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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I hope the noble Baroness will accept that we are getting to grips with this. We are leading on the development of a cross-governmental action plan. The Attorney-General is developing a cross-governmental approach to the way the criminal justice service responds to the problem. We have now responded to the Getting Away with Murder review and we are going ahead with its 40 recommendations. We have developed guidance in terms of the No Secrets review. We are getting to grips with these things and we are making a lot of headway.
Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, can my noble friend say what action Ministers are taking to end the cruelties inflicted on children by public authorities changing the diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder to save money, often involving them in preventable bullying due to totally inappropriate school placements?
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, it is important that there is a mechanism at the heart of government to lead work to rebuild trust in politics and shape the next steps to renew our constitution. That is why the Prime Minister has said that he is establishing a national democratic renewal council. Further details will be announced shortly.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I think that that means not the foggiest. Will the Lord President assure me that, when this council meets, the first item on its agenda will be the POWER report so that there is no reinventing of the wheel? Will she also use her considerable influence with the Prime Minister to ensure that the thrust of this body is to restore contact between Parliament and the people and to restore power to this Parliament? In a parliamentary democracy, that is where peoples liberties are defended, not on unelected quangos.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I shall do my utmost to ensure that the POWER report, which is an excellent piece of work, is on the agenda for this committee. I am also absolutely sure that restoring the trust and engagement of the public, as well as power to Parliament, will be things that the committee addresses.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that placing the House of Commons and House of Lords codes of conduct in the law raises issues of parliamentary privilege which should be very fully considered before we go down that route?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, these issues must indeed be considered very carefully. I know it has been announced that the code of conduct for MPs should be in legislation. I am not sure where the code of conduct for our own House will lie, but I certainly agree that issues relating to privilege must be carefully considered.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, rather than scratch the surface of constitutional reform with this proposed council, which appears to be designed to make the minimum changes with which our political class can get away, why do the Government and the usual channels not promote an early Second Reading debate of the Bill of my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke, which was introduced yesterday? It proposes radical changes to our failed system of representative parliamentary democracy and is therefore very much in the interests of the British people.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I think that all Members of this House, and indeed of our Parliament, would agree that minimum changes are no longer acceptable. We need radical changes. However, I would not include the Bill from the noble Lord sitting opposite in the changes that should be addressed.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for this initiative, but does the noble Baroness the Leader of the House agree that it should not come simply from the heart of government and that it certainly should not be dominated by politicians? If it is to be effective, it needs to draw in a much wider range of expertise and interest because part of the problem is that politics has become too inbred in our country.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate puts his finger on the button. I believe that this would be a Cabinet committee. Of course it must draw on the widest possible expertise but it must reach out to the public because we now have to engage with the public. That is where the gap is and it is where we have been failing in our duty to date.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, I think that it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Cabinet has huge responsibilities but I do not think that that necessarily precludes convening something such as a citizens jury. This is the key Cabinet committee but it must reach out in many ways, including possibly a citizens jury.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, in future examination, will my noble friend accept the cardinal principle that elected Members of Parliament are not delegates and that they must be of independent mind? Otherwise, we will find that the House of Commonsand possibly in future the House of Lordssimply bends and twists to every piece of populist stuff in the newspapers, and people of independent mind will never take up causes which the public perceive as not meeting their exact needs.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, yes, and in everything we do henceforth we have to restore trust not just in politics but in politicians. I am a huge believer in parliamentary democracy and I have great regard for the work of politicians at the other end, but especially in the House of Lords. We should be hugely proud of what we do in this House and what we, as Members of the House of Lords, do outside. We would do well to remind people of that.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the more this discussion has gone on, the more I realise how little we know about this proposal. How right the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was to table the Question. We have just discovered that this is not to be some kind of open inquiry but will be run entirely by the Cabinet out of the Cabinet Office. The noble Baroness said that there should be more engagement of the public; would not the best engagement of the public be to have a general election?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, general elections are very fine things at the appropriate time. I believe that at the moment it is appropriate that we clean up the mess that we have in Parliament. We can then embark on a general election.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, can my noble friend help me with an aspect of the current discussion on constitutional reform that is puzzling me? Some prominent people, including leaders of political parties, in one breath demand that there should be fixed-term Parliaments, and in the next that there should be an immediate general election.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, if the Lord President really wants to put her trust in Parliament, why are these discussions taking place in private within government? Why not put some of those proposals to your Lordships House and, indeed, to the other place? There are already proposals, so why not make progress on them instead of, in the dying days of this Government, indulging in yet another talking shop?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it will not be a talking shop; the new body will be a Cabinet committee that reaches out. I do not think that we can ignore the fact that in the past 12 years this Government have made huge constitutional progress, and this Cabinet committee will build on that.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the National Economic Council, or committee, which has brought us through this economic crisis, was called a national committee or council, and this is a parallel structure in which I have every confidence.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, can the Minister say how we can have fair general elections in the future when the huge discrepancy between the popular vote percentage and seats in the House continues with the unfair simple majority voting system?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the Home Office and its partners are confronted with a rapidly changing world with increasing demands for a more efficient, more publicly accountable and more effective
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Facing up to those challenges means helping police forces to improve their leadership, strengthen their ability to collaborate with each other and yet be more accountable to the local public whom they serve. It also means providing them and their partners with a framework that will help them gather the evidence against criminals while ensuring that the rights of individuals and society are properly respected, and it means providing them with the right tools to tackle effectively the fresh challenges confronting them on our streets today, from low-level alcohol-fuelled disorder to serious gang-related violence.
The world is changing, and crime and fighting crime is no different. We must keep pace with those changes. That means, for example, changes to ensure that all criminals, often serious criminals, can be fairly extradited so that they can be fairly dealt with and cannot escape justice for their crimes, wherever they may have been committed. We must also keep pace with the increasingly clever ways in which criminals can exploit and benefit from the proceeds of their crimes.
However, the mark of any civilised society is not just how it tackles and treats its criminals but how it helps protect its most vulnerablefrom children who can fall prey to either ordinary criminals or the most vile offenders seeking to abuse them, to women who are forced, threatened or deceived into a life of misery and suffering as prostitutes. Meeting those challenges head on are noble aspirations to build strong and secure communities. There is no reason why we cannot achieve that. The Bill is our part in that endeavour.
I turn now to some of the key provisions in the Bill in more detail. Part 1 relates to police reform. The police services face different challenges from those of even a decade ago. Much of what we have already in place is sound and effective in meeting those demands, but the public rightly demand more. Part 1 provides the necessary legislative measures to meet those demands.
The Green Paper From the Neighbourhood to the National: Policing our Communities Together, published last year, set out a radical programme of reform that will transform policing in England and Wales. A cornerstone of that programme is to respond to the need, identified in the Flanagan and Casey Reviews, to improve the visibility of police authorities and to make the police service in general more visible and more accountable to the public it serves.
That work is well under way already, by introducing an independent inspection regime for police authorities and working towards the creation of a blueprint for an effective police authority. The Bill complements that work by strengthening the Police Act 1996, by placing a duty on police authorities to consider the views of the public in the discharging of all or any of their functions. It further supplements the existing framework by specifically asking HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to consider, when police authorities are inspected, the extent to which they have achieved that.
Publicly accountable policing must go hand in hand with more effective policing, and this must be not just at the local but at the regional and national level. It is the Governments role to ensure clarity in the legal and governance frameworks that facilitate that. That is why the Bill contains provisions to strengthen the legislation through which the police collaborate in the interests of greater efficiency and effectiveness. That meets the very clear demand from the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities and individual forces and authorities, especially those already working in collaboration with each other, to bring the legislative framework for joint working up to date, especially as the joint delivery of policing services is becoming more widespread. The measures will help support the outcome of the review by Her Majestys Inspectorate of Constabulary into what is known as subsidiarityor the level at which particular services should be deliveredincluding the development of more strategic collaborative structures.
Of course, the efficiency and effectiveness of any organisation is only as good as those people who work in it. Police forces are no different. The Bill therefore contains provisions which will strengthen the independence and status of the senior appointments panel for chief officers, including changes to create a better, more proactive system for senior appointments. It is widely acknowledged that those changes are necessary to enable better management of talent and development opportunities for aspiring and existing chief officers.
I move on to DNA. In order efficiently and effectively to tackle criminals, the police and their partners also need the basic tools to identify and build the evidence against such criminals. Everyone, I think, recognises the importance of DNA in the fight against crime. As to the retention of DNA from those not convicted, we know from research that between May 2001 and 31 December 2005 there were approximately 200,000 DNA profiles on the National DNA Database which would previously have had to be removed before legislation was passed in 2001, because the person was acquitted or charges dropped. Of those 200,000 profiles, which would not have otherwise have been kept, approximately 8,500 profiles from 6,290 individuals have been linked with crime-scene profiles, involving nearly 14,000 offences. These include 114 murders, 55 attempted murders, 116 rapes, 68 sexual offences, 119 aggravated burglaries and 127 cases of supplying controlled drugs.
Nevertheless, I am sure much will be said today and subsequently about the DNA provisions that we have brought forward in Clauses 96 to 98 in Part 8, so I want to take a little time to remind us of the facts of what we are actually doing and why we are doing it. What is the current position? Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the DNA and fingerprints taken from people on arrest can be retained indefinitely, whether or not they are convicted of an offence. At present, PACE provides that retained biometric data can be used only for purposes connected to the prevention or detection of crime, but the period of retention is at the discretion of the chief constable of each force area. There is currently nothing in statute setting out a retention framework.
Why do we need to change the law now? Many Members of this House will be aware of the case of S and Marper v the United Kingdom over the retention of biometric data, including DNA, from those who have not been convicted of an offence. We argued in the European Court of Human Rights in that case that DNA and fingerprint evidence were critical to the prevention and detection of crime, including very serious crimes that would not otherwise have been solved, set against the lack of detriment to the applicants or others in their position. We also pointed to the substantial safeguards and controls that exist which meant that retention was only of practical consequence for the individual whose records were on the database if a match from a criminal investigation occurred. We also noted that the use of DNA provided speedy exculpation of the innocent as well as identification of a suspect. Further, the domestic courts, including the House of Lords, had all found that the retention of fingerprints and DNA was acceptable, proportionate, commensurate with a civilised and democratic society and in compliance with the Human Rights Act.
We were therefore disappointed with the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights on 4 December 2008 when it ruled that the retention policy in England and Wales was in breach of Article 8 of the convention. The European Court of Human Rights held that the absence of a retention framework on DNA in England and Wales was unlawful and said that the blanket and indiscriminate power to retain biometric data of people arrested but not convicted failed to strike a fair balance between the public interest and the rights of the individual.
A change is therefore needed, and it is needed now. We are committed to complying with the European Court of Human Rights ruling and to doing so as quickly but effectively as possible. That is why the public consultation paper published on 7 May entitled Keeping the Right People on the DNA Database not only sets out proposals to comply with the judgment but, in the cases of samples and young people, goes further than the judgment requires.
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