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5.48 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer said, we have a relatively new justice and home affairs team on these Benches. This is my first opportunity as a member of that team, which she leads so ably, to interact with the noble Lords, Lord West of Spithead and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I look forward to many constructive discussions in the future.

I shall concentrate on just three areas today. I would expect to be involved as part of my party’s justice and home affairs team in the first two, and I have been engaged in the final one for most of my adult life—our country’s role in foreign affairs. I realise that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, will not be able to respond to that part of my intervention but I am confident that he will, in his ever generous manner, ensure that those thoughts are passed on to his colleagues who are concerned with these matters.

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I shall deal first with the proposals on new terrorism legislation as foreshadowed in the gracious Speech and, today, by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead. In recent years this House has had a raft of Bills that impact on the so-called “trade-off” between liberty and security. Most noble Lords sympathise with the reasoning behind the rethink of our national and international response to the new threat of international terrorism, but many of us on these Benches argue for caution in changing the balance between the citizen and the state. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, has touched on the theme many times in this very Chamber. This theme dogged us through the debate on the Terrorism Bill 2006. I fear that it will be with us again in the forthcoming legislation.

We are told again and again that there is a balance between liberty and security and that it would be an irresponsible Government who did not do everything in their power to make their citizens more secure; that they would be evading their responsibility if they failed to protect their citizens from harm if they could. Thus, we are told, a little bit of liberty forgone in exceptional circumstances for a few individuals is all that is sought. Is that really all that is sought?

When an instrument is employed which is as sweeping in its net as the law, then it is not merely the practice that should concern us but the potential for altering the balance. When laws are sweeping in their remit, general in their application and cast as solutions to the issue of the day, then they may well go wrong. The use of the infamous Section 44 is a case in point. The generalised stop and search powers of the Terrorism Act 2000, which was cast with paramilitaries in Northern Ireland in mind, has become the basis on which many young men from minorities are singled out, primarily on the basis of their skin colour and appearance. That it leads to anger and frustration in that community is inevitable. I come from that community, so I should know.

So when we hear that legislation is again sought to raise the period of pre-charge detention to more than the current 28 days, we get a curious sense of déj vu. We have been here before and the evidence, such as we have, points entirely in the other direction. We are told that there have been barely any cases involving even 28 days’ detention. We are told that we are in a unique situation here in the United Kingdom because of our home-grown extremists and that hard times therefore call for hard decisions. Yet we see from Liberty’s report today that we are unique among other democracies in our approach to law in this area and are unique even among countries with similar common-law traditions. We are leading the charge in the Anglo-Saxon world in this area and that is a dubious distinction.

When the Government come to take a decision on this legislation, they should spurn the seductive logic of a trade-off between a little less liberty for a Muslim minority and the need to keep the majority secure. As Liberty argues:

We will listen carefully to the arguments, but we will not freely give up our proud tradition of civil liberties for all in this regard.

I turn to criminal justice and our treatment of offenders. We know that we imprison more people, including women and children, than comparable countries. We also know that certain minorities are over-represented in the prison population. If we take Muslims as a case in point, there are three times as many Muslims in prison as there would be if the numbers incarcerated reflected the numbers in the population as a whole. While prison has to be the only solution for certain types of offender, one has to ask whether it is the right solution for the very many—nearly 82,000—whom we lock up. We are awaiting the Government’s response to the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, on women in the criminal justice system and the report by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, on the reform of the prison system. If I heard the Minister correctly, that report will involve a little more than looking simply at supply and demand in the prison system.

There is, however, another significant category of people whose situation also should move us towards change: prisoners with mental health problems. It is estimated that about 5,000 people held in prison at any one time have such poor mental health that they should not be in prison but should be undergoing treatment. That they are incarcerated in a system where staff have neither the skills nor the resources to care for them works against the interests of staff as well as the welfare of other prisoners.

That prison might be the answer for those with mental health problems defies logic. While it may be true that some people develop mental health problems as a consequence of incarceration, in either case the evidence shows us that the figures are climbing. In 2005-06, more than 22,000 incidents of self-harm were recorded. As we know, the suicide rate for young men in prison is 18 times that for those who are in the community. It is unquestionable that large numbers of prisoners have mental health problems. The question is how are we going to give those offenders the treatment that they need. I understand that the Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice are proposing a consultation on how to respond to mentally ill people who offend. Can the Minister tell us whether Her Majesty's Government expect to increase the number who might be afforded treatment under the next NHS Plan? Will they also consider a significant increase in drug rehabilitation programmes aimed primarily at current offenders and ex-offenders? As I am aware that many noble Lords are expert on prison reform issues, I shall turn to my concluding remarks on foreign affairs.

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I turn first briefly to Iran. Although we are working with our European colleagues on Iran, unlike in the Iraq imbroglio, we must nevertheless employ independent counsel. With the change of Government in France and Germany we are seeing a hardening of the European Union’s position on Iran. The problem with ultimatums and deadlines in conflict situations is that they have ultimately to be matched with action. We would be well advised to see diplomacy as the art of persuasion in our dealings with Iran. It has an unpopular Government who will be removed from power in the course of time, but they will be removed only by the Iranian people. Most expert opinion tells us that Iran is still some years away from becoming a nuclear power. We should use this critical period to influence it away from that direction through all the multilateral, and indeed bilateral, forums available to us. It is tempting, particularly for the USA which has its own unhappy history with the country, to see Iran as part of a Sunni/Shia struggle for regional hegemony. It is tempting to see it as being behind the problems that we are experiencing in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also tempting to see it as the real cause of Israel’s insecurity. Those are all easy—yet flawed—positions. Iran has been helpful in Afghanistan. It could have been helpful in Iraq if we had employed a different discourse with it. And while it is extremely unhelpful in the Israel-Palestine dispute, we will do the situation little good by taking part in any preventive military action against it. Irrespective of our close relationship with the United States, if ever there was a need for an independent British foreign policy in this regard, today is the day.

In conclusion, we wish to see a future gracious Speech that reflects a happier security and international climate than that which we find today.

5.57 pm

The Lord Bishop of Salisbury: My Lords, the gracious Speech promised that the Government,

and that, in a later clause:

How do the Government intend to balance those two admirable but apparently divergent goals: the goal of personal freedom and the community’s good?

We know that the rhetoric of reaching your full potential is current among today's educational philosophy. We ought also to ask whether there are any limits to be set on the individual’s pursuit of personal achievement. In particular, how does the language of personal achievement—the pursuit of what you want for yourself and the zip required for going all out to succeed, which the public culture and the television shows commend so warmly—marry with the desire, which I am sure that we in your Lordships’ House all share, to build up a community of interdependent persons, and the value of putting the common good before all else at the heart of our culture?

In language imported from contemporary human rights legislation, which hovers around the question of what a modern British constitution might look like,

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there is much about rights but correspondingly less about duties. My questions relate to that paragraph in the gracious Speech that refers to taking,

which is interestingly linked with tackling terrorism.

Do we want to see the creation of stronger communities merely as a means of combating terrorism? Is there not an intrinsic value, which any constitutional reform ought to have at its heart, in building a strong sense of community? Balancing the common good with the needs, capabilities and rights of individuals is central not only to such immediate questions as the length of time for which suspects might be held without being charged, but to the question of how our rights and responsibilities might be enshrined in any legislative form, as we move from a society held together by a network of unstructured relationships and ill-defined loyalties stemming from our current position as subjects of the Crown towards something more constitutionally enshrined.

How might we go about creating stronger communities? The creation of stronger communities must involve more than just meeting rising aspirations of consumer-conscious individuals, just as the creation of real security involves much more than just giving the police more powers. The creation of a more secure society depends much more on the quality of the relationships that people have and feel that they have with one another than on any imposed or contractual framework that might surround it.

Strong communities are sustained by the self-transcending of individual wills in their mutual relationships. Strong communities are sustained by commitment to the common good, and fundamental to our progress must be some serious commitment and outworking of what that means in terms that capture the imagination of a very wide range of people. I suspect that people are ready to be taken out of themselves and will respond to a vision of a better world, but where is that being crafted?

I return to a word that I used earlier: loyalties. People have less loyalty to institutions than they did, whether that is to the Government, the political cause, the police or even, probably, to the church. All those are the “them” and not the “us”. That is especially true of the young. They have great loyalty to their peers, but institutional mistrust has reached alarming proportions. You can have loyalty to an ideal or to a faith and certainly to a person, but in that climate, can we really see people gripped by a sense of loyalty to a constitution?

What counts, as the waves of support for the victims of a disaster show, is our continued response to human need. People support one another when there is a crisis, a death, a sudden death, a bereavement. That is when neighbourliness transcends the apparent differences in culture, race or religion.

So where are the points of natural community around which people may gather? I suggest they are where people are face to face with one another, able to sit down together and share their stories. That starts very early, in the playgroups and schools, as some of the bold experiments in Northern Ireland have shown. It continues wherever joint sponsorship or a

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broad coalition backs a common interest in local matters or, at any rate, in matters in which people feel that they have a personal concern. That does not necessarily mean local in the sense of parochial. For the young, matters of the future of the environment have that power, where loyalty to a constitution will, I suspect, not. What is it that draws people together at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in silence, to reflect on the relationship between our past and what people have been prepared to sacrifice in the common cause, and our future? Are those not ideals that we have in common? How shall we draw them out and test them to see where those true loyalties lie?

On this Bench, we are very ready to engage with those questions and to craft a sense of vision that is not just about political instruments and constitutions. Those questions demand that we do more than just meet the rising aspirations of competing individuals to have it better than everyone else. We badly need a vision that engages the generosity, the idealism and commitment to the common good of the British people which especially the young can recognise and work for.

Surely our Government need to show that they treat the British people not merely as consumers of goods and services provided by the state, but as persons who truly have that dignity of citizenship, the citizenship that is formed by our loyalty to the common good of all those who are made in the image and likeness of God.

6.07 pm

Lord Jones: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, I want to talk about devolution.

I heard my noble friend Lord Morgan say that devolution for Wales is unfinished. The devolved government debate began long before the establishment of the Celtic Parliaments or Assemblies. For example, I recollect a conversation in another place outside the Grand Committee Room on the Committee Corridor. It was between my noble friend Lord Healey, then a very new Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Lord Crowther-Hunt. The latter thought that he had the devolved government issues answered in a closely argued report that he had published. It was then a scene of euphoria in a crowded corridor thickly thronged with Cabinet Ministers, PPSs, Members of Parliament, and many, many journalists. Prime Minister Harold Wilson had just formed his third Administration. Mr James Callaghan subsequently and gingerly presented his devolved government proposals to Scotland and to Wales. The proposals failed.

The first Wales devolution ballot took place on St David’s Day in 1979. In that campaign, I recollect a crowded meeting in Pontypool. As a Minister, I shared the platform, proposing yes, with the then Cabinet Minister Tony Benn. We were shown respect, but not support. The Pontypool MP then was the formidable Mr Leo Abse, one of the greatest Back-Benchers ever. Mr Abse organised a Wales-wide campaign for a no vote and, I recollect, was joined by a flame-haired firebrand Member of Parliament, now my noble friend Lord Kinnock. During that campaign, I even recollect

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the then Lord President, Mr. Michael Foot, ending his speech from the conference platform in Swansea with the slogan, “Home rule for Wales”. Be that as it may, matters were not successfully concluded.

Some years ago, the shrewdly pitched commission of my noble friend Lord Richard reported on constitutional matters pertaining to Wales. More powers were mooted for the Welsh Assembly, perhaps by 2011. My noble friend was just a little conservative in posting a possible date of 2011 for realising his proposals. After the election in Wales this May, the Labour Party and the nationalist party set up an accord to govern jointly in the absence of a majority. Now another referendum is mooted, most probably for well before 2011, to persuade the electorate to give the Welsh Assembly more powers. This is clearly of considerable importance to Westminster and to Britain, as it is to the people of Wales.

I believe that another referendum can be won, and with a fair majority, if the two parties campaign wholeheartedly for a yes vote. The portents are there. After all, the Labour Party and the nationalist party submitted a draft agreement to their membership. Interestingly, the activists in each party did not vote down the coalition document. The crux of the matter was that the Labour constituency parties and the Welsh Labour Party Executive backed the First Minister’s propositions to go in with the nationalists. That was an historic moment in the long history of the Welsh Labour Party, whatever view one might take of the issue. It was a very big moment in the history of the Labour movement in Wales, perhaps also in the history of Wales.

In the debate on devolved government, I expect Scotland to make the political weather on this issue, and Wales to exploit the Scottish scene to its considerable advantage. That is the agenda. It is astounding that the nationalists in our nation have their hands on devolved power in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff. I do not think that Lord Crowther-Hunt, back in 1974, would have expected this, not even 24 years on. It is an astounding political constitutional fact.

The Welsh Assembly is at the very least a qualified success. The First Minister is in the ascendancy. Eight years is but a blink in the 1,000-year history of the Welsh nation. Wales remains a mature democracy and is on the brink of further Assembly powers. The First Minister’s campaign has been successful and the Assembly is discernibly gaining in confidence and flexing its muscles. When Her Majesty the Queen opened the Welsh Assembly in May, with the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall in attendance, it was possible to discern the stirrings of nationhood in that impressive Cardiff chamber. Whatever one’s view, it was discernible and very impressive.

The Government of the day might, as the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, hinted, enable both Scotland and Wales to have more powers to raise some of their own money in their own Parliament or Assembly, in the hope that the United Kingdom can be held together. Will the Government say where Westminster’s Wales MPs stand in the likely context of more devolved

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government? The MPs work so hard; their role is hugely important in their constituencies, and they are part of the British national story. Before the 2005 election, the Secretary of State for Wales said that he had put the issue to bed for the foreseeable future. This is not the case; important issues are arising strongly. The question is: when will the Government declare their hand on these matters?

6.15 pm

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, we were told last week in the gracious Speech that legislation would be introduced to strengthen security and tackle extremism. Earlier, the Minister said that the first role of state is to protect its citizens, and today we have heard much about the threat facing Britain and our response to it. I am responsible on these Benches for community cohesion and social action. What are social cohesion, social action and social responsibility? These questions fall under the wide-ranging disciplines of political science, theology and sociology, but underpinning them all is a question as old as humanity: how do we live together, and what do we put back into the communities in which we live?

In this country, we have been here before, whether in the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, whose fallout we are still living with today, or in the integration of eastern European Jewry in the last century. Each time, Britain has been able to rise to the challenge and sustain our coherence and unity with a distinctively British approach—calm, thoughtful and reasonable—to potentially explosive issues. We have done so through a combination of a steadfast faith in our institutions and values—such as freedom under the rule of law, pluralism and tolerance—and because society, not only the majority community but the minority community, was prepared to stand together as one. There is no reason to think that we cannot do the same today. The challenge today may have its own specific characteristics, but our approach should be the same. In that context, I am concerned by the direction that the debate on terrorism and cohesion has taken recently. It is time for a more British approach.

First, we must not fall for the illusion that the problems of community cohesion can be solved simply through top-down, quick-fix state action. State action is necessary, but it is not the only thing and it is insufficient on its own. As my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones has implied, this Government feel that we can legislate our way out of trouble. That is simply not the answer. Secondly, it must be the right kind of action, expressed calmly, thoughtfully and reasonably. To me, multiculturalism means people of different faiths and backgrounds living together as equal members of society, with a sense of belonging and a shared outlook. Unfortunately, however, the Government’s doctrine of multiculturalism has undermined our nation’s sense of cohesion because it emphasises what divides us rather than what brings us together. It has been manipulated to entrench the right to difference, a divisive concept, at the expense of the right to equal treatment despite difference, a unifying concept.

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