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The consequence of that was that all political announcements of consequence were made in the House of Commons, apart from a few that were made in this House. That was where the news was breaking, and the newsmen were in the Gallery to report to the people. What happens now is very different. A press conference is called somewhere in Whitehall, or possibly somewhere in Birmingham, and the press are told what is going to happen. I draw the Ministers attention to the consequences of that. It is not merely that the public are not informed about what the Opposition think about what is proposed, but they are kept in the dark about what the Governments own Back-Benchers think about it. What may be a perfectly rotten proposal that is vilified by our side is still paraded as whiter than white in the press because the hacks have reported the hacks who were invited by the Government to listen to the Government. I regret to say that it is in the spring of the life of a Government rather than its autumn, which we are now observing, that these reforms take place, but this Government or the next ought to consider reinstituting such arrangements.
It is really a job for the whole House of Commons to grab back its authority to control the release of government information and keep it within its grasp. The effect on public concern and interest in Parliament would be electric. The public would know what was going on. They would know what their Member had said. They would know how it affected them. They would want to read the papers; they would want to watch the telly; they would want to ring up; they would get on to blogs to make their point.
We should never forget that the Government existed before Parliament and that Parliament was invented to protect the people and their liberty and money. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern asked a pertinent question earlier: is it wise, he said, to have so many minions of the Government occupying seats in the Chamber that was invented to control them? The Minister looks puzzled; perhaps he has forgotten that, until the reign of George I, no Minister was allowed to set foot anywhere in the Palace of Westminster because Westminster was there to control the Government. They did not want to have the Government inside. George I did not speak English and needed a Prime Minister to conduct his business.
Thence we have got to the state where now we have 21 members of the Cabinet, 26 Ministers of State, 31 Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State and 18 Whips, making 97 altogether on what is commonly called the payroll vote. To them, we add the aspirants to power, the Parliamentary Private Secretaries, who lose their post if they squeak at all against their leaders. That is another 44, making 141 tame voices in the body that was invented to control the Government. Wiser heads than mine should consider what should be done about that, but something should be, and my noble and learned friend has put his finger on it.
Parliament was invented to protect the people against the Government, to protect their money and their liberty. More than 92,000 of them in the United Kingdomnot a combined figure that we often hearare now not at liberty but in Her Majesty's prisons in one or other of the three parts of the United Kingdom. In December this month, there were 83,322 in England and Wales, 7,798 in Scotland and 1,517 in Northern Ireland. If my arithmetic is correctand I have done it twicethat is 92,637 prisoners living at public expense and making no contribution to the economy.
Has the noble Lord made any connection in his mind between what I am saying and what the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, said earlier: that she had elicited from the Government that the present regime had instituted more than 1,020 new criminal offences since it came to power? Can there be any connection, I wonder? Is it just possible that, if the Government had created only 20 rather than 1,020 new offences, there would be fewer people in prison? Are we going about making our society work in an intelligent and productive way?
Let us look at the people in prison, because this is the Home Office day, as it were. This point flows over into the education day, but I will turn my back on education for the moment. I remind your Lordships that 48 per cent of prisoners are at or below the level
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Clearly, something is wrong on the literacy front. I have been at pains to go over that ground repeatedly with the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, with regard to what perhaps I may call the civilian education section. However, the highest concentration of dyslexic people in the United Kingdom is assembled in the sumps of our prisons. Dyslexia is a significant contributor to offending by the young and by young adult people. If we can tackle that, we shall have done something to reduce our prison population, which is a disgrace and an embarrassment. At the beginning of the tenth minute, I shall leave it at that, but I hope that the Minister thinks of it tonight.
Lord Dixon: My Lords, I have listened with great interest to our debate today, and I look forward to many hours of interesting debate on the security Bill, the police Bill, the legal affairs Bill and the constitutional Bill. On the police Bill, I tend to agree with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. Why on earth we should have directly elected police authorities, I do not know. We keep eroding the powers of democratically elected local government, and I see no purpose in this.
As a time-served boilermaker, I always like to listen to noble and learned ladies and gentlemen. Someone told me, or I read somewhere, that we have thousands of laws on the statute book. However, we have yet to improve on the 10 commandments. I shall spend a few minutes speaking about something that should have been in the gracious Speech, and would have been welcomed by those who live in shipbuilding communities, but was omitted: legislation to deal with the Law Lords decision of 17 October 2007, which caused a great deal of concern and anger to many ex-shipyard workers and others who have been exposed to asbestos and who suffer from pleural plaques.
For more than 20 years, compensation was paid to those diagnosed as suffering from pleural plaques, and there is no way in which anyone can have pleural plaques without having been exposed to asbestos. Last night, I listened to the maiden speech of my honourable friend Lindsay Roy in the other place, who paid a fitting and emotional tribute to his honourable friend John MacDougall, who unfortunately died of asbestos-related diseases.
After many representations from trade unions and MPsI made one or two representations myselfthe Government initiated a consultation exercise, which ended in September. A decision was to be made in November, which is why we expected to see something in the Queens Speech. I worked in the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry for 37 years before becoming
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As I said, there is no way in which anyone can get pleural plaques other than through exposure to asbestos. It is therefore an industrial disease. Since the Law Lords ruling in October 2007, it does not qualify for compensation under the current arrangement, although in the past it qualified for payments under civil arrangements. Pleural plaques are a result of exposure to asbestos and the penetration of the lungs by asbestos fibres. They often cause breathlessness, pain and anxiety in patients and their families, who are well aware of the number of cases that go on to develop more serious asbestos-related diseases. Pleural plaques occur as asbestos fibres are passed through the lungs and cause a hardening of the pleura that protect the lungs. We know that the Prime Minister is sympathetic because he has said so at Question Time in the other place. He has also made two public statements saying that he wants to resolve the matter of compensation for people who suffer from this disease.
The Government set up a consultative exercise, which was to end in September, and a decision was to be made in October 2007. Three options were put forward for consultation. However, people to whom I have spoken prefer the option of new legislation. A simple two-clause Bill would suffice. A claim for payment should be allowed for a person with asbestos-induced pleural plaques and for the dependant of a person who immediately before death was diagnosed with pleural plaques. That is in line with the amendment put down by my honourable friend Mick Clapham to the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill at Report stage in the other place, but it was not pressed to a vote.
I have spoken about the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry, which is where I spent most of my working life. The conditions were vile. You worked in engine rooms where you could not see the light bulbs for the asbestos fibres that were floating about. The only person who had any protective material was the person putting on the lagging, not the fitters or the others who worked in the engine room. All he had was a Martindale mask, which was a bit of gauze and cotton wool with an elastic band that went around the ears. That was the only protection for anyone who worked in those atrocious conditions.
However, I know that asbestos and pleural plaques affect many people in other industries. The Government would do a great service if they brought forward a Bill during this parliamentary Session to deal with the anomalies that were set up after the Law Lords ruling.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, in the Welsh non-conformist tradition, the big occasionI am sure that the Queens Speech is a big occasionis called the Cyrddan mawr. The main preacher preaches for 45 minutes. He divides his sermon into three and he ends with a peroration that people will remember until the next big festival. The guidance is start low, climb higher and, when most possessed, take fire. I will just divide my speech into three and be as brief as I can.
We are here in our different ways to fulfil a vision; that is, to improve society. We want to take positive measures to make sure that society is better after we have been than it was before. This starts in the local community. The new world can begin in the parish council, the community council or the town hall where decisions and moves forward are made. Today, we have discussed things that Parliament can change, although we may have to see how the wind blows. My noble friend Lady Miller spoke of the 1 million DNA samples that are being retained, most of which were taken from totally innocent people. The Government can change that. I am delighted to hear that moves are in hand to bring about a new approach to DNA samples. Of course, Scotland is leading in that regard.
The Government are obsessed with the introduction of identity cards. I was glad about the announcement the other day that at least we are not expected to carry identity cards to be produced on demand by a police officer. But the network for identity cards is already in place; namely, the 68 passport personal interview offices in the UK. Any new applicant for a passport now has to have a personal, face-to-face interview. Some 468 officers man the 68 offices. The scheme has been introduced to prevent terrorism, fraud and identity theft, and is part of the new network of databases and identity cards. I am told that over the past year, 216,581 personal interviews were held for first-time applicants for a UK passport. Of those 216,581 interviews, how many of the applications failed? Not a single application has been found not worthy of a passport or eventually an identity card. I therefore ask the Minister whether the cost of this project at £176 million to date represents money well spent. Is it not time that the Government reviewed the policy and even asked the Audit Commission to look at it? Not one refusal among more than 216,000 interviews indicates a serious situation.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord West, for his help regarding visa applications made by children from Kampala in Uganda. I am so grateful that we succeeded in solving the problem. However, we have a continuing concern because children coming to the United Kingdom on exchange or promotional visits will find it more difficult to do so because of the new regulations, some of which are already in place with more to be introduced in October 2009. Those arranging these visits say that the regulations are unworkable. Could the Government look at this situation again? I am delighted that the Minister is ready to hold discussions with us, and I hope that the Watoto choir from Kampala, other choirs and the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service will all be able to participate in the discussions.
I can say this about the Watoto children. Some 36 choir visits have been made from Uganda to the United Kingdom involving 600 children and thousands of host families. There has not been a single incident that could be regarded as in any way suspicious. Of course we must have legislation to protect the children of the UK and of course we must have legislation to prevent the trafficking of children. However, it needs further review to ensure that totally legitimate and commendable visits by children are not made more difficult to arrange. I hope that we can discuss the
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I came to realise why I am a Liberal when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, speak on immigration policy. I saw then why I am on these Benches and not on those Benches. The whole approach was, to me, totally unacceptable. Immigration policy must be positive and constructive. We do not want to become Fortress Britain. From the time of the Huguenots to the Ugandan Asians, people have been welcomed here because this country is a safe haven for those in need, and that should continue. I hope that when we discuss the new Bill, we can look again at one section in an old Act. Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 withdraws all benefits from failed asylum seekers, which means that we are deliberately putting children and families into destitution. So I ask the Government to accept an amendment when the new Bill comes before us that will remove that section. It is not part of our humanitarian tradition.
Finally, I urge that there should be additional co-operation with organisations that aim to put a roof over the heads of the many hundreds of rough sleepers, who are usually people from the European Union and from overseas. They come here to look for work and their dreams evaporate. I have spoken to Members of the European Parliament and I have suggested that we should consider the transferability of benefits. If people have a pension from, say, Lithuania or Poland, they could draw that pensiontheir money, not oursin the United Kingdom. Why not now have a system of social benefits where the exchequers of those who fall on hard times here remit the money for payment to them in the United Kingdom? We have discussed the relationship between Scotland and England and I am glad that there is no reluctance in the new framework against benefits payable in Scotland not being immediately payable in England and Wales.
There is much to be discussed. We are a part of Europe but we sometimes have a hokey-cokey attitude towards it; we put our right foot in and then take it out afterwards. We are in Europe and providing work on a Europe-wide basis. We should also be providing the support which can sometimes be necessary for those who do not always make a go of it. I welcome the gracious Speech. I am grateful for most of what is in it while hoping for better things to come. It is an opportunity for us to show ourselves once again as a caring and civilised nation.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, it is indisputable that the Government have the full support of the vast majority of the population of the United Kingdom in our allied countries and from all sides of both Houses in the measures that they have taken to address the real and present threats that we face from terrorism. However, they are in danger of diluting that supportand, indeed, abusing itby utilising legislation and operational powers that were brought in under the cover of anti-terrorism requirements for totally unconnected purposes. It is dangerous in that Ministers will not be given the
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There have been many notable examples. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, about the Australian version of our Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, RIPA, which your Lordships House played such a prominent role in revising when the Bill was brought from the House of Commons in a totally unacceptable state. That legislation was sold to Parliament by the Government and Ministers as a vital measure to give the intelligence and security agencies the formal framework and powers they needed in order to pursue their surveillance activities. That is a totally legitimate purpose which the House strongly supported at the time. But what has transpired subsequently is that the assurances that were given by Ministers that these powers would be used to combat the most serious types of activities have proved to be rather different from the facts that have emerged.
An extraordinarily broad plethora of agencies concerned with the environment and educationlocal authorities, for examplehave not been able to resist the temptation to reach for the statutory top shelf and to help themselves to the kind of surveillance options designed to keep tabs on terrorists. They might well be pursuing valid offenders, but one has to question whether those measures are proportionate to the criminal activities concerned. What message does this send to the public at large? How do the Government believe it affects public support for measures that may be used against members of the publicfor example, to see whether they have put down their children for the right school?
On the same theme, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was used to seize the assets of Landsbanki in the UK. The situation here is rather different in that that Act overtly provides for this type of situation, but the fact that banking regulation and anti-terrorism legislation were mixed in the same Act has led to utter confusion outside Westminster and to the Icelandic people being deeply insulted. Again, the public perception is that the threat of terror has been used to deal with totally unrelated and unconnected financial services issues. In responding to that debate, the noble Lord, Lord Myners, in his excellent maiden speech, was unconvinced that that bizarre blend presented a serious problem. The majority of voices think otherwise. We now have the Banking Bill before uswhat a perfect opportunity to put that right.
The next example that I shall draw on was when we heard from the noble Lord, Lord West, that the police who arrested Damian Green were counterterrorism officers. In an award-winningand, I might say, Sir-Humphrey-esqueturn of phrase, he commented that:
I know, and the House has been told, that Special Branch has been combined with Counter Terrorism Command, but the nomenclature says it all: if Special Branch officers are rebranded as counterterrorism officers, surely it is reasonable to assume that that is the focus of their activities. If that is not the case then unnecessary confusion has been created, and I question why.
Unless the Government realise that using the spectre of terrorism to achieve unrelated aims is unjustified, ineffective and counterproductive, we will be more vulnerable, not less. Against that background, the chain of events initiated by the Home Secretarys department that has led to the arrest of her political opponent looks exceptionally dangerous and chilling.
Lord Laird: My Lords, I note in the gracious Speech the reference to Northern Ireland, and I support that reference. Tomorrow, 10 December, is Human Rights Day. I am in favour of a UK Bill of rights and responsibilities and I am against the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commissions anticipated radical wish list to be released in Belfast tomorrow.
The 1998 Belfast agreement does not require a provincial Bill. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission was asked to advise on supplementary rights, not to interfere with the UKs international obligations. It was asked to address,
meaning sectarian violence and division, not the full range of domestic public policy including economic and social issues. The Human Rights Commission has abused its powers by seeking to impose its own agenda as an unelected, and in some cases unelectable, group of individuals.
There is an unbridgeable gulf between the Government and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Earlier this year I asked a series of 34 Parliamentary Questions across the range of government policy. I never indicated that my inspiration was the final report of the Bill of Rights Forum in Belfast. This document is proposed as the foundation for the Bill of Rights. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, answered in the form of a Written Ministerial Statement on 29 September 2008.
I shall take just a few examples of the Bill of Rights Forums proposals for Northern Ireland. One is the raising of the age of criminal responsibility to 18. It means that I would live in the only part of the United Kingdom where young vandals and louts could run the streets free of criminal responsibility at a time when Jack Straw is proposing tougher measurers in England and Wales. Another example is the right to continuous improvement of living standards. Only in Northern Ireland, according to the Bill of Rights Forum, must the Government increase everyones living standards year on year as a human right for the very rich and poor alike. Another example is the right to the highest attainable standards of health. Has anyone in the large human rights industry in Belfast ever heard of the credit crunch and the economic crisis? These concepts are aspirations, not human rights.
Does anyone seriously think that we in Northern Ireland are morally or politically justified in asking for a larger percentage of central funds to indulge these rights? What have these so-called rights to do with the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland? What about proposals to break down sectarianism? What about proposals concerning the right to peaceful assembly? Will there be disapproval of the religious discrimination in employment practices by some government bodies?
But there is more, much more. There is the abolition of the voluntary right to join the Armed Forces under the age of 18. I underline that the proposal is to do away only in Northern Ireland with the right of someone under 18 years of age to join the forces. It is in the name of human rights. There is a right to adequate housing, reverse discrimination for favoured groups, the abolition of all oaths, restriction on freedom of expression, and the making of the right to strike a human right for all, including the Army and police. There is no end to this utter nonsense. It is very interesting that on each and every one of these and many more policies the Government have already indicated that they are not in favourI refer noble Lords to that Statement of 29 September.
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