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I want to talk about four particular aspects of the British crisis: first, the executive dominance of Parliament; secondly, the central dominance of politics in Britain; thirdly, the whole new Labour project of government as delivery rather than dialogue and participation; and fourthly, the style of government we have. By style I mean action through initiative, the search for the daily headline, that Ministers must issue new instructions on almost everything and the whole destructive relationship between Westminster-obsessed media and centralised government. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, on one thing: we need also to talk about the rights and responsibilities of the media and perhaps subject their pay and expenses to the same level of transparency to which they wish to subject ours. I would also quite like to subject their contributions to the British tax revenue base to similar scrutiny: the Barclay brothers operating out of Sark; Lord Rothermere claiming to be a non-domiciled person; and the News Corporation operating out of Bermuda.
The question of executive dominance of Parliament is clear to all of us. If we do not reduce the number of Ministers and abolish the unnecessary position of a Parliamentary Private Secretary, we will not regain a worthwhile Parliament and House of Commons. I did a quick count this morning of the number of Ministers in particular departments. The department of the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, now has 11 Ministers. Putting the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office togetherthey were after all one departmentthere are now 12 Ministers. The Lord Chancellors Department used to have two Ministers and in those days the Home Office had five Ministers. It has grown. The Department of Carpets and Soft FurnishingI mean, the Department for Children, Schools and Familieshas seven Ministers, as does the FCO. The Department for Communities and Local Government has six. All of them are concerned to tell local authorities and schools what to do in their own particular ways. We could reduce the number of Ministers quite substantially, partly by devolving our autonomy back to local government. We have more Ministers than any other Government in Europe by a large margin.
Central dominance, with a stream of instructions, targets, demands for information and measurement is part of what has gone wrong with the whole basis of government in Britain. There has been a long-term trend, from the distrust of local government that Mrs Thatcher had to the distrust of local government that the Blair Government hadwhich is, after all, new Labours distrust of old Labour, with all of those corrupt local councils scattered over the north of England. We have all these national schemes interfering in what used to be local autonomy, such as academies and building schools for the future.
I note that Michael Gove, as the shadow Minister for education, made a speech in Bradford the other week saying that he would impose faith schools throughout the country. From Bradfords point of view, the imposition of separate faith schools across West Yorkshire and east Lancashire is not the sort of thing that an MP from Surrey should think about terribly easily without understanding the difference of our local circumstances. To noble Lords who talk about the postcode lottery, I say that we are a diverse country. We do not have the same standards of services throughout the country; that is part of the myth of the postcode lottery. We should be delivering services in a different way and accepting that local circumstances are different.
The reinvigoration of local democracy is part of the key to regaining public trust. It is where most people interact with government and where they now find that they are facing distant offices and appointed quangos. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, defends the role of the MP in his constituency. That is partly because the MP has in many ways displaced what used to be local government. One of my partys MPs was telling me that half of the issues that come to his surgery are really local council matters. That is because we now have wards of 15,000 to 20,000 electors for most local representatives. We are the only developed democracy where local representation has been so weakened and has so little fiscal and financial autonomy.
What do I mean by delivery rather than dialogue? The whole new Labour project, in which delivery is what counts and the citizen is a customer and consumerwith public-choice economics, the new public sector management, the private finance initiative and large numbers of outside consultants brought inhas delivered public services that are seen by those who receive them as distant and ineffective. There are deep cost inefficiencies to this approach and huge contradictions between the Governments citizenship agenda, which talks of active citizens and involvement, and a public service delivery system which is done through regionally delivered contracts and outside consultants which therefore have no form of accountability at local level. I have listened to Hazel Blears twice in the past year on how to produce active citizenship. I did not understand her on either occasion.
Constitutional renewal is not just about Westminster; it is about the whole relationship between government and citizens. It is about a different approach to government. That is one reason why the simple election of a new Conservative Governmenta sort of Blair II, after new Labourwill not provide even the beginnings of any answer and, indeed, threatens only
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I am pleased and honoured that my party has asked me to chair a working group on how we provide local democracy; we will be working over the next six months. I look forward to seeing the Conservatives defining what they mean by reinvigorating local democracy. I have read a number of their papers on this and I do not understand them any more than I understand Hazel Blears. I note that the Prime Minister yesterday talked about the reinvigoration of local democracy but, again, there was no content.
This is part of an approach to government in which we must start from the recognition that Westminster has lost public trust and must devolve authority back to the people through local democracy as well as cleaning up its own act.
Lord McNally: My Lords, as always, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Wallace, whose speech was, as usual, well researched, incisive and amusing. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Tyler for bringing forward this debate on the back of a Constitutional Renewal (No. 1) Bill. My noble friend has been one of those who have, as the Americans say, stretched across the aisle to try to find consensus on constitutional reform. This debate is all the better for that. I take pride in these Benches and the contributions that we have heard from my noble friends Lord Maclennan and Lord Lester in their tradition of a long commitment to constitutional reform. To that tradition we could add the names of my noble friends Lady Williams, Lord Ashdown and Lord Goodhart. I accept that some aspects of constitutional reform would be in the self-interest of the Liberal Democrats, but anybody looking at the record reasonably would say that our consistency goes beyond self-interest.
I also welcome today the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I am not going to tease him for this. I really appreciate that he should take part in a Liberal Democrat day to speak to the House; I hope that it will not be for the length of time he took in our last debate, on my noble friend Lord Steels Bill, which was two minutes under an hour. Nevertheless, it is important in the last year of a Parliament that we hear the authoritative voice of the Conservative Party on these matters. It would be depressing if we thought that the idea of constitutional reform would simply hit the buffers if there was a change of Government. As my noble friend Lord Lester has asked for clarification about the Human Rights Act, I also ask whether Lords reform is indeed a third-term priority for a Conservative Government. As the late John Junor used to say in the Sunday Express, I think we should be told. I look forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, with more than my usual, ever-present interest.
On the philosophy, I notice that this years Reith Lectures are by Professor Michael Sandel, professor of government at Harvard University. He is addressing
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Like the noble Lord, Lord Desai, I believe that we should seize the moment. That is why, with all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, the right reverend Prelates and others who have advised caution, it is almost breathtaking when we think of the amount of study, work, discussion and debate that has gone on about constitutional reform to claim that it has all suddenly come upon us as a shock and that we should look at it slowly and carefully.
It was mentioned that I sat on the Cook-Maclennan Labour/Liberal Democrat committee before the 1997 election. The reason both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats wanted to look at the constitution in 1996 was that we saw the linkage between what we saw as underperformance in all aspects of our society and the way in which we were governed. That is why the Cook-Maclennan committee was set up and why, when a Labour Government came in 1997, they were ready to bring forward a whole raft of constitutional reforms that I suspect will stand the test of time and will not be reversed by any incoming Government.
In fact, this Governments record is divided into two parts. Between 1997 and 2001, they relied heavily on the Cook-Maclennan report and carried through a lot of worthwhile constitutional reforms, but thenI have got to say with some regretconstitutional reform was handed over to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, Mr John Prescott and Mr Jack Straw. Then evidence of the back of the envelope and party short-term advantage came into constitutional reform.
We on these Benches make no apology for using this day for again rehearsing the need for urgency. It is the Governments decade of inaction and neglect which has resulted in a massive crisis of public confidence in Parliament itself. This brings with it a second danger, namely that a Government addicted to the quick fix, spin and the need to appease the 24/7 news cycle will adopt solutions to these problems which will weaken and undermine our parliamentary democracy. I said in an earlier debate that the foundations of this institution run deep and the walls are strong. That does not mean they cannot be fatally undermined by too readily ceding power to outside bodies and unelected quangos. I say to my noble friend that I suspect trying to solve the problems by extra-parliamentary appointments is extremely dangerous. Citizens assemblies may have an attraction, but I think it was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham who said that the way he was brought up was that the citizens assembly is down the corridor in the House of Commons.
The aim of reform must be to strengthen our democracy and make it more accountable to the people, and as has been said so often, enable it to keep our overly powerful Executive in check. The constitutional reform Bill that my noble friend Lord Tyler has brought forward is intended to set the bar for Jack Straws long-promised Bill. I have known Mr Straw for more than 40 years since our days as student politicians, and it gives me great sadness to say that his political epitaph will be that one of the most radical student leaders of his generation has evolved into one of the
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Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but is not the assessment of Mr Jack Straws career one that could be looked at exactly the other way round? The mistake that he has been making in recent years, which may result, on Lords reform for example, in nothing being achieved before the election, is due to this wild revolutionary idea that you can have a fundamental change by just passing an Act, as opposed to incrementalism. The incremental cake has been 80 per cent cooked. None of the cake in the discussion today has been cooked at all. In this regard, is that not the moral of the career of Mr Jack Straw?
Lord McNally: My Lords, I hope that I get extra time for that intervention. I will leave that to history. All that I would say to the noble Lord is that he, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, I once knew in other times and other places as genuine, radical reformers who have now metamorphosed into conservativeswith a small cand it saddens me greatly. I think that the fact that some of the most fervent opponents of constitutional reform are found on the Labour red Benches is a very sad thing indeed but, as I said, we are fortunate that although time is short, much of the groundwork has been done by the Power inquiry and by the Select Committee on Public Administration, chaired by Mr Tony Wright, who I am pleased to see has been given a key role in developing policy over these next few weeks. As I have said, the building blocks of reform are all there ready to be assembled. My noble friends and other noble Lords have dealt with other areas of reform, most notably my noble friends Lord Lester, Lord Maclennan and Lord Wallace.
I want to deal briefly with two issues. First, I hope we can in this Parliament bring forward measures to protect and enhance the status of the Civil Service by putting its rights and responsibilities on a statutory basis. I often like to quote the memorable words of the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, who said that in Britain the BBC and our Civil Service are the two great gifts that the 20th century has bequeathed to the 21st. However both need eternal vigilance if their qualities and benefits are to survive. The defence of the BBC is for another day, but now is the opportunity to underpin one of the great triumphs of 19th century liberalism, the implementation of the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms, which for 140 years have given us a Civil Service chosen and promoted on merit and free of political influence and patronage.
Just over a decade ago, I served on a committee of this House under the late Lord Slynn, to examine the ethos of the public service and whether it was still alive. We concluded that it was, but under threat, and the Governments delay in bringing in a Civil Service Actproposed, I remind noble Lords, in the Cook-Maclennan report and in Labours 1997 manifestohas done little to protect that ethos.
As one who was one of the early beneficiaries of the special adviser concept to run parallel with the mainstream Civil Service, I am not one to decry it. However, it needs careful policing, particularly during long periods of one party being in office. My noble friend Lord Tyler has made some admirable suggestions in his Bill on how we should, quite properly, clip the wings of special advisers. One thing that I think should be looked atwe have had an example of it in this Administration and there were examples in the otheris that should beware of making it too easy for civil servants to become political advisers, or vice versa. Those should not be areas that are too easily blurred, and as I say, it is something that can and does arise in long periods of government.
Finally, I turn to the reform of this House. There is a need for a similar sense of urgency about reform of the other place, but let me concentrate today on this House. Some noble Lords have claimed that I have changed my mind about reform, because I have thrown my weight behind the Bill of my noble friend Lord Steel. I am well aware of its origins among a group of politically motivated men, three of whom are sitting here today. They thought that this could perhaps stem wider reform, but I am convinced that unless we use the time left in this Parliament to deal with the most outrageous aspects of its composition, then the public respect which we hitherto have enjoyed will quickly turn to contempt.
If there is not a change of Government at the next election, membership of this House is likely to climb to more than 800. The proportion of Members coming in for their tick and expenses and little else is likely to grow as the large number of Peers created between 1997 and 2007 grow old. We must do what we can now on these issues, and the key elements are in the constitutional reforms proposed by my noble friend Lord Steel.
I will just say this in my one minute of extra time here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grocottwe should not be too quick to say that our political system is busted. There is a need for reform; but I am much influenced by my father. He was a process worker in ICI, but he read books, he read newspapers, he went to his trade union meetings and he went to his party political meetings. We should not forget that our political democracy works because hundreds and thousands of political activists, of all political parties, go out, knock on doors and argue their case with the electorate. When I hear, as I heard a lady say on television last week after the election, Oh, I never vote; my parents never voted, I have to pose the question to her and the millions like her: how do we make a political democracy work unless it involves democrats working in it? That does not mean collapsing our confidence in our present system; it means bringing reform where we can, but defending it when we have to.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I, too, have enormously enjoyed the debate, rather more than I was expecting. There have been speeches of importance, many of
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The noble Lord naturally gave me an opportunity and an invitation to talk about the Conservative Partys plans for the constitution in the next Parliament if we are fortunate enough to be invited by the British people to take over from the Government. However, I shall disappoint him by telling him that I shall not be writing the manifesto on constitutional matters this afternoon; on the contrary. But I shall take up some of the issues raised by others, as well as adding one or two thoughts of my own.
I join with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, who talked about the public disillusion that he foundas did many Peerswhen he was electioneering over the course of the past few weeks. There is a tremendous sense of frustrationanger, evenamong voters about what has happened vis-Ã -vis the expenses. I have a feeling that that frustration was also born out of a more general frustration with what has developed in politics, not only over the past 10 years but over a considerable amount of time. They are frustrated with politicians who pronounce what they are going to do and then, as soon as they are elected, find every reason not to be able to do that.
This happens at all levels of politics. It is the kind of frustration that people feel when their plumber comes in a car and they find that they receive a parking fine, not for a trivial amount of money but perhaps for £100. They feel frustrated on a large scale when terrorists from overseas cannot be deported because they hide behind the provisions of the Human Rights Act. They feel it in their everyday lives. I hate to think what the risk analysis book in Durham Cathedral looks like or what you have to go through in order to change the light bulbs in our great cathedrals. All this adds up to a frustration with politics and politicians.
Over the past 12 years we have been undergoing a massive constitutional experiment. It is as though we have been on a great journey. Noble Lords in the Liberal Democrat Party say it was all part of a deliberate plan, cooked up, to coin a phrase, with Robin Cook in the mid-1990s. But what are its effects? We now have separatism within the United Kingdom that is more powerful than ever; and we still have the strange problem of Scots and Welsh MPs voting on English legislation which is extremely complicated to solve. If it was easy to solve we would have done so a long time ago. We have extremists in the European Parliament profiting from the PR system that the Prime Minister, according to his Statement yesterday, now incredibly wants to spread. We have a jumble of voting systems that spreads confusion and has done nothing to increase the participation that was promised; and we have fraud at elections which, when we had only that stubby little pencil on the end of a piece of string, was unheard of.
We face the imminent expulsion of the Law Lords from Parliament and the new Supreme Court towers opening up opposite it, which I predict will lead to friction and clashes between the new court and Parliament in the years ahead. We have a cynical exploitation of the Human Rights Act, which too often drives a coach and horses through common sense. We have a huge waste of resources on proto-regional governments which, when they were asked, we found that people did not want. We have major transfers of authority from our belittled Parliament.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I would be grateful if the noble Lord could give an example of what he is talking about. He has levelled these charges about the new Supreme Court and the Human Rights Act; could he give one example so that we understand what the basis for this is?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, my point about the Supreme Court is a little hard to give because it is not yet in existence. My fear is that a new Supreme Court over the road in Parliament Square will find itself clashing increasingly with Parliament; that, as it has been removed from Parliament, we will see the growth of judge-made law rather than Parliament-made law. We already have an example of that on the role of privacy, which has been decided not by Parliament but by the courts. That may be a good thing or a bad thingI make no commentbut it has been decided by judges, not by Parliament.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, what has that possibly got to do with any move to a Supreme Court? I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Lester. How is that relevant in the slightest to the justified or unjustified criticism the noble Lord makes?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I can explain it quite clearly to the noble Lord. I fear that this is the start of a trend that can only continue. It has not been thought through. By removing the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom from this place to another we will encourage the judiciary to behave in that way.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, very quickly, does not the noble Lord accept that the development of the law of privacy has been on the basis of the Human Rights Act, which was enacted by Parliament, including this House? How he can suggest that it was not anything to do with Parliament but was to do with the courts is very hard to understand.
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