§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday last by Lord Denham—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:—
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)
My Lords, I should like to begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Denham on the elegance with which he moved this Motion for an humble Address and on the elegance of his dress, and to thank him for his kind remarks about me. I should like also to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, on so fully maintaining the family tradition in the excellence of his contribution to our debate. May I say also how much I am looking forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Cuckney.
I regret that I shall be unable to stay for the whole of the debate, owing to a longstanding evening engagement. I hope to hear a good deal of the debate and to read the remainder. I greatly regret that conflict.
The gracious Speech contains many Bills in the field of law, home and social affairs. I would therefore ask your Lordships' forgiveness if, in the limited time available, I am unable to conduct a comprehensive review of them all.
I should like to begin with a Bill in which I, as Lord Chancellor, have a direct interest. The Family Law Bill contains the Government's proposals on divorce and mediation and the Government's amended proposals on family homes and domestic violence. They are intended to strengthen the institution of marriage and to ensure that those whose marriages are in difficulty are apprised of all the options available to them before making any irreversible decisions which will affect them and their families.
The proposals will bring to an end what is called "quickie" divorce and the use of allegations of fault as a passport to "quickie" divorce. Allegations of fault will no longer be used to establish the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage—they do nothing to support the institution of marriage and can give rise to strong feelings of bitterness and hostility. These feelings, together with the present system of resolving disputes, give little opportunity for couples to consider whether their marriages can be saved. The new system will be better suited to identifying saveable marriages.
Legal aid funding will he available under the proposals for mediation. Mediation has been shown to improve communication between couples and so reduce conflict. Parental conflict is very damaging to children 137 and a reduction in conflict in the divorce process will reduce the damage inflicted on the children of divorcing couples. Legal advice and assistance will be available for eligible parties, where needed, in support of mediation.
The proposals in the Family Law Bill will require that parties initiating divorce, or wishing to apply to the court in respect of certain matters connected with divorce, attend an information session where information on the consequences of divorce, and the services available, will be provided.
After the initiation of proceedings, a minimum of 12 months must elapse before a divorce can be applied for. The purpose is to give a reasonable opportunity to reflect on whether their marriage can be saved and to consider arrangements for the future before making an application for a divorce. The consideration of future arrangements regarding children, finance and property will ensure that parents understand their responsibilities to each other and to their children before they divorce, so that they realise what the future holds prior to going forward with the divorce.
The Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill was considered by this House in the last Session under the "Jellicoe procedure". The Bill had been proposed by the Law Commission, following extensive consultation, and was recommended for introduction by the Home Affairs Select Committee in another place. The Bill had wide Cross Bench support. However, as your Lordships are aware, issues were raised on that Bill just before it was due to receive a Third Reading in the other place. It was not possible to resolve those issues in time for the Bill to complete its stages in the last Session. However, as I said at the time, the Government are anxious that the provisions should reach the statute book as soon as possible. For that reason, with some important amendments, the Bill has now been re-introduced as Part III of the Family Law Bill. The amendments which have been made to the Bill further distinguish the treatment of married and unmarried couples, underlining the value which we place on marriage. The Bill will be considered by Parliament under the usual procedure. That will afford an opportunity for a full debate in both Houses.
In the field of law and order, the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill, which was introduced in this House last week, provides a statutory scheme for prosecution and defence disclosure, and makes a range of improvements to the management of criminal proceedings.
The task we have set ourselves is to provide a scheme which reduces the unnecessary burdens of the current disclosure requirements, while providing the defendant with access to material he needs; which focuses the issues in dispute before the trial; and which protects sensitive material more effectively than at present. In short, a scheme is needed which will help to ensure that the guilty are convicted, while the innocent go free, and that the whole system is not bogged down with useless paperwork.
138 The Bill makes other improvements to pre-trial procedures. Judges will have a power to make binding rulings on points of law before the start of the trial. A scheme of preparatory hearings, similar to those held in serious fraud cases, will be available for other potentially long or complex cases. Defendants will be invited to give an indication of their plea before a decision is taken on which court is to try the case.
The Bill gives effect to recommendations of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice by making it possible for a judge to impose reporting restrictions on allegations made in a speech in mitigation which are false or irrelevant. That should reduce the distress experienced by victims of such allegations. It allows also for a retrial to take place if the original trial resulted in an acquittal, and the acquittal has been tainted by a conviction for interfering with the jury or witnesses at that trial.
Continuing with the theme of law and order, in October the Prime Minister announced a package of measures to reinforce the fight against organised crime. That reflects a firm commitment on the part of the Government to respond decisively to the threat from that type of criminal activity, and indeed we will bring forward a Bill in this Session to allow the Security Service to support the law enforcement agencies in their efforts against organised crime.
At present, the Security Services Act 1989 restricts the functions of the Security Service to protecting national security and safeguarding our economic well-being against threats from abroad. Tackling organised crime does not come into either of those categories, so the Security Service is prevented from lending its support, even though organised crime is a cause for serious concern. It is also becoming an increasingly complex and international phenomenon. That is why the skills and experience of the Security Service, acquired over the years in countering espionage and terrorism, will be of great value to the law enforcement agencies in combating organised crime. Accordingly, we will amend the 1989 Act to allow the Security Service to act in support of the law enforcement agencies against serious crime.
I said that this was just the first part of a package of measures for dealing with organised crime and a number of other changes will be introduced over the coming months. The Home Office has begun discussions with chief police officers on how to provide a better co-ordinated police response to organised crime at a national level. The National Criminal Intelligence Service will be central to that response and we are already exploring new ways to strengthen its contribution. We are also looking to build on the considerable achievements of the regional crime squads to give them a more focused, national role. I should add that that will not detract from the role of individual local police forces which will remain the primary focus for policing.
Changes are also taking place within the Home Office, with a new Directorate of International and Organised Crime being established on 1st April 1996. The intention is to ensure that policy work on that issue is properly co-ordinated.
139 Taken together, the Government believe that those measures represent a formidable, focused and effective response to the problem of organised crime.
The gracious Speech also announced the Government's intention to introduce an Asylum and Immigration Bill. The United Kingdom has a long and honourable tradition of helping those facing persecution and in genuine need of protection. But our asylum procedures are increasingly being abused by people who are not refugees. That is both damaging to immigration control and contrary to the interests of genuine refugees. It also places an unacceptable burden on taxpayers and public services. Asylum claims have been rising steadily for over 18 months: 1994 saw an increase of 45 per cent. This year, claims are expected to exceed 40,000, nearly double the level in 1993. That has created an unacceptable backlog in our system. There are currently over 70,000 cases awaiting decision or appeal. Just by claiming asylum, a person can expect to extend his stay or fend off removal action by 12 months or more. And the level of abuse is high. Asylum is regularly claimed by immigration offenders to frustrate removal. The prospect of gaining access to benefit and housing is undoubtedly a significant incentive to claim asylum.
We are, in fact, becoming Europe's soft target for those intent on abusing asylum procedures. A number of our neighbours have tightened their asylum systems and experienced substantial reductions. Last year, claims in the rest of western Europe fell by over 40 per cent. We are now the only country in western Europe where claims are rising substantially.
The Government believe that we must take action on a broad front. We announced two significant initiatives in February. The Home Secretary is making wider use of the power to curtail leave when refusing asylum, thereby preventing applicants from having two opportunities to appeal on the same asylum claim. We are also investing an additional £37 million over three years in extra asylum caseworkers and adjudicators. The Secretary of State for Social Security is now consulting urgently on proposals to limit the availability of benefit to asylum applicants. In addition, I have been consulting with the Immigration Appellate Authority about measures to reduce asylum appeal delays. But it is now clear that we also need to strengthen the legislation and the Bill will further streamline decision taking and appeals. The Government's proposals will be fully compatible with our obligations under the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees. I wish to emphasise that after the proposals are in place all claims will still be individually considered.
The Bill will also address the problem of illegal working. It is unacceptable that those here illegally or working in breach of their conditions of leave are able to take away employment opportunities from our own workforce and those legally entitled to seek employment. Other European countries have recognised these risks and responded to them. The United Kingdom will become a soft target if we do not act now.
Turning to social affairs, the Community Care (Direct Payments) Bill (and subsequent regulations) will allow local authorities to give some disabled people cash 140 payments as an alternative to the community care services for which they have been assessed. People who take up this option will use the money to purchase those community care services themselves. Disabled people have been asking the Government to legislate in this area and local authorities also welcomed the announcement last November of the Government's intention to introduce legislation. Direct payments will give people more choice, more control over their lives and so more independence. Direct payments are, therefore, a natural extension of both the Government's aims for community care and of the Citizen's Charter. The Bill will grant the necessary power. Local authorities themselves will decide whether or not to make direct payments available.
In Scotland, the Government are committed to further enhancing what I believe to be already high standards of education and training. I may not be entirely objective in this assessment. The Education (Scotland) Bill proposes changes that will benefit parents, teachers, pupils, employers and employees.
A new Scottish Qualifications Authority will he established to take on the current functions of the Scottish Examination Board and the Scottish Vocational Education Council and, in addition, to administer the new unified framework of courses and awards for upper secondary education in Scotland. The merger of the two bodies was widely welcomed in consultation as the most appropriate response to advances in Scottish education and promoting parity of esteem between academic and vocational training. We will facilitate the Government's pre-five initiative with a new power to pay grants to providers of pre-school education. We also intend to amend the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988 to simplify the workings of that Act and amend the provisions in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 on placing requests to enable education authorities to retain places at certain schools for incomers to the area served by a school. The requirement on education authorities, under provisions in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, to obtain the approval of the Secretary of State before the commencement of building work, will he repealed and the Secretary of State's regulation-making power under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 will be clarified to secure the basis for making regulations.
The gracious Speech also contains proposals for the emergency legislation in Northern Ireland to continue in place after the expiry of the current Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act next year. I should like to explain the reasons for this in the light of calls from some who say that the emergency in Northern Ireland is over and that the time has therefore come to dismantle the emergency legislation.
For the first time in over a quarter of a century the people of Northern Ireland—and elsewhere in the United Kingdom—have enjoyed 15 months free from bombing and its related misery. The Government want to see this peace become fully established. But it remains the case that more progress needs to he made, especially on the decommissioning of illegally held weaponry, before we can truly say that the threat of a return to violence has disappeared completely. To that end the Government are considering jointly with the 141 Irish Government the establishment of an independent international body to consider and report on the issue. Depending on the body's findings, legislation to underpin any decommissioning scheme may need to be introduced later in this Session, but until a satisfactory outcome has been secured, we shall continue to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland receive the protection which the emergency legislation has afforded them until now.
Against this background, and acknowledging the progress that has been made since the ceasefires, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced earlier in the year in another place that an independent review into the future need for counter terrorism legislation in the UK would be held. I understand that the review will commence in the near future but it will not be possible for a report to be made available in time to influence the shape of the next Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. As a result, the lifespan of the Act would be much shorter than the five years of the present legislation and the Government will carefully consider the reviewer's findings when they are received next summer.
Your Lordships will wish to know that the Government will consider suspending individual provisions of the current Act or its replacement, should satisfactory progress continue to be made and confidence in the permanence of the peace finally secured. Seeking a just and enduring settlement has been and remains a priority of this Government. We hope that all sides will co-operate in generating the atmosphere of confidence necessary so that talks can take place to create such a settlement based on the principles of democracy and consent.
Before I finish, I should like to mention the progress that has been made in implementing law reform. As many law reform measures, including thirteen Law Commission reports, have been implemented in the last two Sessions as in the previous five. The backlog of Law Commission reports has been reduced by a quarter over the past year, even allowing for new reports published by the commission during that period, and I am confident that, with the continued co-operation of noble Lords on all sides, this trend is set to continue. A significant factor has been the readiness of this House to use the full range of procedures, such as special Public Bill Committees, sometimes termed "fast track", although that term does not do justice to the detailed scrutiny which such committees make possible, as any noble Lord who has served on one will attest. The Government intend to continue with this approach, making use of the various routes as appropriate. The choice of measures and the parliamentary route for each one will depend on the legislative time available and the content of the measures, but the Government intend, if time allows, to bring forward at least three law reform Bills. The Bills in question are a Defamation Bill, which will enable speedier, cheaper and more effective resolution of claims for defamation; a Trusts of Land Bill, which will be a technical measure to reform the law governing co-ownership of land; and a Damages Bill, which will provide for the disposal of personal 142 injury claims by structured settlements tailored to the injured person's needs and for other improvements in the way that damages for personal injuries are assessed.
As I stated earlier, the legislative programme in the field of law, home and social affairs is detailed and wide ranging. I have merely been able to give your Lordships a flavour of it today. I believe that the proposals in the gracious Speech on the subjects covered by today's debate are extremely important and of the highest relevance to the British people in many aspects of their life. The desire which I cherish that they will reach the statute book is based on the Government's belief, which I warmly share, that they will be of lasting benefit to our people in the years to come.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Irvine of Lairg
My Lords, I join the noble and learned Lord in his congratulations to the Mover and the Seconder of the Address. From these Benches, we look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cuckney.
It really is a pleasure still to be able to follow the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. He has been in the wars, if that is not to overstate his recent skirmish with the silly tendency in his own party. The Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill was the casualty in the other place. The Opposition had been able to agree with the noble and learned Lord that it could go through your Lordships' House and the other place as politically uncontroversial; and so it truly was. It was a Law Commission Bill and the product of five years' work. The Government published a Green Paper, no dissent; a White Paper followed, not a word against; and they published their Bill which received widespread support and agreement by the Opposition.
The Government then allowed the Bill to be killed off at the eleventh hour in the other place by succumbing to a campaign of misinformation by a tabloid newspaper, backed up by a tiny and unthinking minority in the noble and learned Lord's own party.
We welcome the return of the Bill as part of the Family Law Bill, which is a more anodyne title. We do not welcome the weakening of its provisions as a sop to those who must be appeased. The noble and learned Lord could have soldiered on with his Bill as was and it would have passed with all-party support. The price of appeasing the silly tendency is to lessen protection against domestic violence. The noble and learned Lord's first thoughts on this subject were better than his second thoughts. We shall be tabling amendments to persuade him to agree with himself.
Under the present law, the courts may grant injunctions to prevent one party to a marriage from molesting the other. They may also order a molesting spouse to leave the home, or to allow the other to return to it. At present, the law protects both the husband and wife and a man and woman living together in the same household as husband and wife. Therefore, the argument that the Bill was bad for marriage because it would enable an unmarried cohabitant to remove a partner from the home was wide of the mark. That right has 143 been part of our law since the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976. That Act stands as a proud memorial to the late Lord Elwyn-Jones.
The measure which is now reintroduced will extend protection against molestation to former spouses, to persons who used to live together as though married and to persons living in the same household for reasons other than that one is employed by the other; for example, a tenant, lodger, boarder or close relative. Therefore, the Bill in no way gives the grasping mistress any greater protection than she enjoys at present. But it does protect against granny-bashing or beating up a flatmate or child. A court order removing the perpetrator of violence from the home may be sought only by a spouse, a former spouse, cohabitant or former cohabitant, and then only if he lives or used to live in the house. There was absolutely nothing in the wild allegations that a weekend guest would be able to eject a houseowner after a quarrel.
Somehow or other, a minority of Conservative Members in the other place flexed their muscles and maintained that the Bill interfered with family values—by restricting the inalienable right of the houseowner to be violent to his partner without putting his home at risk. The truth is that by protecting the young and the weak—predominantly children and women—the Bill strove to strengthen family values. These provisions provide emergency and temporary measures to safeguard the victims of abuse. They do nothing to diminish strict rights of ownership.
I turn now to the divorce proposals. Where a marriage breaks down, we should not think inevitably in terms of the guilty party and the innocent party who is entitled to a divorce. A breakdown principle reflects the reality of divorce, not as a reward for marital virtue or punishment for marital delinquency, but a defeat for both, however unequal their responsibility.
A no-fault principle for divorce is to be supported for two basic reasons. A marriage breakdown is almost never exclusively the fault of one of the parties and any investigation of fault is productive of acrimony and is harmful to both parties and especially the children. In any event, there is no-fault divorce in practice under our present system. The sole ground for divorce under the present law is that the marriage has broken down irretrievably because the other party has committed adultery, behaved unreasonably, deserted the other for two years or both parties have lived apart for two years and consent to divorce or they have lived apart for five years in the absence of an agreement.
Only unreasonable behaviour, desertion and adultery are in reality fault-based. Moreover, there is only the most cursory examination by the court of the allegations. There is no hearing. It is all done on paper. Legal aid is not available to defend the divorce and if parties pay for lawyers themselves, or act without a lawyer, the court will bring pressure to persuade them that this is futile because the marriage must be over: it takes two to make it successful and one party wants it to end. In those circumstances, the courts' position is that it is better not to waste time and money in an exercise which is painful and doomed to failure.
144 I wonder whether the absolute prohibition which the Bill imposes on a divorce in less than 12 months of asking for a decree is correct. If the parties, before the expiry of 12 months, have made sensible and acceptable arrangements, why should they have to wait? The only answer is that there should always be a minimum one year period of waiting for reflection and the possibility of reconciliation, although it is extremely doubtful in practice that that will prove productive. Certainly, I could not support a longer period than 12 months as the mandatory period of delay.
On the other hand, I am glad to see that the noble and learned Lord now accepts that a divorce should not go through merely because a year has elapsed, if arrangements have not been agreed and that is not due to unreasonableness by either party. That will give some protection to a party who would otherwise feel pressurised into agreeing to an unfair arrangement which will apply for years to come. If either party has, on the other hand, been unreasonable then I would agree that the court should have power to permit the divorce to go ahead.
Central to the Bill is the process of mediation. That is a much misunderstood concept. Undoubtedly mediation has an important part to play in helping parties to deal with the consequences of bringing their marriage to an end, but this role needs to be understood accurately. It is not about reconciliation. The starting point of mediation is that the parties agree their marriage is over but wish to resolve issues of finance and children sensibly. If the marriage is "saveable", the mediator would be bound to close down the mediation and refer the parties to a marriage guidance organisation, such as Relate.
The mediator's influence can only hope to succeed if both parties recognise that the marriage is over and that acceptable arrangements need to be made for the future. But fair arrangements depend on independent legal advice and representation. By eroding such advice and representation for those on legal aid, the Bill will deal a hard blow to the weaker party going through divorce and, possibly, a mortal blow to the interests of the children. That is our principal concern.
Mediation is not in terms to be made compulsory, but the iron fist of the Treasury is to be seen within the mediator's velvet glove. Mediation will not be free for any but the very poor. The costs are not to exceed those which would have been borne by the Legal Aid Fund under the present system. In other words, the new provision is to be made at the expense of independent legal advice and representation now available under legal aid.
Let us take a quite typical case. The husband runs his own business. He has unsupervised access to its cheque book. For some unexplained reason, the company accounts show a deteriorating situation which remarkably coincides with the time of the marriage breakdown. The wife says the accounts arc a sham. The courts are well able to penetrate beneath the surface distortion to uncover the realities. But how is the mediator to perform a similar role? Let this he clearly 145 understood. The fairness or otherwise of his mediated settlement is decisively dependent on the accurate assessment of the family assets.
The simple question that I ask the noble and learned Lord is: how is the weaker party, often the wife, to be protected from agreeing to something wholly inconsistent with her interests? It is quite a chilling thought that the meanest criminal has the right to the full services of a lawyer but the discarded wife or abandoned husband will not, unless they can pay for such services themselves.
In recent weeks, the noble and learned Lord has sought to reassure many troubled by the reduction of legal advice and representation which will inevitably be a consequence of the mediation provisions. He has said that legal advice and representation by way of legal aid will continue "where appropriate". We would like to know what is really meant by this. Who is to decide? It cannot be the lawyer because, ex hypothesi, he will not be involved. It is unlikely to be the court because it is difficult to see how the question can be brought before it. For legally aided litigants, it is to be the Legal Aid Board. We had hoped that the noble and learned Lord would have laid all our fears to rest by saying that he would give guidance that the board should not refuse legal aid solely on the ground that one of the parties no longer wishes to continue in mediation. That would make clear that mediation is to be truly voluntary with no unspoken sanctions. But, alas, the Bill says quite the opposite. The Legal Aid Board is to be under a duty to channel parties into mediation. We shall be putting down amendments designed to ensure that mediation is truly voluntary and that access to justice is not restricted.
The noble and learned Lord touched on the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill. In a speech to which I look forward, my noble friend Lord McIntosh will examine it. However, perhaps I may say just one thing for myself. The present disclosure rules were established by the Court of Appeal to deal with the scandal of the Irish cases which resulted in defendants spending 15 years-plus in prison because evidence had been concealed. As a result, the public standing of our justice system was hugely diminished. Not only was great injustice done to those who were wrongly convicted, but great anguish was also caused to the families of the victims. We will have to consider with care in Committee the proposition that the prosecution can safely decide what information is irrelevant to the defence and can, therefore, be withheld from it.
The noble and learned Lord mentioned the Asylum and Immigration Bill. We understand that it will create a so-called "white list" of countries deemed to be safe and so unlikely to produce true refugees. Contrary to the noble and learned Lord, I believe that we are at serious risk of conflicting with the United Nations' convention which confers a right on asylum seekers to have their claims individually examined in a way inconsistent, I would think, with the presumption proposed. I suggest that there is great merit in what came from the Leader of the Opposition; namely, that a special standing committee, free of party acrimony, should consider dispassionately the true extent of bogus applications, the 146 true extent of fraud, and also examine, free of acrimony, whether the Government's proposals comply with our international obligations and are capable of working efficiently and fairly. We gather that that is not to be.
I have confined myself to three of the Bills foreshadowed in the gracious Speech—a flawed Family Law Bill, flawed to placate the "silly tendency" which could have been brushed aside if the Government had stuck to their guns; a tawdry asylum Bill; and a criminal investigations Bill which will merit our closest scrutiny. We will continue, when invited by the Government, to support Law Commission Bills that are politically uncontroversial through fast-track procedures. When we promise our support we will deliver, but subject to one condition. That the Government's resolution will match ours and that they will not capitulate to a fractious and unrepresentative minority in their own party.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I, too, look forward with keen anticipation to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cuckney. It is almost 20 years since our paths first crossed when the noble Lord was chairman of the Port of London Authority. He is a man of many parts with a distinguished record in more than one career. No one is better fitted to contribute wisely and widely to the business of the House. I for one will always listen to the noble Lord with great attention.
I am one of those who has a certain scepticism about the value of our annual debate on the Address. These days, the content of the gracious Speech is known well in advance and is anticipated in speeches at the Conservative Party Conference and in endless press releases and contrived leaks. In any case, I see from the Annual Report and Accounts of the House for 1994–95 that during the calendar year of 1994 your Lordships' House spent 53.7 per cent. of its time on legislation compared with 54.6 per cent. in the previous year. Either way, almost half of our time is not spent on matters set out in the gracious Speech. At best, this annual occasion enables us to speculate on the year ahead and refer, as I intend to do, to some items of unfinished business carried forward from our last Session.
The promise in the gracious Speech to bring forward legislation to reform procedures in criminal cases has been quickly honoured. We shall discuss the Bill on Second Reading in a week's time. The Minister has described it as a sensible measure containing some useful reforms and has explained it to a number of your Lordships in a helpful letter. However, in practice it is not quite as innocuous as that. I do not want to anticipate the scrutiny of the Bill except to ask the Minister to place in the Library—unless she has already done so—copies of the response that the department received to the consultation document published last May. No doubt she will explain on Second Reading exactly what changes have been made as a result. I saw one headline which stated:Howard sounds retreat on help for prosecutions".
It would be interesting to know whether the Minister sees it that way.
147 These are difficult matters, with a fine balance of advantage. In May the Government said that they agreed with,the general approach recommended by the Royal Commission",
on Criminal Justice. I believe those were, in effect, the words used by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today. The Government's statement in May contained a significant "however". At paragraph 23 of the document the Government stated:The Government believes that the scheme developed by the Royal Commission would not significantly reduce the current burdens on the investigator and prosecutor and that its proposals for defence disclosure would not in practice contribute sufficiently to the development of the process of narrowing issues in dispute".
To my mind that is not a parenthesis but a rejection of the Royal Commission's scheme.
In his speech at Blackpool the Home Secretary said:The present rules on disclosure of evidence unfairly favour the criminal. We will change them. It is time to even up the scales of justice".
It will be for your Lordships to decide whether in practice the Bill is about evening up the scales of justice or tips the balance towards a more frequent miscarriage of justice. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that its purpose is to make sure the guilty are convicted while the innocent go free. It will be for your Lordships to judge whether the Bill points in that direction.
My noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead said from these Benches last Wednesday that we were glad that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had at least partially won his battle over changes in what the gracious Speech calls,other aspects of family law".
The noble Viscount the Leader of the House in his remarks took that to mean an assurance of our support for the Bill when it is published. I hope it is support that we shall be able to give, but we shall want to consider the Bill carefully to discover precisely what has been left out.
The noble Viscount was robust when in response to a question from my noble friend Lady Seear on 2nd November he expressed his anger—it was almost that—at what he called the,ill-informed attentions of a national newspaper".—[Official Report; 2/11/95; col. 1505.]
However, in so doing he turned away from the real cause of the trouble; namely, the fact that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had been "mugged" by members of his own party. They alone doomed the previous Bill to oblivion.
I have read that what the noble Lord, Lord Irvine, has called the "silly tendency" is still on the warpath looking for more concessions. What the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount the Leader of the House should know is they cannot take for granted support from other parts of the House if the Government continue to shift their ground in response to a handful of their own supporters. If these measures are worthy of Cross-Bench support, that Cross-Bench support should be sufficient to carry the Bill.
148 I hope that I am wrong but I confess I am a little uneasy about the Bill to enable the Security Service, MI5, to assist in combating organised crime. We are all in favour of more resources for the police and we are all concerned about the growth of organised crime. However, if the Security Service really has spare capacity, surely some contraction and a straight transfer of resources to the police would serve the purpose better. There are dangers in an alliance between two competitive forces with a different culture and accustomed to different tasks.
The Bill will have to define organised crime. I understand that the intelligence and security committee is currently trying to do so. There will have to be clear lines of accountability. It would be unfortunate, to say the least—I choose my words carefully—if the public began to feel that secret police were operating on our streets, whatever the purpose to which they were committed. We await the Bill with interest.
As I believe the whole House agrees, the most disturbing proposal in the Queen's Speech is the asylum Bill. It appears not to be devised on merits but, as the chairman of the Conservative Party has gleefully boasted, to wrong-foot the Opposition. For a moment last week the Prime Minister seemed to be thinking better of it and appeared to favour the search for a consensus through the procedure of a Special Standing Committee. He has since been pulled back to political correctness. We shall see Parliament at its adversarial worst when it considers the Bill, and this is a Bill which could mean imprisonment, torture and death for some people. On the evidence available to us it looks like an ignoble Bill, introduced not to focus on a genuine problem—and there are problems in the fair treatment of asylum seekers—but to win votes by an appeal to prejudice.
On 4th July last year the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon introduced a short debate in your Lordships' House on asylum seekers. He said that the detention of asylum seekers was not a practice which in principle he opposed, but he reminded us that asylum seekers come to this country fleeing from persecution and fear of death. They are not criminals. The Minister in her reply said that the subject was inclined,to arouse an emotional response rather than a rational one".— [Official Report, 4/7/95; col. 1075.]
She favoured the latter. However, it is precisely to an emotional response that the Government are at present appealing. That is why they have chosen to promote the Bill in the way they have. I hope that the Minister will feel just a little ashamed when she introduces it to the House. She deserves a better hand to play.
This morning I heard the Home Secretary speak on the radio on BBC's "Today" programme. He was asked a question about his parents, who came to this country in 1938 to escape persecution from Nazi Europe. He was asked whether they would be free to do so under the legislation he is putting before the House. But he gave no reply. I hope that that was not for reasons of personal embarrassment. It would be a frightening condemnation of this Bill if it were more restrictive than the Government's policies of 60 years ago. The Minister referred on a previous occasion to our immigration 149 policy as being robust. In regard to asylum seekers I would much prefer it to be generous. I hope that when your Lordships discuss this matter we will find ways of making it more generous.
There is one proposal which I cannot see in the gracious Speech to which the Home Secretary referred at Blackpool. He said that he intended to form a brand new crime prevention agency. I am not sure where this idea came from and I am not sure where it has since gone to, unless of course it is the matter to which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred today when he mentioned international crime. It would be helpful—I am only asking for information—to know from the Minister what has happened to the brand new crime prevention agency; whether this constitutes merely a rearrangement of Home Office functions or whether there will be a Bill on the matter during the current Session.
I wish to refer briefly to two matters which I believe will come before the House in the current Session, not as items contained in the Queen's Speech but, as I previously suggested, as matters carried over. On all sides of the House your Lordships have been exercised by the new rules governing entry to the probation service. Despite the reservations already expressed in this House and elsewhere, the Government are still proposing to go ahead with unacceptable changes. The Government have boasted of a shake-up removing the current requirement for recruits to undertake a two-year, full-time academic course. However, elsewhere in the gracious Speech there is a pointed reference to,raising educational and skill levels".
It is surely extraordinary that when there is virtually universal agreement that what this country needs is more education and training in every department of our national life the Government are proposing less in the case of the probation service. There is no real evidence that mature, experienced and talented people—to use the Home Office's own description—find the present arrangements a serious barrier to joining the probation service. The suspicion remains that the Government would prefer probation officers to look more like military policemen than social workers.
In the coming Session we shall also be discussing the prison service again. The Government got off lightly on the occasion of the publication of the Learmont Report. Your Lordships took the Minister's Statement very calmly, perhaps because, as so often, your Lordships had had so little time to read and digest the report. When the report was debated in another place the Shadow Home Secretary made a hash of it, as many of us were greatly saddened to see.
We shall need to consider the relationship of the Home Office to the prison service, as well as the full record of the Government in these matters, as revealed both by the Woodcock Report, which we debated in January, and by Learmont. One of the outcomes of the Learmont Report was the admission by the Home Secretary that there is a question to answer about the status of the prison service as an executive agency, which is precisely what we said from these Benches on 150 28th January last, when it was strenuously denied. Following the Statement on Learmont I asked the Minister who was to conduct the inquiry into the relationship between the Home Office and the prison service which the Home Secretary had announced. The noble Baroness was unable to reply at the time, but she kindly wrote to me a few days later.
In her letter the noble Baroness said:The work",
by which she meant the in-depth study to which the Home Secretary had referred,is being done by Miss Kate Jenkins, an independent consultant who was the chief author of the report which led to the creation of the agency concept in 1987".I find that odd. The person who devised the system in the first place is being asked to sit in judgment on its success; in other words, to consider whether her original advice was correct, as Ministers have previously claimed. I do not doubt for a moment Miss Jenkins' talent and integrity, but I cannot believe that that is really the way to get the right answers and a formula which will last.
A year ago in the debate on the Address I referred to the Home Office—and my remarks today have been addressed entirely to matters which come within its competence—as one of the great offices of state which every incumbent held on trust for the nation. I said that above all the Home Secretary of the day must take a long view of his responsibilities based on knowledge and not on prejudice. His task was to lead opinion, not heedlessly to follow it, to be a statesman rather than a narrow party politician. It gives me no pleasure to say that in the past 12 months the Home Secretary has too often fallen below those standards. I regret that there is nothing in the Queen's Speech that leads me to hope that in this current Session of Parliament we shall see a change of heart or a new beginning.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Lord Cuckney
My Lords, I feel greatly honoured to have the opportunity of making my maiden speech in the course of the debate on the humble Address to Her Majesty. I am also grateful for the kind remarks made by the last speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, who was Minister of Transport when I was Chairman of the Port of London. I hope that he will not wish to alter those remarks after he has heard what I have to say, because I shall take a rather different position on one particular issue.
Last Thursday, in the course of the debate on the Address, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, as reported in Hansard of 16th November 1995 at col. 74, warmly welcomed as he put it, the emphatic statement in the gracious Speech that national security remains of the highest importance, and it is on one particular aspect of national security that I should like to make three points. I wish to refer to the threat that could, if we are not more careful, arise from an increase in international organised crime. Also earlier in the debate on the Address, the noble Lord, Lord Healey, said: 151Crime is now globalised. It is estimated that 1,500 billion dollars a year are laundered as the proceeds of crime, one-third of them being the proceeds of drug trafficking".—[Official Report, 16/11/95; col. 52.]
The noble Lord went on to emphasise the level of co-operation which exists between criminals across frontiers. Indeed, I recall him adding that their co-operation bettered that of the governments supposedly controlling their activities.
It is against that background that I was particularly pleased to read of the proposal to introduce legislation to enable the Security Service to assist the law enforcement agencies in their work against organised crime.
I believe that at this stage I should declare an interest in that I was at one time a member of the Security Service and it might therefore be thought that I am biased in its favour. However, I have had time in which to reflect on my experience and see it, and the Security Service's role and unique characteristics, in perspective. I have also more recently been involved in an international initiative to fight maritime fraud and piracy, which have many of the features of organised crime. Indeed, in many instances they represent good examples of organised crime on a truly international scale.
I should like to make the following points. First, I recognise the natural and understandable concern from a civil liberties point of view over extending the remit and area of operations of the Security Service. But perhaps I may point out that there are now strong and effective control and oversight arrangements in place. The Security Service is subject to judicial oversight by two separate commissioners, one of whom is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, and by two tribunals, as set out in the Security Service Act 1989 and the Interception of Communications Act 1985. Additionally, in the Intelligence Services Act 1994 provision was made for the establishment of a statutory oversight committee, reporting directly to the Prime Minister, made up of nine non-ministerial Members of both Houses, one of whom is my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon.
Secondly, full account should be taken of the great changes to which the director general has recently drawn attention publicly that have taken place in the Security Service's priorities and experience. By last year the proportion of effort devoted to counter-terrorism had doubled compared with the previous four years, and over the same period resources applied to counter-espionage had halved. Only a fraction of the work now concentrates on countering subversion compared with 10 years ago.
The important point that I should like to make is that those changes have meant a fundamental change in the working practices and methodologies and closer co-operation with other government departments and the police. The skills of countering terrorism have a direct and relevant application to countering organised crime, especially in the skill and care needed to convert intelligence into evidence. The very trends which have helped the growth of international terrorism—ease and 152 speed of travel and communications—have also aided the growth of organised crime, which is increasingly becoming transnational.
Thirdly, while I accept that the Security Service and the police are different services with clearly defined roles and functions, they have both demonstrated that they complement one another in their approach to common problems. I believe that in the Security Service, as it is now overseen and controlled and with its considerable counter-terrorism experience, we have a valuable national asset, the greater deployment of which to help fight organised crime would be of benefit to the stability of the country.
May I conclude by recalling that, although this alone is not the sole basis for the amendment being proposed, one of the functions of the Security Service as defined in the 1989 Act is:to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands".
I am delighted that there is recognition of the importance of the challenge posed by serious and organised crime and that action, as was outlined by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor earlier this afternoon, is being taken to strengthen the fight against it.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford
My Lords, it is my very pleasant duty to express on behalf of the whole House our warmest congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Cuckney, on his maiden speech. Drawing upon his long financial and industrial experience, his speech was in the best traditions of this House and we look forward to many further contributions to debates from the noble Lord.
For the avoidance of doubt, I must preface what I have to say on the Family Law Bill with the statement that the House of Bishops of the Church of England is second to none in its belief that marriage is part of the order of God's creation, designed to be a joyful and enriching partnership, bringing comfort and mutual help to those who commit themselves to it. The Bishops also believe that the family is essential to the health and wellbeing of our society and that no effort should be spared to prepare people for marriage and to assist them in understanding what it takes to maintain faithful marriage relationships and to provide a stable family life.
Bishops, however, as well as being church leaders, teachers of the faith and upholders of the ideal, are also pastors who know that human nature is frail and that people, including a lot of us, are prone to make mistakes. In supporting the provisions of the Family Law Bill, let me also say that I warmly welcome the fact that this debate is now taking place, especially against the background of a deepening concern over the fact that we have the highest divorce rate in Europe, with 150,000 couples divorcing each year and with a good deal of attendant misery forced upon the children. Moreover, I welcome the Bill for its intention not Just to make divorce procedures more satisfactory, as sad and as necessary as that is, but also to enable couples to 153 receive help in considering their life together and that of their children and whether the step they are proposing to take is reflective of sound judgment and a proper sense of parental responsibility.
It seems to me that there are two approaches to what is being proposed in the Bill. The first is to perceive the provisions of the Bill as resulting in easier divorce and in the undermining of family life. There has been quite a lot of criticism along those lines, although one can see positive value in legislation which would require a 12-month period of waiting with time at least for reflection on whether the marriage can be saved, which takes the emphasis away from the adversarial approach and offers comprehensive family mediation.
Of course one has to admit that a period of consideration and reflection will certainly not always change minds or attitudes, but in many cases what can be said for it is that it can enhance the opportunities of saving a marriage by reducing bitterness and hostility and also minimising the harm caused to children. The proposals contained in the Bill are certainly an improvement on the present system which, despite its original intentions, has resulted in "quickie" divorces for many, based on allegations of fault. If, however, this is to be the way forward and if it is to command the respect and support of those who believe in and strive to enable sound marriage and wholesome family life to continue, then the Government will need to be serious about the adequate provision of mediation services. I note that recently the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference when commenting upon the White Paper has urged the generous funding of marriage counselling services and other family organisations so that access to such services is readily available when difficulties arise. There will be many in this House who will wholeheartedly support such a view.
At its very heart, marriage is a loving and caring relationship and when that relationship of trust and intimacy is in danger it is not the legal bonds which need attention but the relationship that they are designed to protect. The tragedy of marriage breakdown and its consequences for the children of such broken marriages are only too obvious to us all. Far more attention needs to be paid to measures which will strengthen and support marriage.
At the Second Reading and Committee stages Bishops will be expressing concerns, especially in relation to the public nature of marriage, the clarification of the purpose and organisation of mediation and of the necessary funding. When mediation was introduced in Canada 19 per cent. of those seeking divorce decided in the end on a reconciliation because they had been given the opportunity of looking at their marriage and at the consequences of its break-up with the assistance of a mediator. In New Zealand it was found that the result of mediation in divorce in the case of first marriages was a drop of 60 per cent. in the divorce rate in the case of second marriages, the problems of the first marriage having been resolved instead of being carried into the second.
If we are concerned to support marriage and help those with problems, as well as rescuing children from 154 the antagonisms of the present fault-based system, then I believe that the provisions contained in the Bill deserve the supportive consideration of this House.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Lord Prentice
My Lords, I too pay tribute to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Cuckney. It was a strong speech, thought-provoking and based on his own experience. I recall how varied that experience has been. I was fortunate enough to get to know him well when he was in charge of the Crown Agents, where he did distinguished work in an organisation which had earlier been going through an unhappy period. I hope that we shall hear from him often on many matters. Perhaps I may also apologise to the House because unavoidably I have to leave before the end of the debate. I regret that.
I wish to make a contribution under the heading of "social affairs" and make a suggestion which may be considered eccentric in a period of fervid political argument. It is that the whole subject of social security could usefully be approached in a somewhat less partisan way than has been customary and that we might think in terms of the appointment of a Royal Commission or some similar body to study the present and future problems of this difficult subject. In saying that, I realise that Royal Commissions have gone out of fashion; no doubt in previous years we had too many and they wasted much time. Sometimes I suspect that they were appointed in order to waste time. So, perhaps rightly, it has become less common in recent years for governments to send problems to Royal Commissions and similar bodies. However, it seems to me that there can be exceptional circumstances when a problem has become so difficult and complex and when successive governments have failed to produce radical answers that such an approach could be helpful. The problems of the social security system are very serious and are getting worse.
Compared with the earlier implementation of the Beveridge Report in the year 1949, the cost of social security has increased by some 700 per cent. in real terms. In 1949, it represented about one-twentieth of the national income; now it represents a quarter of a very much larger national income. It is costing an average of £15 a day for every person at work in Britain. I submit to the House that that figure is much too large and is liable to grow larger for demographic reasons, among others. I submit that often payments are misdirected, particularly in the sense that low paid workers are paying a great deal of money to affluent pensioners and some of that needs radical readjustment.
I was worried about those matters when I was Minister of State for Social Security from 1979 to 1981. In that period, we undertook some measures which slightly changed the upward growth of the system. For example, we made more stringent rules for the up-rating every year of benefits. We thereby saved billions of pounds which would otherwise go out every year. However, we did not do enough. That was clear to me then, and it is even clearer now.
155 I personally applaud the savings that have been made by Mr. Lilley in the past few years. I shall probably applaud any further savings that are announced next week. But the savings he has made have been piecemeal. There has been no overall review of the whole system. I believe that that is difficult for any government to undertake. That is one reason I suggest a Royal Commission or something similar.
I also applaud little bits of Labour Party thinking—I wish to be cautious in saying that—and I applaud some of the conclusions of the commission. Sir Gordon Borne, who will shortly join us in this House, presided over them. I also applaud some of the thoughts of Mr. Frank Field, chairman of the relevant Select Committee in another place.
But—and it is a big but—from day to day the Labour Party always has a knee-jerk reaction against any measure which appears to save money in any direction. Every one of Mr. Lilley's reforms has been opposed by the Labour Party and, I believe, by the Liberal Democrats. They are already criticising in advance possibilities for further savings in the current public expenditure review.
The question I wish to put to the House is this: does the conventional pattern of party warfare totally and permanently prevent a fundamental examination on less partisan lines? I do not wish to be optimistic about the answer, but I suggest that it should be a matter of concern to all parties in this country and all Members of both Houses of Parliament. It seems to me that sooner or later—and sooner rather than later—a government of whichever party will be forced into emergency measures which will lead to reductions in some benefits and the serious disappointment of people's expectations. Certainly, if one looks at it purely in terms of party political advantage or disadvantage, it would be a serious matter for whichever government will have to do it. At the moment, in France M. Juppé is introducing severe reductions in social security benefits and other welfare benefits, none of which was mentioned in the presidential election campaign. He faces a great deal of opposition, demonstrations and strikes. I read this morning that he faces a possible general strike. In the United States, a great deal of the argument between Congress and the White House about budgetary matters relates to welfare payments. Recently, as a result of all that, we have seen a shutdown of American government offices for a week.
Only in Italy, in the recent past, has there been a successful carrying through of radical reforms in that field. It must be significant that it has happened at a time when the traditional Italian political parties are being sidelined and Italy has had a temporary government of technocrats who are able to go further in a more radical direction than previous governments.
I do not suggest a general suspension of party political warfare. In a modest way I participate in those activities and shall continue to do so. But it seems to me that sometimes, in relation to some subjects, it would be of mutual benefit to all parties and, more important, to the country to set aside or at any rate try to reduce the nature of the argument. We do it on some matters.
156 On the whole, we have had a non-partisan approach among the main parties to the problems of Northern Ireland. We have had a non-partisan approach to events in Bosnia. But on the mainstream domestic issues, we find it difficult. I submit to the House that the problems we face in social security which will be faced by future generations are on such a scale and of such a nature that they should be tackled by a new approach. That approach might well be a Royal Commission or a similar body, so far as possible launched with the support of all political parties.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I listened with attention to the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Cuckney. I am sure that the House is grateful to him for taking the occasion of his maiden speech to give us his thoughts on a matter of the greatest importance, of which he clearly has immense knowledge and experience.
It is natural, after listening to the noble Lord, Lord Cuckney, that I begin my small contribution by welcoming the reference in the gracious Speech to Northern Ireland. It ranks with the most important matters in the gracious Speech. I am grateful that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor went out of his way to devote an important part of his speech to the position in Northern Ireland.
There is no doubt that there are real concerns and, possibly more worrying, grounds for such concerns, about the stalemate that has developed in the search for a political settlement. These anxieties are shared by the people in Northern Ireland. They are voiced by international opinion. I accept that perceptions of the root cause of the difficulties differ greatly. There is perhaps inevitably a tendency to blame the other side. It is very much against that background that I welcome the commitment in the gracious Speech,to build on the present peace and to create the conditions for political progress through inclusive talks".Notwithstanding the huge obstacles that lie in the path of the peace process, that statement is as positive and affirmative as the statement in last year's gracious Speech. That is saying a great deal.
It is obvious that all the political parties in Northern Ireland, as well as the two governments, bear a heavy responsibility for achieving a peace settlement. Therefore, given the huge difficulties of recent months, I welcome again the encouraging sentence in the gracious Speech which promises,close and friendly relations with the Government of the Republic of Ireland".Clearly the two governments and the political parties have a long way to go. To achieve a lasting political settlement will require understanding, patience and a willingness to face up to the facts of history. At the same time it will call for imagination and courage. Those are not inappropriate aims for any statesmen.
There is a connected, but narrower, subject to which I wish to refer; namely, the transfer of prisoners to Northern Ireland jurisdiction. The release last Thursday of more than 80 loyalist and IRA prisoners convicted of 157 serious crimes took some courage. But rightly or wrongly—and I offer no judgment on that—such prisoners occupy a position of respect in their respective communities. It would help if the Government were now to look seriously at the case for the transfer from mainland prisons to Northern Ireland jurisdiction—and, where appropriate and where arrangements are in place, to prisons in the republic—of those prisoners who are not to be released. To my knowledge at least two prisoners who have been the focus of a great deal of attention seem to have a strong case on compassionate grounds for such a transfer, at least on a temporary basis. As for the general case for transferring prisoners to Northern Ireland jurisdiction, I believe that it can be supported on the grounds that the attitude of prisoners towards the permanent cessation of violence has been, and continues to be, a factor of considerable relevance to the success of the peace process.
Reference to prisoners leads me to my next point; namely, the relationship between Parliament and the prison service. I agree with almost all the remarks made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. Much concern has been expressed in this House about the lack of adequate accountability of the service to Parliament. I believe that the issue was last touched upon during Question Time on 26th October. It would be quite inappropriate on this occasion for me to go into detail. However, I have to say that I have been somewhat alarmed by my experience in trying to get a satisfactory response from the prison service to a complaint which a number of us from Wales have been pursuing on behalf of a Welsh prisoner.
The Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will be aware that last March I drew her attention to the complaint of Sion Aubrey Roberts, who is serving a very long sentence. The complaint was referred by the Minister to her ministerial colleague with special responsibility for prisons—which I accept—who in turn referred it to the director-general of the prison service. It is possible that some of the facts may embarrass some people in high places. But it is a matter of regret to many of us from Wales, as well as to the prisoner, that in November I am still awaiting a satisfactory response from official quarters. Do the Government think it right that we should be kept waiting for more than seven months?
I recall very clearly that when the enabling Bill for the Next Steps agencies was before this House in 1990, my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington pressed the Minister (I hasten to add, not the noble Baroness) for certain assurances. The Minister in charge of the Bill gave this assurance:Individuals can still appeal to their MPs and MPs to the Minister responsible for all the activities of the agency".—[Official Report, 8/3/90; col. 1293.]
The Minister added at col. 1294:With regard to freedom of information. Next Steps is a contribution to that rather than the reverse".
In the light of my experience, that assurance given in 1990 by a Minister in this House makes rather sorry reading.
158 The divorce Bill has received its First Reading. I tried to obtain a copy before I went home on Thursday but it was not then available. I listened carefully to the remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor this afternoon. I understand that the Bill incorporates the main principles of the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill, which failed to pass during the last Session. I am very pleased that it incorporates those main principles. My noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Irvine, with his usual piercing clarity, gave an analysis of the strength and weakness of the Bill, to which I have nothing to add. I was particularly grateful for the thoughts of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, which are obviously of the greatest importance. I listen to the voice of the Church.
I now turn to an important subject that is not mentioned in the gracious Speech; namely, young people between 16 and 18 years of age who leave the care of local authority social services departments. From inquiries I made, I understand that about 10,000 young people leave care in any one year. That number is, I am pleased to acknowledge, substantially smaller than it used to be. Noble Lords may know from their own experience that some of those young people may have been abandoned by their parents, some are in a crisis of adolescence, many have been neglected, abused or offended against, and some have suffered a great deal of disruption to their young lives.
It is the experience of the Children's Society, which has an excellent record of working directly with children and young people in England and Wales, that some thousands of young people leaving care have precious little chance of a job, of a home, or of adequate income. Moreover, many receive too little preparation for leaving care. The net result is that many are exposed to danger from crime, prostitution and ill-health. They deserve better. I accept, of course, that the state cannot be a substitute for good parents; nevertheless, the state's relationship is in loco parentis to young people leaving care and therefore it has a special responsibility for them.
The whole House, and all the organisations and statutory authorities with an interest in helping children and young people, are particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his great personal interest in the drafting and passage through Parliament of the Children Act 1989. We welcome that Act. It had the great merit of introducing a legal framework for the provision of services for young people leaving care, and obviously for other reasons. As I acknowledged, there have been improvements; but I have had discussions with other Members of your Lordships' House and we all agree that there remain widespread anxieties. Part of the trouble is that the important Section 24 is being implemented at a time when major changes in other social legislation are seriously undermining it. I shall not go into detail.
There is another weakness which I certainly did not appreciate in 1989. According to my count, the issues affecting young people leaving care straddle at least six departments of central or local government, but without one single department being in overall lead. That is a flaw; that is a weakness. I hope and trust that the 159 Department of the Environment will ensure that the proposed legislation referred to in the gracious Speech, to make better provision for housing, will have a relevance to the long-term housing needs of young people leaving care, whether they are to be met by local authorities or housing associations. If we can be assured by the noble Baroness in her reply that the Bill will provide for that need, that will give at least a gleam of comfort. I am advised that much more is required. I sincerely hope that we do not go through this Session without positive initiatives being made on the other relevant issues.
I end as I began, with another nation or province which makes up the United Kingdom. I regret that not a single word was said in the gracious Speech about Wales or its problems. I believe that in itself is further evidence, if evidence is required, of how remote the Government have become from the Welsh scene and the urgency of Welsh problems. The Minister will know that there is a spectacular row at the moment about the unwillingness of the Home Office to listen to Welsh opinion on a particular matter. I have no doubt that that indifference will help to bring about the overdue constitutional changes which are necessary. But that is an issue for another gracious Speech in the not too distant future.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ The Earl of Mar and Kellie
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cuckney, on his fascinating maiden speech. I hope that we hear from him often in the future.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, touched on a subject which I shall develop in relation to another part of the United Kingdom. There is little in the gracious Speech that specifically relates to Scotland. However, the Education Bill intends to expand the nursery voucher scheme. That scheme may work, but only if there are sufficient nursery places available, and there are certainly not, especially in many of Scotland's rural areas. Surely such educational provision must be investment-led by the Government rather than relying upon private enterprise. The Education Bill also aims to amalgamate the academic and vocational award bodies into a Scottish qualifications authority. I hope that that will end the confusion felt by many people in regard to the status of specific education awards.
What was more interesting about the plans for Scotland came from announcements made recently by the Prime Minister and the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal. Following the success of the standing committee for the Children (Scotland) Bill, which took evidence in Scotland, and also the success of taking the Committee stage of that Bill off the Floor of the House, the noble Viscount said that the use of such processes would be extended. He envisaged the possibility of a Lords' standing committee taking evidence in Scotland.
Last week the Prime Minister said that he now acknowledges that the Scottish people feel remote from the Westminster Parliament. The proposal is that the Scottish Grand Committee will hold debates on non-contentious Bills and issues at several venues in 160 Scotland. That will certainly make the British Parliament more accessible. However, watching our 61 opposition MPs being dominated by 11 government MPs on a regular basis may end up being similar to being made to watch video recordings of every defeat in sporting history.
The Prime Minister's second acknowledgement was that Scotland would survive on its own, but that Scotland and England would both be poorer as a result. I am surprised that he believes England would he poorer. For Scotland, that would initially be true, until the benefits of self-government took effect. It depends somewhat on the truth of the statistics that the tax taken from Scotland is £22 billion and the government spend is £28 billion. The unshackling of the Scottish economy from being an extremity of the British economy would be the key. Unfortunately, there was nothing about that in the gracious Speech.
The issues which are vital in Scotland revolve around the choices: do we reform the British Union or do we abandon it? There is substantial interest in the answer to that question. In particular, what incentives are there to stay in the Union? The Government will be wise to address that problem very soon. On St. Andrew's day, 30th November, the Scottish Constitutional Convention will be highlighting the cross-party plans for a devolved Parliament. It would supervise the work of the Scottish Office and its 15,000 civil servants. I believe that 60 per cent. of Scottish residents support these plans. This would be a democratic Parliament elected by the additional member system of proportional representation. There would be 73 constituency MPs and seven MPs from each of the eight Euro-constituencies.
The merits of the plan would be, first, that the Scottish Parliament would not be dominated by central West Scotland, which is my code word for Strathclyde; secondly, that the Government would have to secure 50 per cent. of the vote; thirdly, that it would be consensual rather than adversarial; and, fourthly, that legislation could be proposed both by the Government and by parliamentary committees. Now that the Prime Minister has acknowledged that Scotland would survive on its own, I hope that the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party will come back into the Scottish political debate and perhaps even take its place, albeit belatedly, in the constitutional convention. Bringing forward such legislation in next year's Queen's Speech would certainly wrong-foot the Opposition and possibly make the British Union sustainable.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Lord Wilberforce
My Lords, perhaps I may for a moment or two repatriate this debate from Scotland and Wales to England. First, I should like to welcome most enthusiastically the reference in the gracious Speech to "Other measures, including other measures of law reform", which was a repetition from the speech of 1994. I should very much like also to welcome the expression of intention by the noble and learned Lord, which was endorsed, although a little conditionally perhaps, by the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, to 161 continue with the process of law reform using both the parliamentary route and what is known as the Jellicoe procedure. It is very good news that the noble and learned Lord is producing, or is allowing to be produced, three Bills, dealing with defamation, the law of trusts and the law of damages, for the next Session. That has to be looked at against the background that there are already 25 reports of the Law Commission awaiting implementation, 10 of which have received government approval. So there is still, even after this programme, plenty of room for action under one or other of the procedures. Nevertheless, so far, so good, and we must be grateful for what we have.
I do not propose to proceed with consideration of that programme. I am glad of it and certainly, so far as I and my noble friends are concerned, we shall do our best to see that it is implemented. I want very briefly to consider two rather different points. We have so far been dealing with law reform under the rubric of uncontroversial or technical measures suitable for rapid consideration. I do now suggest that the time has come, or at least is coming, when we have to look at a somewhat larger dimension, passing beyond the simple, technical measure to measures of major importance for the structure of our law.
Two of those are particularly urgent: first, a criminal code and, secondly, the law of landlord and tenant. As regards a criminal code, there is no doubt whatever that there is immense need for such a thing in English law. Reasons have been put before the public by the Law Commission in its paper 122 of 1992. English criminal law is, as everyone knows, complex and antiquated, an illogical mixture of common law and statute, and, worst of all, is inaccessible to the citizen. England is almost alone in not having a comprehensive code dealing with the criminal law. The Law Commission's position on this has received large support and hardly any opposition. The commission has gone even beyond this generality. In 1989 it produced what was virtually a draft of the whole of the criminal law of England, relating to indictable offences, in an accessible and comprehensible form. It went even further. It suggested a programme of rolling legislation under which a series of Bills dealing with identified areas of the law could be successively enacted and made up ultimately into a complete code. It has gone further than that. In its paper 218 it has produced a draft code dealing with offences against the person and general principles and offences. The paper received an enthusiastic welcome, this being an area of the law which is most particularly antiquated and full of absurd provisions. I need not elaborate upon that.
A similar case can be made for the law of landlord and tenant. That is an area which affects thousands of people in their daily lives. It is full of obscurities and difficulties. It has been covered in detail in the Law Commission's sixth programme, with recommendations for action. Again the case for comprehensive reform is undoubted and incontrovertible. But now we have the problem. Why do we not do it? What is always said to me when I raise the question is, "These are important measures of public policy. They must be introduced in 162 the House of Commons. They cannot go through the accelerated procedure and there is no time in the other place to deal with anything so controversial". I would say two things to that. First, the other place has shown itself very flexible in dealing with procedures and in getting legislation through. We are quite proud of the Jellicoe procedure but the House of Commons introduced the same idea many years before we brought it into operation and has been operating it quite successfully in relation to legislation of different kinds. It must not be assumed that its procedures are incapable of accommodating this reform.
But wider than that, even assuming that there are some difficulties, can we really accept in this day and age and for the indefinite future that a parliamentary system is incapable of enacting a measure so generally necessary as a criminal code? If Parliament cannot adapt itself to these procedures, Parliament must be changed. Surely we cannot rest content with a negative position of that kind. Of course, there is not much to be done in relation to the present Session. All the slots are pretty well filled. But I would most urgently invite, if I respectfully may, the managers on both sides of the House—there is no controversy about this issue on party lines—to get together, along with their colleagues in the other place, to see whether we cannot devise some procedure for taking on board these important and massive matters.
That is my first point. My second point is rather a different one. I was very sorry to see in the gracious Speech no mention of a Bill on arbitration. I have been urging that for a number of years and everyone knows it is very necessary. A good law on arbitration is of immense importance in this country. It is necessary for our traders and our financial people; it is necessary for our citizens; for example, in small disputes; it is necessary in our construction industry; it is necessary in many other contexts. A good arbitration system is a vital part of our whole system of justice. The noble and learned Lord has recognised that on a number of occasions.
In addition, it is necessary internationally, to persuade people to come to London to settle their disputes here. That will be a valuable export if it is done. All our competitors on the Continent have revised, or are in the course of revising, their arbitration law. Institutions such as the International Chamber of Commerce are in the course of revising it or have revised it. We stand alone and we should not allow ourselves to be left behind. As everyone knows, the present law is a mess of partial Acts and decided cases, many of them, including some in this House, not at all satisfactory decisions.
What has been done? Excellent work has been done over the past years by the Department of Trade and Industry. It has consulted very widely and instructed a number of draftsmen and experts to produce a Bill. An excellent Bill has been put into draft. It is one of the best drafted Bills I have ever read; it is readable, sensible and up to date. If it were enacted, it would put us at the head of the arbitration law system. There is nothing controversial about it in any sense.
163 I understand that there is one point, which is not of fundamental importance, but on which some disagreement still exists. But that should not be allowed to hold up this very important Bill. Under the pressure of impending legislation, surely that particular point can be resolved. Nothing so concentrates people's minds as being told that their Bill is coming before Parliament in the next Session. If the difficulty is not settled outside Parliament it is perfectly capable of being settled inside Parliament. As your Lordships all know, we have in this House unrivalled resources in this particular field of the law. We have some of the greatest experts in relation to arbitration who can be found anywhere. Surely this Bill could be brought on here and any outstanding points rapidly disposed of.
I recognise of course that arbitration and this Bill are not the responsibility of the noble and learned Lord's department and neither are they that of the Home Office, with which we are dealing today. They are matters for the Department of Trade and Industry, whose day is Wednesday and not today, but I can speak only once in this debate and therefore I have had to take this opportunity of raising these matters today. I most urgently hope that the noble and learned Lord, with his influence, as a Member of the Cabinet, in relation to legislation, will use it to see that this Bill, which I do not believe will take up very much time, is fitted into some slot which surely will appear in the course of the next Session. Subject to that, I have very great pleasure in endorsing my welcome to the programme laid before the House by the noble and learned Lord.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Harptree
My Lords, it is unusual for governments to bring forward controversial moral issues at this stage of a Parliament. It is for that reason that I particularly welcome the reference in the gracious Speech to the reform of the laws governing divorce. We now have before your Lordships' House the Family Law Bill. Anyone who listened to my noble and learned friend this afternoon, or who heard him earlier, will know that he approaches this subject with a high regard for the sanctity of marriage from a Christian viewpoint. I feel quite certain that my noble and learned friend will give no support to any measure that made it easier to break the marriage bond. It is generally agreed that the present arrangements are unsatisfactory.
I particularly welcome in the new Bill the emphasis on reconciliation, on time for reflection and on the welfare of children. It is also very encouraging that this measure has received widespread support after a long period of consultation and that that support includes the Churches whose voice should be particularly listened to in a matter of this kind. I was very glad to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford warmly supporting the principle of the Bill in his speech earlier this afternoon.
May I now turn to another social affairs issue; that is, the National Health Service. I am profoundly relieved that there is no measure of reform of the structure or finance suggested for the National Health Service. I say that out of no disrespect to my noble 164 friend Lady Cumberlege, whose charm and mastery of her subject are very well known in this House, but simply because the present reforms need time to settle down. Time is needed to deal with some of the problems which still exist. I do not remember a year when somebody has not said that the health service is in chaos; that it is falling apart and that it is not up to the job. In my view the new reforms are working well despite some difficulties. The acid test of any reform in the National Health Service is the patient. The fact is that more patients are being treated than ever before and the waiting time for treatment is being reduced, particularly the long waits. That is a mark of progress under the new reforms and progress for the patient is what really matters.
Perhaps I may now turn to the social services and particularly social security, which was mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lord Prentice. I am also glad that there is no major Bill on this subject in the gracious Speech. It is not surprising because my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish really earned his oats last Session. There was hardly a week when he was not promoting a Bill from the Government Front Bench. So in recent years, including the last Session, the Government have introduced major reforms, all designed to concentrate resources on those who need them most and to make savings wherever possible.
That process must continue. Indeed, there are signs of some consensus emerging in this field. I understand that the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in another place has asked his team to think the unthinkable. The Government have been thinking the unthinkable in this field for a good many years now. It is good to know that the Opposition may now be doing likewise because consensus in this field, particularly as regards pensions where policies are long term, would be highly desirable. I am probably expecting too much to believe that in a highly charged political field it will happen, but if there is a sign of consensus that is very much to be welcomed.
I now mention two major areas concerning the elderly where future reforms are needed. One was mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lord Prentice; it is the state pension. Nearly everyone who retires is entitled to the state pension. There is huge expenditure involved here and it grows relentlessly year by year. The money has to be found by those who are working and paying taxes. Are we asking future generations to bear too big a burden? My answer to that is, yes.
Another factor to take into account is that, fortunately, a growing number of people now retiring have, in addition to the state pension, an occupational pension scheme or a personal pension and income from other savings. Indeed, by some of the young we are described these days as "well off old folk" or "woofies". There is some truth in that position. So I ask: in the present circumstances do we really need a universal state pension or should we concentrate resources on those whose private means are inadequate? These are awkward questions and they cannot be dodged very much longer. My noble friend suggested a Royal Commission, but I have my doubts about that. Someone said some time ago that a Royal Commission takes 165 minutes and waits years. I believe that the problem is too urgent for that. In any case, any solution in this field is bound to be long term. We cannot disregard the legitimate expectations which people have and which the state is pledged to honour.
Perhaps I may refer to one other aspect concerning the elderly; namely, the cost of accommodation and nursing in residential and nursing homes. Here we have a great contrast. In the National Health Service there are long-stay wards for the elderly. They obtain their accommodation and medical treatment free. However, if they are in old people's homes or nursing homes (whether in the public or private sector), they have to pay if their resources allow. Unless people have made adequate provision previously, they are bound to ask themselves, "Can I afford it? What will happen if my savings run out?" We have all heard those anguished questions which cause so much anxiety to old people and their relatives. Indeed, we must not forget the relatives because it is no good getting rid of inheritance tax if there is going to be nothing to inherit.
I hope that the Government will find ways of giving greater incentives to people to save and insure for the residential accommodation which many of them will need in the evening of their lives. That, too, is long term and help cannot be given overnight, but I hope that in next week's Budget some modest steps will be taken to deal with this growing problem.
For the more immediate future, I hope that the Government will consider giving some help for at least the nursing element of residential home costs. They could seek to equalise the situation to some degree with regard to the treatment that is provided in the National Health Service. I realise that I am making a plea for extra expenditure. It was for that reason that I emphasised earlier the need to continue, wherever possible, to find economies within the system.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I suppose that all noble Lords who have put down their names to speak today may be at risk of missing something else that is to appear on television. I suspect that we are the only volunteers in the country to do that.
I shall deal exclusively with the issue of asylum and immigration. It is with some sadness, anger and shame that I view the proposed legislation which has been revealed in the gracious Speech and referred to today by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I must at once declare my interest as chairman of the Refugee Council, for which I have worked for several years with my noble friend Lord Dubs, its executive director. I am proud of what the Refugee Council does. It is a respected, responsible and independent non-governmental organisation, working closely for and with refugees, seeking to address their manifold problems and to integrate them into our society.
I should like to make it clear at the outset that neither the Refugee Council nor any sensible person is in favour of perpetuating clear abuses which adversely affect the rights of genuine asylum seekers, but we are profoundly 166 disturbed at the creation of a presumption that asylum seekers (or the overwhelming majority of them) are bogus and that they look to Britain as a "soft touch". I regret that that is almost what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said today. I believe that that is not true. I also believe that it fosters a climate in this country that is destructive of civilised standards.
Yet that was the message that was given at the Conservative Party Conference this year in the deliberately inflammatory speech of the Home Secretary, only to be outflanked by the even more odious speech of the Secretary of State for Defence. Incidentally, both are children of refugees—and I speak as the grandchild of refugees from Russia and Poland over 100 years ago. Other Members of your Lordships' House are in a similar position. One has to wonder whether those parents, grandparents or more distant forebears would have satisfied today's stringent Home Office-enforced rules. Some might have been dubbed "economic migrants". Both Ministers indulged in simplistic devices to deal with substantial issues. It is no small wonder that it is rumoured in the Home Office among the mandarins that they are thinking of establishing a new committee to deal with the Home Secretary's follies—"The Penal League for Howard Reform".
So, we are to have another crackdown on asylum seekers and illegal immigrants and a "white list" of allegedly safe countries from which, in effect, asylum will hardly be possible. Employers and others will he recruited as informers—coppers' narks—to check on their staff or face fines. As from 8th January next year, 40,000 people claiming asylum after entering the United Kingdom or who may be appealing against the rejection of their claims will have all rights to benefit removed. They will have to beg or to starve.
As the noble and learned Lord said at the beginning of this debate, over the ages this country has had an honourable record of offering haven to the oppressed. By their very circumstances asylum seekers are vulnerable people, often subjected to torture and inhumane abuse. On arrival they are often exhausted, disorientated, frightened and desperate for refuge. When information is demanded of them by the immigration officials, they are not always capable of clear, concise, calm explanations of what has happened to them. The risks of error about their status by immigration authorities are very real. Errors have occurred—and the consequences can be horrendous for those people if they are restored to the country from which they have been seeking refuge. Indeed, that is why the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees was drafted. It imposes clear obligations on governments to assess each asylum application on its merits. Accordingly there must be deep concern about "white lists". A presumption that certain countries do not practise persecution can well be in conflict with the requirement for individual assessment.
That is why I should like to ask the Minister who is to reply to the debate a number of questions of which I have given notice. What basis is there in international law for the so-called "white list" that is proposed? I say "international law" because I am not speaking of some 167 secret device organised by members of the European Union which is not the subject of any parliamentary scrutiny. To which countries did the Home Secretary refer in his Statement as,generating large numbers of asylum applications but hardly as genuine refugees"?
I hope that the Minister will be able to answer that question.
However, I am not worried only by the talk about a proposed white list; the fact is that that white list is already being applied without any parliamentary approval or scrutiny. The Home Secretary says that Nigeria was never included on his white list, but a Home Office report which was sent to immigration officers dealing with Nigerian asylum seekers after the seizure of power by the generals described Nigeria as a country where "rights are generally respected" and "unfair trials" against racial, religious or political opponents of the regime are unknown. I stress the word "unknown" because that was said after what happened not only in the past few days but in the entire period since that miserable regime came to power. In that time four Nigerians have been given refugee status and a further 15 have been permitted to stay on compassionate grounds while more than 3,500 Nigerians have been refused asylum. Does not that cause some questions to arise about the application of the rules by the Home Secretary and his officials? There has been a huge increase in—I suppose the Government would say—bogus applications from Nigeria, or perhaps what is much more likely is that there has been a huge increase in bogus rejections.
We now face the prospect that thousands of Nigerians awaiting decisions on their applications will lose any entitlement to social security benefit in a few weeks' time. The question—again I have given the Minister notice of this—is: is the Home Secretary prepared to declare Nigeria to be "a country in upheaval", which gives him discretionary powers to enable Nigerian asylum seekers to claim benefits and not to be forced into starvation? That is a question to which I hope the Minister will give us an answer tonight.
I wish to talk next about the in-country oral right of appeal—all part of the speeding up of the appeals process. Are the Government proposing to repeal an asylum seeker's oral right of appeal against refusal of his application? That right was introduced into the 1993 Act, and I remember participating in the debates then. I do not think that it was done with more than reluctance by the Government. Nevertheless, it was a right afforded. Is it now to be abandoned two years later? If so, why?
The real problem seems to be the length of the appeal procedure. That does not justify the withdrawal of a basic right to provide an asylum seeker with effective legal representation or even his ability to have a right of audience. I agree with the UNHCR, which said in November 1994:The more accelerated a procedure, the higher the risk that an erroneous decision will be taken".
Do the Government accept that?
168 I understand that there is the possibility of the introduction of more visa requirements. Already airlines are treated as unofficial immigration officials, and £62 million in fines has been imposed since 1987. It is a matter which has caused some of your Lordships considerable concern. They carry the can if people are found with forged or no proper documents. The Government have never seemed to appreciate the difficulty genuine asylum seekers face in acquiring these documents. They said, for example, that no Bosnian could travel to Britain—this was in November 1992—without a visa, when there was no British Embassy available from which they could acquire a visa. So is it true that more stringent visa requirements are now to be imposed?
I come to the issue of internal checks by employers, who will run the risk of serious fines if they do not comply with the new arrangements. Another group of quasi-immigration officials is to be set up. It is no small wonder that employers, some Conservative MPs and even some Ministers do not like the idea. The Institute of Directors and the CBI claim this to be, "an unacceptable burden on business". What about all the assertions we had from the Government in the last Session of Parliament about removing burdens on business as a result of the deregulation legislation? Yet here we have another major burden.
Business interests claim:fewer people from ethnic minorities will be taken on".
Mr. Tim Melville-Ross of the Institute of Directors has said:business should not be forced to adopt the role of policemen by government abdicating its responsibility and imposing more burdens on business".
Adair Turner, the new Director General of the CBI, says:It will undermine employers' commitment to implement equal opportunity policy".
Then, the Minister's own colleague, Mrs. Gillian Shephard, to her great credit, has argued strongly that the Home Secretary's proposals would discourage employers from recruiting ethnic minority staff because companies would concentrate checks on black or Asian workers, or even exclude them from the possibility of employment—ironically of course causing them to become more and more dependent on social security. These issues do not seem to have been dealt with properly, or at all, by Mr. Howard.
So we have a new era for coppers' narks. It is compounded by the fact that information regarding asylum seekers, hitherto privileged, seems to be passed from one department of state to another, with checks on people seeking social security benefits, council housing and school places for their children. Is that morally or legally justifiable?
There are to be the changes to social security benefits for asylum seekers which have been announced. Benefits are already paid to asylum seekers at a lower rate than to other claimants. From 8th January, benefits will no longer be provided to asylum seekers, exercising their right of appeal in-country against a negative decision: 70 per cent. of asylum seekers make their 169 applications in this country. So the Government seem to be suggesting that genuine asylum applications must be made at the port of entry. Is that right?
The Refugee Council denies that most asylum seekers claim asylum at the end of their extended leave to remain in this country just to stay here. We have undertaken considerable research into that matter—I believe the Government are aware of it—and 81 per cent. of in-country applicants apply for asylum within seven days of arriving in this country. That seems to be at odds with what the Government are saying.
Already, asylum seekers have few financial means of support available to them. They face huge problems simply to survive within that first six months, and after that period many other problems arise particularly over employment. These are exacerbated for the disabled, the elderly and others among them who experience even greater difficulties. Will the Government make any exception for those especially vulnerable groups? That is another question I put to the Minister. How, if 13,000—perhaps many more—plus their dependants are to lose all benefits, are they expected to survive?
It is because there are so many doubts about the Government's proposals, and the facts upon which they are based, that the Government should reconsider, as my noble friend Lord Irvine of Lairg said at the beginning of the debate, their refusal to agree to the proposal of Tony Blair, the Leader of the Opposition, to refer the whole issue to a pre-legislative Special Standing Committee, capable of calling evidence and investigating how the problems that we face compare with other European countries which seem to have taken a much greater burden in the past, proportionately and otherwise. What is the scale of the problem of employers taking on illegal workers? How many people work illegally here? How many are claiming benefit? These matters can be considered together with all the other questions that I have asked during the course of my remarks. The response is important if the Government want to rebut the claim that their proposals amount to playing the racist card. Of course the Home Secretary denies that. He denied it on the radio this morning. He is not likely anyway to admit that he is playing a racist card. The real test is what will happen to these people. It was a Conservative research director (now a Conservative candidate) who said:Immigration, an issue which we raised successfully in 1992 and again in the 1994 Euro-elections campaign, played particularly well in the tabloids and has more potential to hurt".
That is what he said, so how is that consistent with the claim made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today, and the Home Secretary, that this Government have always attached the very greatest priority to preserving good race relations in this country? It has not always happened. That was the impression clearly gained, not just by the Labour Party, but by many others. Let me just quote this passage from the Financial Times of 26th October of this year:The procedures could be speeded up if more resources were devoted to them, but natural justice would require, by way of quid pro quo, that the applications be more sympathetically examined in 170 the first place. Unhappily, Mr. Howard's policies have little to do with natural justice, and everything to do with setting an electoral trap for the opposition".
"An electoral trap"—almost the precise words of the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Dr. Brian Mawhinney.
While the Home Secretary was away somewhere else the Prime Minister appeared to be impressed with the idea of the Special Standing Committee. With the return of the Home Secretary, he seemed to change his mind. They say that the proposals are controversial and that the Select Committee idea is for uncontroversial legislation. With respect, that seems to give the whole game away. Surely it is all the more reason for seeing whether, in dealing with alleged abuses and working out rational solutions to a deeply perplexing issue, we can maximise consensus and not deepen the divide. I believe that that is the right approach and I beg the Government to think again about their rejection of what was a constructive and sensible policy to take this issue out of the realm of party politics.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Ashbourne
My Lords, the gracious Speech states:My Government will introduce legislation to reform the law governing divorce and other aspects of family law".The decline of the traditional family and family values is disturbing, to say the least. The illegitimacy rate has escalated from being a little over 8 per cent. in 1971 to now well over 30 per cent. The sheer numbers of children born in one-parent families has more than doubled over 20 years. Lone mothers have been having more children while married couples have been having fewer.
If the Government are really concerned about the problems of law and order and child abuse they must end the policies that encourage the one-parent family and introduce others that build up and support the traditional family. This obviously has implications for the taxation and benefits system, council housing policy and, of course, divorce reform. Unless the Government are prepared to confront the threat which the collapse of the traditional family presents to the nation the problems will continue to escalate.
I turn to the Family Law Bill and I speak in particular about Parts I and II which relate to divorce reform. It will deprive the innocent of justice and the long-term consequences are very serious indeed. As was stated in the Observer on 7th May 1995:The abolition of fault will virtually kill marriage as a concept with any legal meaning. Fault implies responsibility. Abolishing fault effectively declares that the breakdown of the marriage is no-one's responsibility. Moreover, eradicating failure to meet marital obligations eradicates the obligations themselves. Duties such as staying together, being faithful to each other, and treating each other reasonably, exist in law only by virtue of the fault that accrues to desertion, adultery or unreasonable behaviour".
In Christian theology no-fault divorce is unknown. When the Pharisees asked Jesus whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason. His reply was an emphatic, no. That shocked even His 171 own disciples. They were stunned into concluding that if that was the situation between husband and wife it was better not to marry.
Abolishing fault means legislating sin out of existence. An adulterer will no longer have his or her conduct regarded as reprehensible. And a husband who beats his wife would not be held responsible for his actions. Battered women often say how important it is to them for the court to declare that their husband was at fault. The essence of no-fault divorce is that it removes a notion that has always been central to the concept of marriage; that somebody has to do something wrong before it can be ended. This notion of blame is just what the liberal reformers wish to dismantle. Why, they ask, should people involved in the most personal of all relationships have to accuse one another publicly of some misdeed before they can part? After all, it may not be a question of one wrongdoer and one wronged. A marriage may simply "not work out", as they say. Why force people to pretend that some sort of a crime was committed when really it was nobody's fault, just a sad mistake?
All that is perfectly plausible as a psychological account of private sexual relations. But what it loses sight of completely, and no doubt deliberately, is what makes marriage different from other relationships. To marry is to make a public commitment not merely to one other person but to a wider set of relationships; to extended families and to future generations. It is an acceptance that one's private life has a role in a greater social continuity. That is why one needs a moral justification for breaking up a marriage. It is the crucial intersection between personal life and civic responsibility. Indeed, the legal force of marriage is what binds private relationships into a society.
The effect of the Government's proposals is to treat marriage as little more than living together on a short-term contract. A partner will be able to announce that he or she no longer wishes to be married without being required to give any reason why. That will significantly weaken marriage as an institution and increase the number of those seeking divorce instead of couples weathering the inevitable difficulties which are always experienced in marriage.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, for explaining to the House the relationship between mediation and reconciliation. It is mediation on which the Bill focuses and I suggest that it is reconciliation on which it should focus.
England and Wales already have the highest divorce rates in Europe; some 40 per cent. of all marriages. In Britain today 25 per cent. of all children experience their parents' divorce before they are aged 16. In the two years after the previous Divorce Reform Act came into force in 1969 the divorce rate doubled. The figures rose steadily to hit a new peak of 165,000 in 1993. Would it not now make sense for the Government to invest in marriage with an overtly pro-family policy? As it is, we are spending billions of pounds dealing with the results of family breakdown, quite apart from the human misery that is inevitably caused.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I wish to spend a few moments on a matter which is not directly dealt with in the gracious Speech but of which I have given my noble friend the Minister notice. I believe that it is related to the gracious Speech. It is the urgent need for national identity cards. It is relevant in particular to two issues with are in the gracious Speech. The first is the reference to the fight against terrorism, organised crime, drug misuse and trafficking. The second is the proposal to streamline further the handling of asylum applications and to strengthen the enforcement of immigration control.
A great deal of progress has been made in the Government's attitude to identity cards since we last discussed the matter in your Lordships' House in July 1993 and February 1994. In May this year the Government produced an excellent Green Paper on identity cards. I strongly recommend those of your Lordships who have not read it to do so. It is one of the better documents to come out of the Home Office. The consultation period on the Green Paper finished at the end of September. In the Green Paper, the Government stated that the time had come for a full debate.
The history of identity cards in this country has been superficial. During the First World War there was a form of identity register. During the Second World War a primitive form of identity card existed. It was abandoned in 1952 at a time when it was seen as necessary to have a bonfire of controls, although in those days the identity card system was not particularly effective.
However, things have moved on in a big way since then. My noble friends, and even some noble Lords opposite, may agree with me that the central role of the state is to protect society and individuals in society from exploitation, abuse or ill-treatment as individuals, whether that be as employees, consumers, investors, taxpayers, who are very important, and certainly not least important, those individuals who go about their legitimate business should be protected from crime.
In the words of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, at present we are a soft touch in Europe in many respects. Of the 15 members of the European Community, 11 already have an identity card system and of the four which do not—the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark and Sweden—Denmark and Sweden have a system whereby one has a personal identification number at birth which is a crucial element of an identity card.
The benefits of identity cards are fairly obvious and have been well rehearsed. I shall refer briefly to one or two of them. They will probably replace not only a mass of cards but a mass of numbers which we all have. The old identity card number from wartime is given to us at birth in the form of a national health number. We later have a national insurance number, a driving licence number, and so on. An identity card system would mean that it would not be necessary to have more than one number.
It would be of great benefit in the sphere of travel. It would be a legitimate travel document in all the countries of the EU all of which already recognise identity cards as travel documents. It would he a great mistake to have a "cheapo" form of identity card as a 173 travel document because, as my noble friend knows only too well, the Government have been forced, rather humiliatingly, to withdraw the 'British visitors' passport' because it was seen as a fairly feeble document and proved to be increasingly unacceptable. I believe that that document is being phased out from the end of this year.
An identity document is also useful as a proof of age whether it be for a young person who wishes to buy, for example, alcohol, or for elderly people. I discovered that when I reached the age of 60, I was entitled to buy cheap tickets at a number of theatres. I am rather hurt that I never seem to get asked for proof of age!
An identity card is of value in the medical sphere. I believe that an identity card would be valuable if it showed one's blood group and other crucial medical information although that should not be discernible to anyone not authorised to receive it. Clearly it is valuable in the banking and commercial world. There is an enormous amount of credit card fraud which could be prevented by the use of an identity card system.
At the moment the Government are—and I think it is a mistake—introducing photo driving licences. Identity cards would make such a measure completely unnecessary because a separate driving licence would not be needed. One would merely need to have "DL" printed on the identity card. If the police stopped a suspect, they would know immediately whether someone had "DL" printed on his card by checking with the computer. Anyone losing a driving licence would have to pay for the cost of replacing the card without "DL" written on it and, on regaining one's licence, one would have to pay for a licence with "DL" printed on it. At a stroke, that would eliminate the need for driving licences.
An identity card system would play a very real role in relation to immigration control. I suspect that it could make less onerous, less intrusive and less objectionable some of the points which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, raised as regards immigration if it were possible to have a clear indication of those people who were already citizens of this country.
The system would have an obvious value in relation to crime control. In 1993, the Association of Chief Police Officers recommended the adoption of voluntary identity cards. I spoke to some chief officers and they told me that they had recommended that it should be voluntary rather than compulsory because they thought that that would facilitate the introduction of the cards. The cards would play an obvious role in the prevention of terrorism. They would make it possible to screen large numbers of people.
My noble friend knows that I believe that, in administrative terms, prisons in this country are astonishingly badly run, particularly as regards knowing where prisoners are. An identity card system would help to alleviate some of the problems. The prison service still does not have a proper computerised system of its inhabitants. There is no attempt to link the inhabitants of Scottish and English prisons. If the police wish to know whether somebody is in prison or where he is, it 174 takes quite a long time to ascertain that information. There have been a number of reports on the prison service and that problem has been highlighted for years but still there is no central administrative system such as that which any commercial organisation has. Therefore, I am rather critical of the administration of the prison service in terms of its domestic housekeeping.
Since identity cards were abolished in 1952, technology has moved on and it is possible to have much more sophisticated cards at a remarkably low cost. It would not be possible to forge the cards easily and the information which they contain can be kept closely guarded. The understandable fears which are expressed by civil liberties groups can now be met. In general—and of course there are exceptions—computer-held information is much more secure than paper-held information. It is relatively rare and needs a lot of effort—although sometimes that effort is made with success—to penetrate computer systems. And of course, all the time technology for security of computer-held information is increasing.
The total cost of introducing the identity cards is estimated by the Government to be some £600 million. My noble friend Lord Prentice referred to social security costs and I think he said that they are £15 per head per day in this country. One has to think only of the present amount of social security abuse to realise that that £600 million would be repaid very quickly indeed. Therefore, we are talking about something of which the cost is infinitesimal when compared with the likely benefits to be drawn from it.
I hope that the Government will not go forward in tactical half-way stages. I believe that it is a mistake to introduce photo driving licences. I am glad that the Government did not introduce the crazy system, for which they legislated, of identity cards for football supporters. That was not put into effect although I believe that it is still on the statute book.
Identity cards are a great equaliser. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor would have exactly the same identity card as the humblest citizen in the land. Therefore, there is nothing which is in any sense discriminatory about identity cards.
When I mentioned to one of my noble friends that I was proposing to raise this matter, he told me that Ministers are divided on the issue. I fear that they are divided on many matters and they may not have much longer to become united on them. I hope that they will become united. Certainly public opinion appears to be in favour of identity cards. Research carried out shows that 75 per cent. are strongly in favour. Identity cards would represent sensible government and the agenda for the rest of this Parliament should be for sensible government. There is much sensible government in the gracious Speech but the introduction of identity cards is missing from it. But luckily there is that little phrase at the end:Other measures … will be laid before you".
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, I had hoped not to intrude on your Lordships deliberations during 175 this Session or, indeed, subsequently. But as I am convinced that the proposals as to divorce would imperil seriously a central pillar of our society, and as I am convinced that they pose grave injustices to many people, especially to married women, and threaten the welfare of tens of thousands of children, I have felt that, if I refrain from speaking, I would be untrue to the Summons which brought me to your Lordships' House.
It is proposed that what shall go under the name of marriage will be an arrangement that two people shall live together until either of them gives one year's notice of its termination, whereupon the arrangement will determine at the end of that period irrespective of the interests of the other spouse or of the children. That seems to be the fundamental question in the measure which is to be put before the House. Indeed, it is more fundamental and more important than the various other ways that it has been approached during today's debate.
So far as I can see, in the White Paper the Lord Chancellor's department has arrived at that astonishing proposition in four steps. First, the present law is most unsatisfactory; secondly, the present law still embodies some element of investigation of fault and that exacerbates the unravelling of the situation which is attendant on divorce; thirdly, there is a scheme for mediation and conciliation which is to be welcomed and, indeed, it has been generally welcomed; and, fourthly, it ends the scheme of the quickie divorce which has been found to run counter to general interests and to the expectations of 1969. Each of those steps demands some scrutiny in turn. I do not believe that there will be time today to investigate all of them in depth. However, I may perhaps return to those that I do not deal with next week.
However, I should like to deal first with what your Lordships may believe to be the most cogent part of the White Paper— namely, that the present law is seriously defective. It is set out at length in Chapter 2 of the document under several headings which say that under the present law:Divorce can be obtained without proper consideration of the consequences and implications".
Secondly:The system makes things worse for the children".
Thirdly— and I should like to emphasise this:The system is unjust".
Fourthly:The system is confusing, misleading and open to abuse … [and] The system is discriminatory".
Finally, the document says:The system distorts parties' bargaining position".
I believe that few would gainsay that indictment. However, there are a number of extraordinary aspects about it. The first is that those were the arguments which were advanced against the 1969 Act which is now consolidated as the 1973 Act. They were the arguments of Lord Hodson (the most experienced matrimonial judge in the land) and of Lady Summerskill who were alert to the threat that the proposals posed to the welfare of married women. In the other place they were the 176 arguments advanced by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham and by the late Sir Lionel Heald, a former Attorney-General.
However, there is no recognition in the White Paper that those were the arguments which were advanced at the time; nor is there any recognition that the system with those faults was the creation of the Lord Chancellor's department which is now advancing the White Paper. The Divorce Reform Act 1969 was, on the face of it, a Private Member's Bill, but it was drafted in the Lord Chancellor's Department and handed to the private Member. Moreover, the whole weight of the Government was put behind its implementation, so much so that, in order to facilitate its passage through the House of Commons, it was arranged that the House should sit in the morning so that the supporters of the Bill (who at that time were in the majority) could come in at one o'clock for lunch and vote the clause under discussion into the Bill. That was the extreme that the Lord Chancellor's Department went to and it is that department which now advances the defects of the measure as a ground for proceeding further along the path to divorce on the hoof: divorce on demand.
In his thoughtful speech, the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, quoted some statistics; indeed, they are important. It is only by looking back to see what has happened in consequence of 1969 and 1973 that we may hesitate from going further down the same road as we are now invited to do. In 1970, before the Bill came into effect, there were 61,000 decrees nisi of divorce, while in 1994 (which gives the latest figure) there were 154,241. That is an increase of two-and-a-half times. However, one should also look particularly at the position as regards children. In 1970, the figure regarding children under the age of 16 was 71,000, but in 1993 (the last date for which figures are obtainable) the figure was 176,000. Every one of those figures is cumulative— the figure of 176,000 is to be added to that of the other children under 16 who are the children of divorces from previous years.
We see an astonishing increase in the incidence of divorce which affects children. Another interesting figure is the number of marriages. In 1970 415,000 marriages took place; in 1993 there were fewer than 300,000. In other words, there was a steady falling off in the rate of marriage which was commensurate with the increase in divorces. That is not surprising because as society becomes more and more divorce minded and more ready to have recourse to divorce— as the figures show— it comes to value marriage less and less.
There are other figures in the same schedule of the population statistics which show that the number of single parent families has increased together with the increase in the divorce rate. As regards the rate of illegitimacy— children born outside marriage— one assurance that was given was that if one withheld divorce people would simply live together in irregular unions, and by giving them the right to divorce one would mitigate the tendency to irregular unions and would limit the quantity of illegitimacy. That argument, too, has been falsified.?
177 The second odd thing that the White Paper does not indicate in dealing with the previous law is that every time divorce is made easier there is not only an initial surge in the rate of divorce but it goes on and on increasing year after year. Again, that is not surprising because divorce constitutes not merely a right to live separately but a right to remarry. It is the right to remarry which is frequently the incentive to divorce. That is why divorce tends to be cumulative.
I wish to emphasise the issue of children. I wish to quote a short passage from a speech made by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor when we debated the Law Commission Report on 31st January 1991. He said,Research work has shown that there is a significant excess in the signs of emotional disruption among children of broken families, not just in the short term but, apparently, on into adolescence and even adulthood. The research points to increased delinquency, increased ill health and a greater likelihood of divorce in spouses who themselves were the children of broken homes".— [Official Report, 31/1/91; col. 800]
That is absolutely true. That is the true result of the research that was carried out at Cambridge and at Exeter. It is misstated in the White Paper; it was truly stated by my noble and learned friend on that occasion. What we are doing and what we have done is to condemn more and more children to what my noble and learned friend has described. That being so, are we really going on in the same direction? Those who have advocated easier and easier divorce over the years have always had the objective that, ultimately, a divorce would be merely registered in a registry office. That was done in the early years of the Russian Revolution under the radical thinking that led to the revolution. However, there was a rapid retreat from that when it was seen how disastrous that was. So much for the first head, that the present law is unsatisfactory. So it is. We want to get rid of it and the Bill gives us a chance to get rid of it. However, there is no need to go further on the same road.
I wish to make one other remark about the present law; namely, that it is humbug and it is now recognised as humbug. It pretends to be based on breakdown of marriage but it is no such thing because Section 1(2) of the 1973 Act sets out five facts which are exclusive proof of breakdown. Any one of them is a conclusive proof of breakdown. In other words, there are five grounds for divorce and the pretence of breakdown was so much eyewash. We were told at the time that it was a "kiss and make up" Bill. After the figures to which the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, referred, and which I have ventured to supplement, is that not a cruel joke— a "kiss and make up" Bill— and are we again now to be sloganised by the phrase "a cooling off period"? In my respectful submission, if one looks at the present law, not only is it unsatisfactory and should be repealed, but it also indicates that one should not go further down the same road.
I wish to say a few words about the question of fault. One can only get rid of the concept of fault in the law at the price of depriving the law of its moral content. We are told on the basis of the highest ethical code that 178 we should love our neighbours as ourselves. However, the law cannot do that and does not pretend to make people love each other. What it can and does do is to insist that they will not harm each other. It then investigates the cause of harm and either takes penal action or action by way of civil remedy to make good the harm that has been done. That is particularly true in the case of the divorce law.
It would be grossly unjust to deprive a woman who had gone through labour, the dragging fatigue of bearing children and the nausea and agony of parturition, and who had put up with the difficult early years of marriage, the pennypinching and so on, and say that she can be cast off irrespective of her having performed substantially all that could be required of her as a wife, and indeed— taking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree— deprived of her pension. That is a matter to which we shall certainly wish to return.
In any case, the proposal does not really get rid of fault, it merely postpones its investigation. At the stage of mediation the parties are told that they must face their own faults. Under Section 25 of the 1973 Consolidation Act the courts, in considering property adjustment orders and financial orders, are enjoined to look at conduct. Therefore it is a mere pretence that one is getting rid of the concept of investigating fault. All one is doing is postponing it.
I have gone on for longer than I intended, and I do not have time to deal with the other two matters. However, I should like to trespass a few minutes more on your Lordships' patience, because it is not enough for those who believe in the family as a fundamental institution of society and a source of domestic felicity to say that the proposals laid before your Lordships are unacceptable. There is a great deal that is positive that can be done to foster the family and to sustain the institution of marriage. A well-trodden path is the married couple's income tax allowance. We can only hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will find the resources to enable him to restore the value of that allowance.
There is another possibility which has not been canvassed. At present we have one death duty— the inheritance tax— but we could perfectly well revert to taxing the estate in the hands of the recipient, taxing it more lightly in the hands of children than in the hands of strangers.
There are also a number of other matters that lie firmly within the compass of the Lord Chancellor's Department. The first is the married woman's right in the matrimonial home. It is strange that we are now in the position whereby a woman is much better off if she secures a divorce than if she stands by her marriage. The Law Commission addressed the subject in an important paper published in the early 1970s entitled Matrimonial Property: A New Approach. It bears the sign of the thinking of my noble and learned friend Lord Scarman. It proposed three measures. At the instance of my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, then Lord Chancellor, I took up the first and it passed into law. That completed the work of Lady Summerskill as to rights of occupation in the matrimonial home.
179 More important is the right to co-ownership of the matrimonial home and its chattels. The Law Commission drafted two Bills to cover those aspects. A number of antipodean jurisdictions have adopted those regimes and there is no reason why we should not. I was very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Irvine, referred to the importance of implementing the Law Commission reports. The Law Commission reports have been accumulating dust for well over a decade since my noble and learned friend Lord Scarman left the Law Commission and my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham the Lord Chancellor's Woolsack.
I hope that there will be an opportunity to deal with these matters when we debate the Bill. I hope that we shall have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Irvine. The proposals have considerable electoral attraction. A general election in New Zealand was won on the matrimonial homes proposals, so the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, should not be too hasty in waving it aside when he replies.
There is both negative and positive action which we can take if we truly wish to do nothing that will harm the family as an institution and its integrity but wish, on the contrary, to foster it. I hope that the Bill will give us an opportunity to do so.
Finally, those who rely on the mediation and the "quickie" divorce provisions for their support of the Bill must say why those two measures depend on the divorce proposals and why we cannot have them without having divorce on demand of a person who has disrupted the marriage as is now proposed.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for explaining the Bill which figures in the gracious Speech. I listened with interest to the survey of the history of divorce law by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon. In 1968 I attended a weekend conference held at All Soul's College, at which the recommendations of the Bishop of Exeter for the reform of divorce law in respect of the irretrievable breakdown of marriage were considered.
I am not sure whether the noble and learned Lord supports the present Bill, but I imagine that he seeks to alter it greatly. I approve of the Bill and I support it. Why do I support the Bill? During my working life I have dealt with divorcing parents and their children. As a servant of the courts I have had to attend courts and give evidence.
It is thought by some that the proposals in the Family Law Bill will make divorce easier. I submit that that is not so, as set out in the White Paper, Looking to the Future— Mediation and the Grounds for Divorce. Furthermore, the Bill will in part minimise the acrimony engendered as between parents by the adversarial system, which obviously affects children as well. I have to say as regards the adversarial system that when cases come to court it has a great effect on children because the parents' feelings affect their children greatly.
180 Some people have denigrated the Family Mediation Service which helps parents to mediate the conditions of their divorce before presenting the arrangements to a judge. I have to declare an interest. Together with the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, I am a patron of the Family Mediation Service. Furthermore, I am the president of the Oxford Mediation Service; a judge is the chairman and at the annual general meeting this year other interested judges were present supporting the local mediation service. The principal mediator in Oxford is a probation officer, well qualified and with further qualifications in regard to legal training. The Mothers' Union, which supports marriage, family life and the care of children, supports this Bill, as do the NSPCC and all the voluntary and statutory agencies which deal with children.
On the Family Home and Domestic Violence Bill, anyone who has had to remove a child from his or her home can appreciate the harm done to that child. This was shown in the Orkney affair. A child who has been abused or ill treated, a child of a single parent family or a child of an unstable relationship is clearly at a disadvantage, and if the child is removed from his or her home, the child suffers yet again through no fault of his or her own. It is right that we should support this section of the Bill. Are we really upholding the concept of marriage by damaging children?
In the gracious Speech it is stated:Measures have been taken to ensure that the public sector borrowing requirement is brought back towards balance over the medium-term.
It is appreciated that the Chancellor of the Exchequer seeks to set the nation's finances along the right lines. However, I would suggest that our legislation and administration at both central and local government levels are fragmented, overlapping and, as a consequence, wasteful of resources. The attitude and policies of the Home Office are at variance with those of the Department of Health. The non-school attendance and exclusion from schools provisions affect the juvenile delinquency rate and the welfare of children. The closing down of youth clubs due to lack of resources is again affecting the juvenile crime rate among young people; it also affects their well-being.
There is a court procedure which was set up by the Home Office, and I would suggest that it would have been better had that section been dealt with by the Lord Chancellor's Department. Indeed I go further. I wish that there could be a Ministry of Justice under the jurisdiction of the Lord Chancellor. Perhaps then we might have the implementation of the Pigot Report, which is supported by organisations like the NSPCC.
There is a further divergence, and I hope that my noble friend the Minister will forgive me because she has been extraordinarily kind in explaining it to me. But we now find that the training of probation officers is going in one direction, leading to no formal qualification, although it does involve some training. Social workers are going in another direction under the Department of Health, and here a three-year degree course is called for. Indeed, some universities have already started a three-year course, supported by Mr. Jeffrey Greenwood, chairman of the Council for 181 Education and Training in Social Work. In his presidential address Mr. Kubisa, the Director of Social Services for Cambridgeshire, recommended that a Royal Commission be set up to look into our fragmented social services. This is supported by the National Children's Bureau.
I believe that Her Majesty's Government might consider setting up some body. I do not quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Prentice, that there should be a Royal Commission. At this point may I also say that if social security were to be looked into, the problems mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, with regard to young people would in part be solved.
I believe that Her Majesty's Government might consider setting up an all-party Select Committee of the House of Lords to consider an overarching strategic policy at central and local government level with regard to policies and practice relating to parents and children. In this century we have had two outstanding committees. One was the Curtis Committee and the other was the Seebohm Committee. These two committees were well known to the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, and I believe that the time has come for a third committee.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Viscount Brentford
My Lords, I should like to stress, in looking at the various Bills under consideration today, the importance of the human relationships running through them. I believe that as we draft and as we consider these Bills we need to look at the human and personal aspects that are involved. So far as the Family Law Bill is concerned, I was very glad to hear my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor point out again that its object is to strengthen marriage, which is of course a relationship of two people plus perhaps 2.4 children. On this point I quote:The institution of marriage is a divinely appointed arrangement fundamental to the well-being of our community".
That is not a quotation from the right reverend Prelate but from the Green Paper that preceded the White Paper. Marriage is meant to be a life-long commitment, and I believe that the proposal for this one year for reflection is a very strong and positive proposal towards strengthening marriage. I warmly welcome it, together with the abolition of the "quickie" divorce. There are a large number of divorcees who after five years state that they greatly regret having been divorced and I hope that this year for reflection will help to improve the situation.
I welcome the removal of the fault basis of divorce for a number of reasons. I came to this view reluctantly and for the reasons that were expressed by my noble friend Lord Ashbourne so eloquently earlier this afternoon. Speaking as a lawyer, I believe that it is very difficult in many cases to apportion fault; it is usually partially one and partially the other. I also believe that those for whom the divorce is relevant— surrounding families and friends— will actually be well aware of any fault basis without it being formally implemented and demonstrated in court.
182 There is another reason, which I believe the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, touched on. But I am taking a slightly different line from his. It concerns cohabitation. He rightly pointed out the great increase in cohabitation today. I believe that the benefit of marriage over cohabitation flows from the greatly increased commitment that a man and woman give in marriage as opposed to what they give in cohabitation. Therefore, we need a balance in the divorce law in order to show that getting married is not too big a handicap when and if divorce is needed. I hope and believe that the new Bill will give us a worthwhile chance of getting that right balance so as to strengthen marriage and remove a major disincentive to cohabitation.
Touching on one other issue relating to the Family Law Bill, when I was employed I had to undergo a continuous training programme. I believe that that would be highly beneficial for married couples. At present, if you are married in church you may receive marriage training by a Church minister before you are married, but you will probably not receive any afterwards. I hope that any minister or registrar marrying a couple would encourage post-marriage training and support. There is a very good organisation spreading through the Church of England called FLAME which I strongly endorse. I should like to see it being used much more in the Church of England than at present. The HMSO publication produced earlier this year, called Looking to the Future, promised a widespread public information campaign to encourage those in marriage difficulty to seek appropriate help in good time. I do not believe that that campaign has yet materialised and perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench could tell me when it will do so. I would warmly welcome the public information campaign.
I turn to the question of mediation in relation to the Bill. I am not clear where the question of reconciliation is promoted in the Bill, about which there has been a large amount of talk. The noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, clearly separated mediation from reconciliation, but I should like to see definite moves during the year of reflection for reconciliation, not just for a slick divorce.
The right reverend Prelate gave us some helpful figures from overseas on the benefit of reflection leading to reconciliation. I hope that we shall see it in this country as well; the reconciliation question is very important during the time of reflection. I should also like to emphasise that divorce as well as conflict is harmful to children. There is much in the White Paper on the harm caused by conflict between parents, but the divorce itself is very harmful to the family around the married couple. Perhaps I may quote from the studies carried out by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, in January this year. The document states:Most divorced people become financially worse off. In Britain 75% of lone parents receive income support from the State. As financial pressures bite, resentment increases, communication becomes strained and conflict flourishes".
That is so, even if there was little conflict in the divorce.
These are just the kinds of conditions which undermine parenting abilities and cause the greatest difficulties for children.Children of divorced parents do indeed seem to be more vulnerable; they are more likely to get into trouble … to experience stress related illness and eventually to get divorced themselves".183 I very much hope that the pressure to rein in the legal aid budget will not cause underfunding of either mediation or reconciliation services. I hope that there will be real encouragement to reflect; that remains more important than providing a smooth dissolution of the marriage.
Perhaps I may make a few comments on children, particularly in divorce proceedings. There is to be a conference in your Lordships' House on Wednesday entitled: What on earth are we doing to our Children? That is what some Members of this House and of another place consider important for an all-day conference, chaired by my noble friend Lady Faithful!. There is a charity of which I am a patron called "National Missing Persons Helpline". Of the thousands of missing people with whom the organisation is currently dealing, 15 per cent. are vulnerable people under the age of 18 and 50 per cent. are vulnerable people of all ages. The organisation's database helped to resolve problems with some of the alleged victims of Fred West, referred to in the newspapers recently. There is a great need for support of children.
I also wish to include a plea for children of other nations to be protected from sexual and other abuse by UK residents, through the reform of our law. I understand that a distinguished delegation from this House and another place is to see my right honourable friend the Secretary for State later this month. Other countries have shown that a law enforcing such protection can be brought about and I hope that we shall change our law to make such abuse a criminal offence here. I believe that the very fact of changing the law will serve as a deterrent to UK residents committing sexual abuse overseas.
I wish to make a few comments on the question of the criminal procedures Bill and related matters. I warmly welcome the power for the security services to give support in the fight against organised crime. The services have their own systems of intelligence and the power for those to become available in the fight against organised crime is definite progress.
Crime harms relationships. It is not just a question of breaking a state's rules; when crimes are committed we are hurting each other in one way or another. The prison population reached 52,444 on 10th November, so I am told. There are many moves afoot which point to increased numbers in prison populations. We need a robust law and order programme, but the main aim is to deter criminals. Eighty-two per cent. of our young offenders in custody are reconvicted within four years. I believe that that is an unsatisfactory state of affairs from the point of view of the deterrent effect of our present law. Some non-custodial sentences achieve a 25 per cent. lower recidivism rate.
Our prisons need to become more "relational", to encourage prisoners to develop and sustain relationships. On 25th September, the Prison Governors' Association published the document: A Manifesto for Change with some 60 recommendations. The document gives practical affirmation of relationships being important as a prison resource for rehabilitation, control of prisoners and improvement in industrial relations. Relationships are important in prison.
184 I have the impression that prison service morale is very low at the moment and I hope that my noble friend is taking real steps to improve it. I should be interested to know, if the Minister is able to tell me, how much is spent on training prison service personnel, first, in England and Wales and, secondly, in Scotland. I believe that I picked up vibes that there is a great need for further training in the prison service to give help and to improve morale.
Finally, perhaps I may comment on the proposed Asylum and Immigration Bill. I was horrified to hear, if I correctly understood the remarks of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, that there are 70,000 awaiting appeal at the moment and that the appeal takes 12 months. I am very glad to hear that extra staff are being introduced into the process. I warmly welcome streamlining of the application handling system if that will speed up the process. There has been a ten-fold rise since 1988, and this must cause serious difficulties for the Government. We all appreciate that problem. It is important, however, that we give asylum to political refugee applicants, although I agree that we should not give it to economic refugee applicants.
By the very nature of being refugees, applicants are vulnerable. They need good relationships with those who handle their applications. I hope that those handlers are well aware of their need. We need to be seen to treat such applicants with justice— not merely to treat them with justice, but be seen by the world to be treating them with justice. Perhaps I may quote two statements from the Bible to show the importance of this. We are told: "Do not ill-treat an alien or oppress him". God also says: "I will come near to you for judgment … against those who … deprive aliens of justice". I am sure that I shall never see the day when my noble friend on the Front Bench faces an unsatisfactory judgment from the Almighty. I hope that the Bill, when it comes before us, will ensure that that is not necessary.
I am not sure how people will survive when, on 8th January, they are deprived of benefit while still awaiting the results of their appeals, as I understand some will be. Perhaps my noble friend can tell me how they are to survive while they await a final decision. Fraudulent applications must be treated severely. However, many will present genuine cases which they hope will be properly acceptable. I find it difficult to understand the difference between those who apply at the port of entry and those who apply 24 hours later. There are many honest reasons why these vulnerable people do not apply at the port of entry. I do not see why sensible applications should be treated differently.
I wonder if there is a substantial increase in applicants from Nigeria after the recent round of executions in that country, and I wonder how they are to be treated.
Finally, I hope that in drafting the Bill the Government will be prepared to hear what those who support the applicants, such as the refugee council, have to say if there is to be no special standing committee. In one way or another I hope that they will take account of the needs of asylum applicants in drafting this Bill.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, the last three speakers all made weighty contributions on the subject of divorce law reform. Personally, I feel somewhat guilty whenever that subject arises. A few months before I joined the Labour Party, in 1935, I was election agent for A.P. Herbert, who is much to be admired on other grounds. But in my eyes he performed a fatal disservice when he introduced and carried into law the first reform Bill which started us off on the slippery slope. However, there is no doubt still time to pull back a little. I am very happy to think that this new Bill has the support of my own Roman Catholic bishops. In their eyes at least it is not likely to increase the numbers of divorces. I hope that that will not cause any embarrassment to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. On a previous occasion his friendship with a Catholic colleague got him into bad difficulties with some of his religious colleagues. I hope that this time there will not be any nonsense of that sort.
The House will not be surprised to hear that I propose to offer a few thoughts on penal matters. A good deal has happened since last we met in July. There have been half a dozen important events since then, to which I shall come in a moment. First, I must remind the House that since the Conservative conference in 1993 we have been living in the age of Howardism. I call it Howardism because it will always be associated with the name of Mr. Michael Howard, although of course when he introduced his policy in 1993 it was in sharp contradiction to the policies of his half-dozen predecessors, with one possible exception. When he introduced it, he was explicitly backed by the Prime Minister, and it has since received the support of the Cabinet, so we must not make this a personal matter. Nevertheless, Howardism stands as a definite new approach— in my opinion a lamentable approach— to the treatment of those who offend.
It has two main tenets: one is that prison works; the other is that prison will work better if it is made much more disagreeable for prisoners. As a prison officer of experience said to me the other day during one of my weekly visits to a prison, "We all know in the service that Mr. Howard would be unhappy if he saw a smile on a prisoner's face". It is not surprising that the noble Lord who just spoke seemed to agree that prison morale is rather low. As an ex-prison governor said not long ago, Howardism has poisoned the whole atmosphere in the prisons. Do not let us be under any illusions about that.
However, let us examine events since July. First, there was the manifesto of the prison governors referred to by the noble Lord who just spoke. I raised the question of this manifesto the other day in the House. I say again and again that none of us holds the noble Baroness responsible for Howardism. She is not in the slightest responsible. She is just doing her job. The noble Baroness said that the Government welcomed this report. The noble Baroness is a good Christian, and no doubt a good Christian welcomes self-mortification. It must be very painful for her as an intelligent, high-minded woman to support this dreadful doctrine. However, that is her task. This manifesto was the most 186 severe criticism of Ministers ever produced by their servants, the high officials employed by them. That was at the end of September.
Then came Mr. Howard's effort at the Conservative conference, which won an ecstatic ovation. I believe that he received the longest ovation of any speaker there. And what did the Lord Chief Justice have to say about it? He denounced it in the clearest possible terms.
We move on, and we find the Home Secretary dismissing Mr. Lewis, the director-general of the prison service who was appointed not so very long before by Mr. Howard's predecessor. Mr. Lewis was a scapegoat for the failures of the prison arrangements. The first division Civil Service strongly backed him and much sympathy was shown by prison governors generally. They agreed with Mr. Lewis that the Home Secretary and the Ministers who help him had interfered intolerably in day-to-day operations of the prison service. I shall not get involved in the proper relationship between the Government and the prison service. That is a difficult area. I shall leave the matter there for the moment. Howardism is quite a separate subject.
Then there is the Chief Inspector of Prisons, whom no one supposes to be a friend of Howardism. Since retiring, Judge Cohen has written an important article in The Times indicating the strongest disagreement with the Learmont Report, which places security above humanity, indeed above everything else. On the one hand stands the Chief Inspector of Prisons, who spent eight years investigating the situation, and on the other General Learmont, a great soldier but a novice in the prison field. I prefer the opinions of the Chief Inspector of Prisons.
Finally, Mr. Howard was once again overruled by the courts. I can leave the lawyers present to explain the matter in detail but, in general terms, his handling of the tariff recommended by the judiciary was held to be unlawful. So Mr. Howard antagonised the judiciary, the prison governors, the prison service, the probation service and a considerable part of the Civil Service. That is what he achieved. However, he was supported in that he received an ecstatic ovation at the Conservative conference. In this House we must make up our minds whether we prefer those reactions or the reactions of those who know something about the matter.
I do not want to seem unfair to that estimable gentleman. He, the Prime Minister and the Government have one thing to their credit in this field. Around two months ago I interviewed a member of the Police Federation and came away convinced that nothing would make an immediate impact on crime except a major increase in the police force. At that time I was told that neither the Government nor the Opposition was ready to spend the money necessary. However, that view turned out to be too pessimistic. When the Labour Party came together in conference it announced that it would increase the police force by 3,000. Mr. Major went one better and announced that the Government would increase it by 5,000.
Let me return to the equation. I am entirely in favour of such an increase and, when the last day comes, Mr. Howard, a skilful lawyer, will be able to 187 make one plea of extenuation; that is, that he and his Prime Minister increased the police force. Otherwise I regard Howardism as an evil thing. In the future we shall look back on it and wonder how we ever allowed ourselves to suffer under it.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Lord Ackner
My Lords, each year your Lordships are subjected to reform in the field of criminal law. In accepting that position, your Lordships are surely entitled to expect that that law reform should put right any major deficiencies revealed in the course of the year. That does not happen and did not happen this year, certainly in regard to one major incident.
Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of the case of R. v. Clegg. The facts were quite simple. On the night of 30th September 1990, Lee William Clegg, a soldier serving with the Parachute Regiment, was on patrol in Glen Road, West Belfast when the driver of a stolen car and one of his passengers were shot at, the passenger being killed. Private Clegg was charged with murder of the passenger and attempted murder of the driver. His defence was that he fired in self-defence. He was convicted on 4th June 1993, after a trial before Mr. Justice Campbell without a jury. His appeal to the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland was dismissed. The Court of Appeal held that the firing of the shot that killed the passenger was, on the facts found by the judge, a grossly excessive and disproportionate use of force. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on that date and on 3rd July, two years later, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland ordered that he be released on licence.
That case is responsible for at least three propositions. First, it totally destroyed the validity of the Government's oft-repeated phrase that the justification for the automatic life sentence is that murder is a "uniquely heinous crime". Clegg was released after only two years' imprisonment. How in those circumstances murder can be classified by the Government as being a "uniquely heinous crime" beggars belief. Every first year law student knows why it is not a uniquely heinous crime. We have no categories of murder. We did have at one time, but they worked to disaster. In addition, one does not have to establish an intent to kill in order to establish murder; an intent to do really serious bodily harm is adequate. That means that a fight in a pub in which one man glasses another which leads to his death is murder; it is not manslaughter.
The second proposition which the Clegg case established, if it required to be established, was that the decision as to how long a person should stay in prison is a judicial decision to be decided by a judge in open court after hearing evidence, listening to argument and with a right of appeal. One would have thought that the embarrassment which the Government sustained as a result of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland— in private, without hearing any evidence, without being present at the trial, without having to give any reasons for his decision— deciding, perhaps rightly, that Clegg should be allowed out on licence after only two years' imprisonment would have convinced the Government 188 that it was wrong for a politician to perform that function and that essentially it was a judicial function. The combination of those two propositions should have led the Government immediately to accept the decision made frequently by your Lordships in amendments to Bills and in the actual creation of a Private Member's Bill; that is, that the mandatory life sentence should go and imprisonment should be for life at the discretion of the judge, where appropriate, as occurs in many serious offences, indeed some offences more serious than murder— attempts at terrorism, attempts to poison, attempts to explode bombs and so forth.
The third matter that the case established was the wisdom of the recommendation made 15 years ago by the Criminal Law Revision Committee that where excessive force is used, either in self-defence or in the prevention of crime, the criminal offence should not be murder. It should be manslaughter, with the result that the sentence would be at the discretion of the judge who heard the case. Those recommendations were adopted by the Law Commission in its draft criminal code. They were recommended to your Lordships' House by your Lordships' Select Committee on Murder and Life Imprisonment.
In the Clegg decision in the Court of Appeal, the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal recommended that the law should be changed. When the matter went to the Judicial Committee of your Lordships' House, the same recommendation was endorsed by my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick saying that the recommendations were all one way. Cornered by Clegg, the Government agreed that they would review the law in this regard. I say "cornered" because I put forward an amendment in the previous year, supported by the Opposition and by the Liberal Democrats, but the Government resisted it. That review was set up in January. It not only has not reported yet but in answer to a Starred Question the noble Baroness the Minister said that she was unable to say when the Secretary of State would reach any conclusion.
The matter is simplicity itself. I have not put forward, nor do I put forward, that there should be a special defence for the Armed Forces. I am merely putting forward the recommendations which had been made all one way, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, said. It is quite clear that the Government are dragging their feet, and one naturally asks why. The answer— and there appears to be only one— is that there is a pathological anxiety with the Government that they may, in adopting those recommendations and abolishing the mandatory life sentence, spoil their macho image of being tough on crime— a political disadvantage so they think.
Perhaps I may now turn to consider quite a different and in many ways more startling omission. There is no provision in any of the foreshadowed legislation for the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to be amended. Why should it be amended, comes the rhetorical question. For a very simple reason: before the Act was passed and in support of the Act there were three White Papers; in 1988, 1990 and 1991. I shall quote from them. The first quotation:Nobody now regards imprisonment as an effective means of reform".
189 The next quotation:Imprisonment can be an expensive way of making people worse".
The last quotation:Most crimes are not violent. Punishment in the community is likely to be better for victim, public and offender".
At that time there was considerable publicity devoted to criticising the judiciary for being too tough: they sent too many people to prison and for too long; and there was thrown at them references to the United Kingdom sending more people to prison than any other country in Europe, I think, with the exception of Turkey. Therefore the 1991 Act was passed in order to make imprisonment the sanction of last resort; and that is what it did.
In order to succeed in so doing that Act sought to restrict the judicial discretion; it sought to do so by saying, "You must not take into account any offence other than the offence before you and one other offence; you must ignore the outstanding offences except one which the accused wants to take into account; you must ignore his record; you must even ignore his reaction to the non-custodial sentences which he has previously experienced". At the time I said that that was putting judges into blinkers, that it would not work and that the 1993 Act would have to give that discretion back.
But the point I am emphasising is that the complaint was that judges were imposing too many sentences of imprisonment and for too long and for that reason it was said, "We must curb their discretion; we must take the discretion in part away from them", thereby making prison, as I have indicated, the sanction of last resort; and Section 1 of the Act and the other relevant sections have been so interpreted by the Court of Appeal in its guidelines.
Why does the Act require an amendment? It requires an amendment only because the Government have changed their policy. I would respectfully submit that it is not legitimate to change their policy and seek to put that policy into operation by exhortation without amending the Act. It is somewhat reminiscent of the Government's action in regard to compensation for victims of crime: an Act provided what the scheme should be but the Government decided to ignore it and, using the Royal Prerogative, brought in a different scheme. Their action was declared to be illegal.
This is not recent. It goes back, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said, at least to 1993 when the Home Secretary said that he anticipated:More convictions and longer sentences … More people will go to prison. I don't flinch from that … No longer shall we judge our system of justice by a fall in the prison population … Let's be clear— prison works".
He must have been party to the chairman of the party's exhortation at the conference last month in which the public were urged to write to judges where they were dissatisfied with sentences and were told that that would have an effect. It has had an effect. I do not have the exact statistics but I believe that since 1991 the prison population has gone up by around 5,000. The policy which Parliament laid down after considerable thought 190 and which is enshrined in the 1991 Act is being altered by the Government without returning to Parliament for permission.
Why not? The simple answer is that probably the Cabinet would not support it. With regard to Mr. Howard's proposal that because judges are not tough enough there should be minimum sentences in future— because the judges are not tough enough on major crimes there should be an extension of imprisonment for life, thereby giving the discretion to the Home Secretary to decide how long the prisoner stays inside— I do not think the Cabinet, if it is at all thoughtful, would do other than remind itself that that approach has been and is being tried in America. One has only to look back two or three weeks to the letter column of The Times to find a devastating letter from the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, pointing out the consequences.
But I believe that there is a more crude reason why no attempt has been made to put this policy into the legislation. It would cost an enormous amount to build the prisons to accommodate this new population and the Secretary of State would never get that past the Treasury. But it leads to the conclusion that the Government are playing politics with the administration of justice, which is a very dangerous game. I believe and hope that that form of tactics, which is not worthy of any government, will backfire.
§ 7.10 p.m.
The Earl of Dundee
My Lords, as has already been indicated, the Queen's Speech does contain a number of useful and constructive measures concerning law, home and social affairs. Not least affecting the reform of divorce and other aspects of family law is the proposed legislation outlined by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. As explained, through amended divorce law this Bill seeks to protect and hold families together to a greater extent than may be the case at the moment and thus constitutes what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, if not on behalf of A. P. Herbert, has just described as a step back in the right direction.
Apart from that, clearly the family in general will always be central to the aims and means of social stability, whether these be measured by a sense of purpose and well-being in all age groups, yet particularly in young people, or by the level of care and responsibility in the community, or by the control and reduction of crime in the state.
On employment prospects, the Government already have a good record over job creation and retraining. Yet, as we know, for European states, including the United Kingdom, a paradox besets employment trends into the next century. This is because unemployment is likely to rise even when well-run economies create more jobs. Nevertheless, for the short term the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development predicts a fall in European unemployment. That is based on the assumption that growth rates will be in excess of 2.5 per cent., which is calculated as the minimum to keep unemployment at its existing level.
In the longer term, however, it is unlikely that in the different European states growth rates will be sufficient to achieve a lasting reduction in unemployment without 191 substantial reforms. The concern, therefore, is that we could quite easily change from a two-thirds society, in which two-thirds of the population are relatively well off and employed, to a one-third society, in which only one-third of the population can be counted all right, with the remaining two-thirds under-employed or unemployed and increasingly poor.
The question is of what measures can reverse such an outcome. One expedient, no doubt, is the practice, already carried out in certain cases, of flexible working time, which in theory can increase the scope for employment and improve the quality of life while at the same time avoiding loss of business productivity. Volkswagen in Germany may be one successful example of that. Yet clearly the effect of flexible working time on our own economy and on others should be judged very carefully, case by case, lest it work against rather than for efficiency and so that it can work alongside other measures, not least those of structural change, which seek to bring about motivation and stability.
This leads to the theme of employment in the wide sense of an occupation or undertaking of some kind which has come to he respected and encouraged within the state, even though what is done may not be a job on the labour market. An obvious example of that is the care of invalids and dependants at home. There are many similar examples of current work or potential future work which stand to benefit the community and the environment in one way or another. Correspondingly, and alongside other initiatives, are the voluntary and private bodies which provide training in skills and motivation for young people. One such— and under the chairmanship of the television presenter Martyn Lewis— is an organisation called Drive for Youth, which has recently expanded from its centre in Wales to take on additional work in Scotland.
Clearly, one logical and useful prospect is that of partnership between government and these voluntary organisations. That is particularly relevant when the latter may have proved to be active and effective in cities and areas of deprivation. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that in the interests of social stability, employment and occupation there is a strong case for partnership between government and voluntary organisations? Can she say what practical steps she will support in that regard?
A parallel issue is the control of crime and in particular the issue of disincentives given against crime as far as young people are concerned. Over the past 16 years improved systems for rehabilitating prisoners have been put in place. Further alternative sentences to prison have also been introduced. However, as we are all well aware, recidivism in this country and elsewhere is far too high and our prisons are far too crowded. Clearly, there are no quick and easy solutions. Yet in this connection does my noble friend the Minister agree that those issues are best addressed through a long-term policy, which includes, first, greater use of alternative sentences to prison for non-violent criminals; secondly, encouragement of more systematic rehabilitation of inmates within prison and, thirdly, recognition that such measures as outlined are complementary and consistent 192 with firm deterrents against crime in the first place and thus, where properly administered, in no way contradict or undermine such deterrents?
My noble friend Lord Prentice referred to the importance of a non-party political approach to social affairs and thus to the need for an agreed long-term strategy for social affairs. Although representative of all different political parties, the Council of Europe and its parliamentary assembly, where I serve, precisely set out to adopt a non-partisan approach to all issues including social affairs. Here I should pay tribute to the United Kingdom delegation leader, my noble friend Lord Finsberg, who has always emphasised that approach and from the Benches opposite to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and the noble Lords, Lord Kirkhill and Lord Mackie of Benshie, who all actively support it.
One benefit for the Council of Europe in carrying out its business is the opportunity to refer to method, experiment and evidence from over 35 countries. As it is, through example and proven results, the United Kingdom already provides good guidance for other member states. This good example is certainly assisted by the measures contained in the Queen's Speech, which we consider today. Yet, as many of your Lordships have implied, social affairs policy has to go beyond a single year of parliamentary legislation. It has to go beyond the confines of party politics. And in the interests of this country and others its related aspects and initiatives must be focused and developed into a long-term strategy to advance the aims and means of social stability.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
My Lords, I welcome Her Majesty's Government's continuing commitment to the peace process in Northern Ireland. The present cease fire is very much due to the Prime Minister's personal commitment, which he gave the day after he took office. The people of the Province have a great deal to be grateful for to him and his Ministers. I also welcome the Government's approach, which we heard of earlier from my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, to emergency legislation and the fact that when the time is right we may be able to do without it.
However, converting this cease-fire of indeterminate length into a permanent cease-fire and, by definition, peace, will take some time and progress will come about only through compromise. Therefore we should look at the balance sheets of the concessions of the Government and the law-abiding citizen on one side and Sinn Fein/IRA on the other. We must remember that there are Loyalist terrorists as well. However, it is generally accepted that they will follow suit should Sinn Fein/IRA hand in their weapons.
The terrorists declared the cease-fire and, since then, Her Majesty's Government have removed virtually all military patrols; returned two regiments to the mainland with another coming back at the end of this month; opened all border roads; reduced helicopter flying by two-thirds with none in the hours of darkness, or rather between the hours of midnight and 8 a.m., and given increased remission to prisoners. The Government have already met and talked to Sinn Fein, and Sinn Fein/IRA 193 have access to the media. We must also include among the benefits the worldwide benefits that they have been granted, such as access to the White House and other seats of government.
Sinn Fein/IRA declared a cease-fire, but beyond that I can find nothing else that they have given up since then. Your Lordships should understand that they did not do that for anyone else; they did it for themselves and for their own advantage. They continue racketeering because it suits them to do so. They continue intimidating and seriously beating up people, causing broken arms, legs and necks because that is what they want to do. They continue kidnapping. They kidnapped someone only last week in Strabane. They commit fraud and money laundering. They continue to target and to update their files on soft targets and military bases. Again, they are doing that for the future and for themselves. They have become smartly dressed while speaking eloquently to the media and dignitaries. They are persuasive to the ill informed— many Americans among them— because it suits their ends to be so. In addition, Sinn Fein/IRA insist on refusing to give up any weapons.
Those are all hallmarks of a highly sophisticated criminal group, indulging in organised crime on a massive scale. That is not only my view from one side of the community, but that of police forces throughout the United Kingdom and of our security services, including intelligence. In addition to all that, they refuse to give up any weapons and yet they presume to have the right to sit at constitutional talks without a mandate and with the guns under the table. Would a curator of a museum of priceless art discuss its security with a gang of thieves who refuse to give up the tools of their trade, especially if they advise him that they will steal the lot tomorrow if it suits them?
I personally recognise the significant compromise offered by the Unionist parties— that they will sit down at the table with Sinn Fein/IRA providing that they hand in some of their weapons. That accepts the fact that, unfortunately— it is hard for lay people to see it this way— the IRA will continue with their criminal activities, as they are continuing at present.
In my view the minimum starting point is this: no weapons decommissioning: no talks. I do not see how you can have the one without the other. Without any doubt at all the IRA could hand in enough weapons tomorrow to satisfy the "significant" number required to show good faith, if it suited them. That quantity would not damage their ability to return to full terrorism tomorrow or next week. They will not do it yet because they do not wish to get to the table at present. They are working to their own agenda and timetable. The reason for that is that they are getting such preferential treatment worldwide, and especially in the media, while they stay away. They will not go to the table before they have milked this phase for all it is worth. Please believe me: despite their prevarications they do not wish at present to be treated like the other political parties. They want to be a special case for as long as they can remain that way. It is their wish not to go to the table; not that of anybody else. Although some believe that they are 194 reformed terrorists and are now upright pillars of society with high moral standards, the truth is a little different. As I have demonstrated, they are the largest highly organised criminal group outside the Mafia in Europe— and that is a fact. More than that, they still have the weapons to back them up.
The day before yesterday, at the SDLP Conference, that party was split over whether to make an electoral pact with Sinn Fein for the next election. Sinn Fein/IRA are trying to take over the SDLP, which they believe would give them a mandate for round table talks, but the majority of MPs were disgusted. Perhaps I may read your Lordships three quotations from that conference. Your Lordships should remember that we are talking about democratic Roman Catholic Nationalists. Mr. McGrady said:I'm not prepared to sell the SDLP family silver for immediate or short-term gain.We have encouraged people to stand up to bomb and bullet and violence and we owe it to them to continue to give them the opportunity to support the policy of justice and equality we have pushed for years".
Dr. Hendron said:We don't have pacts with other parties, especially with people who go out and smash people's legs. There is no way we could have pacts with such people".
A Dungannon councillor, Vincent Currie, said even more clearly:My flesh crawls on me when I think of the number of occasions in the past 20 years when I personally have been a victim of assault by hoods and so-called supporters of Sinn Fein.There are SDLP supporters who have suffered physically at the hands of Sinn Fein supporters and to ask these people to go out and work for them to return a unity candidate is anathema to them".
I think that that states the democratic point of view and, coupled with what I have said, the view of all law-abiding people in the Province.
It was of note, however, that Mr. John Hume who, rumour has it, will not stand at the next election, did not actually say anything in that debate but sat on the fence. Indeed, the person who is supposed to be designated to follow him in that seat was a supporter of the motion to allow a pact with Sinn Fein at the next election.
So what I am saying is that no amount of pressure on Sinn Fein/IRA by Her Majesty's Government, President Clinton and Mr. Bruton will bring them to the table before they are ready. Indeed, I believe that, if we were to give way on the arms issue, they are already steaming up to say that, unless the RUC is disbanded or re-formed to allow in many of their supporters— which would obviously be unacceptable to Her Majesty's Government and everyone else— they would put that in the way of the next stage. This is because they do not want to go to the table until they think that they have a mandate. That will be very difficult for them, so they are looking for a way forward. We must remember that they are terrorists or, if not, that the vast majority of them are criminals. They are not businessmen. They are not county councillors and they are most certainly not MPs, so one wonders how they will find a way forward.
Finally, I urge Her Majesty's Government to have patience and an iron will to resist what is clearly wrong and to exercise their democratic responsibility to the 195 law-abiding communities in the United Kingdom as a whole. I am sure that I speak for everyone in Northern Ireland when I say that the peaceful stalemate that we have at present is preferable to future years of violence or to giving more concessions before some weapons are given up.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Lord Coleraine
My Lords, I shall speak this evening about the probable effect of the Family Law Bill on the role of the state in supporting and sustaining civil marriage. The passage of that legislation may well start the withering away and finally end support for that institution. The reason is that the status of civil marriage, and its standing, will be so weakened that it will no longer have any attraction for anyone. I wish I could say of civil marriage— "buy now while stocks last"— but I cannot, because the Bill carries the clear indication, the clear threat, that next year there will be even less meaning than before in the expression "the contract of marriage". A marriage, whether entered into 30 years ago or now, is to be terminable at the say-so of one spouse alone. That is no different from a marriage where both spouses consent to the divorce. That is a complete change from what has been the case in the past.
It is clear that the state, regrettably, has to concern itself with divorce and to take account of the breakdown of marriage. My noble and learned friend is to be congratulated, even if with reservations, on standing by his guns and bringing forward proposals for the reform of divorce law. In his introduction to the consultation paper, he reminded us of a passage in the Gospels where Jesus in reply to the Pharisees explains that it is because of the hardness of men's hearts that Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife. That is a good text, and I say immediately that many of the proposals in the White Paper, if contained in the right package, would represent a considerable improvement on what has gone before, being more humane, more honest, and more likely to heal wounds. But the reforms to the law of divorce in this country over the past 30 years have left the law in a state from which it has to be rescued. So it may be felt that I am merely offering faint praise.
I shall try to explain how it is that the backing and support of the state for the institution of marriage itself, as a viable commitment of man and woman to each other, and of both to their family, now stand at risk. There is an intellectual argument abroad which has been running fast since the 1960s. It is attractive to those who were first seduced by and then damaged by the ideas that were then fashionable. They deny the usefulness and necessity of civil marriage. They portray marriage as unfairly and unreasonably discriminating against those who choose only informal ties or perhaps no ties at all with the persons with whom they have chosen to live or with whom they may have parented children.
The relevance of that to the Government's proposals is that Mrs. Brenda Hoggett, a barrister, an expert in family law, and at that time reader in law at Manchester University, put the question as long ago as 1980 in an essay entitled Ends & Means: The Utility of Marriage 196 as a Legal Institution. She pointed out that family law no longer makes any attempt to buttress the stability of marriages or any other union. She suggested that we had already reached a point at which, rather than discussing which remedy should now be extended to the unmarried, we should be considering whether the legal institution of marriage continues to serve any useful purpose.
Subsequently, in 1984, Mrs. Hoggett was appointed to the Law Commission as the commissioner responsible for family law. It is to her that we owe much of the present package of divorce law reform. More recently again, in 1992, in an article in the King's College Law Journal Mrs. Hoggett nailed her flag to the mast again. The article entitled Family Law Reform: Where Will It End? surveyed the changes in family law over the past 30 years. At the end she gives some views on civil marriage and queries whether we still think it necessary, desirable or even practicable for the state to grant licences to enter into relationships. So where is that leading us, and what can be done? Is the Bill leading to the end of civil marriage? I shall try to give one answer. It is to be found in the proposed unfettered ability of one spouse to obtain a divorce against the wishes of the other. It is that one proposal which could spell the eventual end of civil marriage.
It is not just a question of one of the spouses perhaps believing the marriage to be worth saving and so there should be the right to persevere; it is a question of the institution of marriage and how it is perceived— what messages are sent to those contemplating marriage. Each one of an average couple contemplating marriage in my opinion hopes and expects the marriage to be lasting, and is accustomed to look to the state to provide some support for it. That the state can be seen to be doing even now by reserving to one spouse at least some right to delay the breaking of the vows by the other spouse. With such support there can, from the outset, be better confidence in the marriage and each other between the marriage partners. Without it, civil marriage will be, and will be perceived to be, no more than the temporary licensing of cohabitation on an ongoing basis. Such a cheap utility version of marriage can hardly command more than minimal respect. There will be less and less inclination to bother to enter into such a watered down minimal union.
Going on from that point, the final question I would ask is whether, if civil marriage is to be so marginalised by the Bill, it will serve a useful purpose for the state to dissolve one marriage merely to enable a party to enter into such a marriage with someone else. May not the final question to be answered turn out to be not is there a need for marriage, but is there any need for divorce as such?
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord Balfour of Inchrye
My Lords, in the corresponding debate on the Address a year ago we heard the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, during which he made a powerful plea on behalf of the arts and their place in society. I recall that he was the only speaker on that topic then, and when I saw the list of speakers today I soon realised that 197 I would be the only speaker today on more or less the same subject, to which of course reference is rarely, if ever, made in the gracious Speech.
I am aware that my noble friend Lord Palmer instigated a stimulating debate on arts and heritage funding as recently as last April. However, I did not participate in it for the simple reason that I am not convinced that arts and heritage necessarily make good bedfellows. I often have the feeling that since neither enjoys high rating on the political agenda, they have, for the sake of convenience, been lumped together. I have read that the present Secretary of State has said that heritage is a, "Ministry of the Future". I confess I am not entirely clear as to what the right honourable lady means by that, but I should have thought that it is the arts that are of the future; heritage, to me, is primarily retrospective.
Questions of heritage often have a stronger connection with the environment and should be treated as such. I note the argument going on today about the proposed roads in the vicinity of Stonehenge. Let the Environment and Heritage Ministers work together on that. I live for most of the time by the sea in an area which has been designated as a heritage coast— very agreeable, but I cannot see what it has to do with the artistic scene. I shall shortly propose a solution for the location of the arts. Nevertheless, I must pay tribute to my noble friend's admirable speech in April, which, within the bifurcation of the Motion, dealt with both subjects so adroitly.
I have noticed that whenever a Minister is after more money for a department, such as Education, Health, Transport and so forth, he or she is said to be "pressing" or "fighting" for funds, whereas if a Minister looks for more money for the arts budget, then that constitutes "whingeing". I shall neither whinge nor cringe. Indeed I do not intend to go into the question of arts funding— it was discussed fully in April— beyond stating the obvious; namely, that government support for the arts is and always has been inadequate, and is derisory compared with that of our European neighbours which, like us, claim to be civilised societies. Rather do I wish to make a few comments and suggestions about the role which the arts play now and could play in the social infrastructure of the future.
President Kennedy once said:The life of the Arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction in the life of the nation, is very close to the centre of a nation's purpose, and is a test of a nation's civilisation".
To a considerable extent, this country has justified those words. We possess a cultural industry with a turnover of about £ 13 billion; which is worth as much to our GDP as the motor industry; which employs nearly 500,000 people; which is our fourth biggest earner of foreign exchange after banking, travel and shipping; which contributes significantly to indirect spending, and is our greatest tourist attraction. I expect that there are many other noble Lords like me who from time to time visit the British Museum and see the hordes of visitors, often comprising parties of raucous schoolchildren. Well, 6 million visitors go there annually, of whom between 3 million and 4 million are tourists.
198 Furthermore, cultural activities have contributed much to urban regeneration. Look at Birmingham, Glasgow and Sheffield, among other areas. A friend recently sent me the prospectus about the Bridgewater Hall which is due to open in Manchester in 1996. It looks most imposing and will surely enhance the life of that city.
Perhaps I may add one word about my own speciality, which is music. I should like to trumpet forth the marvellous standard of playing of our country's musicians, which is recognised the world over. Moreover, this standard has often been achieved under both financial constraint and the adverse rehearsal conditions which prevail. I must declare an interest in that I am the president of an orchestra which, in September, gave an outstanding concert in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
But there is an obverse side to all this good, which lies in the underlying attitude towards the arts in this country. In a magnificent lecture entitled "Our Cultural Future: Hopes and Fears", which Sir Claus Moser gave during this year's Aldeburgh Festival— and I wholeheartedly commend it to anyone interested in this subject— Sir Claus mentioned the melancholy fact that a recent nation-wide opinion survey relating to people's views on public spending showed that for every one person who wanted more money spent on culture and the arts more than four wanted less spent.
On one side of the political spectrum we have the doctrine of market forces, which should never be applied to the pursuit of artistic excellence. Inevitably, and regrettably, this will ensure that there will be a surrender to the American-style of mass culture of degraded and degrading rubbish, which is already overwhelming in this country and many others. On the other side, we find the passion for egalitarianism deeply suspicious— indeed, resentful— of much of the arts.
In that connection, I must draw attention to the widespread use of the word "elitism" as a term of disparagement. It seems to be favoured by both sides of the political divide. My dictionary defines elite as "the pick of anything; the best, in fact". What on earth is wrong with that? I am certain that 30 years ago we never heard the word bandied about and that its use today is indicative of our general inability to think or to concentrate properly, the need for instant gratification and a general lowering of standards in so many aspects of life today.
I consider that this decline is nowhere more accurately mirrored than in the tabloid press. As a proponent of this so-called popular culture, it can hardly be expected to have much interest in the arts. In fact, it usually displays suspicion, if not downright hostility, towards them. A perfect example is provided by the recent row over the use of lottery money for various arts venues, in particular the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. "Too much cream for arts fat cats" and "Plundering the poor to pamper the chic" were typical of the headlines which greeted the announcement.
To portray this purpose as something in conflict with the care of the sick and suffering, as was done in the tabloid press, is perverse. Any country which aspires to civilised values will surely wish to see both objectives 199 sustained, and it is essential that lottery funds are used, as intended, for both of them. In July I read that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, was reported to have remarked,I do not like the crudity of the words rich and poor. Opera audiences I have seen are very often quite struggling middle-class professional people and not rich toffs".
I entirely agree with that and will go further by adding that very many of our finest creators and performers have come from humble backgrounds: for instance, Sir Henry Moore, the sculptor; Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies, the composer; David Hockney, the painter; and Sir Robert Stephens, the actor who died last week. In fact, were I to do some thorough research into the subject I am sure I should find that far fewer figures in the arts world have come from the more affluent backgrounds. As the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, said last year:The arts are not a perquisite of the privileged few; nor are they the playground of the intelligentsia. The arts are for everyone— and failure to include everyone diminishes us all".I have been connected with business for more than 40 years and if, during this time, I have learnt one fact above all it is that we shall never have full employment in this country. I know that this is an unpalatable fact, but I think that to pretend otherwise is to delude and deceive our people. I also realise that for any party to say that would be politically suicidal, but, speaking from these Benches, I am free to say so. I suppose that we should at least draw some comfort from the fact that more people in Britain are now in work than in any comparable European country.
However, many young persons have been unable to find jobs and many more in middle age will be obliged to retire early. I believe that this situation will increasingly breed disillusionment, despair, disaffection and, ultimately, civil disobedience. I was appalled recently to read of a report published by the National Youth Agency entitled The Drop-Out Society which studied the lives of 250 young people living on three estates. It stated that many can utter disjointed words but not talk; do not know what a book is; leave school at 16 without qualifications; and have no training, no job and no hope. What a dreadful scenario this paints! I sometimes feel that under these conditions not only has law and order broken down but civilisation too. I ask myself, what can be done to ameliorate the day-to-day existence of so many of our citizens of all ages and to give them some degree of hope for and interest in the future?
I am sure that the pattern of work— indeed, how many of the 24 hours a day are spent on it— will have to undergo a fundamental change in the next century, if not before. More people will share jobs, work part-time and retire at an early age. The corollary to these changes is that there will be far more time for leisure. And it is in this respect that I envisage a place for the arts alongside education. I expect that many will consider such an idea preposterous, outrageous and well-nigh impracticable. But I am wholly opposed to the concept of a separate, totalitarian-sounding Ministry of Culture, as has sometimes been suggested. I do not want culture thought of as an entity on its own like some commodity. I think of culture as a combination of education; that is, 200 learning, and artistic pursuits— the arts. I regret the fact that the Department for Education and Employment has largely renounced any obligation to nurture art appreciation in state schools. The late Jennie Lee, then Arts Minister— what an inspired appointment that was— said:If children at an early age became accustomed to the arts as a part of everyday life, they are more likely in maturity first to accept them and then to demand them".
If this policy were carried out how much more would life become tolerable, possibly pleasurable, for those with time on their hands?
However, so much needs to be done. How does one interest the bored yobbos who congregate in the centre of towns and villages up and down the country on Saturday nights, drinking excessively and, more often than not, causing mayhem for the local inhabitants? By the time they reach that age probably most of them will have thought of any form of art as being the province of effeminate "sissies" to be got through reluctantly on a wet Wednesday afternoon.
I read the other day what John Tusa, the recently-appointed director of the Barbican, had to say:What I do find really worrying is that there's a real generation gap, and that young people are often taught nothing about the arts and are subjected to the huge weight of the pop world. pop music and pop values which have no roots in history".
I find it worrying too that the new national curriculum relieves children from the age of 14 onwards of the necessity of studying any humanities or any arts. This bodes ill for their future participation and enjoyment. The future of the performing arts is dependent upon our young receiving training; training in music, ballet and drama. As the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, pointed out in April, the discretionary grants for those courses have been cut because of the Government's squeeze on local authority expenditure. Where, for instance, are the fine musicians of the future to come from? I also deplore the recent cuts in the funding of our libraries, which have led to many libraries being unable to afford to buy adult fiction as well as being obliged to reduce the purchase of children's books and non-fiction.
With all these regrettable actions, we are not doing much to assist those out of work in the future to enjoy a worthwhile and meaningful existence. I believe that if the accountants and the mandarins of the Treasury have their way we shall enter the new millennium with a mass of malignant morons among our citizens, leading in turn to more crime and greater demands on our health services.
I shall conclude with the words of yet another redoubtable lady of the Labour Party, Ellen Wilkinson, who, for a time until her untimely death, was the Secretary of State for Education in the first post-war government. She once said:Unless we can put standards of value into the minds of youth we cannot have a great civilisation or a great country".
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, the gracious Speech mentions that there is to he a new Bill on community care which is to be called the Community Care (Direct Payments) Bill, the object of which is: 201to enable local authorities to make payments to particular groups of people who want to purchase their own community care".
The purpose of my few words this evening is to explore with my noble friend on the Front Bench whether it might be to the great advantage of those eligible for community care and to their families, and indeed to the taxpayer, if the connected purposes of the Bill were to be somewhat wider than the Government may at present intend.
I should confirm that I speak, as most of your Lordships will know, as the father of a mentally handicapped teenage daughter whose eligibility for community care is therefore starting to loom and also as the honorary president of Rescare— the National Society for Mentally Handicapped People in Residential Care.
I shall not take much of your Lordships' time this evening by repeating all the arguments in favour of village communities for the mentally handicapped. Most of the arguments are set out in a booklet entitled Made to Care which was written last April, largely by my noble friend Lady Cox, with myself very much as second fiddle and with a foreword by my noble friend Lord Renton. I shall put a copy in the Library so that your Lordships can see what our position really is and not what it is constantly held out to be by those who favour integration into the so-called community at any price and who, despite all the evidence, remain implacably opposed to village communities.
Very briefly, village communities appear to be preferred by a majority of families for their mentally handicapped relatives, especially for those whose handicap is more severe. One reason for this may be that community care, or the policy of housing mentally handicapped people in an ordinary or specially adapted house in an ordinary street, does not always result in them being well cared for or happy, particularly when their handicap is more severe.
Some 16,000 more severely handicapped people are to be moved into community care from long-stay hospitals by the end of next year, 1996, with, I would have thought, predictably disastrous results. I say this because resources are already overstretched, both financially and in the quality and the intensity of care which can be offered under our community care policy.
High quality care and variety of life-style are far easier to provide in village communities, where they go hand in hand with economy of scale. No one is suggesting that policy in this area should be driven by considerations of cost but when the best can be the cheapest, it seems silly to avoid it. Village communities save about £ 20,000 of capital cost against community care per person moved from a long-stay institution and then at least £ 50,000 per annum per person thereafter. I would have thought that these are figures which the Audit Commission and the Treasury should examine carefully because we could be looking at saving very large sums of money if we merely do what families want and what often works best for our mentally handicapped. In this respect, I was very grateful for what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said this afternoon about the Citizen's Charter being brought to bear on our community care services.
202 I trust that nothing that I have said can be understood as an attack on community care, which often offers a much improved life to those who have been in residential institutions, especially when they are less severely handicapped. However, opposition to village communities is rather virulent and appears to be based more on ideology than upon any dispassionate examination of the facts. I suppose that there is also the fear that jobs would be lost among those who work in local social and health services if they encourage placements in village communities rather than doing all they can to frustrate them. That fear is understandable, but it should not be allowed to take precedence over the best interests of our mentally handicapped.
Alas, I have to say that the Government themselves are seen as opposing village communities because they still refuse to put them on the list of provision which local authorities are encouraged to support. So I must ask my noble friend on the Front Bench whether the Government could not remove this impediment and thus facilitate the happiness of thousands of mentally handicapped people and their families.
When she comes to reply, could I be so impertinent as to ask her please not to repeat what my noble friends on the Front Bench have always said in the past when I posed this question, to the effect that there is nothing to stop local authorities supporting village communities if that is what local people want. The fact is that local authorities are not responding to massive local pressure to support village communities and much of their justification comes from the Government's refusal to give our communities even a level playing field with other forms of care.
One chink of light in all this is that during the summer we did persuade the Government at least to examine the merits of village communities in a study which the Department of Health then predictably thought should last at least three years. I believe we have now persuaded the Department of Health that the first part of this study should look at all the existing research and practical experience which already exists; that it should also examine real comparative costings; and that these first steps should take no more than six months. I would also be most grateful if my noble friend could tell me how this first part of the study is progressing because we have heard no more about it. Of course, if it is sufficiently objective, one rather doubts whether there would be any need for part 2 at all.
The case for village communities for the mentally handicapped seems to me to be irrefutable, but I also cannot help feeling that such communities, separate of course but on similar lines, would also be of benefit to some of our more mentally ill and even perhaps to some of our elderly disabled. Be that as it may, there does seem a more general problem between the Government's laudable intentions and what local authorities and social services are actually doing at local level for many of our care services.
They appear to be flouting, or at any rate to he putting up a very stout resistance to, the Government's requirements in this regard. I understand that under the community care legislation it is the intention that 85 per 203 cent. of public spending on care referrals should be ring-fenced for the non-council sector. Under a policy apparently agreed by the Association of Directors of Social Services, much of the money destined for the non-council sector is going to housing associations and trusts, quite often run by former employees of social services, which increasingly constitute a kind of pseudo-private sector. I have just heard of a case in Scotland, for instance, where a housing association run by former social services personnel has been given capital grants to build residential care accommodation at £ 60,000 per bed space plus a booking guaranteeing it residents for six years. I understand that this may he going on all over the country.
In case some of your Lordships may think that I exaggerate, I think I should quote from an internal memorandum of the City of Birmingham Social Services Department dated 28th September of this year to all its community care team managers. It states:I have just been passed an instruction from the Director that no placements in independent sector residential homes are to be arranged until further notice (I know, I know!) Anybody for whom residential care is absolutely necessary is to be told that we can only offer places in Birmingham Local Authority homes. (Please let me know of any problems this causes as I know that some houses are blocking admissions). The budget can still be used for nursing home placements for which there are no alternatives.This has all been passed on by word of mouth and I am hoping that we shall be given some written guidelines as to what social workers are expected to tell disgruntled service users. No doubt this will be an agenda item for Monday afternoon".
That seems a pretty clear indication of what is going on in Birmingham, so it is not surprising that 25 private homes have recently closed down there.
Council homes often seem to cost much more than private homes, despite the costs incurred by the latter in meeting higher standards. So I would have thought that these homes are another area which the Audit Commission and the Treasury would do well to look at to the advantage of most of us.
And so I come back to where I started: to ask whether the connected purposes of the proposed community care Bill could not be widened to give consumers, including where appropriate the families of mentally handicapped people, genuine choices as to the kind of care they really want rather than the kind of care that local services decide they will have whether they want it or not.
I am sure that this will be fiercely resisted by our local government lobby and by all the other interested parties, but I feel sure that it would be to the immense benefit of growing numbers of our most unfortunate people. As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said this afternoon, it would also accord with the Citizen's Charter, and I very much hope that the Government will give it serious consideration.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Lord Ironside
My Lords, as the gracious Speech allows us to debate affairs across the board, I should like to pick out health from today's list of topics. Of course, it spans across most parts of government and most activities are coloured in some way or other by health factors. If we are not trying to treat something, we are trying to cure or prevent it.
204 I am especially glad to see that the gracious Speech includes a continuing commitment to quality in public services. Already many measures have been taken to bring the National Health Service in line with state of the art medical practice, particularly by addressing the management issues and, at the same time, taking on board the disciplines of quality assurance.
In declaring my interest in breast cancer and in the radiotherapy treatment field, as my wife is the president of RAGE (that is to say, the Radiotherapy Action Group Exposure), the House knows that I have raised the issue of quality before. It is a discipline which is now accepted in most professional circles. Among doctors, though, quality assurance is still rather a forbidding term, but I should like to pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Health for his commitment to quality about which he has spoken many times. I hope that the British Standards Institution will be able to work more closely with the Department of Health in providing interpretations of the ISO— the International Standards Organisation— 9000 Code which are aligned to medical practice. As I have said before in debate, the British Standards Institution has already been approached by many units working in the healthcare field which want to acquire quality assurance approval. I hope that it can play a bigger role in the process.
The rapid advance of surgical and medical technology has produced several orders of importance in productivity or patient throughput, just by shortening treatment times. Therefore, it is not really surprising that we are looking for better management to get better value for money. With the policy to devolve management outwards and downwards in the NHS, this means in my view that much more attention must be devoted to quality assurance to ensure that it is based on national standards. In fact, I believe that there is mounting evidence to show that, if the NHS is to build upon its new-found framework, then the purchaser-provider mechanisms must be governed by nationally-based standards. For example, the Select Committee on Health in another place in its report on breast cancer services said that it believes it is vital for quality assurance teams in the National Breast Cancer Screening Programme to remain accountable to the national QA programme rather than to the new purchasers.
The Science and Technology Committee in another place said unequivocally that there should he a national quality assurance programme for genetic screening, similar to that of the breast screening programme. The Department of Health's own initiatives in publishing the manual of quality assurance in radiotherapy based on the standards currently in place at the Bristol Oncology Centre and the Christie Hospital, Manchester, demonstrate its will to pave the way for quality assurance to be available on a national basis at all 53 radiotherapy treatment centres.
The important issue is that, although a QA system is not an implicit guarantee of clinical, scientific or technical excellence, it is a powerful tool in ensuring that management standards are met and, where necessary, are improved upon. That means that errors are much less likely to be made. I believe that. then, in 205 the case of radiotherapy treatment, women will have the assurance and confidence that it carries minimal risk, which I believe cannot be said at the moment.
As the House may know, the audit commissioned last year by the Chief Medical Officer to find out why so many women who are members of RAGE came to be so disastrously injured by radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer is now complete and will shortly be published and released. I believe that that will reinforce the case for putting QA into place against a national standard in all 53 treatment centres. I hope that the resources are available to take the BS 5750 approach route and to follow the Bristol and Manchester lead on standards.
The adverse effects of breast cancer radiotherapy treatment have been recognised by the Department of Health and the further treatment needs have been assessed expertly by Dr. Jane Maher in the report which was commissioned by the Department of Health and published by the Royal College of Radiologists a week or two ago. I believe that that extra burden on the NHS could have been avoided, but I think that the injuries have triggered my thoughts on how genetic therapeutics may become the competitor to radiation therapeutics. I want to make the point that the dangers of gene therapy are being appreciated before practice really gets under way, whereas the practice of radiotherapy got under way long before the dangers were really appreciated. In fact, alarm bells have been constantly ringing on X-ray dosages and on nuclear power exposures and fallouts— and on all the radioactive debris knocking around on the seabed from Russian submarines and from everything else— ever since Rontgen discovered the X-ray 100 years ago this year.
I believe that the recent events involving injuries to women in radiotherapy treatment weaken the case for assuming that there is an implied duty in respect of care and safety in the charter of the Royal College of Radiologists. In view of the grave public concern about ionising radiation in all its forms, I believe that there should be an express duty of care and safety and, perhaps, qualification of practice in the charter of the Royal College.
Therefore, I believe that an amendment to the Royal Charter is justified and should be considered. Clearly the right time for me to propose this is in today's debate on the gracious Speech. I hope that the new president of the Royal College, Dr. Michael Brindle, will be able to consider my points. I have already written to him along those lines to outline what I was going to talk about this evening. I believe that I have his support. I would ask my noble friend Lady Cumberlege to encourage him to do so. The duty of the Royal College is already to be the authoritative body for the purpose of consultation in matters of public interest. I believe that there is a strong case for it to come forward and show that, in dealing with the destruction and preservation of living human cells, there is a duty of care and safety. The lesson in genetics should have been applied to radiology.
Moreover, if the Royal College wants to see robust QA standards introduced, coupled with consent, it should ensure that it has the powers to intervene in the 206 purchaser-provider mechanisms and, perhaps, get prior agreement with the expert advisory group on cancer. That is the way forward. If the Royal College sees the necessity for sharpening up QA and for having powers to intervene in the provision and auditing of treatment, then, perhaps, the charter should also be amended to reflect that, particularly in view of the grave public concern over nuclear safety.
I have a final point to make. I believe that the initiative of my noble friend Lady Cumberlege in introducing the Framework Policy for Commissioning Cancer Treatment Services is a significant step forward towards improving treatment, particularly of breast cancer, where it has been shown that prompt and properly co-ordinated treatment based on the one-stop shop is the way forward.
While cure remains elusive and prevention is like climbing up a slippery pole— as soon as you make progress you slip back again— there is always a call for research funds to feed the appetite of laboratories. But I believe that, first, there must be a strong effort to improve the management of treatment and then efforts must be devoted to getting research translated more rapidly into practice.
In the United States, Congress has called the President's cancer panel to account. I believe that the US Cancer Act 1971 provides a funding bridge at which we should look more closely to see how our joint efforts towards beating cancer can be stepped up. If there is a comparison to be made with the expert advisory group on cancer in the Department of Health (which is the motive force here), I hope that my noble friend Lady Cumberlege, who is not present tonight, can raise its profile so that it can take more credit for what it is doing to reduce a mortality in breast cancer which is said to be the worst in the world.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lord Harmsworth
My Lords, first I join those who have congratulated my noble friend Lord Cuckney. His credentials speak for themselves. There can be few areas of business in your Lordships' House that he does not cover. I am sure his expertise will prove invaluable to us all.
Until my noble friend Lord Ironside spoke I was beginning to think I would be the only Member of your Lordships' House who would speak on health. One of the great success stories of the past decade and a half has been the National Health Service and it is a success that has been accelerating in the past five years. As your Lordships know, the 1990 Act set in place a totally new structure for the NHS; a structure that acknowledged the huge amount of talent available throughout the country at the point of delivery. It has taken away dependence on the centre and placed decision-making where it better belongs and where it can respond fastest to requirements. In itself it was a bold leap forward. The benefits are self-evident and, in my opinion, will continue to accrue for many years yet. The service has been placed on the very firmest of foundations for the next century.
207 I have to confess that when the removal of the regional health authority tier of administration was first mooted I had serious misgivings about the timing. It seemed to me that the removal of so important a pillar in the structure should not be made until the remaining heavily-reorganised parts had had time to settle in— I thought perhaps not within the lifetime of this Parliament. How wrong I was. The RHAs soon go. As from 1st April next year that tier of management falls away like booster rockets that have done their job. It is a tremendous tribute to the Government that such a move could take place so early, and a sure sign of the strength of the reorganised structure.
But perhaps the most creditable job of all was the reorganisation of health services in London. That was a job that so many administrations have shied away from for far too long. It took significant political courage to grasp that nettle and a high degree of skill in the implementation of the recommendations in the Tomlinson Report. They were bound to be difficult and they were bound to unsettle well understood working routines. I have nothing but admiration for my noble friend the Minister, my right honourable friend our previous Secretary of State and all those involved for the way in which this complex and difficult task was handled. It took a true knowledge of personalities and of the London health service to achieve what I believe to be a change that just had to take place— a change which has already happened in many cases in the provinces where, not least because of the availability of appropriate sites, it was easier to bring about. New, modern health centres have sprung up. They are central to the Government's strategy for change.
We are now moving into the final lap. GPs in increasing numbers are joining the enthusiastic pioneers of fundholding practices. Again, who would be so bold as to suggest that GPs are not more than capable of running their own affairs without some centre breathing down their necks? For the patient the benefits which are already plain where fundholding practices have been set up will become widespread. The NHS will have what such a massive organisation should have had years ago; that is, a structure which is wholly flexible and therefore totally responsive to whatever may be thrown at it. I hope the parrot cries of, "Give us more money— the problem is we do not have enough", will largely become a thing of the past.
In all of this the financial strength of the NHS must surely be better than it has ever been before. I hope that my noble friend Lord Prentice, when he reads this, will take heart from that. In the old days, when more money was claimed to be the only answer to every single problem, however small or however great— and how unresponsive to that money the service was— the centre had an unanswerable question. Good hospitals and other centres annually said, "Give us more money and we will do better"; others would say, "We are not doing well because we do not have enough money. Give us more money and we will do better". What could the centre do? Those days are gone. Local managers, be they administrators pure, or medical practitioners who manage, are now exposed to the true test of their own capabilities. How capable they are turning out to be! 208 Over 3 million more treatments have been carried out a year since 1979 and over 1 million more patients are being treated a year since 1991.
I hardly dare mention it but there were faint hearts even in your Lordships' House at the beginning of this decade. There were some who hardly dared, after the first 56 trusts were formed, to put a second toe in the water before the temperature of the first had fully registered. I hope now that those fears have been wholly laid to rest.
I welcome proposals to empower the Parliamentary Health Service Commissioner to take complaints relating to clinical judgment. He himself described such a change in the law as the most significant in the 22 years his office has existed. I look forward to learning of the details that this change will trigger, of the reallocation of roles in his direction and away from the present in-house clinical complaints procedure. If the outcome is to lessen expensive resort to the courts, so much the better.
The new financial strength of the NHS, cemented by responsive local decision-making, has made the massive leaps of the past few years not only possible but a reality. No visitor to a hospital these days can fail to be impressed by the mass of technological equipment that the Government's skilful husbandry of the NHS has made possible. The NHS has assumed a shape which will serve it well, well into the next century.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, there are good procedural reasons why it is out of order for us, from behind the privileges of the House, to attack individual Members of another. For that reason I shall not attempt to follow what happened in the previous Session to the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill. I would, however, like to congratulate the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the tenacity, determination and patience with which he has attempted to bring the Bill hack. I will not, however, express enthusiasm about the amendments. All I will say about them at this stage is that I will listen extremely carefully to my noble friend Lord Meston, who was on the committee of the previous Bill and who will be leading on this one. I will take what he says about them very seriously.
I will not go into the ramifications of the divorce Bill, which is in any case a free vote Bill and there is no need to state a party view. I will say, though, that I cannot help doubting whether, if Parliament were deliberately to set out to destroy marriage, it could possibly succeed. There are limits to the power of Parliament and I believe that to be beyond it.
I would like to ask a few technical questions. I was delighted to hear the noble and learned Lord say today that there would be legal aid available for mediation. It is my understanding— and I hope this can he confirmed— that there will also be legal aid available for those who do not think mediation is suitable for them. I take the point about the need for a preliminary information session, but I hope that in those cases where those concerned have been victims of domestic violence and may have a real fear of meeting the other party they 209 will at the very least be able to discuss the matter with the mediators without the other party being present. That, I think, may be vital to making the machinery work. In general, on that Bill, the person who came nearest to expressing my sentiments was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford.
I was delighted to hear what the noble and learned Lord had to say about the Law Commission. I have no doubt that the noble and learned Lord has also heard what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, had to say on that subject, to which I am sure he will pay attention.
It was a great pleasure to listen to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. I can think of few better speeches that I have heard in this House, and I would be gilding the lily if I attempted to say any more about it.
The biggest measure that we have before us is the measure on asylum. With it there is a collection of regulations to withdraw income support from asylum seekers pending appeal. We have a rather curious timetable for that measure. I understand that it is expected that the regulations will be tabled on 18th December and will come into force on 8th January. That means that there are two sitting days between the tabling of the regulations and their coming into force. It appears to many who are interested in that issue that those regulations may do considerable harm from day one.
I wrote to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, to ask the reasons for the haste. He replied that he was afraid of a rush of applications— in effect, a "closing down sale", as he put it. In the first place, that rather mistakes the nature of an asylum application. An asylum application frequently arises from an emergency, for example from an armed and murderous assault upon one's house which one did not foresee even up to the minute before it happened. Therefore, assuming that it is all a matter of long-term calculation prejudges the genuineness of the applications before they arise. That is a fallacy that logicians call petitio principii.
The other point which puzzles me about that argument is that it was not necessary for the Secretary of State to trail the regulations at the party conference some time ago. Having done so, if he believed that it was a matter of such great haste why did he not table the regulations in the overspill? Alternatively, if they were not ready to be tabled in the overspill why did he trail them at the party conference?
The coincidence of the few sitting days with Christmas in the period before the regulations come into force reminds me of a complaint made by a 17th century parish against a litigious vicar:And he commonly served these citations at Easter and other times of general communion which he might conveniently have done upon a weekday with less breach of charity".
Another time when there are urgent regulations I hope that they will not be laid over Christmas.
It has already been pointed out that the Bill comes immediately after the 1993 Bill. This Government— as they did over education, trade unions or local 210 government— seems to be developing a legislative stammer. They never seem to be able to get everything done in one go.
We shall be concerned about whether the regulations are consistent with our international legal obligations. I know that the Government believe that the answer to that question is yes, but this Government's fortunes with international courts have not been so universally successful that we can let that claim pass without further examination. Nor will we on these Benches accept that anyone who does not pass the 1993 criteria is necessarily a bogus applicant. The 1993 Bill was the only Bill since I came to this House on which I was not leading in which I voted in every single Division. I am proud of that record.
We are told that people should make their claim for asylum on entry. With respect, that shows a lack of imagination. When we have debated this subject previously I have mentioned a friend of mine who got out of Germany in 1939 who to this day cannot pass through Aachen station without being physically sick. When you are in that state you wait to make your claim until you are certain that you are on safe territory. That is a very natural and inevitable human reaction. If you go through Heathrow that is not a particularly friendly place. It is not even a particularly friendly place for those of us whose country it is. And what is it like for someone who is a stranger, who has no access to a lawyer and no access to friends, being taken behind a glass case with no chance to plead their case? It is a real loss of imagination to expect such people to plead their case only at the point of entry.
Under the UN convention of 1951 we are bound to treat each application individually on its merits. That seems to me to imply a proper individual hearing, not just a fast-track procedure, and a proper right of appeal. I certainly do not see how it is compatible with the list of safe countries.
We have been assured many times that Nigeria is not being treated as a safe country. However, I have the figures for applications from Nigeria in 1994: accepted as refugees, 0; given exceptional leave to remain, 5; refused, 1,485. If that is not treating Nigeria as a safe country it is an offence against the law of averages.
I heard the Prime Minister on television describe the hanging of Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, at the fifth attempt, as judicial murder. I agree with the Prime Minister. I ask the noble Baroness, who is uniquely well placed to do so, to convey the Prime Minister's opinion of Nigerian justice to the Home Secretary and to ensure that her department's treatment of applicants from Nigeria falls into line with the Prime Minister's assessment of the situation in which they find themselves.
I am extremely dismayed to hear that the proposals to rely on employers to make checks are going ahead. I thought that what the Secretary of State for Education had to say on that subject was entire good sense, and I am extremely sorry that her view has not prevailed inside the Government. A world in which we all spend all our time snooping on each other will be an extremely unpleasant world. I note that the Home Secretary said this afternoon that ways of checking will he found that 211 are not racially discriminatory. I cannot understand how any way of checking people born in another country, and necessarily therefore discriminating them from people who are born in this country, can possibly be other than discriminatory. I think that I am right in saying that, save for the Welsh, every one of us in this Chamber is descended from immigrants. We really cannot afford to be this superior.
In my own field of social security we have no Bills in front of us at present. I hope that that will remain the case. However, that seems to me in part, if we may believe in a certain letter, to be because the Secretary of State prefers to do things by regulations. That letter underlines why this Chamber must improve its ways of dealing with regulations. If there were any further measures against either single parents or people under 25, some people outside this Chamber might be tempted to regard them as a vendetta. That would not he conducive to the general peace.
I think that we shall have further trouble with the habitual residence test. I shall ask tonight whether anything can be done to allow income support under the urgent cases provisions. People are being left destitute, and this is proving a severe burden on the social services departments of a limited number of boroughs. It is putting them— Camden and Tower Hamlets, to mention two— under acute pressure. I also want to raise a point on the decision of the 16th of last month about guidelines, which said that a person, to be found habitually resident, had to have been here for a period of time. In the first place, that seems to threaten anybody who loses a job while on holiday on the Costa Brava. In the second place, it contradicts the judgment of the House of Lords in 1983 in R v. Barnet ex parte Shah, where the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, ruled that a settled purpose was enough to establish habitual residence. My noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who was the successful advocate in that case, can, I am sure, say a good deal more about it. However, I will ask the Minister if he will consider revising the guidelines to bring them into line with ex parte Shah.
The Minister has often said— on 20th October last year when the regulations came in, among other times— that British subjects excluded under these regulations mostly have a very tenuous connection with this country. He knows that one of those who have been refused benefit under these regulations is the niece of our former Leader in this House, my late noble friend Lord Byers, north Oxford born and bred and as British as you or me. I hope this was not the intention of the regulations, but it has been their effect. If the niece had been from another country within the European Union and had she taken Belgian citizenship while nursing a sick mother in Brussels, she would have had automatic right of entry as a European Union migrant worker. It would cause me a certain mischievous amusement were we to be condemned in the European Court for discrimination against our own nationals. It would give the writers of the Daily Mail editorials a good deal of exercise, and I would be interested to see what they would do with it.
212 I will not now say what I was going to say about the Transport Act. The Minister knows, and he knows that he will hear more of it. I will take up very briefly the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Prentice, about the costs of social security. When we look at them against those of our competitors the figures suggest that we are not out of line. In terms of social protection, which I know is not the same index but there is an area of similarity, we come fifth out of the 12 as regards the proportion of GNP that we devote to it. It is not particularly remarkable. We need to consider whether we can genuinely reduce the social security budget by measures whose impact is confined to the Department of Social Security. When I was parachuted into that brief in 1989 I applied the traditional discipline of working out the objectives. I decided that the basic objective of social security was that people should not have to starve and that the need to save money, while it was already apparent to me in 1989 that it was considerable, must be secondary to that objective.
If you allow that, you cannot produce substantial savings by lowering benefit levels, as the Secretary of State himself argued in The Times last August. I believe that you cannot do it by disentitling people to benefit either. There is a Treasury guideline which says that any department considering policy changes must consider the resource implications for other departments. I know the Minister has assured me in a Written Answer of 7th November that the Department of Social Security does consider the resource implications for other departments when disentitling people to benefit. What I do not understand is how, if it does not know what those effects are, it can set about considering the implications for other departments.
I believe there are savings which can be made in social security. I believe a minimum wage, involving less pressure on means-tested benefits for subsidised low wages would be one of the best. I believe that childcare would be another. I will not elaborate now, but I think the Minister understands and I hope the House understands that there are no serious savings to be made out of social security until we have got people back to work. That is something to which, as far as I can see, the measures listed in the gracious Speech make no contribution whatever.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, these debates are always very difficult to attempt to summarise because the range of subjects is so great. Most noble Lords who have taken part in this debate today have chosen to speak mainly about law and home affairs, although there have been notable exceptions in other aspects of social policy; so your Lordships will forgive me if I fail to cover the range of subjects which have been properly raised in debate today.
I am glad to have the opportunity— I am allowed to do it— to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cuckney, on his maiden speech. I think I am the only person to be able to do so from these Benches. It was an elegant and a well-informed speech. He chose rightly to speak 213 about his own experience, but we know from the range of his experience that he will have much to contribute to the House in future.
I want to make special reference to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. He struck terror into my heart at the opening of his speech by saying that he did not plan to speak any more in this Session or in subsequent Sessions. He then proceeded to make a very substantial speech, if he will allow me to say so; but if he means that threat seriously— and I take it as a threat and not as a promise— I think he ought to know in what high regard we hold him. The noble and learned Lord is sometimes spectacularly wrong. He was spectacularly wrong about the Child Support Bill; he was spectacularly wrong about the Criminal Injuries Compensation Bill. I believe that he is spectacularly wrong about the Family Law Bill, about which he spoke today, but what he—
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, may I intervene? The noble Lord has been most generous. When he says I was spectacularly wrong about the Child Support Bill he has forgotten that he and I were in agreement over that; and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, as well.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I thought rather that the noble and learned Lord was in agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who was certainly spectacularly wrong about the Child Support Bill. However, if I am wrong I apologise to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon. I was going on to refer to the number of occasions on which he has been spectacularly right, and that is the most important thing one has to say about the noble and learned Lord. He has been spectacularly right in particular about delegated legislation. He has taught us about Henry VIII clauses, and in many respects the Business of this House can never be the same again because of the contribution he has made.
There are many aspects of the debate today which do not in fact refer to the Queen's Speech but to social policy in the wider sense. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in opening the debate, referred to a number of aspects of policy which, although they are important because he referred to them, do not actually feature in the gracious Speech at all. He referred to the creation of a crime prevention agency. It sounds a good idea except that here we have another quango where Opposition pleas for crime prevention to be a basic task of the police and to be carried out successfully in collaboration with local authorities— as we know it can be— were turned down by the Government when we considered matters two years ago.
The noble and learned Lord spoke at some length about organised crime and related it to the security services. I rather agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, when he described it as being more the danger of a secret police. If the security services have much to contribute to dealing with organised crime, let them do it within the context and the constraints of the police services as we already have them, rather than as a separate body, confusing the issue and providing powers 214 for non-uniformed services which would be difficult to control. I find the idea deeply offensive of security services personnel having, for example, the right to burgle, as they would have.
There was little reference to the provisions of the Community Care (Direct Payments) Bill apart from one from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I am glad that he welcomes it; we too welcome it and look forward to it succeeding.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, referred to the training of probation officers. I hope that their warnings will be listened to and that we shall hear no more of the offensive and damaging proposal which was comprehensively rubbished by your Lordships when the matter was debated earlier this year. I should not refer to the noble Lord, Lord Prentice, since he is not in his seat, but he mentioned the need for a Royal Commission on social security and argued for a non-partisan approach. The noble Lord has peculiar experience of his own version of a bi-partisan approach, having been in both parties. I do not think that many of us would agree that it is possible to take such matters out of party politics.
The same applies to the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, who looked for a consensus on pensions. That comes rather strangely from a member of the party which destroyed the Crossman pension Bill of 1970, when it won that election and proceeded, after agreeing with the Castle pension Bill, with SERPS, then to reduce its value substantially on the unilateral one-party basis. If there is any argument for a non-party, above-party policy on pensions, then it is the Conservative Party that has attempted to destroy it.
My noble friend Lord Longford and the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, rightly referred to the problems of prison policy and in particular to the manifesto of the Prison Governors' Association, for which I add my words of thanks and appreciation. It does not seem that the Government have learnt any of the lessons available to them from the debacles in present policy. I am not talking particularly about escapes but about much more fundamental matters. Despite the evidence available, they have not learnt that their so-called policy of secure training centres— which has resulted in not a single place since the legislation was passed— is vastly inferior to the promises they made in 1991 for increased local authority secure places. Not a single new place has been provided as a result of that promise. So by changing the policy and an insistence on a centralising policy as always, nothing has been done on either policy.
Again, I do not believe there is much evidence that the Government have learnt the lessons of next-steps status for the prison service. The degree of interference with the day-to-day running of the prison service will perhaps be revealed in the report which will come out early next year, but in view of the comments which the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, rightly made, perhaps it will not come out.
I do not have time to refer to the valuable contributions on health policy from the noble Lords, Lord Ironside and Lord Harmsworth. and on Northern 215 Ireland from my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. I rather think that they would not agree with each other about much of the Northern Ireland policy.
I suppose what we ought to be glad about is how much is not in the gracious Speech, how much in particular of the conclusions from the Conservative Party conference this year is not there. I shall pass rapidly over the horrible speeches of Dr. Mawhinney arid Mr Portillo and refer only to the speech of the Home Secretary. Noble Lords may recall that he said that there would be new policies about release from prison: those serving less than 12 months would have no earned early release, there would be no supervision after release. Those serving 12 months or more would have a small period of earned early release, but clearly there would be a severe restriction on the amount of early release that there would be. The Home Secretary then went on, even more controversially, to talk about sentences. In his speech he proposed mandatory life sentences for serious, violent and sexual offenders on second conviction. He proposed stiff minimum sentences for burglars and dealers in hard drugs who offend again and again.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, eloquently denounced those proposed measures which do not appear— thank goodness!— in the legislation. He talked about the comparison with Turkey and reference was also made to the effective letter from the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who compared the Home Secretary's proposals with the disaster which has occurred from similar proposals, similar enactments in California.
If the Home Secretary means what he said at Blackpool in early October, then he is in for a great shock when he comes to this House. Those measures would not only be wrong in themselves but would be wildly expensive, would increase the prison population from the present 50,000 to at least 70,000 and probably more than that. I do not believe that such measures could get through this House. Even if a whipped majority in another place insisted on them, I do not believe that they would survive the considered view of your Lordships.
On all those issues of penal policy, the Home Secretary chooses to use the Conservative Party conference to say things that he dare not say in Parliament. He does so, to my mind— I shall choose my words carefully— for less than admirable reasons.
I turn now to the two major Bills on home policy which appear in the gracious Speech and which have been debated at considerable length, rightly, today. I shall not dare to refer to the Family Law Bill; my noble friend Lord Irvine has covered it comprehensively and extremely effectively. At least what has happened today is that the extent of the opposition has been smoked out. I do not believe it is enough to deter the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I hope it is not and that he will persist with the Bills as he originally proposed them, rather than as modified during the past week.
I wish to say something about the Asylum and Immigration Bill, although my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis effectively demolished the intellectual, 216 statistical and moral base of the proposals. I was involved in the 1993 Bill, after all, which was supposed to be the solution to all those problems. We were told that if the 1993 Bill were passed, with all the reductions in civil liberties which it involved, we would not have to hear from the Government again, because the problems would be solved. What actually happened after the 1993 Bill? We are now told that the backlog of appeals outstanding is 70,000 or 75,000, but a year or two ago it was only 55,000. What happened to all the speeding up procedures that were included in the 1993 Act? Why is it that, despite increases in staff, the number of outstanding appeals is so great? It is a very serious matter. Those who receive benefits while appealing against a judgment cost, according to the Government's figures, £ 200 million a year. It is not acceptable for the Government to turn their back on promises they made only two years ago.
In reference to the numbers of decisions that have taken place, in the Commons this afternoon the Home Secretary boasted about the fact that 25,000 decisions are now taken in a year as compared to 15,000 in the previous 12 months. But the fact is that in 1992, before the Bill, there were 35,000 decisions. In 1994 there were 21,000 and the figure is going up again slightly. But the number of decisions is not what it was before the 1993 Bill was passed.
Reference was rightly made to the "white list". I accept the Home Secretary's assurance that Nigeria is not on the proposed white list— although I wonder whether Nigeria was included in the pilot list prepared in May this year. The idea that employers should be deemed guilty of a criminal offence if they fail to report the employment of illegal immigrants is a little remarkable. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, made effective reference to that and to the disagreement expressed by Mrs. Shephard. I wonder whether the Government have thought through the implications in relation to benefits. If benefits, including child benefits, are indeed to be cut, what will happen? Are these four-and-a-half thousand children to be taken into care? What will the cost be?
Returning to the speech of my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, what about the claim that the 1951 convention is being observed in the proposed legislation? I did not read it that way. I understood the Home Secretary to say this afternoon that the rights of "those who presently qualify" are being preserved. I understand that to mean only 4 per cent. of applicants. That appears to me to mean that for 96 per cent. of applicants the 1951 convention is not being observed. At the end of this, the Home Secretary has the nerve to say that he invites the Opposition to take this issue out of party politics, in almost the very same breath as he refuses the special Public Bill procedure in another place. It beggars belief.
Seeing the time, I turn very briefly to the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill, which we can debate at length only a week from now. However, I remind the Government that in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill 1994 and in the context of the right to silence we proposed amendments that would enforce defence disclosures, and we spoke about pre-trial reviews. So 217 many of the ideas in this Bill are ideas that follow from the Runciman Royal Commission on Criminal Justice and indeed unfortunately go beyond it.
In so far as the Bill— and it is very difficult to read— follows Runciman, then it will receive our support. We want to support this Bill. But in so far as it goes beyond, and in particular when we examine issues such as the limits on police disclosure to the prosecution, on the lack of a schedule of unused material, on the details that the defence would have to provide, including the identification of witnesses, and above all on the ability of the prosecution to decide what is relevant to the defence, I have no doubt that there will be hard argued amendments in Committee and at later stages.
There are other aspects of the Bill, such as preliminary hearings, the judge's ruling on admissibility of evidence, the plea before decision on a mode of trial, jury nobbling and the collection of fines where we shall probably, subject to certain amendments, agree with much of what is in the Bill.
I added a last little page headed "social policy" because I thought that that was what this was supposed to be about. But when I look carefully at the Queen's Speech and try to parse it as generously as I can, I do not find much reference to social policy either in the Queen's Speech or in government policy as a whole. Despite isolated, thoughtful speeches such as that of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, I find very little reference to social policy in its broader sense and the necessity for us in this House and in politics generally to recognise the differences in our society and how they can avoid being destructive. In a recent essay in the Observer, John Kenneth Galbraith returned to the theme that he had followed for a long time about the danger of the selfishness of the comfortable majority in the United States but also in this country. He said:The comfortable may well be a majority now. Those who depend on support from the State … and those who share compassionately in their needs"—
I hope that that includes all of us"—
are now a minority".
It is essential for us to understand the need for the minority of those who are themselves in need or who understand the damaging effects of differences in our society to let that understanding and compassion permeate our politics. I do not see that in the thinking of this Government.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)
My Lords, today's debate has been interesting and, not surprisingly, wide-ranging. Many noble Lords have spoken on a large number of subjects. As always, I was impressed by the knowledge and understanding demonstrated by those who spoke of the subjects raised.
I wish to add my congratulations to those already expressed around the Chamber to my noble friend Lord Cuckney on his maiden speech. It was a strong and important speech. It brought to bear his great experience on his chosen subject. I wish my noble friend well for 218 future debates in this House. On the evidence of his contribution today, I know that he will prove a great asset.
There is no way in which I can cover all the points raised during this debate; nor will it be possible to do justice to so wide-ranging a debate. Therefore, topics not covered in my response I shall follow up by writing to the relevant noble Lords, and I shall place copies of all my letters in the Library for all to see. I shall race through what I can in the time allotted.
Much was said today about the Asylum and Immigration Bill. As some noble Lords will doubtless be aware, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary made a Statement today in another place about the detail of the Bill's provisions. Your Lordships chose not to request that Statement to be repeated. I shall therefore respond to the points made this afternoon. But before doing so I should like to reiterate some of the remarks made by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor in opening this debate.
The United Kingdom has a long and honourable tradition of aiding those who are being persecuted or who need protection. It cannot be over-stated though that our procedures for providing that assistance and protection are being abused by people who have no genuine need of them. This cannot go on in view of the damage that is done by such abuse to immigration control and to the interests of genuine refugees, as well as the cost to taxpayers and the burden on public services. That is why my right honourable friend the Home Secretary today announced measures to deal with that abuse.
Much disquiet was expressed during the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, referred to the so-called white list and thought that it would lead to conflict with United Nations obligations. Designation powers would be fully consistent with our obligations under the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees. We will not refuse to consider applications from certain countries. All claims will still be considered. But there will be a rebuttable assumption against claims from designated countries. Similar arrangements already apply in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. The noble Lord also referred to the possible reference of the Bill to a Standing Committee. I just wish to repeat the comment of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to the Leader of the Opposition when he wrote:the purpose of Special Standing Committees is to consider Bills that are uncontroversial— indeed that is what the mechanism was designed for. This was set out by the Leader of the House in 1980 and repeated again most clearly in 1993 when he made it clear that the procedure was appropriate, 'only for relatively non-controversial measures with a degree of cross-Party support'".
The letter goes on to say,
This Bill does not seem to the Government to fall into that category since many controversial observations have already been made about it.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, raised a number of points. Our obligation under the 1951 United Nations Convention is not to remove people who have a well-founded fear of persecution. We will honour that. Claims from designated countries will still be 219 considered. There is no question of blanket bans and I cannot say at this stage whether Turkey will be included on the so-called "white list".
The noble Lord asked whether the Home Secretary would declare Nigeria as a country in upheaval. We are monitoring the position in Nigeria. On visa regulations I can say that the European Union common visa list will require us to impose a number of additional visa regimes when it comes into force next April. There are no other plans for further visa regimes but we will keep the position under review.
The noble Lord asked whether most, if not all, claims will have to be made at the ports. We are not removing the right to apply for asylum after entry to the United Kingdom, but those who apply will do so on the basis that they will not normally be eligible for benefit. On confidentiality, I can say that claims are treated in confidence unless it is necessary for the Home Office to confirm asylum seeker status for the purpose of benefit.
In relation to the right of oral appeal, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will issue proposals as soon as possible for consultation on the matter. Finally, it is true that the overwhelming majority of asylum claims are bogus. Only 4 per cent. of claims are granted and only 4 per cent. of appeals are allowed. All applications and subsequent appeals are considered independently and fully in accordance with our international obligations.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I thank the Minister for going through those points, which I shall look at with interest. But what about the situation affecting Nigeria? Does the noble Baroness say that 3,500 claims for asylum are bogus?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am saying that they were all dealt with independently by the system and I cannot pre-empt what was decided either on application or appeal. However, I can say to my noble friend Lord Brentford, who referred to Nigeria, that all claims continue to be considered fully and substantively in accordance with the United Kingdom's obligations under the 1951 convention. That applies to claims from Nigeria as it does to claims from all other countries.
My noble friend Lord Brentford raised other points. He understood my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor correctly when he said that there are over 70,000 applications in the system. There has been a sharp rise in applications. There were over 4,500 last month, which means that further action is required. Our proposals should be seen in that context. All those who applied for asylum before 11 th October, when the announcement was made, will continue to be eligible for benefit after 8th January, until a decision is made on their claims. Most in-country applicants enter the United Kingdom as visitors, tourists or students on the basis that they can support themselves. They should not be able to evade those requirements by later applying for asylum. Equally, those who enter illegally or overstay should not be able to evade benefit restrictions by claiming asylum. We must ensure that the benefit system does not provide an incentive to unfounded claims. Genuine refugees will gain from reduced exploitation of the system.
220 The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred to the benefit restrictions and asked whether there would be a provision for the most vulnerable asylum seekers with dependants. There will be no special provision for asylum seekers with dependants. Genuine refugees should claim on arrival. If they do so, they will be entitled to benefit. Those who gain entry on the basis that they will support themselves should be held to that, whether or not they claim asylum. Asylum applicants cannot expect the taxpayer to support them while they appeal.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked whether husbands and wives would be required to attend compulsory information sessions together under the provisions of the Family Law Bill. The precise nature of such information sessions will be consulted upon further and a number of models will be piloted before implementation. I can confirm that legal aid will be available for those for whom mediation is unsuitable.
The noble Earl asked also why regulations to withdraw income support from asylum seekers pending appeal were to be laid on 18th December, there being no opportunity for parliamentary debate before they come into force on 8th January. Again, I repeat what was said by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. The urgency stems from the danger that the proposed curtailment may provoke a behavioural response which would have serious consequences for the Home Office and the DSS. Essentially, we cannot risk a closing-down sale.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, referred to a number of points in relation to proposed measures on the prevention of illegal working. In particular they mentioned the burdens on business, implications for race relations and the size of the problem. I appreciate the anxieties expressed about the dangers of racial discrimination. In developing our proposals we were most concerned that employers should not pick out any specific group for discriminating treatment on the basis of their colour or race. We will listen carefully to anxieties expressed in response to our consultation document. In any event my right honourable friend will ensure that employers are provided with advice and guidance on how to carry out checks on applicants in ways which will not discriminate against any group. We shall be consulting the Commission for Racial Equality to ensure that there can be no confusion.
The Family Law Bill was the subject of many speeches in the course of the afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, covered the matter comprehensively and referred to the protection of the weak. Mediators are trained to hold the balance between the weaker and the more powerful parties. If one party does not disclose assets, mediation will cease and the parties will be referred to lawyers. During negotiations legal advice rather than representation is what is needed. Legal advice will be available.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford welcomed provisions on divorce but emphasised the need for government support for marriage. The Government have set up an inter-departmental group to 221 look at the current support for marriage and to see how it may be improved and strengthened. We have already funded marriage guidance and research organisations to the tune of £ 2.3 million this year.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, asked whether we will make further changes to the Family Law Bill as a result of minority views. The Bill will follow the usual procedure in both Houses of Parliament. That will provide an opportunity for full debate. It would not be appropriate to say what changes may be made in advance of the debate but my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has expressed his willingness to consider any points that are raised during the course of the debate.
My noble friend Lord Coleraine, in a moving speech, raised a number of points that were also raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and my noble friend Lord Ashbourne. Divorce will not be possible until parties have made all arrangements relating to children, finance and the home. The court will be able to bar divorce where one party can show grave financial or grave other hardship. Parties cannot start proceedings within the first year of marriage. Divorce would take a minimum of 13 months and so divorce would not be possible within the first 25 months of marriage. That would stop parties rushing in and out of marriage. The reality of the present system is that parties can divorce very quickly and against the will and wishes of the other party. The bar on divorce only applies in five-year separation cases. In the new system the bar on divorce would be available in all cases.
The Government support the institution of marriage and would do nothing which would undermine marriage. But I note the feelings with which points were made by noble Lords who spoke against the Bill. The requirement to make allegations of fault does nothing to support marriage. Fault ensures a quick divorce without reflection and without facing the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood before divorce is final. All experience to date has shown that it is impossible to determine which party is to blame for the breakdown of a marriage. Allegations of fault serve to worsen the relationship between the parties to the detriment of children. Research shows that conflict between parents does indeed damage children.
Not too many noble Lords spoke about the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill but I hope the House will accept that the detailed points can be left to the Second Reading debate, which will be held very soon. However, I shall address the points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank and Lord Irvine of Lairg.
In the context of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, asked whether we would place in the Library of the House the responses we received to the consultation paper on disclosure. The consultation paper invited views on the Government's proposals. It gave no indication that those views would be published. Some of those who responded made it clear that their views were given in confidence; others did not do so but gave no indication that they expected their views to be 222 published. In the circumstances, I do not believe that it would be proper for the Government to place the responses in the Library of the House. But what I shall do is place in the Library a list of the names of persons and organisations who responded to the consultation paper so that those who wish to obtain the views of any particular person or organisation may approach them direct.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, also gave notice that he would like me to explain during the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill how its provisions differed from those in the consultation paper on disclosure. I shall do so. I shall also, if I may, respond on that occasion to his comments on the Government's attitude to the proposals on disclosure made by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice. The noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, explained that his party would wish to scrutinise the Bill very carefully in the context of miscarriages of justice, from which arose the current disclosure requirements. I understand the point he makes, and if your Lordships will allow me, I shall address those points at Second Reading.
Perhaps I may refer to other Bills. The Security Service Bill was referred to in the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Cuckney. In opening the debate, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor referred to the Bill which is shortly to be introduced in another place and which will enable the Security Service to support the law enforcement agencies in their work against serious crime. I am grateful for the warm welcome the Bill has received from my noble friend Lord Cuckney. The Bill will be a small but significant one. It will ensure that the valuable skills and expertise that the Security Service possesses can be deployed in the fight against organised crime. It is one of a series of measures that the Government will be introducing over the coming months, all of which are designed to make certain that the resources being directed against organised crime are used to maximum effect.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, referred to the peace process in Northern Ireland. I can assure him that the peace process remains at the top of the Government's agenda and that we shall continue in our efforts to find a just and lasting settlement, based on consent, to which all the people of Northern Ireland can lend their allegiance. The noble Lord also raised the question of the transfer of prisoners. It is open to any prisoner to apply for transfer to another UK jurisdiction. Each request is considered individually, on its merits, in accordance with criteria announced in Parliament in 1992. Requests for transfer to the Republic of Ireland will also be considered on their merits.
My noble friend Lord Brookeborough pointed out— I believe, with considerable perception— that it remains incumbent on Sinn Fein to take the necessary steps to move the peace process onwards. These must include an end to the beatings, kidnappings and arson attacks and progress must be made on the decommissioning of illegal weaponry. No political party committed to peaceful means needs to have Semtex or Armalites behind it. Perhaps I may assure my noble friend that all the responses that the Government have made to the changed circumstances of the cease-fire have been made 223 on firm security advice from the Chief Constable of the RUC and from the General Officer commanding Northern Ireland. They can be reversed if necessary, but the Government hope that Sinn Fein and the loyalist terrorists will soon begin decommissioning the illegal weaponry that they hold and move the peace process on.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, referred to law reform matters and the omission of an arbitration Bill. He felt that they should be brought forward as soon as possible. I welcome his comments on the progress made on the Law Commission reports. I also noted that he reminded the House that there is considerable scope for more progress to be made. He gave examples of Bills which he thought can be brought forward. He suggested a rolling programme of legislation. I shall take the points made by the noble and learned Lord back to my right honourable friend and ministerial colleagues in the department.
The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, referred to the Education (Scotland) Bill. I listened carefully to the points made by the noble Earl about that Bill. As regards nursery education vouchers, we believe that over time they will stimulate provision. Full coverage in rural and urban areas may take some time, but we expect parents' desires for places to be fulfilled so that choice is put in the hands of parents. We recognise the importance of clarity over the status of education awards and the Bill will make a significant contribution to that.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, referred to the housing Bill including measures to meet the needs of young people leaving care. I understand that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has received representations on this matter, which he is at present reflecting on.
My noble friend Lord Pearson pressed the Government to develop village communities for people with learning disabilities rather than the Government policy of community care. He also asked for the results of the research study undertaken by the Department of Health. Guidance to local authorities on the development of services for people with learning disabilities already gives considerable flexibility as regards the provision of residential services. The evaluation is intended to help authorities to make best use of resources in implementing current policy. There is no reason why authorities should not proceed with plans for the development of individually-based services. My noble friend with ministerial responsibility will write to my noble friend with information about the research study on village communities to which he referred.
Perhaps I may now race through some of the other points that have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank referred to the relationship between the Home Office and the Prison Service. He referred specifically to Kate Jenkins, who was one of the three authors of the report to the then Prime Minister which led to the establishment of executive agencies.
224 The work that she has been asked to carry out as an independent consultant will not be looking at the merits or otherwise of agencies, but at the relationship between the Home Office and the Prison Service. Miss Jenkins's knowledge and experience in this field are to be welcomed rather than criticised. It is in accordance with General Sir John Learmont's recommendation that the work should be done by someone with wide experience of agency status.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and my noble friend Lady Faithfull, referred to changes in probation training. Probation work is highly skilled and probation officers should be properly trained. But the training that they receive should be geared to defined competences and should take account of the skills and experience of applicants. I believe that the result will be better training and not worse, for probation officers.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, also referred to the crime prevention agency. The creation of such an agency will not require primary legislation and that is why it was not included in the gracious Speech. All I can say to the noble Lord at this stage is that the aims of the agency are to initiate, develop and promote innovative ideas to help prevent crime and to reduce the fear of crime. The aims are also to work with the police, local authorities, business, industry and the voluntary sector, the community and others, to target specific types of crime. We want Britain to be a world leader in crime prevention. We believe that the agency will provide the impetus for achieving that.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, referred to having had some correspondence with my department and the Prison Service. I made inquiries during the course of the afternoon after the noble Lord raised the matter. I understand that a letter was sent to him on Friday. The delay in dealing with this correspondence is completely unacceptable and I shall do what I can. I apologise profusely to the noble Lord for the delay. I hope that he will accept my assurance that I shall look into the delay over this matter. In parenthesis, perhaps I may also say that I have read the letter that went to the noble Lord and it does not justify the months of delay that he suffered before receiving it.
There is much more to which I could refer in this debate, but, as I said at the outset, I should prefer to write in greater detail to all noble Lords who have raised specific points that require an answer. I shall place copies in the Library so that other noble Lords may read them. With that comment, I conclude my remarks.
§ Lord Chesham
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Ferrers, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.
Moved, That the debate he now adjourned until tomorrow.— (Lord Chesham.)
On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until tomorrow.
House adjourned at twenty minutes past nine o'clock.