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Secondly, I welcome the fact that provisions about coroners inquests will come before us at last. I hope the Government have listened to those who have been urging adequate funding to ensure that bereaved families have access to appropriate legal advice when they are involved in an inquest.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, have dealt with criminals and people in prison, a number of whom will be those whose details are held on the DNA database. We started todays business with another short discussion on the retention of DNA. I make no apology for returning to the subject, as I suggest that the opportunity to address the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights is now presented by the policing, crime reduction and airport security Bill. The judgment was clear in that it deemed the retention of an innocent persons DNA or fingerprints to be an infringement of their right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act, so there will now be even more pressure on the Home Secretary to implement the removal from the database of those who have not been convicted.
During the debates on the Counter-Terrorism Bill, we pressed to the vote, although were ultimately denied a further opportunity as a result of the other place invoking privilege, the proposal that not only should there be a wide debate on the whole question of the database, but there should be statutorily enforced guidelines on how people can find out whether they are on it and how they get off it, which at present is impossible. The judgment goes further than even we had anticipated or hoped. While the Minister said this afternoon that considerationI believe that was his wordwould have to be given to the judgment, I invite him and the Home Secretary to use this legislation to ensure that, for once, the liberty of the individual is upheld.
In his response to the Question on this matter today, the Minister saidI shall not quote him as I do not have his exact wordsthat innocent people had nothing to fear from having their DNA kept on the database, but that is straining at a gnat to catch a camel. No Government should be justifying keeping any details on the citizens of this country unless there is a defined statutory reason for doing so. A range of bodies have pressed this point: the Information Commissioner, now the European Court of Human Rights, the Governments own DNA database ethics committee, the Home Affairs Committee of the other place and the Economic Affairs Committee of this House. That is significant opposition. It is time for the Government to listen and to put this matter right. There are at least 1 million innocent people in this country whose DNA information is kept on the database and every single one of those should be off it.
Sir Ronnie Flanagan produced a long and thoughtful report on the police service, with some 33 recommendations. That resulted in a Green Paper, From the Neighbourhood to the National: Policing our Communities Together, which has now been followed by the policing, crime reduction and airport security
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With regard to the Governments proposals, what discussions have been held with the Local Government Association? I declare here an interest as an elected councillor. This option would place a different set of elected members into a community representative role. At present, councillors are represented on the police authorities and bring the view of their communities and their local authority to the matters being dealt with and I expect that there will be at least some antagonism to rival representatives. As my noble friend said in her excellent contribution at the opening of this debate, the danger of such elections is that there would be room for single-issue candidates to be elected and the electoral areas may be very small. This is an important matter and I believe that the Local Government Associations view is crucial to how it progresses. We will return to this in Committee.
Another aspect that we understand will be in the Bill is the creation of a new police pay review body. So long as it is given the opportunity not only to recommend but to have its recommendations accepted rather than overridden, it is likely to be welcomed. A great deal of ill feeling was caused when the current bodys recommendations were overturned by the Home Secretary. It is to be hoped that, with mechanisms to enable parties to give evidence before recommendations are made, some of that distrust, which has continued, will be dissipated.
I shall touch briefly on the borders, customs and immigration Bill. Many other noble Lords have addressed this, but the fact must be underscored that during this Governments tenure of office there have been seven immigration Acts. The promise this time is that they should be consolidated into one Act, but here again are further changes being made to the UK Border Agency, completed in its current form only in April this year and now subject to further change with the incorporation of the Customs and Revenue but not, apparently, the police. It is vital that our borders are secure. The Minister said in his opening statementrather rashly, I thoughtthat our borders are among the most secure. To have a force that does not include the police seems therefore to be missing the point.
Finally, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, in speaking on the trafficking of humans. I am glad to know that at last the Government have signed, or are about to sign, the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, but that has been a very long time in coming. Last year up to 4,000 women in the United Kingdom were victims of trafficking, so it is a sad fact that, as the Government support this vital measure against the degrading lives into which people are forced, often on the offer of a better life in this country, the human trafficking unit should have had to close because of a reduction of money. Perhaps we can be let into the secret of how
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Lord Tyler: My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, will forgive me if I do not follow her precisely but revert to the issues of constitutional reform that a number of speeches today have concentrated on. In 1997, I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues in both Houses felt that we in this country had at last elected a Government that would take seriously our constitutional anachronisms and the acute democratic deficit. They started well; indeed, in the other place my colleagues and I came under attack for voting too often with the Government. That was scarcely surprising, because much of their agenda was in fact our agenda and owed its origins to the Cook/Maclennan agreement in the run-up to the 1997 election, which argued for a radical and coherent programme of reform of precisely the type that some members of your Lordships House have been calling for today. For us, devolution was as important as fair votes, human rights were as vital as parliamentary reform and, most important, they all fitted together to create a picture of a Britain with a modern, responsive constitution for which we felt that we not only needed to work but needed urgently to achieve.
In his 1996 book, Tony Blair said that he wanted to make Britain a young countrywhatever that was intended to mean. Yet when he left office, our constitution was not just old but was creaking under the strain of a hotch-potch of unco-ordinated change masquerading, in many cases, as real reform. We had moved from a simple democratic deficit to a much more serious sense of democratic disengagement. The real risk that we now face is that people will begin to think that nothing can ever change even if they vote for it. To keep on doing nothing simply means that more people will continue to think in that way.
Reformers in all parties were therefore pleased when the new Prime Minister last year made TheGovernance of Britain a real priority for effective parliamentary democracy in Britain. Indeed, in his first Statement to the House of Commons he spelt out the changes that he wanted to see. Not all of us would endorse every single one of them, but I think that we would accept that there was a new sense of priority, drive and direction in No. 10. He included limits on prime ministerial power, statutory powers for Parliament to decide on international treaties, a final say for Parliament on war and peace, a real change in the role of the Attorney-General and the right for the House of Commons to scrutinise the appointment of key public officials.
Since then, Jack Straw has published a litany of consultation documents on everything from managing protest near Parliament to the voting age, via war powers and weekend elections. He has worked assiduously to piece together consensus between the parties, if not between the two Houses, on the reform of this place, which is no small achievement.
However, The Governance of Britain programme is set to become nothing more than an exercise in prevarication, as many in your Lordships House have indicated today. Indeed, it now rivals the prolonged resistance to female suffrage. Never have there been more measures that we are told need further consideration; never have there been more useful contributions to the debate. We waited seven years for the Governments publication on electoral systems at the beginning of this year and not one single substantial recommendation was there in it.
So what now? What of constitutional renewal? In common with several speakers in your Lordships House today, I sat on the Joint Committee that scrutinised the draft constitutional renewal Bill. I and my noble friend Lord Maclennan agreed, as did, I think, the majority of the committee, that the Bill was in various ways a disappointment. This has been a constant theme today. Some of us branded it a ragbag of retreats, picking up the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. However, the committee made some good recommendations. A minority of us sought to strengthen the report and to press the Government still further. We managed to persuade the committee to include an unprecedented final chapter which deplored the Bills timid collation of disparate proposals. What is the result? The Government, having pulled these issues out of a distant public policy jungle, have now kicked them firmly back into the legislative long grass. One can almost detect the proposals nestling there, with frogs croaking way, heard but never listened to.
You do not need to be a QC to spot that taking forward proposals is not the same as bringing forward proposals. The Bill does not as a result appear in the Governments list of Bills for this Session.
The draft Bill was unambitious, but we must surely lament the complete absence of legislation, not least because there was an opportunity to widen its scope and make a real difference, as recommended by the Joint Committee. The constitutional reform agenda is not a side issue or just a distraction from the global economic crisis; the very inability of our political system to react and respond to public concern threatens our economic and environmental fate as well as our democratic future.
If we want some new evidence of the attitude of the Government to the relationship between the Executive and the legislature, we need look no further than the debate in the other place yesterday. A number of noble and learned Members of this House have already referred to the Damian Green affair from a much more expert point of view than mine, but as a former shadow Leader in that place I was scandalised and shocked to find that the Government intervened in yesterdays debate with a guillotine and a three-line Whip and insisted on making what should have been
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If we are to get anywhere near the young country that Tony Blair told us that we should create by the time of the next election, Ministers in this tired Government will have to take action to renew our constitution. It is no time for novices, but it is no time for ditherers either. Just like the American people, who showed such enthusiasm for real change in November, the British people, too, are now impatient for change. Let us get on with it.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, I join others in commending the Government for exercising restraint in their legislative programme. So often in previous years, a huge list of legislation was contained within Her Majestys gracious Speech and we knew that poor law would be created because of the shortage of time, because it could not possibly be well enough considered and because the pressure on draftsmen and draftswomen would be considerable. The Government have learnt that less is more.
The thrust of the current proposed legislation is towards ameliorating the effects of the economic crisis on the lives of families up and down the country, which is as it should be. I applaud the Government. The coming years will undoubtedly be very hard for many of our citizens. I know that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet are alert to the human pain that is involved in living with uncertainty and debt and in fearing the loss of your job and your home. It is therefore right that Parliament should concentrate on these issues.
Only two of the Bills in the list of 14 relate to criminal justice. Here, I declare my interest as a practising lawyer in the criminal courts and as the new chair of Justice, the all-party law reform and human rights organisation. I follow in the footsteps of many great lawyers and feel honoured and humbled to have been elected to this role. Members of this House will remember that Lord Alexander of Weedon, sitting there on the Conservative Benches, was one of the great chairmen of Justice. I learnt much from him in my early years in this House, when we came together on common causes such as protecting jury trial.
After Lord Alexanders death, the chairmanship moved to the Cross Benches, where the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn, became a great champion
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The torch has now passed to the Labour Benches. That is how it should be, because, if I have learnt anything, it is that the rule of law is too important for it to be constrained by tribal politics. Law matters; law is one of the twin pillars in our great democracy. If we do not protect it, I am afraid that we will be in great danger. I have therefore to warn my noble friends on the Front Bench that I will continue to cast light on the legislation coming through and at times provide uncomfortable criticism. That is a proper role for those of us in this House. Wise politicians know that criticism is what keeps our democracy health and alive.
The two Bills that relate to criminal justice are the coroners and justice Bill, which we hope will reform the antiquated system of coroners adjudication over deaths, and the policing and crime Bill. As always, I am rather concerned about the detailed provisions of Bills that they should respect the principles of human rights and respect access to justice and good governance. It is essential that in legislation we do not just fiddle with existing arrangements and fail to create law of sufficient quality to last. I am happy that the coroners and justice Bill will provide for the appointment of a chief coroner who will support national standards of coroners.
I had the good fortune to chair a working party for the Royal College of Pathologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health after the miscarriages of justice involving infant deaths. We made a number of recommendations on the role of coroners, and I hope that the Government will take a look at those recommendations, most particularly that when a pathologist is instructed in infant deaths, he should have experience in paediatrics.
One concern that I share with Justice is that the reform of the law relating to homicide, which I understand will now be included in the coroners and justice Bill, will be considerably less coherent than the wholesale reform recommended by the Law Commission. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, made mention of this. It would be much more sensible if a holistic view was taken of homicide law rather than it be dealt with in this piecemeal way, looking simply at the partial defences.
I am afraid that I am also unconvinced by the proposals for directly elected representatives to police authorities, particularly at a time when national priorities are so crucially relating to terrorism and serious crime. What may seem populist could easily hinder efficient policing and cause subsequent frustration. I agree with the comment that there could be capture of such authorities by special interest groups on populist platforms, especially on issues such as sentencing, and that we may find that this is not a progressive move.
There are also proposals for a sentencing council for England and Wales. Again, I am very concerned that we are attempting to straitjacket the discretion of the judiciary. The existing arrangements with the Sentencing Guidelines Council and the Sentencing
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All of us who practise in the courts are interested to hear about the detailed proposals on anonymity of witnesses in criminal trials. I hope the Government have in mind that the House of Lords has already commented on this in the Davis case, in which the Law Lords said:
We have heard from a number of noble Lords about concerns on the surveillance society. I have spoken often in this House about my concerns about how we embark on constitutional change and erode civil liberties without too much thought for the consequences. Our society depends on very important mortar binding the citizen to the state. Once we interfere with that and fritter it away, it is very hard to bring it back. The social capital that exists within this country is considerable, but it relies on there being this level of trust.
I chaired the Human Genetics Commission and, at the time, expressed concern about the DNA proposals and keeping the DNA of persons who were not convicted of an offence or who volunteered their DNA. That was some eight years ago; the legislation went through, and I felt like a lone voice at the time. I echo the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. I hope that we revisit this and that there is some sort of wider debate about the retention of DNA. I remember going to the United States and the FBI expressing concern and amazement; here in Britain we have the great benefit of something that does not happen in Americathat populations volunteer to give their DNA. A child dies in a village and all the men happily give their DNA. The FBI was amazed at that volunteerism, because it does not happen in America; it was surprised that people were not somehow over-protective of their privacy. Now I hear people saying that they volunteer their DNA assuming, and being told, that they will have it removed from the database once the person is convicted, but they are finding that it is impossible to have it removed. That is wrong; it erodes something very important within our society.
There are two other Bills that one should mention, and I shall mention them very quickly. One is the borders, immigration and citizenship Bill, which significantly reduces rights of appeal and challenge. I am concerned that we should not remove those rights of appeal, but I am like others relieved to see that protections for children are now being introduced.
I wanted to end on a positive note. The proposed equality Bill is a great achievement, which will bring together 100 pieces of legislation and provide for the first time a comprehensive single equality Act, codifying and simplifying the rights of all members of society. That Act will be a statement of the society that we hope to become, one in which there is no discrimination,
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Finallyand my noble friend on the opposition Benches mentioned thisour constitution is precious. It is our architecture. I commend the idea to the Government that they set up some kind of body that can look at the way forward with regard to constitutional change. It is like the foundations of a house. You have to know where the foundations are and understand where the crossbeams are before removing them. Too often we have done things without that consideration.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, the excellent speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, can be carried forward into another dimension. We do not know where we are or where we are going. It is apparent from the gracious Speech that we are likely to have another constitutional Bill of some kind and that the extant Bill will be withdrawn. That is what is apparent. In those circumstances, it is of some importance that the constitutional entitlement of the Lord Chancellor to advise Cabinet and a Secretary of State as to withdrawal or amendment of a Bill before presentation should be revived.
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