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The coalition is to increase-or, at least, to review increasing-taxes on alcohol, which will have the double advantage of reducing harm and at the same time increasing revenue, though it may not fully address the cheap deals being offered by supermarkets. Duty increases in the past three years of 9 per cent, 10 per cent and 5 per cent have not prevented Tesco offering 24 cans of Carlsberg Export for £16. If we had minimum pricing, instead of above-cost pricing, at 40p per unit of alcohol-the lowest which has been suggested-this offer would have to be increased to £21. Perhaps a combination of minimum pricing and an increase in taxation would be the answer.
A third of the 14 million people a year who attend A&E departments are there because of a condition related to alcohol consumption. In 2005 the Department of Health allocated £32 million to be spent on screening A&E patients and brief interventions. There is a large study now under way across A&E departments, primary healthcare and criminal justice settings to determine the most effective and cost-effective screening method. Will the DoH continue to fund this programme and provide money for alcohol social workers to conduct brief interventions, using any of the screening methods discussed in the SIPS report? The University of Sheffield's review of the effects of alcohol pricing found that a 10 per cent increase in the price of alcohol would cut hospital admissions by 50,000 a year and reduce criminal offences by 65,000. If these price increases were achieved by taxation, the extra revenue generated would be of the order of £1.5 billion. Will the Government ask the University of Sheffield to verify this arithmetic or make its model available to other researchers who could do the calculation?
The coalition programme-but not the gracious Speech-promises concerted government action to tear down the barriers to social mobility and equal opportunities to build a fairer society. It talks about increasing the focus on the neediest families under Sure Start. These excellent principles would be undermined in the case of the neediest and most disadvantaged of all minorities in the UK-the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker-by the undertaking to adopt the Conservative Green Paper, Open Source Planning. We and the Conservatives both called for the abolition of regional spatial strategies, but the Liberal Democrats added the qualification that,
If this is not accepted, provision of lawful sites will cease, and that seems to be the intention with the announcement yesterday of the decision to cancel the Gypsy sites grant. Worse still, the article "Gypsy Sites Crackdown" in last week's SundayExpress says that there are plans summarily to evict Travellers from land they own and occupy without planning permission.
The existing plans for eliminating unauthorised sites, on which one in four Traveller families live because there is nowhere they can stop legally, were to determine what number of pitches were needed in local authorities in England and Wales, and then to designate land for that purpose under the planning system. Does not the Conservative proposal mean leaving it to the unfettered discretion of 368 lower tier local authorities to decide where Gypsy sites shall be located? Does it not mean that Circular 1/06 and the laborious process of Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs assessments, and the public inquiries which follow them, extending over many years, will be scrapped? Local authorities are not going to court the unpopularity that invariably results from designation of land as a Gypsy site unless there is a national framework to which they can point as the reason for their decision.
Equalisation of the responsibility for provision of the land is an essential feature of the present system and enables the settled population in one local authority area to see that what they are being asked to approve is fair. If there is no mechanism for sharing, people will not be able to see that others are pulling their weight and that their contribution is a necessary part of a plan to eliminate unauthorised encampments.
I hope that the children in Traveller families will benefit from the additional resources that are promised for disadvantaged pupils in the coalition programme because they show serious and chronic underachievement at every stage of education, both compared with all other ethnic groups and with the national average. Perversely, the future of the Traveller education support services within local authorities was already in doubt since their funding was already no longer ring-fenced. How are we to ensure that local authorities continue to provide the non-school based services that were provided by the Traveller education services such as support for families to make them informed and active participants in their children's education, liaison across boundaries to ensure continuity of access to services, inter-agency partnerships to address issues across the Every Child Matters spectrum, distance learning,
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A fair society is one that takes special care of the weakest and most vulnerable sections of the community, and in the case of Gypsies and Travellers it looks as though we are doing the very opposite. I beg my noble friends not to spoil an otherwise excellent start for the coalition by this perverse contradiction of an essential principle.
Lord Dear: My Lords, as other noble Lords have done, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, to the Front Bench. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord McNally. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs-four or five speakers back-mentioned his long political association with the noble Lord, Lord McNally. Mine goes back a good deal longer than that-in fact, all the way back to University College London when we were rather disreputable undergraduates together. We have come a long way to arrive here in your Lordships' House today. We are undoubtedly wiser, older and, I think, better looking-certainly on his part.
I think that the noble Lord would join me in expressing relief not to be facing another monster criminal justice Bill, policing Bill or evidence Bill, with which we have had to put up, certainly during my past four and a half years, and, in his case, for a good deal longer. Instead, we are asked to endorse a repeal of unnecessary criminal offences. I say, "Hear, hear" to that. If anyone is looking for a list, I will willingly add some to it, but it is something which needs addressing as a matter of urgency.
Today I should like to highlight a number, but by no means all, the issues that are important. Indeed, I should have liked to have spoken at length, as others have, on the whole structure of government and, in particular, the structure of this House-but I refrain from that today. In no order of priority, I wish to go through a number of issues and then concentrate on a rather more important one.
First, crime is undoubtedly reducing numerically overall, but public concern about lawlessness seems to continue at a high level. One might well say that the fear of crime outstrips the reality. I contend that that is driven by what is often called the yob culture. Anti-social behaviour, which seems to gain in its virility and impetus almost on a weekly basis, is seen in its more extreme form in binge drinking. We are asked to consider, later in this Session, tackling low-priced alcohol. That is probably good, but it is probably only one small step down what must be a very long road. There was a time, 10 or 12 years ago, when we were trying very hard to bring about the growth, or even the implementation, of a café culture or café society. I do not think that we have done that. We may never get there-certainly not in the short term-and we need to look very closely at licensing hours, which may be too long. Certainly they extend too far into the small hours. We need to examine the proliferation of large drinking establishments which are clustered together in many city and town centres, to look for much
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On the regulation of CCTV, there is a balance to be struck. Your Lordships' Select Committee on the Constitution, in a paper published in 2009, Surveillance: Citizens and the State, recommended a number of things: a statutory regime for the use of CCTV in the public and private sectors, legally binding codes of practice, a complaints system, an oversight procedure and so on. We could well use that report as a good starting point for looking at this. There is a balance clearly to be struck on this and, indeed, on other issues also.
The same Select Committee commented on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. We need to look at RIPA in a thoroughgoing review-in particular, the use of that legislation by councils. The use of RIPA to deal with dog fouling, excessively filled bins and so on debases the intent of that legislation.
On the use of intercept evidence, I have been pleased-as have many others in your Lordships' House-to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who is not in his place, in trying to introduce the concept of intercept evidence into criminal procedures. We should examine and identify ways of introducing it into criminal trials. At the same time, we should be wary of what the security services and the police have already cited as examples of where they do not want their sensitive methods and procedures demonstrated in the public arena. We need to balance that; but it is not beyond the wit of man or, indeed, the skills of this Government to find a way to address it.
On self-defence-an issue that is bobbing about, but which attracts a great deal of attention in the media from time to time-I see no need to change the law. I support what the Law Society has said at length, and there is a real need for the exercise of common sense by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service in their approach. There needs to be speedy resolution-particularly in such cases-rather than leaving someone hanging about wondering what the outcome will be, and only finding out months after the event that no proceedings are to be taken against them. Speed is always essential in the judicial process, particularly in those circumstances.
I have nailed my colours to the mast on DNA records. I simply say once again that I believe we should adopt the procedures and requirements established in Scotland. In saying so, I do not so much declare an interest in this, but mention for the record that I am chairman of a company that provides forensic examination of DNA to the police and many other organisations but has no interest in the maintenance of the records and the DNA register.
Finally, before I touch on my major point, I think we should examine whether the growth in control orders and their use is fully justified and whether the
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So far as policing is concerned-I declare an interest here because I served in all ranks of the police service for over 30 years up to and including 1997-as the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said in his excellent maiden speech, we do not want any more reviews. What we want in the public sector is leadership. So far as the police service is concerned, the need for good leadership is paramount. I commend to the Government attention to the development of leaders of quality in that service. We have made considerable gains in terms of structure, but we could look at the structure again, if not in this Session, in later Sessions.
Lastly, I want to touch with some emphasis on the Government's proposal to make the police more accountable and to have directly elected police commissioners. I could speak for half an hour on this, but time prevents me. I am not sure what "commissioner" means in these terms. If it means a directly elected police chief, I would die in a ditch over that. The Minister shakes her head, and I am relieved to know that. If we are talking about directly elected chairmen of police authorities, we should examine that. Police authorities may not like that too much, but if what we are talking about is not so much accountability, which was mentioned in the gracious Speech, but about making the police more accessible, more sensitive to local issues and more aware of what the public want, we should do that. If a direct election of the chairman is necessary, then we should do it.
However, I conclude on this warning note: it is very dangerous ground. There are great dangers when directly electing somebody to this position of having political influence, which leads to political control. That control could be overt or covert. A power to hire and fire, for example, would be taking away and cutting across the residual powers of the Home Secretary, which one has already in place in extremis. I say unashamedly that I will support the concept, but I want to look very closely at how we stop it running through into political influence and control, which I would abhor. Put very simply, being sensitive to public opinion is a good thing; being subordinate to it is another. It is a matter of great constitutional importance, and I am sure that your Lordships will treat it as such in due course.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on his appointment. He graces the Front Bench as to the manner born. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, on a very brave speech. She nailed her colours to the mast, and I respect people who speak out for their principles loudly and clearly.
On Tuesday, I especially enjoyed the speech by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. He trenchantly pointed out to us that in 1979 a one-vote majority propelled Mr Callaghan out of government and ushered in Mrs Thatcher for what became 18 years of Conservative government. I take this opportunity to explain a disagreement, perhaps a misconception, between the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern and me. In the House of Commons, the rule is simple: whatever the proposition, a majority of half the Members voting plus one carries the day. What the Government are proposing is 55 per cent of the membership of the House of Commons plus one-at least that is what everyone thinks that they said. It is disappointing that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, could not answer a simple question about which it is. We shall see what happens.
I cannot compete with the 55 years of devoted service to this House of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I spent 27 years in the other place. I came here in 1997, so I have almost 40 years of experience. In all that time, I have never known such flagrant control-freakery-that is the only way to describe what the Dem-Con, or Con-Dem, alliance is up to. I had a vision of the first Cabinet meeting, with Ministers filing through the door and Mr Cameron saying to Mr Clegg: "Quick, nip around with this bottle of superglue and squirt all the seats, so when they sit down and get their legs under the table we cannot get rid of them". What has happened is a sign of weakness.
The proposition that the voting rules should be changed in the House of Commons, and also the reduction in the size of the House of Commons, never appeared in anyone's manifesto, despite the ludicrous proposition expressed this afternoon that the electorate had voted for the coalition. It did no such thing. The coalition did not exist: it was not voted for. In these circumstances, the Salisbury convention does not apply: it cannot, by any stretch of the imagination. Therefore, your Lordships' House is perfectly entitled to vote down this measure. Indeed, it has a right to vote down the proposition, and I hope that it will.
I move on to what is meant by the new rules. At the moment, the numbers may stack up in the coalition's favour. I have no malice towards any individual MP who supports the Government in the other place: I certainly bear them no ill will. However, by-elections happen, and on the present figures, five by-election losses would make the coalition very twitchy. Will they revisit the proposition and say, "When we settled on 55 per cent, the conditions were different. Perhaps we should raise it to 60 or 65 per cent"? There is no end to the ingenuity of those determined to keep power by any means.
We are now told that we will have an increase in the membership of your Lordships' House, under the proposition that the ruling coalition has a right to a share of the membership according to the number of votes that they received. They are rewriting the constitution as they go along. They do not need any extra Members. What is most revealing about this proposition is that we now know the real intentions of the Liberal Democrats. This House, and eventually the House of Commons, will be fully elected on a 100 per cent PR system. The
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I will say two more things. The first is something that has rankled for a number of years. In 1997, when Prime Minister Blair proposed the nomination of additional Peers to this House, they were immediately dubbed "Tony's cronies". I had no problem with that. What are we to call the new coalition peers? What about "Cameron and Cleggy's creepies?" That is what they will be.
Vince Cable apparently said that his in-laws once told him that arranged marriages work much better than conventional marriages. The marriage between the Lib Dems and Tories-I put it that way because the press call it the Lib-Con coalition so that the Conservatives are reduced to being the junior partners-is not even a marriage of convenience. It is a forced marriage-forced by circumstance. A thrusting lust for power has been within the breasts of the Liberal Democrats for many years. They are prepared to do anything to get it and finally they have it.
I am reminded of something that Nye Bevan said many years ago. It was in an entirely different context but none the less is apposite. Despite the dressing up of statesmanship, the nation and all the rest of it, he said, "Call that statesmanship? I call it an emotional spasm", and that is precisely what we have on the other side.
Lord Boyd of Duncansby: My Lords, I, too, welcome the new Ministers and congratulate them on their appointments. However, I wish to refer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. He and I sat next to each other in Cabinet for five years in a coalition Government-although one of a different hue-in Scotland. I formed a very high regard for him during that time, for much of which he was Minister for Justice and I was Lord Advocate. Jointly we had responsibility for the justice system and faced some very difficult issues. I hope that I do not embarrass him by saying that I always thought there was very little political difference between us, but it is perhaps a measure of the times that we find ourselves so far apart across this Chamber. He is very highly regarded in Scotland across all the political parties and his appointment will be warmly welcomed.
In a recent speech, the Deputy Prime Minister promised us the greatest set of political reforms since 1832. Quite why he chose 1832, I was not clear, because many historians would say that 1867-although of course that was a Tory Administration-or the enfranchisement of women were more significant. He could also have mentioned the more recent reforms: the establishment of the Scottish Parliament; the National Assembly for Wales; the Good Friday agreement, which led to the new constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland; the Mayor of London and the London Assembly; proportional representation for the European elections; the establishment of the Supreme Court and the new arrangements for judicial
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Had the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledged those reforms, he could, with justification, have claimed some credit for his party in the passing of many of them because the Liberal Democrats added considerable intellectual muscle and political weight to the arguments. However, he eschewed any such claim, perhaps because they were all opposed by the very party with which they are now in coalition, or perhaps because he did not want to acknowledge any achievement by the Labour Party. Well, I am happy to take the credit-collectively, of course-for the Labour Party.
The attempt to airbrush out 13 years of constitutional development is, I believe, worrying because it fails to recognise the very profound constitutional developments that have happened, the way in which the constitution has changed and, indeed, the way in which politics themselves have changed. The relationship between the United Kingdom Government and Parliament and the devolved Administrations, and more widely between the nations of the United Kingdom, will be of great significance during the course of this Parliament, however long it lasts.
The Prime Minister has said that the Government will rule Scotland with respect. In my judgment, he got off to a good start by visiting Edinburgh, Cardiff and Northern Ireland and attempting to establish good relations with each of the Administrations. However, it will be on their deeds that the Government are judged, not on style and rhetoric.
With the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, I served on the commission under Sir Kenneth Calman on Scottish devolution, so I welcome the announcement that the Government will bring forward a Bill to enact the commission's recommendation. I worry a little about the timing of the introduction. We know that the elections are due in May next year so it would be right and proper if these new powers could be in place for the new Parliament and Executive. Will the Minister let us know whether the timescale of the Bill will meet that timetable?
Central to the Calman proposals are tax and borrowing recommendations. In the Scotsman yesterday, the Secretary of State, Danny Alexander, was quoted as saying the he could not confirm that the recommendations would be in the Bill. If they are omitted, that would be extremely serious. My view is that the Government need not bother introducing the Bill in that case because those recommendations are so central to it. I worry that that is the start of a rearguard action by the Treasury to roll back on the commitment given by the previous Government that they would enact, more or less, the recommendations on tax and borrowing. The Secretary of State, to be fair, says that he has to speak to Scottish Ministers, which is well and good, but he and the Government collectively should know that on constitutional issues the Scottish Ministers do not speak for Scotland. The Scottish Parliament is representative of Scottish opinion and the SNP Government are a minority Administration. The Scottish Parliament co-sponsored the Calman commission and welcomed its recommendations. I remind the Government
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In speaking to Scottish Ministers, will this Government, like the previous Government, first speak to representatives of the parties, including my own Labour Party in the Scottish Parliament, and take their views on board? When will we get an announcement about what is to happen on tax and borrowing powers?
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