick it up the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. It is a monster of 129 clauses and 23 schedules, and it included the suggestion that there might be a commissioner for
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I am currently a member of the Regulators Select Committee, and we are looking particularly at financial regulators. One of the things that has been brought to our notice is that the worst aspect of the whole process is something called the regulatory impact assessment, which is required to be done on every new piece of regulation, and they are very badly done. Indeed, the National Audit Office reviewed regulatory impact assessments and pointed out that they are badly done and that, because they are badly done, they have an impact on what the regulation is meant to achieve. I have drawn attention to the regulatory impact assessment on the Bill. We have not drawn up a league table of regulatory impact assessments but the one on this Bill would figure pretty near the bottom of the league. It says that the options are to do nothing which means that,
But it does not explain at all the impact on costs, the impact on other services, the impact on the voluntary sector or the impact on all the people who are working to rehabilitate offenders, or whether this process would improve. It is merely about whether the Governments proposal would be taken forward. I do not believe that that is what a regulatory impact assessment is all about.
I have been delighted to hear during the course of this debate that organisations such as the CBI and some private sector companies are very willing to come forward and be involved in the contracts. I am delighted that organisations such as Turning Point and some of the large voluntary sector organisations and the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations also want to take part. Of course they do, but that is not the whole story. There is a whole myriad of other small organisations, which do an enormous amount of work in this field. I have been associated with a number of them. I heard yesterday, for example, of a study 10 years ago into the provision of proper nutrition in a prison. It proved that proper nutrition and diet produced a reduction in offending behaviour in prison of 40 per cent. We spent 10 years trying to be allowed to replicate that10 very frustrating years dealing with people who say that they support the voluntary sector. Meanwhile, the Dutch came in, took our evidence, went away to Holland and published their reports yesterday showing that there was a 47 per cent reductionwe had underestimated.
I mention that because, over and again in the sector, the arts organisations and small organisations dealing with particular aspects do not feel included in what is happening. They want to be sucked into the dialogue. Therefore, the purpose of my amendment is not to stop what is happening but to say, in welcoming it and the arrival of a Ministry of Justice
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My amendment is designed to suggest that the new Secretary of State should accept that and seize the opportunity presented. Then he should conduct that inquiry and engage with the House, knowing that when he does so everyonecertainly everyone whom I have spoken tois minded to go along with the general proposition, but is dissatisfied by the detail that has been presented. It is in the spirit of seizing an opportunity to get something right in relation to all the other things that are on the table, rather than in isolation from it, that I beg to move.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, it is good to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is a friend of the Bill, but with friends like that who needslet me leave the quotation incomplete. I am unpersuaded by the argument. It is yet another example of looking for any and every reason to oppose the broad thrust of the reforms.
The argument is that, after we have been discussing these issues since 2003, we should find yet one more reason to go slower when we all face a level of repeat criminality in this country that we ought to be ashamed of. To believe that we should wait yet further to address that with considered, important and difficult reforms feels like an indefensible and embarrassing argument to have to make. The further argument that the House should, in a sense, second guess the Government in their executive responsibilities about moving forward with reforms when Parliament has given its proper consideration also seems inappropriate. We say that we support the reforms and respect the importance of developing a much more vigorous system that looks afresh at how all the constituent parts address reoffending. That is rightI hope that we believe thatso let us get on with it.
We argue at times that we should spare the staff from the changes. As someone who has spent far too much of his life seeking to reform public services, I say that where you believe you have a clear vision of reform you should get on with it. The staff do not welcome you dallying around and putting them through further agony, particularly because some will put blandishments in their ears and say, This further delaying mechanism might mean that reform will really go away and we can afford doing it.
Mechanisms such as this one help people who do not want to face the need for change to try to continue to avoid doing so. Therefore, I urge the House not to give succour to those who believe that we do not need change in this agenda when we desperately do, and to those who think that they can put off the evil day of change that they do not want to face by finding yet further reasons for delay. Let us give these measures proper scrutiny, but let us then get on with it and seek to reduce reoffending in our society and better protect the public from criminality, because we are not doing sufficient at present. These changes are needed; we should get on with them.
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