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In seeking to correct this mistaken approach, however, we should not lurch towards a simplistic promotion of Britishness that is neither in keeping with our traditions

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nor likely to bring our communities closer together. We on this side of the House do of course believe that we need to ensure that every one of our citizens can speak to each other in our national language, English. Of course, we need to ensure that our children are taught British history properly to enable them to have a proper understanding of our great democratic institutions and how they came to be as they are, and it is important to create more opportunities for celebrating our sense of nation. But offending our war heroes with a proposal for a new Veterans Day when we already have Remembrance Sunday; suggesting a motto for Britain—a few cheap words to encapsulate our nation; suggesting that we put flags on our lawns; or even suggesting, as the Institute for Public Policy Research did last week, that Christmas should be equal in this country to every other religious festival, is simply not to understand the issues. Those and similar clunking attempts to address the complexities of community cohesion show a serious misunderstanding of the scale of the challenge and the shape of the solution.

We need to go much deeper than this if we are to address the alienation and division that exist in our country today. We must start by having an honest debate. This side of the House will not shy away from dealing with the tough issues: the impact of immigration and the need to control numbers; the threat of the far right; the divisive effects of the catastrophic failure of state education in many parts of urban Britain; the impact of divisive funding regimes which pitch communities against one another; the influence of those who twist faith to support violence; the cultural attitudes that exclude women from mainstream society; and the impact of foreign policy on domestic affairs.

We have seen a dangerous muddling of concerns: community cohesion, the threat of terrorism and the integration of British Muslims. Promoting community cohesion should indeed be part of our response to terrorism, but cohesion is not just about terrorism and it is certainly not just about one community. Of course, promoting integration will achieve a more secure society, but too mechanistic a connection between these objectives will make it harder to achieve both, by giving the impression that the state considers all Muslims to be a security risk.

Certain principles must guide us in attempting the way forward. First, we must accept that we cannot bully people into feeling British; we have to inspire them. Instructing parents to spy on their children, as suggested by John Reid, does not inspire, nor do the drink- and drug-fuelled scenes which are now all too familiar in some of our town centres. Secondly, we must appreciate the nuances of communities and not treat them as homogeneous blocks represented by self-appointed community leaders. We need to engage on the issues that face communities and not on the basis of their race or religion. We need to go beyond the obligatory handshakes outside places of worship, and we must be wary of those who claim to speak on behalf of many. As Milne warned in the Guardian last week:

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Thirdly, we must ensure that government funding for deprived communities is on the basis of need and equality and not on the basis of religion race and religion. Funding earmarked and “siloed” from the centre can too easily miss local priorities and create the impression of one favoured group over another.

On the question of funding, will the Minister clarify the funding for community cohesion and extremism? The Comprehensive Spending Review states that £100 million will be allocated over three years to support communities and reject and condemn violent extremism. On 6 October this year, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced £50 million over three years on community cohesion and integration. On 31 October this year, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced that her department would spend £70 million in stepping up work to build resilience to violent extremism. Is that the same money being announced again or have individual funds for individual tasks been detailed on those three separate occasions?

The question of social cohesion is as much one of social justice and social inclusion. Cohesion is as much about rich and poor—those included and those left behind—as it is about race. Therefore, marginalised and deprived communities who happen to be white must also be included in our vision of community cohesion. Fairness will be our most powerful weapon against fragmentation. Turning the situation around will require patience. We must be calm, thoughtful and reasonable: that is the British way as I know it, and we must challenge anyone who differs.

6.24 pm

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, not many Scottish Peers seem to be speaking in this debate and it seems to me that, in this tercentenary year of the much shrunken Union of the Parliaments, it might be timely to say a few words about devolution and independence and allied subjects. These have given rise to problems about which there was, alas, nothing in Her Majesty's gracious Speech. Here I must declare an interest as a Scottish Peer who lives in Scotland.

I have listened with great interest to the noble Lords, Lord Trimble and Lord Forsyth, and I agreed with very much of what both said, although not everything. Before 1707, when Scotland last had its own Parliament, that Parliament was responsible for every aspect of government in Scotland, from taxation, law and order, defence and foreign affairs to the design of mousetraps, although Governments did not waste their time on such trivia in those days. But the present devolved Parliament—or Government as the First Minister has decreed it is to be called—has no responsibility for taxation, defence, foreign affairs or, for some dotty reason, social security, not to mention a whole host of minor matters, all of which have been reserved for the Westminster Parliament to rule on.

A better recipe for friction and annoyance can scarcely be imagined and the amazing thing is how little of that there has been to date. One of the principal sources of friction is the famous West Lothian question. This Government were amply warned about

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it—I seem to remember it starting right back in the 1970s—by Tam Dalyell, the then MP for West Lothian, which is why it is called the West Lothian question. The chief problem lies in England where English MPs naturally find it intolerable that Scottish MPs should be able to vote on English domestic matters when they, of course, cannot vote on Scottish domestic matters, which have been devolved. A way through this dilemma must be found and found quickly, and I urge the Government to give it priority, before this particular sore festers worse than it already has.

A rather sensible suggestion has been made by Sir Malcolm Rifkind: that an English Grand Committee should be formed which would probably involve English MPs sitting in the Commons Chamber on certain days to deal with English domestic business, and the whole House sitting on other days to deal with United Kingdom business. It would not be easy to organise, but, given good will, it could be possible. The suggestion must be a good one, because it was ridiculed by the First Minister, Mr Alex Salmond, probably because it would have helped to put an end to the friction with England on which the SNP thrives.

The other principal source of ill-will is finance. Is the block grant to continue at the present level? If it does not, the financial squeeze that that will represent will be manna to the Scottish Nationalists. I know that English MPs are concerned that their constituents are aggravated at seeing higher expenditure per head in Scotland than in England. That is entirely understandable. But continued higher expenditure per head in Scotland than in England may be the price which has to be paid to preserve the Union.

Perhaps the Government do not wish to preserve the Union, whatever they may say to the contrary. Sometimes I wonder. Perhaps that is why they continually do silly things, such as reneging on the compensation to Scottish farmers for the losses they suffered due to the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease, which was entirely the fault of that incompetent English ministry, Defra. Perhaps the English do not want to preserve the Union, although I think that it has been of great mutual benefit for 300 years.

Apart from anything else, like peace between the two countries, there is a large republican element in the SNP. Although the First Minister, Alex Salmond, has said that he would be happy for Scotland to remain a monarchy for as long as the Scots wish it to be so, there is always that caveat—as long as the Scots wish it to remain so—and the republican element. I do not want to end my days living in a republic.

As a result of the Scottish parliamentary election held last May, the Scottish Nationalists won by one vote and Alex Salmond became First Minister. The SNP had approximately 30 per cent of the Members and the other parties had approximately 70 per cent of them. Very soon Alex Salmond said that it was his intention at some stage in the present Parliament to introduce a Bill to enable a referendum on independence to be held in Scotland. What did the opposition parties do? They threw up their hands in horror and squealed. What shortsighted fools! The only reason that the SNP had the largest number of members was not that the people of Scotland wanted independence—at that time or at the present time—but that they were absolutely

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fed up with Labour, did not trust the Liberals and were not prepared to vote Conservative, even to get Labour out. A fairly recent poll showed that support for independence was still at a pretty low ebb.

All that the opposition parties had to do, which I think that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has mentioned, was unite, and, with the huge majority that they would have had united, introduce a Bill to hold a referendum straight away, agree on the question and on an early date for it to be held. They could not have failed to get it through. We could have had a referendum soon, while there was still little support for independence. Having had one, it would not really be possible to hold another one for at least 10 years, if not longer, and the SNP’s teeth would have been drawn. But party political advantage and bickering was apparently more important to the opposition parties than the good of their country. Meanwhile, the SNP Government continue to needle the English and are making a lot of admirable proposals with which the Scots are delighted, or will be if and when they materialise. They will gradually become fonder of the SNP. The only thing which baffles me is how it will all be paid for. We shall see.

Alex Salmond says that if Scotland were independent, she would be one of the richest small countries in the world—I think he said that she would be richer than Luxembourg. I do not believe that, but neither do I believe that she would be as dirt poor as Labour and the Conservatives say. Probably the truth lies somewhere in between. As no one has access to all the figures, I do not see how anyone can know. A great deal would depend on what kind of settlement was made between England and Scotland, particularly in regard to oil and where the boundaries were drawn in the North Sea. As things are, there is room for endless bitterness and acrimony on both sides, which could endure for generations and even, should we happen to have another trigger-happy Prime Minister, lead to war, which was almost the normal state of relations before the Union. Equally, there is room for the generosity and understanding which would result in a long-lasting friendship and prosperity for both. I can only implore politicians on all sides to think very seriously about this, because I am afraid that I believe independence will come sooner or later—and sooner, if we go on as we are.

6.33 pm

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I want to call attention to a grave threat to the rule of law in this country, a threat for which the Government are responsible. First, I declare an interest as chair of the council of JUSTICE, the main object of which is the advancement of the rule of law and human rights. What is this threat to the rule of law? It is not terrorism, corruption or disregard of the law by the Government. It is starvation by withholding the finance needed for support of the rule of law, which is an essential part of democracy. Indeed, it is more than that: it is an essential precondition to democracy. But the rule of law cannot be effective without real access to justice, which involves giving help to those who cannot afford it from their own pockets. We must not forget the Victorian judge who said, with powerful irony, that the courts, like the Ritz Hotel, are open to all.

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One of the great achievements of the Attlee Government, in creating the welfare state, was to introduce legal aid. This, for the first time in our history, gave poor people access to justice, and not just to people on state benefits, but also to people who were not at the benefit level but were on low incomes. At its peak, it protected perhaps 30 per cent of the households in this country. That worked for a generation and then things started to go wrong. Legal aid became too expensive. Lawyers undoubtedly bear some of the blame for this and some steps had to be taken. It was right to cap spending on civil legal aid. It could not be left as an open-ended liability. I reluctantly accept that the right to finance civil action for damages had to be met through conditional fee agreements.

But the Government have squeezed, are squeezing and intend to go on squeezing legal aid, particularly civil legal aid. They have not ring-fenced funds for civil legal aid, with the result that open-ended spending on criminal legal aid and immigration increases and spending on civil justice goes down. Eligibility levels are reduced, so that legal aid is now in effect available only to those on state benefits. It is essential that the cost of civil legal aid should be ring-fenced so that it is not liable to be affected by increases or possibly decreases in the cost of criminal and immigration legal aid.

Criminal legal aid is necessarily open-ended. Article 6 of the Human Rights Act and the legal traditions of our country require that legal aid must be provided for accused persons in criminal cases who cannot pay for it. But if the cost of criminal legal aid goes up, the burden surely should be borne by taxpayers as a whole and not by those who, as a result of the decline in civil legal aid, will be deprived of access to justice for family or other civil proceedings.

Legal aid is essential for family cases and for other matters of great importance to the people involved, such as housing, welfare and discrimination. We already have a problem with legal aid deserts where specialist advice and advocacy are not available in some legal fields even in major cities, which is likely to get worse. The continuing squeeze on legal aid will mean that many solicitors will give up family law work, leaving parties to represent themselves. Anyone familiar with the courts knows what that means.

In research conducted by the Law Society in 2004, only 7 per cent of trainee solicitors saw their careers as likely to involve legal aid. Since then matters have become even worse. A recent survey shows that the average profit margins of criminal legal aid practices range from 2 per cent down to minus 6 per cent. The survey also predicts that at least 800 firms with legal aid practices are likely to close or merge as a result of the implementation of the changes introduced by Lord Carter’s review. Legal aid is likely to be concentrated in a small number of large firms. Black and minority ethnic firms will be particularly hard hit by this because of their small size. Smaller towns serving the countryside will also be hard hit. The move towards fixed fees for cases, without regard to their length and difficulty, is likely to have a serious impact on the quality of the work being done in the more complex cases.

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But legal aid is far from being the only problem. In the past few years we have seen an increase in court fees far above inflation. The Government are trying to recover the full cost of providing court services. That is all right for the big commercial cases because they can afford it, but it is another major deterrent to claimants who are not eligible for legal aid, but are not rich. It is surely the duty of the state to provide a legal system. Until 1992, court fees did not include judicial salaries, which were paid out of the Consolidated Fund. Until 1982, the cost of court buildings was paid by the Government. We should revert to those arrangements. Access to justice should not be restricted by court fees aimed at full cost retrieval. Indeed, I understand that last year the judicial system actually made a profit. That is like making NHS patients pay the full cost of life-saving but expensive drugs, not just prescription charges.

However, our court system is seriously under-resourced. Court buildings need something of the order of £100 million for refurbishment, but they have to concentrate exclusively on emergency repairs. Improvements such as separate waiting rooms so that prosecution and defence witnesses do not have to sit together are simply not happening. Staff are underpaid in comparison with alternative employment, and as a consequence there are serious problems with the recruitment and retention of staff.

Finally, there is the new and possibly even the greatest threat; that is, the demands of the Prison Service. I have long supported, as has my party, the creation of a Ministry of Justice which would bring responsibilities for criminal law and civil law under the same roof, but I never expected the Ministry of Justice to be responsible for prison services as well. That is a great mistake, the result of the rushed creation of the Ministry of Justice in a matter of days without consultation appropriate for such an important constitutional change. Prisons will account for well over half of the spending of the Ministry of Justice, and well over half the staff. The funding of prisons, I believe, should be completely independent of spending on legal aid and the courts.

If there is no ring-fencing, we cannot go on with open-ended spending on new prisons. We will need to put a limit on prison capacity and bring an end to the constant ratcheting-up of sentences, which has led to the overcrowding of prisons. Over recent years the Government have constantly reduced in real terms the budget of what used to be the Department for Constitutional Affairs. The latest forecast for the Ministry of Justice, in its spending review for next year, is a reduction of 1.7 per cent in real terms. The Government’s invariable reply to any complaint is three words: “health and education”. Of course spending on health and education is essential, but not at the cost of everything else.

The rule of law is at the heart of the constitution and access to justice is an essential element in the rule of law. From the so-called Access to Justice Act 1999 until now, the Government—led until last June by a lawyer—have been undermining access to justice. We now have a new Lord Chancellor. He is a lawyer and a senior politician. It is time for him to reverse the decline in access to justice and I call on him to do so.

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6.44 pm

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, I start by welcoming many aspects of the gracious Speech. I have had a long engagement with constitutional issues. I was the chair of Charter 88, the organisation which spearheaded constitutional change throughout the 1990s. We campaigned then for a bill of rights, freedom of information, reform of the Houses of Parliament and so on, and many of those campaigns became part of Labour’s platform in the 1997 election, leading to considerable reform by Labour in government. The reforms were not always as thorough or as ambitious as we would have hoped, but credit is due because much came to pass.

More recently, I chaired the Power inquiry, which produced a report on the state of British democracy. We looked at the reasons why people are so disaffected with regard to formal politics, why they are voting in fewer numbers and why they are so deeply unwilling to join political parties. The expression of profound distrust of politicians and the political system led to very carefully considered recommendations by the inquiry and were included in what became known as the Power report. The recommendations for political and constitutional change aim to produce a revitalised Parliament and re-engaged citizens. It is heartening that all of the political parties recognised the force of much of the argument, and it is particularly uplifting that the new Prime Minister has made these issues one of the central themes in his vision for the future.

The architecture of our democracy, like any great structure, suffers at times from subsidence, from wear and tear, and from erosion. Renovations and underpinning are necessary if our democratic structures are to survive intact and function well in the 21st century. Unlike some before him, and as has already been mentioned, the present Prime Minister is an intellectual who really does know his history. He has read books and understands why foundations should be based on principle and why there should be checks and balances. He knows that power has to be shared. It is unacceptable for the Prime Minister and the Executive to hoard power, and therefore we need to see a strengthening of Parliament and of local politics. The Prime Minister knows that if politicians are to be trusted, they have to trust us, the citizens.

On the constitutional front, there is much to celebrate in the proposals referred to in the gracious Speech. Some have almost gone unremarked in the media. The intention that Parliament should be involved in each international treaty—that would include all the European treaties—seems to draw on the experience in the United States; that is right. We have the agreement that Parliament should vote on a decision to go to war. We have the reform of the role of the Attorney-General. This is an office which in my view has been brought into disrepute in recent years. Any new legislation should make it clear that the incumbent is not the personal counsel of the Prime Minister, but serves the interests of the nation. The incumbent should play no role in deciding on whether a prosecution proceeds or not. The Cabinet should see full and complete advice, and not shortened, reappraised versions. The advice in the Iraq war was a sorry episode, and I need say no more.

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From the public evidence sessions held for the Power inquiry, it became clear that people are concerned about the buying of influence, and they want to see a reform of party funding. I am glad that the Government are going to act on those concerns and I hope that they will adopt the Power inquiry proposals. The plan to greatly enhance freedom of information should be seen as a source of celebration because it really does place greater power in the hands of the citizen. We have seen a serious retreat from freedom of information since the original commitment by my Government, with threatened increases in pricing and limits to be put on the number of requests. To the credit of the Prime Minister, we are seeing a genuine change of direction on this vital piece of people empowerment.

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