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I particularly warmly welcome an end, I hope, to the royal prerogative. It has been a load of historical humbug. It is a fiction and a relic of our pre-democratic past. It is right that Parliament should have the right to approve treaties and to approve our forces going into armed conflict. The Iraq invasion shows the catastrophe that can result if we operate in a way that is not subject to parliamentary sanction. The Government’s paper—I am not sure whether it is a White Paper—extends various options. I think that I probably prefer simply the strongest legislative control so that it is possible for Members of Parliament to exert their view. What is particularly important—it is mentioned en passant in the Government’s paper—is a statement of the legal position. It was quite wrong that the House of Commons should have been asked to discuss the invasion of Iraq without a proper statement on the legal context, the relationship with the United Nations and so on. We have discovered—it was like getting blood out of a stone—how that legal basis was arrived at and that it was totally wrong.

The process of change will go on. I have always supported a written constitution because it would be a guarantee of liberty. Our unwritten, informal convention is a bulwark against change, including social change. I recognise that the process will take a very long time and that it is probably better that we continue as at present to progress towards incremental change. Our constitution has to change because our society has changed. Just as the British constitution changed in the early 19th century because our society changed under the impact of industrialisation, so it must do so now when society is in flux and is much more multicultural and diverse and much less deferential. No longer can our constitution be run on Douglas Jay’s historic principle that “the gentleman from Whitehall knows best”. The Queen’s Speech takes us down the right road. It is not a road to serfdom but a road to libertarianism, a libertarian culture, and that fuller freedom which all democrats, and certainly all democratic socialists, must desire.

4.24 pm

Baroness Shephard of Northwold: My Lords, the gracious Speech makes reference to the Government’s continuing aspirations for constitutional reform, and I believe that we are to expect a draft Bill on constitutional renewal in the New Year. There has been no shortage of enthusiasm for constitutional reform under this Government and, indeed, under this Prime Minister. His Statement on the constitution in the other place on 3 July, as repeated in this House, said:

The Statement promised,


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The Green Paper, The Governance of Britain, which was published alongside the Statement, quoted in turn from a local government White Paper, Strong and Prosperous Communities, which was published a year ago. That White Paper set out the new duty placed by the Government on local authorities in England to consult and involve local people in the major decisions that affect them. That means that local authorities must take the views of their communities into account.

Those are fine aspirations with which the House will no doubt agree. Indeed, who could disagree? It is perhaps textually hypercritical to point out the similarity between the White Paper and the Green Paper. No doubt the Government in so repeating themselves were consciously reinforcing their intent to involve the citizens of this country in constitutional change. I hope that the Minister who will be replying to the debate will be able to address some of my concerns about deficiencies in the process, which are happening right now in England. In England now at local government level, do we find that local people are being consulted and involved in the major decisions that affect their lives? Sadly, as far as local government reorganisation is concerned, we do not. I shall give the example of my own county, Norfolk, although examples could be drawn from elsewhere in England.

Some time ago, the Secretary of State invited bids from interested local authorities in two-tier areas to become unitary authorities. In Norfolk's case, the City of Norwich submitted such a bid. The other seven local authorities, including the county council, made it clear that they preferred the status quo for a number of reasons. One is that services are highly integrated. Another is that, as will be known in this House, the county council has only just succeeded in absorbing the local government reorganisation also known as Every Child Matters. The Norwich bid, based on the city's current boundaries and submitted with not very much consultation with the people of Norwich, was not accepted by the Secretary of State, in particular, on the grounds of value for money and affordability—fairly important reasons, I should have thought. However, the Secretary of State directed the Boundary Committee,

In other words, despite the fact that the seven other councils affected made clear that they did not want local reorganisation, their views were not heard. The only way forward was to be unitary reorganisation.

It is pretty hard—although I have such respect for the Minister that he may succeed in doing this—to square the Government’s actions with their words on the constitutional involvement of citizens. As it happens, the populations of the two district council areas likely to be most affected by the creation of a de facto Greater Norwich—South Norfolk and Broadland—were consulted on the proposal, because it was the principal issue in the May local elections. The proposal was given a trouncing by the electorate but on this occasion the ballot box did not really seem to count, despite the fact that the Government are placing a duty on local authorities to consult and involve local people in the major decisions that affect them.

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What we are talking about in Norfolk and elsewhere in England is wholesale local government reorganisation, but it seems to be a wholesale local government reorganisation that does not dare to say its name. If one local authority out of eight decides to become unitary, that imposes reorganisation on the other seven, although they can have no say and are not to be consulted in any other way. How can this be, given the Government’s strongly stated and extremely oft repeated aspirations to involve citizens in decisions that matter to them? Why cannot the status quo be an option, what principle of involving citizens is being upheld, and where and when was the principle enunciated and legislatively approved? I know that the brief today is very wide, but we really are talking about the principle and aspiration of involving citizens in matters that affect them. This is an extraordinary way for the Government to proceed. If they want local government reorganisation on unitary lines in England, they are of course entitled to say so and to get a mandate to proceed accordingly; but that is not what they are doing. Nor are they doing what they say they are doing in the Green Paper, in the White Paper and in Statements to Parliament, because they are not involving people in changes that will greatly affect their lives.

It is conceivable that the people of Norfolk would say yes if they were consulted on whether they want their local government to be reorganised, and if so, whether they wish that reorganisation to be on unitary lines. They are unlikely to look with favour on the overall cost to them of such reorganisation, which has been conservatively estimated at some £100 million, especially when they are also being told that services for children, education and the elderly are facing cuts this year. They are equally unlikely to take a relaxed view of the enormous sums being put aside by councils to prepare the bids that they do not want to make: £250,000 on the part of the county council; £200,000 on the part of the King’s Lynn council; and £90,000 for an officer in Norwich. The people of Norfolk will be entitled to ask who exactly is asking for this change, because it does not seem to be them. They will be amazed to learn that not only are they to be plunged into the upheaval of a reorganisation that they have not asked for, but they are to be asked to pay for it. They will be amazed to learn that Mr. Max Caller, the chairman of the Boundary Committee, has ordered their councils to prepare plans for this reorganisation by the end of the month. I believe that people in Norfolk would prefer to keep the arrangements that they have. I may be wrong, but the point is this: we cannot know what they think because they are not being asked, and will not be asked, if they would like to keep the status quo. That is because, as Max Caller, civil servants and Ministers have made abundantly clear, the status quo is not an option.

This sits ill with the Government’s professed enthusiasm for the involvement of citizens in matters that affect them. We have not yet heard this afternoon what the likely content of the draft Bill on constitutional renewal will be. As I said earlier, I think extremely highly of the Minister who will reply to the debate. He has a well earned reputation for listening carefully and for knowing

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a great deal about what is happening on the ground and what people feel about it. He has certainly proved in another post that he can change the Government’s course; he will know that I am talking about the reorganisation proposed by PCTs. He must agree that it is not entirely fair to rule out one option if you really do want to involve citizens—I quote again from the Green Paper and the White Paper—in matters that will affect their lives. I look forward to hearing what he has to say later on this evening.

4.34 pm

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, we welcome the gracious Speech which promised to,

But that must be measured against two main criteria—the governance of Britain as announced by the Prime Minister in July, and its translation into the Government’s legislative programme as announced in the gracious Speech. We have the director-general of the Security Service telling us that we face the worst threat in peace time in its 98-year history. Terrorists are methodically and intentionally targeting young people—he estimates a figure of at least 2,000. We are promised a Counter-Terrorism Bill, yet the discussion of the past few days has centred on the detention period and the Home Secretary is still not clear about what is appropriate.

The questions on which we need answers are basically simple. How have the past measures worked? What is our long-term strategy? Why are the faith communities so uncomfortable with the Government’s stance? What are the short-term goals and long-term objectives? We have the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, yet there is a confused message about numbers and legality of entrants. We need a value-driven British identity as a core goal that takes into account the implication of globalisation, devolution and asylum and immigration issues.

Let me use as an illustration my conversation two weeks ago with the Government of India. Poland has such scarcity of its own citizens that it is now inviting India to send its professionals to Poland. That says something. Look what we did to overseas doctors on the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme here. The Government wanted to throw them out. Even the Appeal Court judges said last week that the Department of Health treatment of doctors was not lawful. How much faith can we place on the Government’s statements that their legislation is compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998 when courts have repeatedly overruled or decided otherwise? Last week, I attended a reception where John Griffith-Jones of KPMG said:

The question of identity is complex, but it need not be so. Defining Britishness is not the full answer. Very recently, a British national daily newspaper asked its readers:

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I read the response in some of the emails that followed, and one from a chap in Switzerland caught my eye. It said that,

It is right in a democracy that there is a sensible debate about such issues. We should question what happens when an individual or group identity impinges on other people's lives and liberties, but do we really believe that the wearing of the veil practised by a small proportion of women will have any bearing on the process of community cohesion or the advancement of an integrated society?

I am also disappointed and somewhat angered that a coroners Bill, which was promised by the Minister, was not included. Families are experiencing serious delay in the holding of inquests, the narrow remit and problems with public funding. Urgent reforms are needed. Surely the deaths of vulnerable people in custody have clearly demonstrated that we need an extension of the remit of the inquest system. We need to change the structure to create a national coroners service to improve service delivery and ensure high standards and accountability.

We need to improve the support and information available to bereaved people. We need the introduction of a system for monitoring inquest verdicts and statutory obligations on public bodies to respond to the findings of an inquest. We should promise non-means-tested legal aid for bereaved people and we need specific action to be taken to counter lengthy delays. Yet I see no evidence of this important measure in the Queen’s Speech.

Another regrettable omission from the Government’s legislative programme is legislation to reform the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Four years ago the Government accepted the case for reform on the lines recommended in the Home Office review group report entitled, Breaking the Circle. So far no such legislation has seen the light of day. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act provides that after specified “rehabilitation periods” ex-offenders do not have to declare spent convictions when applying for jobs, except for certain sensitive occupations. However, the rehabilitation periods are often lengthy and many genuinely reformed ex-offenders can never benefit from them: for example, if the sentence was a fine, it takes five years to become spent; three months' imprisonment takes seven years; a nine-month sentence takes 10 years; and sentences of more than two and a half years can never be spent. I offer a challenge: if the Government are so serious about rehabilitation, when do we expect this legislation?

The Breaking the Circle report proposed new, shorter “buffer periods” before convictions become spent. This reform would greatly reduce the scope for unfair discrimination against former offenders. It would also increase public safety by reducing reoffending because offenders who get and keep a job are between one-third and one-half less likely to reoffend than those who remain unemployed.

On 11 October, in answer to my Oral Question, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, assured me that the Government remain sympathetic to reform of

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the Act. He said that they would consider whether the Breaking the Circle proposals need amendment in the light of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006. I hope that the Government can conclude their consideration of this matter speedily and introduce the necessary legislation at the earliest possible date. Failing that, I shall certainly think in terms of promoting a Private Member’s Bill on this matter.

The Queen’s Speech refers to the continued passage through Parliament of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. l welcome a number of measures in the Bill, including those to reduce the length of time which prisoners recalled to prison for less serious breaches of supervision spend in custody. Also welcome is the removal of the power to pass suspended sentences for offences which are triable only summarily. This change should help to reduce the negative effect on the prison population of activated suspended sentences passed on offenders who could perfectly well receive a community sentence instead.

However, these measures will have only a very limited impact on our overstretched and overcrowded prison system. Far more needs to be done to reduce the unnecessary use of prisons if we are to give the Prison Service a reasonable chance to rehabilitate a manageable number of prisoners. The Minister will no doubt remind us that the Government are committed to building more prisons, but unless steps are taken to reduce the use of prisons, the courts will simply fill new prisons with ever more prisoners, providing no relief for overcrowded jails. It is like trying to run down an escalator which is moving ever more rapidly upwards.

Earlier this year Nacro, the crime prevention charity, of which I have the honour to be president, put forward a 10-point programme to reduce the prison population. I understand that the Government are reviewing and considering the proposals, one of which is that the Government should do more to tackle the revolving door of short-term prisoners. At any one time 8,000 prisoners are serving sentences of less than 12 months. These sentences do little to protect the public because containment periods are far too short. The time spent in prison is too brief for a serious rehabilitation attempt but long enough for prisoners to lose their homes and jobs, which makes them even more likely to reoffend. More than 70 per cent of these short-term prisoners are reconvicted within two years of leaving prison. Nacro has proposed that the Government should commission a resettlement service run by voluntary organisations for short-term prisoners to reduce the number who keep going back to prison.

The Government should also legislate to require sentencing guidelines to take into account the capacity of the prison system. This was a recommendation made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, in his report on the correctional services published during the period when David Blunkett was Home Secretary. At the time, Mr Blunkett accepted the noble Lord’s recommendations, but they have never seen the light of day in the form of legislation.

Legislation should also be introduced to prevent the courts imprisoning juvenile offenders unless they have first tried an intensive supervision and surveillance

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programme, except for those young people who commit grave crimes. There is a strong case for extending a similar provision to adults. What is the point of sending non-dangerous offenders of any age to jail before trying an intensive alternative, one without the undesirable side-effects of prison?

I conclude by spelling out what my noble friend Lord McNally said on the first day of the debate:

I joined the Liberal Party 50 years ago. These are the values I cherished then, and they are the values I cherish now. These are the values on which compromise is not possible.

4.46 pm

Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, as I listened to the gracious Speech last week, I was particularly interested to hear Her Majesty refer to citizenship and the need to strengthen communities, and it is to these issues that I wish to speak. I am very pleased that the Government are planning new legislation in the area of citizenship and that we have the opportunity to debate such an important issue in this House.

I know that it may be somewhat premature to raise issues about the Bill when we have yet to see the results of the review being conducted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, which I look forward to, but it is the remit of that review which has prompted me to speak today. What caught my attention in particular is that the review will seek:

I therefore assume, rightly or wrongly, that this will influence directly the basis of any Bill on citizenship that comes before this House and the other place. Citizenship, I am anticipating, will be viewed in the context of rights and responsibilities,

This interests me because it often seems that rather than try to create additional rights, we live in an age when the very basic rights afforded by the Human Rights Act seem to be under threat. That is why this debate is so important—because fundamentally what we are talking about is who we are, who we want to be as a society and—perhaps more importantly—who we want to participate in that.

Let me make it clear that any discussion of citizenship is about those people we exclude as much as those we include, and we already have plenty of people in our society who feel excluded—for example, those who cannot get work easily, especially Pakistani and Bangladeshi women who face much more severe penalties in employment than other groups. The same can be said of women—those who are married and those who are single—with children. Similar problems exist for the disabled. There are those who are treated unfairly, such as young black men. They are 18 times more likely than the average to be admitted to mental hospitals. There are those who feel rejected, like young

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gay men and lesbians. They are 14 times more likely to make a serious suicide attempt. There are those who are entering the criminal justice system for the first time, such as Muslims in the prison system. They have experienced a fivefold increase in numbers in recent years. There are those who feel let down by the society they have helped to build, like the half million older people who experience some form of verbal and physical abuse every year in the UK.

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