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The ship of state, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, in her truly remarkable speech is not yet in trouble. On the gracious Speech, has it not already dropped anchor at the fringe of an uncharted water as to the change of the whole system of government? If those on the bridge of the ship are agreeable to be subservient to the democratic process there would be no trouble, of the kind that worried the noble Baroness, but we do not know at the moment where we stand.

I have one minute left so I cannot deal with the realities of the situation which would restrain within five years a constitutional Bill. I cannot really deal with the reform of your Lordships' House-it is all very odd as it is not your Lordships' House but a second House or an upper Chamber. I am beginning to wonder what will happen. I am not a technical lawyer but an ordinary person. Whichever Government are in power, our mailbags bulge when there is trouble.

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Now and then we do our stuff. We table amendments. Speeches are made-there was one on casinos recently from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury that won the day against my party. I went with the Archbishop. That can happen. Is that all going to go? Will that relationship be put into another washtub? I hope not.

2.55 pm

Lord Dubs: My Lords, first I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on becoming members of the Government. I have known the noble Lord for a long time; we were in the Commons together. I do not think that I am allowed to call him my noble friend but I can call him my friend. I hope in that spirit that he will accept my little story about something that happened when we were both in the Commons. It was a time when the late Lord Whitelaw was Home Secretary and an occasion when the Government did a 180 degree U-turn-surprising, but it happened. Those of us who had enormous affection for Willie Whitelaw will remember that when he was embarrassed, and he had to make the Statement on that occasion, he would keep his head down and read it as fast as he could in the hope that we could not hear anything-

Lord Kinnock: And very quietly.

Lord Dubs: Very quietly. Even Willie Whitelaw had to pause for breath in the middle of the Statement. The brief silence that followed was filled by Enoch Powell who said, "Eat them more slowly, Willie". I do not need to editorialise on that.

Some of us were fully involved in the heat of the election campaign and were busy canvassing while others-those who are more sunburned-were not so. The reflection of many was dismay that we were not allowed to have a vote. This is not the occasion to debate that fully but surely Members of this House, like other citizens, ought to be allowed the right to vote because we should have some influence on the nature of the Government and who they will be.

I welcome two things that the Government have done, one of which was referred to by the right reverend Prelate, which is the commitment to ending child detention in immigration cases. That is a good thing but I hope that it follows that families with children will also not be detained so that children are not separated from their families. I have been involved with other people in campaigns on this for a long time and I welcome the Government's Statement. I also welcome the Statement made by the Foreign Secretary that the Government will fully investigate allegations of complicity in torture by members of our security services.

I now wish to raise something entirely different on a specific matter about the Palace of Westminster. I do so with the knowledge of the person involved. I refer to the wife of the Speaker in the Commons, Sally Bercow. Because she was a candidate in the recent Westminster City Council elections she was not permitted to go on living in Speaker's House and had to move out during the campaign and rent a flat nearby. She has three young children aged six, four and two. The

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eldest, who is autistic, was particularly disturbed at having to move out of their home in Speaker's House. There is something unfortunate about that and it reflects badly on the Palace of Westminster as a whole.

I shall now turn to the substance of the gracious Speech and the Government's policies. I welcome the commitment to have an elected, or mainly elected Lords Chamber. I doubt, though, whether a period of 15 years is the right way in which to deal with it. Surely the point about elections is accountability. If one is elected once, one is then not accountable to anybody for the remainder of the 15 years. It would be better if we had three goes of five rather than be elected just once without accountability. I am dismayed, as many Members of this House are-I know that this is shared across the House-at how many more appointments are to be made. I quote from the coalition programme, which states:

"In the interim"-

before there is a newly elected Chamber-

That is a very disappointing policy. My noble friend Lord Richard has already said that the coalition has an adequate majority for all purposes. You do not need more than that. It will simply look ridiculous if the Government appoint another 100 or 150 Peers in order, in the interim-I am careful about the word "interim", but it is used in the coalition programme-to abolish the House and change it to an elected one. That does not make any sense.

I like the idea of fixed-term Parliaments. I do not know why they should not be for four rather than five years-I simply ask that question. I find the dissolution arrangements for 55 per cent totally confusing. I have read the debate in the Commons the other evening and I was left as confused at the end as I was at the beginning.

I understand that the Government have said that they want to abolish identity cards. Fair enough. I wonder whether the Minister can explain what is said in the coalition programme:

"We will ... halt the next generation of biometric passports ".

I had always understood that biometric passports were increasingly becoming an international obligation. If we want to visit other countries, we will have to have biometric passports. Never mind ID cards, what are we going to do about biometric passports, or do the Government now have information that we do not need them any more? I, too, would like occasionally to visit the United States and do not want to be kept out because of government policy.

The coalition programme also states:

"We will introduce safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation".

I wonder what that means in relation to the use of intercept evidence-something about which the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, knows a great deal. I understand that under the previous Government, officials were looking into the possibility of using intercept evidence in criminal courts. I understand the difficulties about disclosure, and so on, but it was being considered. I wonder whether the Government will consider whether we could have intercept evidence in criminal cases.

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Finally, I turn to Northern Ireland and again quote from the coalition programme for government. It states:

"We will work to bring Northern Ireland back into the mainstream of UK politics".

I do not know what that means. Terminology matters a great deal, especially in Northern Ireland. I hazard a guess that the different communities in Northern Ireland will interpret that statement, quite differently one from the other. It is certainly ambiguous. Some clarification would be welcome. The coalition programme goes on to say that this will include,

Frankly, I am in favour of that to bring it in line with taxation in the Republic, but it is slightly odd to say that we will bring Northern Ireland more into the mainstream of UK politics and then immediately bring out a policy that takes it away from us. That is slightly confusing.

3.03 pm

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, this debate gives us an opportunity to look back at the criminal justice system when the Conservatives were last in power. Ken Clarke was the Home Secretary, and one fact remains: at that time, the prison population was about 44,000-the figure cited earlier by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. The legacy that the Labour Party has left us is that the number in prison exceeds 85,000. Therefore, we must ask ourselves where within the criminal justice system we have produced that discrepancy. More women, more children, more people from ethnic minorities have become a regular feature of our present system.

I welcome the opening statement of the gracious Speech. The coalition programme is to be based on the principles of freedom, fairness and responsibility. I certainly welcome the Bill to restore freedoms and civil liberties. I am glad that identity cards are to be scrapped and unnecessary laws repealed. So far, so good. But the big picture-the safer society-cannot be complete until we look at the crisis facing our present system of justice, which reflects the prison population that I mentioned. There are difficult measures that the coalition must tackle. Equally, the legislative programme cannot be cast in a tablet of stone; we must be able to tweak it to take into account concerns that we have failed to deal with in the past.

Some suggestions may look very attractive at first glance, but we must also ensure that in the legislative momentum, we do not create more problems than we solve. For example, on police authorities, we need to ascertain further details about proposals for directly elected individuals including the content of the proposed model. For example, what are the checks and balances to ensure that the commissioner's power cannot be abused? What is the timing and process of implementation? Ultimately, what is the expected outcome of change?

In essence, we have to get this right. We must never forget that police authorities provide a strong, transparent and robust local accountability structure which reflects the diversity of local communities. We need to be absolutely sure that we do not tamper with their

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independence and accountability. I am sure that we will need further consultation with appropriate bodies, including the Association of Police Authorities, on such matters.

The establishment of a new coalition Government gives us a unique opportunity to rethink the country's approach to crime and criminal justice. The Government's strategy should also include listening to the voice of people who have been on the receiving end of the criminal justice system-offenders and ex-offenders. Yesterday evening in Portcullis House, I attended the launch of User Voice-a new charity led by rehabilitated ex-offenders. User Voice is working with the Prison Service, the probation service and the Youth Justice Board to help them learn from the insights of offenders and former offenders into the best ways to reduce reoffending. Any private sector organisation knows that that approach makes sense. Commercial organisations regard it as obvious that they should consult their consumers on whether the service that they provide meets their needs. The criminal justice system should take the same approach. It should work with organisations such as User Voice to consult with offenders and ex-offenders, learn from their experiences and listen to their views about the most effective ways to help them to avoid reoffending.

The past 13 years of the Labour Government rank as a wasted opportunity to improve the state of our criminal justice system. The previous Government introduced some individual welcome changes, such as the establishment of the Youth Justice Board and youth offending teams, increasing resources for drug treatment programmes and the establishment of a new Sentencing Council. Overall, however, if we look at the state of our criminal justice system today and compare it with 1997, we can see that little has changed for the better. The Labour Government failed to end the serious overcrowding of the prison system. Today, 82 out of 140 prisons hold more prisoners than they were built for, and 19,000 prisoners are held two to a cell that was designed for one person. This country has 151 prisoners for every 100,000 people in the general population, compared with 96,000 in France and 88,000 in Germany.

Prison overcrowding increases crime. Overcrowding makes it harder for prisons to provide rehabilitation programmes for all their inmates, and this increases reoffending on release. Although the previous Government built an extra 20,000 prison places, the system remained as overcrowded as ever because the prison population increased faster than the number of prison places. The Government responded to this increase by committing themselves to a further large programme of prison expansion that required a large input of resources that would be better spent on prisoners' resettlement, alternatives to custody, crime prevention and victim support.

Labour also oversaw an increase in custody for young offenders. In the final days of the Labour Government, there was a belated fall in the number of juveniles in custody. Despite this, the number of young people in custody is now much higher than it was in 1997. This is partly because the previous Government passed a whole series of legislative measures that

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made it easier for the courts to detain children at increasingly younger ages and for less serious offences. They did this despite the evidence that showed that around 80 per cent of these young people are reconvicted within two years of leaving custody. As a result, most of the Youth Justice Board's budget is now absorbed by the cost of custody. These resources would be far more effective in reducing youth crime if they were spent on strengthening and expanding community supervision programmes.

The previous Government also did far too little to tackle the lack of help or supervision for short-term prisoners. Most imprisoned offenders receive sentences of less than 12 months. On release, these prisoners do not receive supervision by the probation service, and their reconviction rates are much higher than those for other prisoners. They are responsible for much of the high-volume offending that causes such distress to people living in high-crime areas. The Labour Government recognised the need for action, and in their Criminal Justice Act 2003 they included provision for a new custody plus sentence that would have involved post-release supervision for short-term prisoners. The reality was that this was never implemented. Nor was anything else done to fill the gap.

The Labour Government recognised the need to reform the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act but failed to take action to bring about reform. In 2002, a Home Office review group recommended that the Act should be reformed by shortening the very long rehabilitation periods. They even adopted an obstructive approach by arguing against my own Private Member's Bill, which would have enacted the changes which they had earlier said that they favoured. Of course, I shall introduce my Bill at the next available opportunity.

In the early days of the Labour Government, I was encouraged by their willingness to set up the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, yet after 13 years of Labour Government the position of minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system is worse than it was when the Stephen Lawrence inquiry reported. The disproportionate use of stop and search is even more extreme now, and the proportion of the prison population is higher than it was in the late 1990s.

There are some very practical examples of measures that have been adopted in various countries, and we need to examine them. Everyone who has worked with offenders knows that many of them have a background of problems such as inadequate parental supervision, family conflict, parental neglect and abuse, school exclusion, unemployment, substance abuse, mental health problems-you name it. The serious economic challenges which this country faces are rightly receiving priority attention from the new Government, but the challenge of improving our criminal justice system is just as vital a part of ensuring the fabric of a healthy society as the challenge posed by our economic situation. I hope that the new coalition Government will not shirk that challenge.

3.12 pm

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I congratulate the new Ministers and I wish the coalition well. In fact, I hope that it works. Leaving aside the fact that the arithmetic

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did not provide an alternative to which the words "strong and stable" could be remotely attached, if it works-and, as I say, I hope it does-it will knock on the head once and for all the media threats to the British people at election time about what might happen if they vote the wrong way. I can see that work, and it is important.

I have supported fixed-term Parliaments a lot longer than I have supported proportional representation. I would have preferred four years, but I will vote for five because three is too short and six is too long. Five years is about right. My main reason has always been economic. If one looks back through the years, the UK economy has suffered massively over the decades by the manipulation of the economy to the electoral cycle as perceived by opinion polls and then the manipulation of the economic cycle to the electoral cycle. I cannot prove it, but I know that those factors have been taken into account over the decades, much to the detriment of the economy.

Fixing the term means that there has to be a built-in constraint to ensure that it works as intended and is not abused. A coalition breaking up mid-term does not mean, and should not allow, an abuse by the Prime Minister to go for a dissolution after perhaps a period of minority rule when the polls look good. There has to be a constraint built in. I will not go down the arguments. I will vote for a constraint and there will have to be a debate about the kind it will be. I would not support a simple majority, as happens now, because it is wide open to abuse within the system of a fixed term. Any constraint should have widespread support.

I also support a smaller House of Commons, which I said when I was a Member of that House. I would aim for 500 MPs, not 585. There is a built-in ratchet in the present system. With every boundary review it grows. The formula is such that it will never decrease, which is a problem. We are a UK Parliament and there should be a single quota for all constituencies. That should be the same throughout the UK. Everyone knows that under the present arrangement, and that of the past 20-odd years, there has been a built-in bias in the system which favours one party over another.

The simple fact is that people's votes are not equal. They should be. That ought to be a guiding principle. I realise that MPs will complain that they cannot cope. Frankly, they will. Even with my 500 MPs, the quota of constituents for each would be only 88,000. I understand that the Government plan to have around 575 MPs, which would mean a quota of around 75,000. After a boundary change in 1983, my former constituency increased from 52,000 constituents to 76,000. Without all the resources that MPs have today, I managed to keep an eye on the Government and to bring my constituents' problems to the Floor of the other place. I was, of course, a full-time MP, for which I do not apologise.

The key for the Deputy Prime Minister is to stop the wide variation in the size of seats, which is crucial. If it is left to the Boundary Commission, it will fail. It should not be charged with it. The rules have to be changed. I would not allow a variation of more than 5 per cent in total, plus or minus 2.5 per cent. It has to be as rigid as that in order to give the votes an equality

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of value throughout the country. I would warn him not to let it be left to political organisers who could fix those boundary changes even when they are held in public. All of us can have a view on this. That place down there is the people's Commons. It is not the Members' Commons. Therefore, although we do not have a vote, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said, we have got a view to put forward.

I will not go into the alternative vote. I made my position clear in the debate on 24 March. I oppose it on its own. I want a system that encourages people to vote for what they want as a first priority. The alternative vote does not do that. In fact, it makes tactical voting even worse because of the second part of the vote. It is not proportional. I will not support it and I hope that we can amend it as it goes through the House.

On Lords reform, electing Lords on proportional representation will make a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber far more representative of the people than the Commons. We should accept that, and the penny will drop soon enough. To be wholly or mainly elected means that we tear up the Parliament Act and do not use the conventions but the full powers of this House. Why should it be so constrained if it is fully elected? There is no argument for that. The reason for the constraint is the non-election of Lords. It is self-denying ordinance: we are not elected, therefore we must not use all the powers.

As ever, the answer is that we must clearly set out in legislation the powers and functions of a second Chamber and only then look at the composition of the House. It is cheap and immature politics to constantly talk only about the membership of the House without discussing these other important matters about a second Chamber. As I heard someone say earlier, it is time to visit the 2006 Joint Committee report on conventions of the UK Parliament. That report alluded only to the present state of play and said that if there was a change of composition and of the procedures, it should be revisited. That is absolutely crucial. I, too, ask: why would people stand for election if they do not know what the powers are? Why should the public vote for them when they know that they cannot vote them out at the next election because they are there for only a single term? However, all those issues are secondary to the functions and powers of the House. I would demand that at a suitable time we make that clear.

On Tuesday, I was very pleased to hear the Leader of the House refer to the workings of the House and to hear what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said today. I will say what I intended to say-I know that it has been mentioned by others, but when there is a good story it is worth repeating. It focuses in on the difficulties that some Ministers will have in discussions that will take place if they can quote what has been said. I know that that is important.

In my view, the job has been done on the workings of the House for the three Leaders and the Convenor. It is well known that last October the Lord Speaker hosted a seminar on the strengthening of Parliament, which resulted in three unofficial reports that were not led by the Lord Speaker. There was one on the scrutiny of primary legislation, one on non-legislative procedures and one, which should frighten everyone here who is

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involved in outside activities either in non-departmental public bodies or the private sector, on governance and accountability arrangements in this place. It is devastating to read the report of the committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy.

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