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Many people hope that they will not hear any more of this Santa Clause-style Christmas wish list in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission report to be published tomorrow, but I suspect that we will. I wonder whether any Member of your Lordships House thinks that the type of special human rights already outlined should apply to Northern Ireland because of its particular circumstances.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, throughout its sorry, one-sided, nine-year existence, has cost more than £10 million. It has developed its own remit, ignored the obligations given to it at creation and has done immense damage to the view of human rights for one side of the community.
There are many examples of that one-sided approach to add to its support for religious discrimination in employment. Let us take the recently adjudicated case concerning the girls school in north Belfast called Holy Cross. Despite there being two sides to this complex issue, the commission supported the case which suited its one-sided approach and managed to take it to Your Lordships House, where it was thrown out with a rebuke to the commission by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann.
I am a citizen of the United Kingdom. I accept that there are particular circumstances that require human rights legislation for Northern Ireland. These circumstances are not about an inflated living standard and better housing and healthcare which my fellow citizens in England, Scotland and Wales cannot afford for themselves. The tactics of a large part of the human rights industry in Northern Ireland have been to impose an unelected control in the affairs of the Province, which is designed to divide us from the rest of the UK. In other circumstances, a government body that ignored its remit, wasted time, brought discredit on itself and that which it was supposed to promote and exceeded its original budget would be subject to parliamentary and governmental inquiry so why not the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission?
As one who is genuinely in support of human rights for all, I strongly suggest that Her Majesty's Government should dispense with the services of the Chief Commissioner Monica McWilliams. As part of the United Kingdom, we should be involved with the UK Commission for Equality and Human Rights under Trevor Phillips, an outstanding human rights advocate. I have no doubt that that body could cope with the
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Many of us take our position in the United Kingdom very seriously, in good times and in bad. We do not want more than what the totality of the union can give all of us. It is time that those with a political agenda which is not about genuine human rights but about destroying our place in the union, were exposed and confined to history. Shame on them for wasting time and money and for damaging the very concept of human rights.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, it has been a long and interesting debate. The gracious Speech, remembered as it will be more for what it omits than for what it includes, does not seem particularly fit for the serious times that we now confront, times when the social fabric of society will be ever more stretched with rising unemployment, homelessness and levels of poverty. Serious indeed these times will be for the large numbers of our fellow citizens who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
We know, a la Mr Damian Green, that the Home Office itself believes that the economic crisis will see a concomitant rise in crime and disorder, yet there are no measures to divert people, particularly those with mental health needs or learning disabilities, away from the criminal justice system into health and social care. There are no measures to end the unnecessary imprisonment of women for minor offences and no fresh thinking on why we continue with a prison system in which three-quarters of all young offenders are reconvicted within a year of release. Indeed, the opposite seems to be the case, as the march towards the white elephant that Titan prisons will become continues unabated. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, has told us that some £1 billion will need to be saved from the Ministry of Justices budget. Can I propose to the Minister that scrapping Titan prisons is one easy way to start?
Many noble Lords have spoken about the strains and stresses that the criminal justice system is under, from the processes in court to the overcrowding in prisons, right through to the lack of resources to effect a smooth transition into probation and the resumption of normal life. It was a pleasure today to add the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, to the usual suspectsthe noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Judd and Lord Elton, my noble friend Lord Dholakia and the noble Baroness, Lady Sternwho continue to hold the Government to account for the shameful state of our prisons.
Over the past year we have seen several reviews on which we await the Governments response, from the Bradley review to aspects of the Carter review on imprisonment, and we now have piecemeal measures to address some of the pressure points in the system through the coroners and justice Bill. Before I turn to specific measures, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, on her resuming the chairmanship of Justice. She rightly says that that role is too important for tribal politics, but given her
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Despite the barracking of some of my noble friends here, I will confine my remarks to one particular issue in the gracious Speechthe establishment of a sentencing council for England and Wales in place of the Sentencing Guidelines Councilwith a specific remit to promote consistency in sentencing practice. On our Benches, we recognise that, while more structured mandatory guidelines can indeed reduce inconsistencies in the system, and greater public understanding of the system is highly desirable, we are nevertheless clear that courts must retain their flexibility. The reduction of judicial discretion through formulaic systems such as US-style sentencing grids will not provide for greater justice for the criminal nor improve consistency and stability in sentencing.
We also welcome attempts at depoliticising sentencing, but we must approach reform in this area with care. For sentences to be deterrent, they must be tailored to the facts of individual cases as well as satisfying the public's need to see sentencing ultimately leading to deterrence.
The other interesting thing about the gracious Speech was what was missing, such as an area that was the Prime Minister's great preoccupation before he rediscovered his mission as the nation's bankerhis pursuit of forging a new British identity for the citizens of the United Kingdom. For that task, he commissioned the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, to produce a report, Citizenship:OurCommon Bond. It is a comprehensive and thoughtful paper on where we are and where we might seek to go. At a time when the social fabric of society is under greater pressure than ever due to diversity and rising individualism, and at a time when changes to where we live and how we live are disconnecting us from each other, the Government are now silent.
The Goldsmith review, written after extensive consultation and some of the most forensic academic research of recent times, cast light on some of the more complex and intractable problems to do with law, entitlements, benefits and duties. We are all subject to these and we all derive rights as fully paid-up citizens of these areas of the law. The review sought to rationalise the very different routes to citizenship. There are currently six, it told us, several of which are rather opaque. I should declare that I naturalised as a citizen by availing myself of the automatic right to take that status after residence of five yearssomething that will now be abolished. I might even say that I was granted that right on the watch of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, at the Home Office in 1983. I hope that he can see some benefit in letting a few of us foreigners in.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord West, that British citizenship is indeed a privilege. For those who have acquired it, it is something that we cherish. But I hope that the loss of that right will be balanced by equally progressive measures to see migrants as more than mere instruments for economic growth, as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth.
In addition to rationalising a number of ancient outdated or disparate laws, the Goldsmith review also sought to address the importance of a common bond to bring an increasingly diverse society together. Among the new thinking are ideas to encourage youth volunteering and enhanced citizenship education from primary school onwards aimed at making young people more active as citizens.
The noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, spoke about youth radicalisation. The rollout of these kinds of measures would go some way towards engaging those who cannot immediately see how they belong in our society. The review also touched on how citizenship should be seen as an ongoing engagement which needs periodic reinforcement; hence practical measures for mentoring from older people with skills that they can pass on, discussing how these might work.
Finally, the review spoke to my particular interest, the role of newcomers. If there is a single integration measure that newcomers value above others, it is the ability to communicate: to speak English. Although, to our regret, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, does not advocate the state bearing the cost of English courses, he recommends a series of measures to strengthen participation in these courses. I hope that the Minister can tell us if he intends to act on any of these in the future.
On the same issue, my noble friend Lord Dholakia spoke for us all when he voiced concerns about the detail of earned citizenship. I remind the Minister that, rather than heeding the words of his colleague Mr Woolas in the other place, he might note that the Goldsmith review states that,
Briefly, on Muslims, I listened with keen interest to the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, on how difficult it is to make progress on the prevent strand of dealing with violent extremism. I share her concerns, and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones. We on these Benches pay tribute to the number of excellent people who are working to counter extremism. However, we do not wish to see the straitjacket of primary legislation employed to deal with and challenge ideology, however misguided it may be.
We have had a rich and varied debate, but a few themes stand out. First, there is that of a decreasing trust in the governance of Britain. My noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart, the noble Lords, Lord Williamson of Horton and Lord Norton of Louth, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate, eloquently spoke to this. A repeated point was that constitutional reform is not an add-on at times of national strain. Good institutions provide the backbone for social resilience, on which trust is founded. We on these Benches feel that our sentiments were best expressed by my noble friend Lord Goodhart in his reminder to us about how, as a society, our commitment to human rights, must be unwavering. We also heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and my noble friend Lady Miller, of the need for the Government to act now on the retention of DNA samples. The Minister can have been left in little doubt as to where both opposition parties are on this.
Where the Governments legislative programme has been thin, the debate on the gracious Speech has been extremely rich. There can be little doubt in the Ministers mind that we on these Benches will live up to our responsibilities in holding the Government to account on the measures in the Bill and those that should have been in it.
Lord Kingsland: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, observed, the subject matter on the gracious Speech today is extremely wide. Indeed, I suggest that his insight is a powerful candidate for being the understatement of the day. I apologise to noble Lords in advance for not responding to their speeches where they covered matters that were spoken to by my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones in her opening.
Having reminded your Lordships House of the number of criminal justice Bills that have descended on your Lordships since 1997, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, concluded that no other country has suffered such a deluge of criminal legislation. He went on to express relief at whatto adapt the expression used by the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Ramsbothammight be described as the anorexic nature of the Governments current legislative programme. I must say that I agree.
Subject, of course, to the detail, we welcome certain measures. The first is the coroners Bill, which will be linked to certain other justice matters. As your Lordships know, the coronial system has been with us for more than 700 years and is a vital component of our constitutional safeguards, especially where death occurs in state institutions or in the service of the state. In the draft coroners Bill, the Government describe the state of the coroner service as,
The coronial system should be retained, but in a form entirely different from at present. There must be radical reform and a complete break with the past, as to organisation, philosophy, sense of purpose and mode of operation.
We will be as co-operative as we can be with the Government in seeking to produce a really fine piece of legislation fit for purpose. However, I emphasiseas indeed did my noble friend Lady Neville-Jonesthat we will oppose any attempt to include the terms of Clause 64 of the Counter-Terrorism Bill in the new coroners legislation.
We also support the proposed increase in powers for the Information Commissioner. Since Her Majestys Revenue and Customs lost the records of 25 million people, a further 277 data breaches have been reported to the independent Information Commissioner, 75 within the National Health Service, 28 in central government, 26 in local government and 47 in other parts of the public sector. This situation is quite unacceptable.
Witness anonymity legislation was introduced and passed in exceedingly compressed circumstances earlier in the year, following a decision of the Appellate
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I hesitate to comment on partial defences to murder without seeing the text of the Bill, but I found myself inclining towards the views expressed on the matter by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
The gracious Speech is perhaps more significant for what it does not include, such as constitutional renewal, as many of your Lordships observed. This got as far as the Joint Committee report of 22 July 2008. The Government are now saying that the matter will be carried forward. My honourable friend Mr Nick Herbert, the shadow Secretary of State for Justice, compared the Governments retreat on constitutional renewal from its high point at the beginning of Mr Browns Administration to the deft way in which the right honourable Jack Straw retreated backwards down the steps of the Throne after delivering the gracious Speech to Her Majesty.
The importance of some of the components of the constitutional renewal proposals has, in my view, been somewhat exaggerated. The Government have talked up the significance of transferring powers from the Executive to the legislature. But, as a number of your Lordships have observed, such as my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, while the Executive control the legislature, the value of this apparent transfer is extremely limited.
I recall that, at the time of the Constitutional Reform Bill debates, the Government made a great deal about the importance of the separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature, but looked extremely embarrassed when anyone mentioned the equal importance of the separation of powers between the Executive and the legislature. This is a matter that the Government were not prepared to confront and make no effort to confront in the constitutional renewal legislation. While they fail to do that, the value of this legislation, even if it gets on the statute book, will, in my submission, be extremely limited.
There are two matters that I want to touch on that are part of that story. First, there is the question of the status of the Attorney-General. Opposing views have been quite strongly expressed today in your Lordships House. Your Lordships will perhaps not be surprised to learn that I side with the view expressed by my noble and learned friends Lord Mackay of Clashfern and Lord Lyell of Markyate. It seems to me that the
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The other matter that I want to touch on is the question of treaties. I would go much further on treaties than the constitutional renewal Bill, which simply wants Parliament to ratify treaties. That has proved valueless where treaties have given away individuals rights of citizens, either to international organisations or to other countries. I am thinking particularly of the arrest warrant legislation and of a matter that is very close to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart: the extradition treaty with the United States. Here, in secret, government Ministers gave away the rights of individual citizens without Parliament ever being informed about it. Therefore, what Parliament should be aiming at is to be able to see the drafts of these treaties before they are signed, because once they are signed the Government are committed and there is very little that Parliament can do about it.
I would not like the House to think that the Opposition are not deeply interested in constitutional reform; we just have no illusions about what the Government are saying about the nature of the reform that they are proposing. I was also extremely grateful for the perceptions of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway on the powers of the Lord Chancellor following the 2005 Act.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, made an observation about the intentions of the Opposition in relation to the Human Rights Act. I would like to reassure him about that, to the extent that I am aware of what the Opposition are likely to do when they become the Government. There is one very big and obvious gap in the current human rights legislation, which has to be filled. The Government have used the human rights legislation to resile from some of our most fundamental common-law constitutional principles. Trial by jury is one; the use of propensity evidence in criminal trials is another. There are many others, too. Your Lordships will recall all the drama of the attempt to ouster judicial review. These are matters on which continental jurisprudence is silent, because its approach to the criminal law and the way in which trials are conducted is quite different. It has nothing to say about these matters. Yet we should have something to say as a nation about them and they should be enshrined in some fundamental legislative provision.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, it is heartening to hear the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, speak as he does about the common law and the way in which it should integrate better with human rights legislation. Can I take it from him, therefore, that when or if there were to be a Conservative Government we would be talking about human rights plus, rather than human rights minus?
The other absent matter, which those of us who featured in the consideration of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill earlier in the year will intimately and vividly recall, is the follow-through of the constructive work on the rehabilitation of offenders. Powerful speeches have been made on this point by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and many others from all Benches. The fact of the matter is that the Government will always be in a terrible mess, in the whole area of prisons and probation, unless they are prepared to recast their policies in such a way that the frightening percentages that the noble Lord mentioned fall dramatically. This can be done only by addressing constructively the question of reoffending. Without succeeding in that policy, everything else that the Government do in this area will fail. I would advise the Government to transfer much of the money that they are spending on accumulating data banks on this and that to changing the reoffending statistics. If the Government succeed, that will transform the whole picture in the area of prisons for the good of the nation.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, perhaps I may suggest to him that he addresses the issue of whether we have or require a two-tier system of imprisonment, whereby there are what we might call ordinary prisonersthe average offendersbut also high-grade godfathers within society who should not be allowed to corrupt the prison system. I would be grateful if the noble Lord addressed that issue.
Lord Kingsland: My Lords, it is a matter for the judiciary to decide what particular sentences anyone gets. I would be totally opposed to the permanent continuation of any kind of prison regime that meant that certain prisoners could stay in prison indefinitely because, for one reason or another, they had been sent to prison at a time when a judge thought that they were a danger to society.
However, it is a vicious circle, is it not? Until there is enough leeway in the running of prisons to run proper programmes to rehabilitate prisoners, you will never provide the circumstances in which the reoffending rate will drop. I am inclined against the idea of a two-tier system. I am speaking personally. Whether you get two years or 20 years, basically you should be subject to the same regimeyou just have to spend rather more time there if the sentence is 20 years rather than two. You should be able to benefit from everything that the prison can offer in making sure that when you leave you do not reoffend.
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