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Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and apologise for intervening again. In so far as we are concerned with the welfare of society, which is why we send people to prison, should we not be concerned with the simple prisonerthe person who may, through some intellectual or physical disability, find himself in prison? The ordinary, decent prisoner should be protected against the godfather of crime who is dedicated to corruption, terrorism and drugsthe noble Lord knows what I am saying.
Lord Kingsland: My Lords, this is a matter that we might take up beyond the confines of the Chamber. My view is that, whatever you are inside for, you are basically entitled to the same opportunities; so that when you get out you do not reoffend. That is the fundamental principle to which we should stick.
I am delighted to say that there is no Bill to accumulate data in a central database. In a speech to the IPPR on 15 October this year, the Home Secretary outlined plans for an astonishing measure to collect and store records of every phone call, e-mail and internet site visit made, sent or visited in the UK. The proposal appears to the Government to be the next logical step following the DNA bank, so ably described by my noble friend Lady Hanham, and the decision to introduce identity cards. Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, described the proposal as,
The appetite of the Government for collecting data about the lives of their citizens appears to be insatiable. More and more people are being signed up to the public sector to scrutinise the lives of others. Why?
I think that the first reason is that the Government do not trust the people. The man in Whitehall, as has so often been said, knows best. Secondly, in the name of security, the Government appear to believe that any curtailment of liberty is justified. The noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, spoke particularly well on this issue when talking about RIPA. She said that the key to controlling this very unhealthy instinct of government is proportionality. The threat has to justify the degree of intrusiveness, and that principle should apply to data collection. In fact, we have already gone over the top, and we are in danger of going right over the top if the Government persist in what I regard as a completely ludicrous programme to have a central store for every single communication between private citizens in this country.
I apologise for the length of time that I have been on my feet but I turn briefly to the question of Damian Green. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, relieved me of the responsibility of saying anything about warrants due to his accomplished analysis of paragraphs (b) and (c) of Section 8(3) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, as your Lordships heard earlier. My noble and learned friend Lord Lyell of Markyate made an extremely perspicacious analysis of the legislation under which Mr Green was arrested. I respectfully adopt his argument. It seems to me that if there had been a breach of national security by my honourable friend Mr Damian Green, the Government would have arrested him under the Official Secrets Act. As the Government did not arrest him under that Act, bearing in mind the circumstances in which the Act was passed in 1989, it is hard to see where the criminality arises.
Particularly surprising is the revival of this extraordinary offence of misconduct in public office, which appears to carry a life sentence. I ask the Minister what activities that ancient crime covers. When was the last successful prosecution? Was the CPS consulted by the police on its use before the arrest was made? Have the law officers been consulted? I hope the answer is yes, because it would be quite astonishing if the answer were no.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said two things about what I regarded as an extremely powerful and convincing speech by my noble friend Lord Waddington, who is a former Home Secretary. First, he talked about the speech contradicting the great traditions of freedom in this country; and, secondly, he said it was about fortress Britain. First, on the great traditions of freedom in this country, nothing in the speech of my noble friend could be construed as an attack on the asylum system at all. Secondly, on fortress Britain, all my noble friend was saying, with his typical powerful coherence, was that there is a limit to the number of new people that the resources of this country can absorb. In no way was the speech anti-immigration in principle; it measured what I thought were quite disturbing statistics against the resources that we have for housing, social services and so on. That is the point my noble friend was making and I hope the Minister will deal with that after I sit down, which is now.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this excellent debate on the gracious Speech. We have had nearly 40 speeches of real quality from noble Lords on all sides of the House, bringing distinctive views and great depth of knowledge for the benefit of the House. As the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has said, quoting the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, the sheer breadth of the subjectsthe business of the Home Office and the Ministry of Justicethat we have covered today is striking. As the Minister charged with answering the debate, I am conscious that I have only 20 minutes, or any further time which the House is good enough to allow me, which will not be very much, to answer 37 speakers who have spoken over six or seven hours. That is a feat which would tax the wisdom of Solomon let alone a Minister in your Lordships House.
I cannot attempt to encompass all the matters which have been raised, but I hope to demonstrate the energy and purpose in the programme that the Government have put before Parliament. The departments are providing commitment and thought to the many serious issues they face. Of course, at the moment our main focus is on the economy, as the gracious Speech made clear, and the Bills put forward in the debate seem to follow on naturally from that overriding priority. At a time of economic downturn, we will continue to focus on two things: first, building up our communities and, secondly, bearing down on those who would damage or destroy them.
The Governments legislation this Session develops our achievements over the past decade. Crime is down. That does not seem to be accepted by the party opposite, and I cannot think why not. It is the basis on which we should proceed. Crime is down, and the risk of being a victim continues to fall and is now at a historically low level. This Sessions coroners and justice Bill will continue this focus, prioritising precisely those people whom the criminal justice system is designed to favour and help, who have not been helped enough in times past: the victims. The best service we can give to
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Nor do we make any apologies for helping the police to tackle crime. I think I had better keep to myself my feelings about the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. Personally, I do not agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said about it. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said that at the moment the police are not interested in burglary. That crime has been cut by more than 50 per cent during the past number of years, and a debt of gratitude is owed to the police for having achieved that figure. There are now neighbourhood police teams in every part of the country, a record 140,000 police officers and 16,000 police community support officers. I was grateful for what my noble friend Lady Henig said about what the police have done. The police and crime reduction Bill, to which my noble friend referred, will further increase the effectiveness and accountability of policing and strengthen communities by stopping crime and disorder taking root in them.
We will continue to build on our record of reforming our democracy. In this House, we will soon be seeing the party funding Bill, about which no noble Lord spoke. However, we will have plenty of time for it after Christmas. There is a constitutional renewal programme, which I shall talk about in a little more detail because many noble Lords on all sides had interesting things to say about it.
The House will scrutinise our programme very carefully. That is as it should be. This is a scrutinising Chamber, and unless we are properly scrutinised there is always a danger that the law will not be as good as it should be. The contents of the Speech show the determination that we continue to bring to our work.
I shall move forward as quickly as I can and try to deal with as many issues as I can. I start with the coroners and justice Bill. We think it will deliver a more effective, transparent and responsive justice and coroners service for victims, witnesses, bereaved families and the public. It will put victims and witnesses at the heart of our system. It is described as being in some ways a modest Bill. I do not think it is. I am grateful for the support it had around the House, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I apologise and shall be very short. Can the Minister say yes or no to whether he will deal with the constitutional entitlement of the Lord Chancellor, before presentation to Parliament, to give advice? Yes or no? I do not need the reasoning.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I listened carefully, as always, to what the noble Lord said. I do not think I will have time to deal with that tonight. There are so many issues that I need to talk about, and that will not be one of them. I will talk to the noble Lord outside and write to him with a response.
I was grateful for the support around the House for the Billthe noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, from the Cross Benches supported it in very clear terms. Of course the House will want to scrutinise the Bill to see that we have the detail right. On the issue of the special counsel, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has received a letter from the Secretary of State. We will undoubtedly debate those matters in future and I will not spend time on them now.
On the sentencing commission, we propose to implement the unanimous and majority recommendations of the working group under Lord Justice Gage. That group rejected the introduction of a US-style sentencing gridwe do the sameand called for the strengthening of the current role and functions of the Sentencing Guidelines Council. We support that evolutionary approach. I make absolutely clear that in giving effect to the working groups recommendations, there is no question of individual sentencing decisions being tied to the availability of prison or probation resources.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, hoped that we were not going to touch the law on homicide this year. I fear that, as I think he heard during his speech, he is likely to be disappointed on that. I think that his question is: why not comprehensive reform, if reform at all? The Law Commission's recommendations for this important and sensitive area of law are very ambitious and wide-ranging. We want to get this right and intend to proceed on a staged basis, so we will be looking at changes to the partial defences of provocation and diminished responsibility, but again, that will be a matter of debate and great interest in this House later on.
I am again grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, for saying that, at least in principle, he supports what the Government intend to do on data protection. The use of information underpins our ability to deliver improved public services. In introducing a power to remove or modify legal barriers to data sharing by secondary legislation, we will be giving effect to one of the recommendations of the Information Commissioner in his review, with Mark Walport, of data sharing. As proposed by the Information Commission, the order-making power would be subject to a number of safeguards.
On private inquests, it remains our intention to legislate to ensure that inquests have all the information central to an investigation into a death, including information that cannot be disclosed without harming the public interestfor example, for reasons of national security. We are reflecting carefully on the points raised during the passage of the Counter-Terrorism Bill and will set out our position when the coroners and justice Bill is published.
I turn to constitutional renewal. I am delighted that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who cannot be here this evening for a very good reason, about which he has written me a letter, mentioned Milton. Milton was not just a great poet, he was a politician. This part of our discussion would have been of considerable interest to him slightly less than 400 years ago. For the first time in my life, I agreed with a Guardian leader last Saturday, when it said that Milton was probably the second greatest poet in the English language, and that the 400th anniversary of
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The Bill represents real change to the role of the Executive in our system of government. It also provides measures that will ensure good governance. It is not a final blueprint for our constitutional settlement; it is part of the wider governance of Britain programme; other significant measures do not require legislation. By way of example, separately, the Government are taking forward measures such as allowing Parliament a greater say in committing UK troops to armed conflict overseas.
As we have heard, the Bill is a product of extensive consultation. Very distinguished Members of this House have been on the Joint Committee, and many of them have spoken eloquently today. We have listened carefully to their views, we have very much taken them into accountthe noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, asked me about thisand we are very grateful for their recommendations. However, the House wants to know what is going to happen to the Bill. I can do no better than quote, if the House will forgive me, from what the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice said to the other place last Thursday:
The constitutional reform Bill is specified in the Gracious Speech. Everyone knows that what has changed since then is the overriding imperative of dealing with the world economic downturn, but the Bill will require parliamentary time.
The reason why the subject was referred to in the Queens Speech in those terms is that a slot for the Bill could not be guaranteed. That is why that formulation is used. My earnest intention, which requires negotiation with the usual channels as well as with my colleagues, is that the Bill should be brought forward. I cannot guarantee that, not least because of the negotiation with the usual channels. We shall have to see what progress is made on other Bills, but that remains my earnest intention. [Official Report, Commons, 4/12/08; cols. 228-29.]
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, there was a general view in the Joint Committee which considered the Bill that the part that dealt with the Civil Service could be separated from the rest. A number of noble Lords raised that matter today. Might it not simplify the matter temporally and intellectually if the Government followed that advice?
Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord will not draw me into an answer tonight; I will take it back to the department. I think that those noble Lords who want to see such a Bill should be optimistic as a consequence of the quotation of which I have just reminded the House.
Some interesting points were made today about constitutional reform, particularly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who commented on the Supreme Court. For my sins, in the department I am responsible for the Supreme Court, and I am disappointed that he is not more enamoured of it. I hope that he will be present on its opening day in October next year. There are two reasons for it. It does something for the separation of powers, but I put
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Many other points were made about the constitution. I do not have time to deal with them in any detail, I am afraid, but I have taken them all on board. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, commented on devolution. He is obviously a proponent of the devolution settlement, which is not all that common these days, but I am very grateful for what he had to say. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway.
I do not think that the House will be surprised that I say practically nothing about the reform of the Attorney-Generals role. The Government are still considering proposals on reforming it. I heard the comments of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Mackay of Clashfern and Lord Lyell of Markyate, and the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and I very much took them to heart.
My noble friend Lady Goudie and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, mentioned the simplification of immigration laws, to which we are committed. We published a partial draft Bill in Julyit has been commented onwhich illustrates our approach. We intend to bring forward a full draft simplification Bill later in the Session, which will build on the support for changes to simplify immigration law from all those involved with it. I am glad that that has received support.
The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, commented with strength on communications data. He referred to the collection of communications data perhaps in rather scaremongering terms. Such data is currently held by all communications service providers. It is used regularly for law enforcement. It consists of information about where and when a phone was used. It does not include or involve the content of such a call. All that will be lost in due course with the adoption of new technologies. We are consulting widely with all parties, political and otherwise, on the way forward on this very sensitive matter. It is no good pretending that this information does not exist. It does and it has been used to obtain convictions.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is a big difference between that information as it is currently held by the providers and the state holding it somewhere such as, for example, GCHQ?
Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. There is a difference, which is one reason why we are consulting to see how far we should go. It is a matter on which we will no doubt seek her opinion and that of others. I accept that it is an issue.
There are a number of issues on the borders, immigration and citizenship Bill. There will be a duty regarding the welfare of children, which I think will be widely supported around the House. I will not go into the details now. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked about police involvement and coming together with HM Revenue and Customs. She asked why the police should not be a part of it too. I understand that the police will be involved from the start and will work closely with the UK Borders Agency.
On directly elected crime and policing representatives, the police and crime reduction Bill will implement key priorities from the Governments policing Green Paper to increase police accountability. We disagree that there should be an abolition of the police authority and a single elected police commissioner. We are looking at plans to facilitate more effective collaborative working of police forces at regional and at national level by improving operational processes and clarifying government arrangements, including measures to reduce bureaucracy through repeal of unused or unwanted Home Office legislation. That is all I intend to say on that subject tonight.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, made a powerful speech on prostitution. I would ask her to be a bit patient and to see how the Bill turns out. Behind our thinking is that we want to do everything we can to protect vulnerable women. Many women involved in prostitution are highly vulnerable. They have either been groomed or brought into it compulsorily by evil people. We want to do everything we can to protect them, and that is why we are shifting the balance so that the focus is on what may be described in the future as the sex buyerthe person responsible for creating demand in the prostitution market, which in turn creates a vile trade in which women are trafficked for sexual exploitation.
Our intention is a worthy one in that it will send a message that forces men to think twice by making it clear that if they pay for sex with someone who is being controlled or exploited, they will get a criminal record. The penalty we intend to impose at the present time will be a maximum fine of £1,000. We think that the Bill will help vulnerable groups through measures to tackle the demand for prostitution. We look forward to debating and discussing the issue, but it needs to be tackled because of the way in which vulnerable women are being taken advantage of. We certainly do not seek to criminalise prostitutes; rather we want to ensure that they are no longer exploited to the degree that they are at present.
Many speeches considered the dangers of alcohol and what is happening in that field. The Government have plans to address alcohol use in legislation but I do not have time to go into the details now. However, I take on board what was said by the noble Lord,
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As for the Damian Green incident, I am not going to say anything. I do not want to prejudice an ongoing police investigation and I refer the House to the Home Secretarys Statement in another place. As my noble friend Lady Quin said, the full facts are not yet known.
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