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This entitlement was established in the early 18th century when the Lord High Chancellor first attended Cabinet and first became a Member of this House. As it evolved, the entitlement was exercised by successive Lord Chancellors as spoken to by my noble friend the shadow Lord Chancellor on the debate on two reports of the Constitution Committee: on 18 November at columns 1121 and 1122. I suppose, with reluctance, I have to declare an interest that I devilled at the behest of one Lord Chancellor to peruse documents before presentation to Parliament. Those documents were draft Bills.

By acceptance of the Great Seal an amendment was accepted and the office of Lord Chancellor was retained. With it, his constitutional entitlements and obligations were retained, other than those subsequently abrogated by Parliament by statute. As asserted by my noble friend Lord Kingsland, by virtue of the oath taken under Section 17 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, this entitlement of the Lord Chancellor, at the initial conversion of government policy into law, should be exercised to ensure guardianship of the rule of law and conformity with structures, procedures and constitutional principle.

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The purpose of this speech is to persuade revival of the resort to the entitlement and closure on the combined appointment of the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice—an amalgam of disparate conflicting functions that inhibit the exercise of those functions with distressful consequences, as exemplified by the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, which does not appear in the gracious Speech.

The criticism is of the combined appointment. It is not ad hominem. I could not very well stand here and criticise a fellow Bencher of my era. I am not prepared to do so. But that does not detract from what I hope will be the force of my criticism of the arrangement. I will give a few examples, which all happened: they are not imaginary. There was no resort to this entitlement on the Counter-Terrorism Bill, which proposed 42 days pre-charge detention. It is wholly apparent from the voting list that that clause would have been withdrawn if either of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg or Lord Falconer of Thoroton, were Lord Chancellor. But they were not; they had gone. It could not be exercised in the constitutional renewal Bill because we have the combined appointment. It would have been withdrawn by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, because he said in evidence to the Joint Committee that apart from the Civil Service there was nothing of significance in the draft Bill. That was in paragraph 368 of volume 1 of the report.

One could go a little further. In the recommendations of the report, one in particular deals with the evidence in open session on 1 July by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State that justifies the purpose of this speech. A question arose about implementation of a provision in the Bill for the intendment as spoken to by the Lord Chancellor. It was not answered. In fact, I happened to ask the question. To produce an answer, the Minister, Michael Wills, intervened to explain. He said that the draft Bill,

That is all very well, but this concept is utterly fallacious. The purported intendment was to transfer executive powers to Parliament and control the exercise of war powers proposed in the Government of Britain triology. It is amazing that that answer was given.

I will conclude fairly swiftly. The crux of the justification for the revival of the entitlement and for closure of the combined appointment is the reasoning of the report. The reasoning was that there was no underpinning principle, no provision as to implementation of the intendment, the long and short titles were defective, reform of the prerogative should be approached in a cohesive manner, not imposed by personal statutes, there was much work to be done before the Bill could be introduced and the Government should reflect on wider constitutional issues. Against that, surely there is a strong case for revival of the resort to the entitlement which exists. It would not require legislation because a statute is not required to operate extant constitutional entitlement and obligations.

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7.30 pm

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, when one observes how, on a regular basis, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs appears to feel that she has to make a pronouncement on the latest criminality, when one finds chief constables communicating through the press on such issues as the now happily defunct 42-day detention or how cannabis should be categorised, and when the Government seek to legislate as though law and order were predicated on the assumption that most of our citizens are potentially bad, one could be forgiven for believing that our nation is losing its way. The gracious Speech contains nothing to reassure me that the present Government have a clue about how to deal with what is happening out there in the big wide world.

We have gone through a period when we could easily accept the words of a previous Secretary of State that our Home Office is “not fit for purpose”. We have seen that department sub-divided but still not improving in its efficiency. Our current Home Secretary briefly believed and articulated the idea of solving knife crime by bringing the perpetrator face to face with the victim in hospital. She may now have modified her position, but she is not alone in her knee-jerk approach to crime and justice or in pandering to the public through such superficial and irrelevant pronouncements.

In Northern Ireland, we have a chief constable who, virtually weekly, publicly advertises the threat from dissident republicans. There have indeed been some dissident IRA incidents; I would be interested to know if anyone has been convicted of these crimes. However, if I was some boisterous young republican, I would be so heartened by the chief constable's fearful obsession that I would be rushing off to join one of those dissident groups. That is not what the chief constable should be doing. He is effectively recruiting terrorists—but is his “If it should happen, I told you so” approach not consistent with the Government's attitude to such matters?

Within the past 18 months, I have, as a participant in the police service parliamentary scheme, had the privilege of patrolling with the Metropolitan Police. It brought me back in some ways to life before Parliament. Despite my admiration for the Met officers, however, I was deeply disturbed by the extent to which small groups of teenagers and young people were being stopped and searched at random. Now the Government's newest initiative appears to promise that this practice will be extended to any citizen, who can be stopped at random and required to produce identification.

What does that do? It alienates young people and sets them at variance with our police. It closes off a vital line of communication and, perhaps, information and, ultimately, intelligence—this at a time when we continue to place the godfathers of the drug trade in ordinary prisons, where they corrupt other inmates, or ODCs, as we used to call them—ordinary decent criminals. The godfathers, with their displays of power and wealth, their access to drugs and privileges, are able to continue to run their evil trade with minimum hindrance. Instead of continuing with such a flawed

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and self-corrupting system we might have expected the Government to introduce steps to isolate the godfathers of the drug trade under the strictest security and, indeed, extreme peddlers of international terrorism. What a difference it would make to have a couple of extra high-security prisons, where physical contact with the outside world was impossible except with those who supervised the inmates. Instead of hounding our young folk on the streets, should we not be seeking to protect petty offenders in prison from the influence of the most dangerous people in our society by keeping them well apart?

We should acknowledge that the godfathers of the drug trade are guilty of treason, for is it not the drugs money that sustains those who kill our soldiers in, for example, Afghanistan? I visited our troops there about six months ago; they were brave and dedicated young patriots who deserve our thoughtful and effective support. Think about it, and about whether the Government should be more effectively regulating the criminal godfathers in society rather than introducing more and more Bills that inhibit our rights and freedoms.

Briefly, on a matter that is implied rather than stated in the gracious Speech, is your Lordships’ House content that, without any detailed consideration, GCHQ is planning to listen in to all our mobile telephone calls and to scrutinise all our e-mails? Is it content that, effectively, the Government are permitting us to move inexorably towards becoming a totalitarian state? While I am aware of several brave ladies, particularly in this House, who know much, much more than me about intelligence gathering, I have some experience. Anti-criminal and anti-terrorist intelligence is about small chinks in the enemy's armour. It starts from there and develops like an inverted pyramid. It does not develop or succeed from adopting a broad-brush approach and hoping that a villain will suddenly appear at the top of a pile of irrelevancy.

That brings me back to communication with ordinary citizens on our streets. We will not have a chance of maintaining normality and a relatively healthy society if we continue in the direction that this Government are taking us. Most people are decent, and that includes our teenagers, who are no madder, and certainly no more mischievous, than we were at their age. It is my firm hope that this House will, in this coming year, do nothing to infringe the rights and freedoms of this nation. As with 42 days’ detention, we will have none of it—although we support our Government's declared objective of keeping our nation safe.

I shall add one other thought, without explanation. It is a story for another day as I do not have time now, but it speaks for itself. If we believe in the human rights of the individual, and I do, why should an Iranian homosexual fearing persecution in his own land be accorded asylum here when two Christian families with seven small children, whose church was attacked and 17 of the congregation murdered in the Peshawar district in Pakistan, be denied the same protection without right of appeal?

I implore our Government to do better. If the means is flawed, the objective will be lost.

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7.39 pm

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I apologise for having missed the earlier part of the debate. I was attending a meeting involving delicate and long-standing issues affecting community relations.

The Queen’s Speech, which reflects the Government’s legislative programme for this parliamentary Session, deserves criticism more for what it leaves out than for what it includes. In particular, there is a series of issues related to criminal justice and the penal system which remain in acute need of reform and on which we have repeatedly pointed out the need for change to the Government ever since they came to office in 1997. It is a shame that we are again missing the opportunity to fundamentally reform our criminal justice system. Let me spell this out. A key recurring issue is the lack of help or supervision for short-term prisoners when they leave prison. Most of the offenders sent to prison each year receive sentences of less than 12 months. Prisoners serving short sentences do not receive supervision from the Probation Service and their reconviction rates are higher than those of other prisoners. It is not surprising that prisoners who receive least help should have the highest reconviction rates. As a result, these offenders are often caught up in a revolving door of imprisonment, release, reoffending and further imprisonment. They are responsible for much of the high-volume offending which causes such distress to residents in high-crime areas. The Government should commission the voluntary sector to provide resettlement services for these prisoners in every area of the country.

Yet again, the Government have failed to bring forward legislation to reform the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act despite their acceptance of most of the recommendations of the Home Office review group five years ago. The review group proposed the shortening of the rehabilitation periods which must elapse before offences become spent and ex-offenders do not have to declare them when applying for jobs. Sensitive occupations such as work with children and vulnerable adults would have remained exempt from these proposals. Such a change would greatly reduce the scope for unfair discrimination against former offenders and, because employing offenders reduces reoffending, would also increase public safety. If the Government will not introduce this reform, I feel duty bound to promote a Private Member’s Bill on the subject. I trust that the Minister will indicate whether they welcome such an approach.

I see nothing in the Queen's Speech designed to tackle this country's overuse of imprisonment. If the prison system is to stand a reasonable chance of rehabilitating prisoners, prisons must not continue to be swamped by the pressure of numbers. Instead of ploughing vast resources into expanding the prison system by building enormous, Titan prisons, the Government should set targets for limiting the size of the prison population by introducing legislation requiring sentencing guidelines to take account of the capacity of the prison system.

Nor does the Speech contain anything designed to prevent the community sentences supervised by the Probation Service being used for low-level offenders with little likelihood of reoffending. It is important to

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concentrate Probation Service resources on work with more serious or persistent offenders, particularly those who would otherwise receive ineffective short prison sentences. A way of concentrating probation resources on those more serious or persistent offenders would be to reverse the decline in the use of fines. The Government should consider introducing a “day fine” system, which would relate fines more precisely to offenders' means. This would help to make fines a fairer and more credible punishment for offenders of all income levels.

The Queen's Speech should also have contained provisions to reduce the imprisonment of people who have breached community supervision—either community sentences or post-release licences—for example, by missing or being late for probation appointments. The number of recalled prisoners has escalated alarmingly in recent years as probation officers' discretion over breach proceedings has been progressively restricted. This has made a significant contribution to the overcrowding of local prisons. A graduated scale of punishments for breaches of supervision orders should be introduced, with prison used only when less severe penalties have been tried first.

Ever since I entered this House I have drawn attention to the position of minority ethnic people in our criminal justice system, which is now worse than it was when the Stephen Lawrence inquiry reported. The disproportion in the use of stop-and-search powers has become even more extreme and the proportion of the prison population from minority groups is now significantly higher than it was when the Government came to office in the late 1990s. I would like to see a clear statutory duty placed on all criminal justice agencies to adopt numerical targets for reducing racial disproportionality in all their operations. I am seriously concerned about allegations of racial discrimination that have surfaced in the Metropolitan Police. The high level of financial settlements and the decisions of industrial tribunals clearly indicate that racism seems to have affected the police and policing decisions.

We need to revisit the Macpherson report, published in 1999. We need to ensure that the CPS, courts, legal professions and the prison and probation services can work with local authorities and communities to guarantee justice and equality for all. We must work to repair the damage done to community relations by restoring confidence in the criminal justice system. The system cries out for accountability and consultation with local communities, which need to be restructured, strengthened and properly resourced. We have yet to see systematic joint training across criminal justice agencies aimed at a co-ordinated and consistent approach to fairness and equality in the delivery of our justice system.

I would also have liked to see the Queen's Speech signal the Government's intention to establish a women's justice board with a remit in relation to women similar to that of the Youth Justice Board in relation to young offenders. Most women sent to prison are neither violent nor dangerous and the majority have few previous convictions. A women's justice board could set standards for meeting female offenders' needs for resettlement and rehabilitation, mental health services, family contact

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and culturally appropriate support for female foreign nationals. It could also set targets to reduce the damaging use of custody for women.

Today's serious economic challenges are inevitably and rightly receiving priority attention from the Government. However, the challenge of improving our criminal justice system is just as vital a part of ensuring the fabric of a healthy society as the challenge posed by the economic crisis. It is regrettable, therefore, that the Queen's Speech did not contain a range of measures designed to produce a more effective criminal justice system. I certainly welcome the Government’s intention to simplify immigration legislation. This is long overdue. Over the years my noble friend Lord Avebury and I have asked the Government to consolidate this complex legislation. May I ask the Minister what is intended by “simplifying immigration law” and “the path to citizenship”? We do not want a piecemeal approach but a coherent consolidation of the plethora of legislation enacted since 1971. Of course, I will have more to say when we receive proposals for “probationary citizenship”. Suffice it to say at this stage that the process of citizenship must encompass the rights of all people to live in peace, get an education and a job and raise a family. It is a social contract encompassing the whole community. Its aim must include social inclusion, tolerance, equality and a diverse society where human rights flourish. To delay the process for those who have established their right to remain here would be counterproductive. Surely the last thing we want is to have the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, putting an “L” plate on migrants because he is not satisfied that the applicant speaks the Queen’s English. On that count, I do not think I would have qualified for my citizenship.

In conclusion, the lines are clearly drawn. We look forward to interesting debates in coming months.

7.50 pm

Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract: My Lords, Members of the House may recall that on 23 November 2006 I rose in this Chamber in a similar debate to draw to the attention of noble Lords the actions of a minority of solicitors—I emphasise not all—who certainly bring their profession into disrepute. While being fortunate enough, in my view, to receive a guarantee from the Government of £2,100 for every case, these people had the cheek and the greed then to deduct money from the miners’ compensation. Much of the compensation was a pittance compared with what the solicitors got. The miners and widows have been betrayed by their solicitors in the British Coal litigation. I believe that it is the grossest breach of trust in the history of the legal profession. The offending solicitors have defied their regulator with impunity. Tens of thousands of miners and widows have died while still waiting for justice, betrayed by their own solicitors.

The arrogance of these solicitors is matched only by their greed. After a decade of inaction by the Law Society, a handful of cases are finally surfacing before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. The hall of infamy includes firms such as Raleys, Ashton Morton Slack, Wake Smith, Lopian Wagner and, of course, Beresfords. I add the firm of Thompsons in the north-east, a trade

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union firm with an excellent reputation. How could we forget Jim Beresford who, thanks to the British Coal litigation, became a multimillionaire, with a personal income exceeding £15 million per annum? Having given evidence to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal against his former solicitors, Beresfords, a retired miner, John Straw, said to some other miners, “Me and thee went down that dusty pit for 25 years to earn his private jet, £140 million and a mansion near Wetherby. I had four children and I never had a holiday, because I could not afford one”.

I am sure that the actions of these lawyers are limited to a few firms. Nevertheless, the effect on the miners has been such that they have lost out, after many years in the coal mine, and they are suffering. Over the past years, going back 20 years, to my time in the other place, I have been introducing Bills on this dreadful bronchitis and emphysema. I go to my local hospital from time to time and see men who cannot breathe and who cannot live without oxygen. They have no strength at all to fight their corner, and it is the same for the widows. What I want is what I asked for in the previous debate; will the Minister consider at least attempting to form some legislation that will stop the disgraceful practice of these people getting so rich at the expense of the miners? I have seen cases where the solicitors received their £2,200 and the miner had received £1,000 compensation, and the solicitors had the cheek to take deductions from that amount.

I had hoped that I would not have to rise again after my 2006 debate when I requested action, but unfortunately I have had to do so. I am becoming a very old man; I do not always feel it but I sometimes do. I shall never rest until justice is brought about for these unfortunate people. I know that people can listen to me, sympathise and imagine what the situation is like, but people should go around these hospitals and see these men—many of them are not old men—fighting for life with not much life left in them. Some of them cannot lift a cup of tea to their lips; and a minority of lawyers have taken money off their compensation.

I hope that the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner will continue, as it has in recent times, to push the lawyers to refund the money. Some of them have done that, but nothing near the amount that is necessary. I appeal to my friend the Minister to take what I have said this evening into account and give it serious consideration. I wonder whether there is any action at all that can be taken against these solicitors, bearing in mind that they have accepted an agreed payment from government for their services and then they stole money from miners’ compensation.

I am not tying all the solicitors’ profession with this business, because that is not true, but there are firms that are doing it, and I believe that some action should be taken to put right the terrible things that these solicitors, who people trust, have done. When you go to a solicitor, people trust that they are going to get the best advice. Some of these miners have never been to a solicitor in their lives; they trust them and they have been let down by a profession that we all ought to be able to trust. I hope that my contribution tonight will bear some results and that pressure will be brought to bear on these solicitors to pay back every farthing that they stopped out of miners’ compensation.

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I am sure that the whole House will agree with the points that I have made. I hope that action will be taken, and I press my noble friend the Minister to take the necessary action or at least attempt—even if it is not possible in legislation—to take every possible action to get this money returned to the miners.

7.59 pm

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, the subjects of home, legal and constitutional affairs touch the lives of every single citizen in the United Kingdom and have been of much policy interest in recent years. I should like to focus on the problems of binge drinking, which has created a major headache for large numbers of people, has disastrous health consequences for a number of people, and is partly responsible for a crime epidemic that lies at the heart of much misery in our country.

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