HL Deb 24 October 1996 vol 575 cc23-102

Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by Lord Gray of Contin—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".

3.12 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I should like to begin by joining in the congratulations extended yesterday to my noble friend Lord Gray of Contin for the eloquence with which he moved this Motion for a loyal Address and also to my noble friend Lord Colwyn for the elegance of his seconding that Motion.

Once again the gracious Speech contains many proposals in the field of law, home and social affairs. I would therefore ask your Lordships' forgiveness if I am unable to offer more than a flavour of them in the time available.

I should like to begin with two Bills which I feel sure will be the subject of lively debate when they come before your Lordships from another place. The Crime (Sentences) Bill, which will apply to England and Wales, and the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill share the same objectives and principles. They are intended to increase the protection of the public from serious, dangerous and persistent offenders. I am sure your Lordships would agree that it is the duty of the Government to ensure that those who are convicted know they will be dealt with effectively and appropriately.

The Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill is based on proposals published in the White Paper of the same name in June. It is broader in scope than the Crime (Sentences) Bill but, although naturally there are differences, which can be accounted for by the different legal systems and precedents in the two jurisdictions, it contains similar measures on sentencing. Most importantly, it abolishes parole, introduces a new scheme of earned early release and provides for mandatory life sentences for a repetition of certain sexual and violent offences, and minimum sentences for repeat offences of drug trafficking. It goes wider than the English Bill by including new provisions on evidence and procedure, including clauses on appeals criteria implementing recommendations of the report of the Sutherland Committee on Appeals and Miscarriages of Justice. The Bill includes powers to improve the system of administering criminal legal aid. It will enable the Scottish Legal Aid Board to specify the quality standards which are to be met by those providing it and the Government to pilot different approaches to its provision such as the use of contracts with firms.

At the core of the Crime (Sentences) Bill are the sentencing proposals outlined in the White Paper Protecting the Public. Many of your Lordships will recall the debate that took place on these proposals in the previous Session on a Motion so memorably moved by my noble and learned friend Lord Taylor of Gosforth in his last address to this House in his capacity as Lord Chief Justice of England.

The proposals fall into three main parts. The first is honesty in sentencing. We want the public and the offender to know that the sentence passed by the court closely matches the period that the offender is likely to spend in prison. At present it does not. This enrages victims and undermines public confidence in the criminal justice system. The Bill contains provisions to ensure that in future the time served by the offender will more closely match the sentence imposed by the court. The present arrangements for automatic early release and parole will therefore be abolished. Instead, prisoners will be able to earn a small discount by co-operation and positive good behaviour. All prisoners serving 12 months or more will continue to be subject to a period of supervision after release, and offenders who breach their conditions of supervision will be guilty of an offence punishable by imprisonment.

Sex offenders will face extended supervision after their release from prison unless there are exceptional circumstances. The extended period of supervision will normally be 50 per cent. of the sentence imposed or 12 months—whichever is the longer—but may be increased to a maximum of 10 years at the discretion of the court. The conditions of supervision could include a requirement not to communicate with the victims; to reside at a specific address; or to prohibit the offender from working with children.

Secondly, we propose that anyone convicted for the second time of a serious sexual or violent offence should receive an automatic life sentence unless there are exceptional circumstances. The offences which it is proposed should be subject to automatic life sentences include rape, attempted rape, attempted murder, manslaughter and the most serious woundings. The purpose of this proposal is to ensure that those offenders who have been convicted for a second time of such serious offences are not released from prison if it is judged that they continue to pose a real risk to the public. Such offenders will first have to serve the tariff set by the court to reflect the seriousness of the offence they have committed. After that they will be released if—and only if—the Parole Board is satisfied that they no longer present a risk. Otherwise they will continue to be detained, if necessary indefinitely.

Thirdly, we propose that, except where there are exceptional circumstances, the courts should be required to impose minimum prison sentences of three years on offenders convicted for the third time of domestic burglary and seven years on offenders convicted for a third time of trafficking in class A drugs. Persistent burglars and drug dealers are a menace to society, and they should know that if they continue offending they will go to prison for a long time. The police have played their part by mounting operations targeted at known and persistent offenders. Under our proposals the offenders will know that they can expect a stiff sentence if they persist in offending. The whole object is to persuade such people not to persist further. There is a fundamental importance in achieving this result and it being known that this will be the consequence before the decision to commit the further crime is taken.

Finally, the Bill also contains provisions for a new hospital direction for the sentencing of mentally disordered offenders to be made available initially for those suffering from a psychopathic disorder; new powers for courts to impose a community penalty as an alternative to a fine for persistent minor offenders or as a penalty for fine defaulters; and new arrangements for the transfer and repatriation of prisoners. The public rightly expect protection from serious, dangerous and persistent offenders. The proposals I have outlined are carefully targeted at crimes of particular concern to the public. We believe urgent action is required to provide a real deterrent to such offenders; to punish severely those who continue to offend regardless; and most of all to protect the public from their activities. That is what these Bills are designed to achieve.

We will continue the fight against organised crime by introducing the remaining elements of the package of measures announced by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister last autumn. The Police Bill will unite the existing regional crime squads into a National Crime Squad. Existing regional command structures will be replaced by a unified structure with a national perspective which will place the National Crime Squad under the command of a director general of chief constable rank. The National Crime Squad will conduct pro-active, intelligence-led investigations into the activities of organised criminals at the inter-force, national and international level. At the same time, it will, at the request of chief officers, support forces in their investigation of serious crimes reported to them. The crime squad will work closely with the existing Scottish Crime Squad and with the Royal Ulster Constabulary but will have no specific remit in those separate jurisdictions.

The Bill will also meet the Prime Minister's objective of developing the National Crime Intelligence Service and establishing its identity separate from the Home Office. The service has a leading role throughout the United Kingdom in collecting, developing and disseminating criminal intelligence. It will also be headed by a director general who will be a chief constable and the police service will be its primary customers. But it is a multi-agency body and the contribution of Customs and Excise and other law enforcement agencies will continue to be crucial to its success. The service will be an important conduit for international co-operation. It will channel inquiries to Interpol, Europol and the United Kingdom's liaison officers.

The service and the crime squad will each be maintained by a new type of statutory body—a service authority. The service authorities will be rooted in local government legislation and modelled on police authorities. The service authorities will be independently chaired and include police authority, police and independent members, together with one representative from the Home Office. The National Crime Intelligence Service's authority would also include representatives from Scotland and Northern Ireland and from Customs and Excise. Some representatives will sit on both service authorities. The Police Bill will be introduced shortly in your Lordships' House.

The fight against those who abuse the benefit system will also continue with the introduction of a range of new measures in the Benefit Fraud Bill. Provisions will include the removal of unnecessary legislative barriers to the Department of Social Security accessing information held by other government departments and local authorities to assist in the prevention, detection and investigation of fraud. These measures will be carefully drawn to ensure that individuals' appropriate rights of confidentiality are respected.

There will be a new power to enable the Secretary of State for Social Security to inspect local authorities, which administer housing and council tax benefits on his department's behalf, and to make directions with regard to their anti-fraud work. We will also introduce additional penalties to strengthen the range of sanctions against those who defraud the benefit system.

The Bill will also introduce a range of targeted provisions to assist staff engaged in anti-fraud work in practical ways and to close some loopholes in the current system. The department's anti-fraud efforts have resulted in a three-fold improvement in the detection rate over the past three years. The measures in this Bill will ensure that further, significant improvements are made.

Over the past year there has been a wide-ranging debate about the future development of primary healthcare. One of the key points made by family doctors, National Health Service managers and others was that existing contractual arrangements in primary healthcare are sometimes too inflexible and can hamper local service developments. The Government will introduce a Bill which responds to this. It will create the necessary powers to allow new approaches to the delivery of primary healthcare services to be piloted. Our aim is to give healthcare professionals the scope to make still better use of their skills and to enable National Health Service managers to target resources on local healthcare priorities.

The legislation will enable general medical and dental practitioners to put forward new, local contractual arrangements with health authorities replacing the existing national contract. These new arrangements will be piloted, monitored and evaluated. Participation in pilots will be voluntary. Those practitioners who wish to do so will be able to continue to practise under existing arrangements. General practitioners who choose to retain the existing national contract will also be able to agree local modifications to this with health authorities and boards.

The Bill will remove restrictions that prevent health authorities and boards from rewarding community pharmacists who provide a higher standard of service to their patients. It will also allow local flexibility and some simplification to be introduced into contractual arrangements for community pharmacies and optometrists.

The legislation will implement the recommendation in the Chief Medical Officer's report, Maintaining Medical Excellence, that appointments to single-handed practices should be made only where at least one candidate meets the standards set out in the job description.

This Bill will not impose a template for future services. Instead, it recognises that services are best planned by those closest to the people who use those services. We want to free local health service managers and healthcare professionals to work together to develop local solutions to local needs. The United Kingdom primary healthcare system is the envy of the world, and this Bill will allow it to develop its potential still further.

I turn now to Northern Ireland, where it remains the Government's hope that the multi-party negotiations will make progress towards the achievement of a political settlement which is broadly acceptable throughout Northern Ireland and more widely. We also continue to hope that the IRA will make it possible for Sinn Fein to join those negotiations by restoring its ceasefire and convincing us that this is not just another tactical device to be abandoned at any convenient moment. If that were to happen we, and, we believe, the other participants in those talks, would wish to work towards the implementation of the report of the international body set up to provide an independent assessment of the issue of decommissioning paramilitary arsenals—including its proposed compromise approach under which some decommissioning would take place during the negotiations. For that to happen certain legislative provisions would have to be made to enable the international body's recommendations on the modalities of decommissioning to be put into effect.

It is not possible to be confident at this stage that Sinn Fein will join the negotiations or that agreement will be reached on arrangements for decommissioning terrorist weapons. It is nevertheless important that the absence of necessary legislative provisions should not hold up any progress which may be made. Accordingly, the Government will shortly introduce legislation of an enabling character, reflecting the recommendations of the international body and intended to provide the statutory foundation for whatever detailed decommissioning arrangements may in due course be agreed.

Meanwhile, I can assure your Lordships that there will be no slackening in the determination of the Government, the relevant police forces and other agencies to deter and apprehend terrorists and to seize illegally-held weapons and explosives wherever possible. I pay tribute to those responsible in this country and in the Republic of Ireland for substantial recoveries of terrorist arms and explosives in recent months and for the arrest of several people in connection with those finds. The horrific bomb attack in Lisburn on 7th October, in which Warrant Officer Bradwell suffered fatal injuries, illustrates why we must never drop our guard. It also emphasises the need to make whatever preparations are necessary to implement any decommissioning scheme which may be agreed in the context of the multi-party negotiations in Northern Ireland.

I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I now say a few words about a Bill which I myself will be promoting and indeed have already introduced today. The main purpose of the Civil Procedure Bill is to pave the way for implementation of the final report of my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf, Access to Justice, which was published in July this year. I should like to take this opportunity thank him for his tireless efforts and his sensible and far sighted conclusions. The Bill will seek to create the necessary rule-making powers to establish a unified rule-making authority for all civil procedure in the courts of England and Wales to replace the current Supreme Court and county court rule committees and will establish the framework for a unified and simplified set of civil proceedings rules. A draft of the core rules was produced by my noble and learned friend as part of his original remit into the review of civil justice and was published alongside his report in July. I envisage that the single set of simplified rules should help to reduce the cost of litigation, facilitate amicable settlements and encourage the use of alternative methods of dispute resolution.

The Bill will create a new Civil Procedure Rule Committee and set out a statement of its powers and jurisdiction to make rules of court. The Bill will detail the membership of the new committee. It has been my aim in constituting the new committee to ensure a balance of informed perspectives from the different levels of the judiciary, the legal profession and from the outside world.

The Bill will also include an approval procedure for county court practice directions. It is my intention that in future the making of any county court practice direction should require the approval of either the holder of the office of Lord Chancellor or that of a person authorised to act on his behalf in that regard. This will achieve a consistency of practice between county courts. I believe that this Bill will be the first step in achieving greater benefits for civil justice, which is so important to this country.

We will continue to implement the valuable work of the Law Commission by introducing measures of law reform as time allows. At the front of the queue, for instance, will be a Commonhold Bill to set up a form of freehold property ownership for owners of flats and other jointly occupied properties in England and Wales. Like me, I am sure that your Lordships will also welcome the Government's continued efforts to publish Bills in draft for consultation where this is practical. We will, for instance, publish a draft Bill on the introduction of a voluntary system of identity cards, and a draft Community Care (Residential Charges) Bill containing measures to help people make better provision for their long-term care needs in old age. This will allow further consultation on these vitally important issues.

Your Lordships will be aware of the Government's decision to add two further items to the legislative programme for the coming Session: to create new criminal and civil measures to punish stalkers and to discourage them from harassing their victims; and to require those convicted of sexual offences against children and other serious sex offences to register any changes of address with the police—thereby ensuring that the police have up-to-date information on the whereabouts of such offenders. These are important measures, which the Government have long been determined to see on the statute book this Session. We shall be looking to the Opposition parties to make good their commitment to ensure them a speedy passage.

Finally, in the light of the recommendations made by Lord Cullen in his report published last week on the tragic events at Dunblane Primary School on 13th March 1996, the Government intend to introduce a Bill to tighten controls on handguns and a range of regulatory measures greatly to reduce the risk which they and other firearms pose to public safety. We believe that the controls and measures we are putting forward will go a long way in reducing that risk. I am sure that your Lordships would agree that this is a laudable aim and would also wish to join with me in thanking Lord Cullen for his valuable and thorough investigation, concluded, considering the nature of the matter, in such a comparatively short time.

I believe that the measures that I have only briefly been able to touch upon today are extremely important and relevant to the requirements of the British people. I sincerely hope that they will all reach the statute book in this short Session and so be of benefit to our public in years to come.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his, if I may say so, discursive speech. He ranged widely over a number of topics. The House will be glad to hear that I do not intend to follow him into the range of topics that he covered. In the course of the next four or five days, various of my noble friends from the Front Bench will be pleased to follow the Government down the various roads that they have indicated.

I felt today that it would be more appropriate for me to speak on the first day of the debate on the Royal Address rather than winding up on the last day, as is the more usual practice. I came to that conclusion for two reasons: first, because it is our intention to move a reasoned amendment to the Address which the House may feel apposite, given that this is the last gracious Speech of this Government. Secondly, in relation to this gracious Speech, what is not in the Speech is rather more than what is.

As the House may have seen in the Minutes of Proceedings, the amendment is in these terms: but regret the failure of Your Majesty's Government to manage the nation's affairs in a manner which preserves social cohesion and integrity within the United Kingdom and the country's reputation abroad". I am advised that the appropriate procedure would be for that amendment to be formally moved on the day on which a vote is to take place. In those circumstances, the amendment will be formally moved next Wednesday by my noble friend Lord Peston and we would anticipate that the House would divide on that day.

The terms of the amendment are wide. They are intended to be. As this is the last of the Queen's Speeches of this Parliament, it is appropriate that we cast our minds back over the whole record of Conservative administration, not merely to 1992 but to 1979. I wish therefore to take a somewhat broad view this afternoon.

Seventeen years, my Lords; no excuses for the state of the nation today; no Labour Government that the party opposite can blame. Power has been vested in that party now for 17 years and soon it will have to account for its stewardship.

The terms of our amendment are carefully chosen: cohesion and integrity. Cohesion is in many ways the acid test of any government's success or failure. Is the country more at peace now with itself than it was 17 years ago? Are the institutions of government more or less respected? Is there a greater or a lesser feeling now of involvement, identity and community? Many of the Government's policies are judgeable by that one test of cohesion. I suggest to the House and to the country that in applying that test they have failed.

The country is not more at peace with itself now; quite the contrary. There is no feeling that the Government have advanced fairness, either as an objective or in reality. I do not recollect people sleeping rough all over London 20 or 30 years ago. I certainly never expected in my day to see an almost permanent pool of unemployment running at about 2 million, even after the Government have so adjusted the criteria for the compilation of the figures as to present them in the most favourable light.

I also never expected to see the emergence in our society of a depressed underclass, nor that real poverty would again occur in 20th century Britain. Nor do I believe that Conservatives of the Macmillan vintage—if I may use that phrase—would ever have accepted the situation. It is a formidable indictment of the past 17 years of Conservative rule.

Nor, looking at the economic situation, did I ever expect to see such a collapse of British manufacturing industry. I was brought up to believe, as a somewhat naive individual, that the basis of British prosperity was the export of British manufacture. No longer so. The relationship of manufacturing to total UK production has fallen from 29 per cent. in 1979, when the Conservatives came in, to less than 21 per cent. now.

The UK's trade balance—a very interesting figure—went into deficit in terms of manufactured goods in 1983 for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.

It has stayed there ever since 1983. Investment in manufacturing is less now, after 17 years, than it was in 1979. Since June 1990—even as recently as that—700,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost. It is a sobering picture.

As for the public finances, I spare the Government's blushes and will not go into that. I merely say that the national debt has doubled since the Government came in; that the interest on the national debt is now apparently £25 billion a year—more than we spend on transport, on law and order, on housing, the heritage and environment and even more than we spend on defence. That is despite the receipts from privatisation which ran, I am told, at £81 billion and also the proceeds of North Sea oil.

The public finances are in a mess and when the pieces have to be picked up, the overwhelming chances are that it will not be the party opposite that has to do the picking up. There is not much sign of economic competence there; nor is there much to help social cohesion.

The second element in our amendment is integrity. That implies two things: first, an absence of corruption in our public life, and also the integrity of our constitutional arrangements. Let me say a word or two about those two matters.

So far as the first is concerned, I am grateful that the Select Committee in another place, together with Sir Gordon Downey, is to investigate that. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, has tried, and in this House the Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, has perhaps been more successful, but there is still a very large mountain to climb. We all know that people are losing faith in our political institutions and in the integrity of politicians, and that is hardly surprising. Perhaps I may give one example. It is relatively important, though not massive. The amendment to the Bill of Rights tagged on to the Defamation Bill in this House is a good example of why public faith in our institutions of government is being eroded.

On the David Frost programme last week, the Prime Minister said: why did I help steer a Bill through the House of Commons so that Neil Hamilton could take his case to court". Later, he said: we took legislation through". I participated in the debate in this House. We were assured by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that the Government are neutral on this point. Mr. Hamilton sat in the Gallery of this House and watched the so-called free vote on the issue. What a slender reed he turned out to be. Our having amended at his behest one of our fundamental constitutional statutes going back to 1689 specifically so that he could sue, his passion for litigation seemed to evaporate as the doors of the court opened in front of him. I regret that I cannot acquit the Government of their part in that disreputable affair.

It is necessary that the matter should be cleared up. The amendment to the Bill of Rights passed in such a cavalier manner should be repealed and a Select Committee of both Houses should be appointed to examine the whole question of the Bill of Rights in the light of modern conditions. That, I know, is the view of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who spoke in forthright terms in the debate in this House on 7th May.

In concluding this part of my remarks, I merely say that the whole issue of sleaze and corruption in public life is damaging not only to the individuals concerned but to Parliament as a whole. In the same David Frost interview the Prime Minister said: I am determined that this matter shall be fully examined and by fully examined I mean fully and properly examined by Gordon Downey who will then report to the appropriate House of Commons committee, and it would be my expectation that that report would subsequently be published". We shall hold him to that.

I now turn to the integrity of our institutions. I had intended to say a few words about the composition of this House. I have more figures. I complained last year that there was nothing in the gracious Speech about the reform of the composition of the House of Lords. There is nothing in this year's gracious Speech about such reform. I assure the House that there will be something in the next gracious Speech about the reform of this Chamber.

The noble Lord the Leader of the House wrote recently that he now wants a Select Committee to examine the issue. Where has he been for the past 17 years? He says that reform of this House must be accompanied by reform of the other place. Where has that proposal been for the past 17 years?

It is not good enough for the Government suddenly to appear open-minded on this issue when they have remained silent for so long. I have heard of death-bed conversions, but this is ridiculous.

Nor is there anything in the gracious Speech on the integrity of our constitutional arrangements within the United Kingdom. There is no doubt that Scotland and Wales desire a greater say in the running of their own affairs. In Scotland the evidence is overwhelming.

Some way has to be found of accommodating those aspirations within the framework of the Union; otherwise the union itself will sunder. I, for one, wish passionately to avoid that. We are not talking about dissolution of the Union. We are talking about where some of the existing power should lie.

Scotland and Wales are separate nations. I speak as a Welshman. I am proud of my heritage, my language, my country and my culture. I say very seriously that we have to devise institutions capable of recognising separateness without provoking separation.

There is nothing in the gracious Speech to show that the Government are even considering these problems, let alone producing policies designed to solve this dilemma. Why not?

Every one of us knows that this gracious Speech is not designed to deal with the real problems facing the country, either in the economy or in the social fabric. This is a political document designed to wrong-foot the Opposition as best the Government can, and is being pursued for political ends. If further evidence is required, the extraordinary circumstances of the Prime Minister's U-turn yesterday is proof enough. To amend the Queen's Speech within four hours of its being delivered is a remarkable achievement. It may be right to have done so, but had the Government approached the Labour Party a little earlier they might have avoided this humiliation.

I am in the position, unique for me, of being able to quote on my side of the argument a leader in the Evening Standard. The paper is not normally known for its support for the Labour Party. However, I am glad to say that yesterday it contained comments that were remarkably apposite and correct. It stated: Opening the new session of Parliament today, Her Majesty the Queen might as well speak with candour—`My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, my speech mercifully will be shorter than usual. My Government has had to postpone half of its promised legislation because in six months time it has to go to the polls. The legislation it does propose to enact is intended to accomplish three objectives which it considers to be of supreme importance to the party and the country—to avoid confrontations with its own backbenchers in order to protect its majority of two; to appeal widely enough to voters to assist its re-election next spring; and to place my Loyal Opposition in a series of predicaments which will damage its own electoral appeal'". This Speech is the precursor to the Conservative election manifesto. We shall judge it as such.

3.47 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, I was taken rather by surprise at the conclusion of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, which I was greatly enjoying. I do not intend to range as widely as he did today; but I greatly share his verdict on the Queen's Speech and I also agree with much of what he said about the state of the nation and the omissions referred to today.

The time has long since passed when any gracious Speech contained surprises. That has made the debate on which we are now engaged a rather contrived occasion. However, on this occasion, it is plain from the remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and those of the Leader of the Opposition that we are in a transition from a period of phoney peace to a period of phoney war which will continue until the dissolution.

I think it is fair to say that in every Parliament there is at this stage an absence of good government. Here, I take a generous view of what may have happened earlier. On this occasion it is not the interests of the nation that are being put first but, clearly, the interests of the party that seeks re-election when the time comes. This is a period of rampant populism. The Queen's Speech shows that the Government are behaving fully in character.

I think we would all concede that there are proposals in the Queen's Speech which deal with urgent problems which need immediate attention, such as the Dunblane tragedy; or command widespread cross-bench support, such as legislation on stalking and paedophiles. I shall come to those shortly. But they are the exceptions.

However, the coming months will not be entirely predictable. and perhaps we should be glad about that. Looking back on Whitemoor, Parkhurst and Everthorpe, on the Woodcock Report and the Learmont Report, the Government will probably have some prison escapes to report and explain away. Those will be serious for the Government because they have put security ahead of everything else in terms of prison priorities.

Equally serious will be disputes, of a kind with which the past two years have been peppered, between the Home Secretary and the head of the Prison Service about who is responsible for what. The last event was the extraordinary turmoil in August when the head of the Prison Service apologised for letting out 537 prisoners under an early release scheme without warning the Home Secretary. As your Lordships know, the Home Secretary takes the view that he is responsible for every achievement and the head of the Prison Service, whoever he may be, is responsible for every disaster. On previous occasions your Lordships have not shown much enthusiasm for that confident belief.

But there is no evidence that the relationship between the Prison Service as an executive agency and the role of the Home Office responsible to Parliament has yet been resolved. The noble Baroness the Minister will recall that in the debate in this House on 13th December last, one issue was the recommendation of Sir John Learmont that there should be an in-depth study of that relationship. The Minister announced that the review was under way and that the Home Secretary would report when it was completed. Almost a year later no such report has been given to either this House or another place and I am now led to believe that the review itself has been abandoned. I ask the Minister when she winds up to tell the House precisely what the position is now. If the review by Miss Kate Jenkins has been abandoned, why and how does that match up to the Home Secretary's promise to implement all the recommendations of the Learmont Report? The precise relationship between the agency and the Home Office is a proper concern for Parliament. So is the fact that a promised Statement appears to have been forgotten.

Last week, a broad welcome was given from these Benches to Statements made in another place and repeated here on Lord Cullen's report on the Dunblane tragedy. There was approval for the Government's decision to ban all high calibre handguns. There has since been time to reflect more fully on the wisdom and—I must emphasise—the practical problems of drawing a line (as the Government propose) which excludes .22 calibre handguns from such a ban. Widespread public debate will no doubt continue and many Members of your Lordships' House will wish to hear the arguments set out in full when the Bill reaches this Chamber and before taking a final view. I should expect no other. However, it is fair for me to say to the House that on present evidence I shall be recommending my colleagues to support a total ban on all handguns when the moment comes.

My noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich, dealing with the Statement last week, referred to the question of compensation. The quantum of compensation will inevitably depend on the final decision of Parliament about how far the ban should go. But on the assumption that the Bill as published will follow the principles set out by Ministers last week, I hope that figures will be available at an early date together with an outline of the compensation scheme.

This time yesterday I was preparing to make the case against using a Private Member's Bill as the vehicle for legislation on stalking and a paedophile register and for government Bills to be introduced first into this House at the earliest opportunity. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, reminded us, 15 minutes after the Leader of the House concluded our proceedings, I heard on the radio that the Prime Minister had conceded the case without a fight. Since the Leader of the House, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Baroness the Minister must have been equally as surprised as we were by the news, perhaps I should sympathise with them in their isolation. It is still quite extraordinary that the Bills were not included in the Queen's Speech—

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing the intervention. I wonder whether the noble Lord will say—it would be helpful for the whole House—whether the Liberals will offer the same degree of co-operation on those two Bills as the Official Opposition.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

I shall come to that point in a minute. If the Minister will be patient, I hope to answer the question. In fact, I was welcoming the decision made by the Government and sympathising—I hope the Minister appreciates it—with the position in which she and her colleagues clearly put themselves.

In answer to her question, we shall certainly do all that we can to help the Bills along. But if they are to receive Royal Assent by Easter, the Government must introduce them soon and be prepared to make concessions to opinions expressed in this House. Noble Lords cannot suspend their customary duty of scrutiny, least of all given the problems of definition and the difficulties of legislating which were clearly set out in the Government's own consultation document published in July. Ministers sometimes forget but co-operation in your Lordships' House means give and take across the Benches and is not simply a response to a Government call to "fall in and follow me". I hope that the Government will be prepared to make concessions to this House, if that is what your Lordships wish. It will be in that spirit that we shall do our best to ensure that both Bills have a speedy passage.

We await the major Bill to which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made particular reference on mandatory life and minimum sentences. As it is to be published shortly, I do not wish to discuss the detail of it today. But there is one matter on which I hope we can hear from the Minister. Inevitably, as a result of the Bill—indeed it is one of its central purposes—more and more people will be sent to prison. Therefore, will the Minister spell out today in advance of the Bill precisely what the consequences will be for the prison population of this nation? Estimates will have been made; the Treasury will have been concerned about the cost; the Minister must know; and the House should now be told.

A year ago, during the debate on the Address, this House had before it the corporate plan of the Prison Service published the previous May. Among its underlying assumptions was a projection about prison population. Paragraph 3.4 of the plan read as follows: Our planning assumed that the prison population will continue to rise throughout the 1990s. From a low of 40,600 in December 1992, the population is now over 51,000. It is projected to reach 53,000 by 1997-98 … and 55.000 by the year 2001—an all time high". That was the Prison Service corporate plan which was before the House a year ago: 53,000 sometime during the next financial year. That is what the plan said. But that figure has long been passed. On 6th September (seven weeks ago) it was 56,150. My latest figure is 57,354. The Minister may wish to improve upon'it.

The Director of the Prison Service, Mr. Richard Tilt, said that the prison population was going up at the rate of about 250 to 300 a week. Numbers are being reached four or five years ahead of forecast and they are accelerating. Mr. Tilt said that we needed a new prison every three weeks to cope with the present rate of expansion. I repeat my request to the Minister: given that that is the present position and that a Bill will shortly be before us and bearing in mind that it costs £24,000 a year to keep a prisoner in prison, will she tell the House now what estimate the Home Office has made of the additional number of prisoners likely to result from the Bill and what will be the estimated cost to the Exchequer?

But there is another and even more important point which is relevant to the Bill. Of course, as the Government claim, prisons take criminals out of circulation. To that extent it works simply because they are locked up. But it does not work if they are turned out into the community—however long their sentences may have been—more hardened than ever before in their criminal ways and therefore more likely to re-offend. If there is no attempt at rehabilitation, no money available, the cumulative effect of a rising prison population will he more crime, not less. It is wrong for politicians of any party to claim that more men and women in prison is a measure of success in dealing with crime. At best it is a temporary relief for the present generation at the price of pushing a worse problem forward onto their children and grandchildren in the years ahead. Those are central questions to the Government's record and today's debate. I hope we shall have answers to them.

Given the present high levels of crime; given the increase in the levels of crime spelt out in the surveys over the period of the life of this Government; and given the widespread fear of what seems to be an increasingly violent society, it is not surprising that people are looking beyond Parliament and politicians for answers. Individual tragedies like the killing of Philip Lawrence and the shootings at Dunblane bring a passionate cry for something better. But that makes it doubly important that we in this House and in another place do not exploit deep and searing personal experience or detach ourselves from the realities of what can be done. We should not be carried forward on the bandwagon of our own rhetoric.

I am profoundly doubtful about curfews for children and compulsory parenting. I see little point in a national scheme of good citizenship awards. I do not believe that we should make our decisions for the future on a romanticised view of the family as a happy husband and wife with 2.2 well brought-up children. We need to recognise the legitimacy of many non-traditional as well as traditional ways of life. I say that because we should be careful about turning deep and sincerely held personal convictions into a new and dangerous form of political ideology.

I wish to make one final point. I have said that the Government must find huge additional sums of money—we wait to hear precisely what they will be—to meet the cost of a rapidly increasing prison population. As I said, that is not the best way to deal with the problem of crime. We are certainly not going to heal the wounds in our fractured society unless we are prepared to spend money—on education, above all, but also on our inner cities; on relieving poverty and deprivation; and on alleviating the problems relating to housing and a physical environment which creates a climate of violence and despair. Spending money means raising money, and raising money means taxation; it would be dishonest politics to pretend otherwise.

4.4 p.m.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, the Home Secretary's credibility is currently under attack and has been so for the past three years. There are two schools of thought about his sentencing proposals which feature in the crime sentencing Bill, referred to briefly in the Royal Address. One school says that he is merely appealing to the gallery; playing politics with the administration of justice and taunting the Opposition that he is tougher on crime than they are. The other school contends that he is sincerely concerned that the public are inadequately protected from the criminals by the judiciary and his radical proposals to increase both the level and frequency of imprisonment are designed to improve that situation.

In deciding which school of thought deserves support, it occurred to me that your Lordships may be assisted by considering the contrast, as yet totally unexplained by Mr. Howard, between his recently published White Paper entitled Protecting the Public, upon which the crime Bill is based, and the Government's previous proposals, principles and policies put forward in the 1990 White Paper entitled Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public, embodied in the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which Act was described by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, when he introduced it in March of that year, as, one of the most important criminal justice measures of our time. It will affect the way in which the courts operate and the way in which offenders are dealt with for many years to come".—[Official Report, 12/3/91; col. 73.] Though Mr. Howard was not the Home Secretary in either 1990 or 1991, he was at all material times a Member of the Cabinet. I suppose some might say that the first contrast is between the two titles, the word "justice" being omitted from the current White Paper. I shall endeavour to show that the word "justice" is frequently referred to in the 1990 paper as qualifying the sentencing function.

Let me start with an early paragraph in the 1996 White Paper. At paragraph 1.5 it states: In the last few years we have developed and implemented a co-ordinated strategy on crime". But the "last few years" cannot be extended back to the last five or six years when, by necessary inference from the 1996 White Paper, the Government were guilty of making the most fundamental errors. When did Mr. Howard see the light, and what was its source? What new material and research were responsible for his change of heart? In the words of the then Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Taylor, in a debate he introduced on 23rd May, never in the history of our criminal law have such far-reaching proposals been put forward on the strength of such flimsy and dubious evidence".—[Offcial,Report, 23/5/96; col. 1025.] On the general subject of the role of punishment, the 1996 White Paper states in paragraphs 1.10 and 1.11: It is important for society and for individual victims that those who break the law are suitably punished … The Government's role is to provide the statutory framework for sentencing, and to ensure that the courts have the powers they need to impose appropriate punishment in individual cases". Your Lordships may note the different emphasis in the 1990 White Paper and how the words "just" and "justly" qualify the sentencing powers: Punishment has a major part to play in reducing crime, but its role must not be over-stated … The Government's aim is to ensure that convicted criminals in England and Wales are punished justly and suitably according to the seriousness of their offences; in other words that they get their just desserts. No Government should try to influence a decision of the courts in individual cases. The independence of the judiciary is rightly regarded as a cornerstone of our liberties". I interpose to say that clearly we compromise judicial independence by obliging a judge to sentence unjustly as on occasions the minimum sentences and the mandatory life sentence provisions would oblige him to do.

As regards prison, the 1996 White Paper provides, in paragraph 1.12: The Government firmly believes that prison works. First, by taking offenders out of circulation it prevents them from committing yet more crime … Second, prison protects the public from dangerous criminals"— one might think the second justification is included in the first— and third that prison—and the threat of prison—acts as a deterrent to would be criminals. Finally time spent in prison can be used to rehabilitate offenders, for example by improving their training or education". Now compare this with what is stated in paragraphs 2.7 and 2.8 of the earlier White Paper: It was once believed that prison, properly used, could encourage a high proportion of offenders to start an honest life on their release. Nobody now regards imprisonment, in itself, as an effective means of reform for most prisoners. If there is continued progress against overcrowding in prisons, the recent reforms should enable better regimes to be developed, with more opportunities for education, and work, and so a greater chance of turning the lives of some inmates in a positive direction". I interpolate to make this comment as to the assumption of continued progress against overcrowding. There has already been a reference to the present state of the prisons—and that is prior to any increase that would result from this proposed legislation.

Since Mr. Howard became Home Secretary some three years ago, the prison population has risen from 43,585 to a record high of 57,354 and is said to be dangerously high. According to the last publication of the Criminal Justice Consultative Council, the prison population is set to rise to 58,000 by the spring of 1997, nearly 3,500 more than previously projected. It is confidently expected to reach some 60,000 this time next year. All that is with the full support of the Government. Your Lordships may remember that Mr. Mawhinney, the party chairman—criticised strongly in this House—at last year's party conference urged the public to write individually to judges when dissatisfied with their sentences. I again stress that this does not include the forecast increase which will occur if the proposals in the Crime Bill are enacted. The fruits of that legislation, it has been said, will add some 20,000 or more to the present total. Further, the recently imposed substantial prison budget cuts are bound to prejudice the development of better opportunities.

I read on from the White Paper: But however much prison staff try to inject a positive purpose into the regime, as they do, prison is a society which requires virtually no sense of personal responsibility from prisoners. Normal social or working habits do not fit. The opportunity to learn from other criminals is pervasive. For most offenders, imprisonment has to be justified in terms of public protection, denunciation and retribution. Otherwise it can be an expensive way of making had people worse". Those views were echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, who, in the debate on 23rd May initiated by the former Lord Chief Justice, said: Prison is very expensive. It is essential for punishment and for protecting the public from dangerous men and women. Nothing can take the place of prison, but I have seen no evidence from this country or any other which does other than confirm me in the belief that I formed when I was Home Secretary that imprisonment is the most expensive and least effective way of deterring or reforming".—[Official Report, 23/5/96; col. 1052.] I shall skip a few references to the inability of prison to act as an effective deterrent and come to the coup de grâce. Your Lordships will recall that that which has caused a considerable amount of judicial criticism is the proposal to impose minimum sentences in certain cases and mandatory life sentences in others. Contrast these controversial proposals in the 1996 White Paper with the unequivocal statements in the 1990 White Paper. Paragraph 2.6 reads as follows: It is not the Government's intention that Parliament should bind the courts with strict legislative guidelines. The courts have shown great skill in the way they sentence exceptional cases". I interject to say—but the Government's case for the reforms is that they cannot trust the judges to impose appropriate sentences. I read on: The courts will properly continue to have the wide discretion they need if they are to deal justly with the great variety of crimes which come before them". Once more the "justness" of the sentence is emphasised. I read on: The Government rejects a rigid statutory framework, on the lines of those introduced in the United States, or a system of minimum or mandatory sentences for certain offences". Now comes the justification for that rejection: This would make it more difficult to sentence justly"— again the word appears— in exceptional cases. It could also result in more acquittals by juries, with more guilty men and women going free unjustly as a result". Mr. Howard has suppressed any reference to these carefully considered and clearly expressed government views. Why so? What are his reasons for now thinking that his contradictory proposals would not result in more acquittals by juries, with more guilty men and women going free unjustly? If the jury is aware that the defendant faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted, would they not in some cases be less willing to convict than at present?

Dr. David Thomas QC, the editor of the current Sentencing Practice and the sentencing editor of Archbold, has stated in a recent article that the experience of many jurisdictions is that mandatory sentences seldom produce the effect their proponents intend. They are far more likely to result in acquittals, plea bargains, refusals to enter any guilty pleas and the reluctance of witnesses to testify. He further points out that far better ideas for dealing with dangerous offenders have been available for decades. The question was comprehensively examined by Lord Butler's committee on Mentally Abnormal Offenders whose report has been gathering dust on the shelves of the Home Office since 1975. Commonwealth countries, including Canada and Australia, have enacted legislation which deals with the problem in a more intelligent way than Mr. Howard now proposes.

Quite apart from the remedies which can be provided by legislation, if the judiciary are undersentencing, as appears to be Mr. Howard's clear opinion, why is not the Attorney-General carrying out his statutory function—and if needs be that statutory obligation could be extended—by bringing to the attention of the Court of Appeal such cases and submitting that discretionary life sentences are not being imposed in cases where they should be and repetitive burglars and drug offenders are receiving too short sentences.

It was only six years ago that the complaint was that the judges were being far too tough on crime, tougher than any other country in Europe, with the possible exception of Turkey. Hence the 1990 White Paper. Accordingly, their discretion to impose imprisonment was reined in by the Criminal Justice Act 1991 which obliged them when sentencing to ignore the defendant's previous record, his reactions to previous non-custodial sentences and all outstanding offences except one and even prohibited taking into account offences which the defendant himself asked to have taken into consideration.

When that Bill was debated in this House I warned that if judges were required to carry out their sentencing functions in blinkers, the result would be distorted sentences. That is precisely what occurred. Within a few months of the Act reaching the statute book it had to be appropriately amended, restoring to the judiciary its discretion. Now, according to the Home Secretary, the judges are under-sentencing and therefore once more their discretion is to be removed in certain cases by imposing minimum sentences and mandatory life sentences. I do not believe that the Government will be allowed by Parliament to learn nothing from their past follies.

Finally, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. In the debate on the Address on 20th November last year, at col. 215 of the Official Report, he said: 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 they would survive the considered view of your Lordships". I trust that that will be the case.

4.21 p.m.

Lord Windlesham

My Lords, I shall confine my remarks to the first and the last of the list of Bills itemised by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor when he opened the debate; that is, criminal sentencing and gun control. I welcome unreservedly the prohibition on keeping any handgun in private homes. A number of responsible people in the world of competitive target shooting have long disapproved of that habit, believing that target shooters should keep their weapons in secure conditions at gun clubs. The exemption of .22 rimfire handguns from the total ban on higher calibre handguns is understandable, although it must be realised that these weapons too are lethal. It was .22 bullets that killed Senator Robert Kennedy. It was a .22 weapon which was used to assassinate Yitzhak Rabin. It was a .22 handgun that was used in the attempt on the life of President Reagan in 1981 in which his press secretary, James Brady, was gravely wounded and left permanently incapacitated. So here again the interests of the wider public have to be balanced against those of target shooters.

Then there is the question, raised by Lord Cullen in his fine report, as to how effective centralised storage would be in preventing the potential misuse of these weapons. Although some clubs have their own premises and secure facilities to keep their members' guns, many do not. One that did not was the Stirling Rifle and Pistol Club of which Thomas Hamilton was a member, although he was said to be "not competition oriented".

We should mark those words and their significance. It shows that individual motives for joining gun clubs can be very different. By no means are all those who join attracted by the opportunity to participate in disciplined target shooting as a competitive sport. For some, pistol shooting is less of a sport than a sensation of power.

Among the reasons given by Lord Cullen against the proposal that handguns should be kept at shooting clubs was that, where clubs had their own premises, the concentration of a large number of guns in a single place, often in a remote location, would present an obvious target for organised theft. Upgrading the security of such premises, he said, would not necessarily discourage, and might even encourage, attack.

These factors seem to me persuasive arguments against the partial exemption of .22 handguns from the otherwise general ban. There are clearly going to be many practical problems if distinctions are to be drawn between one category of handgun and another. In my opinion, they would be best avoided as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, by outright prohibition. But, as he rightly said, this is a large and complicated subject. We have the benefit of a detailed and well-informed report from Lord Cullen. These are matters that call for debate.

It is not possible to be so magnanimous about the sentencing proposals, which are forecast as an essential element of one of the Government's main planks in their legislative programme for the new Session. Here it is a matter not of going a little further in the right direction, as is the case with gun control, but going too far in the wrong direction.

The main objections to automatic life sentences and mandatory minimum sentences on conviction for certain repeat offences were forcefully deployed in a memorable debate initiated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Taylor, in his last days before retirement as Lord Chief Justice in May this year. We have heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, speak again today about these proposals and the impact they will have on the concept of justice.

I believe that the objections can be stated very simply in one proposition: that justice can only be done where a judge is free to fit the specific punishment for a particular crime to the circumstances of each individual case. Mandatory sentencing, imposed by legislatures because it appears to be a tougher policy than the alternatives, is bound to be a blunt instrument leading to injustice. Not only that, but it often causes unintended and unwelcome repercussions elsewhere in the penal system.

Let me take as an example the proposed mandatory minimum prison sentence of seven years on offenders aged 18 or over who are convicted of drug trafficking offences involving Class A drugs, who have two or more previous convictions for similar offences. That is a description based on the White Paper Protecting the Public. We have not yet seen the Bill, but there is no indication whatever that the Bill will depart from that formula.

Of course we can all agree that drugs are a menace, devastating the lives of misusers and their families. We can all agree that supplying illegal drugs for profit is a wicked and pernicious trade. The flaw in the Government's approach is that the seven-year minimum sentence will apply not just to professional dealers engaged in large-scale trafficking of the most harmful drugs, but also to the pathetic, often young, people who habitually sell small amounts of drugs to their friends to finance their addiction.

Court-ordered drug treatment, which is particularly well suited to this type of offender, will be ruled out by the Government's proposals. The minimum sentence set by law will apparently permit of no exemptions; certainly no exemptions by category. All must be treated similarly, with the result that young addicts who sell these drugs to other addicts in the same locality will get exactly the same sentence as the most hardened professional drug pusher.

The consequence of that inflexibility, we may be certain, is that the prisons will fill up with mainly young, low-level drug offenders, serving lengthy sentences who, furthermore, will have diminished educational opportunities. They will have no incentive to co-operate with the police by giving information about the big-time traffickers because there will be no prospect of a reduced sentence in return, unless plea-bargaining enters into our criminal procedures, as it has so disastrously in the United States.

I have drawn on the American experience before and perhaps I may do so for a moment or two again. In 1994 comprehensive crime control legislation was before Congress. It was the first genuinely comprehensive Act to be passed for 10 years. At that time 60 per cent. of inmates serving custodial sentences in federal prisons were drug offenders. Over half of all prisoners in federal custody were there because of their conviction for a drugs offence. Of those, more than 16,000—that is, 36 per cent. of all drug offenders—were classified as low-level offenders. Despite that, the mandatory sentencing law meant that they were required to serve very long sentences. I should point out that the figures I have given exclude the much larger numbers serving sentences in state prisons.

What happened in 1994? After a great deal of negotiation, the device of a so-called "safety valve" was adopted by Congress. That left in place the severe mandatory sentencing laws for drug offenders, but limited the application of the minimum penalties in certain cases. Among the qualifying criteria were that violence had not been used or threatened; that firearms had not been involved in the offence; that death or serious bodily injury had not resulted; that the defendant had not been the leader or organiser; that he was not engaged in a continuing criminal conspiracy; and that he had truthfully co-operated with law enforcement in providing information and evidence about the offence. The latter criterion for exemption is particularly important.

That is just one example of where the unforeseen and unwelcome consequences of mandatory sentencing, such as cost, overcrowding and the need to find prison space to incarcerate dangerous and violent offenders, have forced a change in the dogmatic rigidity of mandatory sentencing. How much better it would be for us to anticipate, rather than let a predictable crisis arise which would compel a change of course later. I urge the Government to consider carefully the whole range of likely outcomes—not just the additional prison places that will be necessary, but the impact of such a policy on each stage of the criminal justice process.

On the question of additional prison capacity, which is of central importance, I hope we shall hear from the Government that the implementation of the sentencing proposals (should they reach the statute book) will not commence until the new prison places are available. It takes time to build prisons. A great deal of money has to be found. It would be fatal to implement such proposals before adequate prison capacity is available. I hope that we shall hear more on that matter, if not at the conclusion of this debate, then certainly before long, because it is a crucial point.

4.34 p.m.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, the gracious Speech was this Government's last opportunity to outline their proposals for reforming our system of government. In the debate on the Constitution last Session, we on this side of the House sought to convince the Government of the need for change. Clearly, we failed—and there is little point in rehearsing now the arguments that we used on that occasion—but the need for reform is evident.

On the one hand, an increasing proportion of our fellow citizens feel alienated and excluded not only from the political process but, even more worryingly, from society as a whole. The rise of social and political exclusion may well be this Government's most damaging legacy. On the other hand, there are enormous grounds for optimism because there is evidence of people really wanting to have greater control over how public policy affects their lives and the lives of their communities, yet often they find our present structures remote and unresponsive. To both those who are excluded and those who feel frustrated, the present Government have nothing to say. They have turned their backs. The present Government have missed an opportunity, but we will accept the challenge.

Our proposals for a domestic parliament for Scotland, an assembly for Wales, and for the development of regional government in England have at their heart the belief that the decentralisation of power and the decentralisation of government will lead to a more cohesive society, a society in which concerned citizens can make a more direct contribution to those areas of policy which touch upon their daily lives and, in so doing, determine not only the quality of their individual lives but the quality of their communities.

Our commitment to decentralisation is firm, but decentralisation can take many forms. It would be a denial of the very value that we wish to protect if we sought to impose from the centre one uniform scheme covering the whole of the United Kingdom. Our proposals recognise the distinctiveness of the component parts of the United Kingdom. Clearly, the demand for regional government is stronger and covers a wider area of policy in Scotland than in some other parts of the United Kingdom. It is therefore right that those differences are recognised. It is also the case that there would be a contradiction or at best a paradox in seeking to impose a form of decentralisation without the explicit consent of the people. In order to leave no room for doubt on that score, we seek the endorsement of the people through referenda.

That leads to serious and somewhat wider constitutional matters. I ask the party opposite to reflect on the wisdom and prudence of seeking to obstruct in this House the passage of a referendum Bill, a Bill designed to allow the people to express their view, a commitment to which will be contained in my party's manifesto at the general election.

If we are to succeed in regenerating and revitalising our political system, changing the structures will not be enough. We have to change the processes and in some areas recognise the demand for change in the way in which we conduct the practice of politics. I have been involved in the devolution debate in Scotland since well before the 1979 referendum and I believe that there are important differences between the circumstances that existed then and those that exist today. In the late 1970s, devolution was very much a debate within the established political class; within and between political parties.

Having spent the past few years travelling around Scotland and talking to many different groups, I believe that the idea of devolution is now more widely and deeply embedded in Scottish society. What has struck me most forcibly has been the number of people, often involved in the lives of their communities or in voluntary organisations, who are active, concerned citizens but who stand at one remove from the formal political process. Some are deeply sceptical of politics and politicians; others, particularly women, find participation in politics virtually impossible because of the very real obstacles of time and distance. Not only do these people underpin our civil society but they are the very people who see a Scottish parliament as providing an opportunity for them to make a wider contribution to the public life of their country. I believe that one of the most important challenges that face all political parties in Scotland is to ensure that these people of talent and quality have the opportunity, and are enabled, to make a full contribution to the new politics.

For many of us, the theatre of politics is part of its attraction but for others the confrontational, adversarial nature of politics makes political involvement deeply unattractive. In developing our proposals in Scotland we have tried to address these issues.

First, we advocate an electoral system that will avoid the dangers of entrenched one-party rule. Indeed, the move towards greater proportionality through the additional voting system will require support for policies to be argued and negotiated beyond a single party. Unashamedly, we want a move to more consensual politics.

Secondly, we want to improve the legislative process. Through a robust process of pre-legislative scrutiny we will require the executive in Scotland to justify its proposals ahead of legislation. In addition, the quality of legislation will be enhanced by the use of specialist subject committees which will develop their own expertise and understanding of policy areas.

Thirdly, we are determined to make politics more accessible. As a party, we are determined to move quickly towards the objective of gender balance. In part, this will be facilitated by the different type of parliament, with very different working relationships, that we will establish.

In 1978–79 many of the now leading members of the party opposite, particularly in the other place, were strong supporters of devolution. At one time they even promised us a better Bill. (I believe that was the phrase then used.) Soon after 1979 all of them underwent a miraculous conversion. But for the Conservative Party in Scotland that conversion has proved to be, not on the road to Damascus, but on the road to oblivion. Today, speculation in Scotland is not about whether the party opposite will win 10, 20 or 30 seats but whether it will make it into single figures.

The Union has served us well and we want to strengthen and renew it. Today we face the dangers of alienation, exclusion and separatism. Decentralisation is the way to reinvigorate our democracy, enable the concerned citizen to contribute more actively to the political process and build a new union that glories in diversity and values variety. That is a challenge that we are prepared to accept but it is one that the party opposite does not even recognise.

4.44 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I welcome the two measures in the gracious Speech proposed for Scotland, especially that relating to crofting as my home is near Inverness in the Highlands. I also applaud the Government's policies on constitutional development. I refer to changes and innovations by which Parliament's committees, in particular the Scottish Grand Committee, now meet in Scotland with United Kingdom Ministers and can take evidence there on current issues and prospective legislation directly from the public and organisations. The Scottish sector of Parliament is now not only very visible north of the Border but its work attracts much wider interest and is being reported in the media as never before. Steady progress has been made without running into the West Lothian question, risking the breakdown of a system that has been carefully evolved over many years or risking the eventual breakup of the United Kingdom. I welcome the Government's intention to continue that policy. I do so with a certain modesty, because all the proposals that I put forward in my articles published by the Scotsman in 1979 for reforms of the grand committee system have now been put into effect, together with others. Accordingly, it is incorrect to characterise the Conservative Party as determined only to retain the status quo.

In contrast, I point out that in the last period of Labour Government (1974–79) not a single change was achieved in extending devolution. After five years all that was left was aborted legislation. One Bill was withdrawn and another was scuttled as a result of a referendum. However, that government performed a service. Since then I have always pointed that out. They demonstrated how immensely difficult it is to construct a workable system for an assembly or a separate Scottish Parliament. I well remember the audible sighs of relief from members of the Labour Cabinet in 1979 when the result of the referendum released them from the task of trying to put into effect the Scotland Act 1978. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, was also then in a position to notice the obvious relief of Ministers.

I congratulate the Government on resisting the temptation to embark on a plan for a Scottish assembly for short-term political reasons. The temptation arises because for several years a high percentage of those living in Scotland have in opinion polls reacted favourably to the vague concept of an assembly. When faced with a definite scheme they react very differently, having perceived the problems and effects. That happened in 1978 and 1979 when the Scotland Act received derisory support in a referendum and had to be repealed. Of course, opinion polls in Northern England have produced similarly high percentages of support for decentralisation. That is an aspiration common to both Scotland and northern England, although it is not high in the public's priorities where health, education, jobs, the environment and other subjects come first.

In supporting the sensible attitude of my noble friends on the Government Front Bench, I remind them of previous forays into constitutional change. In the equivalent debate of today on the Queen's Speech on 30th November, 20 years ago, I spoke in this House from the Opposition Front Bench immediately after the then Lord Chancellor, who opened that day's debate in the same way as has been done by my noble and learned friend today. On the previous day the Scotland and Wales Bill had been introduced. That sought to establish assemblies. I knew the late Lord Elwyn-Jones well. We were in both Houses at the same time and had gone abroad together on at least one parliamentary delegation. I always had the greatest respect and admiration for him, as I am sure did the Members of this House. He was given the unenviable task of explaining that Bill in his opening speech. In the comments that I make I have no personal criticism of him. In the course of his speech he said: I find it hard to think of any legislative scheme which has undergone such thorough public scrutiny", and … we have been at great pains to get these proposals right".— [Official Report, 30/11/76; col. 144.] That Bill was suspended by the Government three months later, and withdrawn a few weeks later. It never reached this House.

In parenthesis I should add that that debate on 30th November 1976 (St. Andrew's Day) was significant for me, because the other controversial Bill which I criticised from the Opposition Front Bench (the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill) was also withdrawn about four months later, for the reasons which I had adduced.

What killed the Scotland and Wales Bill? To recall its fate one must dip into parliamentary procedure. It is a rule in the Commons that Committee stages of constitutional Bills must be taken on the Floor of the House. The Government of the day decided that an enforced timetable Motion (a guillotine) was needed, but in February 1977 the Motion was defeated by a majority of 29, with Labour and Liberal Members voting against it or abstaining.

In the following parliamentary Session, the Government introduced the Scotland Bill. Again, a guillotine was introduced. This time the Motion was passed, reluctantly by several Labour MPs who expressed strong opposition to the Bill. The views of one of them are worth recording as he is now a leading member of the Shadow Cabinet (the right honourable Member for Livingston, Mr. Robin Cook). After devastating criticism of the Bill on 14th November 1977, he said that the Bill and the whole issue could be killed in the subsequent referendum and that is what he hoped would happen. His forecast was correct and his wish was later fulfilled.

One must ask what is his attitude now. Has he had a hand in insisting on a referendum again if Labour were again to be in a position to legislate, and insisting on a second question on tax powers, even more likely to scupper the Bill? Or has he changed his mind? In that speech he hoped that Scots would be given: the chance to bury this issue once and for all". Is he hoping again for a similar result?

In the face of such well-informed opposition from many quarters, our present Government must be commended on their wiser and more prudent approach to those constitutional matters. In particular, they will avoid the difficulties experienced by the previous Labour Government when that guillotine was applied. Large and important clauses of that Bill were never discussed in the other place because the guillotine's chopper fell at certain times. It was only in this House that the whole Bill received full examination, with particular attention being given to the clauses which had not been scrutinised in the other place.

To illustrate other problems which the Queen's Speech wisely avoids, the Opposition Chief Whip in the other place (the right honourable Member for Garscadden, Mr. Dewar) was reported in the Scotsman of 1st October as having said at a conference fringe meeting: It is a fallacy that you cannot have a guillotine in the Lords". It is my understanding that there never has been one in this House. That is something that no doubt my noble friend the Leader of the House will want to take note of. Of course this House can decide upon its own procedure, including the adoption of a course which is unprecedented or unusual. That proposal would be both. If a guillotine were to be imposed in this House, as well as in the other place, parts of a Bill might receive no parliamentary examination at all.

In return for Mr. Dewar's comments on our procedures in this House, I ask whether a Labour Government would try to change the Commons convention that the Committee stages of constitutional Bills are taken on the Floor. Mr. Dewar was reported as saying that he was prepared to do that. That is a serious matter for the other place to decide. How sensible again of the present Government not to include in the gracious Speech measures which would raise those irrelevant and unnecessary problems.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will note, or recall because he was concerned with this subject in the late 1970s, that when the Second Reading of the Scotland Bill took place in this House the debate was on a reasoned amendment to decline to give it a Second Reading, moved by a former Labour Lord Advocate, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside. Nonetheless, the Bill did receive a Second Reading without a Division, in accordance with the custom of this House, and the later stages duly took place with the usual expedition observed by your Lordships.

Comments made by the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland at the recent Labour Party conference, that the peers would probably stand in the way of a devolution measure, were inappropriate and out of place in view of the exemplary, complete and expeditious treatment of the 1978 Act in this House.

We should bear in mind a hypothetical situation: there could be a change of government after the general election in 1997. Although very hypothetical, it would mean that the points I have raised would have immediate application—noble Lords from England and Wales may not realise this—because the Labour Party has committed itself to legislation in the first Session to create a Scottish parliament. That would be next year. A Bill would be based apparently on proposals submitted by an unofficial body called the Scottish Constitutional Convention—proposals much criticised and not solving any of the problems that led to the demise of the 1978 Act, including the West Lothian question.

Labour Party head office in London has insisted that there be a referendum, pointing out that the general election result in Scotland would not provide a mandate as the electorate would be voting on a range of other subjects, some of which would be regarded as more important; for example, health and education, as I have already said. However, the London office has also insisted that there be two questions. One would be on whether to have the kind of parliament outlined. The second would be on whether it should have tax-varying powers. That insistence would lead to a curious situation. Ballot boxes would receive four varieties of voting papers. Some would say no to both questions; some yes to both questions; others yes and no to the first and second question; and yet others no and yes to the questions in the opposite way.

The Liberal Democrats have said that they would not accept a Scottish parliament unless it did have tax-varying powers. When the ballot papers were collected the four varieties would be most unlikely to provide a clear, decisive mandate for anything. There is a suspicion in Scotland that is what the Labour leadership is hoping. As in 1979, it could claim credit for making the effort to do what the public in Scotland appeared to want, but that it had not been endorsed in the referendum. In the words of Mr. Cook: this issue could be buried once and for all. Quantities of valuable parliamentary time would have been squandered, like last time, even if guillotines were applied in both Houses as apparently contemplated. In contrast, as the gracious Speech today promises, in this new Session, which is necessarily shorter than usual, the time will be occupied by worthwhile legislation to meet current needs and situations. There has been much rhetoric about the will of the Scottish people. That is difficult to identify or measure. A referendum covers only residents in Scotland who are on the latest registers, including non-Scots and excluding many Scots residing outside Scotland for various valid reasons.

I initiated the only parliamentary debate after the referendum in 1979—a post mortem in this House nine days after the referendum, on 12th March. Speakers from Scotland from all sides in this House raised many comments and electors' grievances. The Hansard records are well worth looking up before arrangements for a future referendum are formulated.

Proposals for creating an assembly and now a Scottish parliament have always raised problems of finance. If there are no tax-raising powers a new body would simply be spending money raised elsewhere. Even the smallest local government council has had to raise some of its finance.

However, the tax-varying powers suggested would raise very little of the total amount needed and would be levied only on basic rate income tax payers. The Governor of the Bank of Scotland, Sir Bruce Pattullo, has pointed out the difficulties of dealing with investment income from dividends and of identifying Scottish recipients. Why should the better off be relieved of payment of that tax if it is found impracticable to apply? That is one of the many problems raised. The proposed parliament, whether or not it could vary taxation, would institutionalise conflict between Edinburgh and Westminster.

This summer the Labour Party issued guarantees to deliver a Scottish parliament. How can it guarantee delivery when there is also to be a referendum and two questions which may not support the proposals? The Labour Party demonstrated complete non-delivery last time in 1978–79. One can assume only that the Labour Party is determined to propose this extra expensive layer of politicians as a move in its feud with the SNP. In practice, if such a scheme were ever embarked upon, the destabilising effects would help the SNP, which would regard it as a stepping stone to independence and disintegration of the Union, which is its objective. Let us hope that the proposals will remain no more than a populist gesture.

During the past 30 years, all the progress in decentralisation and extending administration and parliamentary devolution has been carried out carefully and in stages by Conservative governments. The Labour governments' schemes all came to nothing. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, talked about Conservatives having been subject to a miraculous conversion in the late 1970s. But the Conservative Party seriously considered the possibilities of an assembly following the initiative of my right honourable friend Mr. Heath in the late 1960s. A committee chaired by Lord Home of the Hirsel suggested a limited extension of the Westminster Parliament to sit in Scotland. It would have had few functions but it ingeniously avoided the West Lothian question and other problems. It was then dismissed by the parties opposite as a toothless talking shop. In the meantime, the Kilbrandon Royal Commission was appointed by the Labour Prime Minister of the day. After four-and-a-half years it suggested that an assembly might be workable but at the cost of reducing the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster, a condition which many of us believed unacceptable. After that, as I have mentioned, the Labour Government's efforts and attempts from 1975 to 1979 demonstrated for all to see the dangers and difficulties of pursuing that course.

In many fields during the past 17 years the Labour Party has abandoned its previous policies; for example, its opposition to selling council houses, its policy on nationalisation and its discarding of Clause 4. But I noticed that at its conference the "Red Flag", the anthem, was nonetheless retained. So New Labour still stands for two of Old Labour's traditions: the "Red Flag" and defective, dud devolution schemes.

5.4 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, I hope that I shall not be ruled out of order if I refer to a matter that is not contained in the Queen's Speech. During the Recess, through the courtesy of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I was in touch, at ministerial level, with the Home Office about pornography. My interest in the subject began when I took part in a Motion tabled by my late noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford in 1980 and I have been banging away about the matter for 16 years. During the course of my conversations with representatives of the Home Office I said that if they did not include in the Queen's Speech mention of government action to be taken on the matter I should do something myself. I have spent the Recess drafting an amendment to the 1979 Act, which is almost completed. I have almost reached finality in my capacity as a draftsman and the amendment awaits the approval of a parliamentary draftsman, who will put the finishing touches to it as an amending Bill.

I have made it an amending Bill because a great deal of the 1979 Act deals with purely legalistic procedures; for example, fines, rights of search and so forth. However, it is shocking to note the amount of material which is in the possession of the police but in respect of which, as a result of the 1979 Act, they have no chance of obtaining a conviction.

I shall not commit the error of delivering a Second Reading speech on a Bill that has not yet received its First Reading. However, perhaps I may inform your Lordships that I have available in semi-final form a version of my Bill setting out what I believe the law on pornography ought to be. If any noble Lord wishes to examine it I shall be happy to oblige. With those words I shall resume my seat with a view to the Bill receiving a First Reading very soon and a Second Reading before Christmas.

5.6 p.m.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, I wish to return to the issue of crime, in particular juvenile crime which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. The noble Lord spoke of the spurious deceptive attractiveness of simple solutions to crime. The attractiveness of such responses to juvenile crime as tagging and curfews is that they are both spectacular and cheap.

Understandably, we all react emotionally to the issue of juvenile crime. We are all conscious of the cost to the victims of juvenile crime—among whom, incidentally, other young people are represented more than proportionately to their numbers—and the cost to the public purse, which amounts to approximately £1 billion a year. However, in reality there are no quick fix solutions or cheap solutions on offer. On the contrary, we shall probably have to spend more. At the very least, we must rigorously examine how we can use more effectively the existing resources which we devote from the public purse to juvenile crime, notably by switching from dealing with results to dealing with causes and to the prevention of crime. That is not merely a matter of putting more bobbies on the beat and more TV surveillance in city centres, desirable and important as they are. Prevention and avoidance go much deeper than that.

We do not have a complete picture of the extent of the crime committed by young people or, indeed, by adults. What we know suggests that in 1995 there were, in round figures, 150,000 known male offenders aged between 10 and 17 and 40,000 females. We also know that during the previous decade the overall offending rate for males had tended to fall while that of females had remained the same. But there had been a rise in crimes of violence, robbery and drugs offences which are often interconnected. We know that the peak age for offending is about 18 for males and about 15 for females and that after that offending tends to fall off. We also know that 60 per cent. of the convicted youths aged 16 and 17 had no employment.

Therefore, the picture is not one of an extraordinary increase in the rate of juvenile crime—indeed, there are some hints of a possible small decline—it is one of a persistent and a worrying level of offending. For most young offenders it is a transitional phenomenon which declines with advancing teenage years. But, for a minority, it becomes part of a way of life graduating from young offenders' institutions to recurrent spells in adult prisons. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, drew our attention to the exponential increase in the size of the prison population and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, devastatingly exposed the consequences of this in terms of the increased recidivism of individual prisoners and in terms of the deleterious effects on society as a whole in the long run. Those applya fortiori to the issue of youth imprisonment.

The evidence is that reconviction rates for young offenders within two years after release from custody are around 80 per cent.—about four chances out of five of being back in prison upon reconviction. That compares with a reconviction rate of some 50 per cent.

for young people who have been committed to criminal justice projects in the community, at a mere fraction of the £25,000 a year cost to the community of incarcerating each young offender. While such rates of reconviction are still far too high, it clearly makes both penal and economic sense to use this alternative wherever possible to reduce recidivism and save money.

However, that is still dealing with the results rather than the causes of offending. Perhaps the best way of addressing causes is to ask what light the research of the Home Office throws on the sort of young people who end up in custody. Some characteristics stand out. The proportion of young blacks is more than double that of the general population, as anyone immediately sees who visits YOIs. The number who have persistently truanted from school is 44 per cent., compared with 8 per cent. of the general population. There are also those from disrupted and inadequate family backgrounds. All these deserve separate and extended examination which, obviously, I cannot give them today.

However, the most glaring common denominator for young offenders, on which I want to concentrate my remarks, is the fact that no less than 40 per cent. of male prisoners under the age of 21 had been in local authority care, compared with less than 4 per cent. of the same age population-10 times as many proportionately. There is clearly a strong correlation between a background in care and a range of other problems which have been or will be discussed in this debate. For example, 30 per cent. of young, single homeless people have been in care. Over half of the young people who leave care do so with no academic qualifications, compared with 6 per cent. of their peers. At least one in seven of young women leaving care is either pregnant or already a mother. It is estimated that the rate of unemployment among young people and young adults who have been in care is between three and five times higher than others in the same age group.

Therefore, it is no coincidence that the likelihood of ending up in custody is 10 times as high for young people leaving care as for young people coming from a normal family home. This is a dreadful story. The current system of state care for children and young people who cannot live with their parents is failing these youngsters.

NCH Action for Children, in which I happily declare an interest, is in its own way responding to this situation. Through its "leaving care" projects it is putting £2 million from its own limited voluntary resources—where its mouth is—to provide independence and training for youngsters and to try to persuade local authorities to accept that preparation for leaving care must start from the moment a child comes into care. That care and support must continue after leaving care. Leaving care programmes for youngsters that start when they are 15 or 16 are not good enough. Sometimes those youngsters end up on the streets or in custody.

However, such programmes will cost extra money or, at least, courage will be required to divert money from other less critical uses so as to give the most adversely affected of our young people—that is, those deprived of a normal family background—a better start in life and a chance of avoiding penal custody for the rest of their lives.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in today's debate on the gracious Speech. I know that law and order and the effectiveness of our criminal justice system to uphold it are matters of great concern to many of your Lordships, and certainly to the broader public.

Upholding law and order and protecting the law-abiding is the first duty of government. The fact that it is the top priority for this Government is quite clearly reflected in their legislative programme for this Session, on which I should like to focus some attention.

Organised crime poses an increasingly complex and sophisticated threat to our communities and to our way of life—and at its root is drugs. It is big business on an international scale; and deadly business at that. If past generations feared external threats to our national security, we now, arguably, have to fear internal threats like drugs more.

Drugs undermine and eat away at the fabric of our families, our communities and, yes, our cohesion as a society, as a nation. The fact is that our young are threatened more by the poison peddled by drug dealers in nightclubs, in schools or on street corners up and down the country than they are from the missiles or tanks of another country. As a matter of urgency, we need to co-ordinate just as effective a national strategy against the drug menace and the menace of organised crime as we have done in the past to combat the external foes who have threatened us. The Government are rightly taking action to do this.

In the last Session the Government introduced the Security Service Act which allows the Security Service to play a supportive role in police and Customs and Excise operations against organised criminals. The Act will strengthen the arm of our law enforcers, as indeed will the Police Bill, which the Government will be putting before us in this Session. The Police Bill will establish a national crime squad better to co-ordinate and structure the fight against organised crime. I believe that it will not compromise our tradition of local policing. But it will increase the heat on the organised criminals who sow so much discord. I welcome that Bill.

A criminal justice system to work effectively must command the confidence of the public. When the public lose faith in the effectiveness of the police, the courts and the prisons to protect them, there is a very real danger of them taking the law into their own hands. The vigilante society then becomes a very real possibility. At the very core of the Government's crime Bill is the desire to strengthen public confidence in the criminal justice system's ability to protect them from dangerous and professional criminals—like repeat rapists or armed robbers, or house burglars and drug dealers.

Many senior police officers have pointed to the effectiveness of prison both to deter criminals and to protect the public by taking them out of circulation. Pauline Clare, the Chief Constable of Lancashire, has said: There is no doubt that the fear of imprisonment is an extremely effective deterrent". That was stated in a letter to the Home Office Minister, David Maclean, on 12th September 1995. My very real hope is that the proposed sentences for persistent burglars and drug dealers and the life sentences for repeat serious sexual and violent offenders will deter them. But if they do not, then at least the public will be protected by these hardened offenders being taken out of circulation for a long time.

Stalking is a heinous offence. It can destroy the lives of its victims, who end up living in a state of fearful anticipation of what the stalker might do next. At present, there is little that the police or the courts can do, until of course it is too late and the months or years of harassment have culminated in an attack or an assault. I applaud the Government for taking this problem seriously and for taking considered action and consulting widely. Their proposals will embody both criminal and civil remedies.

Two new criminal offences of harassment will be created, with a new civil injunction available through the civil courts. Anti-stalking campaigners must be delighted that there will not be a need to prove an intent to cause alarm or distress to the victim. The stalker will be guilty of stalking if he goes beyond what a reasonable person should realise are actions which cause the victim distress, anxiety, harassment or to fear violence. Stalkers who continue to stalk will rightly face tough penalties.

Although it is not included in the Government's current legislative programme, I should like to take this opportunity to welcome the Government's recently announced new initiatives to combat juvenile offending. As a magistrate I do not sit in the juvenile court, but I feel it is a disgrace that in many of our communities young tearaways reek havoc and disturb public order, making people's lives an absolute misery. We must try to stop it.

It is unacceptable that the criminal actions of juveniles should go unpunished. Punishing juvenile offenders not only teaches them the difference between right and wrong—a factor, sadly, too often lacking in their homes—but it can also be accompanied with action which helps them to break the cycle of offending. Youngsters who are a persistent nuisance to their communities should be deprived of their freedom to go on being such a nuisance. I am glad that the Government intend to do just that by backing up curfew orders with electronic tagging. This has the merits of keeping juvenile offenders out of custody, off the streets and, hopefully, out of trouble.

I also eagerly anticipate the Government's Green Paper on juvenile offenders which will set out how they aim to target those youngsters most at risk of stumbling into crime and nipping in the bud any bad behaviour quickly and early on. As I said earlier, it does no one any good if offending is not punished.

To make our streets and communities a safer place to live requires us to take action across the board to tackle crime in all its appearances. This means action against the organised crime of the professional drug dealer; action against the persistent burglar or the repeat rapist; and action against low-level young offenders. This Government are pro-active in fighting crime and I urge your Lordships to support their forthcoming legislative programme. Finally, I wish to say how much I welcome the Home Secretary's intention to institute an annual Philip Lawrence award for young people who make an outstanding contribution to their community. That is a positive step.

5.24 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, despite the description in some quarters of the gracious Speech as being thin—in part that is inevitable given the 20 or so weeks allowed for its scrutiny—I recognise that the Scottish element will be busy with up to seven Bills to scrutinise.

First, I turn to the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill, and in particular to the proposal to abolish parole and replace it with an apparently simplified or more honest early release scheme. That rings some fundamental alarm bells. In order to believe that this early release scheme is better than the existing parole scheme I shall need to be persuaded that the loss of substantial periods of post-release supervision—and the associated conditional release that goes with it—will achieve the aim of criminal justice social work. I am firmly of the belief that rehabilitation is a cognitive process and is consciously entered into. It can be started in prison but it has to be completed in the community. Resettlement is the central task of criminal justice social work. The existing scheme of release, both on supervision and conditional release, seems well designed to contribute to resettlement and to the avoidance of future offending behaviour. I look forward to hearing how the proposed scheme will be an improvement on that.

I also wish to comment upon the simplistic assertion that release at half sentence is automatic. This half sentence release scheme which we currently have gives prison governors a considerable lever in maintaining order. The more loss of remission that can be awarded, so much greater is the incentive for most prisoners to restrain themselves and behave compliantly. With regard to the alteration of the calculation of liberation dates, I am glad that the alteration from automatic calculation from the start of remand is moving to the Scottish practice. In Scotland the sentencer, who is normally the sheriff, announces whether or not the sentence is backdated to the beginning of the remand period. Sometimes defence agents try to negotiate this in open court.

I now turn to the hybrid scheme proposed for mentally ill offenders. It will allow the detention of a mentally ill offender in a secure psychiatric unit for treatment and for his subsequent transfer to prison after he is declared mentally fit. I have two objections to that. First, a person diagnosed with a mental illness rarely makes a complete transition to robust mental health. Secondly, I see injustice in transferring someone to prison for an offence committed while that person was mentally ill. The highly pressured environment of a prison is hardly a suitable environment for a person recently recovered from a mental illness. Last year's Mental Health (Patients in the Community) Act supplies a more satisfactory solution to that situation.

While on the subject of the detention of mentally ill offenders, I noticed a report in yesterday's Guardian where a proven stalker was informed that he would have to be sent to a maximum security hospital, in excess of his needs, as there was no place available to him in a secure community mental health unit. Mental health needs to be repaired and restored in the environment in which the person will live and not in an isolated institution.

I am pleased to see the proposals for a register of child sex offenders and the opening of criminal records for personnel checks. I wish to link that to the accreditation of youth and children's workers, as proposed in Chapter 11 of Lord Cullen's report. If that accreditation scheme is to be effective in preventing unsuitable people from having contact with the vulnerable, it will need to be based on individual registration. I am concerned about the proposal for group registration. I believe that individual accreditation is the only method of keeping tabs on and excluding determined and freelance abusers. One of the features of the late Thomas Hamilton's youth work was that no one had the authority to stop him. No one body could receive complaints and produce a co-ordinated response to those complaints. I also note that he had appointed himself as chairman of his group.

I see that electronic tagging is back on the agenda. I had hoped that this was being switched off on the grounds that it has caused so much domestic violence—domestic violence caused by frustration in complying with the electronic tagging order.

Moving away from the criminal justice field to the north and west of Scotland, I am pleased with the proposal to transfer 1,400 crofts to local crofting trusts. The times have changed since the 1920s when the then Lord Leverhulme tried to give the ownership of the land for free to his crofting tenants in the Isles of Lewis and Harris. They refused to accept it at that time. Times have moved on and crofting trusts are already being established. For the crofter, the proposal retains him or her as a tenant but gives him or her the opportunity to be a member of a trust and so participate in the control of his own activity. Crofting land will be more locally controlled and should be done more accurately.

I understand that the national heritage legislation will be amended to allow the National Heritage Memorial Fund to make grants to private individuals. This may be justifiable if it can be shown that the building, structure or landscape is a worthy part of the national heritage. However, I shall be interested in the degree of public access that must accompany this grant aid. The ethos will need to be distinctly communitarian, with a significant willingness to share.

Finally, and predictably, I, too, wish to turn to the governance of Scotland. I am impressed by the way that the Government have identified themselves with the popular mood in Scotland over the decommissioning of all handguns. I hope that this new responsiveness will continue. Last year I complained about there being no commitment to the better governance of Scotland. This year I still look for it. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, raised the issue of the Scottish Grand Committee going around Scotland. There is no doubt that it goes around Scotland, but unfortunately it demonstrates a complete lack of democracy. The Scottish question has, for me, two foundations. The first is the imposition of Right-wing policies in Scotland by a minority administration. The route out of that is to implement the most Left-wing policies that the governing party can handle, and in so doing meet the expectations of the Scottish electorate. The second is the popular desire to renegotiate the Union treaty with the purpose of resuming autonomy in domestic affairs.

I believe that the majority of Scots want to stay in the British Union but on more democratic terms. However, stubborn failure to recognise that will ultimately lead to Scotland being discussed on the foreign affairs day.

5.34 p.m.

Lord Braine of Wheatley

My Lords, of all the social issues with which our society and your Lordships' House grapples, surely none is so contentious and for many so difficult to understand as the issue of abortion. It is an issue on which thoughtful people of good will, who have carefully pondered and considered its various aspects, passionately disagree, each side believing fervently that it is protecting the most fundamental of human rights.

I am taking the opportunity, therefore, in this fascinating debate, to seek to confront your Lordships with the uncomfortable facts about what is called "partial birth" abortion. While every abortion sadly takes a human life, this particular method takes that life in the last weeks of pregnancy as the baby, while still in the birth canal, emerges from its mother's womb.

It is, as noble Lords will know, a procedure performed from around 20 weeks to full term, and your Lordships may already be aware that since 1990 our law in this country has permitted abortion up to birth on certain grounds. It might be helpful to your Lordships if I state briefly, but I hope precisely, what happens during a partial birth abortion. We are law-makers here and it is essential that on all matters affecting the law of our land we should speak plainly, and I know that the House will understand.

First, guided by ultrasound, the abortionist grasps the live baby's legs with forceps. Secondly, the baby's legs are pulled out into the birth canal. Thirdly, the abortionist delivers the baby's entire body, except for the head. Fourthly, the abortionist inserts scissors into the baby's skull. I repeat that: the abortionist inserts scissors into the baby's skull. The scissors are then opened to enlarge the hole. Finally, the scissors are removed and a suction instrument is inserted. The child's brains are sucked out causing the skull to collapse so that the delivery of the child can be completed.

This is an horrific procedure that should never, ever be allowed in this country, or indeed anywhere else.

According to the Government's responses to parliamentary Questions that I have tabled over the years, there are no known cases of this method being used in this country. At the same time, these responses provide no guarantee whatsoever that the method is definitely not used in some private clinics. Indeed, I am advised that there is nothing in our law that would prevent an abortionist from using it. In short, provided that the terms of the Abortion Act 1967 are complied with, there is nothing to stop a doctor from using this horrific method.

Such procedures, if they ever occurred here, would shock the conscience of the nation. Indeed, when this procedure was discussed in the United States Congress, many congressmen who usually vote with the so-called pro-choice lobby were so disgusted that they voted to override President Clinton's shameful veto of legislation to outlaw it. I should like to take this opportunity of paying a warm tribute to Congressman Charles Canady and Miss Ken D. Harrison, assistant counsel to the Judiciary Sub-committee on the Constitution in the United States, for their outstanding courage and leadership in drawing world-wide attention to this particularly barbaric method of abortion.

Finally, I should like to share with your Lordships the experience of a Mrs. Brenda Pratt Shafer. During a hearing last year, Mrs. Shafer described this shameful procedure to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. I shall quote from her testimony. As we in Britain are undoubtedly faced with this issue here and now, something has to be done about it in this country. It is as well that we should know what has been said on the subject elsewhere in a civilised country. Mrs. Shafer said: I am a registered nurse, licensed in the State of Ohio, with 13 years of experience. In 1993, I was employed by Kimberly Quality Care, a nursing agency in Dayton, Ohio. In September 1993, Kimberly Quality Care asked me to accept an assignment at the Women's Medical Centre, which is operated by Dr. Martin Haskell. I readily accepted this assignment because I was at that time very pro-choice. I had even told my teenage daughters that if any one of them ever got pregnant at a young age, I would make them have an abortion. They disagreed with me on this issue, and one of them even wrote an essay for a high school class that mentioned how we disagreed on this issue. So, because of the strong pro-choice view that I held at that time, I thought this assignment would be no problem for me". I quote this case because it is relevant to present experience in our own country, I am not talking about something peculiar to the United States, but a matter of grave concern to many people here. Mrs. Shafer went on to say: But I was wrong. I stood at the doctor's side as he performed the partial-birth abortion procedure—and what I saw is branded on my mind forever. I worked as an assistant nurse at Dr. Haskell's clinic for 3 days—September 28, 29 and 30 1993 … On the third day, Dr. Haskell asked me to observe as he performed several of these procedures that are the subject of this hearing. Although I was in the clinic on the assignment of the agency, Dr. Haskell was interested in hiring me full time, and I was being oriented in the entire range of procedures provided by that faculty. I was present for three of these partial-birth procedures. It is the first one that I will describe to you in detail. The mother was six months pregnant, 26 and a half weeks … on the third day, she came in to have the partial-birth abortion procedure. Dr. Haskell brought the ultrasound in and hooked it up so that he could see the baby. On the ultrasound screen. I could see the heart beat. As Dr. Haskell watched the baby on the ultrasound screen, the baby's heartbeat was clearly visible on the ultrasound screen. Dr. Haskell went in with forceps, grabbed the baby's legs and pulled them down into the birth canal. Then he delivered the baby's body and the arms—everything but the head. The doctor kept the head right inside the uterus". I am sorry to speak about what must be for many people a grave and sad matter, but this is life in this age for some and death to others. Mrs. Shafer went on to say: The baby's little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his little feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors in the back of his head and the baby's arms jerked out, like a startled reaction, like a flinch, like a baby does when he thinks he is going to fall. The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening and sucked the baby's brains out. Now the baby went completely limp. I was really completely unprepared for what I was seeing … Next, Dr. Haskell delivered the baby's head. He cut the umbilical cord and delivered the placenta. He threw the baby into a pan, along with the placenta and the instruments he had just used". Mrs. Shafer then said: I have been a nurse for a long time, and I have seen a lot of death—people maimed in auto-accidents, gun-shot wounds, you name it. But in all my professional years, I have never witnessed anything like that. I was present in the room during two more such procedures that day, but I was really in shock. I tried to pretend I was somewhere else, to not think about what was happening. I just couldn't wait to get out of there. After I left that day, I never went back. I was very much affected by what I saw. For a long time—and sometimes still—I had nightmares about what I saw". What this lady has described so vividly should never ever be allowed to happen in this country. I hope and trust that it never will, but this is an uncertain world and the only way we can be sure that a barbarism of this kind will never be permitted here is for the Minister to give us a categoric assurance on that score. This is one of the gravest subjects with which Parliament and, for that matter, our whole community, our whole nation, can ever be concerned. I hope that we shall receive a clear answer to the questions I have asked.

5.44 p.m.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, I speak rarely in your Lordships' House. That is for two reasons: increasing aural disability makes it difficult to participate in its deliberations, while the subject that interests me most—the arts and their role in society today—does not often feature in its debates.

Nonetheless, I am bound to say that I think that in recent times the arts have not fared at all badly. In January 1994 the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, instigated a debate, memorable for the profound speech of my noble friend Lord Menuhin. In April last year, my noble friend Lord Palmer initiated a debate on arts and heritage, and last June the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie—to whom much is owed for the artistic well-being of this country—drew our attention to the social and economic benefits of the work being undertaken by the distributing bodies of the National Lottery.

Each of these debates was primarily concerned with the question of money for the arts—it seems as if nowadays the words "arts" and "funding" are wholly inseparable—so I do not intend to discuss money at all, beyond briefly making a couple of points pertaining to the lottery.

First, we must guard against any government envisaging the lottery as an excuse for backing out of their commitment to the arts. It cannot be, nor should it be, viewed as a substitute for the basic infrastructure on which the arts rest. Secondly, I hope that the rules for distributing money to the artistic organisations can be loosened somewhat. Currently, cash may be allocated for capital projects—building, restoring and renovating—not for the artistic activities which take place therein. What is the point of theatre companies, orchestras and so forth going bankrupt within these fine palaces of culture?

But I believe that it is not so much a shortage of funds which may imperil the artistic life of our country as two other factors which endanger not just the appreciation of what Matthew Arnold termed, the best that has been known and thought": but, the social scene in general, values which we in the western world have long cherished and standards of conduct in everyday life.

In terms of artistic achievement Britain has much to be proud of. Fifty years ago, on 29th September 1946, one of the great cultural enterprises of our time, the Third Programme, was born. I have noted that the author of the book celebrating this half century has called it The Envy of the World. I think he is justified in doing so because the Third Programme has been imitated by radio stations throughout the world. In those days there was never any question of accessibility being raised, although the programme had its detractors, notably the tabloid press. I know that it is not the function of these publications to propagate any form of culture, but why must they always find it necessary to denigrate it and be content merely to go on wallowing in the trough of trivia? Clearly, excellence and quality have a price to pay—that of popularity.

Compared with 50 years ago, this is not an age of reflection. Life has become faster and noisier, instant gratification is sought in most things, while the attention span of readers and listeners alike is much shorter. Above all, it is the advent of television which has done most to change our habits: we listen less and watch more. I certainly do not propose to indulge in an orgy of TV-bashing. Television is a marvellous medium which has greatly enriched people's lives by teaching them new subjects of interest, showing them places on earth which they could never dream of visiting and generally widening their horizons. The quality of television in Britain is unsurpassed, but at the same time I believe that a former newscaster, Miss Angela Rippon, is correct when she says: in the breathless pursuit of the young viewer, standards of TV have fallen considerably of late and increasingly pander to the lowest common denominator". I have found this opinion shared by individuals from all walks of life.

I have read that in this multichannel, multimedia age, we may apparently be given a choice of as many as 100 television channels—a statistic which I confess fills me with gloom when one considers that there is barely sufficient creative talent to provide for the channels that we already have. Nor am I impressed by the pronouncements which we have so far heard from the programme controller of Channel 5 that 40 per cent. of its product will consist of repeats and bought-in foreign shows which will have no more cultural impact than when shown elsewhere. Once again, a channel is to "go for youth", which is merely shorthand for bringing it down-market. But what appalled me most were the reported words of the controller's address at the Edinburgh Television Festival last summer: The 40's are only going to get older and they'll take their values with them". It looks as though "drop dead at 40" will be the motto of Channel 5! What a waste of time, money and resources it promises to be, and what an opportunity has been lost to earmark one channel for the transmission of principally quality programmes. I would also suggest that the over-40s are likely to have more time for viewing, since many of them will have quit what I term the "rodent relay-race" to lead more satisfying lives elsewhere. That has certainly been the experience of numerous friends of mine.

We are, in fact, to be subjected to a further dose of so-called popular culture. In that respect I was amused to read not long ago that, according to a survey of the General Synod, the bishops have committed a serious crime: they are out of touch with popular culture. Not one bishop reads a tabloid newspaper or listens to Radio 1; only one has a satellite dish; only one has video games, while two do not even own a television set. Britain's top Churchmen on a different planet", blared forth the Sun. It reminds me of Stalin's infamous cultural henchman, Zhdanov, who, in 1948, accused many of the Soviet Union's leading writers and composers of "serious anti-democratic tendencies". I am prepared to believe that right reverend Prelates are remote from popular culture, but I do not see why they should necessarily suffer for it. As a Sunday columnist put it, for the most part it consists of, inescapable noise, an obsession with sex, screaming pop stations, hypomanic television advertising, radio phone-ins, sex chat shows and helplines, zam-splat television cartoons, zam-splat video games, zam-splat amusement arcades, nasty videos, tabloid newspapers whose only news is about sex or television, and finally the hell of muzak everywhere". Of course there is no reason why the populace should not pursue these things if it wants to, but equally there is no reason why right reverend Prelates should have to.

I contend that the cheapening and coarsening of popular culture is, in turn, largely responsible for the spawning of the so-called "yob culture" which now afflicts the lives of so many. Huge chunks of peak television time are taken up by raw and raunchy plays, soap operas and unrestrained comedy shows which stress sex in its most repellent forms, programmes which portray violence, rudeness, selfishness, cruelty, scruffiness in appearance and sheer bad manners. Yet those who shape and profit from all that are quick to deny any responsibility. They and their fashionable defenders sneer at those who even suggest that there may he a connection between what assaults our senses with growing intensity every day on film and television and what is happening on our streets and—in view of recent tragedies—within the precincts of our schools. Beliefs like responsibility, decency, manners and the difference between good and evil are too often dismissed as reactionary or fanciful. "Violence on TV should not be toned down because it should reflect society", and, "tacky shows are what the public wants: those who choose to ignore their high audience rates are elitists", are just two of the statements that I have read as coming from the lips of TV controllers recently. But does not the great success of the recent dramatisation of Pride and Prejudice and the request for more of the same suggest that those opinions may possibly be out of date? However, so long as the TV and newspaper moguls, advertising tycoons and the rest of their ilk make their fortunes, nothing else matters. Ultimately we may end up, if we are not careful, with the situation in America, where the ratings dictate everything, so that any programme requiring even the slightest degree of intelligence or concentration is immediately thrown out. How right Mr. David Blunkett was when, at a teachers' conference in April this year, he said that Britain is in danger of importing the values of the "dumb-dumb" society wherein being a dummy is something you are praised for. He added, Perhaps the big challenge is to be able to use the technology and the access to information in a way that is beneficial and that does not end up with kids playing meaningless games''. A few moments ago I praised the BBC; now, I must castigate the corporation for more and more embracing the other threat to our artistic and cultural heritage—a threat which also encroaches more and more on our daily lives. I refer to the wholly insidious doctrine of political correctness. It is easy to pinpoint the ludicrous lingo that this has given rise to—I have only just learnt that I and many other noble Lords are "follicularly challenged", that is, bald—racism, sexism, ageism, fatism, entryism, the constant emphasis on class and gender, chairperson, sportsperson, spokesperson, and so forth. When I studied Hansard last summer I saw that it has even penetrated your Lordships' House and was glad to read that the perpetrator was aptly mocked by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. However, it is not really funny. Underneath this absurd language lie deeper concepts which are gradually infiltrating our existence. I have read of how a council cleansing department was in trouble for alerting the public with a safety warning of "Men Working", because two student teachers took exception to the sign as "sexist" even though no women were employed on drain and rubbish clearing operations; how a commemorative print of one of the British Army's finest regiments was produced and hangs in many towns throughout the county but not in one town, where the mayoress decided it was inappropriate; how a councillor, who opposed a donation to a Moslem group because "the United Kingdom is a Christian country" had been threatened with prosecution by the Commission for Racial Equality; how the hymn "Jerusalem" was banned from a memorial service because of worries that the phrase "dark satanic mills" might denigrate inner cities; and, amazingly, how the cross was dropped from a national church's advertising campaign for Easter on the grounds that it carried "too much cultural baggage".

Much of this nonsense emanates from the United States, in particular from the universities there. Thousands of students are being taught that the roots of Western civilisation lie in Africa. "Afrocentric" teachers maintain that white scholars have covered up the debt Europe owed Africa for racist reasons. So as to restore black pride, students are told that Greece was an Egyptian colony, that Greek philosophy merely borrowed African wisdom and the famous figures of the ancient world, such as Socrates and Cleopatra, were black. A lady professor who dared to query the view that Shakespeare and Beethoven might have been coloured was in serious trouble with the university authorities. Apropos poor old Beethoven, I am sure that those noble Lords with an ear for music would be as surprised as I was to be asked whether, when listening to the first movement of the Ninth Symphony, they heard "dammed-up energy which finally explodes in the throttling, murderous rage of a rapist, incapable of obtaining release". Well, I certainly was surprised, but should not be according to the author of a book called Feminine Endings: Music, Gender and Sexuality.

But do not let us laugh too soon at all this rubbish on this side of the Atlantic. More and more we are witnessing the current tide of cultural relativism, another offshoot of political correctness, which decrees that there is no difference in value between, say, Schubert and Blur, Milton and Mills & Boon, or between Vermeer's "View of Delft" and a dead sheep at the Tate. All are cultural products to be understood not in terms of their intrinsic value but in relation to their structures and circumstances—including, inevitably, the gender, race and social class of the artist—within which they were produced.

There is no rectitude whatsoever about political correctness. It represents a deliberate distortion or falsification of facts to suit a political purpose and is every bit as odious as the efforts of the Communist and Nazi regimes to do likewise. I feel we must do all in our power to resist this poisonous and pernicious doctrine.

I did not expect the gracious Speech to address the issues that I have raised; nor indeed has it done so. However, I am glad that recent ministerial pronouncements aim to combat some of the effects of "yob culture". I noted, too, that a few weeks ago the Prime Minister said that he plans an arts revolution in schools, fearing that the cultural horizons of children are being limited by computer games and television shows, and that he wants to spark a classroom renaissance by giving the arts a greater role in the curriculum and linking with outside organisations. Furthermore I am pleased to have read some words of the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who is quoted as saying, For too long in Britain the arts have been seen as peripheral, on the edges of our lives. We have been complacent about the excellence of our artists and art organisations, seeing them as part of our national life which required little thought or attention from politicians or government". Those are heartening words and I trust that whichever right honourable gentleman is entrusted with the formation of the government next year will do his utmost to fulfil those promises. However, I remain somewhat cynical about this because I know that it is said that there are no votes to be gained by espousing the cause of the arts, and furthermore I think that too many politicians today are usually members of yet a third party, the Philistines.

I should like to play my part too in seeing that the next government pursues a policy of artistic enlightenment but I regret that I may not be in a position to do so. There is a shadow overhanging your Lordships' House: the cry of "reform" is in the air. I agree totally with the opinion expressed last July by my noble friend Lord St. John of Bletso that, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", but that there should be some reform of this House. But I deplore the suggestion that this House ought to be a replica of the other place. I believe that such a course would produce conflict, the sharpening of political knives and a consequent lowering of standards of debate and decorum. Do we really want a duplicate of Prime Minister's Question Time, with the front-benchers snarling at each other across the Dispatch Boxes and the trading of insults across the Floor of the House?

I am also worried that there will be scant opportunity in a reformed House to have debates of the kind that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech. I noted that at the conclusion of the debate on society's moral and spiritual well-being in July which he initiated, the most reverend Primate remarked: I also found myself musing that this is an extraordinary assembly in many respects. What other parliament throughout the world would devote a whole day to moral and spiritual matters in the life of the nation? Perhaps it says something about the value of an assembly and Chamber like this that it is able to be a witness and a sign of what a democratic society stands for".—(Official Report, 5/7/96; col. 1776). I agree wholeheartedly with that but consider that the chances of such a debate occurring in a reformed House of the kind currently envisaged would be on a par with the General Assembly of the United Nations discussing, say, painting or literature.

I am also concerned by the possibility that there may be a dearth of spokesmen on behalf of the arts in a reformed House. In that respect I was interested to read that during the course of his speech last July on the constitution a very kind, humane and much respected noble Lord on the Government Benches, whom I do not see in the Chamber tonight, spoke of the variety of qualifications held by noble Lords, instancing Peers of the Armed Forces, the public service, commerce, industry, the trade unions, broadcasting, the academic world, landowners, farmers, explorers and others.

I noticed the omission of the arts from that list. It set me wondering whether it was intentional or accidental, since it is often thought—unfairly, I feel—that leading figures in that sphere, particularly creative artists, may be considered somewhat unreliable, their erotic behaviour in private possibly leading to erratic behaviour in public. That is a popular misconception, of course, the lives of artists being no more admirable or reprehensible than those of other sections of the community. I have no doubt that the finest and foremost practitioners in the field of the arts would respect the courtesies and conventions of your Lordships' House. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside, whom we shall soon welcome, will have much to add to our debates.

I believe that on the issues of today this House is very much in line with informed opinion in the country. Moreover, I do not believe that there is a great demand from the electorate for reform to be considered a high priority. I have noticed that those who clamour the loudest for reform are often mere political activists, eager to make a cheap political point. Like most people in this country, they have little idea of the function or working of your Lordships' House. Furthermore, it is apparent that many of those fervent advocates of reform would not be content with such a step. They advocate the abolition of the House, the monarchy, the judiciary and the police and the setting up of workers' militias. In other words, it seems like a sop to the Socialist Workers' Party.

I trust that my words this evening have not been entirely valueless. But I fear that, as one of the threatened species, they may be valedictory.

6.3 p.m.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

My Lords, participating in the debate in your Lordships' House today, I want to draw on my experience as chairman of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and, above all perhaps, on the knowledge gained when I chaired the review of the parole system set up by the present Government, reporting in 1988, whose recommendations on early release are the basis of present sentencing in this country. Finally, I want to say a few words in my capacity as a recorder in the courts and maybe the only person to speak today in this House who has the responsibility of sentencing individuals at the end of trials or pleas.

Like my noble friend Lady Seccombe, I welcome the emphasis in the gracious Speech placed by the Government on the need to fight against international crime and drug dealing and the requirement to deal with firmness and clarity with persistent offenders. Perhaps, from the vantage point of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, sadly we see reflected the volume of violence in society today. The situation now is that we receive applications running at the rate of some 6,500 a month; that is 75,000 to 80,000 applications a year from people who claim to be the victims of violence in this country. It is a figure that has grown steadily over the years since the scheme was set up in 1964. It is a figure which in part but not in whole reflects the growing nature of violence in our society.

Of course, part of that growth in the number of applications is even more a reflection of the commendable efforts by the present Government to draw the attention of the board to the victims. It is equally in part a reflection of the disturbing and growing amount of sexual abuse which is coming to the fore in cases in this country. But one must inevitably accept that it is also in part a reflection of the level of violence, much of it aggressive, mindless violence: the punch with a fist, the kicking with a boot, the striking with a knife and the slashing with a razor, often inflamed by alcohol, invariably mindless and, sadly, among the young sometimes apparently done for no other reason but kicks.

Therefore, I welcome indeed the talk which is around today about the need for a crusade against violence in our society. We have to carry on the relentless war against the drug dealer. We have to emphasise particularly to the young the need for respect for the dignity of others. We have to recognise that there is a connection between the violence that we see on our screens, on videos and in pornography and the violence that takes place on the streets, if for no other reason but that the emphasis of that violence tends in itself to innure individuals. It dulls their sensitivity to violence and makes violence come more readily to them.

I also accept that part of that battle against violence is a need for society to have a tough attitude towards the perpetrators of crime. As I said, I welcome the emphasis in the gracious Speech. I share entirely the views of my noble friend Lady Seccombe when she said that offences of violence should be dealt with seriously and it is necessary to recognise the trouble caused by the persistent offender and persistent housebreaker. In fact, I believe that there is a mood of agreement on these matters in this House. Therefore, I say to my honourable friend the Minister that I fear that the proposals to deal with these matters, which I understand will be put forward by the Government in their Bill tomorrow, will be highly controversial. Like my noble friend Lord Windlesham, I believe that they are wrong in principle and will not achieve the ends at which they aim. I believe that they will lead to a vast increase in the prison population and in many ways prove to be unworkable. It is sad, because those of us who genuinely hold those views, share equally with others in society the aims which are trying to be achieved.

I do not believe that sentencing should in any way attempt to become a matter of party political debate. Sentencing of offenders is in a way part of the background and the bedrock of the fabric of society. It is surely something on which we must have agreement in this House. I assure your Lordships that I shall not attempt to make a Second Reading speech on a Bill that has not yet been published. I merely want to say without repeating myself that I share all the concerns expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, in his speech about the danger of minimal sentencing.

I ask my noble friend the Minister who is to reply why I, sitting as a recorder in a court in this country, having heard the whole of the facts and seen the individual who is to be sentenced, should be required to pass a sentence I genuinely believe to be unjust because it is longer than the sentence I believe to be necessary. If my view of justice is unduly lenient, that can be put right. We now have the power in this country to appeal to the Court of Appeal against unduly lenient sentences. That does not apply to domestic burglary, but it should. It is right to invite the Court of Appeal to set firm standards. However, I suggest that there is a distinction between trying to do away with undue leniency in the courts and producing the situation which minimum sentences are bound to do when, from time to time, a judge will find himself having to impose a sentence which he believes to be unjust.

If we are to go down the road towards mandatory minimum sentences, then I hope the Bill will include an exception wide enough to provide for a case where otherwise justice would fail to be done. It must be wider than that originally proposed in the White Paper. In relation to the proposals for life sentences for second offenders, the Government have a strong case when talking of rape. But do they wish to cast the net as wide as they do when talking of offences of wounding and of causing grievous bodily harm?

The White Paper, while calling for "real time" sentencing, goes on to say that it is not intended that the proposals for abolition of parole and early release should lead to an extension of the prison population; that it is not intended that the time people spend in prison should be greater than they are spending at the moment. There are two ways in which that procedure can go. Either that aim will not be achieved and the increase in the prison population will not be the 10,000 predicted, but the 20,000 or 30,000 that will come about; or the aim will be achieved in which case the only effect will be not that the individual will spend longer in prison, but that he will spend less time under supervision in society when he leaves prison. The present threat hanging over an offender that if he commits a further offence during the full period of the sentence passed he will have to serve the full term of that sentence along with the sentence for the further offence, will be removed. Far from offering the public more protection, in practice moving away from early release to a system of real time sentencing will diminish the protection of the public. Can my noble friend tell us how the reduction of one-third and one-half in sentencing is to be achieved? What guidance will there be in the law to achieve it? We looked at the whole of this issue in 1988 and believed that it was unachievable in today's climate.

Finally, the White Paper allows for a period of reflection and for a period in which people's comments could be considered. I felt that the probability was and that the indication had been given that those comments would be published. I spoke to the Minister, with her courtesy, last night. It was explained to me that the number of responses would be published, but not their content. The Library of the House confirmed that the responses have not been published. If we are to have the spirit of debate on sentencing matters that I believe we should have, where we achieve a consensus across parties in aiming for a system of sentencing that succeeds, it is important that we should be aware of the views of the judiciary, the Parole Board and others to help in those debates.

6.15 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, speaks with much authority in this House and elsewhere. However, I must not spend my limited time saying how much I support him, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner.

I should like to say something about the various moral crusades that are sweeping the country—I am sure for our benefit. I supported the Archbishop of Canterbury in the summer. Since then Mr. Blair has aroused great interest, as has the widow of the murdered headmaster, and now the Catholic bishops. But I must leave those matters for another occasion. I shall speak rather about the education I have received in recent months on the penal philosophy of the party that has ruled us for the past 17 years.

We had a debate in the summer in which the noble Lords, Lord Carlisle and Lord Windlesham, took part, initiated by the former Lord Chief Justice. All and sundry attacked the government policy which I stigmatise as "Howardism" for want of a better word. Five former Conservative Home Office Ministers, including a former Home Secretary, attacked that policy. That was the beginning of my education on up-to-date Conservative penal thinking. Then came the book of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. I hope noble Lords have seen it; I shall give it a free puff. I shall not say how much it cost, otherwise your Lordships may be put off. However, it is worth every penny. Responses to Crime is a book to end all books. I do not know what criminologists in the future will do; it contains everything. It is up to date and has more knowledge in it than most criminologists are likely to possess.

The debate seemed enlightening and we understood that any serious-minded Conservative would be opposed to the policies of Mr. Howard. I then ventured to make my way, with a card hanging round my neck explaining that I was a reporter from the Catholic Herald, to the Conservative Conference at Bournemouth. I encountered the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who, I was told afterwards, prevented me from being lynched. I am grateful to her for my preservation.

I listened to the debate. It had a totally different atmosphere. I am aware that high-level and sophisticated debates in this House are very different to the discussions at party conferences. I attended a Labour Party Conference in 1960 when Hugh Gaitskell was defeated and said that he would fight, fight and fight again. More due to the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, than anybody else, but with other assistance, he set that right a year later. It is possible, but perhaps over-sanguine, to hope that a year from now the Conservative Party, no doubt in Opposition, will see the error of its ways. It may be thought that that is not likely, but why not? We have had all the great and good in the Conservative Party in this House denouncing Howardism for some time.

I listened to the debate. We know that party conferences have become rather stage-managed, and that one surely more than most. Ten speakers—no doubt carefully selected—rose to support Mr. Howard. Their message may be summed up in what was said by the first speaker in what was a powerful speech. He said, "I speak for millions and millions of ordinary people". That is the whole case for Howardism; that millions and millions of people are behind him. That was the only case in favour of the views expressed.

Mr. Howard rose and spoke very well. I dare not say this to anybody else here, but the Minister spoke slowly. As I was one of the fastest speakers in the House until supplanted by Lord Goodman and later by someone even closer to home, I felt that some of us had a lot to learn from his delivery—and we must give him credit for something! At any rate, he spoke well and moderately.

I agreed with him on one or two points. I agreed with him on stalking. I am glad that his intentions are to be carried into law in one way or other, after some rather peculiar happenings. I agreed with what he said about stalking. He also said something that does not appear to be going into law, but perhaps it will. He felt strongly, as we all must, that witnesses in rape cases are subjected to an appalling ordeal—almost a second rape—and he indicated that something would be done about that. He also gave us to understand that he would do everything in his power to diminish the curse of drugs, which is undoubtedly the most damaging feature of our national life today. I wish him luck with that, but we all know that it will be extremely difficult for him or for anyone else to do anything about it.

But I found him very unconvincing on other matters. He completely failed to explain away how the huge increase in the prison population will be coped with. I understand that over the next three years the number of prison staff will fall. I gather that the prison population was around 40,000 shortly before Mr. Howard came to office. That figure is now 57,000 and at a time when plans are afoot to reduce the number of prison staff. That is extraordinary madness.

On the subject of the police, a year ago we were told that the number of police would be increased by 5,000. However, in the last recorded year the number of police fell. So let us not assume that the Government are doing anything spectacular about the police or the prison staff.

On the subject of victims, the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, is a special expert. I am happy to think that 30 or so years ago I had the first debate in this House on victims. I heard Mr. Howard say that victims were the number one priority of the Government. But what did they do about it? They produced a plan that was so inadequate that it was judged unlawful by the judges. It was rather a mockery of a number one priority.

However, when all is said and done, it was in the end a fairly moderate restatement of "Howardism"—the message with which we are all familiar now, that prison works and that it works much better if it is made much nastier for prisoners. That is a doctrine which has produced universal contempt among all those who know the subject. Mr. Howard is defying the opinion of the judges, the prison governors, the prison officers, the Probation Service, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the criminologists and our five former Conservative Ministers. I am ready to believe that he means well. One should always make that assumption.

I recall that in his notable book the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, had a frontispiece which reminded us that at the time of the Crucifixion of Christ the crowd cried, "Crucify him, crucify him". Pilate gave way. He met the requirements of the populace. That is what Michael Howard appears to be doing. He may be encouraged to be reminded that Pilate was canonised in the Coptic Church, so there is perhaps a chance for Mr. Howard. Pilate at least made fine efforts to try to avert the fury of the mob. It is not clear that Mr. Howard has made any efforts at all.

However, I cheer up. Nothing lasts for ever. In a few months "Howardism" will have passed away and we shall all be—I shall not say happy again because we can never be happy about prisons or crime—able to look forward with some confidence to a future in which more rational counsels prevail.

6.24 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I quote from the gracious Speech: My Government … stand ready to introduce legislation to provide for the decommissioning of firearms, ammunition and explosives in Northern Ireland". The speech goes on to promise to, maintain close and friendly relations with the Republic of Ireland". May I say that the latter aim will call for considerable determination on the Government's part if Mr. Spring continues to try to pre-empt vital decisions unilaterally. I refer to today's report of his statement that Sinn Fein could enter negotiations within weeks of any IRA ceasefire. Fortunately the Taoiseach's approach has been very different—statesmanlike and fair.

I raise the issue of the proposal to introduce legislation on decommissioning now, first, because it is quite as urgent to get not only guns but plastic explosive and bomb-making equipment off the street in Northern Ireland and the mainland as it is to do something quickly about handguns and knives; but, secondly, because for the two governments to be seen to be working out the detail of enabling legislation in both countries will be the best possible confidence building measure. It will show those who want peace, both in the North and in the South, that the practical steps which need to be taken are being worked out so that they can become law. That gives real power to the security forces in both the North and the South. That is North/South co-operation with which no one can quarrel. I hope very much that the Irish Government, which the Taoiseach said yesterday were working on the details, will make good progress.

The Taoiseach declared after the Lisburn bomb: We, the people in the Republic, have no agenda of a progressive takeover of Northern Ireland against the wishes of the majority there There is no pan-nationalist agenda. Any government I lead would never be part of any such agenda". He thus sent a vital message of reassurance. He also said that the Irish Government were studying intensively possible amendments to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, which would emphasise that it is agreement between people—and not territorial aggrandisement—that we are seeking". Unfortunately, the original framework document made it quite clear that this could only be done in the event of an overall settlement and it would be most unlikely that the Irish Government could realistically be expected to put this issue to its people in a referendum at this early stage in the talks, particularly while Sinn Fein/IRA excludes itself from them. This makes it all the more vital for work on the practical modalities of decommissioning to be seen to be leading to the framing of actual enabling legislation ready for use when the time comes. Nothing could be more reassuring, or more transparent, and nothing is more likely to flush out Sinn Fein/IRA's true position on the agenda of the talks.

Martin McGuinness, in a triumphalist mood in February 1995, said: What is our agenda? We want the ending of British rule in our country. The British Government has got to relinquish its illegal territorial claim over our six northern counties. They have got to leave our country for good". Has that agenda changed? Is it negotiable? I think not. I hope therefore that both governments will pursue the talks, recognising that Sinn Fein/IRA does not even represent the majority of the minority group. Sinn Fein/IRA came well below the SDLP in the most recent poll and the SDLP and the Alliance Party deserve parity of esteem far more and can speak with authority in determining the future political shape of Northern Ireland within the Union and its status as a friendly and close neighbour with many common interests with the Republic.

The Secretary of State said in an interview in June this year that it had been deemed necessary to secure the confidence of all who need to be at the talks that everyone sitting at the table would be wholly committed to peaceful methods and democratic ways. He said: It is because it has proved very difficult to secure a practical means by which that confidence can be engendered that so much time has been taken up". The framing and introduction of enabling legislation on decommissioning in both North and South can be that practical means. All that is needed after that is, of course, political will on both sides of the border.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, one of the things that strikes me with some surprise and disappointment in this debate is the absence of any voice from the Bench of Bishops. I would have thought that this is the sort of debate to which, if they are to justify their presence in your Lordships' House, they should have contributed.

The approach to the problem of crime in our country and in our society varies vastly. It is perhaps that tremendous variation in approach which makes it particularly hard to agree on—and still harder to implement—effective solutions. Perhaps I may start by summarising what seems to be the difference between the two extreme positions. I believe that they are positions which we have to accept exist even if we do not share them or are perhaps to some extent repelled by them. The first is of course the "vengeance and retribution" view. It would suggest that no one has any excuse to commit crime; that criminals must be punished with severity proportional to the offence; that prison is the best answer, although there are those who believe that capital and corporal punishment may also have a role to play; the objects of prison are to punish, to confine and thus to protect society from the criminal and, not least, to act as a deterrent. To many of this persuasion reform of the criminal is a lost cause.

From this approach follows the view that prison should be as unpleasant an experience as possible. Criminals impose costs on society. They are costs to those affected by the crime and to the taxpayer in catching and confining them. There is little sympathy, therefore, for spending money on prisons except either to increase their capacity or to make them more secure. "Let them rot in goal" is a sentiment which is perhaps more widespread right across the political spectrum than some of us would like to admit. I suspect that it is often held particularly by those who themselves have had a tough and hard start in life, but who have not succumbed to the temptations of crime and therefore have not lost their own self-respect.

There is also—perhaps particularly on the part of that group—considerable resentment at the approach of the do-gooders. That is a resentment which is fanned by media accounts of individual crimes and of the way in which some criminals seem to be able to cock a snook at society as represented by the police, the judiciary, the taxpayer and, certainly not least, the victims of crime.

At the other end of the spectrum there are those who believe that it is society and not the individual which is chiefly at fault. To them there is of course crime and there are of course victims of crime, but there are few criminals. Most of those who commit crimes are themselves the victims of a society which is rotten and corrupt; unequal and unfair; materialistic and exploitative—a society in which there is an alienated minority at the bottom, referred to by one or two noble Lords, which is deprived both spiritually and materially, many of its members never having had the chance of employment. This group are the clients of social workers, teachers and the Churches. To them offenders primarily have rights rather than obligations. Some would not even regard crime against property as serious crime.

Prison is a great evil because not only does it deny individuals their precious right to liberty, but it exposes them to untold misery and gives them little or no scope for personal reform. In their view, prison should be concerned only with education and reform and the rehabilitation of the offender in a society which should be apologetic rather than condemnatory of the offender.

To them, no method of fighting crime would be acceptable if it involves any infringement of civil liberties, which are of overriding value. The fact that the police have, all too frequently, been shown to have taken illegal shortcuts to secure convictions makes the perception of the police among the less fortunate as a repressive body. To many social workers the crime fighting activities of the police, and therefore any evidence that they give in court, should be viewed with deep suspicion by a jury. The consequent and rather widespread reluctance of juries to convict is itself profoundly demoralising for the police.

That attitude was exemplified to me recently by the chair of a Bench in a particularly deprived area of London, who was asked by the local head of the probation service to impose fewer community service orders on the grounds that there was a shortage of suitable tasks for offenders to perform. The magistrate suggested that surely clearing the locality of litter might provide some opportunities, but was told: "You do not understand: that activity would not be in accordance with the dignity of our clients".

I have characterised the two extremes of view. I am not suggesting that any of your Lordships would wish to occupy either of those positions. But there is this interesting dichotomy. I suspect that to some extent the dichotomy may arise from the Judaic-Christian origins of our own civilisation. Unless we understand that there are these two extreme positions, we cannot seek to find solutions unless we are consciously looking somewhere between them.

In giving one or two suggestions, I would like to start by asserting that advances in technology, and particularly in information technology and closed-circuit television, can give the forces of law and order a huge opportunity to fight crime both through detention and protection. I submit—and I particularly ask my noble friend to advocate this with the Treasury—that the capital costs of setting up such a capability is thoroughly cost effective in terms of public spending.

I am sorry to say that one of the problems—indeed, obstacles—has in the past been the Home Office itself. I have had experience in dealing with the Home Office in some of these areas of public policy for over 30 years since my days working in Whitehall with the Central Policy Review staff. In those days dealing with the Home Office was rather like dealing with the North Korean Government. It was so opaque and resistant to new ideas that I concluded that it was the most constipated department in Whitehall.

We often hear of the need for reforming Home Secretaries. Sadly for many Home Secretaries, the Home Office tends to be a political graveyard. What I believe is needed is a reforming Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office. The present Permanent Under-Secretary is Mr. Richard Wilson. I have never met him. But he does perhaps have one big advantage: he had never before served in that department before taking up that post.

1 was, of course, glad to hear in the gracious Speech that a first step is to be taken on the introduction of identity cards, but I must once again emphasise that it is not the card which matters; it is the need for a secure and unique national identity number which is crucial. I noted that the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, in a remarkably weak report, specifically recommended that, on civil liberties grounds, a unique identity number for each card holder should not be introduced". Pursuing that line would result in the waste of much public money and I am thankful that in their August White Paper the Government did not specifically endorse that ill-conceived recommendation.

Secondly, the full application of information technology to the management of the prison population should be a high priority. It is deplorable that there is still no single United Kingdom data base for that purpose and it is still more astonishing that the police are not able to access the limited data bases that do exist.

Another deeply worrying problem is the extent of drug use in prisons, with the suggestion that prison staff are involved in facilitating that drug use through either corruption or intimidation. I would hope that General Sir David Ramsbotham will be encouraged to address problems such as those. Although I cannot claim to know him, I have met him on a number of occasions and I feel that, given proper support from the Home Secretary, he would be able to make the administration of our prisons a great deal more effective than is the case today.

One of the best ways of reducing the prison population is, I believe, by drastically expanding and changing the administration of community service orders. As we have heard, it costs some £24,000 a year to keep someone in prison whereas implementing a community service order costs little more than one-fifth of that amount. I believe that there should be two categories of community service: the first is the rather gentle type which is used at present, and the second would be a far tougher back-up. I do not have the time to go into that in any more detail now, but I should be delighted to discuss my ideas later with my noble friend if she is interested.

I have two other suggestions. I believe that there should be restrictions on the movement of major criminals on their release from prison. That should be introduced on a European basis. I repeat that I am talking about major offenders who, on sentencing, should be subject to a number of years of confinement in the country in which they committed their offences. If found in another European country, they should be subject to immediate deportation and probably subject to a further period of confinement. In addition, we should take effective steps permanently to exclude from this country those who are known to have been convicted of certain serious crimes in any part of the world. Again, information technology would make that feasible. Such measures would seriously inhibit the operation of international crime syndicates.

Closed circuit television is being used with increasing success in a whole variety of urban situations. I believe that it is now needed in the small rural areas of the sort that I come from. In this connection, I should like to ask my noble friend to look at the way in which the Post Office is failing to meet its obligations to sub-postmasters and the communities they serve. I am thinking particularly of Suffolk and Norfolk where a vicious gang has been raiding unprotected sub-post offices with impunity. It is simply not good enough for the Post Office to say that it cannot afford to fit intruder alarms which are linked to the police. Until that is done the police will have little hope of catching such gangs.

The people of this country perceive crime as one of the major problems with which they expect the Government to deal. There are big variations in the way in which the subject is being approached, but I very much hope that your Lordships' House will assist the Government perhaps in digesting more fully some of the proposals in the gracious Speech.

6.44 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, it is always daunting to follow the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, whose speeches are invariably so interesting and well delivered. The virtual avoidance of controversy and the atmosphere of general good will that pervaded this House yesterday to an even greater extent than usual on such occasions will have lifted the spirits of all noble Lords who were present. Unhappily, all good things have to come to an end.

When rights which have existed for centuries are threatened and when tens of thousands of law-abiding citizens risk being deprived of their possessions and the chance to practice their favourite sporting activities, when the livelihood of many thousands of others is at stake—and all as a panic political reaction to an understandable emotional reaction to a single truly horrible but unique and isolated incident—fierce controversy there is bound to be. I refer, of course, to the proposal in the gracious Speech to introduce a Bill to strengthen controls on the ownership of firearms, as fleshed out by the Statement repeated in this House on 16th October.

Many critics have already cited the unhappy example of the Dangerous Dogs Act, but at least that Act (flawed as it is) was to a large extent a response to the introduction into this country of a new breed of dog bred specifically for its aggressive qualities. In contrast, no novel or above averagely dangerous firearms are being legally shipped into this country at the moment. On the contrary, a substantial proportion of existing legally held weapons have been scrapped—albeit with no beneficial effect on the crime rate; quite the reverse.

In 1954, when there were very few restrictions on the legal ownership of guns compared to today, there were only four robberies in London involving the use of firearms. However, 27 years later, in 1991, there were 1,600 such robberies—a 400-fold increase—despite the drastic curbs imposed since 1954 upon legal gun ownership. One reason, of course, is that Europe is awash with illegal (and fairly inexpensive) guns, particularly since the fall of the Soviet empire. We read almost daily of demoralised Russian troops in Chechnya and elsewhere selling their weapons. One of Britain's most distinguished criminologists, Professor Waddington, is on record as agreeing in June of this year that the problem of crime and violence will not be solved by the abolition of privately held weapons.

This is the moment to reiterate my declaration of interest. I own two "handguns"—I prefer to call them "pistols" because that is the traditional English word, which is synonymous with "handgun"—which are beautiful examples of craftsmanship and have been in my family for over 80 and over 100 years respectively. For various reasons, they are of historical as well as aesthetic interest. I no longer possess ammunition for them and am content that that should remain the case. The age of the guns—between 80 and 105 years—is significant. We hear nowadays numerous sneers against the so-called "gun lobby"—mainly from those with no knowledge of, or interest in, our history.

In 1900 Lord Salisbury, the great-great-grandfather of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House (if I have done my calculations correctly), who was then Prime Minister, declared that he would, laud the day when there was a rifle in every cottage in England". Other distinguished figures enthusiastically joined in efforts to encourage "working men" and what were described as "working boys" to shoot, as an ordinary branch of recreation", including the Lord Mayor of London, the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Norfolk and the Archbishop of York. I suppose that they would nowadays be described as a "gun lobby".

Reverting for a moment to the present day, it is noteworthy that Her Majesty the Queen is patron of the National Rifle Association and that Prince Charles is its president. The policy of encouraging ordinary respectable people of every class to own and learn how to handle guns was so successful that when in 1909 two Russian anarchists robbed a bank in Tottenham they were chased across North London by an impromptu posse of police and armed citizens. The police, not all of whom were at that moment armed, borrowed at least four revolvers at random from passers-by. Yet crimes involving guns were extremely few in number at that time. It was only in 1920—three years after the Russian Revolution, when Bolshevik mini-revolutions were breaking out, or had already broken out, in Germany, Hungary and elsewhere on the Continent and the government of the day were fearful of a communist uprising in Glasgow, Liverpool and London (or possibly all three cities simultaneously), that gun controls were first introduced, albeit of a mild nature compared with today ' s.

I do not want to bombard your Lordships with statistics but there are two present-day figures that may provide food for thought. First, there are fourteen-and-a-half times as many legally-held guns per capita in Switzerland as there are in the Netherlands, yet the homicide rate is virtually identical in those two countries. Secondly, in 1993 there were per capita two-and-a-half times as many households in England and Wales in which guns were kept as there were in the Netherlands, yet there were three-and-a-half times as many homicides involving guns in the Netherlands as there were in England and Wales. Put another way, there was an inverse correlation between legal gun ownership and gun homicide. The more guns legally held in one particular country, the less they were used for the purposes of murder or manslaughter.

This is not the moment to comment in any detail upon a Bill that has not yet been published, but two points can usefully be made on the basis of what has been trailed in advance. Anyone who knows anything about guns will acknowledge that, except in freak circumstances, an ordinary 12-bore shotgun is much more lethal at close and medium ranges than a .22 or even .32 pistol. Therefore, the extremely restrictive controls envisaged for the latter seem to be way over the top. I listened carefully to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. I acknowledge that .22 pistols have been used in assassinations and attempted assassinations, but I believe that such few potential assassins as there are in this country would have no difficulty whatever in availing themselves of illegal weapons.

Mr. Jim Sharples of the Association of Chief Police Officers asserted to the Select Committee that the public would be much safer if handguns were safely stored at home rather than at gun clubs, as proposed by the Government. That is a proposition with which I wholly agree. Surely, the moderate and practical solution is the complete separation of guns from ammunition, the former being kept in a safe at home and the latter in a safe at the gun club. There is not room in most gun clubs to store weapons in safety. Of course, it would not close every loophole. Nothing will stop determined fanatics, in particular one who is quite happy to sacrifice his own life. In the absence of guns he will use arson, or a stolen lorry, both of which are easily capable of killing 20 or more people at a time.

Not for a second can one blame the families of those children murdered at Dunblane for advocating a course of action based on emotion. We would all react in the same way if any members of our families were murdered in the same cruel manner. But surely it is the duty of legislators to base their legislation on reason rather than transient emotion, particularly when the proposed legislation puts in jeopardy the longstanding rights and livelihoods of tens of thousands of law-abiding individuals.

I have just advocated the use of reason rather than emotion. With the civilised atmosphere which prevailed in this House yesterday once again in mind, I hope that your Lordships will join me in deploring the vicious and prejudiced attacks made on the Conservative Members of the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs even before that committee had published its report on the Dunblane killings. I refer in particular to the ugly attacks on the chairman, Sir Ivan Lawrence. Those attacks grossly exceeded the unspoken limits on political vituperation to which we are accustomed in this country and appeared to be specifically designed to intimidate, and to stifle honest disagreement.

6.55 p.m.

Lord Harding of Petherton

My Lords, I was delighted to hear in the gracious Speech that the aim of the Government was economic growth in a low inflation environment. The two go together. If anyone still doubts this, he should look at the history of South American countries. Of course, it is possible to allow economic activity to grow quite fast and to increase employment. However, if inflation is much increased the resulting growth and increase in employment will be only temporary. There is a timelag to this. That makes it difficult in a democracy, especially when elections are looming, for politicians to stick to policies which keep inflation low. There is considerable debate as to how much growth in a mature industrial country will cause inflation to rise.

As the Governor of the Bank of England said the other day, this is not an exact science. In my view, it is better to err on the side of caution, but perhaps not too much caution. Looking at the economic history of this country over the past 30 years, very often these facts have been ignored by governments of both parties. To be charitable, some leading government Ministers have appeared not to have understood them properly. However, since John Major became Prime Minister they have been understood and acted upon by the Government, however unpopular they have been at times.

I have begun on an economic note because these matters affect unemployment. Unemployment and how to deal with it is a social as well as an economic problem. Unemployment is a scourge which any government must do their best to bring down to acceptable levels. It is devastating for those involved if it lasts for more than a few months. If people are unemployed for long, some will give up the struggle. Many become dependent on the state and are disheartened or unwilling to find work when jobs reappear. I believe that in a civilised, modern industrial country where the majority of the working population is reasonably well off, it is fundamental that a safety net should be provided for the unemployed and their families. However, this involves an enormous expenditure of taxpayers' money. Governments should do all that they can to ensure that that money goes to those who really need it. Those who have been unemployed for over a year and have not found jobs should be helped to do so. I commend the Government on the measures that they have introduced to do this. Fraud should be rooted out. The Government are also trying to do this. At the beginning of the debate, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor referred to a new Bill which would help to do this.

On all of these matters the Labour Party has appeared to move a long way in reaching agreement, except to give any praise the Conservative Government for their policies. I do not expect that. I suppose that that is the nature of opposition. Not so the churches. In particular, the Roman Catholic and Church of England bishops appear to believe that the Government can provide for everyone. With great respect to the Roman Catholic bishops, I urge them to read the New Testament again. Nowhere do the Gospels report that Jesus made any political pronouncements. Jesus was not concerned primarily with people's material well-being but with every person's attitude to God and his fellow man— for the politically correct, that would obviously include woman. He summed up all of the Commandments which his fellow Jews regarded as the mainstay of their religion into two: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy might and thy neighbour as thyself. Even if it is difficult with today's scientific knowledge for some to believe in an all-seeing, creative God, there is no better code by which to live one's life than Jesus's second commandment.

I do not believe however that the bishops' espousal of specific policies follows from Jesus's teaching. The Catholic bishops say that a government have the right to lay down a minimum wage, and that a just wage should be paid to employees. A minimum wage set too high will cause more unemployment. Where is the justice in that? It is possible for some employers to pay their workers more than others can. Young people starting in employment are not much use to employers until they have learnt how to do the job well. If they have to be paid the same as the average, fewer will be employed. The high rate of youth unemployment visible in some countries of the EU is proof of the iniquities of a minimum wage.

What is a just wage? Are Church of England country parsons, looking after five parishes, paid a just wage? The bishops say that every employee has the right to join a trade union. I do not want to go in for trade union bashing, but trade unions have in the past abused their power, and indeed in two public services (the Post Office and London Transport) are doing the same today. An employer setting up in business has every right to say that he does not want his employees to belong to a trade union, knowing the trouble that might cause in a fledgling business.

I have no problem with the preface to The Common Good and the Catholic Church's social teaching by Archbishop Basil Hume, published last week, or with the introduction and guide to the document written by Bishop Konstant, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds, up to where he says on page 4: In the following paragraphs we apply these ideas to some of the major questions in contemporary British society". The ideas which he means are all general ideas of right and wrong, the importance of the individual, looking after the poor in society, the evils of totalitarianism and untrammelled capitalist systems, and so forth. Very few, if any, would question those general principles. He also expounds the great good that the Catholic Church has done and continues to do.

As a member of the Church of England I have great admiration for the good which the Catholic Church does. I admire, in particular, its great emphasis on the importance of family life. However, when the Catholic bishops who wrote The Common Good begin to go into specific aspects of government policy, I cannot go with them. For instance, at paragraph 21 on page 8, the text states: There are ways of structuring society which facilitate true human development and correspond to moral principles and demands". That does not square with the aspirations of a free people. It is a top-down approach, alien to our British tradition.

The whole approach of The Common Good, when it comes to specifics, is that we can somehow create a good and just society by passing laws and creating institutions and structures. That, in my humble opinion, is contrary to Jesus's teaching. He always emphasised personal responsibility and individual conscience. I have seen nowhere in the Gospels that Jesus proposed that government or the organisation of society should be carried out in any particular way. Of course, loving thy neighbour as thyself means that that must be done by people in authority in all walks of life as well as by ordinary people who have no authority over anyone.

The organisation of society and laws affecting business, trade unions, and people's rights and duties are matters of political opinion and debate. I believe in democracy, but I believe that it has many flaws. The Catholic bishops say that certain things must happen. I believe that free market capitalism has benefited and will continue to benefit millions of people in their material prosperity. I agree with the Catholic bishops that its excesses and failures must be rectified by regulation and state help for those who fail or fall on hard times. I disagree with their espousal of certain policies which are a matter of political debate.

Church of England bishops have also criticised Conservative governments since 1979. They have every right to do so. I do not dispute that. However, they would do well to ponder the remarks made the other day by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, when he said that they should learn a little bit about economics.

During the past few days one bishop on the radio or television has said that Tories should all embrace the social conscience of some of those he knew. I should be the first to castigate those in my party who were motivated purely by greed and selfish interests. I believe that there are very few such people in my party. There are certainly differences of opinion. It would be quite wrong if there were not. However, the policies of Margaret Thatcher, followed on by John Major, have been proved to be the right ones. We have a far stronger economy and greater social cohesion than we had in 1979. I disagree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who said the opposite at the beginning of this debate. He offered no proof of that at all. In my opinion, the so-called "wets" have been proved wrong.

Practically every country in the world has followed our lead in privatisation. Free market economics have and will continue to improve the lives of millions of people throughout the world. Of course capitalism and free markets are cruel to some. That is why it is essential to have a safety net of welfare for those who fall by the wayside, often through no fault of their own. It is a matter for political debate as to how extensive the welfare system should be and as to how it should be arranged—by means testing or all-inclusive benefits, and so forth.

The bishops often imply that those who wish to cut back the welfare state are wicked. It can equally be said that those who are wicked are those who are able-bodied and live off the state and allow hard working people to support them through their taxes.

Mrs. Lawrence's brave public moral appeal has struck a chord in us all. It is up to all of us, including the bishops, to reach out to the young and to promote policies which encourage family life. That is the way to defeat violence in young people and to give them hope for the future.

7.8 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, the tenor of my speech will be a little different from most of those made this afternoon. I have to admit that I have not been here for all the speeches, but I do not believe that any speaker has so far looked at the part of the Government's legislative programme which deals with primary care. As someone who has spent more than half a lifetime as an NHS GP, it is appropriate for me to make a few remarks about that proposed legislation, as it was mentioned in the gracious Speech and by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor earlier this afternoon.

A White Paper describing the purpose of the legislation was published on 15th October. Like the BMA, we on these Benches welcome the stated intentions of the Bill and the fact that its provisions will be voluntary and that the proposed new projects will be subject to evaluation.

In the debates on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill 1991 we proposed that pilot studies should be carried out. However, the Government decided that that was not possible and the nationwide change in the administrative structure of the National Health Service was applied without prior evaluation. In contrast, in the 20 pages of the White Paper the words "pilot", or "piloting", or "pilots" appear no fewer than 49 times, so much so that I almost saw a leather helmeted, goggled, Biggles-like figure zooming between the pages. It certainly seemed as though some air traffic control were necessary.

Despite the fact that the intentions of the proposed legislation are good, some aspects are worrying and could lead to disruption of the public service role and ethos of general practice in the NHS. For instance, allowing contracts for general practice services to be offered by supermarkets or pharmaceutical firms sounds troubling. However, perhaps in order to calm fears that those moves might destroy a trusted system through creeping privatisation, the White Paper states that patients must continue to have a right to be registered with a general practitioner. However, if alternative styles of primary healthcare are available in supermarkets a form of bus ticket medicine could develop in parallel or in competition with NHS primary care. The extremely valuable benefit of continuing care by a personal doctor or group practice in which the partners share the patients' medical records might be lost.

Of course, there can be no real objection to general practitioners practising from supermarkets if comprehensive practices are located there. Indeed, there are examples of such arrangements which have been negotiated under current legislation. The same applies to primary healthcare units working on National Health Service trust premises. There are already a variety of different ways of enabling members of professions allied to medicine, in particular nurses, to work as part of primary healthcare teams. There are some cases in which nurses have joined partnerships. Therefore, I believe that some of the benefits claimed for the proposed legislation are already attainable. There are plenty of examples of good practice around the country which could be emulated if the will and resources existed.

I am also aware that in Britain there are many thoroughly inadequate examples of general practice and if the legislation helps to speed up progress and raise standards we shall be extremely pleased. However, when the legislation comes before us we shall examine it closely to see whether its provisions are necessary or helpful and to suggest safeguards to minimise any possible harmful effects which it might have on the National Health Service. Certain aspects are clearly welcome if not long overdue. A salaried option for general practitioners, instead of being independent contractors paid on a capitation basis as at present, will be extremely useful where, for instance, the recruitment of doctors has been difficult in certain inner city areas or where populations have a nomadic or chaotic lifestyle, such as travellers or the homeless in inner cities, and because of their lifestyle cannot or do not register with a GP. That has already been achieved in some areas but it needs to be made easier and more attractive.

Turning to another provision in the Bill, it is strange that the requirement for health authorities to appoint a candidate for a single-handed GP vacancy, however unsuitable the candidate, was not changed a long time ago. Under the proposed legislation only suitable candidates will be appointed and, if necessary, the vacancy will be held open until then.

Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, spoke of primary healthcare as the gateway to the National Health Service. It is certainly that but it is also much more. For the majority of the population primary healthcare is the National Health Service. It carries an increasing amount of the burden of the continuing care of the chronically ill and elderly as well as increasingly playing the main role in preventive care.

The White Paper and legislation propose to assist that development to go further, but legislation is one thing and putting it into action is another. For that resources are necessary. Page 4 of the White Paper states that consideration must be given to sharing resources between the different branches of the National Health Service. That sounds very much as though the resources for primary healthcare development may have to come from the share now going to secondary healthcare. However, in answer to a Starred Question last week we heard how desperately strained are the finances of many NHS trust hospitals. Beds are being closed and operations are being postponed. It is not possible to transfer funds from one to the other. I suggest that improved primary healthcare in deprived areas, which is what the legislation should be about, will initially result in more and not fewer referrals to hospitals.

I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to one other aspect of healthcare. It is the plight of doctors working in academic medicine. The Government have failed to honour their commitment to the link between NHS and clinical academic salaries. They must do that. The future of British academic medicine—in fact of all British medicine because that is the fount of it—depends on a healthy academic base. The impending crisis in patient care is caused by the exodus of doctors from university medical departments—57 professorial chairs, which is one in 10, remain unfilled—and there are problems in recruitment at all levels. The situation is so serious that the CVCP has set up an independent inquiry into disincentives to a career in academic medicine. It is perverse that the universities have failed to honour the 1996 pay award for clinical academics. The university employers have made a formal offer of 1.5 per cent. to the medical and dental professions, claiming that, given the current funding constraints, that is the maximum they can afford. Naturally, that offer has been turned down because it is well below the NHS pay award for consultants, registrars and senior registrars of approximately 3.8 per cent.

I must put on record the fact that Britain's university doctors have given the universities two months' notice to resolve the crisis affecting clinical academic salaries before taking formal steps to discourage doctors from applying for university medical posts. Of course, the universities do not have the money to give to the academic medics and the Government must intervene to rescue the situation. Time and again clinical academics have had to wait between six months and a year before the situation has been resolved but this year it appears to be considerably more serious.

As regards the original legislation, I should just like to say in my concluding remarks that I have a little feeling that the proposed legislation sounds good but that, actually, the improvements that it is meant to achieve are very largely already in train and could be achieved without it. In that case, it seems rather to fall into line with some of the other legislative proposals that are contained in the Queen's Speech this year.

7.20 p.m.

Lord Annaly

My Lords, as the 22nd speaker in today's debate on the gracious Speech, I am very conscious that noble Lords will be keen now to hear the concluding speeches from the Opposition and Government Front Benches. My intention is not to detain your Lordships for long and to concentrate my remarks on the firearms legislation which was referred to in the gracious Speech.

I must first say that I am the father of three children aged between nine and six years of age. Like I expect every parent in the country, not to mention every sane person, I was horrified by the appalling events in Dunblane in March. The hearts of the whole country went out to the bereaved families and, indeed, to all those involved in this appalling tragedy.

In the aftermath of that tragedy, the Government acted promptly in setting up a public inquiry. Following the publication of Lord Cullen's most thorough report last week, we shall shortly now be considering a government Bill which goes even further than the proposals put forward by Lord Cullen by banning handguns of the calibre of more than .22 and by prohibiting people from keeping even single shot handguns at home.

I ought to point out that I am not a member of a gun club and that I only ever fired a handgun while I was in the Army. However, I do hold a shotgun certificate. There are several concerns which I have regarding the well-intentioned proposed legislation. I am not convinced that keeping .22 handguns centrally in a few secure gun clubs will prevent another Dunblane. Even in Army armouries, which, after all, are checked daily, there have been a few occasions in recent years where weapons have gone missing. I doubt whether any gun club armoury would be as secure as a carefully monitored Army armoury.

Surely if someone with evil intentions wants to obtain a handgun, he will find a way somehow to do so. It may sound as if I am arguing for a total ban on handguns, like, I understand, the two parties opposite. That is not the case. I am a supporter of the great majority of law-abiding firearm certificate holders who possess handguns and whose activities are lawful. Somehow we need to tighten up the vetting procedure for applicants and recover the many illegal unlicensed handguns which we are told exist.

As the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has already said, shotguns are just as lethal at short range as a handgun. I believe that pump action shotguns are still available to purchase. If some mentally unstable person was to, God forbid!, commit an atrocity in the future along the lines of Dunblane using a shotgun, do I take it that all law-abiding owners of shotguns would then be under threat of having to keep their shotguns centrally somewhere? Indeed, I wonder how that would actually work in any event, whether one is a game shooter or a clay pigeon shooter. We have a clay pigeon club in my neighbourhood of which I am not a member. The members shoot in a field. There is no building and certainly nowhere central for those who shoot there to keep their guns.

I urge caution on my right honourable friend in another place. We should not legislate against law-abiding handgun users and miss the real target; namely, the illegal users of such weapons and also those unsuitable people who should not be granted a licence in the first place.

7.24 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, in deciding to hold this Session, the Prime Minister has been a little in the position of a captain who decided to claim the extra half hour and then not to try to knock off the runs. It is a situation which tends to lead to a certain amount of tedium. In that situation there is obviously a temptation to indulge in a certain amount of electioneering. I shall make a confession to your Lordships. I really rather enjoy a little electioneering every now and then. However, this is not the right place to do it. The definition of electioneering is that it involves addressing the voters. There are no voters in this Chamber. Our duties here are those of a revising Chamber. Our duty is to look at the wording of legislation and to try, if possible, to ensure that we get it right. Therefore, for most of what I have to say I shall try to concentrate on that duty.

When I came here this morning I had not intended to say anything about Scottish devolution, but I must confess that I have been tempted by the noble Lords, Lord Sewell and Lord Campbell of Croy, to venture briefly into that field. As it happens, I was working late last night on an essay on how James VI and I ruled over two kingdoms. That is the central point of the whole devolution debate.

The United Kingdom is not, as Mr. Major supposes—and, indeed, repeated during his party conference this year—a state with a thousand years of history. The United Kingdom is a merging of sovereign states and a merging which has happened with Scotland and with Wales in two very different ways. What is distinctive about the Union between England and Scotland is the fact that it is a union of fairly recent date between two fully sovereign states. That is why Britain is not a unitary state. It does not have the chief characteristic of a unitary state—of a single system of law. I believe that to be an argument in favour of the argument put forward in the Claim of Right; namely, that there is a residual sovereignty residing in the Scottish people. If it does not reside there, I do not know where else it resides. But an international treaty—which is what the Act of Union, like the Treaty of Rome, is—cannot possibly be non-negotiable.

There is something that we must accept in that respect, although I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, was extremely surprised when it was pointed out earlier. There is not now consent to continuing the old form of the Union. It must be renegotiated or it must cease. However, when it is renegotiated, I hope that it will be understood that it is a union between two nations which retain a residual sovereignty. Any Bill which did not recognise that fact would, I must confess, put me in considerable difficulties.

I turn now to the one Bill in the gracious Speech which is within my own departmental brief; namely, the Bill which will deal with benefit fraud. We on these Benches welcome that legislation in principle. Fraud is a crime. It is rightly classified under the Theft Acts. Crime must be repressed and any money obtained by fraud is obtained at the expense of someone else. However, in welcoming the Bill in principle, we will also want to scrutinise the detail of its wording with a good deal of care. Because fraud is a crime, it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. We will want to look at the opportunities available for defence for those who will be accused of this crime and who may perhaps not be in a particularly good position to afford to conduct a defence of their own. I shall look carefully into that aspect of the matter.

Granted that there is a strong case, which we accept, for the interchange of information, we shall also be concerned with ensuring that such information is accurate. It is my understanding that not all information held in every government record is necessarily accurate; or, indeed, in any other computer record. There was a case in one of today's newspapers regarding someone who was refused credit because his bank had a mistaken record which showed that he had an unpaid debt of £32,000, not a penny of which he actually owed. Therefore we shall want to know that there is a safeguard against that sort of error. We shall want to know that the proceedings will be conducted in a cost-effective manner. That means that in dealing with housing benefit fraud we must not concentrate exclusively on fraud by claimants but also on fraud by landlords, who are in a much better position to make a considerable killing out of fraud. That also needs to be dealt with. I hope that the Bill will pay attention to that.

I also wish to express the strong hope that any computer contracts arising from that Bill will not be given to EDS Computers, in whom we on these Benches have a limited amount of confidence. I hope also that it will not be used—necessary as this campaign is—for demonising those on benefit and diminishing sympathy for them. I hope the Minister will agree that the vast majority of benefit claimants are honest and that nothing in the pursuit of fraud will in any way be meant to claim anything different.

As my noble friend has already said, we welcome the Bills on stalking and paedophilia. We are glad that those will be discussed in government time. These are vital Bills and we must get them right. In saying that we welcome them we shall want to look with some care at the way they are worded. I hope that it will be possible to conduct some negotiation in private on that wording in order to save the time of this Chamber. If we want to get them on the statute book in the time available—as we do—that will mean talking about some of the difficulties before they are discussed in the Chamber. The Chamber has many virtues, but it is a time-consuming way of negotiating.

As regards the stalking Bill, I hope that it will protect men as well as women. In these days of fatal attractions I fear that that is necessary. By coincidence, I had just decided that I must ask about that matter when I was told about a case of a man who is the victim of a quite acute case of stalking. The woman concerned pursued him all the way to the Canary Islands. Granted the extreme difficulties of defining the crime of stalking, I shall be interested to discover whether it has been defined with sufficient care to make it possible for the accused to mount an adequate defence. If one is to defend oneself, one must be clear exactly what it is one has to disprove.

As regards the Bill concerning the register of paedophiles, it is clearly necessary. I hope that the Minister can assure me that it will be confined to convicted paedophiles and that there will be no question of suspicion. I hope she can also assure me that access to the register will be on a need to know basis. We do not want to make it the basis of a neighbourhood witch-hunt. With those provisos it would be a good and necessary Bill. However, in the long term we must hope that sooner or later someone will find some way of treating and curing paedophilia. Research in this field is urgent.

I also wish to refer briefly to the consequences of Mr. Justice Collins' judgment about the local authority obligation to provide housing for asylum seekers. The noble Baroness will be familiar with the bed situation in Hillingdon hospital which provided an extremely interesting programme on "Newsnight" recently, which I doubt whether the Government found particularly pleasant listening. We have had recently a press release from the directors of social services' meeting in Edinburgh which drew attention to the effect of the need to care for asylum seekers, which takes up social services resources and therefore creates bed blocking in hospitals. The press release stated: Across 23 London boroughs … 725 families … are currently being supported by social services". The directors said they expected a further 1,200 families at least to be seeking help from social services in the near future.

In Camden asylum seekers are now being put in an old people's home in response to that judgment. The Camden director of social services said he regarded that as an unsatisfactory solution but he is under a legal obligation which he must discharge.

Hillingdon hospital is in the area of Heathrow airport. I cannot help wondering what connection there is between the need to support asylum seekers which is suddenly thrust upon local authorities and the blocking of beds in the area of Heathrow airport. It is at least a plausible hypothesis that there is a connection. On 4th March in an answer given to a Starred Question by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, the Government promised help to local authorities who are particularly burdened with offering support to asylum seekers.

In referring to a Written Answer of 16th August I wish to thank the noble Baroness and her officials for their work on that Answer on that date. The noble Baroness said that a statement about help for local authorities would be put before us early in this Session. When she replies to this debate I hope that the Minister can tell me that an announcement along those lines is imminent, because it is certainly an urgent matter.

That brings me to the major business of the speech, and that is the Bill on crime and sentencing. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, rightly said that his division into two sorts of attitude to crime was a bit of a cartoon. I would prefer to divide it differently. During the previous election it struck me that we all need two lots of policies on crime: one to satisfy the voters and the other to control crime. The Conservative Party has always been extremely good at the first; it has not been as good at the second, which is why ever since the war crime has risen faster under Conservative governments than under other governments.

When I discuss the White Paper and the Bill, when it arrives, the question I shall ask is whether it will protect the public. That seems to me the only important question that we have to ask about it because, as Jeremy Bentham said, All punishment is in itself pain and ought to be admitted, if at all, only in order to avoid a greater pain". The Home Secretary seems to be abandoning the Gilbertian ambition to make the punishment fit the crime, because it is the central point of minimum sentences that they do not recognise that one burglary is not like another and one rape is not like another. As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, pointed out, one drug pushing is not like another. This is a formula approach and it comes out of the same mind as the CSA. Your Lordships know where that leads. However, I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, who said that minimum sentences were not unconstitutional. They have indeed been administered before.

Up to the penal reforms of the 1820s it used to be a capital offence to steal goods worth more than one shilling. The first effect of that was that there was no longer any deterrent effect against the severer crimes. If you had already committed a capital offence you could not receive a worse sentence. That is the origin of the proverb that you may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. I think it has something to do with the 16th century homicide rate.

The death penalty was measured by the value of the stolen goods, but the value of the stolen goods was a question of fact and therefore of course it had to be a matter for the jury. Therefore we find over and over again that people accused of stealing goods worth £5, £10 or £20 were convicted for stealing goods worth 11½d It was a carefully graduated system of mercy conducted by a jury which was still supposed to know the locality of the criminal and the victim. It cannot be done as precisely by juries who no longer know the offenders and the community. However, it will be done.

I do not think it will lead to as many convictions as the Home Secretary thinks. Also the Home Secretary does not seem to have taken into account the amount of crime committed in prison. He says that while people are in prison they do not commit crime. I took part in a debate on 10th January initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, on the Howard League Report, Banged Up, Beaten Up, Cutting Up. It was a painfully clear conclusion from that report that as much crime is committed in prison as outside; and that is still crime. If we are talking about a reduction in crime we need to reduce that too.

I believe that in criticising measures to protect the public one should say how one would do it one's self. We would begin with prevention, which is proverbially better than cure. First, I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said about the protection of sub-post offices. That story can be repeated many times. Secondly, we must have better detection. At the moment, I understand that only 3 per cent. of crimes committed end in a conviction. While that is so, how can criminals possibly believe that they will be sentenced; and if they do not believe that they will be sentenced, how can they be deterred by any sentence?

Finally—I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest—we must do something about exclusion. I entirely agree that crime is a matter of individual responsibility, but that is no excuse for leading people into temptation. We would aim at a situation where no one needs to commit crime in order to eat, and until this Government can match that aim they are not in a position to be quite as condemnatory as they are—and they are a long way from achieving it.

7.41 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, slightly over a year ago, in a document which I am sure he did not mean to see the public light of day, Mr. John Maples, vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, confessed that his objective for a legislative programme for the Government for 1995-96 would give priority to wrong-footing the Opposition rather than to achieve the aims of the Conservative Party. In greater or lesser degree, according to the departments—in greater degree so far as concerns the Home Office—that was what happened over the past 12 months. It did not work very well. However, the Government do not seem to have learned by their experiences over the past 12 months and are apparently determined that the same principle shall apply over the next six months. We have only to consider the reversals and about-turns of the past 28 hours to realise that there is no consideration in any of the legislative proposals for the improvement of our society or the elimination of crime. They are only an attempt to see how far the Conservative election handbook can be fattened with quotations claiming that the Labour Party is soft on crime and that only a Conservative Party has effective policies to deal with crime.

Clearly the gracious Speech is more complicated than that. It deals with many matters other than crime although it is a rag bag, tail end series of measures. As a result, the debate today has been extremely diverse in the attention paid to different subjects. In an admirable opening speech, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor kept his nose close to the grindstone. He described legislation and made no general claims for a pattern underlying the measures. I have no doubt that the House will be grateful to him, as it should be, for the attention that he paid to the detail of legislation. However, I believe that the noble and learned Lord would agree that the measures cover a wide range of subjects and have no particular pattern or thrust of policy as we approach the next six months of Parliament.

To some extent I am afraid that the same will be true of what I have to say. I am relieved that I do not need to say anything about Scotland because I could not pretend to the expertise of my noble friend Lord Sewel. I do not need to say anything about primary care because I could not pretend to the expertise of my noble friend Lord Rea. I wish to say a brief word about social security fraud although again I cannot pretend to the expertise of the noble Earl, Lord Russell; and my noble friend Lady Hollis is using her time more usefully rehearsing the Christmas Oratorio. However, to talk about social security fraud, as some unwise government spokesmen have done, as though it were a newly arisen issue which needed fresh legislative concern is somewhat to distort the truth. After all, the fraud about which the Government talk is very much the fraud of landlords and tenants; and of those two very much the fraud connived at or even created by landlords. The Labour Party has been urging for many years that there should be more effective control over housing benefit fraud by landlords and the Government have been resisting such pressure. For example, they resisted powers for local authorities to collate and list the different properties owned by landlords whose tenants claim housing benefit. It is a little odd that we should have this social security fraud helpline opened at a time when the benefits fraud helpline is being closed down. There are a number of questions about the social security fraud Bill which will require a good deal of parliamentary attention.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave us an introduction to the Civil Procedure Bill, which was welcome. My understanding is it follows from the Woolf report, and in so far as the legislation will follow the Woolf report, I am quite sure that my colleagues will give it a very sympathetic welcome.

The noble and learned Lord also referred to the Police Bill which we are told is to start in this House shortly. As always, we are grateful for that and for what the noble and learned Lord tells us about the composition of the service authority which will run the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad. He referred to the membership of that service authority. The noble and learned Lord will recall from the debates on the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill that our concern has been to ensure that those authorities are not the creatures of the Home Secretary but genuinely reflect the needs of different localities and of the tripartite system which has always been in control of the policing of our country. If any lessons were to be learnt from the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act—I believe that we made considerable progress when debating the Bill—I hope that they will have been taken in the drafting of the Police Bill.

Now we must turn to the question of the stalkers Bill and the paedophile register. In opening the debate from these Benches, my noble friend Lord Richard said that perhaps it would have been different if the Government had approached the Labour Party at an earlier stage. I have to tell my noble friend that the Labour Party took the initiative on Tuesday morning, when it became apparent that it was not intended to include these Bills in the Government's programme, of writing to the Home Secretary saying that the Bills would have the support of the Opposition and urging that they be reinstated in the programme. Later on Tuesday, Jack Straw received a complete brush-off from the Home Secretary, who said that he believed that it would be quicker if the Bills were Private Members' Bills. I wonder what happened in the meantime. Was it a certain amount of public humiliation in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon which led to the change?

However, the Government even then do not seem to have learnt. I heard this morning on the "Today" programme that the Prime Minister thought that the issue was the support of the Opposition for the measures and he complained about the time it took for the social Security Service Bill to pass through Parliament last year. It was as if somehow the failure of the Government to maintain their legislative programme was the fault of the Opposition. I remind the Government that the delays which undoubtedly took place in the consideration of the Security Service Bill last year were entirely the result of decisions by the Government's business managers and not at all obstruction or delay by the Opposition or anyone else on any other than the government Benches. It took them three months to reach Second Reading. I kept pressing for dates for Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading. On no occasion did we prolong the debate for more than one day. I hope that the Prime Minister will apologise, as he was asked to, for that slur on the work of the Opposition in this House.

I have a personal interest in the stalkers Bill because after the original stalkers Bill proposed by Janet Anderson was shouted down in another place, I initiated a Bill. I have already acknowledged and am grateful for the help from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. With it, I was able to restrict the Bill to making stalking a civil offence. I am glad that the Government have now found it possible to return a criminal element to the Bill and look forward to it, as I am sure we all do. I hope that it is as well drafted as my Bill was and that it goes through quickly.

On the paedophile register, of course, it is a paedophile register. I hope it is not a Bill to reflect some of the wider concerns of the White Paper that was introduced in May last year. Without in any way detracting from what the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, all I can say is that the closer the Government stick to making it a Bill about a paedophile register and the more they eschew any wider content for it, the more likely it will go through without controversy and quickly, as we all wish.

On that subject, I wonder what happened to the sex tourism Bill to which the Home Secretary referred again at Bournemouth, only two weeks ago, as being a firm intention. If that were to come forward, many of us would support it. I am surprised not to see it in the Government's programme.

A number of noble Lords have spoken about guns and the proposed gun legislation. With all due respect to the noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Annaly, the general feeling in the country is not only that the rigorous gun control proposed by the Government is right but also that the differences between the Government and the Opposition on gun control are fewer than they were, for example, when the Home Office Select Committee prepared that unwise report.

Except on the issue of a total ban rather than what one might call the nine-tenths ban which the Government propose, I do not believe that there will be great difficulty in either House of Parliament getting the legislation properly on to the statute book, after of course due consideration by us as a revising Chamber, which is necessary.

I wonder what happened to the legislation on knives. Again, only two weeks ago in Bournemouth the Home Secretary referred to strict new laws governing knives.

They do not seem to have appeared. Is that also to be in the form of a Private Member's Bill? The Labour Party has been pressing for a long time for greater control on knives which can be used for criminal offences.

Those are all what one might call second-rank issues in criminal justice and other areas. Then we come to what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, rightly calls the core of the Government's programme on this subject: the Crime (Sentences) Bill. We must consider it in light of the fact that crime in this country has doubled since 1979, although the number of convictions and cautions has fallen. In other words, dealing with crime has become worse while crime has increased. We must consider that the increase in this country has been faster than in any other major Western country and that criminals are now three times more likely to get away with crimes than in 1980. It is no good the Government continuing to pretend, as they do, that the Labour Party has been soft on crime. I only choose a few examples but, after all, in 1988 we proposed a ban on the sale of guns to under 16 year-olds. It was resisted. In 1994 we proposed much tougher gun licences; that was resisted by the Government. In 1996 in both Chambers we proposed laws on stalking which the Government were not prepared to accept. In 1996 we proposed protection for victims of rape. Above all, and not just in parliamentary terms, we have understood better the relationship between crime and the causes of crime. The eloquent speech by my noble friend Lord Murray of Epping Forest made that clear. We are the ones who have been talking about reform of youth justice; we are the ones who have been talking about tightening up on successive cautions. We are the ones who have been making real attempts to understand issues of public disorder which are so closely related to crime.

Jack Straw said earlier this year that poverty and lack of opportunity caused crime, but crime and disorder worsened poverty and reduced opportunity even further. That is the basis for our concerns about crime policy in this country, even though we recognise the difficulty of producing legislation to deal with illegal acts. It is not a simple relationship.

When I turn to the Crime (Sentences) Bill, I am constrained in what I say because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, quoted at length what I said last year. So I have nowhere to hide. I shall not "backslide" on the view that I took then and that I took in the debate on 23rd May. It was that the minimum sentences which are proposed and which were put forward in the White Paper for drug dealing and burglary are a nonsense. They are not evidence of new tough action; they are evidence of gesture politics rather than a real determination to deal with the problems. It is not just that they take away the discretion of judges to make decisions on individual cases. That is serious enough. But it is much more serious that, as the White Paper recognises, they will involve the establishment of at least 12 new prisons and 10,000 new prisoners. That cannot be done before the end of this century and certainly not in the context of a funding cut of 13 per cent. for the Prison Service, even with its present numbers. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, made that clear.

There is an unavoidable conflict between the budgetary cuts on the Prison Service and the work that the Prison Service is required to do. That conflict points up the inadequacy of the slogan, "Prison Works". Yes, in a very limited sense prison can work. But if there is no rehabilitation in prison, if there is no education and no useful work, and if as a result prisoners, however long they have been in prison, leave to commit more offences, then prison does not work.

My noble friend Lord Richard in opening the debate talked more generally than most noble Lords about what should be in the Queen's Speech and what should be our priorities. I regret that the Government's policies as expressed in the gracious Speech have fallen so far short of the vision which my noble friend gave us.

8 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor for the eloquent way in which he introduced the debate. I join with him in congratulating my noble friends Lord Gray of Contin and Lord Colwyn on their excellent speeches in response to and in support of the gracious Speech.

Time is always the enemy. I will attempt to cover some of the points raised on the widest variety of subjects in this traditional and characteristically interesting debate, as is the custom of this House. In keeping with tradition, I will write to those noble Lords whose points I do not address.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, opened with a damning indictment of the state of the nation. He posed the question rhetorically: is the country more at ease with itself now than it was in 1979? The noble Lord went on, as is characteristic of noble Lords opposite, to run down the state of the nation, and suggested that all was peace and prosperity in 1979.

I can only suggest to the noble Lord that he has had a serious bout of amnesia. In 1979, Britain's reputation abroad was at rock bottom. We were commonly known as the "sick man of Europe". Industrial strife was at epidemic proportions; dead bodies lay unburied; streets were piled high with rubbish; public services were in disarray; and we were shamefully brought to book by the IMF.

The situation is vastly different today. We have only to read what the IMF says about the United Kingdom, what the OECD says, or what our European neighbours have to say about the United Kingdom when accepting that our economy, our falling unemployment, our record of economic regeneration and our inward investment is outstripping theirs. The basic rate of tax is the lowest for 50 years. The top rate of tax has been reduced from 83 per cent. to 40 per cent. This positive picture of the United Kingdom will be addressed in more detail by my noble friends on these Benches when we come to the final speeches on the gracious Speech.

Talking this country down, as is done with regular monotony by the Labour Party leaders in this and in another place, is extremely damaging to this country.

Praying in aid the state of this country in 1979 as some past haven of peace is the stuff of fantasy and strange imaginings.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, raised the issue of Section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996. The amendment that is now Section 13 was fully debated. One point that was repeatedly made was that the provision was to help any Member of this House or another place who had been defamed and who might otherwise be prevented from protecting his or her reputation by pursuing legal remedy. The new provisions assist any Members of this House or of another place to defend their reputation in the courts. Why should they not be able to do so to the same extent as any other member of the public? The Government have undertaken to co-operate fully in Sir Gordon Downey's inquiry and the work of the Select Committee in another place. That illustrates the Government's determination to preserve the integrity of Parliament. And no one is more determined to uphold the integrity of Parliament than my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

Much was said about the crime Bill. I shall take the points as they came; many noble Lords referred to it. The crime Bill will contain radical new proposals on sentencing targeted at the most serious, dangerous and persistent offenders. The proposals mean that anyone convicted for a second time of a serious violent and/or sexual offence will receive an automatic life sentence unless there are exceptional circumstances. There will be stiff minimum prison sentences for persistent domestic burglars and dealers in hard drugs—a point which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, believes is simply gesture politics. The public rightly expects protection from such offenders. The proposals in the White Paper are designed to provide that protection.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, referred to two points of view as to what motivated my right honourable friend the Home Secretary: on the one hand playing politics, if I might coin the phrase to interpret what he said, and, on the other hand, sincerely addressing real issues as the Home Secretary sees them. I am in no doubt. I take the latter view. My right honourable friend is indeed addressing the serious issues as he sees them.

The noble and learned Lord suggested that the sentencing proposal set out in the crime Bill would compromise judicial independence. I assure the House that there is no question of encroaching upon judicial independence. It is for Parliament to set the statutory framework for sentencing and for the judges to exercise their discretion within that framework. Nor is there anything new about mandatory sentences. The life sentence for murder, and disqualification for certain driving offences, are long-standing examples of just that.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, also suggested that the proposals for mandatory sentences would lead to injustices and wrongful acquittals. I am happy to confirm that the court will have directions not to impose a mandatory sentence in exceptional cases.

The Bill will also contain provisions to enable the court to reduce minimum sentences to take account of timely guilty pleas. There will—

Lord Ackner

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that a judge will have the opportunity not to apply a mandatory life sentence or the minimum sentence if he is satisfied that to do so would result in an injustice?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord will have to be patient and wait for the Bill. So long as it is consistent with the exceptional circumstances as defined by this House and another place, then of course it will be at the discretion of the court.

My noble friend Lord Windlesham and others suggested that the mandatory sentence for drug trafficking offenders would catch minor offenders. I have to disagree with that point. Simple possession will not attract a mandatory penalty. It is targeted at persistent dealers in hard class A drugs such as cocaine, heroin and Ecstasy. If it catches naïve dealers, well and good. They cannot say that they were not warned. In the most serious cases the courts could impose a higher penalty than the mandatory minimum up to maximum life imprisonment.

My noble friend Lord Carlisle made the point that, because of the abolition of parole, there would be less time spent supervising post-custodial sentence prisoners. That is simply wrong. For example, a person serving a prison sentence today who applies for parole and is refused is automatically released at a pre-determined point in the sentence with no supervision at all; whereas under the proposals release will be earned, and will take place only on the basis of being earned; post-supervision, and in some cases extended post-supervision, will apply to all sentences over one year.

The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, asked how the changes in early release arrangements would represent an improvement. I believe that honesty in sentencing is the best way forward. It means that the sentence offenders actually serve will match much more closely the sentence imposed by the court. At present, it does not. That enrages victims and undermines public confidence in the criminal justice system. Under our proposal the public and offenders themselves will know that the court sentence means what it says. Our proposals will also ensure that in future post-release supervision will be targeted on the most serious offenders because the longer the original sentence, the longer the period of supervision.

The noble Earl also asked about the purpose of the new hospital directive for mentally disordered offenders. It is designed for sentencing offenders who have committed serious offences and require immediate hospital treatment for mental disorder where a hospital and restriction order under the Mental Health Act 1983 would not be appropriate. That might be because the offender bore a significant degree of responsibility for his actions, requiring a sentence with a punitive element or because the risks posed by the offender are not directly linked to his mental condition.

Let me make some general points about the sentencing Bill. First, the life sentence is flexible. Judges themselves will be able to set the tariff, not the Home Secretary, to reflect the seriousness of the offence. It is sensible to assess risk at point of release rather than at point of sentence. There is nothing to prevent judges passing life sentences on first conviction in appropriate cases. Judges will continue to have discretion to set tariffs based on the circumstances of the particular case and in genuinely exceptional circumstances they will be able to set aside altogether the automatic life sentence and to avoid injustice.

A major concern mentioned was mandatory minimum sentences for burglars and drug dealers. Again, as I said, exceptional circumstances will mean that there will be a means for avoiding genuine injustice. I know that that is a point of concern to many noble Lords. That will come clear as we see the details of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Carlisle raised an interesting point. He asked how the Government would ensure that the courts took account of the changes in early release arrangements 'in passing sentence. The Bill will contain explicit provisions requiring the court to do so.

My noble friend also asked whether we would publish the responses that we received to the White Paper, Protecting the Public. We received some 300 responses from organisations and individuals. Many are substantial documents. It is a matter for those who have responded to publish and/or make them available if they wish. We intend to announce the number of responses received and give an indication of the points and criticisms that were made.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, raised the whole issue of devolution. He was joined by many other noble Lords later in the debate. The Government are unequivocally committed to the Union. We believe that the present arrangements whereby Scotland and Wales enjoy the advantages of full representation at Westminster and a Secretary of State with a seat at the Cabinet table are to the best advantage not only of the people of Scotland and Wales but of the whole of the United Kingdom. But that does not mean that the Government refuse to contemplate change; for example, the new arrangements for the Scottish Grand Committee and changes which ensure more discussion of Welsh business in Parliament.

On the same subject, I understand from what the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said that there are two questions to be posed. However, what is not being offered to the people of Scotland is a vote on the detail of any proposals. They will be asked straight questions. The planned question will be posed before they see the details of the Bills and before they are placed before Parliament. As my noble friend Lady Carnegy pointed out to me, as she listened to the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, she noted that there was absolutely no mention whatsoever of financial arrangements, which we all know to be extremely costly and rather embarrassing to talk about in public. A partly appointed, gender balanced, possibly with party placemen and indeed women, single Chamber with the loss of serious consideration by your Lordships is the most divisive, disruptive and unworkable proposition. As for the debate in the Conservative Party round about 1979, to which the noble Lord referred, we looked at the proposal, knew that it was unworkable, and turned our face against it.

The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, suggested that the Grand Committee system was undemocratic. All the participants are directly elected Members of Parliament, elected by their public, calling to account in public Ministers of the Crown. What is undemocratic about that?

While still on the subject of devolution, steps have already been taken by the Secretary of State to increase the role of the Scottish Grand Committee. The Opposition's proposals for devolution, which are clearly dictated from London, threaten the integrity of the Union. They give rise to setting Scottish Assembly against Westminster Parliament, setting Scottish executive against the UK Government; conflicts between Scottish executive and the Treasury; and Scottish taxpayers having to pay higher taxes than their friends in the other parts of the United Kingdom, not to mention the West Lothian question. How does that add to the cohesion and integrity of the United Kingdom?

Finally, I refer to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, who took us painstakingly through the history of this subject in the most enlightening way. I cannot add to the forceful case that he put in demolishing the Opposition's proposals for devolution.

I turn to Dunblane and the gun Bill which was mentioned in the gracious Speech. First, our position is clear. All high calibre handguns will be banned and .22 calibre hand guns will be banned from homes but may be stored at clubs which will meet stringent safety standards of security. The only exceptions will be for certain occupational users such as vets. Lord Cullen includes a table in his report in paragraph 9.49 which demonstrates that .22 rimfire cartridges are four to six times less powerful than a typical large calibre handgun. Cartridges of the higher calibre handguns can be modified to produce even higher and most devastating power. This is not technically possible with .22 rimfire cartridges. All higher calibre handguns will become prohibited. In practice banning .22 multi-shot handguns would destroy the sport of target pistol shooting. We estimate that currently there are fewer than 2,000 people who shoot with single shot handguns. It is an Olympic sport which has been taking place since 1896.

On the subject of compensation, the details will come before the House. We shall compensate both owners and dealers. We shall compensate the full market value of prohibited guns and we shall publish details of the scheme very soon. Our approach will give this country some of the strictest gun control laws in the world. The country expects nothing less.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, asked what happened to the review of the relationship between the Home Office and the Prison Service recommended in the report by Sir John Learmont and he referred to Miss Kate Jenkins. Miss Jenkins did some initial work on that recommendation and—I have said this to the noble Lord across the Dispatch Box—it was taken forward in discussions between Home Office and Prison Service officials, but no in-depth study or review, as recommended by Sir John Learmont, has been undertaken. That was reported by my honourable friend the Minister of State, Ann Widdecombe, in another place on 14th March. The Prison Service is making good progress in implementing other recommendations in Sir John Learmont's report. Details were placed in the Library on 24th July and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has undertaken to report to Parliament on the outstanding recommendations in due course. That will be done.

The noble Lord asked about the consequences of the crime Bill for the prison population. We estimate that the sentencing proposals taken together will eventually result in an estimated increase of around 11,000 people in the prison population. That will build up gradually, reaching a peak some 12 years after implementation. We plan to accommodate that increase by building a number of new prisons and providing additional places at existing prisons. The new prisons will be funded through the private finance initiative and the cost will reach an estimated peak of between £375 million and £425 million per annum some 12 years after implementation.

Earl Russell

My Lords—

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps the noble Earl will forgive me but there will be plenty of opportunity to discuss what I have said in the course of this debate. I am trying to cover many of the points raised in the debate.

To put the figures in context, we have already built 22 new prisons and provided nearly 20,000 additional prison places since 1979. A prison building programme sufficient to accommodate the new sentencing proposals is, therefore, realistic and achievable.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, referred to stalking. We welcome what he said about that. I also say to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that the Bill will afford protection to men as well as women.

The noble Lord, Lord Murray, referred to the very important point of juvenile offenders. He suggested that young people who have been in custody offend at a greater rate than those serving community sentences. Many young people who reoffend following custodial sentences are young people who have been cautioned, served probation sentences and other community sentences. It is unlikely—the noble Lord is or has been a magistrate and will know—that young juveniles are sent to prison for a first or second offence unless it is an extremely serious offence and deemed appropriate by the courts.

The point is important. Last year the Government set up an inter-departmental group to examine ways to identify children most at risk of becoming offenders and take action to divert them from criminality at as early an age as possible. The group concluded that while many examples of good practice exist throughout the country, more could be done to adopt a systematic approach to preventing children from becoming offenders. We therefore intend to publish a Green Paper in the autumn setting out a new strategy for identifying and taking action to deal with children at risk of becoming offenders.

The vetting and supervision of adults working with children and young people was also raised by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. The Government decided that following proposals in the consultation document On the Record in Scotland, published in June, access to criminal records checks will be extended to all voluntary youth organisations. Consultation will also take place with all interested parties in Scotland, and of course in England and Wales, on proposals for a national information and accreditation system. That was in response to the Cullen Report.

My noble friend Lady Seccombe, in her supportive speech, referred to the National Crime Squad. It is right that the National Crime Squad will not compromise local policing. Members of the public will still report crime to their local police force. The National Crime Squad will support police forces in the investigation of serious crime at the request of the force's chief constable. The Criminal Records Agency was also referred to by the noble Earl. The agency will provide improved access to criminal records for employment-related purposes. I should point out that it is a separate measure from Lord Cullen's proposals for an accreditation scheme.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, made a forceful speech about the quality of the arts. I should like to come back to him on that. He also talked amusingly, but seriously, about "PC" and the way it dogs our lives. I can only say that when I was in local government and my authority became a hung council—or, as I preferred to call it, an "unhinged" council—I could not be leader of the council because it was deemed to be hierarchical. I therefore became an equal member of an egalitarian triumvirate; the chairman became "chairperson" and subsequently "chair". Even that was deemed hierarchical so that gave way to "spokesman", "spokesperson" and then to "spoke". I dislike the term "Ms"; I prefer Miss or Mrs or the use of a Christian or surname. And I share much of what the noble Lord said in regard to reform of this great place. Hasty change by a one or two clause Bill is no way to approach such serious reform.

We are all concerned about the point raised by my noble friend Lord Halsbury that he will be raising also in his Private Member's Bill. I should like to see the Bill and consider it in detail. However, at the moment we sympathise and empathise with his point in relation to there being too much pornography too freely available in our community.

I am always pleased to talk with my noble friend Lord Marlesford about his ideas for the future and I promise to talk with him in some detail about the points he raised.

I must refer to Northern Ireland because my noble friend Lady Park referred to that important issue. The Government wish to see all illegally-held weapons removed from circulation. The multi-party talks are at present addressing that question. No agreement has yet been reached. However, we are determined that the process should not be held up because of the absence of the necessary statutory framework and the Bill announced by the Prime Minister yesterday will be introduced in the autumn. The multi-party talks proceed. In principle we believe that they will benefit from being as inclusive as possible. But their success does not depend on Sinn Fein being there. Both British and Irish Governments have committed themselves to proceed wholeheartedly with the talks, whether or not Sinn Fein is at the table.

My noble friend mentioned Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution, embodying the so-called claim on Northern Ireland. As my noble friend said, the Irish Government have committed themselves to amending their constitution so as to remove any such claim in the context of a settlement. What is most significant is that all major political parties in Ireland—North and South—are now committed to the principle that consent would be needed to a change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

If the noble Lord, Lord Rea, will forgive me, I shall come back to him in detail. Suffice to say that our proposals respond to the views expressed by healthcare professionals and NHS management. They aim to improve services for patients with better targeting of local needs. There will be safeguards for patients including the retention of the right to be registered with a GP of one's choice.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, referred to Hillingdon and to the judgment of Lord Justice Collins, against which we are appealing. I should therefore like to write to him in relation to those points. Measures being brought forward in the fraud Bill are designed to improve the powers to prevent, detect and deter fraud with a focus on landlords and serious fraudsters, as benefit fraud is estimated to cost £4 billion a year. The details of the Bill will be discussed in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said on the radio this morning. I listened to him carefully and have since looked at the transcript. First, it is a matter of fact that major Bills take longer in Parliament than other Bills. They are complex and from time to time there will be attempts to amend them. There is limited time in this Parliament, as everyone knows. Of its nature the crime Bill will take longer to proceed through Parliament for those reasons. There was no question whatever of accusing the Labour Party of obstruction on the Security Service Bill. The truth is that one Bill took around seven months. We do not have seven months left in this Parliament and that was the reason for the comment. No offence was meant to the Labour Party.

In conclusion, as your Lordships know, time for this Session of Parliament is limited. We have a substantial, responsive and effective programme of legislation before us designed not to play politics but because we believe it is the right thing to do: effective punishment, protection of the public, the tackling of organised crime, tightening controls to prevent undesirable people from working with children, the strengthening of supervision of sex offenders in the community and more. It is not gesture politics. It is a real response to real problems in the community. The Opposition may feel that it is just playing politics; we believe that those issues are important and we shall not be deterred from our programme.

Whatever the views we hold in this House, I am confident that there will be lively, and I suspect at times tense, but always courteous debate in this House. I look forward to engaging in those discussions.

Viscount Long

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Chalker of Wallasey I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until Monday next.

Moved, That the debate be adjourned until Monday next.—(Viscount Long.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until Monday next.

House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes past eight o'clock.